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Understanding the Basic Structure of Tarot

Understanding the Basic Structure of Tarot

If you’re a beginner tarot reader or tarot-curious soul who’s looking for an easier way to learn the cards, then this post is a great place to start. This is by no means a comprehensive outline or study of the structure of tarot, it’s merely a beginner’s glance at how the cards are laid out and what each grouping represents and why. Once you get a decent understanding of the lay of the land, it’ll provide a solid foundation on which you can expand your studies in a more organic and intuitive manner. So, let’s get to it.

There are a total of 78 cards in a traditional tarot deck: 22 major arcana and 56 minor arcana. Below is a rundown of what each category entails along with a brief description of each.


The Majors: 22 Cards / Major Events & Milestones / Archetypes


  1. There are a total of 22 major arcana cards in a traditional 78-card tarot deck.

  2. The word "arcana" means "secret" and it's said the cards hold the answers to life's mysteries.

  3. The sequence from The Fool (00) to The World (21) is referred to as "The Fool's Journey" or "The Hero's Journey."

  4. The progression of the cards represents our own personal cycles from initial self awareness to full integration and completion.

  5. Each arcanum represents a major life event, lesson, influence, or archetype.

  6. Every card's colors, symbolism, numerology & scenery have great significance to its interpretation and message.

  7. The cards can be read like a storyboard, making it easier to piece the messages together.

  8. A card's energy is influenced by the messages of the cards that immediately precede and immediately follow it in the major arcana sequence.

              tarot major arcana cheat sheet


              Each major arcana card can be linked to an archetype or personality that either has or will show up in your life. While you’re learning the major arcana cards, it’s helpful to apply the textbook meaning to the cards and also associate each card’s energy to someone you know or a character that embodies that vibe.

              If you wish, pick your favorite movie or show and find a major arcana card that matches each character’s energy. A great series to choose is Game of Thrones because not only can you assign each major arcana with a character, but it’s a great segue into the more intricate minor arcana court cards (pages, knights, queens, and kings) where you have different suits, elements, ranks, etc. – but more on that later.

              For now, approach the major arcana as a sequence of characters versus a clump of cards that need to be memorized. Allow the cards to come to life and explore the depth and story of each card’s energy. The major arcanas are truly the story of our lives, so let the cards open up to you as you study them and begin seeing life’s experiences through a whole new lens of exploration and appreciation. 


              The Minors: 56 Cards / Minor, Everyday Events / Archetypes


              1. Represents the "minor," everyday events and decisions in life.

              2. The 56 minor arcana cards are broken down into four suits: Swords, Wands, Cups, and Pentacles

              3. Each of the four suits has a total of 14 cards: Ace to 10, then a Page, Knight, Queen & King.

              tarot minor arcana cheat sheet


              The minor arcana cards are a bit more complex in that there are four different suits, all of which contain 14 cards for a total of 56 cards. First, I’d recommend getting a hold on the four different suits and their elemental associations: 

              • Swords = Air

              • Wands = Fire

              • Cups = Water

              • Pentacles = Earth


                As mentioned previously, each suit has 14 cards: Ace to 10, then Page, Knight, Queen, and King. Each card within a suit takes on its elemental correspondence as an inherent trait that plays that card’s meaning. The next step, then, is to learn what each element represents (list a few keywords that resonate with you, here are some examples):

                • Swords = Air = clarity, truth, communication, thought

                • Wands = Fire = passion, creativity, momentum, ambition

                • Cups = Water = intuition, emotions, love, flow

                • Pentacles = Earth = grounding, manifestation, health, wealth


                  Last but not least, it’s time to learn the basics of numerology in tarot to help you piece together the foundational meaning of the Ace through 10 cards within a suit:

                  • 01: New beginnings, pure potential, energy, initial seed

                  • 02: Potential, determination, persistence, awakening, options

                  • 03: Balance, partnerships, decisions, duality, harmonize

                  • 04: Collaboration, growth, creativity, milestone, celebration

                  • 05: Foundation, stability, manifestation, celebration, success

                  • 06: Change, loss, conflict, instability, resolution, movement

                  • 07: Harmony, balance, restore, spiritual healing, the past

                  • 08: Mastery, momentum, dedication, action, communication

                  • 09: Fruition, fulfillment, near completion, release, wisdom

                  • 10: Culmination, integration, completion, transition, rebirth


                    Now that you have a basic understanding of how tarot is structured, you can apply the different layers to compile a card’s foundational meaning. From there, apply your own meanings and interpretations based on what you intuitively feel called to for each card because that’s where the real magic happens… with you! No matter how much memorization you do or don’t do, it all comes down to how your intuition interplays with the cards and how it allows you to piece together the story of each card or reading.

                    Always always trust your intuition when interpreting the cards and don’t become too reliant upon what the guidebook says because you’ll only be limiting your readings. Take your time when diving into learning tarot so you don't overwhelm yourself or make it more complicated than it needs to be. There's a method to the madness so be systematic and intentional about how you approach learning the cards. Take what resonates, use your intuition, and leave the rest. It's as simple as that.


                    Want to enhance your tarot skills even further? Download the Intro to Tarot Workbook HERE and also check out some tips for beginners HERE

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