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Published 22/01/2024 by Louise Emma
The most popular tarot decks consist of 78 cards divided into two main categories: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards, each representing a specific archetype or universal theme.
These cards are typically associated with significant life events, transitions and life lessons and are said to hold immense spiritual or mystical powers.
The remaining 56 cards in the deck are known as the Minor Arcana and are divided into four suits: cups, swords, wands, and pentacles. Each suit consists of 14 cards, 10 numbered cards and four court cards (page, knight, queen, and king). Each tarot card in the Minor Arcana holds its own specific meaning and mystical power, which is accentuated by its association with a specific element.
The Swords suit is associated with the element of air, representing intellect, mental clarity, and communication.
The suit of Wands is aligned with the element of fire, which is symbolic of willpower, creativity, and passion.
Finally, the suit of Pentacles is linked to the earth element, representing the material world, financial matters, and the physical body.
The 78-card tarot deck has a long history dating back to the 15th century in Europe. It was originally used for playing card games and later in the 18th century as a tool for divination or spiritual guidance, with each card carrying its own symbolic and archetypal meanings. Through various spreads and interpretations, tarot readers can provide insight into a person's life or guide them through decision-making processes. Read more on how to do tarot cards.
The most popular tarot decks contain 78 cards typically divided into two main categories, the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana.
These cards each with a unique symbolic meaning are often considered the most important in the deck, as they deal with major life events, powerful energies, and deep spiritual themes.
The Minor Arcana is divided into four separate suits - Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles - each containing ten numbered cards and four court cards, each with unique symbolic meanings.
However, there are tarot decks that deviate from the standard 78-card structure. Some decks have fewer cards, such as the Minchiate Tarot, which has 97 cards, or the Marseille Tarot, which has 78 cards but without the illustrations commonly found in modern tarot decks. Others have more cards, such as the Cosmic Tarot, which has 84 cards or the Tarot of the Apocalypse, which has 90 cards.
Some decks consist of only the Major Arcana and exclude the Minor Arcana entirely. Some decks contain additional cards not part of the traditional 78-card deck, such as joker cards or blank cards that allow readers to add their interpretations and messages to the reading.
There are plenty of reasons for the variation in the number of cards in tarot decks. Some artists and creators choose to deviate from the traditional composition to achieve a unique and personalised deck of cards. Others may add or remove cards based on their intuitive understanding of the tarot and its meanings.
Additionally, some modern decks were developed to align with spiritual or cultural traditions and, therefore, deviate from the traditional composition.
The Major Arcana tarot cards are 22 cards found in most standard tarot decks. These cards represent powerful archetypes and concepts representing key moments in our lives, spiritual journeys, or personal growth. Each card has its own unique interpretation depending on its position in a spread and the intuition of the reader.
The symbolism and imagery of the cards are meant to provoke deep contemplation and insight into one's life path and decisions. The tarot deck is an insightful tool for those seeking guidance and understanding in their journey.
The Major Arcana cards are the most important cards in the tarot, as they represent the major themes and forces that shape our lives and experiences. Their rich symbolism and depth of meaning offer guidance and insight into the mysteries of the human spirit. They can help us when faced with life’s challenges and opportunities that come our way. They differ from the Minor Arcana cards, representing more day-to-day situations and challenges.
The Major Arcana are referred to as trump cards. Trump cards reflect their elevated status and role in revealing crucial insights and deep truths to those seeking to understand them. Each card in the Major Arcana contains a specific meaning, representing a particular aspect of life, such as birth, death, love, and power.
The major cards are considered the most powerful and deal with major life events, life lessons and spiritual experiences.
Here are the key cards in the major arcana and their divinatory meanings:
The Minor Arcana part of the deck is one of the two divisions in a tarot deck, the other being the Major Arcana. This division is characterised by 56 cards, each of which is uniquely significant in divination and fortune-telling practices. Unlike the Major Arcana, these cards are associated with more mundane aspects of life and cover many themes that correspond to our daily life experiences and emotions.
The Minor Arcana is then split into four suits, each representing a distinct element of nature. These suits include Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, which represent the elements of fire, water, air, and earth, respectively. Each suit holds its own set of meanings and interpretations, and the cards within each suit are numbered from Ace to Ten, followed by court cards that include Page, Knight, Queen, and King.
Understanding the meanings and messages in the minor arcana can provide insight and guidance in different areas of life, from relationships and finances to intellectual and creative pursuits.
