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The Basics of Understanding Tarot Cards

Updated on February 19, 2020
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Allisyn writes about tarot, astrology, angel therapy, aromatherapy, feng shui, interior design, and human and animal behavior.

Reading tarot cards is a combination of intuition and understanding of the symbols within each card. If you feel that you aren't intuitive enough to read tarot cards, be confident in that you will become progressively more intuitive each time that you work with your deck.

Connect With Your Tarot Deck

Choose a tarot deck that resonates with you. There are tarot cards with every possible theme that you can imagine from baseball to Alice in Wonderland. I suggest that you start with the Rider-Waite deck if you are a beginner. The Rider-Waite deck is the easiest to understand and the basis of most other decks.

Spend time with your cards each day. Pull out just a few cards or practice some reading layouts paying close attention to the images, colors, and symbols. Notice how you feel when you are focusing on the card. Does it make you smile, or do you have a feeling of dread and chaos? What is your first thought when the card pops up in a layout? If your first thought is a happy family when you see the 10 of cups, then you already understand the overall meaning of the card without having to look it up.

It is helpful to keep a journal while you are learning tarot. Write down what your thoughts are on each card as you explore them. Include entries of when your cards gave you a message that was right on target.

Major vs. Minor

The cards are broken up into two sectors. The Major and the Minor. Both sectors serve a very important part of the story that the cards are telling you.

The Major

There are a total of 22 cards in the Major starting with The Fool 0 and ending with The World 21.

These cards represent what is known as the fool's journey. They represent the forces that we all must face in order to learn and grow. When you draw these cards in a reading, you are receiving a message that is on a deeper and more spiritual level. A Major card represents inner growth and what needs to be done to accomplish it.

The Minor

This sector consists of four suits. Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles. Each suite has ace through ten along with the court cards king through the page.

Also known as the pip cards, the Minor deals more with everyday situations. Work, love, health, and money The fundamentals of living are the subjects of their messages.

Suit of Cups

Cups refer to matters of the heart and emotions. They tell a tale of love, family, and home. When you have cups in your reading, the focus is more on an emotional level and how you are feeling about the situation. This suit represents the season of spring illuminating the energy of love and renewal. The Cups are ruled by the water signs Scorpio, Cancer, and Pisces. The element is water.

Study the Cup suit starting with the Ace and see the progression that it represents with our love and emotional area of our lives. The Cups start out with the ace representing a new love coming and ends with the ten representing a happy family.

The court cards have the energy and traits of the three astrological water signs. In a reading, the king is a Cancer, the queen a Scorpio, the knight is representing the energy of all three signs, and the page is a Pisces (noted by the fish that is in the cup that he holds).

Suit of Wands

The Wands hold messages about work and career. This suit deals with more earth like energy. The hustle and bustle of work-life and climbing the corporate ladder. Depending on the other cards around it, it could also be interpreted that there is work to be done in a certain area of your life. The season that is represented with Wands is summer. Fire signs are related to the suit of Wands. Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. The element is fire.

Study the Wands from the beginning to the end and see how the work and career area unfolds. It is their fire element and passion that carries them through the journey from ace to ten. Starting with the single wand in the ace and ending with carrying and having all ten wands.

The court cards have the traits of their Fire astrological signs. The king being the Aries, the queen having the feminine traits of the Leo, the knight bringing the energy of all three signs, and the page representing the Sagittarius.

Suit of Swords

Swords represent the trials and tribulations that life brings us. They are associated with physical, emotional and spiritual health. Swords are also considered action cards. When swords show up in a reading, there is some sort of healing that needs to be done or a battle that is being fought. It is also the suit that is associated with the communication. The season that is assigned to swords is fall. Air is the element being ruled by Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra.

Studying the swords from ace to ten, you will find a story of small battles taking you into total defeat. The ace of swords is also known as the double-edged sword. Having to cut off something else in order to start something new is a good interpretation of the ace of swords. The ten shows a man laying on the ground with ten swords in his back. A positive interpretation of this card is that the troubles have finally hit a peak and will soon be over. "This too shall pass" would be the mantra for the ten of swords.

The court cards take on the traits of the air astrological signs. The king of swords the justice trait of Libra (the Justice card is also ruled by Libra), the queen with her open hand suggests the open communication trait of Gemini, the knight of swords carries the energy of all three of the air signs, the page like the Aquarius, is ready to learn how to use his intellect and tools to fight through whatever battle he needs to.

Suit of Pentacles

The suit of Pentacles gives us insight into our finances and possessions. The Pentacles or Coins take us through our journey with wealth. It is important to understand that our riches are not just about money, it is also about how rich we are with all aspects of our life. The season associated with Pentacles is winter. Earth is the element and ruled by the Earth signs Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.

Studying the suit of Pentacles tells a story of the journey of accumulating possessions and wealth. The story includes learning and honing your skills to create more wealth. The ace starts the story off with one pentacle and ends with the ten of pentacles representing inheritance and old money.

The court cards have the traits of the fire astrological signs. The king of pentacles has the entrepreneur trait of Taurus, the queen's traits are Virgo, the knight has the energy of all three fire signs, the page is focused on creating the goal with the logical trait of Capricorn.

Court Cards

Court cards are the most difficult to read because it could represent a person or it could represent the meaning of the card. The Court cards consist of the King, Queen, Knight, and Page. When these cards come up in a reading, it could be talking about a person or the energy that the card represents. Having many court cards in a reading tells us that there are important key people involved in the situation. If looking at the age of the people involved, the king is the oldest and the page is the youngest.

The suit of the court card depicts the traits of their associated astrological sign. For example, the king of wands could mean an older man that is an Aries or has Aries traits. On a more spiritual level, the king of wands could be suggesting that you need to act like an Aries in the question at hand.

The Number Value of Tarot

Both the Major and the Minor cards have a numerical value bringing with it the energy of that number to the card. The ace carries the number of one telling us of new beginnings. If a reading has several cards having the same number, it is important to note what the energy of that number is. When you have a lot of tens in a reading, then the overall message could mean the conclusion of a situation is happening now or in the near future. Using this information along with the meanings of the cards will give you a deeper understanding of the card's messages.

  • One - New beginnings
  • Two - Partnerships
  • Three - Fertility
  • Four - Practical
  • Five - Teamwork
  • Six - Harmony
  • Seven - Spiritual growth
  • Eight - Success
  • Nine - Accomplishment
  • Ten - Completion

The Rider Tarot Deck
The Rider Tarot Deck
The Rider-Waite tarot cards are the cards that I use the most. I have been reading tarot cards for over 30 years personally and professionally and this is still my favorite deck to use. It is the easiest to learn with and most other tarot decks are fashioned after the Rider deck. The colors and symbols are beautiful and these cards are excellent to use for meditation and building intuition.

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