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What is Tarot?

Tarot Guide

The tarot is a lovely divination tool that has been likely around for as long as humans have recorded history. The contemporary tarot as we know it originated in the Renaissance, and was brought into the mainstream in the early 20th century with the Ride-Waite-Smith deck.

The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck’s simple illustrations are filled with traditional symbolism. Tons of mystics learn how to read tarot with these cards. And lots of artists base their own designs off this deck. The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck is the “classic” tarot deck that has piqued interest in metaphysics for generations.to receive

Traditionally, it is a set of 78 cards that are shuffled and drawn as a way of communicating Spirit, our higher selves, or universal source energy for the purpose of receiving guidance and answers to questions. 

Tarot decks are works of art, filled with symbolism and themes that combine traditional meaning with contemporary applications. Thousands of decks on the market have taken lots of creative liberties, and there are also many versions of the tarot from old cultures around the world.

A simple internet search or stroll through your local new age store will give you a glimpse into the wide variety of tarot decks available. Not only do the art styles range widely, but lots of tarot decks have fresh spins on old traditions. 

For example, it’s not uncommon to see entire suits replaced or added in a tarot deck. And instead of people being the focus of the imagery, animals or plants may be the stars. Sometimes cards in the major arcana are switched around or replaced entirely.

The tarot is a divination tool used for spiritual guidance and question answering. Each tarot card has a unique meaning, the whole deck tells a story.

Tarot vs Oracle

In order to be classified as a tarot deck, it needs to be broken up into two separate sections: the major arcana and the minor arcana. If this qualification doesn’t exist, then it’s better classified as an oracle deck. Which are also lovely divination tools! 

There is no “traditional” oracle deck. They are completely free-form and not nearly as interpretive as the tarot. Usually, oracle decks have words or affirmations on the cards.

Both tarot and oracle decks tend to have central themes. But an oracle deck doesn’t have a universal structure that it follows. It can have any amount of cards, any theme, any words, and any artwork.

Major Arcana vs Minor Arcana

The major arcana represent the complex, existential ideologies that come with being human and the psychological implications of contemplating them.

The minor arcana represent day-to-day affairs and problems that are present in our Earthly realities. Think of the major arcana as the subconscious mind, and the minor arcana as the ego mind. 

Now let’s break down the different sections of the traditional tarot deck, starting with the arcanas before moving onto the four suits. 

Major Arcana

The major arcana consists of the first 22 cards of the tarot deck. In order, they lead us down a path of spiritual and personal growth. Individually, each major arcana tarot card represents an archetype, or an embodiment of specific ideas and motifs. 

We all encounter these archetypes as we move through life. We even adopt some of them as our own personality, either purposefully or naturally. 

The major arcana are also known as the “trump” cards because their symbolism tends to dominate readings. The minor arcana cards are a lot “smaller” energetically speaking. 

When a multiple-card reading consists of mostly the major arcana, you can bet that the sitter is facing lots of “big picture” energy. Depending on the context of the reading, it may be a good idea to zoom out and look at the world through a much larger lens. 

If only one major arcana card shows up in a multiple-card spread, then the other cards can be read in the context of the trump card. Depending on the questions asked during the reading, the sitter may need to pay more attention to detail according to the trump card. 

The amazing thing about the major arcana is the clear path they create when strung together, while also being strong stand-alone cards. 

The journey begins with the innocent Fool card, but it does not end when we reach the wise World card. The journey continues on into the minor arcana, and then continuously repeats. We never stop growing, moving, or learning. And the tarot, specifically the major arcana, illustrates this universal truth. 

The tarot is a divination tool used for spiritual guidance and question answering. Each tarot card has a unique meaning, the whole deck tells a story.

Minor Arcana

In traditional tarot decks, there are 56 minor arcana cards. Some modern tarot decks throw in other bonus cards, or even entire bonus suits! For the sake of this post, we’ll stick with the traditional way of organizing the minor arcana. 

Each suit is laid out similarly to a normal deck of regular playing cards. There’s an ace card to start it off, then numbers one through ten, then the court cards. 

Usually the court cards are the page, knight, queen, and king. Occasionally they’ll go by other names, but at least four court cards are present in each tarot suit. 

