What Are Tarot Cards?

Tarot cards, a mystical tool that has intrigued and fascinated people for centuries, hold the power to offer guidance and insight into various aspects of life. Often used for fortune-telling or self-reflection, these beautifully illustrated cards depict symbolic images that hold hidden meanings. Whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or simply curious, this article will uncover the mysterious world of tarot cards and explore their origins, purpose, and how they can be used to gain a deeper understanding of oneself and the world around us. Tarot cards are a deck of 78 cards that have been used for centuries as a tool for divination, self-reflection, and personal growth. They originated in Europe in the 15th century and have since gained popularity worldwide. Each card in the deck carries its own unique symbolism and meaning, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

History of Tarot Cards

Origins of Tarot Cards

The exact origins of tarot cards are still shrouded in mystery, but they are believed to have originated in northern Italy during the 15th century. The first documented evidence of tarot cards can be traced back to the court of Milan in the early 1440s. These early tarot decks were hand-painted and used primarily by the upper classes for entertainment purposes.

Early Use of Tarot Cards

In the early days, tarot cards were primarily used for card games rather than divination. The game of tarot, which is still played in some parts of Europe today, involved players using the cards to compete against each other. However, even during this time, the cards were seen as having a deeper symbolic meaning beyond their use in the game.

Popularity in the 18th Century

Tarot cards gained widespread popularity in the 18th century when occultists and esoteric philosophers began to explore their mystical and symbolic nature. The publication of Antoine Court de G├ębelin’s “Le Monde Primitif,” in 1781, played a significant role in popularizing the use of tarot cards as a tool for divination and spiritual insight. The publication claimed that the tarot had ancient Egyptian roots and contained hidden knowledge about the human experience.

Modern Use of Tarot Cards

Today, tarot cards are widely used for various purposes. While some still use them for traditional divination, they have also found their place as a tool for self-reflection, personal growth, and creative inspiration. Many people use tarot cards as a means of exploring their own psyche and gaining insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Additionally, tarot cards have become increasingly popular in popular culture, with their images appearing in books, movies, and even fashion.

Structure of Tarot Cards

Number of Cards in a Tarot Deck

A standard tarot deck consists of 78 cards, divided into two main groups: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards, while the Minor Arcana consists of the remaining 56 cards.

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana cards are often considered the most significant cards in the tarot deck. They represent significant life events, archetypal figures, and major spiritual lessons. Some of the well-known Major Arcana cards include The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, and The World.

Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana cards are further divided into four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. Each suit consists of 14 cards, with ten numbered cards (Ace to Ten) and four court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King). The Minor Arcana cards represent the everyday aspects of life and are often associated with more mundane concerns.

The Suits

The four suits in the Minor Arcana each have their own elemental correspondences and symbolic meanings. The suit of Wands is associated with the element of fire and represents passion, creativity, and inspiration. Cups correspond to water and symbolize emotions, relationships, and intuition. Swords represent the element of air and reflect thoughts, communication, and challenges. Lastly, Pentacles embody the element of earth and relate to material possessions, finances, and physical well-being.

Court Cards

The court cards in tarot decks represent different personality types or individuals in a reading. They are often associated with specific qualities or roles. For example, the Page may represent a youthful and curious individual, while the Queen embodies nurturing and compassionate energy. The court cards provide further depth and nuance to a tarot reading, adding a personal touch and direct interactions with others.

Meaning and Symbolism

Interpreting the Cards

Interpreting tarot cards is a skill that requires practice and intuition. Each card carries its own unique symbolism, and the way it is positioned within a spread can also influence its interpretation. Tarot readers often rely on a combination of traditional interpretations, personal intuition, and the specific context of the reading to derive meaning from the cards. It’s important to approach tarot readings with an open mind and a willingness to explore different aspects of the symbols present in the cards.

The Fool Card

The Fool card is often considered the starting point of the tarot journey. It represents new beginnings, untapped potential, and taking risks. The Fool is depicted as a carefree individual stepping off a cliff with a small bag in hand, oblivious to the potential dangers ahead. This card encourages you to embrace a childlike curiosity and adventurous spirit as you embark on new endeavors.

