Learn the meaning and symbolism of each of the 78 cards in the Minor and Major Arcana. Using this tool we hope you will learn the basics faster and get more comfortable with performing your own readings.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Cards
Pamela Coleman Smith’s tarot deck, often referred to as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, are a stunning blend of vivid imagery and profound symbolism that have captivated generations of tarot enthusiasts. The deck’s intricate illustrations are replete with esoteric symbols, drawn from various sources such as mythology, astrology, alchemy, and the Kabbalah. Through her artistry, she has created a timeless, evocative visual language that resonates with the human psyche, enabling tarot practitioners to glean intuitive insights and make meaningful connections.
One of the most striking aspects of the Smith tarot deck is the way they communicate complex, archetypal themes and concepts through their visual elements. For instance, in the Major Arcana, the Fool card signifies new beginnings and the potential for transformation, which is symbolized by the youth standing at the precipice of a cliff, ready to embark on a journey into the unknown.
By using such imagery, Smith invites the reader to contemplate the deeper aspects of life and to explore the transformative power of the tarot. Through the medium of her art, Pamela Coleman Smith has given the tarot a visual language that transcends time and culture, ensuring its enduring appeal and significance.
Major Arcana Cards
The Major Arcana refers to 22 cards in the tarot that represent existential themes. Just as a deck of playing cards includes a Joker, the Major Arcana features a “zero card” that belongs nowhere and everywhere: the Fool. In fact, you can view the Major Arcana as the Fool’s journey through life—though real life rarely moves linearly through the sequence.
The Minor Arcana
Whereas the Major Arcana reveals major themes, the Minor Arcana covers the details of our lives: our conflicts and accomplishments, supporters and detractors, goals and obstacles, and so on. Within the 56 cards of the Minor Arcana, there are four 14 card suits. Each suit is dedicated to a different element—fire, water, air, earth—that relates to a different area of life.
Suit of Wands
The suit of Wands corresponds with the element fire, which stands for inspiration, motivation, and willpower. In a tarot reading, this passionate suit often relates to creative projects and work. Wands might also represent fire signs (Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius), the season spring, and events happening within days.
The Wands, like all the suits, consist of ten numbered “pip” and four “court” cards. The Wand pip cards tell a story about connecting inspiration to action. Wand court cards may represent work or creative factors, opportunities, other people, or querents.
Suit of Pentacles
The suit of Pentacles corresponds with the element earth, which stands for prosperity, practicality, and security. In a tarot reading, this grounded suit often relates to resources, career, and health. Pentacles might also represent earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn), the season winter, and events happening within years.
The Pentacles, like all the suits, consist of ten numbered “pip” and four “court” cards. The Pentacle pip cards tell a story about our material circumstances and turns of fortune. Pentacle court cards may represent assets, opportunities, other people, or querents.
Suit of Swords
The suit of Swords corresponds with the element air, which stands for intellect, communication, and ideas. In a tarot reading, this head-dominant suit often relates to purpose and conflicts in beliefs. Swords might also represent air signs (Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius), the season fall, and events happening within weeks.
The Swords, like all the suits, consist of ten numbered “pip” and four “court” cards. The Sword pip cards tell a story about finding purpose and advocating for beliefs. Sword court cards may represent conflicts, messages, other people, or querents.
Suit of Cups
The suit of Cups corresponds with the element water, which stands for emotions, love, and healing. In a tarot reading, this heart-forward suit often relates to relationships. Cups might also represent water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces), the season summer, and events happening within months.
The Cups, like all the suits, consist of ten numbered “pip” and four “court” cards. The Cups pip cards tell a story about our emotional relationships with ourselves and others. Cup court cards may represent feelings, opportunities, other people, or querents.
Images Credit: Rider–Waite Tarot