The suits traditionally consist of Wands, Swords, Pentacles (or Coins), and Cups. The suits don’t really have a particular order. And each deck will likely order them in their own way. Similar to regular playing cards, no suit comes before or after any other suit. 

Any tarot deck you purchase will also come with a little guidebook to help you decipher the meaning of the cards in that unique deck. Be sure to use it during your readings. It will likely go over more traditional interpretations as well as artist intentions with the imagery. 

Tarot Court Cards

The court cards are like our sub-personalities. This might get confusing with the major arcana archetypes, so just remember that the minor arcana deals more with our earthly activities while the major arcana deals more with our spiritual ascension. 

Each suit of the minor arcana is its own mini-story within the tarot as a whole. Similar to the major arcana, but on a smaller scale. They bring humanness into the tarot. These cards tend to be a lot easier to relate to and interpret. Their concepts are much more straightforward and less ambiguous than the major cards. 

It may seem a bit overwhelming to realize that each card has its own special meaning. A lot of beginners feel the need to memorize their individual significance. However, that is not effective or accurate. 

An easy way to learn the meaning of tarot cards in the minor arcana is to go by area of life, numerology significance, and then artistic implications on the actual card. 

Tarot Card Meanings

If you’re following our Total Tarot Series on the Spiritually Inspired Podcast and YouTube channel, you’ll learn more about each individual card meaning!

For example, the ten cards in each of the four suits represent a completion of some kind. Something has reached its peak, something is coming to a close, something has reached its full potential. Depending on whether you pulled the wands, pentacles, swords, or cups will determine exactly what area of life is being referenced. 

This makes learning the minor arcana much less overwhelming. Listed below are some basic keywords to keep in mind for each number and court card that generally apply to all the suits: 

  • Ace: newness, change, opportunity, 
  • Two: evaluation, learning, planning, overwhelm
  • Three: good fortune, taking action, expectations
  • Four: rest, intuition, security, dissatisfaction
  • Five: struggle, disappointment, defeat, misfortune
  • Six: sharing, nostalgia, avoidance, victory
  • Seven: imagination, stealth, challenge, perseverance 
  • Eight: speed, restlessness, containment, engagement
  • Nine: satisfaction, tension, courage, indulgence
  • Ten: completion, peak, full potential, wrapping up
  • Page: messenger, learning, beginnings, curiosity
  • Knight: focus, willpower, determination, obsession
  • Queen: emotional intelligence, intuition, serenity
  • King: maturity, decisive, control, communication

The more you explore the tarot, you’ll begin to understand the deeper, individual meanings behind each card. These general keywords are intended for beginner tarot readers so they are not overwhelmed with information. 

Suit of Wands

The suit of fiery energy, courage, passion, endeavors, ambition, competition, power, spirituality, and romance. 

The suit of wands represents an emergence of self. This energy can feel very primal and humanizing. It illustrates our personal evolution, or our own coming of age story in this lifetime. 

The suit of wands is associated with the spring season. This is the time of year where everything is waking up and coming alive. The potential is almost limitless as we enthusiastically embrace new paths.

The energy of wands is very romantic. Both in the literal, sexual sense and in the way of being inspired. That feeling of pure bliss and “love at first sight” that exists right at the beginning stages is consistent throughout the suit of wands. 

In a reading, the wand cards represent our core being and self awareness. There’s a sense of fearlessly searching for a greater purpose in life. Knowing that there’s more out there–something more exciting, revealing, and important than anything else happening right now. 

The wand cards might also indicate unpredictability and wildness, as if all control has been lost. This energy is very “in your head” and dominated by our egos. 

If we aren’t careful, our little bonfire that is fueling our endeavors can quickly become a raging forest fire. But when utilized correctly, the fire can be the most indispensable tool we have. 

Suit of Pentacles

The suit of earthy energy, material world, finances, career, learning, abundance, responsibility, security, and stability. 

The suit of pentacles represents all things grounded in this 3D reality we all currently occupy. This energy can feel very practical and straightforward. 

Pentacles are quite polarizing–yes or no, black or white, up or down. We all need structure in our lives in order to truly thrive. And the pentacle cards consistently emphasize the need for structure and a certain amount of certainty. Changing and interacting with our physical environment is very grounding, and it’s something we all must do as humans on Earth. 

