Tarot cards have helped people to learn more about themselves and to make difficult decisions for centuries. They probably go even further back than we realize, in one form or another. For as long as people have had curiosity, there must have been some form of tarot cards. They might not have been called tarot, and they might not have even been cards. We’re going to focus on tarot cards as we know them today.
Tarot cards can seem very mystical and confusing to a beginner, but after reading this article you’ll have a clearer view. Our goal is to demystify the meaning of tarot cards in order to help you gain a clearer view of the bigger picture. Once some of the smaller details and lingo starts to make sense, tarot as a whole becomes a lot more clear and easier to take in.
The best advice that we can give you for starting out is to not be intimidated. It can feel like information overload when you start to learn everything, but just absorb as much as you can. This knowledge and information isn’t going anywhere, so you can always check back as a refresher. It takes years of diligent study to become a master of the tarot, so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t grasp everything immediately.
Even the most experienced readers are still learning and gaining new insights. The cards can surprise anyone, no matter how long they’ve been using them for. That’s one of the beautiful things about tarot. It doesn’t take very long to learn the core basics, but it takes a lifetime to master them. When you stop learning, you stop growing as a person. Never stop learning and never close your mind off to new ideas.
Now, let’s take some time to talk about free tarot meanings, because there’s no need to pay for this information. If you purchase a deck of cards, it will almost certainly come with a booklet that covers the meanings of the various cards in the deck.
Even still, there’s a lot of room for interpretation. There might be a general consensus on what each card means, but once you start putting those cards together in different spreads, this is where the talent and skill of the person doing the reading really matters.
An experienced tarot card reader who has been doing it their entire life could come up with a completely different meaning than somebody who is just starting out. How do we decide who is right and who is wrong? That’s another magical aspect of the cards. They aren’t bias. They don’t pick sides. They are just here to reveal their wisdom to whomever is willing to sit down and listen.
Every card in a tarot deck has a unique meaning, and even those meanings can be open for interpretation sometimes. Also, a card’s meaning will vary depending on whether it appears upright or upside down. It’s a lot to keep track of. On top of that, there are different sizes of decks.
There isn’t a standard official amount of cards for a deck to contain, but there are two that are certainly the most common. A standard full deck consists of 78 cards, which includes 22 cards from the Major Arcana and 56 cards from the Minor Arcana. Most decks will either come with 78 cards, or just the 22 Major cards.
We’ll be going over the meanings of some of the more common Major Arcana cards with a few words each. It would take pages and pages for each card to really go in-depth, and this article is just here as a basic introduction.
When you’re first being introduced to tarot cards and their meanings, it’s interesting to start by guessing what you think a card represents. After you’ve made your guess, you can find out what it actually means. How often are you on the right path? A lot of them are self-explanatory, but some cards are often misunderstood as well. Death is a card that is very often misunderstood, for example, but it’s not the only one.
A big thanks to our friends at DIY Psychic Powers for compiling the list of tarot card meanings that the following list is based off of.
- 0 – The Fool represents new beginnings, innocence, and naive impulsiveness.
- 1 – The Magician represents power, self-actualization, and confidence.
- 2 – The High Priestess represents mystery, intuition, patience, duality of life.
- 3 – The Empress represents materialism, fertility, protection, and satisfaction.
- 4 – The Emperor represents structure, order, security, and discipline.
- 5 – The Hierophant represents tradition, institutions, knowledge and rules.
- 6 – The Lovers represents harmony, divinity, blessedness, trust.
- 7 – The Chariot represents force, emotion, control, and victory.
- 8 – Strength represents character, courage, conviction, and endurance.
- 9 – The Hermit represents isolation, solitude, sacrifice, and transformation.
- 10 – Wheel of Fortune represents destiny, change, foretelling, and luck.
- 11 – Justice represents law, reflection, authority, and fairness.
- 12 – The Hanged Man represents choice, passivity, relinquishing, and attainment.
- 13 – Death represents transition, progress, necessity, and inevitability.
- 14 – Temperance represents reconstruction, moderation, balance, and integration.
- 15 – The Devil represents corruption, indulgence, ignorance, and resistance.
- 16 – The Tower represents destruction, necessity, cleansing, and foundation.
- 17 – The Star represents comfort, divinity, faith, and rejuvenation.
- 18 – The Moon represents illusion, deception, subconscious, and perception.
- 19 – The Sun represents clarity, redemption, success, and celebration.
- 20 – Judgment represents rebirth, integration, development, and restoration.
