For someone who has had no previous experience with the world of Tarot, taking the jump and understanding the many complexities that a deck presents can be a daunting challenge. With each card packed with different meanings, its deeply rooted symbolism as well as the interpretation that is left to the reader, there are quite a few things to learn when breaking into the world of Tarot card reading. The following information should give you a brief glimpse in to the realm of the Tarot and hopefully start to alleviate some of the mystery that it is shrouded in.
A typical Tarot deck’s 78 cards are almost always divided into sub categories. We call these sub categories the Major, Minor and Royal Arcana. The easiest way to think of this is likening it to a standard deck of cards. While a deck of playing cards has its suits, a deck of Tarot cards has its Arcana.
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana, Latin for big or large mysteries consist of the first 22 cards of a standard Tarot deck. Each of these cards represents a different facet of the human experience. Cards like The Fool or The Hanged Man find their home in this portion of the deck.
Each card in the Major Arcana has multiple emotions and states of being associated with it. For example, The Magician card represents human nature’s involvement with control, application, feats, perception and creativity. Drawing this card during a reading or draw would symbolize one’s control over their own actions or accurately perceiving situations and events around you.
The Magician is just one of the 22 Major Arcana, the rest include The Fool, The Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, The Wheel, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgment and The World. While each one of these other Major Arcana cards will not be explained here, there are plenty of resources available elsewhere that will detail the rich history, symbolism and meanings associated with each.
The Minor Arcana
The 56 cards that immediately follow the Major Arcana are referred to as the Minor Arcana or (small or little mysteries). A simple way to think about the correlation between these two cards is in terms of actors in a movie. The Major Arcana would be the leading roles, the Brad Pitts and the Meryl Streeps. This would make the Minor Arcana fall under the category of the supporting role, and that is just what they do in Tarot.
The Minor Arcana are placed into four “suits” of ten cards. These suits are Wands, Pentacles, Swords and Cups. Each of these four suits is tied into a different element and psychological state.
Wands- Fire- Essence Pentacles- Earth- Corporeal Swords- Air- Thought Cups- Water- Feeling
Depending on the suit and number chosen, the Minor Arcana can embellish, augment and subtly shift the messages that the Major Arcana is conveying.
The Royal Arcana
The last 16 cards of a Tarot deck are referred to as the Royal Arcana and have been heralded as the most difficult and mysterious of all the cards within a Tarot deck. The Royal Arcana cards are the 16 face cards associated with each of the Minor Arcana; king, queen, knight and page.
The Royal Arcana have the most direct association with the individuals involved in the reading. The cards in this category can represent someone in the life of the reader or the person who is being read to. On top of the close relation these cards share with the individuals involved, they can also represent someone or something from the past, present or even the future. It is because of this complexity that the Royal Arcana require the most intuition and thought when a reading or draw is taking place.
Understanding every in and out of a Tarot deck can seem like a daunting task. Careful meditation, thought and research is needed to fully grasp every nuance that a card has to offer. Spend a little time each day learning about a new card of group of cards. With enough time invested, the Tarot deck will begin to be a cohesive body of insights and you will be well on your way to a richer understanding of your present, past, and future.
If you’re looking for an Art Nouveau Tarot reading, or Western Zodiac horoscope, then author and Druidic practitioner Erik Oakenshield is the man for the job. A true modern renaissance man, Erik has more than a decade of experience under his belt. He has also done horoscope writing and was featured on Oranum.