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How Tarot works


Everyone who explores Tarot can find themselves lost at first – and for good reason. The topic is so vast – limitless, really – that it can sometimes leave you feel overwhelmed and with more questions than when you first started. Since it would be very complicated to guide you through all the intricacies of Tarot in just a few words, I will stick to the basic principles, so that you get an idea on how it works.


Image by Viva Luna Studios

Tarot decks are made of 78 cards, each with multiple meanings. The deck can be divided in sub-decks that have common characteristics. They are called Arcana (which translates into “secrets”) and can be either Major or Minor. The Major Arcana (22 cards) stands for the big secrets (major life lessons, karmic events or things that are out of our control), while the Minor Arcana (56 cards) holds the “smaller” secrets (it can depict emotional states, situations that we can prevent or control, certain persons in our lives, our energy overall). Both sub-decks have their own unique qualities and play different roles in the deck, as well as in the readings.

The Major Arcana Cards

Image by Viva Luna Studios
Image by Viva Luna Studios

The Major Arcana Cards are numbered from 0 to 21 and represent a visual story of the Fool’s journey. The name of the cards is symbolic, such as the Lovers, the Devil, the Fool, the Emperor etc. They represent major influences in our lives. You can see them as milestones of the human experience, as they often carry deeply spiritual messages.

The Minor Arcana Cards


The 56 Minor Arcana Cards are based on playing cards – you have from aces to tens, as well as court cards – pages, knights, kings and queens. They depict people and situations in our lives, as well as our attitudes towards them.

Just like the playing cards, the Tarot has 4 different suits:

Wands – they are connected to our passions, projects, work and motivation

Swords – they are connected to our way of thinking and communicating

Cups – they are connected to our emotional realm

Pentacles – they are connected to the material aspects of life


There are cards related to our intellect, our will, our feelings, and our bodies. The cards all have meanings – many layers, to be honest. The elements of the cards (name, number, suit, position in the spread, visual representation) are also designed to help during the interpretation. From a broader perspective, each card is a short story that, connected with others in a spread, creates a complex puzzle regarding the client.

Suits are also used to estimate time, but not all Tarot Consultants use this method. For instance, swords equal days (so if you use them to know when something will happen and you draw the 5 of swords, you can guess that the thing you are asking about will happen in approximately 5 days), wands equal weeks, cups equal months and pentacles equal years.

The number of the card also holds a specific meaning:

  • Aces = new beginnings

  • Twos = duality, balance, relationship, choices

  • Threes = creativity, collaboration, nurturing

  • Fours = stability, structure, organization, stagnation

  • Fives = conflict, loss, chaos, opportunity

  • Sixes = communication, problem-solving

  • Sevens = reflection, assessment

  • Eights = movement, speed, power

  • Nines = compromises, possible stagnation, satiation

  • Tens = completion, ending a cycle


In addition to that, each card has a specific meaning. So, the 5 of wands is slightly different from the 5 of pentacles, for instance, even though they refer to the same big theme. The 5 of wands often refers to internal conflict and struggles, while the 5 of pentacles can indicate a break-up, feelings of being left out in the cold and rejected, bankruptcy or getting fired. Each card has a general meaning, as well as a specific one, depending on the area you are asking about (relationships, emotional health, finances or job). 


Confused yet? Told you so.

So, to put in short, what does a Tarot Consultant look at in a reading?

  • The name of the cards

  • Their number

  • Their suit

  • How many times does the same number occur in reading (this can tell a lot about the stage of a situation)

  • If a particular suit is more dominant compared to others (this can indicate specific unbalanced external or internal dynamics)

  • How many Major Arcana cards there are in a spread (usually, if more than 30% of the card are Major, this indicates the fact that there are larger forces at work)

  • How many court cards there are in the spread (if more than 25% show up in a reading, it may indicate more people are involved or influencing the situation. Another possibility is that the client is feeling torn about how to act or is having identity issues)

  • Their meaning individually

  • Their visual representation in the selected deck (it may vary)

  • Their meaning in the whole puzzle of the reading (where they are in the spread, how they connect to the others etc.).


And just to give you a flavor on the multiple meanings of one card, I will leave you with two examples:

The Empress

Ten of wands


Image by T A T I A N A

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