How to Read the Minor Arcana Tarot Cards, The Ultimate Guide


How to read the Minor Arcana Tarot Cards

If you are looking for a deeper understanding of the Tarot and how to read the Minor Arcana Tarot cards, then you have come to the right place.

If you are looking for a guide about how to read the Major Arcana, click here.

A standard Tarot deck is composed of 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards (4 suits with 16 cards each!) Minor Arcana cards, contrary to the name, contribute significant information in a reading that relates to the challenges that are present in our everyday lives.

By reading the Minor Arcana confidently, you will be able to recognize messages in your readings that address barriers to reaching goals and understanding underlying emotions.

The Minor Arcana is a vital component of a Tarot deck. Understanding the Minor Arcana includes learning about the four suits, relevance to numerology, and knowing the characteristics of court cards.

Remembering 56 cards seems like a near-impossible task. I hear the question “how do you remember all of those cards?” constantly as a Tarot reader. Luckily, the Minor Arcana is organized; you will notice many similarities between the Minor Arcana and a standard deck of playing cards such as numbered pip cards ace to 10, four suits, and court cards.

In fact, Tarot was originally used for games like playing cards for much of Europe in the 15th century! It was after this point that Tarot became popular as a tool of divination and more meanings associated with the cards.

For this article, I will outline the system in which the Minor Arcana is organized and how to associate each card with its suit and number/court. With sufficient practice, reading Minor Arcana cards will become second nature!

Please note that this article references the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot system specifically. Click here for best current pricing on the Rider Waite-Smith Tarot deck.

Understanding Suits

As discussed before, remembering 56 cards is not a feasible method of learning the Tarot. The best method includes learning the Minor Arcana cards like a math formula!

Suit Meaning + Pip/Court Card Meaning = Minor Arcana Card

The first step to learn how to read the Minor Arcana without referencing a guide is recognizing the relationship between suits, elements, and themes (the first part of the equation above).

This will allow you to see a suit and connect the symbol to what aspect of the reading being alluded to. By having this connection, you will be able to narrow down your focus and help organize your interpretation of the reading.

Here is a quick reference chart that summarizes suits, elements, and themes.

WandsFireCreativity, passions
CupsWaterEmotions, relationships
PentaclesEarthFinances, tangible means
SwordsAirCommunication, thoughts

Wands: Wands represent creation, excitement, and power. When I think of this suit, I think of hobbies and passions. Wands is an element that embodies confidence, creativity, and ambition. In contrast, wands can indicate a warning of impulsivity or lack of direction.

Cups: Like the water that may flow from them, our emotions are fluid and forever changing. Water can be calm, and water can be strong and raging. The suit of cups is strongly associated with relationships with others and our own emotions.

Though it is important to have an understanding of our feelings, cups can also warn of letting our emotions “overflow” when it comes to decision making.

Pentacles: This is a very grounded suit representing tangible resources and aspects of life. Pentacles can indicate a focus on finances and work. Pentacles are rooted in stability, and this suit can be very reassuring to see in a reading related to monetary goals.

This suit is not perfect though and can indicate a focus needed when it comes to sharing the “wealth”.

Swords: The swords are the conscious parts of our mind where our thoughts, intelligence, and communication are depicted. This suit can exist in any aspect of life and may depict internal and external conflicts, difficulties, and battles.

Examples

The best way to truly understand the Tarot is to practice, practice, practice! Here are a couple of examples of how you can narrow down the theme of a Tarot reading by evaluating the suits that appear.

Example 1:

You are reading for yourself and ask about your relationship with a long-term partner. Although at first glance, this situation may come across as one that would be associated with emotions (cups), but multiple sword cards are pulled!

Swords may be present to encourage us to think logically. Perhaps this relationship requires you to consider some objective and practical aspects. In this case, the Tarot cards may be highlighting a new focus.

You can also read this post that talks about the best tarot spreads for relationships.

Example 2:

You are reading for someone else, and they are asking about how they should restart a hobby/passion of theirs. This situation can definitely relate to all themes (financial, thoughts, emotions, and creativity).

In this reading, multiple wand cards are pulled with positive messages, and a couple of pentacles cards join them. The focus of this reading may relate to igniting the “spark” and acknowledging the excitement of this passion, and also balancing the practical components that are outlined in the pentacles cards.

You may want to try different types of Tarot spreads for your readings. In this post, I discuss that best Tarot spread layouts.

Variations in Suits

Tarot deck creators and designers have been able to merge unique themes with the classic suits of the Tarot. Through stylistic changes, the meanings of the original four suits are presented through other objects or ideas.

The Zombie Tarot, for instance, uses the general principles of the Minor Arcana suits, but artistically depicts these suits to match a vintage zombie apocalypse vibe. Cups are symbolized by brains, wands are bones, pentacles are renamed to hazards, and swords are guns.

The meaning of these suits remains the same and is likely why some of these unique depictions were chosen, plus they are iconic symbols when thinking about a zombie apocalypse.

