I'm a professional tarot reader with 23 years of experience. For me, tarot is a fascinating system that reflects all human life.
An Easy Guide to the Rider-Waite Deck
Haven’t got time to look up tarot meanings in a book? Or does your memory need a quick nudge? Here is a quick reference to the meanings of tarot cards. This list covers the Rider-Waite Tarot and all its many offshoots. If your deck has a special system of its own, then you’ll need to refer to the book that came with it.
In this article, we'll look at:
- What Is the Major Arcana?
- Meanings of the Major Arcana Cards
- What Is the Minor Arcana?
- Meanings of the Minor Arcana Cards
- Tips for Reading tarot
Note: This list is for upright card meanings only. If you're looking to learn about reversals, check out my explanation and quick reference guide for the Rider-Waite Tarot Reversals.
The Major Arcana: What They Mean
The Major Arcana cards are not like the Minors—while the Minors can be pretty specific (focusing on actual situations, feelings, etcetera), the Majors are more about energy fields and influences. They may reflect a spiritual search, attainment, or life lesson. Sometimes they reflect forces beyond our control. They warn us that resistance is futile and that we need to adjust our perception or increase understanding and acceptance.
The Meanings of the Major Arcana Cards
- 0 Fool – Taking a risk. Getting outside your comfort zone. Knowing the universe is looking after you.
- 1 Magician – Feeling confident, assured. Having all the tools and resources at your disposal. Power.
- 2 High Priestess – Intuition. Going within. Inner knowing.
- 3 Empress – Growth, fertility, pregnancy, motherhood. New project. Dominant female.
- 4 Emperor – Structure, organization, rules. Dominant male.
- 5 Hierophant – Learning path, religion, spirituality, spiritual mentor, guide.
- 6 Lovers – Life-changing choice, a turning point. Union with another, two as one.
- 7 Chariot – Drive and determination. Autonomy. Mediation and negotiation.
- 8 Strength – Persuasion, gentle strength. Patience, control, compassion.
- 9 Hermit – Knowing oneself, solitude. Understanding humanity, wisdom.
- 10 Wheel of Fortune – Change, good luck, destiny.
- 11 Justice – Cause and effect, karma, fairness, legal issues.
- 12 Hanged Man – On hold, nothing happening, stuck, letting go of the outcome.
- 13 Death – Endings and new beginnings, transformation, transition. Death.
- 14 Temperance – Chemistry, moderation, balance. Getting it right.
- 15 Devil – Addiction, bad habits, co-dependency, materialism.
- 16 Tower – Chaos, destruction, upheaval. Unexpected and possibly unwanted change.
- 17 Star – Renewed optimism, hope, serenity. Spiritual love and joy.
- 18 Moon – Insecurity, anxiety, illusion, fear, health issues.
- 19 Sun – Improvement, growth, positivity, love, abundance, joy.
- 20 Judgment – Rebirth, calling, forgiveness.
- 21 World – In the right place. Accomplishment, completion. Pause before the next stage.
How to Interpret the Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana are often considered to be less important than the Major Arcana cards. This is incorrect. When someone is dealing with a set of circumstances, they are right in the middle of the action. While a Major can point out the overall energy, the Minor card is able to pinpoint the details and give the necessary advice—in the present moment.
The Meanings of the Minor Arcana Cards
There are four suits in the Minor Arcana:
The Suit of Wands/Staves
Wands represent inspiration and action.
- Ace of Wands – Rush of energy, inspiration, passion, creativity.
- Two of Wands – Planning, decisions, delays.
- Three of Wands – Enterprise, entrepreneurial spirit, responsibility, opportunity. New job.
- Four of Wands – Community, celebration, domestic comfort, engagement, wedding, housewarming. A job well done.
- Five of Wands – Arguments, disagreements, tension, competition, strife.
- Six of Wands – Victory, achievement. Good results in exams. Public acknowledgment.
- Seven of Wands – Standing your ground, challenge, not giving up.
- Eight of Wands – Change, getting organized, motivation, travel, possible pregnancy.
- Nine of Wands – Courage, determination, resilience.
- Ten of Wands – Responsibilities, stress, tough times.
- Page of Wands – Explorer, potential, free agent, no ties, messenger (or message arriving swiftly).
- Knight of Wands – Lust, enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit, scattered energy.
- Queen of Wands – Warmth, vibrancy, sexual enthusiasm.
- King of Wands – Leader, visionary, role model, temperamental, egotistical.
The Suit of Cups
Cups reflect emotions and relationships with others and self.
Read More From Exemplore
- Ace of Cups – Overwhelming romantic and spiritual love. New relationship, friendship. Compassion.
- Two of Cups – Attraction, love, commitment.
- Three of Cups – Friendship, fun, community, girls’ night out, celebration.
