A standard Tarot deck consists of a staggering 78 cards – that’s a lot to take in, not to mention memorise, when you are first starting out in Tarot. Fortunately, the Tarot divides into five distinct suits of cards, which makes all Tarot readers’ lives a lot easier.
The Tarot is complex and many-layered, but there is a clear and structured system behind it. Knowing which suit a card belongs to instantly tells you a lot about its energy and meaning, before you have even gotten into interpreting its specific and unique symbols.
Particularly when you are just starting out on your Tarot journey, understanding how the deck breaks down into suits, and understanding what each suit represents, is one of the keys that unlocks the Tarot for you.
For seasoned Tarot readers, the knowledge of the energies contained in each suit adds layers of intrinsic meaning and insight to every Tarot reading they do.
What are the four Tarot card suits and what do they mean?
The Tarot breaks down into five suits.
First and primary is the Major Arcana (meaning ‘greater mysteries’), which describes the Fool’s Journey, a version of the classical Hero’s Journey. Its 22 cards essentially talk about all of the major life experiences, lessons and crisis that each of us is likely to encounter in one form or another as we make our journey through life.
The Minor Arcana (meaning ‘lesser mysteries’) subdivides into four Tarot card suits. The Minor Arcana Tarot card suits deal with daily life experiences and the concerns, energies and desires that tend to occupy us on an everyday level.
The Major Arcana suit
The first suit is the Major Arcana, consisting of 22 cards labelled 0-21.
Each card presents a different archetype/primal energy/life lesson that we are all likely to encounter as we make our spiritual journey through life. Starting with the inexperienced, but pure and enthusiastic Fool in the first card, labelled with the number 0, and ending with the World card, labelled with the numeral XXI, the suit of greater mysteries hits all of the major crisis points, life lessons, dilemmas and epiphanies that we are likely to encounter in the span of a lifetime.
The lessons and the energies encapsulated by this suit are not necessarily experienced in order, and some may overlap or reappear in our lives several times, typically until we have learned the lessons they represent and are able to move on.
The four Minor Arcana suits
The Minor Arcana divides into four Tarot card suits, each starting with an Ace, which forms the root of the suit, followed by ten cards labelled 1-10, and ending with four court cards – a Page, a Knight, a Queen and a King.
Each suit is linked to one of the four elements – fire, water, air and earth.
The aces of the suits represent the element in its purest, most undiluted and potent form. The court cards belonging to each Minor Arcana Tarot card suit typically represent people, characteristics and personality traits associated with the ruling element of the suit.
The suit of Wands is associated with fire and the qualities of this element. In the metaphorical language of the Tarot, fire symbolises desire, passion, drive, ambition, impulse, virility, willpower and aspiration.
The court Tarot cards belonging to the suit of Wands describe fiery, passionate, driven, and sometimes short-tempered personality types and character traits.
The suit of Cups is linked to the water element. Water, in the Tarot, represents deep feelings and emotions, intuition, creativity, psychic ability, receptivity, relationships and the mysterious depths of the unconscious mind.
The court cards belonging to the Tarot suit of Cups indicate creative, romantic and emotionally intuitive people or personality traits. People symbolised by Cups personality cards are often extremely creative and gifted with a powerful sense of intuition.
The suit of Swords is connected to the air element. In the Tarot, air signifies the intellect, thoughts, though patterns and processes, words, communication and self-expression.
The four personality Tarot cards belonging to the suit of swords represent highly intelligent, verbose, well-spoken people, or related character traits. Swords personalities tend to be innovative, openminded and always engaged in intellectual pursuits.
The Minor Arcana cards belonging to the suit of Pentacles are associated wth the element of earth. Earth, according to the Tarot, stands for everything solid and tangible in life – money, home and work environments, material possessions, structure and stability are all indicated.
The people and personality traits symbolised by the Tarot cards belonging to the suit of Pentacles are typically hardworking, practical, down-to-earth, with a potentially conservative streak.
What order to the Tarot suits go in?
The five Tarot card suits go in the order outlined above. The Major Arcana comes first, followed by the four suits of the Minor Arcana. First come the Wands, then the Cups, followed by the Swords and finally the Pentacles.
How Major and Minor Arcana cards act differently in a Tarot reading
When the cards appear in a Tarot reading, the order of the suits don’t come into play – however, the vastly different energies, life areas and personalities represented by the different suits definitely do.
The proportions of each suit in a Tarot spread also matters. For example, if you are doing a relationship-focused Tarot reading and most of the cards that come up are Sword cards, this is not a great omen for the relationship. Ideally, you want to see a lot of Cup Tarot cards in readings about relationships. Wand cards are also great in a romantic context.
What Major Arcana cards mean in Tarot readings
Major cards only appear in readings when something truly significant is afoot.
A Major card will tell you about the primary energies at play in the querent’s life. If you are getting a lot of majors in the same reading, this in itself is an indication of the intensity of what the querent is experiencing.
What Minor Arcana Wands cards mean in Tarot readings
The Wands card indicate passion, drive and ambition.
A Minor Arcana card from the suit of Wands will typically tell you something about the querent’s ambitions and desires, what drives them. If a lot of Wand cards appear in the same reading, it indicates a great hunger to succeed.
What Minor Arcana Cups cards mean in Tarot readings
The Cup cards carry an energy of creativity, deep emotion and psychic intuition.
A Cup Tarot card will typically tell you about the querent’s emotions, revealing what they feel, what inspires them and who they are connected to emotionally. If you are getting a lot of reversed Cup cards, it can indicate emotional or creative blockages, or emotional wounds that have not yet healed in the querent.
What Minor Arcana Swords cards mean in Tarot readings
Swords Tarot card meanings relate to the conscious, critical, waking mind. A Sword Minor Arcana card will typically appear to indicate what occupies the querent’s thoughts.
Swords card can help pinpoint thought patterns and anxieties that the querent a struggling to overcome. If a lot of Sword cards come up in the same reading, this in itself often indicates a tendency to worry and overthink, rather than feel and act spontaneously.
What the Minor Arcana Pentacles cards mean in Tarot readings
Pentacle Tarot cards talk about health, wealth and stability.
A Minor Arcana card from the suit of Pentacles reveals where and if the querent is putting in hard work in order to achieve something – usually better finances, greater health or professional growth.