Monday, May 28, 2012


Each suit tells a story about the human experience in cards Ace through 10.

By Judy Jennings    © Copyright 2012

Our discussion today will dwell on cards Ace through 10 of the four suits, primarily using the Rider-Waite deck.  Interpretation of the minor arcana is based largely on the intersection of the occult meaning of the number of the card and the qualities that are attributed to the suit.  Some decks use only the number and symbol of the suit for illustrations on the minor arcana, and these are called Pip cards.  While Pamela Coleman Smith, artist of the Rider-Waite deck, was the first to add interpretive illustrations to the cards of the minor arcana, she was certainly not the last.  A wide variety of decks are available to the modern day seeker, the selection of which adds another layer of meaning to a reading, particularly in regards to the minor arcana.

It will be helpful in the examination of these cards to lay out the suits in four horizontal rows, in this order, top to bottom:  Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.  This results in vertical rows of each number, as well.  In other words, you have Ace through 10 of each suit running left to right, in four different rows.  This arrangement allows you to see the development of the story line of each suit.  It also offers a comparison of the same number expressed in different suits, where there are both similarities and marked contrasts.

As you contemplate the twos, for example, notice how they all share the qualities of the number; duality, reflection, and alternating cycles.  Even so, it’s obvious from the illustrations that the state of mind found in the two of Swords is nothing like that found in the two of Pentacles.  The popular Thoth deck, designed by Aleister Crowley and illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, takes a different approach and names each card of the minor arcana with a quality.  The two of Pentacles, for instance, is called Change while the two of Swords is Peace.  Would these cards have different meanings in a reading than the same cards from the Rider deck?  Probably so. 

Most of the number groups contain both positive and “negative” cards.  The fours are a good example.   Four is a number that relates to security in the material world, and it contains the qualities of calculating intelligence, order, measurement, and benevolence.  However, the four of Wands is clearly a celebratory card while the four of Swords suggests recuperation.  The four of Cups and the four of Pentacles are both subject to a wide range of interpretations, from depression to a state of Zen meditation for the Cup, and from miserly to powerful for the Pentacle.  The Thoth deck, on the other hand, leaves no room for such variation by naming the cards.  Completion, Luxury, Truce and Power are ideas that appropriately place all of the fours in a strong, positive light, while Coleman Smith’s artistic rendering of these particular cards in the Rider deck is surprisingly ambivalent.  Regardless, illustrations do carry a significant role in the interpretation of the cards, whether one agrees with the details or not.  A fun way to experiment with this dynamic is to do a reading with a deck you’ve never used before.  Go in cold, without studying the deck beforehand, and let your intuition and imagination react to the illustrations.  It’s a good idea for the beginning student of the Tarot to experiment with as many decks as possible in order to find the cards that offer the highest degree of affinity.  It’s a matter of personal taste.

Two of the number groups are “challenge groups”.  These are the fives and the sevens, and they are important to the minor arcana as cards like The Devil and The Tower are to the triumphs for without them, the Tarot would have no real grip on the human condition and every reading would be reduced to a metaphysical “Have a nice day”.  The fives represent problems.  The Thoth deck sums them up as Strife, Disappointment, Defeat and Worry, and that’s a fair assessment in the RW deck as well.  In this case, however, Coleman Smith’s illustrations add much more depth to the meaning of the fives.  The Cups do portray disappointment, for example, but there’s also the suggestion of blessings that have gone unnoticed.  The illustration on the 5 of Pentacles makes it plain that basic issues of survival may be at stake, while “Worry” has an impersonal, abstract quality by comparison.

The sevens take on a different tone, and represent challenges, not problems.  Consider that the Tarot acts as a road map for a successful, meaningful life.  In that context, cards in this group are directional markers.  Every idea, project, or relationship goes through the stages represented in cards Ace through 10 of the four suits.  The sevens represent times through which one must persevere and grow.  Practical advice accompanies these cards in a reading.  The seven of Cups is a clear indication that it’s not a good time to make a major decision, for instance, while the Pentacles counsel patience.  A courageous stand and the strength of conviction are shown in the Wands, as is underhandedness in the Swords.  The meaning of the number seven is a synthesis of the preceding numbers, and in relationship to the Tarot specifically, it refers to the unfinished Great Work.  Interestingly, the seventh major arcana is The Chariot, which is a triumphant, confident card sometimes known as Victory.  We can assume that navigating through the forces described in these sevens will lead to a stage of growth, progress and strength.

Interpretation of the four suits, then, combines a basic knowledge of numerology, an understanding of the forces that are described by each suit, and an intuitive response to the illustrations on the card.  The other ingredient that seasons this mixture over time is experience, for there is no substitute for personal observation of the cards that attend the repeating cycles of our lives.


0.     Infinity, super-consciousness, unlimited potential
1.     Conscious self-awareness, initiation, inception, focus
2.     Duality, reflection, alternation
3.     Growth, development, expression, networking of 1 and 2
4.     Calculating intelligence, order, measurement, classification, benevolence
5.     Adaptation, versatility, meditation, midpoint between beginning and completion
6.     Harmony of opposites, reciprocity, equilibrium, love
7.     Synthesis of preceding numbers, the unfinished Great Work
8.     Infinity, alternating cycles, the idea that opposites are the effect of the same cause
9.     Completion, attainment, fulfillment, the end of a cycle
10.    Balance of self-awareness and universal consciousness


Wands:  Activity, inspiration, motivaiton, passion, pure ideas

Cups:  Creativity and emotional depth

Swords:  Mental processes, communication, actualization

Pentacles:  Matters of well-being in the physical world.

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