Tarot Card Meanings - Overview
Tarot cards represent lessons, situations, events, interactions and influences that affect people. The cards feature descriptive imagery designed to project the possibilities of a situation or influence. When reading Tarot cards, one should look carefully at the entire picture, both the foreground and the background. It is important for the reader to pay attention to the possibilities presented by the cards.
Unlike some types of playing cards, Tarot cards typically are not reversible. If turned over, the image on the card is upside down. This characteristic is used to gain further insight from the cards. The Tarot deck may be shuffled with some of the cards upright and others reversed. When the cards are dealt, leave the reversed cards in position and use the reversed card meanings to interpret them.
Tarot readings encompass a number of different spreads. A spread is an arrangement of the cards designed for a particular type of question. A card may have a somewhat different meaning depending on what spread is being used, what type of question is being asked, and the card's position in the spread. Ten popular Tarot spreads are described on our Free Tarot Readings page.
The Tarot Deck
The Tarot deck is composed of 78 cards. For the purpose of divination, the deck is segmented into two parts, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is separated further into the group of face cards, known as the Court Cards, and the remaining numbered, or pip cards.
Individual Tarot Card Meanings
The Tarot card meanings on this site feature Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot cards, and are indexed according to the segments of the deck. You may select either the Major Arcana, Court Cards or Minor Arcana from the links below for interpretations of the individual cards:
The Elemental Dignities
The Wands, sometimes called the Batons, Rods or Staves, represent the element of Fire. When interpreting playing card readings, the Clubs have the same elemental influences as the Wands of Tarot. Fire represents creativity, ambition and inspiration. It is the element of desire, plans, projects and achievements.
The Cups, or Chalices, are under the influence of Water. Water is the element of Love and Emotion, the Heart. Therefore it is not surprising in playing card readings that the Hearts are equivalent to the Cups of Tarot. With both Cups and Hearts, the card meanings suggest emotional and relationship issues.
The Swords are under the influence of Air. Air represents character, communication, values and the intellect. The Spades of the playing card deck are equivalent to the Swords of the Tarot deck. Swords and Spades very often suggest challenges and difficulties, testing the character and intellect of the subject.
The Pentacles, or Coins, are under the influence of Earth. The Diamonds of the playing cards are interpreted in similar ways to the Pentacles. The Pentacles represent work, finance, money, wealth and business, as well as the Earth and the environment.
The Pip Cards
The Aces suggest beginnings, opportunites, new jobs, new relationships, fresh starts.
The Twos are about taking the next steps after starting the new business, relationship or project. They also suggest making important choices on which direction to go.
The Threes relate to initial successes, creativity, fertility and achievements.
The Fours suggest solidifying the structure, laying foundations and enjoying some rewards.
The Fives remind us that we have to keep trying. We have achieved some success, but we have not conquered the world. There will be challenges, confrontations, difficulties. Adaptability and perseverance will be necessary to achieve continued success.
The Sixes suggest increased maturity, adaptability and generousity, and accentuate the need to work together with others.
The Sevens are about making the right choices in spite of trials and temptations.
The Eights suggest progress achieved through perseverance, and by overcoming challenges and sorrows.
The Nines relate to character, persistence, self-awareness, integrity.
The Tens are about completion, rewards, success, achievement and fullfillment.
The Court Cards
The face cards of the Tarot deck are known as the Court Cards, or Royalty Cards. Often these cards represent people in readings. However, they may also have other significance depending on their position in the spread, and the influences of the surrounding cards. The Court Cards are generally subject to the same elemental correspondences as the pip cards. However, in the case of the Court Cards, there is a duality. The Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings have their own elemental dignity, in addition to that of their suit. The naming of the Court Cards can also be a bit confusing between different Tarot decks. Some authors have felt that the Pages of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck are better named as Princesses, and that the Knights of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck are better named as Princes.
The Pages, known also as the Princesses, may refer to a person of either sex. As a person, the Page card typically represents a child. Pages are also significant as messengers. Depending on the position of the Page in a reading, it is likely to suggest that a message relevant to the elemental correspondence of the suit is coming soon. For example, the Page of Pentacles may suggest a positive message about business, while the Page of Pentacles reversed may suggest a negative message about business. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Pages is Earth.
The Knights, also known as the Princes, often represent an older teenager or young adult. They indicate motion, travel, energy, aggressiveness and desire. As a person, the Knight suggests the characteristics of their suit, dependable and hard working in the case of the Knight of Pentacles, for instance. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Knights is Air.
The Queens represent femininity, allure, motherhood, nurturing and matriarchy. A Queen in a reading may suggest the presence of a woman, but depending on context and position, could also represent growth and development. As a person, her characteristics reflect those of her suit, for example the Queen of Wands is likely to be fiery and energetic. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Queens is Water.
The Kings represent leadership, masculinity, authority, responsibility, fatherhood and patriarchy. They suggest stability and dependability. It is the King's job to keep things working in unison and keep the kingdom together. As with the other Court cards, the Kings reflect the qualities of their suit. For instance, the King of Swords as a person might be a judge. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the dual elemental dignity of the Kings is Fire.
The dual elemental correspondences of the Court Cards are interpreted together with the elemental correspondence of the suit to establish the character of the card. The King of Wands for example, with correspondences of Fire and Fire, most strongly corresponds to the element, where the Queen of Pentacles, with correspondences of Water and Earth, shares some of the traits of both elements.
The Major Arcana
In addition to the fifty-six Minor Arcana cards, the Tarot deck contains another twenty-two trump cards, known as the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana cards represent more broad and persistent influences than the Minor Arcana cards do. Major Arcana cards suggest states of being that might last for a long time. They also represent states of understanding and facets of life. There is a well known story in Tarot, called The Fool’s Journey. The Fool card represents a young, inexperienced, open minded person starting down the road of life. The Fool’s Journey tells of the learning experiences and lessons along the way, illustrated by the cards of the Major Arcana, and finally reaching The World, or Worldliness.