Tarot Card Meanings

PLEASE NOTE: This section is under construction, and will be for a while. New material to be added as available, until all 78 cards are covered here!

In the English-speaking regions of the modern Tarot landscape, virtually any deck you can find will trace its roots back to one (or more) of the following three decks: the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (“RWS”), the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck (“Thoth”), and the Tarot de Marseilles deck (“TdM”).

The Tarot card meanings that will soon follow here are not meant to be specific to these or any other individual decks. Rather, they’re intended to serve as a sort of distillation of the accepted meanings for each card that are present more or less in all three of these seminal decks (and therefore across Tarot in general at this point in the evolution of the field).

Please note that the RWS, Thoth, and TdM do all differ from each other in multiple ways, and that some of these differences are fairly significant. Several of these inconsistencies have to do with card names or numbering, and some do involve fluctuations in card meanings.

Despite these differences, though, the decks do also share a significant amount of common ground. It’s this common ground that will be the primary focus in this section. Becoming familiar with the following basic Tarot card meanings should give you a good, versatile starting point from which you can then journey more deeply into the unique workings of almost any specific deck.

Tarot Deck Overview

Are you familiar with the structure of a deck of standard playing cards? I’m talking about the kind of deck used in such popular card games as poker, blackjack, and solitaire. If so, then you’re well on your way to grasping the structure of the typical Tarot deck, too.

The standard playing card deck is made up of a total of 52 cards. There are four Suits: Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds. Each Suit is made up of cards numbered 1 through 10, with the 1’s being given the special designation of Aces. Each Suit also has its own small “Royal Court” – a small Royal Family comprised of a Jack, a Queen, and a King. That’s 13 cards per Suit times four Suits, which gives us our 52-card total.

Now let’s shift over to the Tarot deck. Tarot is subdivided into two separate groups of cards: the Minor Arcana (“lesser secrets”) and the Major Arcana (“greater secrets”). They’re used together in the deck during readings, but they do have their differences.

The Minor Arcana cards represent our more everyday life.  They reference the more mundane concerns of our existences here in our consensus reality. And the Minor Arcana group of Tarot cards is also very similar to a deck of standard playing cards. Like the 52-card deck, the Minor Arcana is made up of four Suits. The names given to these Suits can vary quite a bit from deck to deck, although the most common designations are these:

Playing Card Suit

Tarot Equivalent

Clubs

Wands (also Rods, Batons)

Hearts

Cups (Chalices)

Spades

Swords

Diamonds

Pentacles (Disks, Coins)

And just as playing card decks have an Ace-through-10 numbered sequence, so, too, do the Suits in Tarot’s Minor Arcana.

The biggest difference occurs in that little gallery of “Royal Court” members. First, think of the playing cards’ Jack as a Prince-type of figure – that is, he’s masculine in energy, but less mature than the King. Tarot then adds in a layer of “Court Card” membership that doesn’t exist in standard playing card decks. This layer can be fairly summed up as a Princess sort of rank. Just as the Prince-figure is like a less mature version of the King’s more seasoned Yang/masculine energy, the Princess-figure serves as the less experienced counterpart to the more well-versed Yin/feminine energy of the Queen.

This gives us a total of 56 cards in the Tarot’s Minor Arcana. That is, we have Ace through 10, and four Court Cards in each of the four Suits. That’s 14 cards x 4 Suits = 56 cards.

Before we turn to the Major Arcana, please be aware that just as the names given to the four Suits will vary across different decks, so, too, will the designations applied to the various Court Card ranks. The “Big Three” decks mentioned above assign them as follows:

Court Card Quality

RWS

Thoth

TdM

Yin/younger

Page

Princess

Page

Yang/younger

Knight

Prince

Knight

Yin/mature

Queen

Queen

Queen

Yang/mature

King

Knight

King

As long as you understand that the names given to Suits and Court Card ranks can change, but the properties and functions of the relevant cards don’t, then you should be fine. You’ll probably come to regard one deck’s way of assigning names to be the most natural and “correct” way for you, and that will become your reference point when using other decks, which is completely okay.

Now let’s take a quick look at the Major Arcana. If the Minor cards represent the everyday trials and tribulations of life here on Earth, such as our chores, our jobs, our bodies, our finances, our relationships, our emotions…then what do the Majors mean?

In a nutshell, where the Minors are about the commonplace, the Majors are about those experiences that transcend it. When we enter a phase that can be characterized by Major cards, we’re looking at a highly significant and often pivotal period of time. When Major cards get active, it can feel as if vast, invisible hands are reaching into our lives with thoroughly deliberate intent, and with the sole purpose of giving those lives a good, hard, ego-rattling shake. If someone were to write a book or shoot a movie based on another person’s life, it’s likely that much of the story would center on that other person’s Major Arcana-influenced affairs…

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in total, and they have a mostly standardized sequence. However, just as with the Minor cards, some of the Majors receive different names from different deck creators, and in one notable case, a pair of Major cards can be swapped around in that sequence. Here are the Major Arcana cards as they appear in each of the Big Three Tarot decks (clickable hyperlinks will take you to individual entries for each card):

Card #

RWS

Thoth

TdM

0 or 22 – 0 or XXII

The Fool

The Fool

The Fool

1 – I

The Magician

The Magus

The Magician

2 – II

The High Priestess

The Priestess

The High Priestess

3 – III

The Empress

The Empress

The Empress

4 – IV

The Emperor

The Emperor

The Emperor

5 – V

The Hierophant

The Hierophant

The Hierophant

6 – VI

The Lovers

The Lovers

The Lovers

7 – VII

The Chariot

The Chariot

The Chariot

8* – VIII

Strength*

Adjustment*

Justice*

9 – IX

The Hermit

The Hermit

The Hermit

10 – X

The Wheel of Fortune

Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune

11* – XI

Justice*

Lust*

Strength (or Fortitude)*

12 – XII

The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man

13 – XIII

Death

Death

Death

14 – XIV

Temperance

Art

Temperance

15 – XV

The Devil

The Devil

The Devil

16 – XVI

The Tower

The Tower

The House of God

17 – XVII

The Star

The Star

The Star

18 – XVIII

The Moon

The Moon

The Moon

19 – XIX

The Sun

The Sun

The Sun

20 – XX

Judgement

The Aeon

Judgement

21 – XXI

The World

The Universe

The World

* Cards 8 and 11 sometimes get switched in the numbered sequence by deck creators. SEE EXPLANATORY INFO HERE!