Tarot: An Outline of the Tarot Deck


Note: Blog posts about each card will be linked from this site page over the coming weeks. Please keep checking back for new material!

The Tarot is a set of stories strung together, of archetypes that can be recognized by our intuitive selves, and of themes that run through all human life. We tune in to the story of each card, and to the times we have seen it appear within the story of our own life… and over time, the cards become friends.

The Journey can seem overwhelming to conquer if you approach it as a set of cards to be memorized – there are, after all, 78 of them! When viewed as a set of symbolic, even mythological stories and themes, it becomes easier to understand and remember – both the individual cards and they ways their meanings flow together into a reading.

The Major Arcana

The Major Arcana in most decks is made up of 22 cards that fall in order, numbered from 0 upwards and using Roman numerals after the initial “0”. These cards tell the story of the Fool’s Journey as the Fool discovers Self in relation to others, then in relation to the physical world, then in relation to the Divine. They tend to represent major themes or events within the querent’s life.

Here, I’ve subtitled them with the names given to each image in the Wheel of the Year Tarot, the deck I use most often. They are:

  • 0, The Fool: A leap in the dark.
  • I, The Magician: The Daughter of the Goddess.
  • II, The High Priestess: The guardian of occult sciences.
  • III, The Empress: The Daughter of the Moon Goddess.
  • IV, The Emperor: The Son of the Sun God.
  • V, The Heirophant: The man of sound counsel.
  • VI, The Lovers: The union of hands.
  • VII, The Chariot: The brilliant messenger.
  • VIII, Strength: The young Lion.
  • IX, The Hermit: The wandering sage.
  • X, The Wheel: The four seasons.
  • XI, Justice: The keeper of time.
  • XII, The Hanged Man: Waiting and sacrifice.
  • XIII, Death: The Black Lady.
  • XIV, Temperance: The water fairy.
  • XV, The Devil: The diabolical rose.
  • XVI, The Tower: The tree and lightning.
  • XVII, The Stars: The lake of hope.
  • XVIII, The Moon: The Lady of the Night.
  • XIX, The Sun: The Lord of the Day.
  • XX, Judgement: The path towards the light.
  • XXI, The World: The embrace of the seasons.

The Tarot format is intense, varied, and big… If you’re feeling overwhelmed or at a loss for where to start, keep it simple. Like getting to know a new friend, the cards will reveal themselves to you slowly and over time. Don’t rush. Just enjoy. — Elm’s Reading Tarot: A Starting Point post

The Court Cards

Technically part of the Minor Arcana (below), the Court cards tend to signify either people in the querent’s life or aspects of the querent’s personality. They are people, masculine or feminine, at various stages of life, as represented by the major figures that would have been recognizable within a 15th or 16th century royal court.





Minor Arcana

The Cups/Chalices

  • Ace of Cups: The enchanted candle.
  • Two of Cups: Triumph of love.
  • Three of Cups: The happy event.
  • Four of Cups: The beating rain.
  • Five of Cups: The trodden garden.
  • Six of Cups: Sweet nostalgia.
  • Seven of Cups: The flight of the butterfly.
  • Eight of Cups: The sad good-bye.
  • Nine of Cups: The joyful jaunt in the country.
  • Ten of Cups: The happy family.

The Wands/Staves

  • Ace of Wands: The spark of summer.
  • Two of Wands: Working in the fields.
  • Three of Wands: The falling star.
  • Four of Wands: The treehouse.
  • Five of Wands: The test of strength.
  • Six of Wands: The wreath of flowers.
  • Seven of Wands: The flood.
  • Eight of Wands: The message from the heavens.
  • Nine of Wands: The scarecrow.
  • Ten of Wands: The long climb.

The Pentacles/Discs

  • Ace of Pentacles: Jingling coins.
  • Two of Pentacles: The swing.
  • Three of Pentacles: The portrait of the Goddess.
  • Four of Pentacles: The selfish miser.
  • Five of Pentacles: Cold and fatigue.
  • Six of Pentacles: The merciful man.
  • Seven of Pentacles: Sweet anticipation.
  • Eight of Pentacles: The horseshoe.
  • Nine of Pentacles: The harvest.
  • Ten of Pentacles: The divine nectar.

The Swords

In the Wheel of the Year Tarot deck that I use most often, the Minor Arcana cards are named – and the name gives an indication of the meaning of the card. Click on the links to open the blog post for each card.