Tarot Symbols and Their Meanings

A chalice or "Cups".
A chalice or "Cups".

Tarot symbols are the details of a tarot card reading. These symbols should be interpreted within the context of an individual reading because their meanings may vary based on position, the nature of the query, and which other cards appear in the spread. Understanding the basic meanings of these symbols is beneficial to interpreting what the cards reveal.

Symbols of the Minor Arcana

The 56 cards that make up the Minor Arcana of the tarot card deck are divided into suits similar to regular decks of 52 playing cards. The suits of the Minor Arcana are pentacles, wands, cups and swords. Each suit represents more than one tarot symbol. Here are some of the common meanings associated with each of these symbols.

Tarot Symbols of the Minor Arcana
Suit Element Star Sign Color Season Gender Symbol
Pentacles Earth Capricorn, Virgo, Taurus Green Fall Female Physical, Wealth, Health
Cups Water Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces Red Summer Female Thought, Observation, Love
Wands Fire Aries, Leo, Sagittarius Yellow Spring Male Change, Creativity, Passion
Swords Air Libra, Gemini, Aquarius Blue Winter Male Confrontation, Challenge, Courage

Tarot Symbols

Most tarot decks have detailed artwork on each card. The elements within the scene can help the reader interpret the insights gathered during the reading. Many of these elements are not what they appear to be, but they are symbolic and may have a meaning that varies slightly from the obvious picture.

This is where practice and learning to listen to your intuition helps you improve the accuracy of your readings. Symbolic meanings are open to interpretation. For example, the rose in a card's artwork may mean that love is in bloom during one reading, and be a warning of painful thorns in another.

Even though symbolism may vary with individual interpretation, it does help to have some basic idea of what the tarot symbols mean to give the reader a place to begin during a reading. Often, you can offer your interpretation of a tarot symbol and the querent will expand upon the meaning by offering more detail about the circumstances that brought him/her to you for a tarot reading.

Some general definitions of tarot symbols are:

  • Angels: Angels bring messages often by way of inspiration or subtle signs. An angel is often a symbol that querents should pay close attention to their inner voice or to the small details going on around them.
  • Blindfold: The blindfold usually means that the querent is not seeing things clearly, either because of refusal to acknowledge the truth or because another person is hiding the truth.
  • Cat: Cats represent unseen energy and psychic ability. Their presence may mean to be watchful and aware of all circumstances before acting on a situation.
  • Dog: The best friend of all humans, the dog symbolizes loyalty, honesty, righteousness and truth. In a readingm the dog may mean that we are heading in the right direction.
  • Flag: This is usually a sign that a major change is coming.
  • Grapes: This fruit of the earth symbolizes fertility and abundance.
  • Hammer: This represents a vocation or completing a task. The hammer can sometimes mean being forceful in order to bring a chore to an end.
  • Ice: Representative of feeling of separation, this symbol can also indicate growth through a season of contemplation.
  • Keys: Keys typically represent knowledge, discovery and opportunity.
  • Lizard: This animal is sometimes also manifested as a salamander in some tarot decks. It reminds us that vision is important to action. Conscious efforts yield big results.
  • Moon: This celestial symbol represents the passage of time, femininity, reflection and change.
  • Ocean: The waves of the ocean tell us of the vastness of the world and its possibilities. This symbol may be telling us to relax and allow the power of the universe work to its magic in our lives.
  • Pillar: Pillars usually mean having or finding balance in a situation.
  • Rain: Storms can be frightening or sad, but the water from rain is cleansing and good for growth.
  • Ship: Travel or a personal journey is the obvious translation for this symbol. One may also wish to explore the depths of the water which keeps the obvious afloat.
  • Tree: Shelter, regeneration and strength are all traits of the tree. Nuances may be drawn from the type of tree as well, such as an evergreen representing the everlasting.
  • Wreath: This is often the symbol for victory. The querent may be on the brink of triumph when a wreath shows up in a tarot spread.

More Information About the Symbols of Tarot

An in depth understanding of the symbolism of tarot cards comes with time and practice. If you are wishing to gain more knowledge about tarot symbols, you may wish to read The Symbols and Magick of Tarot by Paul V. Beyerl. The author of this book gives a detailed exploration of the Rider Waite Tarot Deck.

Exploring the cards yourself and keeping a tarot journal is another effective way to learn what tarot symbols mean. You may also wish to join an online discussion group for tarot enthusiasts and readers in order to increase your knowledge.>

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Tarot Symbols and Their Meanings