Tarot Card Definitions

Learn tarot speak.
Learn tarot speak.

For those who are unfamiliar with tarot terminology, LoveToKnow has created this mini-dictionary of tarot card definitions. Understanding the words associated with tarot readings is useful for the tarot reader to convey information more clearly. Tarot card definitions are also helpful to those seeking information from a tarot reading.

About Tarot Card Definitions

The following list of tarot card definitions will cover many of the most commonly used terms used by tarot professionals and enthusiasts. For a more extensive understanding about the language of tarot, consider getting a copy of Jane Riley's book Tarot Dictionary and Compendium. This book discusses the meanings of the cards as well as many commonly used terms in tarot.

Tarot Definitions A-H


Affirmations: Daily messages that are said to oneself to bring about a change within the inner self. The message is often accompanied by visualizations of a positive outcome.

Allegory: A symbolic representation of a message or an idea. An example in tarot is the Death card. This card often does not mean death, but indicates change or departure.

Arcana: The plural form of the Latin word "Arcanum" which means secret. This word is associated with tarot decks because they reveal secrets.


Bergamot: Oil extracted from the bergamot fruit is often used as aromatherapy during a tarot reading. Bergamot is believed to be useful for attracting money and also creates calm confidence.

Berkana: A female rune. Goddess force, fertility, and mother child bond. In a rune tarot reading Berkana can represent relationships and nurturing.


Cartomancy: Foretelling the future through reading cards.

Celtic Cross: A popular tarot card spread. The Celtic Cross spread contains ten cards that represent the current state of affairs and the future.


Divination: The art or act of foretelling future events through supernatural means or instinctive foresight.


Elements: In many divination practices, the four elements are fire, air, earth, and water. In tarot, these forces of nature embody the tarot card suits.

  • Swords=Air
  • Cups=Water
  • Wands=Fire
  • Pentacles=Earth

Esoteric: Knowledge not commonly taught. Information that is received by only a few.


Fate: Spoken by the Gods, destiny.

Fortune telling: Using divination methods to predict future possibilities

Free Association: Achieving a calm state of awareness. Serenity will allow a reader to interpret the message of the tarot reading through intuition rather than intellect.


Guided Meditation: Visualizations prompted by an instructor to lead one to individual answers to a question or problem.

Gypsies: Nomadic people originating in Europe. These people were gifted in many forms of divination. Much of modern tarot information is based on the techniques and history of gypsy ancestry.


Half-moon Spread: This tarot card spread contains five cards, arranged in an arc. The cards represent the following:

  • One: The present
  • Two: Expectations
  • Three: The unexpected
  • Four: Near future
  • Five: Long-term future

Tarot Definitions I-P


Initiate: A person who is learning new knowledge about the tarot.

Interpreter: Can be used in reference to a tarot card reader. A person that clarifies the message within a tarot reading.

Intuition: Knowledge gained by a sense not related to the intellect or the traditional five senses.


Journey: Is often used as a metaphor in tarot. Journey may refer to traveling through one's own thoughts and feelings to arrive at an answer. The major arcana is considered to be a metaphor for the journey through life.


Kabbalah: A Hebrew religion based on ancient texts that illustrate the connection between humans and the Divine.


Layout: This is another word for a tarot card spread.

Life force: A universal energy sometimes referred to as "Chi".


Major Arcana: This refers to the first 22 cards of the tarot deck. These cards are usually considered to be the key cards of the deck.

Minor Arcana: The subsequent 56 cards in a tarot deck. These cards provide support and nuances to the 22 cards of the major arcana in a tarot reading.

Mysticism: The practice of seeking a closer union with God through contemplation.


New Age: Defined as a broad range of philosophies that are traditionally viewed as paranormal and metaphysical. New Age interests might include tarot reading, ancient religions, and paranormal studies.


Oracle: Divine communication or revelation. Such communication may be delivered by a person or an object. This may refer to the cards or the reader.


Portent: An omen of a momentous event happening in the future.

Psyche: From the Greek, meaning mind or soul. Can also have the same meaning as Chi or life force.

Tarot Definitions Q-Z


Querent: The person seeking information from a tarot reading.


Reversals: Cards that appear upside down in a tarot reading. Some tarot readers assign an opposite meaning to the traditional one if a card is reversed.

Runes: This is an alphabet from ancient Germany. It is another method of divination, and some think it is the basis for tarot cards.

Rider Waite Tarot: Possibly the most well known tarot deck in the Western World.


Significator: The tarot card that represents the querent in a tarot reading.

Smudging: A purification ritual that uses smoke to cleanse the tarot deck. Sage is often used in this practice to lift away negative influence.

Symbology: This is the practice of studying symbols. Tarot is based on symbols and readers interpret their meanings.


Tarot: A deck of 78 cards used for fortune telling, spiritual growth and self help.


Universe: All matter and energy including earth, the galaxies, and intergalactic space regarded as a whole.


Vetivert: An essential oil used for well wishing and warding off depression.


Wunjo: This is the rune of joy.


Yod: In the Bohemian tarot, yod is the first card taken and represents the creator.

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Tarot Card Definitions