Each card in the Wands suit depicts a different stage in the journey of human ambition and achievement. From the humble beginnings of the Ace of Wands, which symbolises the spark of inspiration and creativity, to the ultimate success of the Ten of Wands, which represents the culmination of one's efforts, the wands suit takes us on a powerful and transformative journey.
The Wands suit also represents areas of work and career path. It speaks to our drive to succeed in our chosen field, to be recognised and respected for our talents, and to reap the rewards of hard work and dedication.
The element of air represents the sword's suit. The meanings of the Swords cards vary from the psychological to the spiritual, ranging from mental clarity and decisiveness to conflict, pain, and suffering.
The sword cards often indicate a time of struggle, challenges, and even heartbreak in card readings. They also offer the promise of resolution, growth, and transformation. The sword is a potent symbol that reminds us of the sharpness of our minds and the power of our thoughts to manifest our deepest desires and greatest fears.
The Swords suit includes ten cards depicting the different aspects of this powerful symbol. From the Ace of Swords, representing new beginnings and mental clarity, to the Ten of Swords, indicating an end to a cycle of pain and hardship, these cards offer a range of interpretations and insights into the human experience.
The cup suits are represented by the water element, symbolised by a cup or chalice, and consist of cards numbered from one to ten. Each card depicts its unique image and contains a divinatory meaning particular to its position in the spread. For instance, the Two of Cups signifies the union of love and its magical power, while the Nine of Cups represents emotional satisfaction and abundance.
Each cup card relates to the zodiac, with the Ace representing the Zodiac sign of Cancer, the Page, Pisces, and the Knight, Scorpio. The Queen and King represent water and are associated with intuition, creativity, and empathy.
The suite of Pentacles is associated with the Earth element and represents the material world, including money, possessions, work, and security.
The Pentacles suite consists of 14 cards, each portraying a different scene or symbol related to the material world. These cards range from the Ace of Pentacles, associated with new beginnings and financial opportunities, to the King of Pentacles, representing wealth, success, and financial stability.
The Pentacles suit is often interpreted as reflecting the querent's financial and material status and their relationship with the physical world. However, it can also be interpreted as a symbol of grounding, environmentalism, and connection to nature.
When two or more tarot cards are placed together in a reading, their combined meanings can give a deeper understanding of the individual's situation and offer more accurate predictions than just one card alone.
For example, combining the Fool and the Magician might signify an upcoming opportunity for the individual to take a risk and use their skills and talents to succeed. Alternatively, combining the Tower and the Devil can indicate a major life crisis the individual needs to overcome.
You have a greater option of tarot card combinations, depending on how many cards are in a tarot deck that you choose to use for the reading. These combinations can also provide further insight into the relationships between different people or aspects of the individual's life.
The combination of the Lovers and the Emperor might signify a harmonious and balanced relationship with a partner who values stability and structure, while the combination of the High Priestess and the Hermit might suggest a need for introspection and solitude at this time.
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How many cards are in a tarot deck can change using a more simplified or complex deck. While the traditional tarot deck comprises 78 cards, some modern tarot decks have additional cards which can be used for different purposes. These other cards are known as "extras" or "wild cards" and serve various functions.
One of the most common reasons for adding extra cards to a tarot deck is to provide more options for the reader. These cards can include additional suits or elements not found in the traditional tarot deck, allowing the reader to explore new themes or concepts.
Extra cards are also used to add depth and complexity to the reading. These cards can include additional symbols or imagery that provide more insight into the querent's situation or can be used to introduce new themes or concepts relevant to the reading.
How many cards are in a tarot deck for beginners? Starting with a full 78-card deck may seem overwhelming and intimidating. Many tarot decks designed for beginners have been created, ranging in size from 22 cards with just the Major Arcana up to 78 cards with simplified interpretations. Most commonly, though, beginner decks will have 78 cards with simplified imagery and meanings that are easier to grasp.
When conducting a tarot reading, a reader typically uses a spread, a predetermined card layout. The card meanings provide insight and guidance on a specific issue or question.
The number of cards used in a spread varies depending on the spread and the reader's preference.
A basic three-card spread is commonly used for beginners, while a more complex Celtic cross spread may use up to ten or more cards. It is important to remember that the number of cards used in a spread does not necessarily correlate with the accuracy or effectiveness of the reading.
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