Tarot Card Meanings
The Tarot Deck
Tarot is a playing card deck which originated in Italy during the renaissance period. The Tarot deck is still commonly used in games today in Europe, although the cards are more often used for divinatory readings in most other parts of the world. Over the years, Tarot cards became increasingly popular with clairvoyants and fortune tellers as a tool of divination. In the early twentieth century, a scholar of occultism named Arthur Edward Waite set out to document the meanings of the Tarot cards in divinatory readings. He incorporated his research into the design of his Tarot deck, which was originally published in 1909 by the Rider and Sons Company. Although Waite’s deck is commonly referred to as the Rider-Waite deck in recognition of the publisher, many students of Tarot prefer to recognize the artist who illustrated the deck, Pamela Colman Smith, by using the names Waite-Smith or Rider-Waite-Smith. Waite was a Freemason, and both he and Smith were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. While other authors have written works about Tarot, and many other decks exist, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck remains the most widely recognized and popular Tarot deck.
The cards of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck are illustrated with detailed pictures that include background meanings and symbolism. Unlike many playing cards, the cards from this and most other Tarot decks appear upside down when turned over. Tarot Reversals include the upside down cards and their upside down meanings in readings. Cards that are dealt upside down in a reading are generally interpreted with an opposite, or at least somewhat opposing meaning than the same card would have upright. Study of the image on the card is typically used to interpret the reversed meaning. An example being that an upright cup holds water, where the water drains out of a reversed cup. Not all reversed meanings are directly opposite of the upright meanings, but in general they suggest different outcomes.
The Minor Arcana
The pip cards, or numbered cards, of the Minor Arcana can be visualized as a matrix. Each suit represents one of the Elemental Correspondences, or Elemental Dignities, familiar from Astrology. Each rank represents the influences of numerology and also a stage of development within the suit.
The Elemental Correspondences / Elemental Dignities
The Wands, sometimes called the Batons, Rods or Staves, represent the element of Fire. When interpreting playing card readings, the Clubs have the same elemental influences as the Wands of Tarot. Fire represents creativity, ambition and inspiration. It is the element of desire, plans, projects and achievements.
The Cups, or Chalices, are under the influence of Water. Water is the element of Love and Emotion, the Heart. Therefore it is not surprising in playing card readings that the Hearts are equivalent to the Cups of Tarot. With both Cups and Hearts, the card meanings suggest emotional and relationship issues.
The Swords are under the influence of Air. Air represents character, communication, values and the intellect. The Spades of the playing card deck are equivalent to the Swords of the Tarot deck. Swords and Spades very often suggest challenges and difficulties, testing the character and intellect of the subject.
The Pentacles, or Coins, are under the influence of Earth. The Diamonds of the playing cards are interpreted in similar ways to the Pentacles. The Pentacles represent work, finance, money, wealth and business, as well as the Earth and the environment.
The Pip Cards
The Aces suggest beginnings, opportunites, new jobs, new relationships, fresh starts.
The Twos are about taking the next steps after starting the new business, relationship or project. They also suggest making important choices on which direction to go.
The Threes relate to initial successes, creativity, fertility and achievements.
The Fours suggest solidifying the structure, laying foundations and enjoying some rewards.
The Fives remind us that we have to keep trying. We have achieved some success, but we have not conquered the world. There will be challenges, confrontations, difficulties. Adaptability and perseverance will be necessary to achieve continued success.
The Sixes suggest increased maturity, adaptability and generousity, and accentuate the need to work together with others.
The Sevens are about making the right choices in spite of trials and temptations.
The Eights suggest progress achieved through perseverance, and by overcoming challenges and sorrows.
The Nines relate to character, persistence, self-awareness, integrity.
The Tens are about completion, rewards, success, achievement and fullfillment.
The Court Cards
The face cards of the Tarot deck are known as the Court Cards, or Royalty Cards. Often these cards represent people in readings. However, they may also have other significance depending on their position in the spread, and the influences of the surrounding cards. The Court Cards are generally subject to the same elemental correspondences as the pip cards. However, in the case of the Court Cards, there is a duality. The Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings have their own elemental dignity, in addition to that of their suit. The naming of the Court Cards can also be a bit confusing between different Tarot decks. Some authors have felt that the Pages of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck are better named as Princesses, and that the Knights of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck are better named as Princes.
The Pages, known also as the Princesses, may refer to a person of either sex. As a person, the Page card typically represents a child. Pages are also significant as messengers. Depending on the position of the Page in a reading, it is likely to suggest that a message relevant to the elemental correspondence of the suit is coming soon. For example, the Page of Pentacles may suggest a positive message about business, while the Page of Pentacles reversed may suggest a negative message about business. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Pages is Earth.
The Knights, also known as the Princes, often represent an older teenager or young adult. They indicate motion, travel, energy, aggressiveness and desire. As a person, the Knight suggests the characteristics of their suit, dependable and hard working in the case of the Knight of Pentacles, for instance. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Knights is Air.
The Queens represent femininity, allure, motherhood, nurturing and matriarchy. A Queen in a reading may suggest the presence of a woman, but depending on context and position, could also represent growth and development. As a person, her characteristics reflect those of her suit, for example the Queen of Wands is likely to be fiery and energetic. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Queens is Water.
The Kings represent leadership, masculinity, authority, responsibility, fatherhood and patriarchy. They suggest stability and dependability. It is the King's job to keep things working in unison and keep the kingdom together. As with the other Court cards, the Kings reflect the qualities of their suit. For instance, the King of Swords as a person might be a judge. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Kings is Fire.
The dual elemental correspondences of the Court Cards are interpreted together with the elemental correspondence of the suit to establish the character of the card. The King of Wands for example, with correspondences of Fire and Fire, most strongly corresponds to the element, where the Queen of Pentacles, with correspondences of Water and Earth, shares some of the traits of both elements.
The Major Arcana
In addition to the fifty-six Minor Arcana cards, the Tarot deck contains another twenty-two trump cards, known as the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana cards represent more broad and persistent influences than the Minor Arcana cards do. Major Arcana cards suggest states of being that might last for a long time. They also represent states of understanding and facets of life. As with the Minor Arcana cards, the Major Arcana also have elemental correspondences, and some have dual elemental correspondences, as well. A listing of the Major Arcana cards and their correspondences is below...