Tarot Basics – Structure and Quick Start Interpretations

by Theresa Reed on September 11, 2013

Tarot Basics

New to tarot and unsure where to start?  Intimidated and think you can’t get it?  Here this: with time and practice, you CAN.  It all starts with laying a foundation.

Here is my quick start guide to get your structure built and your tarot brain rolling.


A tarot deck is comprised of 78 illustrated cards.

The cards are divided into two sections:

Major Arcana – The Major Arcana cards have a title and are numbered 0 – 21. These represent the bigger picture, fate, things outside our control, major lessons.

Minor Arcana – The Minor Arcana cards are numbered Ace – 10 and are divided into four suits: Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles. There are also four “Court Cards” in each suit: Page, Knight, Queen and King. The Minor Arcana represent the day to day events; the things we have control over; human life. The Courts represent people, energy we may be needing/expressing, as well as messages or rank.

Each suit rules a specific area:

  • Cups are emotions and love, water element
  • Wands are creativity, work and passion, fire element
  • Swords are thoughts, challenges and conflicts, air element
  • Pentacles are material world, physical energy and values, earth element

Quick start interpretations (this is only a very general, basic guide):

Fool – A fresh start; the beginning of a journey
Magician – Developing skills and talent; manifesting
High Priestess – Intuition; trust your gut
Empress – Creativity; pregnancy; mother; pleasure
Emperor – Stability; authority; father; work
Hierophant – Conforming to rules; spiritual leader; teacher or mentor
Lovers – Romance; partnerships; choices
Chariot – Triumph; finding direction; vehicle
Strength – Inner strength; handling problems; power
Hermit – Turning inward; pulling back; withdrawal
Wheel of Fortune – A change; luck; karma
Justice – Fairness; court or legal issues; balancing the karmic scales
Hanged Man – Sacrifice; a period of waiting
Death – Big change; transformation; out with the old in with the new
Temperance – Balance; middle way; choosing carefully
Devil – Negativity; poor choices; haters; being stuck
Tower – Disruption; chaos; difficult change; a fall from grace
Star – Hope; optimism; happiness and health
Moon – Danger; hidden enemies; lack of clarity; need to reflect
Sun – Joy; happiness; good things coming
Judgement – Higher calling; toot your horn; being heard; ending
World – Completion; success; end of an important cycle; graduation

Ace of Cups – new love
Two of Cups – romance; meeting
Three of Cups – fun and friends; celebration
Four of Cups – boredom; apathy
Five of Cups – loss and grief
Six of Cups – nostalgia; romance
Seven of Cups – choices; daydreams
Eight of Cups – moving on
; travel
Nine of Cups – wish fulfillment
Ten of Cups – love and support; family harmony
Page of Cups – romantic message; a well loved child
Knight of Cups – a sensitive young male
Queen of Cups – a kind woman
King of Cups – a caring man

Ace of Wands – new job or creative beginning
Two of Wands – new work options
; plans
Three of Wands – success or travel
Four of Wands – security and happiness
Five of Wands – competition
Six of Wands – success and leadership
Seven of Wands – challenges
Eight of Wands – quick movement; travel; news
Nine of Wands – caution
; boundaries
Ten of Wands – hard work; burdens
Page of Wands – good news; student
Knight of Wands – an industrious young man
Queen of Wands – a creative woman
King of Wands – a powerful man

Ace of Swords – a new challenge or mental endeavor
Two of Swords – indecision
; contemplation
Three of Swords – heartache; separation
Four of Swords – rest after a battle; meditation
Five of Swords – victory through deceit
Six of Swords – moving forward
Seven of Swords – thievery; dishonesty
Eight of Swords – feeling stuck
Nine of Swords – sorrow; losing sleep
Ten of Swords – loss; an ending
Page of Swords – strong minded youth; legal news
Knight of Swords – a challenging man who enters your life quickly
Queen of Swords – a strong woman
King of Swords – a logical and intelligent man

Ace of Pentacles – a new financial opportunity
Two of Pentacles – juggling resources
; financial decisions
Three of Pentacles – recognition for talent; collaboration
Four of Pentacles – financial stability; possessiveness
Five of Pentacles – financial loss; abandonment; poverty consciousness
Six of Pentacles – generosity; charity
Seven of Pentacles – hard work ahead
; slow growth
Eight of Pentacles – rewarding work; getting lost in a task
Nine of Pentacles – financial security; abundance
Ten of Pentacles – financial success; family
Page of Pentacles – a message about money; good student
Knight of Pentacles – a stable, dependable young male
Queen of Pentacles – a grounded, earthy female
King of Pentacles – a secure and successful male


  • Cups – Spring
  • Wands – Summer
  • Swords – Fall
  • Pentacles – Winter

Courts (can represent people or different facets of your personality):

  • Page – a student; a message; news
  • Knight – young male; higher education
  • Queen – a woman; nurturing
  • King – a man; mastery

This may seem like a lot to grasp but with time, you’ll be able to memorize this info.

Tips for getting familiar with your tarot and the interpretations:

  1. Spend time with your deck every day.  A card of the day is a perfect way to get comfortable with tarot interpretations.
  2. Keep a tarot journal. Write down your readings, thoughts and explorations.
  3. Take a class.
  4. Write the meanings on each card (This is a bit renegade but it is a good method when you are just starting out.  Remember, decks can always be replaced!)
  5. Pick a card and meditate on the image.  Note what impressions you received.
  6. Do tarot “flash cards”:  turn over the cards and giving a one word interpretation for each.  Move through the deck rapidly.  Do this every day.
  7. Join a local tarot meet up.
  8. Practice as often as you can with as many willing people as you can find.
  9. Get a few good tarot books as references.  Refer to them when you draw a blank.

Books I recommend for beginners:

Tarot For Beginners by Barbara Moore

78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack

Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners by Joan Bunning

The Tarot Revealed – A Beginner’s Guide by Paul Fenton Smith

21 Ways To Read A Tarot Card by Mary Greer

Favorite sites to learn tarot:

Learn Tarot (http://www.learntarot.com/) A great site for beginning tarot students by author Joan Bunning.  This is the BEST place to start learning tarot.  I always send newbies here.

The Tarot School (http://www.tarotschool.com) Lots of resources for every level.


(Note:  most modern tarot decks are based on one of the decks below – always choose a deck that appeals to you.  If unsure, go back to the classics below.)

The Rider Waite Smith Tarot (I always recommend this for starters)

Thoth Tarot

Marseilles Tarot


Next week: Reversals, Court Cards, Patterns



© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2013

IndigoSpirit September 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Tarot flash cards! Love that… definitely going to incorporate in my daily routine as I work my way through Tarot.

Theresa Reed September 15, 2013 at 9:41 am

Awesome! Would love to hear how it works out for you. 🙂

Naware September 15, 2013 at 9:31 am

Great tips! I’m definitely going to refer people here too and this gives me ideas for honing my own personal knowledge and mentoring too!

Theresa Reed September 15, 2013 at 9:41 am

Thanks for stopping by Naware! 🙂

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