Something I am often asked is what are tarot cards? Tarot cards are graphical representations of things that we are likely to encounter in our daily lives such as hardships, self-improvement, love, hate, death, rebirth, wealth, illness, and so on.
Each image on a tarot card represents one of these ideas, for example the moon tarot card normally is an image of a moon, sometimes with other drawings included such as howling wolves, and can represent the idea that something in your life is not what it seems.
Each tarot card can also have an inverse meaning, or reverse meaning, if the card is upside down. For example, the death tarot card in its normal upright position, is a tarot card that can be interpreted to mean transformation and could refer to the need to start over by letting go of the past.
However, in the upside-down position, this tarot card can mean that you are on the verge of meaningful change but are resisting it.
Tarot cards can be used to help gain a deeper understanding of your current life situation, or perhaps can help you reflect on past decisions, and can help you make better decisions now and in the future.
Tarot cards are used by many folks such as Wiccans, witches, gypsies, psychics and people in many other neo-pagan religions and occult practices. But tarot cards can also be used by anyone and don’t require any specific training to understand or use.
Normally a tarot card deck comes with a small booklet with common interpretations for each tarot card, as well as some common tarot divination spreads to get you started.
Tarot cards were not always used for divination, or self-reflection and insight. In fact, in the mid 15th century tarot cards were used for playing games in many parts of Europe.
It was only in the late 18th century that tarot cards were used for purposes of divination in the form of tarotology and cartomancy.
Some occult experts believe that tarot cards might originate back to ancient Egypt, or the Kabbalah, but no sufficient research yet proves these theories.
Understanding Tarot Cards
Tarot card decks consist of 78 tarot cards which can further divided into the Major Arcana (22 cards) and the Minor Arcana (56 cards).
The Major Arcana tarot cards typically represent significant life events on a large scale, while the Minor Arcana tarot cards deal with day-to-day life. The Minor Arcana tarot includes four suits that each has its own theme. Each suit is numbered one through 10, with four additional Court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, King).
Although we are all the same in many ways, and undergo similar life journeys, we are still all unique to each other and walk our own unique paths.
Tarot card suits categorize the four major areas of life, thus each tarot suit makes the assumption that although we are each unique, we do share some common major life events and experiences such as death, love, wealth, sickness, anger, indecision and so on.
The tarot card suits therefore could be said to try group these life events and experiences into major groups to help make it easier for the person doing the tarot card reading to interpret it’s meaning.
Major Arcana and Minor Arcana Tarot Cards
When a tarot card reading consists mostly of Major Arcana tarot cards, you are likely experiencing life-changing events that can have long-term effects. Some tarot experts believe that this could mean that there are important life lessons that you should pay attention to in order to progress further with your personal and spiritual journey.
If many of the Major Arcana tarot cards are reversed, it may be a sign that you may be neglecting these important life lessons and you should pay more attention to each lesson before moving forward.
If a tarot card reading consists mostly of Minor Arcana tarot cards, then it could potentially be interpreted as smaller daily tasks that may each need some improvement or work to allow you to progress or overcome specific issues.
The Minor Arcana tarot cards represent what’s happening in your daily life such as small wins or losses, struggles, thoughts, interactions, events and situations that you face regularly in day-to-day life. Thus taking advice from the Minor Arcana tarot cards can have a significant impact on your daily life.
The Tarot Card Suits Are:
- Tarot pentacles – these pentacles are normally drawn on tarot cards on the surfaces of discs and coins. The tarot pentacle suit can symbolize health, wealth and the physical. Its element is Earth, and its playing card representation is the suit of diamonds. It further represents the female and this tarot suit’s associated cardinal direction is East. These tarot cards are aligned with the zodiac houses Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn.
- Tarot wands – normally shown on tarot cards as rods and staves. The tarot wand suit can symbolize creativity, action and passion. Its element is Fire, and its playing card representation is the suit of clubs. It further represents the male and this tarot suit’s associated cardinal direction is South. These tarot cards are aligned with the zodiac houses Aries, Leo and Sagittarius.
- Tarot cups – normally drawn on tarot cards as chalices and goblets. The tarot cup suit can symbolize love, emotion and empathy. Its element is Water, and its playing card representation is the suit of hearts. It further represents the female and this tarot suit’s associated cardinal direction is West. These tarot cards are aligned with the zodiac houses Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces.
- Tarot swords – normally shown on tarot cards as blades and chalices. The tarot sword suit can symbolize thought, challenge and observation. Its element is Air, and its playing card representation is the suit of spades. It further represents the male and this tarot suit’s associated cardinal direction is North. These tarot cards are aligned with the zodiac houses Gemini, Libra and Aquarius.
It’s thought that the creators of the tarot grouped the tarot suits into these categories to make it easier to understand and interpret the tarot card meanings. It gives the tarot card user a general idea of the overall meaning of separate individual tarot cards, and helps fit all the individual meanings of each card into a greater whole. It could be compared with the face of a clock.
