T H E
B a s i c s
You're probably anxious to get to know
your new deck. In this section you'll find a brief introduction
to the structure of the deck. This will help you
understand the meanings of the cards in general terms.
The later sections will help you provide more in-depth
interpretation. Think of this as the outline for the card
meanings. The details and nuances will come in time.
Remember that the tarot is very personal and that the
cards are packed with many meanings. Use this text as
a guidebook, but let your own intuition be the final
word. If something here does not make sense, discard
it. Divination is not a hard science. Use the exercises
provided to help flesh out the meanings that you'll use
for your own readings. A journal or notebook will be
especially handy in keeping all your notes and observations
in order. Throughout this book, there will be exercises
to help you solidify your understanding of the
Seventy-eight cards may seem like a lot to learn.
Dividing the deck into sections makes it easier. The
first main division is in two parts: the Major Arcana
(twenty-two cards) and the Minor Arcana (fifty-six
cards). Arcana means "secrets"-so the Major Arcana
are the "big secrets." In practical terms, these are the
cards that represent important milestones, major
changes, events beyond our control, and spiritual
growth. The Minor Arcana, "lesser secrets," generally
depict events, situations, or people related to everyday
life. An important characteristic of the Minor Arcana
is personal control-that is, they represent aspects of
your life over which you have the control.
The Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana are usually very simple to understand
because most people are familiar with the structure
already. Think of a pack of playing cards: four
suits (clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds), with each
suit having ten pip cards numbered ace through ten
and three court cards (King, Queen, Jack). The Minor
Arcana is just like that, with the addition of one court
card for each suit. The court cards of the tarot reflect
their medieval roots: King, Queen, Knight, and Page.
The suits have different names and symbols but still relate
directly to the suits of playing cards [alternative
names are in brackets]:
WANDS [Rods, Batons, or Staves] = Clubs
CUPS [Chalices] = Hearts
SWORDS = Spades
PENTACLES [Coins, Disks, or Stones] = Diamonds
In addition to relating to playing-card deck suits,
the tarot suits are associated with the four elements.
This helps define the suit's relation to our daily lives.
The illustration below shows the four suits, and the list
below it reveals each suit's elemental association and
the aspects of life it represents.
WANDS (left). Fire or Air. Career, projects, inspiration.
CUPS (top). Water. Emotions, relationships, creativity.
SWORDS (right). Air or Fire. Challenges, intellect,
ways of thinking.
PENTACLES (bottom). Earth. Physical world,
Each Minor Arcana suit is associated with an area
of life. All the cards are numbered as well; each of
these numbers has meanings.
ACES: New beginnings, opportunity.
TWOS: Balance, duality, a crossroads or choice.
THREES: The full expression of the suit,
FOURS: Structure, stability, stagnation.
FIVES: Instability, conflict, loss, opportunity
SIXES: Communication, problem-solving,
SEVENS: Reflection, assessment, motives.
EIGHTS: Movement, action, change, power.
NINES: Fruition, attainment.
TENS: Completion, end of a cycle.
Using this information, you can already get a sense
for a card's meaning. For example, the Seven of Pentacles
could represent an assessment of resources or
property. This card shows a woman looking at the fruit
on a tree. She might be contemplating the work invested
and comparing it to the harvest gained by that
investment. The Three of Cups could indicate the
achievement of relationships. This image shows three
woman celebrating the joy of their friendship.
While the numbered cards show different situations
of everyday life, the court cards bring personality to
these situations. They can represent other people or the
querent (the person asking the question). Because real
people are complex, the court cards usually represent
just a facet of a person-the part of the person engaged
in the particular situation being inquired about.
PAGES: Novices, eager and enthusiastic but sometimes
shallow; can indicate a message that the
querent will receive.
KNIGHTS: Extremists, very focused (like a knight
on a quest); can be unbalanced or fanatical; may
represent a fast-moving situation.
QUEENS: Mature and reflective; one who nurtures
others; can be prone to obsession.
KINGS: Mature and expressive; one who organizes
and controls external matters, sometimes at the
expense of internal or personal matters.
Put your Minor Arcana cards in numerical
order. Look at each one and connect the image on
the card to the associations of the suit and the number
as described above. Write your observations in a notebook.
Note whether the connections were obvious or
subtle. Also note whatever details grab your attention.
Write down why a particular image intrigued you and
how it affects the meaning of the card for you.
Lay out your court cards. Think about
the personality represented on each card. Match that
card with someone in your life, noting the particular
behaviors, characteristics, or habits that caused the
connection in your mind.
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana are made up of twenty-two cards,
numbered zero through twenty-one. Just as the minor
suits have an elemental association, so does the Major
Arcana; it is connected with the element of Spirit. In
addition to being numbered, the Majors are also
named as follows:
0 The Fool
I The Magician
II The High Priestess
III The Empress
IV The Emperor
V The Hierophant
VI The Lovers
VII The Chariot
IX The Hermit
X Wheel of Fortune
XII The Hanging Man
XV The Devil
XVI The Tower
XVII The Star
XVIII The Moon
XIX The Sun
XXI The World
The names give some indication of the meaning. For
example, the Hermit means taking time to retreat from
the world and look inward. The Star brings hope and
guidance, a light to follow through otherwise dark
List the meanings or associations that
come to mind simply based on the name of each Major
The Fool's Journey
Just as dividing the Minor Arcana into suits and learning
about the suit and numerological associations provide
a brief overview and introduction to these cards'
meanings, learning the Fool's journey helps introduce
us to the Major Arcana. The twenty-two Major Arcana
cards depict a journey through life, a journey of
self-development and spiritual growth. We all start as
the Fool, the first card of the Major Arcana, though all
our journeys are different.
