Here is an extremely basic rundown of the meanings of the tarot cards. These are by no means the one and only set of meanings that exist for the Tarot. Different traditions are followed in different countries and even amongst decks. The following meanings are appropriate for decks based on the Marseilles deck and the Rider-Waite deck. (Note for those using the Rider-Waite
deck: Strength appears as card 8 and Justice as card 11.)
Three Card Spread: This spread gives a quick answer/overview to a
single question/issue. Lay out three cards in a row from left to
1 2 3
The cards represent past (card 1), present (card 2) and future (card 3).
This spread can also be extended to a Nine Card Spread using
three cards for the past (top row), three cards for the present (middle row) and three cards for the
future (bottom row).
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
The Horseshoe Spread: This spread gives a more general overview of
your life and uses 21 cards. Lay down seven groups of three cards in the shape of a horseshoe (or arch).
Each group covers a category.
The seven categories are:
1 The past situation.
2 The present situation.
3 Developments in the near future.
4 What you don't expect.
5 People around you.
6 Obstacles and opposition.
7 The outcome.
The Celtic Cross: This spread gives a more general overview of
your life and uses 10 cards.
5 1/2 6 8
1 Your present situation.
2 What crosses you, obstacles and opposition. (This card is placed across the first card)
3 The very near future (the next couple of weeks).
4 The basis of the situation, often unacknowledged.
5 The past situation.
6 The near future (the next couple of months).
7 Your state of mind.
8 People around you or the environment.
9 Your hopes and fears.
10 The outcome (6-8 months away).
The Gypsy Spread: From left to right, lay three rows of seven cards.
The top row of seven cards represents the past. The middle row the
present and the bottom row of seven cards the future. This 21 card
spread demands great skill and is not to be attempted until you are
very confident with the meanings of the cards and combining them into
a meaningful narrative.
The Meanings of the Tarot Cards
The Major Arcana
0 The Fool: New developments, fresh starts, taking a risk.
1 The Magician: Opportunities, working with your hands, communication skills.
2 The High Priestess (The Papess): Intuition, hidden motivations, inner wisdom.
3 The Empress: Creativity and abundance.
4 The Emperor: Authority and control.
5 The Hierophant (The Pope): Good advice and conforming to the rules.
6 The Lovers: Emotional choices, relationships.
7 The Chariot: Assertiveness, progress.
8 Justice*: Decision, clarity of mind.
9 The Hermit: Going it alone, listening to your own counsel.
10 The Wheel of Fortune: Changes.
11 Strength* (Fortitude): Quiet strength, good health, dealing with petty problems.
12 The Hanged Man: Sacrifice, waiting.
13 Death: The end of a situation.
14 Temperance: Balancing, moderation.
15 The Devil: Materialism, greed, lust, bondage, anger.
16 The Tower (Lightning): Sudden catastrophic change.
17 The Star: Hope for the future, good omen, education.
18 The Moon: Confusion, loss of control.
19 The Sun: Success, fame.
20 Judgement: Rewards, karma, judgement.
21 The World: Completion, success, seeing the whole picture.
*In the Rider Waite Tarot (1909) these cards are reversed, ie. Card 8 is Strength and Card 11 is Justice. This was done by Waite to make them better fit with the astrological correspondences worked out by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Minor Arcana
Ace: A message of love, the start of a romance. Doing something for love. Creativity. Two: A happy relationship or partnership. Three: Partying and celebrating. Four: Boredom and apathy. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. Five: Depression and regret. Six: Simple joys, something or someone from the past. Seven: Confusion, too many choices, dreams and illusions. Eight: Leaving something behind, change of lifestyle. Nine: The wish card. Dreams come true. Ten: Good luck and happiness, satisfaction. Page: A new friendship. News of something or someone dear to your heart. Knight: A proposal or invitation. A good-natured, brown-haired youth with light eyes. Queen: An intuitive woman. A kindly brown-haired woman with light eyes. King: A gentle man. A healer. A good advisor. A good-natured, brown-haired man with light eyes.
Wands or Rods
Ace: New starts. New business idea. Uprush of energy. Two: Planning for the future. Anxiety. Working partnership. Three: Business success, leading a group. Four: House move, success. Five: Trouble and strife, especially petty fighting. Six: Public success, recognition. Seven: Fighting for your vision, competing. Eight: Communications, quick movement. Nine: Last minute problems, self-protection. Ten: Success which brings (too) many burdens. Page: News of work or business, new interests. Knight: Travel and action. A red or fair-haired youth. Queen: A business-like or active woman. A red or fair-haired woman. King: An active and influential man. A red or fair-haired man.
Coins or Pentacles
Ace: Money and security, health. Two: Juggling time and money, cautiousness. Three: New job or work, success in work. Four: Success but unwillingness to move forward or change. Five: Ill health, financial losses, loss of self-esteem. Six: Receiving and giving help, financial and otherwise. Seven: Making adjustments in your plans and being prepared to do the hard work. Eight: New job, studies, working with a hobby. Nine: Success from your own efforts, security. Ten: Money and property, the countryside, inheritance. Page: News abut money or a job, study for a job. Knight: Cautious, patient working towards a goal. A dark-haired youth with dark eyes. Queen: An self-confident and practical woman. A dark-haired woman with dark eyes. King: An honest and practical man. A dark-haired man with dark eyes.
