All About the Cards
By Samantha Stevens
The Tarot is not just a divinatory tool, it can also be utilized in the appropriately trained hands as a tool for providing counsel and advice with which we can navigate life. It is an antique form of divination that predates popular psychology, but has been shown to have archetypal energies that work well from a Jungian perspective. Tarot becomes a book of wisdom offering you a living parable or myth that reflects your life journey in the hands of the right Diviner. It describes a journey that mirrors your path in life. Usually the story is a direct description of what is going to happen in a particular window of time although talented readers can tell you much more than that from looking at the symbols in the cards! One of the main purposes of the use of the cards is to construct a future narrative so that you can make decisions to change your fate.
The reader shuffles cards and lays them out in a specific pattern usually called a “spread.” This can be compared to a snapshot or map of your life. Each card position in the layout of the spread represents a characteristic of the situation in question –what forces are beyond your control, what your particular strengths are in the current or future situation, and what the likely outcome is if you continue as you have been doing. As the cards fall into their positions, meaning is created by the unique placement of the symbolic meanings of each card. Together they weave a synchronistic tapestry that may seem random at first, but in reality is a very careful map which you may follow or not as you wish to bring about or avert the outcome of your reading. Synchronicity is a principle that is not only referred to constantly in psychology, but also in quantum physics. The entire system of Tarot cards can be described as a pictorial or numerological expression of the human condition.
The Tarot cards can be compared to a wise friend who we can turn to when we wish to make a wise decision regarding a relationship or a career. The wisdom found inside the Tarot, is actually the same wisdom that is found inside each and every one of us. The whole purpose of a reading is to tell you what you don’t know so that you can use your free will to take appropriate actions that are good for your soul. Now, this does not necessarily mean telling you what you want to hear – but instead what you NEED to hear.
It’s hard to believe, but Tarot cards were not originally designed to tell the future! They were first used in the 16th century Paris to play a card game similar to Bridge. As there were no soap operas in those days, the cards were also put to another entertaining use. The face cards, such as the Queen of Cups, King of Swords and so forth were modeled on the personas of popular celebrities of the day. These cards were shuffled and then arranged into scandalous story lines. This parlor game was a source of great amusement for both royalty and peasants alike.
In addition, 16th century poets used the cards to compose poems called tarocchi apporporati. The poems would be constructed about the characters in the trump cards in the deck, such as the Queens, Kings, Knights and Pages to tell a tragic or romantic story.
Tarot cards were not associated with divination until the 1800s, when a secret order of magicians in Venice, Italy found significance in their numbers and symbols. Before that these decorative cards were not used for fortune telling. As these magicians were the Illuminati of their day, their reading methods were kept very secret. The first known records of the divinatory meanings assigned to Tarot cards did not appear until the 1700s in Bologna.
Ordinary playing cards have been connected with divination as early as 1487. The gypsies were adept at reading plain playing cards for centuries before the Venetian magicians got their hands on a French Tarot Deck. It is safe to assume that the Tarot card meanings and spreads that are used today are based on a hybrid of techniques derived from the Tzigani system of reading playing cards, French parlor games and Venetian interpretations of occult symbols!
To understand the Tarot you need to familiarize yourself with the meanings of the four suits and the meanings of their symbols. The cups, coins, disks and wands of the Tarot deck derive their meaning from cartomancy. Cartomancy is the art of reading playing cards.
There are 78 cards in a traditional Tarot Deck. These 78 cards are divided into the Major and Minor Arcanas. The Minor Arcana relates to the ordinary playing deck. Most of the cards in the Minor Arcana represent events or qualities.
The additional 22 Major Arcana cards included in the traditional Tarot deck represent the stages of a person’s individual passage through life, from non-existence, birth, love, marriage, death spiritual ascension and back to non-existence again. The Fool Card, numbered 0, is indicative of this eternal cycle.
The 22 Major Arcana cards are an addition to what otherwise could be described as an ordinary playing deck that consists of four suits.
The meanings of the 22 Major Arcana cards are based on an old French parlor game that was used to predict the lives of the celebrities of the day. Since then, they have mutated to symbolize major life events and personal attributes.
When you are first learning to read the Tarot cards, sometimes it is valuable to have a list of the card’s abbreviated meanings to refer to while you are throwing the cards. Though not all diviner’s use the same correspondent meanings.
Here is a list of the classic meanings of each of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana.