The suit of pentacles (or coins) is associated with the season of winter. Our ancestors had to carefully plan in order to survive the winter months. Logic and analysis can often come off as cold, when it’s intended to be more about providing security. In this way, the pentacles are very nurturing. 

In a reading, the pentacles cards represent our earthly foundations. Matters that are centered around our own sustainability, especially financially. They could also point towards our careers and how we contribute to society. 

These are practical matters that also impact us spiritually. We can make a difference in the world, make ends meet, and fulfill our soul’s purpose all at the same time. 

The pentacles might also indicate a lack of these things–money, security, abundance, purpose, etc. If the ground we walk upon is shaky and we lack trust, the pentacles will reveal our insecurities. 

Everyone needs money and structure in order to feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, we can’t really function properly. However, if we become too greedy or have a compulsive need for control, we still can’t function properly. Balance between structure and freedom is important. 

Suit of Swords

The suit of airy energy, wisdom/logic, change, action, oppression, truth, authority, protection, and courage.

The suit of swords represents our underlying conflicts, both internal and external. The sorts of things that have been ever-present for a long time and need to be dealt with in order for us to grow. 

Swords cards are rooted in intellect, often illustrating the war between good and evil. This war plays out on an individual and global stage. These unseen forces influence everything, and when utilized properly can create massive waves of change (internally and externally).

The suit of swords is associated with the season of autumn. This is the ultimate season of change. Things that were once in bloom are revealing their inner problems. Things that didn’t survive the heat of the summer are already dead and motionless. The swords are guiding us to carefully examine such things so we can take courage, logical action and move closer to authentic ways of being. 

The suit of swords has a negative reputation, mostly because they tend to point out any doom and gloom in our futures (and our present). The imagery on swords cards can also be fear-inducing sometimes. But we shouldn’t fear the swords–they represent the powerful impact our actions and attitudes have. 

In a reading, swords represent mental struggles and conflicts. They appear when these things need to be dealt with–they can no longer be swept under the rug. The issues we face are necessary evils because of the pain they cause and the enlightenment they result in. 

Swords cards can also be seen as warning signs. Depending on the question and context of the reading, there may be something dark lurking around the corner. Or perhaps it’s already present in our lives and we’re just blind to it. 

We are not at the mercy of good or evil. These are simply energetic states that we either embrace or reject. More likely, we infuse a little bit of both into our being and must work to keep everything in check. 

Suit of Cups

The suit of watery energy, emotions, intuition, relationships, creativity, subconsciousness, love, belief systems, and flexibility. 

The suit of cups represents our intimate, emotional connections with others and ourselves. Love specifically is the emotion most strongly aligned with the suit of cups. Love is the center of all energy in the Universe–the Universe Itself is composed of pure love. 

The suit of cups is associated with the summer season. This time of year, life is abundant and beautiful. This association is deeply rooted in the fact that all life on Earth requires water to survive. On a deeper level, this means all life on Earth requires loving emotions to survive. 

Emotions often drive our decisions and opinions. But being overly emotional or thinking with your heart too much can easily taint our perception of reality. The light and dark sides of the suit of cups illustrate this conundrum. 

Intense and powerful emotions are part of our human experience–we’re meant to fully feel all the feels. We should strive for a balance of trusting our intuition, being flexible in our interpretations, and building healthy boundaries. 

In a reading, the suit of cups appears when we’re dealing with matters of the heart, especially as they pertain to our relationships. We might be overly emotional, or not emotional enough. We might have no boundaries at all, or we might have boundaries that are too rigid. 

Water is inherently mystical and reflective. It literally reflects ourselves back to us, giving us the opportunity to see our own emotions in others. Water is also simultaneously adaptable and powerful. It always takes the shape of its container, keeping secrets hidden in its depths. Much like the nature of the subconscious mind. 

As always, please feel free to take what resonates with you and leave behind what doesn’t. These keywords and descriptions have been gathered based on my own experiences and interpretations. This post is definitely not an exhaustive expression of the full meaning of the tarot. All tarot card interpretations are dependent upon the sitter, their intentions, and the context of the reading as a whole. 


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