Tarot is loaded with layers of symbolism. There are clues within the images that speak to card meanings which is why experts tend to recommend the Rider-Waite tarot as a starter deck. This allows new users to get familiar with classic images that make the meanings more understandable before they move onto other decks. In tarot decks, the Major Arcana relies on mythological stories, archetypes, and familiar images. The Minor Arcana is then divided into four suits that each has a symbolic meaning. Numbered cards have connections to one another across all suits. There are hundreds of symbols and even more interpretations contained in the 78-card deck. Below is some of the symbolism, how to connect it, and how to remember the meanings.
The Major Arcana is directly correlated to the mythology of ancient Greeks, Romans, and the Norse. There has been a great deal of writing about how the mythology has been kept alive through symbolism and storytelling, colors, imagery, and more. There are many things to look for in each card. Below are just a few common examples.
- Justice – A figure on a throne holds an upright sword and set of scales showing justice. Scales have been used as a symbol for justice for a long time because of their connection to equality. In Egyptian mythology, the god Anubis is responsible for weighing your heart against a feather to see if you are worthy of heaven. The sword is symbolic of righteousness and a literal tool of destruction. Justice has the option of bestowing equality and righteousness or cutting verdicts or offering inequality.
- Death – Death rides a pale horse. The skeleton is a symbol of death and decay with the horse a callback to the Bible and the apocalypse. He holds a flag with a flower to show rebirth, a new season, or growth. While death may be viewed as scary, within tarot, there is no true death only transformation. In the background of this card a sun is rising to show beginning again.
- Strength – This card shows a figure reaching into a lion’s mouth and is related to an old fable. As the fable goes, a lion was terrorizing a village and the strongest warrior was sent to kill him. When he finds the lion, it is roaring because it is in pain due toa rotten tooth. Instead of killing the lion, the soldier removes the tooth and saves the village through kindness not strength. This image reinforces that strength is more than just physical power.
- Magician – This figure holds a candle in their hands that is burning on both ends. The elements of all the suits lie in front of him showing that they have mastered all of the elements in the minor Arcana.
The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits that are thought to be connected to the four elements. The coins are connected to earth and focus on home and work. The cups are symbolic of water and focus on emotions, family, and love. Swords are connected to air and rule over words, intellect, and decision making. The wands are fire connected to passion, creativity, violence, and sex. Looking across the numbers on the suits, there are similarities between cards with the same number. These are shared below.
- Twos – Twos are mostly about two person connections and indicate a working partnership when it is the two of coins. The two of cups is a soulmate connection, but the two of swords is about finding balance in a relationship. The two of wands is about a decision you must make to move forward.
- Fives – Fives are midpoints and represent a dramatic, usually negative shift. The five of wands is symbolic of arguing and conflict, five of coins about financial desperation, five of swords about endings and disagreements, and five of cups about feelings of regret.
- Tens – The tens are the ending of a cycle and fulfillment of various other suits. The ten of wands is the only negative connotation as it shows you are getting more than you bargained for in something.
Colors also show the meaning of cards with the most obvious being the chariot card which shows dark versus light. A cart is pulled by two beasts and to successfully move forward, you need balance. Each color has its own significance and offers layers of meaning, especially when seen in a combination. Colors can also align to chakras. These meanings are shared below.
- White – Higher self, birth, inexperience, crown chakra
- Red – Security, anger, passion, root chakra
- Pink – Love, compassion, forgiveness, heart chakra
- Orange – Joy, creativity, sacral chakra
- Yellow – Enthusiasm, opportunity, solar plexus chakra
- Gold – Spirituality, crown chakra
- Blue – Communication, trust, throat chakra
- Green – Harmony, healing, heart chakra
- Brown – Comfort, stability, sacral chakra
- Purple – Intuition, critical thinking, third eye chakra
- Black – Grounding, darkness, protection, root chakra
- Silver – Sensitivity, empathy, crown chakra
Iconography such as the moon, sun, and running water appear repeatedly. The card speaks rebirth, hope, and when the sun appears, new dawn. When the moon and the stars appear it indicates the internal with the star and hermit speaking to an internal struggle and finding your inner power. Water indicates purification and psychic prowess.
Depending on your interests, tarot offers a rich tapestry of information to learn and explore. The more you learn about the world outside of using tarot, the more connections you will make to the cards.