 In other decks, such as the Mystical Cats Tarot, the wands-cups-pentacles-swords names are addressed as their elemental names, fire-water-earth-air respectively. For example, the Six of Swords becomes the Six of Air.

This choice by the author and artist allows the world of cats to remain in nature instead of using items that relate to the human world. The messages still remain the same as the suits.

Lastly, the Muse Tarot (find it here) has created new labels for the suits in the deck. Cups become Emotions, Wands become Inspiration, Swords become Voices, and Materials become Pentacles. This makes the deck more whimsical and creative which ultimately matches the eclectic style of the deck.

As you see with the new labels, they still match the theme of the suit.

When exploring new Tarot decks, keep in mind that suit names may change but their message remains the same! Tarot decks will often come with their own guide to reference, but the information in this article and other learning sources will still be transferable as you build a relationship with other decks.

Significance of Numbers in the Minor Arcana

The next step in learning the Minor Arcana is to understand the numbers. Again, let’s review the equation:

Suit Meaning + Pip or Court Card Meaning = Minor Arcana Card

Tarot combines many mystical systems, including numerology.  As a quick summary, numbered pips will depict the progression of a journey. For example, in numerology, the 1 (or Ace in Tarot) depicts birth, creation, and power.

It is the first number after all! Meanwhile, a 10 is the completion of a sequence like a circle. Look at how the 10 reduces to a 1 (1+0=1), becoming a full “circle” again.

Keep in mind that numerology differs between many cultures and practices, but the premise of attaching meaning to a number is very apparent in the Tarot.

The following chart is a very generalized summary of information that will ideally allow you to connect meanings to the numbers on pip cards you come across.

AceBeginnings, start
2Partnership, balance, deciding on a direction
3Collaboration, growth, expansion
4Stability, structure, foundation
5Conflict, challenge
6Perseverance, respite
7Reflection, awareness, evaluation
8Changes, commitment
9Nearing completion, final reflection
10Completion, moving forward

Examples

What stage might you be at in your process of life? Receiving many of the same numbered Minor Arcana cards may highlight information about what phase you, or the person you are reading for, are currently in.

Keep this in mind for readings that relate to the past and future as well.

Example 1:

You complete a three-card past-present-future reading for someone. The cards that come up are a 5 for past, an 8 for the present, and a 9 for future.

Without looking at the suit or having any details of this person’s situation, you might be able to deduct that a 5 in the past represents conflict and a struggle. The 8 may display the current need for change to be made, as the 9 symbolizes nearing the end of the cycle.

When needs to be done in this current moment to reach the point that the 9 represents?

Example 2:

You do a reading for yourself and pull multiple Minor Arcana cards that are 3s. What could this mean?

At first glance, these 3s could represent the need to unify with loved ones, colleagues, or community depending on the context. Traditionally, 3s represent collaboration.

How can you be supported by the people around you? Are you open to accepting help and connection at this time?

Reading Court Cards

Suit Meaning +Pip or Court Card Meaning = Minor Arcana Card

In readings, the court cards were said to represent people in the questioner’s life that was part of a general age range and that match the gender depicted. However, these associations do not have to follow this and may instead represent life stages and experience.

As an example, a strong, mature woman can be represented by a King Card, regardless of gender or age. Court cards can represent qualities that we are seeking in ourselves, or they can act as support cards that can encourage us during difficult times.

Like all people though, every court card is not perfect and can possess negative attributes that contrast with the positive. Often, the opposite attributes are read either through reversals or by taking the context of the cards around them, depending on the reader’s preference.

Once you have a basic understanding of the suits and their accompanying numbers/court card, it will become easier to recall the card meanings when completing a Tarot reading.

PageLearning, opportunity, excitement
KnightAction, focused, ambitious
QueenNurturing, subtle, intuitive
KingMastery, stability, power

Page: Think of the page like an excited youth, intern, or new employee. They bring new ideas to what they are a part of. In contrast, Pages may be naive, inexperienced, or hyper-focused.

Knight: If the page is about conceiving a new thought, the knight is about the action needed to get things started. Knights are passionate, dedicated, and ready to go. However, this passion can become extreme, which is one of the primary opposite meanings of the knight.

Queen: Queens possess the qualities of someone who understands themselves and others very well. They can care and nurture others and have great intuition.

With that being said, on the negative side, queens can use these qualities for worse and become overbearing or manipulative.

King: Kings depict maturity and control. They rule over their designated domain, looking to support others amongst them. They have experienced life and have significant wisdom to share.

As a negative side (mainly interpreted based on context or in reversals), a king may be overly critical, overbearing, cold, or fall into the negatives of their associated suit.

Variations in Court Card Labels

Similar to the variations in suit labels, you may see that the court card names may differ between Tarot decks. In many modern decks, gender-neutral labels are used to remove the traditional gender roles that accompany the king/queen labels.

