Many beginner books on tarot include keywords for the each card. Keywords are a great tool for tarot readers, beginner and otherwise. However, most books do not include important information about keywords, such as how to use them and what makes a good keyword.
Mary Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card includes lots of great activities to help dive deeper into the cards. It also includes other very good foundational information. In Step 5, Numbers, Greer includes an essay on key words, excerpted below. Her essay focuses on keywords for numbers, which apply to more than one card in the deck. Keywords for the twos, for example, apply to all the twos.
So what exactly is a keyword? Basically, it opens up (unlocks) meaning. A word symbolizes and communicates meaning. A key provides access to that meaning (opening it) and also connotes an example of the meaning (explaining it). Metaphorically, a key solves a mystery or a problem, decodes a cipher, reveals a pattern, or exposes an unseen significance. Keywords are something you can look up easily on the Internet or in a book index, which tend to make them more uniform and universal. They generally unlock a whole realm of associated meanings.
A good keyword has certain characteristics (Note: Greer includes 7 characteristics, but we are only featuring 3 of them here):
Essence: If focuses on what is essential or archetypal in a card and upholds conventional usages (Choice, a keyword for twos, suggests that there is more than one option).
Similarity: It emphasizes resemblances among all the cards to which it applies (although some cards may show a lack or a striving toward the quality rather than overt possession). (Each of the twos shows a response to or way of handling options.)
Specificity: It cannot be used as well or better for any other grouping. (If equally well, then the keywords applies to a larger group of cards.)