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

Pin It on Pinterest