To visualize the Fool's journey, lay out the cards,
placing the Fool alone at the top. Then lay out the rest
of the cards, in numerical order, underneath the Fool in
three rows of seven (1-7, 8-14, and 15-21).
1. The first row shows the steps we go through in our
basic development from birth to young adult and in
learning how to live in society.
2. The second row illustrates the universal laws or
rules of society that we must confront, question,
and come to terms with; it also is about discovering
who we are.
3. The final row is our spiritual development.
THE FOOL: The Fool marks the beginning of the
journey as an archetypal child, unformed and unlearned,
innocent and eager.
THE MAGICIAN: The Magician represents the male
principal or animus. This is our active or outgoing
energy, our skills and abilities in terms of the outer
world. In basic terms, it is how we do things and
how we learn.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS: The High Priestess embodies
the female principal or anima. This is our passive
or introspective energy, our skills as they relate to
our inner world and self-reflection. In short, this is
how we think or feel about things and what we
THE EMPRESS: The Empress represents the Mother
archetype and our experience with mothering, nurturing,
emotions, and our creative impulse.
THE EMPEROR: The Emperor represents the Father
archetype and our experience with authority, reason,
THE HIEROPHANT: The Hierophant is our formal
education within our society, including school, religious
training, and cultural traditions.
THE LOVERS: In a word, adolescence-our experience
of hormones, sex, and our sense of self.
THE CHARIOT: The Chariot illustrates the ability to
see both sides of an issue; it marks the ending of the
"but that's not fair!" stage.
Once we have synthesized these archetypes into our
sense of self, we are usually pretty well prepared to
participate in society. Sometimes we incorporate some
of these elements better than others. For example, if
someone "has issues with her mother," she may not
have dealt very effectively with the Empress.
STRENGTH: Strength is where we learn to control
our instincts and impulses, where we master ourselves
and develop self-control. We may want to
party all night, eat the entire buffet, or shop until
our credit card reaches its limit, but we realize that
it is probably best if we do not indulge all these
THE HERMIT: This is us feeling the need to "find
ourselves." We turn inward, questioning all we've
learned, and try to find a sense of inner peace.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE: Just when we feel centered
and balanced, our resolve is tested by a spin of fate.
Something happens beyond our control or our ability
JUSTICE: In the aftermath of the spin of fate, we find
out how we fared, and realize that we reap what we
sow. If we were well prepared, we come out perhaps
shaken but okay. If not, we may need to revisit the
Hermit phase of the journey-or move on to . . .
THE HANGING MAN: The Hanging Man shows us
the strength and power of letting go and enjoying
the view from a different perspective. This card also
shows us the importance of sacrifice. Some things
are worth sacrificing for and maybe we really can't
have it all-at least not the way we planned.
DEATH: Just when we get comfortable hanging on by
a thread, we are faced with a major change in our
lives. This can be any major change, positive or negative:
an unexpected promotion, the ending of a relationship,
moving to a new place.
TEMPERANCE: After coming through a transformational
experience, we learn graceful balance and tolerance.
We learn to adapt to changes in circumstance
while maintaining our center, our sense of self.
We have come through a very difficult phase of our development.
We have faced Death in some guise. We've
learned to maintain ourselves, to adapt to circumstances,
to not rail against the seeming unfairness of the
universe. What more could we possibly have to do?
THE DEVIL: Balanced, strong, and confident, now we
are asked to confront our shadow selves, the dark aspects
of ourselves that we fear and that may control
us in subtle ways. These may be aspects that we
learned to control or repress in the Strength card.
This worked well for a while, before we had the
knowledge and experience not just to ignore and repress
these aspects. Now we need to revisit them,
learn to appreciate the positive qualities they can
bring to our lives, and synthesize them appropriately.
THE TOWER: Although we feel we've got ourselves
under reasonable control by now, the universe reminds
us that we are not in control of everything.
The Tower gives us a bolt from the blue that shakes
our very foundation. This may differ from the
Wheel or Death in that rather than disrupting the
external circumstances of our lives, the Tower
shakes the foundations of our belief systems.
THE STAR: The Star provides us guidance, hope, and
optimism after cataclysmic events, giving us the
strength we need to rebuild our crumbled foundations.
THE MOON: While the Star guides us on our way,
the Moon teaches us to question everything and to
realize that things are not always what they seem.
By the light of the Moon, we can lose our way or be
distracted by enticing shadows. We can also have inspiring
dreams. We must learn to tell the difference.
THE SUN: After wandering in the Moon, we emerge
into the Sun with increased strength and self-awareness,
with the certainty that we know ourselves,
what we believe in, and what is real.
JUDGEMENT: The Judgement card calls us to a
deeper spiritual realization. Often it is a call to action,
to share your knowledge or experience with
THE WORLD: This is the end of the cycle; we have
learned all of our lessons and have achieved integration,
balance, and spiritual awareness.
Look at each Major Arcana card. Write
down a situation or experience from your own life that
reminds you of each step of the Fool's journey.