Tarot cards are square shaped boxes of bendable card stock layered with images, symbols, numbers and elements, all full of various meanings. Learning how to see and understand these many layers is the key to understanding the Tarot itself. It’s like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, trapped inside an enigma; but with the proper way to decipher them, the Tarot can become a tool to reach a new path or discover an answer to a problem. So how do you decipher a Tarot card with all of these many layers of meaning? The answer is you must break the card down one layer at a time. In an earlier blog post I brushed over one of these many layers, the Tarot’s symbolic imagery. You can find that post here: https://www.atarotaffair.com/single-post/2018/07/22/Decoding-the-Symbols-in-the-Tarot
In this post we will look at few other layers that can add meaning to the Tarot, such as the elements and the numbers assigned to each card.
Each card in the Tarot (with the exception of the court cards aka the Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages) has a number associated with it. The minor arcana are numbered 1-10, while the major arcana are numbered 0-21. The Fool card is the only card in the Tarot that has been assigned the number 0 – The number 0 has no value. The Fool has no experience, no judgments, no idea what he is doing or where he is headed. He has nothing to offer therefore his value is set at nothing - 0.
1:THE MAGICIAN, ACE OF CUPS, ACE OF PENTACLES, ACE OF SWORDS, ACE OF WANDS – ONE’s represent new beginnings, infinite potential and a sweeping upsurge of energy or an intense spark that sends one on a new journey. This energy can be overwhelming and needs to be shaped and molded before it can be of great use to the one receiving its effects. It is also the number of unity – one solid structure or band of energy that is whole and has not divided itself in two.
2:THE HIGH PRIESTESS, TWO OF CUPS, TWO OF PENTACLES, TWO OF SWORDS, TWO OF WANDS – In the energy of the TWO’s, the unity in the ONE’s has divided and the focus is now on the union between the two divisions. The TWO’s are about partnership, balance, relationship with another, opposition, dualism, collaboration or the coming together of two forms of energy.
3:THE EMPRESS, THREE OF CUPS, THREE OF PENTACLES, THREE OF SWORDS, THREE OF WANDS – The THREE’S represent groups that come together for growth, change and creative expansion. The Empress card could mean you and me and baby makes three! It can also refer to the completion of the first phase of a project or idea.
4:THE EMPEROR, FOUR OF CUPS, FOUR OF PENTACLES, FOUR OF SWORDS, FOUR OF WANDS – Think of the FOUR’s like the legs of a table. The four legs provide stability, support and strength. A structure has been put in place and there is stability from which to grow. The FOUR’s lay down a solid base line from which to move forward. It also indicates rationality.
5:THE HEIROPHANT, FIVE OF PENTACLES, FIVE OF CUPS, FIVE OF SWORDS, FIVE OF WANDS – The stable energy in the FOUR’s is shaken in the FIVE’s. The FIVE’s bring instability, struggle, change and conflict. It can rock the boat over the waves of harmony.
6:THE LOVERS, SIX OF PENTACLES, SIX OF CUPS, SIX OF WANDS, SIX OF SWORDS – Though the FIVE’s can create a bit of a rough patch, the SIXES are where things are reconciled and smoothed back out via communication, cooperation, positive exchange of energy, harmony and movement.
7:THE CHARIOT, SEVEN OF PENTACLES, SEVEN OF CUPS, SEVEN OF WANDS, SEVEN OF SWORDS – The SEVENs are considered the number of the divine and obtaining wisdom. SEVEN’s are about gaining knowledge and reflecting on our life, assessing where we are at and understanding what we need to do next.
8:STRENGTH, EIGHT OF PENTACLES, EIGHT OF CUPS, EIGHT OF WANDS, EIGHT OF SWORDS – EIGHT’s indicate another level of accomplishment, much like what we saw in the THREE’s. It represents mastering of a project, skill or emotional energy. It indicates movement, action, justice and growth.
9:THE HERMIT, NINE OF PENTACLES, NINE OF CUPS, NINE OF WANDS, NINE OF SWORDS – NINE’s show us that we have accomplished a goal but there is yet another step if we want to keep going. NINE’s indicate attainment, fulfillment, accomplishment and change.
10:THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE, TEN OF PENTACLES, TEN OF CUPS, TEN OF WANDS, TEN OF SWORDS – TEN’s are the fully accomplished goal found in the NINE’s and suggest next steps. They indicate completion, the end of a phase, cycle or period of time. This is when closure can occur and one can rise to the next level or move on to the next adventure.
