Understanding Tarot Cards: Symbolism and Intuition
Tarot cards are rich in imagery that guide the reader to understanding tarot cards and not just the superficial meaning of the card, but all of the possible nuances and symbolism. Since nothing is life is two-dimensional, the meanings of the tarot aren’t either. Sometimes, when a reader pulls a card that seems strange or inappropriate, a closer look at the image on the card can shed light on the complexities of the situation at hand.
Just about every deck will come with an instruction booklet that will help the new user interpret each card and understand what the particular artist wants to convey on each tarot card. However, a reader must connect with the deck, and that means that the pictures not only speak to but converse with them. A reader wants to cultivate this connection with their cards.
While trying to cultivate a connection to the cards, these tips can help a new tarot reader or client understand tarot:
Look at the arcana: The tarot is split into the major and minor arcana. The major arcana, comprised of 22 cards, tends to reflect major changes or life passages. The major arcana is personal. These are things that happen within a person.
When these show up in a reading, the matter the card reflects is not only of great importance, but may be one that can impact the course of one’s life. A spread with a lot of major arcana cards indicates an individual who is going through a major personal transformation or journey.
The minor arcana, on the other hand, is comprised of 56 cards and reflects things outside the person, such as smaller events, objects, other people, and situations. These may be catalysts to major changes reflected in the major arcana. A spread with a lot of minor arcana cards indicates that the individual is dealing with a lot of different possibilities, activities, and circumstances. The minor arcana is split into the four suits of Pentacles, Wands, Swords, and Cups, reflecting the elements of Earth, Fire, Air, and Water, respectively.
Look at the suit. The suit of a card reflects how the person feels about whatever the card represents. For example, if the card represents the immediate past, the suit of the card tells how the person deals with the past. A Pentacles card reflects a monetary or material attitude toward the area of life the card reflects. A Wands card reflects something that the individual is very passionate about. A Swords card reflects something that the person rationalizes or deals with intellectually. A Cups card is something that a person deals with emotionally and through intuition.
So, staying with the example, a Pentacles card reflecting the immediate. past may indicate a person who worked hard for material gain. A wand card may reflect a person who thinks of the past as a tumultuous, intense, or creative time. A Swords card indicates that the person looks back on the immediate past with cool, rational detachment. A Cups card indicates a person who is very much emotionally connected to their recent past.
Look at number/court. Even the court or number on the card gives an indication of what the card represents.
Kings represent masculinity, authority, fatherhood, creativity, and enterprise. Queens represent femininity, beauty, nurturing, motherhood, and quiet wisdom. Knights represent a young adult: ambitious, energetic, courageous, and at times intense. Pages represent youth, children, teenagers, rashness, naiveté, enthusiasm, idealism, and excitement.
The numbers also have meanings, largely related to their occult/Kabbalistic meaning.
Aces mean newness, beginnings, and creation.
Twos mean balance, dilemmas, and extremes.
Threes mean unity, family, and completion.
Fours mean consistency, stability, and stubbornness
Fives mean power, instability, and domination/submission.
Sixes mean harmony, journeys to harmony, and contentedness.
Sevens mean imagination, spirituality, and the higher mind.
Eights mean limits, boundaries, and ambiguity.
Nines mean isolation, introspection, and epiphany.
Tens mean fulfillment, culmination, and totality.
Look at the picture itself. The pictures themselves have particular meanings. Some are more mysterious than others. This is intentional; as all things in life can be interpreted differently, and nothing is black or white, such is the tarot. Study the pictures themselves. It is best to get a deck with detailed cards if one is new to tarot so that the cards can be studied thoroughly.
For example, suppose a reader drew the Magician Card. This is number one in the major arcana. You know this is about the individual’ personal life and personal transformation. You know that the number one means newness, beginnings, and creation.
Now, looking at the card itself, the reader sees more symbolism. In many decks, the magician is working with a pentacle, a cup, a wand, and a sword. All the elements are represented and vital to transforming energy at will. He wears red robes. He is like royalty or clergy, but also neither. He reaches up into the sky with a baton his right hand. He points to the ground with his left hand. As above, so below. He shows and leads the way. He may have the infinity sign over his head. Energy never dies. It only changes. Roses climb all around him. Life proliferates; beauty proliferates. Beauty is balance. Infinity is balance. Four elements in balance. The sky and the Earth in balance. He has a snake biting itself around his waist. Infinity around him.
What does this tell you about what the magician represents? It certainly doesn’t mean that the individual is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Is the card reversed? A reversed card has its own meaning. Sometimes, it’s clearly the plain opposite of the card when right-side up. Other times, it’s more nuanced. Usually, a card with a more nuanced meaning when right-side up has a more nuanced meaning when upside down.
For example, the four of Wands card means marriage, stability, happy home, and abundant happiness. The opposite of that can mean divorce, loss of home, and loss of happiness and stability.
However, a more esoteric card, like the Tower, already means death, destruction, chaos, and ruin. Reversed, it means the same thing, but that the individual is in denial or refusing to face the fact that something is over.
Let your intuition be your guide. When all is said and done, a reader’s best tool is their own intuition, developed over continuous practice. This practice helps the reader develop a connection to their cards. The more they practice, the more they use their cards, and the more readings they do, the stronger the connection. Thus, when someone is getting a tarot card reading, they’re actually getting more than a mere interpretation of where random cards lie. They’re witnessing the reader tap into universal knowledge using the special language of the tarot and receiving the gift of guidance from the universe.