The Empress Card

The Empress card embodies feminine energy, fertility, and abundance. Depicted as a figure surrounded by lush vegetation, the Empress represents creativity, nurturing, and a deep connection with nature. This card often suggests a time of growth, nurturing relationships, and finding balance in your life.

The Death Card

Contrary to popular belief, the Death card does not represent literal death, but rather transformation and rebirth. It signifies the end of a chapter or phase in life, making way for new opportunities and growth. The Death card reminds you to let go of what no longer serves you and embrace the changes that lie ahead.

Symbolism in Tarot Cards

Tarot cards are rich in symbolism, with each card incorporating various visual elements that convey deeper meanings. From the colors used to the placement of objects and the facial expressions of the figures depicted, each detail carries significance. For example, the presence of water in a card may represent emotions and intuition, while the use of specific animals can symbolize different qualities or archetypal energies.

Uses of Tarot Cards


One of the primary uses of tarot cards is divination, which involves seeking guidance or insight into various aspects of life. Tarot readings can provide clarity on relationships, career choices, personal growth, and more. By interpreting the cards and their positions within a spread, a tarot reader can offer perspectives and potential outcomes to help you make informed decisions.

Self-reflection and Personal Growth

Tarot cards can also be used as a tool for self-reflection and personal growth. When used for introspection, they can provide insights into your thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behavior. Tarot readings can help you gain a better understanding of yourself and identify areas for personal development.

Psychological Exploration

Many individuals utilize tarot cards as a means of exploring their psyche and gaining insight into their subconscious mind. The imagery and symbolism of the cards can reveal underlying emotions, fears, and desires that may not be immediately apparent. Through tarot, individuals can tap into their deeper selves and uncover hidden aspects of their psyche.

Creative Inspiration

Tarot cards have long been recognized as a source of creative inspiration. Artists, writers, and musicians often use the imagery and symbolism of the cards to spark new ideas and explore different perspectives. The evocative images and rich symbolism can trigger the imagination and unlock creative potential.

Tarot in Popular Culture

Tarot cards have become increasingly popular in mainstream culture. They can be found in movies, books, and various forms of art. Additionally, many people incorporate tarot imagery into their fashion choices, accessories, and home decor. The presence of tarot in popular culture reflects the enduring fascination with these mystical cards and their potential for personal and creative expression.

Tarot Card Reading Methods

Single Card Readings

Single card readings involve pulling a single card from the deck to gain insights or guidance on a particular situation or question. This method is quick and straightforward and provides a focused response. It can be used as a daily practice for introspection or as a way to gain clarity on a specific issue.

Three Card Spreads

Three card spreads are a common method used in tarot readings. Each card is placed in a specific position that represents different aspects of the situation or question at hand. The first card represents the past, the second card signifies the present, and the third card indicates the potential future or outcome.

Celtic Cross Spread

The Celtic Cross spread is one of the most famous and comprehensive tarot spreads. It typically involves ten cards laid out in a specific pattern, each representing different aspects of the querent’s life or situation. This spread provides a more in-depth analysis and can be used to gain insights into past influences, current challenges, future outcomes, and potential actions to take.

Relationship Spreads

Relationship spreads focus specifically on matters of the heart. These spreads can provide insights into existing relationships, potential partnerships, or shed light on areas of improvement within one’s love life. Relationship spreads often involve multiple cards positioned to represent different perspectives of both individuals involved in the relationship.

Career Spreads

Career spreads are designed to provide guidance and insights into career-related matters. They can help identify potential opportunities, highlight personal strengths and weaknesses, and offer advice on career decisions or growth. Career spreads often consider various factors such as skills, passions, and potential obstacles.

Choosing and Caring for Tarot Cards

Selecting Your First Deck

Choosing the right tarot deck is a personal and intuitive process. It’s essential to find a deck that resonates with you visually and emotionally. There are countless tarot deck options available, each with its own unique style and energy. Take the time to explore different decks, read reviews, and connect with the imagery and symbolism that speaks to you.