- 21 – The World represents completion, victory, achievement, and affirmation.
Note: It only goes up to 21 because it starts at 0 instead of 1. Typically, the tarot cards are numbered with roman numerals but we wanted to keep things a bit simpler for people who aren’t used to those yet.
The cards of the Minor Arcana are divided up into four groups, and each group is organized very similarly to a normal deck of cards, except there are a few small differences. Can you spot them?
The four suits in the Minor Arcana are Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands. Here is a list of the complete Minor Arcana:
- Ace of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Two of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Three of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Four of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Five of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Six of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Seven of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Eight of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Nine of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Ten of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Page of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Knight of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- Queen of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
- King of: Swords, Pentacles, Cups, and Wands.
Were you able to spot the differences between these and normal playing cards? They both start at ace, but after the Ten card is where things change. Normal playing cards don’t have a Page, nor a Knight. Tarot cards don’t have a Jack. Those are the main differences. As you probably noticed, tarot cards even have a Joker (Although he is in the Major deck, not the Minor.)
There are different ways to interpret what it means when a card reveals itself reversed (upside down.) Some decks will include a tarot card meanings list for reversed cards, whereas others will not. If your deck doesn’t include the reversed meanings, here are some things to keep in mind.
Opposites: You can often take the opposite meaning of the upright card and use that to determine the reversed meaning, but it’s not always that clear cut and simple. None the less, it’s a good starting point.
Delays: Another interpretation is that a reversed card doesn’t mean the opposite, it just means the significance will be delayed. For example, a reversed death card could mean that the inevitable change of this card will happen, but just not yet. This will give you a much different reading than just looking at what the opposite of the card’s meaning is.
Blocks: It can also mean that the energy that would come from the upright version of the card is blocked. The card still showed up, so it is there, but something is stopping it from fully activating. The deck decides to manifest its lesson through a reversed card, rather than not showing the card at all.
There are other methods of understanding reversed cards, as well. It can also mean that there is an unconscious awareness of the energy of the card, which is similar, in a sense, to the blocked energy. Of course, something being blocked and something being unknown isn’t quite the same, but for all intents and purposes they both appear as a reversed card.
As you make your way through this article, you’re most likely starting to realize something. Are you noticing that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know about tarot? You started off wondering what do tarot cards mean, and now you’re in a rabbit hole filled with all sorts of different interpretations and meanings.
It’s exciting to find out that there is so much more to learn, but like we mentioned in the introduction, it can also be a daunting task. You’re doing great so far, if you haven’t been scared away yet you are going to really enjoy the journey. People who study tarot card meanings love to go deeper and deeper, and to pick up new tricks along the way.
Tarot card meanings and spreads were first popularized in France in the 1700s, and have been constantly changing and evolving since there. From angel tarot card meanings to gypsy tarot card meanings, there is such a diverse world to explore. There’s always more to learn, and the more you learn – the more you realize you have left to learn. It’s a never-ending journey towards complete enlightenment and self-understanding.
The best tarot readings happen when you enter into them with an open mind and a desire to learn. If you are trying to prove the cards wrong at every step, and putting up a resistance, you won’t have a good experience. Tarot interpretation is more of an art than a science, but there are some guidelines which we looked at earlier. You have to understand basic tarot card meanings in order to open the doors to finding deeper meanings.
Hopefully reading these basics will help you to unlock your own tarot card interpretations. Simply by being here, you are on the right path. Some people like to buy a deck and just hop right in without having any idea what they’re doing, but research and learning the basics is important. It’s a matter of respect, too. If you had a chance to learn to cook from a master chef, would you just run into their kitchen and start tossing things into the oven, or would you let them explain some of the basics to you first?
If you don’t own a deck yet, your next step should be finding one. There are countless decks to choose from. We recommend starting with a basic deck first, and learning as much as you can. Make sure the deck you choose comes with a “Little white booklet” inside, which will cover the meanings of all of the cards, and hopefully it will touch on the reverse meanings as well. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start taking bits and pieces from different styles.
Just like music, you’ll become influenced by different tarot readers and their styles. Remember, tarot is a traditional art but it has still evolved over the years. Just like how Jazz from the 1950s doesn’t sound the same as modern Jazz, tarot interpretation styles have also changed. Every generation takes bits and pieces from the ones who came before them, while holding onto certain elements from the traditional style.
Don’t get too hung up on trying to do everything exactly how the people before you did it. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can add some of your own personality and experience into the process.