The changes in the name do not remove the progression of experience that is normally depicted by the page-knight-queen-king court cards.

In the Thoth Tarot system (see it here) , the hierarchy/royalty labels are similar but are changed slightly. Pages become Princesses, Knights become Princes, Queens remain Queens, and Kings become Knights.

 In contrast, the Wild Unknown deck (as well as many other decks with a more nature-based vibe) use the terms, daughter, son, mother, and father. This is interesting since these family roles traditionally emulate the adjectives used to describe them.

Mothers are often seen as nurturing and are a feminine archetype, while a father is the head of the household.

The Numinous Tarot, a deck that was crowdsourced on Kickstarter, uses fully gender-neutral labels. These labels are Dreamers, Explorers, Creatives, and Mystics.

Decks such as the Numinous Tarot allow readers and enthusiasts alike to feel comfortable with reading Tarot and may make it easier to associate court cards with themselves or people in their lives during a reading.

Keep an eye out for these differences in the decks you read. It’s important to know that regardless of the label, court cards can represent anyone of any age. What differs between them is the experience and characteristics described.

Consider Court Card Representations and Placements

Court cards are a great way to personify a theme, concept, or person that may be influencing a reading. It’s important to consider first if the attributes of a court card relate to the querent or someone in their life.

Court cards are very popular in love readings as they can easily represent a love interest in characteristics. Someone may ask about

It’s also common to see court cards appear in readings where one of the spread positions is a card that says, “describe me”.

Examples

There are multiple ways to interpret court cards. Here are a couple of examples that can help you develop an interpretation if they come up in a reading.

Example 1:

You are reading for someone that is having some conflict at the moment with family, specifically a brother. You do a spread that overlooks both ‘sides’. On the side that represents the family, a Knight of Wands appears.

This Knight of Wands could represent the brother. Depending on the context, the Knight of Wands could enhance understanding of why this conflict may exist. Is this excitable, but at this time overactive and scattered?

Is this interfering with the relationship between this person and the person represented by the knight?

Example 2:

You do a reading for yourself to receive information about anxious feelings. There have been lots of changes for you lately, and you are feeling overwhelmed with to-do lists, bills, and work. You pull the King of Pentacles.

Although you may not identify with this card in the moment, it could be making an appearance to provide support and guidance. Remember that Kings are masters of their suit, and in this case, the King of Pentacles rules over the material aspects of our world.

This card is encouraging stability and peace during a difficult time, as well as dedicated work towards goals.

Reading the Minor Arcana

It is now time to combine the discussed principles of the Minor Arcana with overall Tarot reading techniques.

Once again, here is the equation discussed at the beginning of this article. Although it is simple, you now understand how to quickly recall the parts that make up the Minor Arcana and can, therefore, develop a solid interpretation of a card

Suit Meaning + Pip or Court Card Meaning = Minor Arcana Card

Example

You are completing a mind-body-spirit reading for yourself and pull these three cards:

2 of Swords – Mind

Queen of Pentacles – Body

Ace of Wands – Spirit

Let’s use the equation to break down these cards…

Mind Card – 2 of Swords

Swords = mind, conflict, intelligence, communication

2 = deciding on a direction

Based on this information, the 2 of Swords may indicate difficulties in making a decision. Perhaps in this reading, you are currently deciding on whether or not to go back to school and therefore, is urging the reader to take all information in to make an informed decision.

Body Card – Queen of Pentacles

Queen = nurturing, inner voice

Pentacles = material aspects of life

The Queen of Pentacles may represent a parental figure, but since this spread is a personal one, and this card is the ‘body’ card, the Queen of Pentacles may indicate a need to nurture and support your body and health.

Ace of Wands

Ace = new beginnings

Wands = creativity, and passion

For spirit, the Ace of Wands might be encouraging a new beginning. Since this is a ‘spirit’ card, it might be advocating for an upcoming change in career or hobby. This card is pointing in good directions!

By taking apart each portion of the Minor Arcana cards, completing a reading becomes much easier. Use this method, in combination with intuition, to practice, practice, and practice more.

Reversals

The topic of reversals can be covered in its own full article. Tarot readers have varying opinions about the validity of reversals, and it is up to the reader to learn about their personal preferences.

For me, I read reversals differently based on the deck I am using, as well as my intuition. Many say that there are enough cards in a standard Tarot deck to balance the positives and the negatives of life, and therefore reversals are not necessary.

Others are adamant that reversals provide extra, necessary layers to a Tarot deck and are important to include.

When it comes to reading Minor Arcana, I would say that reading these as reversals is the same as reading a Major Arcana card.

A reversal can either mean the “opposite” of the traditional meaning, blocked energies, or more focus is needed for that card.

I’ve also written a couple of articles about tarot card reversals, find those here:

Conclusion

By breaking down portions of the Minor Arcana, understanding it becomes a breeze! I hope that this method is useful to you as you continue to learn about Tarot.

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