Different Tarot Deck Styles

Tarot decks come in various styles, from traditional to contemporary, and even themed decks based on specific cultures or mythologies. Traditional decks, such as the Rider-Waite Tarot, are widely used and offer a solid foundation for learning tarot. Contemporary decks, on the other hand, may feature unique artwork and interpretations that cater to personal preferences.

Cleansing and Charging the Cards

Once you have chosen your tarot deck, it’s important to cleanse and charge the cards before use. Cleansing removes any residual energies that may have accumulated during the manufacturing and packaging process, ensuring a clean and fresh start. Charging your cards can be done by placing them in natural light, using crystals, or performing a simple ritual to imbue them with your energy and intention.

Storing and Handling Tarot Cards

To keep your tarot cards in good condition, it is recommended to store them in a protective bag or box to prevent damage. Avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures and humidity, as this can warp or damage the cards. When handling the cards, it’s important to use clean hands and avoid bending or creasing them. Treat your cards with care and respect to maintain their energy and longevity.

Replacing and Retiring Old Cards

With time and use, tarot cards may become worn or lose their energy. If a card becomes damaged or lost, it is advisable to replace it with a new card from the same deck. Additionally, some readers choose to retire cards that have served them well over time. Retired cards can be kept as a memento or passed on to another tarot enthusiast.

Tarot Card Ethics

Maintaining Client Confidentiality

For professional tarot readers, maintaining client confidentiality is of utmost importance. Clients often share personal and sensitive information during a reading, and it is the responsibility of the reader to respect their privacy and the sacred space created during the session. It is unethical to share or discuss a client’s reading without their explicit permission.

Offering Responsible Interpretations

Tarot readers have a responsibility to provide responsible interpretations to their clients. This means presenting the information in an honest, compassionate, and empowering manner. It is important not to impose personal biases or judgments onto the reading, but rather allow the cards to speak for themselves and offer guidance that is ultimately in the best interest of the client.

Avoiding Fear-based Readings

Fear-based readings, which focus solely on negative outcomes or dire predictions, are considered unethical in the tarot community. The purpose of tarot is to provide guidance and insight, allowing individuals to make informed decisions and take positive action. A responsible tarot reader refrains from instilling fear or creating unnecessary anxiety in their clients.

Empowering Clients

One of the key principles of ethical tarot reading is empowering the client. Rather than assuming the role of a fortune-teller, a tarot reader should aim to empower their clients by offering them different perspectives and potential courses of action. This helps the client regain a sense of control and make decisions that align with their own personal goals and values.

Respecting Cultural and Spiritual Beliefs

Tarot readings can attract individuals from diverse cultural and spiritual backgrounds. It is important for tarot readers to respect and acknowledge these beliefs, ensuring that their interpretations and advice are inclusive and sensitive to different cultural practices. Tarot readings should be a space where individuals feel respected and supported, regardless of their beliefs or backgrounds.

Myths and Misconceptions about Tarot Cards

Tarot Cards are Evil or Occult

One common myth about tarot cards is that they are associated with evil or the occult. In reality, tarot cards are simply tools that can be used for various purposes, including personal growth, self-reflection, and divination. The meanings and interpretations assigned to the cards are highly subjective and can be influenced by personal beliefs and intentions.

Tarot Cards Predict a Fixed Future

Contrary to popular belief, tarot cards do not predict a fixed future. They provide insights and guidance based on the current circumstances and energies surrounding the individual. The future is not set in stone and can be influenced by personal choices, actions, and external factors. Tarot cards are meant to empower individuals to make informed decisions and take responsibility for their own lives.

Only Psychics Can Read Tarot Cards

Another misconception is that only psychics or individuals with special abilities can read tarot cards. While psychic abilities can enhance the accuracy and depth of a reading, anyone can learn to read tarot cards with practice, dedication, and intuition. Tarot reading is a skill that can be developed by anyone interested in exploring the cards’ symbolism and meanings.