- Four of Cups – Emotional stability, contemplation, meditation, inward focus.
- Five of Cups – Loss, hurt, disappointment, bereavement, regret, pain. Emotional challenge.
- Six of Cups – Memories of people and places. Childhood, children, grandchildren.
- Seven of Cups – Fantasy, imagination, too many choices.
- Eight of Cups – Parting, leaving home. Emotional choice.
- Nine of Cups – Emotional security. Comfort, satisfaction, happiness.
- Ten of Cups – Family, harmony, fulfillment, peace, love.
- Page of Cups – Explorer of feelings, creative, messenger (or message arriving from overseas).
- Knight of Cups – Romantic beau. Loves to love. Bisexuality.
- Queen of Cups – Intuitive, compassionate woman. Good friend.
- King of Cups – Gentle, friendly man. Emotionally supportive.
The Suit of Pentacles
Pentacles are connected to the material world, work, health, and money.
- Ace of Pentacles – Gift, manifestation, new house or project. Prosperity.
- Two of Pentacles – Making ends meet. Balancing time and resources.
- Three of Pentacles – Collaboration, teamwork, pooling resources, and ideas.
- Four of Pentacles – Stability, security, isolation, holding on to resources.
- Five of Pentacles – Material loss, destitution, poverty, financial or material challenge.
- Six of Pentacles – Generosity, giving and receiving support, charity, donation of resources.
- Seven of Pentacles – Slight dissatisfaction, underlying discontent, doing well but could do better. Wondering about missed opportunities.
- Eight of Pentacles – Education, training/retraining, change of career, focus on the job in hand.
- Nine of Pentacles – Independence, happy with own company. Self-sufficiency, appreciation.
- Ten of Pentacles – Family structure, wealth, business, planning, inter-generational co-operation.
- Page of Pentacles – Student, curiosity, focus. Messenger, or message arriving by post.
- Knight of Pentacles – Hard worker, loyal, reliable, quiet man with hidden depths.
- Queen of Pentacles – Comforting, practical, efficient woman. Motherhood, career woman.
- King of Pentacles – Businessman, magnanimous, proud, self-educated, self-made.
The Suit of Swords
Swords represent intellect and communication.
- Ace of Swords – Clarity, decision making, insight, understanding, truth revealed.
- Two of Swords – Indecision, not acknowledging the truth, afraid to face reality.
- Three of Swords – Miscommunication, rejection, hurtful words, painful realization.
- Four of Swords – Withdrawal, resting the mind, time-out, meditation.
- Five of Swords – Conflict, tension, mental challenge, bullying.
- Six of Swords – Transition, recovery, moving on, travel.
- Seven of Swords – Stealth, reclaiming something lost, mental trickery, betrayal, theft.
- Eight of Swords – Self-entrapment, perceived imprisonment, isolation.
- Nine of Swords – Anxiety, depression, nightmares, endless negative thought.
- Ten of Swords – Defeat, ending, death. End of life cycle/beginning of the next.
- Page of Swords – Mentally agile, restless, experimenting. Messenger (or message arriving fast).
- Knight of Swords – Incisive, decisive, impulsive, political. Fights for the underdog.
- Queen of Swords – Perceptive, quick thinker, seeker of truth. Tells it like it is.
- King of Swords – Authoritative, intellectually powerful, truthful, direct.
Tips for Reading Tarot: How to Get the Most Out of a Card
While it’s simple to look up a list of meanings, you also have to be aware that circumstances play a part, so there may be subtle but telling differences in the meaning of the card. A reader's skill lies in identifying what aspect of the seeker’s life the card is related to.
For example, let’s say the seeker (or yourself) has asked about a new job. You turn over the Seven of Swords, and for the life of you, you can’t connect it to the new job quest. Then you begin to think about the information the client has given you, and one of the things she said was that her search has been hampered by her lack of confidence. The meaning of the Seven of Swords can be expanded as advice to claim back that lost confidence; she has an absolute right to feel as worthy as anyone applying for those jobs.
And this is your job as a tarot reader: It’s not only deciphering the mysterious cards but also about giving your clients reassurance. Hearing it from a tarot reader sometimes gives them a big boost. If the cards say it, it must be true—and so forth.
So be prepared to dig a little to get the client talking in order to expand on the meanings. Say what comes into your mind in the form of personal memory, but be careful how you say it. Tarot readers are not generally trained counselors, and if you blurt out something without thinking, you can cause damage. People have a way of latching on to one sentence or point, so think before you speak.
I hope this list of Tarot card meanings is useful to you. You can print them out by pressing Ctrl P, or by copying them into a Word document and deleting the images.
Feel free to ask any questions, but please, no requests for free readings.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I pulled out a card for best way to deal with a relationship situation. The relationship is, I feel, one-sided and about to end in a disastrous way. The card I pulled out was the World. It's difficult to understand in this context. Does it mean to wait and see what happens? Or would it be that one person needs to take the initiative to end the relationship or try to sort it out?
