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How to find the meanings of Tarot cards

June 1, 2015

I have posted hundreds of pithy meanings for the cards so far, and sometimes people wonder why do I associate one particular meaning with a particular card? Well, there are many ways to explore the meanings of the cards.  Here is one way, which I’ve excerpted from my book, Tarot Reading Explained. (The explanation there is much more detailed, but I wanted to be somewhat brief here.)

A basic feature of Tarot cards is that each one is defined by its number and suit, and each suit can be associated with one of the classic elements: earth, air, water, and fire, while the Major Arcana cards are related to the quintessential fifth element, Spirit.  Thus, an examination of a card’s numerological and elemental associations is a powerful way to explore its meaning more deeply.

The following reflects my understanding and interpretation of numerological and elemental meanings. There are many schools of thought about this, however, so take from it what you will.

Numerological meanings

The following is a list of suggested keywords for the numbers Zero through Ten, which summarizes their meanings.

  • ZERO. Void, emptiness, creative potential.
  • ONE. Beginnings, seeds, unity, self, ego.
  • TWO. Choices, decisions, relationships, balance.
  • THREE. Creativity, integration, growth, expansion.
  • FOUR. Structure, stability, boundaries, rest.
  • FIVE. Conflict, strife, struggle, learning opportunities.
  • SIX. Readjustment, reciprocal relationships, harmony, appreciation.
  • SEVEN. Tests, mastery, success, reassessment.
  • EIGHT. Acceleration, strength, power, progress.
  • NINE. Endings, completion, climax, accomplishment.
  • TEN. Epilog, rebirth, a new cycle, community, overkill, the last straw.

Elemental meanings

Centuries ago the world was considered to be composed of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Although some Tarot decks use different methods, the most common way to associate these elements with the Tarot suits is as follows:

Wands — Fire
Cups — Water
Swords — Air
Pentacles — Earth

So the following is a list of suggested keywords and phrases for the Tarot suits, which summarizes their meanings:

  • WANDS. Growth, energy, willpower, passion, libido, desire, inspiration, enthusiasm.
  • CUPS. Receptivity, reflection, subconscious, imagination, emotions, relationships.
  • SWORDS. Thought, intellect, logic, reason, analysis, decision, communication, conflict.
  • PENTACLES. Grounded, strength, resources, money, wealth, commerce, labor, prosperity, security, charity, generosity, body, materialism.
  • MAJOR ARCANA. Spirituality, soul, morality, ethics, philosophy, karma, archetypes, milestones.

Once again, keep in mind that the interpretations given here for the Tarot suits and numbers are suggestions, not mandates.

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