Drawing just the circular shape of the clock on a piece of paper with only the hour and minute hands but no digits would tell us it is likely a clock, but we would not necessarily be able to tell the time accurately without digits on the clock face.
Once the digits are added we can see the individual meaning and read the time more accurately, but again without the clock face and the hands, we would not be able to understand the overall meaning, i.e. that it is a clock we are looking at.
So, the tarot suits are like the clock face, and each tarot card is like a digit on the clock face to help give further meaning. And the tarot suit helps give a more general overview of all the individual pieces of the tarot cards as a whole.
Tarot Cards Misconceptions
There is a misconception that tarot cards are bad or evil, or that tarot cards attract bad spirits, but this is simply not true at all.
There are many forms of divination used in many different religions, tarot divination readings are just one such forms of divination, other types include rune divination and scrying.
None of these are evil, and most don’t require the conjuration or summoning of spirits.
There are some darker divination methods that do use spirits to assist with divination, but such practices could hardly be said to be accurate, since you don’t really know what kind of spirit you are dealing with or what their motivation is to help you.
Those types of divination certainly could be seen as darker forms of divination, and some could even be said to be evil. But tarot cards certainly do not call on spirits in any shape or form.
Personally, I don’t even believe that tarot cards are only for the occult, or only for practitioners of neo-pagan religions or witchcraft.
None can lay claim to the development of the tarot, remember its original purpose was to be used as playing cards. It was of course a few hundred years later re-purposed as a form of divination, but it can be used by followers of any religion or belief system, without compromising your personal religious values.
Tarot cards are a form of self-exploration, and for reaching into the deeper areas of your psyche and higher-self. Tarot cards help to enhance your personal power, using your God given inner gifts and wisdom, to gain better meaning of your day to day life.
The power of tarot divination could be said to really just come from the subjective deductions you make when reading the meanings of the tarot cards in your tarot divination layout or tarot spread.
You already could have likely gained the same result with some serious introspection and meditation, but tarot helps to make it more interesting and helps focus your intention to gain those deeper understandings behind each tarot card without requiring too much additional effort.
A tarot card is therefore a tool that can help your mind and inner psyche gain better focus to read and interpret your emotions, thoughts and feelings to help make better decisions every single day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although some of these questions on tarot cards have been covered in the post, I will cover here the most common questions on tarot cards, tarot divination and tarot reading.
What Is Tarot Divination?
Tarot divination is the art of using tarot decks (also known as tarot playing cards) to help interpret daily life events, to gain a deeper meaning behind those events, as well as to potentially divine the future, based on the insights gained from those interpretations.
What is a tarot reading?
Tarot reading is the use of tarot cards (consisting of the Major Arcana tarot cards and Minor Arcana tarot cards) to help gain a better understanding of your past, present and future to help you progress further in your life quest or life journey. A tarot reading can consist of various tarot card layouts that are used depending on the purpose for the tarot reading.
What are tarot cards meanings?
Tarot card decks consist of 78 cards, which can further be divided into the Major Arcana tarot card suit (22 tarot cards), and the Minor Arcana tarot card suit (56 cards). Each card has its own meaning, and also a reverse meaning (if the card is upside down), which can provide you with further insights, and potentially solutions, to daily life problems and obstacles. For example, the death tarot card in its normal upright position, can be interpreted to mean transformation and could refer to the need to start over by letting go of the past. However, in the upside-down position, this tarot card can mean that you are on the verge of meaningful change but are resisting it.
Is tarot scientific? Is there such a thing as tarot science?
In a certain sense tarot could be considered a science since it is an attempt by humans to map out the inner workings of the human psyche using a sophisticated system of images and symbols, which when used and interpreted by the tarot user, can help identify solutions to problems that are common to all people. Each card has a specific meaning and interpretation that is fixed, so one could say that an attempt is made to keep a quantitative and objective perspective during each reading. However, it is not an exact science since tarot still leaves enough flexibility for subjective interpretation, which makes it unique to each person, and can thus also be seen as qualitative. Most occultists however may not agree that it is a science, and no such claims are made by the great majority of people who use the tarot for divination.
How many types of tarot card decks are there?
These days there are probably as many types of tarot card decks (or possibly even more) as there are tarot cards in a whole deck. Some tarot card decks offer different features to the reader, and possibly even different interpretations for the different tarot cards. Other tarot card decks are mostly the same as each other but just offer different flavours of art styles and themes such as fairy tarot card theme decks. The most common tarot card decks are the Rider-Waite tarot card deck, the Zerner-Farber tarot card deck, the New Mythic tarot card deck, the Deviant Moon tarot card deck and the Legacy of the Divine tarot card deck.
Are tarot cards bad?