Answer: As the World is the final card in the Major Arcana, it means that you have learned a valuable life lesson from this relationship, but you are ready to undertake the next chapter of your life. I'm not saying it has to end, but it looks likely. Take what you can from it, experience-wise, try to keep it amicable and simply move on.
Incidentally, I would recommend you read all single cards as upright.
Question: I have purchased the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. What would be the best book to go with it? Do you have any advice for the beginners in terms of where to start?
Answer: I would suggest Brigit Esselmont's Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings. I have the original PDF version and it's great for little nudges about all the variations of a card's meaning, even for someone like me who has been reading for years and years. You might know the author better as the owner of Biddy Tarot. It's expensive but worth it. I'm not sure if the PDF version is still available, you'd have to check the website. The paperback is on Amazon but, as I say, horrendously expensive.
One excellent free resource is Joan Bunning's Learning the Tarot. It's an old site and not easily navigable. It is her whole book, though, free of charge. http://www.learntarot.com/
As far as where to start... I have several articles that may help:
Question: What are Pentacles connected to?
Answer: Pentacles are connected to the material world; everything you can touch. Money, health, home, work, etc.
Question: I read all the tarot cards upright only. Whether single or in a spread. Please guide me if I am it doing right?
Answer: It's perfectly fine to read the cards upright all the time. In fact, I do too. However, you have to know that you can also read the reversal meanings into an upright card. It works like this: imagine that each card is actually a pole or a stick. At each end you have the extreme meaning of the card; positive and negative. The correct degree of meaning for your reading is somewhere along that 'stick'. It's your talent, as a reader, to use your intuition to determine where on that scale the meaning lies.
To help you, have a look online at images for the Revelations Tarot by Zach Wong. He has built the reversals right into the image. So it's all contained within the card.
Question: I have the Rider-Waite tarot deck, and it came with a booklet which says you are connected to a certain suit based on some physical characteristics and you do readings using just that suit and the Major Arcana. Yet the way it's explained here, you're using the full deck for a reading and the suits are representing various challenges etc. Is this simply a difference in style or the intent of the reader? I'm curious as to your opinion on this?
Answer: Normally, the whole deck is used for a reading, otherwise you'd be excluding a lot of potential information. What you are describing is a special spread based on the seeker's dominant element. So, mine is Earth/Pentacles, so if I wanted to do a reading only based on that element, then I could use the spread you describe. However, I don't know why you'd want to unless it was for a birthday reading or something. If you read the booklet again, I'm sure you will see other suggested spreads there.
Question: I pulled a single card reading for "what guidance the universe has for me regarding a particular relationship such that it's in the highest good of both involved?" I got Death. For the first time, I'm unable to connect to a card. How could this be interpreted? I tried the same thing after a few days and got the same card. What message is the tarot trying to give me?
Answer: Death means a transition that you cannot prevent. Therefore, you will be moving on. Death is like a portal from one life stage to another. There is no choice involved. It's going to happen. Once passed, you can then lookout for signs of a positive future. Asking the same question on a different article, hoping for another answer, is still going to get you the same answer, I'm afraid.
Question: Is it OK to draw on your tarot deck?
Answer: Sure. It's your deck and the cards are just cards. There is nothing magical about the actual cards. Most are mass-printed in China. There are a few decks that are printed as coloring cards which might be fun.
Having said that, I probably would not draw on any of mine. I have been considering trimming the borders off a couple of them though.
© 2018 Bev G
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 10, 2020:
Hi Knottybunny, you don't need to sit down and learn the cards. Trying to learn them by heart is hard.
What you need to do is lots of readings. One card readings. You can read for yourself, for situations, you can read for news stories, etc. As you do the readings, type put a brief summary of what the card means.
When you get a bit more confident, start doing free readings for the American Tarot Association.
Knottybunny on August 09, 2020:
I've been dabbling into tarot for a few years now I even own 2 tarot & 1 oracle deck. That said everytime i commit to sitting down and learning I get discouraged & overwhelmed
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 25, 2020:
You are welcome, Bella.
Bella Trix on July 25, 2020:
I really want to thank you as i find many of the tarot websites offer interesting insights and yours gave me a lot to reflect on..
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 08, 2020:
Hi Deborah, I can't do your reading, sorry. There are several reasons: I don't know your question, your situation, the positions of the cards and neither do I have a connection with you. It's not a good idea to ask others to interpret your cards.
Deborah Robinson on February 08, 2020:
I got the 9 of swords
2 of cups
Page of cups
In relation to my career at present. Have bene feeling stressed about this will everything be ok tia xxx
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 21, 2019:
Yep, the link is right there.
Me on October 21, 2019: