Interpreting Tarot Cards

Interpret with clarity.
Interpret with clarity.

Interpreting tarot cards is a little bit different for every reader and seeker. Find out why, and get a few hints to help you increase your understanding of what the cards reveal to you.

Challenge: Interpreting Tarot Cards

Sooner or later, every student of the Tarot learns that it's not enough to simply memorize the meaning of each card in the deck. In order to weave the information being revealed into a coherent reading, interpreting tarot cards in relationship to each other as well as to the events in your personal life is essential for gaining insight about your current path.

What this all boils down to is one simple fact: Whatever you see in the cards is completely up to you. No matter what the "official" meaning of a particular card actually is, ask six people to tell you what they see when they study it and you'll likely receive six slightly different answers. Why? Because each person is interpreting the cards from their personal point of view, and this is the key to working with the tarot.

Interpreting the Major Arcana

The Major Arcana cards tend to garner the most attention in a reading, so let's focus on them for a moment. Each card of the tarot is numbered, and the Major Arcana can be broken into groups that pertain to certain periods in every individual's life cycle.

  • Cards zero through five: These cards signal a variety of beginnings, and it's not unusual for them to turn up quite frequently in readings for young people just beginning to find their own path in life.
  • Cards six through eleven: These cards focus on the way we apply the lessons we've learned to each new challenge we face. They tend to appear in readings as we begin to make the kind of choices that set the future course of our lives, such as decisions about marriage and careers.
  • Cards twelve through sixteen: These cards show us our struggles and reveal something about how we face them as well as what we learn from them.
  • Cards seventeen through twenty-one: These cards tend to show up more in readings as we achieve greater maturity and learn to view issues from a wider perspective, rather than just by how issues personally affect us.

What does all this mean? Basically, the cards reveal your personal story, specifically the big picture or your "destiny". Certain cards will frequently appear during different periods of your life according to the lessons you need to learn, as well as when you're actually ready for them.

What the Minor Arcana Reveal

There are 56 cards in the Minor Arcana, far too many to address in this article. What you really need to know about these cards is that they pertain to everyday events in your life and the daily choices you make.

At the least, you should know the major life area that each suit pertains to.

  • Wands: Cards carrying this suit are all about enterprise.
  • Cups: Here we find cards that deal with emotional matters.
  • Swords: These cards reflect areas of conflict in your life.
  • Penticles: These cards are mainly about material matters.

Upright or Reversed

As the tarot cards are dealt into a particular spread, they appear either upright or reversed. Upright cards facing us project the typical meaning assigned to each card. When reversed, or facing upside down and away from us, the cards take on an opposite connotation from their original meaning.

This reversed meaning shouldn't automatically be interpreted as a negative. In fact, reversed cards are incredibly helpful in revealing where your biggest challenges lay. Armed with this information, you can prepare yourself to meet those challenges in the most productive manner.

Card Combinations

Perhaps even more important than the meaning of any individual card is the meaning each card takes on in relationship to each other as part of an entire spread or reading.

When you're having a reading, the first thing you need to do is give yourself time to contemplate the cards in the spread. Allow yourself to feel their energy, and see if you can find an overall theme to the layout. What you're doing at this point is putting your intuitive powers to work before you even begin to look at individual card meanings.

It is precisely this technique that will help you develop a personal interpretation of every spread, one that allows you view the issues each card brings up through the prism of your own life.


As you may have surmised by now, interpreting tarot cards is a highly personal matter. A good reader can help guide you through a reading, but it is up to you to put your own energy into the mix in order to gain real insight into what the cards reveal.

Additional Resources

The following books will help you learn more about interpreting the tarot.

  • Tarot for Dummies by Amber Jayanti
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tarot by Arlene Tognetti and Lisa Lenard
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Tarot Spreads by Arlene Tognetti and Lisa Lenard
Interpreting Tarot Cards