Tarot Readings are Always Accurate

Tarot readings are subjective interpretations of the cards and are not always 100% accurate. They should be viewed as a tool for reflection and guidance rather than an absolute truth. The interpretation of the cards can vary depending on the reader’s skill, intuition, and the context of the reading. It’s important to approach tarot readings with an open mind and use the insights gained to inform your decisions.

Superstitions Surrounding Tarot Cards

There are many superstitions surrounding tarot cards, such as never buying your own deck or never reading tarot during certain times or phases of the moon. While these superstitions may have cultural or personal significance for some individuals, they are not inherent to the practice of tarot itself. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide which beliefs or practices they choose to incorporate into their tarot readings.

Learning and Practicing Tarot

Studying Tarot Card Meanings

To begin learning tarot, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the meanings of each card. Take the time to study and meditate on the symbolism and messages associated with each card. There are countless resources available, such as books, online courses, and websites, that can provide in-depth insights into the meanings of tarot cards.

Reading Tarot Books

Tarot books are excellent resources for both beginners and more experienced readers. They offer detailed explanations of each card’s meaning, as well as guidance on different spreads, interpretation techniques, and reading styles. Reading multiple books written by different authors can provide a well-rounded understanding of tarot and broaden your perspectives.

Joining Tarot Communities

Joining tarot communities, whether online or in-person, can be a valuable way to connect with other enthusiasts and learn from their experiences. Online forums, social media groups, and local tarot meetups often provide opportunities to share insights, ask questions, and receive guidance from more experienced readers. Learning from the collective wisdom of a community can deepen your understanding of tarot.

Practicing on Oneself

One of the best ways to learn and develop tarot reading skills is to practice on oneself. Regular self-readings allow you to explore the cards’ meanings and symbolism in a personal context. Reflecting on the insights gained from your own readings can help you refine your interpretations and trust your intuition.

Seeking Professional Tarot Readers for Guidance

For those seeking more advanced or specific guidance, consulting with a professional tarot reader can be beneficial. Professional readers have honed their skills and experience over time, allowing them to offer in-depth and personalized insights. A professional reading can provide a fresh perspective on a particular situation or help navigate complex life decisions.

Combining Tarot with Other Practices

Astrology and Tarot

Many tarot readers incorporate astrology into their readings by considering the astrological correspondences of the cards and how they relate to an individual’s birth chart. Astrology can provide additional layers of insight and context to a tarot reading, as the planetary placements and astrological aspects can offer a deeper understanding of the energies at play.

Numerology and Tarot

Numerology, the study of numbers and their mystical significance, can be combined with tarot to deepen the understanding of the cards’ meanings. Each card in the tarot deck has a numerical value, and by considering numerological principles, readers can explore the underlying energetic vibrations associated with the cards.

Crystals and Tarot

Crystals are frequently used in conjunction with tarot to enhance the energy and focus of a reading. Many readers place crystals on the table or hold them while shuffling the deck to infuse the cards with specific energies. Different crystals correspond to different qualities and can be selected based on their metaphysical properties and intended purpose.

Meditation with Tarot

Meditation is often incorporated into tarot practices as a means of quieting the mind, connecting with intuition, and deepening the understanding of the cards. By meditating on a specific card or theme, individuals can enter a state of focused awareness and gain insights that may not be immediately apparent.

Tarot and Spellwork

Some individuals combine tarot with spellwork, using the cards as a tool to enhance their intentions and manifestations. Tarot can be used to gain insight into the best approach to achieving a desired outcome, provide guidance on ritual or spell components, or validate the effectiveness of a spell. This combination allows for a more holistic approach to manifesting intentions.

In conclusion, tarot cards have a rich history and continue to be popular for their ability to provide insight, guidance, and personal growth. Through their symbolic imagery and interpretations, tarot cards can serve as a valuable tool for self-reflection, divination, and creative inspiration. Whether used alone or in combination with other practices, tarot has the potential to empower individuals and facilitate deeper understanding and connection with oneself and the world around them.