No tarot cards are not bad, nor are they evil. Each tarot card can help you gain a better understanding of bad situations or events in your life, and reading the meanings behind each tarot card, can help you solve and overcome bad situations in your life. A tarot card can also offer insight into how your bad situation arose to begin with, and what you can do now to turn it into a good situation, or it can teach you what to learn from your bad situation. But tarot cards themselves do not cause bad things to happen to you, nor are they bad.
Do tarot cards tell the truth?
Tarot cards, in a way, can help uncover the truth, or many truths, on your life journey. The truth you seek is very much subjective to your own unique experiences and viewpoints that make you who you are. So yes, tarot cards can help tell you the truth for your life, and you will always gain very meaningful understanding during and after each tarot reading. Can tarot help you win the lottery? Likely not, although, maybe no one has tried haha! Remember that tarot reading, and tarot divination, is very much subjective and is used mostly for introspection to get help from your higher-self and uses your own personal power to make deductions based on the meanings of each tarot card, to make better decisions for your own life.
Do tarot cards bring bad spirits?
No tarot cards, and tarot readings, do not involve bad spirits of any kind. Spirits in general are not summoned or conjured during a tarot reading, nor is the help of any spirit required to do a tarot reading.
How can I get a better understanding of tarot cards? And which tarot card deck is good for beginners?
My suggestion is not to worry too much about which specific tarot card deck to get first. If you like the art or theme of a specific tarot card deck, then go for that one. Otherwise the Rider-Waite tarot card deck is quite popular and could be a good one to start with and get practice with doing tarot readings.
You will find that many people have a few different tarot card decks in their collection, and it’s nice to have some variation in your day to day readings by using different tarot card decks on various occasions.
Once you have your tarot card deck, have some fun by trying a few basic readings. The meaning for each card is normally inside a little booklet provided in the deck, otherwise I recommend getting a book or two on tarot readings, and there are many good websites too that cover tarot card meanings in detail.
Once you’ve done a few readings to get a feel for the tarot deck, I recommend drawing 2-3 tarot cards each day, and reading up on their meanings and reverse meanings. In just over a month’s time of doing this, you will already have a deeper understanding of the tarot cards, and will be well on your way to becoming an experienced tarot card diviner of your own future.
Do tarot cards really work?
Yes, tarot cards do work. It takes some patience, time and learning to understand how to interpret the meanings of the Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, the four suits (tarot pentacles, tarot wands, tarot cups, tarot swords), but in a short time you will find that tarot cards provide you with deep insights into your own life and psyche that never seemed obvious before. Tarot readings can reveal things that were always easy to see, but for some reason, you never saw them to begin with.
Do tarot readings come true?
It’s not the actual tarot readings that come true, rather it’s the decisions you make based on the meanings derived from tarot divination, that can help make things you want come true. So, in a sense, yes tarot readings do come true, in as far as the way you use the tarot card meanings to help make better decisions in your present life to reach the desired dreams that you are working for.
Can tarot cards be wrong?
Nope, tarot cards can’t be wrong, they offer insights and can provide guidance to improve your life. It’s possible that you as an inexperienced tarot reader, may misinterpret the meaning of tarot cards, and make wrong decisions as a result of that. But think of tarot cards as a tool, you can only get better with practice and self-study. Yes, you will potentially make some wrong predictions for yourself, or for a client as a beginner to tarot reading, but with experience and time you will learn to trust yourself, as well as your knowledge of the tarot cards and their meanings, to make more accurate tarot readings.
What are tarot divination spreads?
Tarot divination spreads, or tarot layouts, are ways in which you can layout tarot cards you have drawn from your tarot card deck, to achieve a particular purpose or goal for your reading.
A very common layout is a 3-card layout. Ask a question that you are seeking a solution to, for example, should I move on to a new job? Now with that question firmly placed in your mind, draw 3 cards from your tarot deck, and place them, with the back of the card facing up and the front-side of the card facing down on the table or ground, in a row next to each other. Now slowly turn over each card from left to right (some folks do this in different ways but this is the way many people do it), and take a good look at each card.
If some cards are upside down (top side of the card is facing downwards), that’s totally Ok. The first tarot card in the row on the left-hand side represents the past, the middle tarot card represents the present and the card on the far right is the future. Look at the meanings of each tarot card in your tarot card book and then interpret each in relation to the question asked.
So, for example observing the past you could say “What past event led me to being in this present job?”, then for the present you could ask “What can I do now to get a new job”, and for the future you could ask “What will the outcome be of my past actions and the present action I choose to take on my future?”.
There is no right way to do this, ask questions that have meaning to your past, present and future, and look at the meaning of each tarot card to gain deeper insights. There are many other tarot card layouts too, but the 3-card spread is definitely one of the most common.
Are tarot cards real?
Yes, tarot cards can be used to find real meaning in your own personal life, and can be used to help others find meaning in theirs (if they are your clients for example). Tarot cards originated in the 15th century and so have been around for hundreds of years. They are a tool that can provide real insights into your everyday struggles in life.