Photos by Magenta
Learning something new requires committing things to memory, right? Just like learning your times tables because “what if you need to multiply two numbers together without using any of the existing technology you have in your bag”
Well, thankfully tarot isn’t like that, and not because your phone also has access to the Internet for tarot meanings. Tarot works best when you let your logic brain take a back seat and let intuition drive for a while. You don’t need to rote learn every meaning in every card, just a few basics is enough.
We’ll break this guide down into two parts, cause otherwise we’ll be here all day. Part one now, and part two next week.
In part one we will cover how to learn the suit and court cards. Or the minor arcana cards as they’re also called. We’ll describe the basics common to the minor arcana cards, plus a technique to help you with interpreting the suit cards.
In part two we will talk about the trump cards. Or the major arcana cards. We will talk about the story of the major arcana and how very similar tarot is to Star Wars. Eh? Yeah, you’ll see.
So, first of all the basics. Most of the information you’ll find in books and on the Internet come from the Waite-Smith interpretations when the Waite-Smith deck surpassed the other commonly used decks as the hottest deck in town.
There is so much to say about the whole deck, the religious iconography and the lovely art work but today it’s just the basic basics!
In most tarot decks you’ll find four suits, so in the Waite-Smith deck you’ll see Wands, Swords, Pentacles and Cups. Other decks might have suits called different things, but there will generally be four. Each suit will have an association with an aspect of life.
Wands are associated with ideas, creativity, taking action and self expression through enterprise. These may be called Staffs, Clubs, Sticks, Rods etc etc in other decks.
Swords are associated with the intellect, logic and seeing things as they really are. These may be called Knives, Blades, Spades, Thorns, Needles etc etc in other decks.
Pentacles are associated with material things, surroundings, wellbeing and what can be gained. These may be called Coins, Diamonds, Discs, Plates, Tiles etc etc in other decks.
Cups are associated with emotions, love, other people and the interplay between relationships. These may be called Chalices, Hearts, Goblets, Vessels, Vases etc etc in other decks.
Each of the four suits begins with an ace, and ends with a ten. Then come the Court Cards. The meanings for the numbers can then be overlaid with the basic meanings for the suit.
Every ace card represents the start of a cycle or a new beginning or potential.
Two cards are often about duality, so this might be a partnership or having two versions of something, something to balance.
The threes are usually indicative of something brewing, bubbling under or maybe growing or getting stronger.
Then along come the fours to test what is afoot, maybe adding stability or perhaps a pause to take stock.
Fives can seem a bit mean, as they’re usually about a setback of some sort to test your resolve or strength.
The sixes are about picking yourself back up again and renewing efforts.
Seven cards are about learning a lesson, or taking time to see something new in the situation.
The eights are generally about getting going again and putting something into action.
Nines are about the strong chance, this ends one way or the other because the wheel always turns.
Tens are for conclusions, endings or even consequences.
So if we are going to do a very basic interpretation of, say, the 6 of Swords in a tarot deck, we know the Swords are about intellect, logic thinking and seeing things as they really are. Now we know the sixes are about picking yourself back up again and renewing efforts. So the basic interpretation for the 6 of Swords (and it is very basic!) could be about changing or renewing how you think to keep going forward. Let’s put a pin in that cause we’ll come back to it.
The Court Cards used to be focused on the fact they represented people, so previously lots of the meanings oftentimes reflected that. They were named after people in a royal court, so it kinda makes sense to have meanings along those lines.
These days, there is less emphasis on this aspect and more about the holistic meaning of the cards. For us, when we look at the court cards, we think of them as drawing attention to an aspect of our personality that is showing up. Sometimes we look at the role of the person depicted in the card, and the meaning lives there. Let’s explain….
Back in the day Pages in the Royal court were like a human WhatsApp for all the posh folks, they were sent round and about carrying messages for various people. So one way to read the Page card is about communication and messages. So thinking about how communicative you are, or how messages are landing, as an aspect of the personality. Pages were also students at court, one day they were going to more than a human WhatsApp. So the Page cards can also be about learning or beginning something (a little bit like the Ace cards).
Knights were sent off in all directions across the land, doing exciting stuff on behalf of the court. So one way to read the Knight card is about action. Looking at what the Knight is doing in the card gives a huge clue here as to how much action. How open you’re being to taking action as an aspect of the personality. For example, if you look at the Waite-Smith Knights, they are all engaged in what they’re doing at different speeds.
The Queens were the shadow leaders, if they weren’t leading themselves. So the Queen (and King) cards are about leadership. It just depends on what kind of leadership. When a Queen shows up, what is it you’re being asked to take a lead role on? But the Queens represent the feminine side, so this is all about soft skill leadership, and it may also mean solo leading and leading quietly in the background, acting as the solid foundation.
Kings were all about leading their people, so this leadership role may involve other personalities or being part of a team or perhaps this is an aspect of your personality, so asking how you work with others.
So those are the very basic basics. Very basic. Did we mention it was basic? It’s basic. This is because the art is the next thing to overlay over the number and the suit. It is the whole main point of having tarot cards, after all. The lovely art.
Ok. So we have approximately eleventy-zillion tarot decks out there, all with their own art (even the Waite-Smith looky-likeys have their own representations). So we’re just totally gonna phone it in, and give you some pointers. A bunch of questions to ask yourself as you look through your deck but with one main theme.
We mentioned earlier that tarot works best when you let your logic brain take a back seat and let intuition drive for a while. And we said you don’t need to rote learn every meaning in every card. And you don’t.
So getting the basics down, the suit and the numbers is really all you need to “learn”. Then all you need to do is describe the picture.
The best bit about tarot is this bit. While most card meanings you’ll find on google are connected to the Waite-Smith deck, and this is true of our basic number and suit meanings, it’s important to remember that the art is a huge part of what the cards mean. Every deck will have their own art. So remember to look at the pictures. Not just the suit and the number and this could nuance the meanings in any given card.
What to look for in the art to find the meaning for that card
In that first second you turned the card over, where did your eyes land?
What did you notice first?
What does that first picture, or part of the picture mean to you? Is it symbolic? Does it hold a deeper meaning?
Are there people/ anthropomorphic figures in the card? Why do you think they are there? Is what they are doing symbolic of something? Does that activity resonate with you?
What other objects are in the card? Why do you think those objects are there? Do they mean anything significant to you?
What’s in the background of the card?
By looking at the art work, you will notice a slightly different thing every time you look at the cards. This means the card’s meaning might change a little bit every time. That’s good. Go with it, because that’s how you allow your intuitive side to interpret the card.
If we go back to our example of the 6 of Swords. We said the basic meaning was about changing or renewing how you think to keep going forward. So looking at the Waite-Smith deck, we might first see that there’s three people in a boat moving from the foreground, heading away.
Then we might notice the water is different on the two sides of the boat. We also then notice the 6 swords that are in the boat. So we can overlay this with our basic interpretation to become something richer. Something like “Potentially there are three things to do to change or renew the troubled nature of how we think about a situation in order to keep going forward. This could lead us towards a more steady frame of mind, but of course, we’ll be taking these experiences with us as things we can use in the future”.
Next time we look at the 6 of Swords, we might notice something else or see things in a different order. That’s the bit to pay attention to. This means the cards won’t mean exactly the same thing every time. Don’t worry. That’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be!
Try this approach with any deck and hopefully you can leave the book in the box.
So that wraps up part one of our very easy tarot starter guide. Next wednesday we’ll conclude our guide so don’t forget to subscribe to us, then you won’t miss why we think tarot and Star Wars have a lot in common.
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