For the cards numbered above ten you can use the numerology function of adding the double-digit numbers together. For example number 11 the Justice card would be added 1+1 = 2 – therefore the Justice card will correlate with the TWO’s which we already know from above means partnership, balance, relationship with another, opposition, duplicity, collaboration or the coming together of two forms of energy.
11: JUSTICE – 1+1= 2 -- See the definition of TWO’s
12:THE HANGED MAN – 1+2=3 – See the definition of THREE’s
13: DEATH – 1+3 = 4 – See the definition of FOUR’s
14: TEMPERANCE – 1+4 = 5 – See the definition of the FIVE’s
15: THE DEVIL– 1+5 = 6 - See the definition of the SIX’s
16: THE TOWER – 1+6 = 7 – See the definition of the SEVEN’s
17: THE STAR– 1+7 = 8 – See the definition of the EIGHT’s
18: THE MOON – 1+ 8 = 9 - See the definition of the NINE’s
19: THE SUN– 1+9 = 10 – See the definition of the TEN’s
20: JUDGMENT– 2+0 = 2 – See the definition of the TWO’s
21:THE WORLD – 2+1 = 3 – See the definition of the THREE’s
The Elements – Finally each Tarot card is associated with an element that controls the overall theme of the card. I discussed each of the different elements in four earlier posts about the court cards. You can read those here:
Fire: If a card is from the Fire suit or is controlled by the Fire element then the energy of the card is creative, passionate, dynamic, intense, spiritual and aggressive. The Fire energy sizzles across the landscape igniting everything in its path. Fire energy typically indicates the realization of a creative vision or spiritual pursuit. The energy burns quick and unstable, pushing one swiftly towards his or her goals, but in a zigzag like pattern, not a straight line.
Earth: The opposite of Fire energy, the earth energy is slow, methodical, plotting and stable. This is the dependable, calming and cooling energy that keeps one grounded and on task. It may not be as sexy and exciting as Fire energy, but it is the energy that keeps one safe, secure, stable and ultimately successful. They are the cards that helps one build roots, maintain a good job, plant and sow the fields, build long-term relationships, and essentially engage life on a very “salt of the earth” type level. There are no surprises with Earth energy, instead support and security and things of a solid nature are found with these cards.
Water: The element of Water is about relationships and our emotional body. Water seeps down into our solid earth structures and creates crevices and valleys of emotion and connection that we need to bond and survive. Family, romance, friendships, work relationships, pets, community and spiritual relationships all fall into the element of Water. Anything that rules the heart or causes an emotional influx can be related to the Water element.
Air: The element of Air is about the all-consuming mind. Considered to be the trickiest and even the darkest cards in the Tarot, Air cards suggest that the mind is the cause of our stress, anxiety and daily problems. Air dominated people are not fully present and in their bodies as they are always “up in their heads,” too worried about everything and everyone around them. Over thinking and over analyzing come into play quite often with these cards.
It’s important to keep the Air (mind) cards in balance with our hearts (water), bodies (earth) and spirit (fire) so that they do not take over and become the dominate force in our lives. If that happens, it can only cause us to spin out and lose our balance with all of the elements.
When reading the Tarot cards, taking all of the elements into account can help with interpretations. The symbolism in the cards, the numbers and the elements are all bits of information you can pull from to understand their meanings and messages. The Magician for example is numbered 1 which means unity, this is reflected in the card's imagery -the snake eating its own tail wrapped around his waist for example, shows an unbroken chain from the past to the present to the future. The elements of Earth and Air rule over this card, which is also reflected in his imagery – he points to the sky (Air energy) and also at the earth (Earth energy) – meaning both tangible, constant and stable things are at play (Earth) but there will take a lot of mental willpower and focus to move ahead with your vision (Air).
EXERCISE: Take out your Major Arcana cards 0-21 and write down what they mean to you without any book or educational references. Then see if you can interpret each card via the number, element and imagery (if you need to look things up go ahead). What interpretations do you come up with? How does your first set of interpretations match your second set of interpretations and how are they different? It’s ok to have both – neither are wrong, but both can help you to understand the Tarot and what it means to you - which is ultimately the most important part about learning to read the cards.