Ace: Crisis point, success through difficulties. Two: Sitting on the fence, balance, waiting. Three: Anxiety, unhappiness, separation. Four: Rest, hospital, withdrawal. Five: Fighting for the wrong things, arguments, being forced to recognise your limitations. Six: Moving away from troubles. Seven: Deception, theft, non-confrontation. Eight: Feeling trapped, standstill, restrictions. Nine: Anxiety, worries, mental anguish. Ten: Misfortune and endings, failure. Page: Spying, email or telephone call, brash new idea. Knight: Upsetting changes, arguments. A dark-haired youth with grey eyes. Queen: A widow. An unscrupulous woman. A dark-haired woman with grey eyes. King: An ambitious and authoritative man. A lawyer or doctor. A dark-haired man with grey eyes.
Some readers read reversed cards as well. The meanings can be read as the opposite of the meanings listed above,
or the reversed cards can simply be interpreted as above but with delays, obstacles or a weakening in strength.
Experience will reveal additional personal meanings to you
along the way. Remember that the key to successful divination is to believe
and to remain consistent.
Variants of Tarot Cards
Tarot de Marseille
The Tarot de Marseille (or the Tarot of Marseilles) dates from the 15th century. This deck provides is one of the standard patterns for the design of tarot cards. Traditionally, the Fool card is unnumbered and the Death card is unnamed. The suits are identified as Staves/Rods (Bâtons), Swords (Épées), Cups (Coupes) and Coins (Deniers).
This deck was developed by Arthur Edward Waite in 1909. Detailed but simple illustrations were created by Pamela Colman and include helpful background details to guide the reader. You can recognise a Rider Waite tarot or a Rider-waite based tarot by the position of the Justice and Strength cards. traditionally Justice is card 8 and Strength is card 11. However, in the Rider Waite Tarot (1909) these cards were reversed, ie. Strength is Card 8 and Justice is Card 11. This was done by Waite to make them better fit with the astrological correspondences worked out by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
This deck was developed by Aleister Crowley. Strength has been changed to Lust, Temperance to Art, Judgement to Aeon.The King, Queen, Knight and Page are replaced by the Knight, Queen, Prince and Princess. The Minor Arcana has a key word on each card. There are some differences in meaning such as:
4 Cups: Luxury
7 Disks: Failure
Ancient Minchiate Etruria
This deck dating from 1725 has 97 cards. The extra cards include the 12 signs of the zodiac
and the 4 elements. Faith, Hope, Prudence and Charity join
Strength, Temperance and Justice. The Tower appears as the House of the Devil, the Empress,
Papess (High Priestess) and Pope (Hierophant) are replaced by
the Eastern Emperor, the Western Emperor and the Grand Duke.
Variant meanings include:
2 Clubs (Wands): Mishap, illness, block.
4 Chalices (Cups): Happy memories, illumination, premonitory dreams.
7 Swords: Project on the way, fruitful negotiations, positive phase.
2 Pentacles: Recklessness, danger on the way, embarrassing news, difficulty, agitation.
Interpretations from Shuffling and Cutting
Who would have thought that a reading can begin from the cards even before that first card is laid out. Look carefully and note how the cards are shuffled and cut. Every person is different and has their own style, but this can even differ between readings. Thank you to Andreia "Shana" Gaita for sharing insights on shuffling and cutting which appear below.
When a person shuffles only the bare minimum number of times, this of course shows how eager they are to get straight to the point.
When cards one or a few cards fall out during shuffling, take note of what they are because they are important to the reading.
When a lot of cards fall out, the querent is either not used shuffling cards, or they are reluctant or ambivalent about the reading.
When a person cuts only the top few cards from the deck, or leaves a tiny little pile, then they are reluctant to do the reading. This shows they do not really want to reveal too much or find out the true answer.
When cards fall from the deck as a person cuts the cards, this also shows a certain ambivalence or reluctance about the reading.
Shy and impressionable people cut the deck with their face virtually inches from the cards. They also tend to take any interpretations extremely literally despite their avowed scepticism.
Troubled querents also cut the deck with their faces inches from the deck and may take some time to do it. I also find these people tend to cut the deck dead centre if they can manage it and are most concerned to be doing it "right". These people tend to demand exact predictions and interpretations but this is because they are so troubled by their question.
Complex people tend to cut into multiple piles. These people cannot decide if they want to take the cards seriously or not.
Querents who are confident of the answer they think they will receive cut with their arm fully extended, often with a smile on their face.
There are people who barely glance at the cards when cutting them and expect you to shuffle and replace the cards in one pile. These people do not expect anything from the cards and are majorly sceptical or simply do not really want a reading.
When querents sit right back in their chairs and cross their arms you know they are feeling defensive. When the cards get right to the heart of the issue, you notice them lean forward and the arms are uncrossed. This simple body language reveals so much, and can be useful when the querent is determined to say only the bare minimum.
The next time you do a reading for yourself, notice how you cut the cards. Often you can pick up from the cut if you are secretly reluctant to know the answer (usually because your intuition/subconscious already knows the answer won't be what you want to hear).
If you are interested in teaching yourself how to read the cards, I recommend taking a look at these excellent books: