(Updated Version!) Once you get into Tarot it’s hard to resist the temptation of exploring new decks. That’s one of the great things about the cards: the styles and vibes are as varied as can be and each month new decks are put on the market. But the many variations of the cards in terms of colours, characters or even meaning can sometimes be a little hard to process. Here’s a little help and a free infographic to download and refresh your memory when needed 🙂
#Tip! Start with the beginning and get to know a classic deck. I especially recommend the Marseille deck or alternatively the Rider Waite deck because it is so widely used (but really, you will learn more if you start with Marseille, word to the wise 😉 ). The Russian Tarot of St Petersburg or Visconti decks are also good places to start as they are very classic. Everything you learn from such deck, you’ll be able to apply to any deck in the future no matter how imaginative they are.
This first thing to do when you discover Tarot as a beginner is to separate your deck in 5
- the Major Arcana
- The Wands
- The Cups
- The Coins (Pentacles)
- The Swords
Once divided like this, the deck will hopefully start to make sense. These are the main 5 groups found in any tarot set and the smaller size of these piles will make it all less impressive.
Your first little pile is the Major Arcana: 22 cards that hold the main symbols of Tarot. Many see the 22 majors cards as the journey of the Fool. You’ll notice, this is the only card that has no number. It can simply travel as it pleases and be considered either the first or last of the deck.
Each major card holds specific messages and speaks of different aspects of life like love, work, spirituality, health, dreams etc. Mastering this arcana will take you time. Start by examining them, connecting with them. Spend some time with your deck and its companion book and gently dive in. This should not feel like you’re studying for an exam or something stressful. It has to be done in your own time.
Once you’ve spent some time with the 22 first cards, go through the minor suits. 4 little piles of just 14 cards, Aces to tens and the Royals. Notice that these are exactly like any playing card set? Because that’s what the minor suit really is in the first place: Wands are Clubs, Cups are Hearts, Coins (Pentacles) are Diamonds and Swords are Spades. In this logic, and often in the latin tradition, some may see the Fool as a Joker card.
Voila, you are already familiar with the construction of your deck. Now you can move on to learning what each suit is all about and how cards speak both on their own and in association with others.
Now to the fun part! You will start to learn what the main symbols, predictions and card associations are. Quiz yourself or study with a friend to let it all soak in. It can be really fun. Which number is Death? 13! Which star signs is the Temperance? Aquarius & Virgo! Which element do The Swords represent? The Air. And so on.
Once you know these basic and yet absolutely key things it will be easier for you to translate any deck into the common language of Tarot.
For example, you need to know that the minor arcana follows the following order: first Wands, then Cups, then Coins and then Swords. So if you start using the Victorian Fairy deck – or any other that uses seasons in the minor suits – you’ll be able to translate that the court of Spring really is the Wands, Summer = Cups, Autumn = Coins and Swords = Winter. And of course it makes sense because Spring is the booming of all vital energy, Summer is a positive but more passive time (just like the Cups), Autumn is the time of benefits and harvest and Winter is the hardest and most difficult time of the year just like the Swords hold some of the cruelest and hardest messages of the Tarot.
My advice is that before you start collecting all sorts of decks, you master one. Think of Tarot as music, which is another universal language. If you want to be able to understand and make music and always find your way through a song you need to know some basic musical notation or you will always have to work at least twice as hard as those who know it.
Use this simple reminder I prepared for you, just right click to save it!
Want more? For an easy overview of the major arcana, check my Tarot Card Meanings page to discover which elements, star signs and symbols these cards are linked to