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Tarot (pronounced 'tar'-O') is a deck of cards containing four suits plus a set of 'trumps'. Tarot cards are often used for divination and to help explore the subconscious. The trumps are richly drawn, and many decks have full illustrations for each card.


The most noted use of the Tarot is for divination. Usually this is done by shuffling the cards and dealing them out in a 'spread' and interpreting their meaning based on the cards' meanings and their positions. This can be done either by a single person reading for himself, or with one person doing a reading for someone else.

The cards are also often used as a psychological tool. Tarot cards use imagery, the language of the subconscious, and are used in contemplation and meditation to examine one's self and to fire the imagination.


Historical Origin

The actual origin of the Tarot is unknown, and there is no historical record of the Tarot before 1332, when it was banned along with other gambling games by King Alphonse XI of Leon and Castile.

The name Tarot is derived from the Italian word tarocchi, meaning 'trumps'. These decks had 78 cards, with 22 trump cards and four suits. The deck was used in the game tarok; Germany also had a game called tarock. In France, the cards got their modern name and pronunciation of 'tar'-O'.

Legends of Origin

One theory of origin points to ancient Egypt. In halls beneath the Sphinx, the early versions of the cards were carved onto the walls. As part of an initiation, an initiate was taken before the carvings and the meanings were explained. The initiate was then taken through a tunnel underneath a pyramid, where the rest of the initiation took place.

Another common theory links the Tarot to Morocco, around the time of the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria. In this theory, scholars wanted to preserve important ancient knowledge, and therefore transcribed that knowledge into a deck of cards and a gambling game, ensuring its preservation.


The modern standard deck contains 78 cards, 14 cards in each of four suits and 22 trumps. The four suits are often referred to as the Minor Arcana or Pip Cards. The 22 trump cards are called the Major Arcana.

The Major Arcana

The major arcana are numbered 0-21 and represent the major stages in life. They are also involved in what is called 'The Fool's Journey'. Only their names and their basic meanings are given here:

#NameBasic Meanings
0The FoolEnthusiasm, innocence, new beginnings, optimism
1The MagicianSkill, wisdom, creativity, noble use of power
2The High PriestessIntuitive wisdom, self-reliance, insight
3The EmpressMother, abundance, healing, progress
4The EmperorFather, order, wisdom, power, control, leader
5The HierophantTradition, religion, initiation
6The loversLove, harmony, trust, honour, union, sexuality
7The ChariotVictory, progress, overcoming conflict
8StrengthStrength, courage, self-discipline
9The HermitSearching within, a guide, a wise person
10Wheel of FortuneFate, destiny, change of fortune, opportunity
11JusticeBalance, truth, peace, fair outcome
12Hanged ManStagnation, new perspective, no control
13DeathTransformation, death and rebirth, renewal, freedom
14TemperanceGuarding against extremes, need for moderation, diplomacy
15DevilDomination, bondage, primordial nature, controversy
16The TowerTraumatic change, destruction, revolution, losses
17The StarHope, rejuvenation, good omen, inspiration, faith
18The MoonIllusion, emotion, dreams, imagination
19The SunJoy, success, fulfilment, enjoyment of pleasure, good health
20The JudgementCall of destiny, rebirth, rite of passage
21The UniverseCompletion, liberation, harmony, fulfilment

The Minor Arcana

The four suits consist of ten numbered cards and four court cards. Each suit is related to one of the elements. The four suits are generally called 'swords', 'wands', 'pentacles', and 'cups':

  • Pentacles - Also called coins, disks, and diamonds, pentacles are related to the element of earth and deal with the material world.

  • Wands - Also called staves, sceptres, rods, staffs, and clubs, wands are related to the element of fire and deal with energy, travel, and career.

  • Swords - Also called spades, swords are related to the element of air and deal with the intellectual world.

  • Cups - Also called chalices and hearts, cups are related to the element of water and deal with the emotional and the creative.

The Court Cards

The court cards generally indicate the influence of a person:

  • Page, princess, knave, daughter - young female, change, messages
  • Knight, prince, son - young male, action, strength, new experiences
  • Queen, mother - mature women, creativity, caring, love of nature
  • King, father - mature men, stature, authority, leadership, honours

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