The meaning of each tarot card is open to interpretation, depending on which deck you use, and the feeling you get from each card as you progress through a reading. However, there are some standard meanings to each card, and learning those can help you apply a richer context to your reading.
Classic Tarot Card Meanings
The tarot cards are broken down into two distinct categories, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The phrase "Major Arcana" means big secret or mystery, while "Minor Arcana" means little secret or mystery.
Use the following meanings to help you interpret your readings.
The Major Arcana
- The Fool (0): This card is the zero card of the tarot, and all the following cards in the deck represent the Fool's journey through the tarot. This card corresponds to innocence and unbridled enthusiasm. It might also refer to a new beginning, but it's sometimes viewed as a warning against behaving incautiously or irresponsibly in an upcoming venture. When reversed, that unbridled enthusiasm is lost, and the card comes to symbolize insecurity and indecision.
- The Magician (I): The Magician is multi-talented and has the power to put that talent to good use. This card can signal unbelievable changes to come, but it can also be interpreted as a warning that someone is going to try to fool you. For these reasons you must always view the Magician in light of the other cards surrounding him. When reversed, it could be a sign of being too manipulative and/or using your skills for dark purposes.
- The High Priestess (II): This card represents the feminine psyche as well as wisdom, and it can be a call to use your powers of intuition. When reserved, the Priestess may symbolize talents or skills going to waste.
- The Empress (III): The third card of the tarot deck represents the entire life cycle, from fertility and birth through death and the life beyond. She is often recognized as the wise woman. When reversed, the card could signal infertility or the lack of fully looking out for yourself.
- The Emperor (IV): A a symbol of masculine authority and worldliness, the Emperor often signifies a need to take things into your own hands in order to produce results. When reversed, this card can signify a weak character and abuse of authority.
- The Pope (The Hierophant) (V): Representing a need for ordered spirituality, the Pope expresses the virtues of goodness and forgiveness, as well as humility. When reversed, this card may signal that you've fallen into a rut, with no room for open minded thoughts or opinions.
- The Lovers (VI): The Lovers can signal some sort of romantic alignment and, sometimes, a coming change in your romantic situation. When reversed, this may imply the end of a current relationship or a failure to adjust to challenges.
- The Chariot (VII): The Chariot often signals a struggle that lies ahead and the need to persevere through it. Alternatively, it could also signal an upcoming journey. When reversed, the card can signal a failure or inability to conquer your fears.
- Strength (VIII): When you see the Strength card, know that this signals the need to draw on your own inner strength and compassion.When reversed, this card may reveal not being true to your values or abusing your authority.
- The Hermit (IX): From the classic interpretation, the Hermit expresses a need for solitude and reflection. When reversed, this card may reveal feelings of alienation and suspicion.
- The Wheel of Fortune (X): This is a symbol of changing fate and a need to take action to ensure your destiny. You must examine this card in context with the cards surrounding it. When reversed, this card simply implies unexpected events that could have an effect on the outcome of a particular situation.
- Justice (XI): The Justice card literally expresses balance in all things. Think of it in connection with cosmic Karma. The energy you put into the world will come back to you. When reversed, this card can signal impending legal problems and general unfairness.
- The Hanged Man (XII): Signaling a need to sacrifice in order to achieve what you want, the Hanged Man can also speak to the need to re-evaluate your situation. When reversed, the card may signal a refusal to accept reality.
- Death (XIII): Despite its obvious interpretation, the Death card actually only signals a life altering change that you may have no control over. When reversed, this card signals fighting inevitable change.
- Temperance (XIV): The Temperance card represents moderation, self-control and living in balanced harmony. When reversed, this card may signal that you're unbalanced and stuck living in the past.
- The Devil (XV): The Devil card has several meanings. It can signal an addiction, but it can also pertain to bad influences in your life. In some circumstances, the devil signifies a need to cut loose and enjoy yourself for a change. When reversed, the card may signal repressed feelings. This card must be interpreted within the context of the cards around it.
- The Tower (XVI): A harbinger of unexpected, and sometimes cataclysmic change, the Tower card depicts a very clear scene; two people are literally thrown out of a tower. This card holds the same meaning no matter how it is positioned.
- The Star (XVII): The Star card signals rejuvenation and opportunity. It speaks to the connection between heaven and earth. When reversed, it can be a sign of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams.
- The Moon (XVIII): Feminine in nature, the Moon warns you not to fall prey to deceptions. When reversed, it can be a sign that you are using bad judgment and repressing your intuition.
- The Sun (XIX): The Sun signifies general satisfaction with all aspects of life. It may hint at an upcoming trip. When reversed, it can be a sign of unhappiness in any given arena.
- Judgement (XX): The Judgement card signals it's time to take stock of your life and reassess your future path. When reversed, it can be a sign of stagnation and unwillingness to face the facts.
- The World (XXI): Representing the completion of a cycle, the World card shows the fruit of all your efforts. When reversed, it may reveal an inability to follow through.
The Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana is comprised of four suits.
- Swords: Cards in this suit denote agitation and action.
- Cups: Cards in this suit predict emotional changes.
- Wands: This suit signifies creative thought and development.
- Coins/Pentacles: Cards in this suit pertain to physical comforts, career and money issues.
Upright and Reversed Card Meanings
The position of the card either in an upright readable position or upside down determines the meaning. Sometimes when the card appears upside down or reversed, the meaning is the opposite of the upright position. There are exceptions when the meaning isn't necessarily the opposite but simply a lesser degree of the upright meaning.
Relationship Between the Cards and Questions
In the simplest sense, the tarot cards are designed to unlock your unconscious mind so that you can discover the best way to proceed in your particular situation. The image on each card will hold a special significance for you and relate to your question in a very distinctive way.
In order to learn the most from your reading, be sure to let this process play out. Don't try to conform the cards to the "official" meaning. Instead, combine your own intuitive nature with the general meaning of the card, apply it to your question, and see for yourself if you can come up with a novel interpretation of both the card and your particular dilemma.