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The Tarot Minor Arcana

Updated on December 13, 2017

The Minor Arcana, otherwise known as the Lesser Arcana, make up the bulk of the deck. There are fifty-six Minor Arcana cards out of the entire seventy-eight card deck of tarot cards. It’s made up of four different suits that have fourteen cards each. There are variations from deck to deck, but the majority of tarot decks feature the Minor Arcana as Italo-Spanish suits; Cups, Swords, Wands (also known as batons, clubs, or staves), and pentacles (also known as disks, coins, or rings). The French decks consist of diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs. Each of the suits within the Minor Arcana is numbered from ace to ten, with the addition of the four court cards. The court cards are the page, the knight, the queen, and the king and can be compared to the face cards in a normal deck of playing cards. In some tarot variations, there are prince and princess cards instead of the page and the knight. It other Italian decks, there are two more court cards; the mounted lady and the maid. Contemporary decks that include French playing cards use the jack or the knave instead of the page and the knight. These decks only have fifty-two cards, as opposed to the more common seventy-eight. Most contemporary tarot decks symbolize the minor arcana with detailed illustrations, which is something that was made popular by the Rider-Waite tarot deck around 1910. However, there are decks that don’t include illustrations, and these usually represent the Minor Arcana with symmetrical designs of pips.

When it comes to meaning, the Minor Arcana are believed to represent the more mundane parts of your everyday life, the less important archetypes, or the smaller mysteries in life. Compared to the meaning behind the Major Arcana, this makes sense; not just because of the names of the two different types of cards, but because there are so many more Minor Arcana than there are Major Arcana. The court cards are meant to represent people that the person being read has met in their life. Each suit also has its own distinct set of connotations and characteristics.

  • Wands; Also known as Batons, Clubs, or Staves, this suit is represented by the fire element. It is given the class of peasantry, with the faculties of creativity and will. The key words used to describe Wands are new ventures, passion, good luck, and success. Because of this, wander symbolize inspiration, enthusiasm, and spiritual mindedness. This suit is matched with the zodiac signs Leo, Aries, and Sagittarius.

  • Coins; Also known as Pentacles, Disks, Rings, or Diamonds, this suit is represented by the earth element. It is given the class of the urban Third Estate, otherwise known as merchants, town-dwellers, and artisans, with the faculties of the physical body, wealth, or possessions. In a Latin sense, Coins symbolize the feudal class of traders and merchants, and to worldly matters. They’re also associated with the physical characteristics of dark hair, eyes, and complexion with a sturdy build. This suit is matched with the zodiac signs Virgo, Taurus, and Capricorn.

  • Cups; Also known as Chalices or Hearts, this suit is represented by the water element. It is given the First Estate, or the class of clergy, with the faculties of emotions and love. As a whole, this suite is used to talk about events and situations that involve emotions. Because of this, a lot of the cards in this suite are meant to represent an emotional problem of some kind, or a situation where love is involved. The water signs of the zodiac are Scorpio, Cancer, and Pisces. Also, cups were used to as a symbol for the clergy in feudal times, so cups can also be used to represent a religious or spiritual matter.

  • Swords; Also known as Spades, this suit is represented by the air element. It is given the class of Second Estate, which is nobility and military, with the faculties of reason. The element of air is a symbol of freedom, but it also signifies quick change. As you might have guessed, swords also represent the military and imply strength, authority, and power. The downside to that is that it also implies violence, responsibility, and suffering.

However, this differs from the original divinatory correspondences that go along with the Latin and French suits as they were conceived by Etteilla. His decks were quickly followed by A.E Waite (Rider-Waite-Smith) and S.L. MacGregor Mathers (Golden Dawn Liber T). The correspondences for those were;

  • Swords are equivalent to Spades, Picques, or Pikes.

  • Cups are equivalent to Hearts or Coeurs.

  • Coins or Pentacles are equivalent to Diamonds, Carreaux, or Tiles.

  • Batons or Wands are equivalent to Clubs, Trefles, or Trefoils.

Like the Major Arcana, each individual card comes with its own set of meanings as well. When you read a tarot card in a layout, you want to make sure that you allow yourself to indulge in the primary focuses of the suit itself as well as the card that was drawn. While reading the guide below, remember that not every tarot card deck is illustrated the exact same way. The meanings, however, remain.

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