T H E B a s i c s You're probably anxious to get to know your new deck. In this section you'll find a brief introduction to the structure of the deck. This will help you understand the meanings of the cards in general terms. The later sections will help you provide more in-depth interpretation. Think of this as the outline for the card meanings. The details and nuances will come in time.
The Cards Remember that the tarot is very personal and that the cards are packed with many meanings. Use this text as a guidebook, but let your own intuition be the final word. If something here does not make sense, discard it. Divination is not a hard science. Use the exercises provided to help flesh out the meanings that you'll use for your own readings. A journal or notebook will be especially handy in keeping all your notes and observations in order. Throughout this book, there will be exercises to help you solidify your understanding of the cards.
Seventy-eight cards may seem like a lot to learn. Dividing the deck into sections makes it easier. The first main division is in two parts: the Major Arcana (twenty-two cards) and the Minor Arcana (fifty-six cards). Arcana means "secrets"-so the Major Arcana are the "big secrets." In practical terms, these are the cards that represent important milestones, major changes, events beyond our control, and spiritual growth. The Minor Arcana, "lesser secrets," generally depict events, situations, or people related to everyday life. An important characteristic of the Minor Arcana is personal control-that is, they represent aspects of your life over which you have the control.
The Minor Arcana The Minor Arcana are usually very simple to understand because most people are familiar with the structure already. Think of a pack of playing cards: four suits (clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds), with each suit having ten pip cards numbered ace through ten and three court cards (King, Queen, Jack). The Minor Arcana is just like that, with the addition of one court card for each suit. The court cards of the tarot reflect their medieval roots: King, Queen, Knight, and Page. The suits have different names and symbols but still relate directly to the suits of playing cards [alternative names are in brackets]:
WANDS [Rods, Batons, or Staves] = Clubs
CUPS [Chalices] = Hearts
SWORDS = Spades
PENTACLES [Coins, Disks, or Stones] = Diamonds
In addition to relating to playing-card deck suits, the tarot suits are associated with the four elements. This helps define the suit's relation to our daily lives. The illustration below shows the four suits, and the list below it reveals each suit's elemental association and the aspects of life it represents.
WANDS (left). Fire or Air. Career, projects, inspiration.
CUPS (top). Water. Emotions, relationships, creativity.
SWORDS (right). Air or Fire. Challenges, intellect, ways of thinking.
PENTACLES (bottom). Earth. Physical world, money, resources.
Each Minor Arcana suit is associated with an area of life. All the cards are numbered as well; each of these numbers has meanings. ACES: New beginnings, opportunity. TWOS: Balance, duality, a crossroads or choice. THREES: The full expression of the suit, achievement. FOURS: Structure, stability, stagnation. FIVES: Instability, conflict, loss, opportunity for change. SIXES: Communication, problem-solving, cooperation. SEVENS: Reflection, assessment, motives. EIGHTS: Movement, action, change, power. NINES: Fruition, attainment. TENS: Completion, end of a cycle.
Using this information, you can already get a sense for a card's meaning. For example, the Seven of Pentacles could represent an assessment of resources or property. This card shows a woman looking at the fruit on a tree. She might be contemplating the work invested and comparing it to the harvest gained by that investment. The Three of Cups could indicate the achievement of relationships. This image shows three woman celebrating the joy of their friendship.
While the numbered cards show different situations of everyday life, the court cards bring personality to these situations. They can represent other people or the querent (the person asking the question). Because real people are complex, the court cards usually represent just a facet of a person-the part of the person engaged in the particular situation being inquired about.