0 The Fool – choices offered, folly, going in circles
1 The Magician – creative energy, psychic power
2 The High Priestess – mystery, hidden influences, female supremacy
3 The Empress – abundance, fertility, motherhood
4 The Emperor – leadership, control, fatherhood
5 The Hierophant – convention, society, restrictions
6 The Lovers – love, relationships, intimacy
7 The Chariot – mind over matter, conflicts, war
8 Strength – courage, power, stamina
9 The Hermit – wisdom, spirituality, connection with Higher Self
10 Wheel of Fortune – unpredictability, changes of luck – good or bad
11 Justice – legal issues, balance, karmic return
12 Hanged Man – withdrawal, study, rest, waiting
13 Death – change, physical death, an ending
14 Temperance – moderation, adaptation, patience
15 The Devil – temptation, the material world, evil
16 The Tower – conflict, problems, devastation
17 The Star – hope, inspiration, happiness
18 The Moon – unseen troubles, black magic, female sexuality
19 The Sun – marriage, success, male sexuality
20 Judgment – awakening, renewal, the result of good or bad actions
21 The World – success, opportunity, a clean slate
If you subtract the extra 22 cards that comprise the Major Arcana from a Tarot deck, the Minor Arcana is what is left over. The Minor Arcana of every Tarot deck contains 56 cards divided into four suits with each suit maintaining its own sphere of influence. The four suits are the Cups, Pentacles (also referred to Disks or Coins in some decks), Wands (sometimes referred to as Batons) and the Swords. In a deck of conventional playing cards the Cups related to the suit of Hearts, the Diamonds to Pentacles, the Wands to Clubs and the Swords to Spades.
Each of these four suits reigns over their own special spheres of influence.
The Cups suit deals with emotional matters, love, sex marriage, fertility and creativity. The Pentacles suit pertains to matters such as wealth finance commerce prosperity, career and economic security. The Swords suit refers to legal matters, the wheels of progress, heartbreak, betrayal, opposition, breakthroughs and the need to impose order on chaos. Wands represent the mind, inspiration, guidance, the world of ideas, deep thought, intellect, purpose and potential. Here is a handy list of the condensed and abbreviated meanings of the 56 cards in the Minor Arcana.
Ace beginning of fortune, passion, inspiration
2 business success, partnership
3 help offered, charity
4 rest after labor, a compromise
5 struggle, competition
6 startling news, invention, applied science
7 courage in the face of difficulty, futility
8 swift action, a message, good news
9 overcoming obstacles, povert
10 unwise use of power, too much force
Page a messenger
Knight starting or finishing of an issue, a proposal
Queen mother, artist, creative woman
King man of authority, an entrepreneur
Ace new love, union of souls, birth
2 new friends, new love, soul mate
3 abundance, health, prosperity
4 discontent, dissatisfaction
5 regret, disappointment
6 happiness from the past
7 unrealistic dreams, delusions
8 things thrown aside, waste, addiction
9 material abundance, financial progress
10 family life, excess, indulgence
Page the arrival of good news
Knight proposals, invitations
Queen romantic woman, vain woman
King romantic man, sensitive man
Ace victory, swift justice
2 indecision, uneasy compromise
3 separation, love triangle
4 changes, improvement
5 success without happiness
6 difficulties resolve themselves, medical attention
7 a failed plan, unmet goals, disappointment
8 restriction, rigid thinking, evil
9 sorrow, agony of mind
10 ruin, despair, betrayal
Page upsetting message, a meddler
Knight end of a problem, a swift resolution
Queen strong willed woman
King man of military authority
Ace beginning of wealth, a great idea
2 two situations at once, commerce
3 skills in the arts, steady work
4 material possessions, gifts
5 loneliness, abandonment
6 charity, desperation
7 a pause amid growth
9 enjoyment of wealth
10 family money, promotion
Page good financial news
Knight patience with business and financial matters
Queen a rich woman, an independent woman, a matriarch
King man of business, a wealthy man
The face cards of the Minor Arcana used to represent the Who’s Who of Tarot. Originally these personalities were based on the antics of celebrities in 16th century France. The face cards are the ‘people” cards in the deck that often symbolize the arrival or influence of a male or female in your life. They are represented by the four face cards in each suit – Cups, Wands, Coins and Swords. These are the persons represented by the Kings, Queens, Knights (sometimes Princes) and Page (or Princesses) in the Minor Arcana of the deck. The four offices of King, Queen, Knight and Page vary in name somewhat from deck to deck – but all are correct for the deck and correspondences you are working with in that deck.
For those of you who have always wondered just exactly “whom” these people are coming up in your reading, here is a short guide as to what they are supposed to look like and be like:
Queen of Cups A fair-haired young woman. Often good looking, vain, thoughtless. Princess of Cups Beautiful, naive sexy usually fair-haired woman. Immature.
Queen of Disks A slightly older woman. Well to do. Practical. Nobody’s fool. Princess of Disks A nurturing, often codependent woman. Wounded Healer.
Queen of Wands Darker haired, artistic, entrepreneur, independent, feminist, intelligent. Princess of Wands Brown or blonde do-gooder. Practical. Takes matters into own hands.
Queen of Swords Dark haired, widow, sad woman. Abandoned woman. Wily Princess of Swords Dark haired, scheming woman. Depressed. Promiscuous. Needy
King of Cups Fair-haired alpha male. Warm, generous, loving, Controlling. Knight of Cups Knight in shining armor card. A suitor. Warm generous loving.
King of Disks Paternal Fatherly type. Medium to Dark Haired. Businessman Knight of Disks An active, athletic stubborn type. Controlling. Can be Violent.
King of Wands Dangerous, womanizing man. Egotistical. Dramatic. Sexy Knight of Wands Medium to dark haired younger man. A Player. Vain. Selfish
King of Swords Cruel, powerful, bitter man. Sometimes emotionless. Swift. Knight of Swords Sullen, dark haired, sexy but depressed younger man. Poetic