The Minor Arcana
I have prepared the following texts on the tarot minor arcana, together with pictures of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot cards, especially to help anyone contemplating taking or following one of my tarot intro workshops or a 10-lesson course. They are designed to be used as memory aids, not as a tool to read tarot without study.
The minor arcana has four suits, which corresponds to the four elements of Greek and Roman antiquity and are part of Western history. These are fire, water, air and earth. The elements are linked to tools. In general, fire is seen as being linked to wands, air to swords, water to cups and earth to pentacles/coins. Each suit/element/tool also represents a state of being belonging to us, humanity, which can also be universally viewed and applied. In general wands stand for willpower and spiritual development, cups for emotions and intuition, air for our thoughts and mind, and earth for the natural world, money, growth, the home, health, etc.
Each suit of the minor arcana consists of fourteen cards. The numbered cards are ace to ten. The four court cards that belong together with each suit are the king, the queen, the knight and the page. The titles in some decks may vary. The court cards are dealt with below.
Therefore, fire/ wands includes ace to ten of wands, and king of wands, queen of wands, knight of wands and page of wands. The same then applies for air/swords, water/ cups, earth/pentacles. Each element and its tool has another meaning and is read and understood differently.
The brief explanations here are very generalised descriptions of the energy of the cards. The individualised card meanings are much more specific. Each card naturally encompasses a world of experience, knowledge, wisdom and possibilities.
Aces stand for new beginnings, roots and the potential of the suit they represent.
Ace of wands: Yes, it’s possible, go for it!
Ace of cups: Universal love, one love, open your heart
Ace of swords: A sharp mind, taking decisive action. A pen, writing
Ace of pentacles: Material potential and growth, back-to-basics, roots, ancestors
The twos stand for partnership, duality, movement between two poles
Two of wands: ambition, plans to conquer, to take over or appropriate something, dominance
Two of cups: relative new love or attraction between two people, may also apply to a friendship
Two of swords: the ability of the mind to look at things from different perspectives, to hold two points of view in balance
Two of pentacles: multitasking, setting priorities, flexibility, partnership, coping with life’s ebbs and flows
The threes stand for the first group-forming and how this affects each element
Three of wands: good management/leadership of a successful project. Possible downsides are arrogance, loss of respect
Three of cups: socialising and having fun with friends, celebrating life, partying, community, togetherness
Three of swords: a third party is bad news in love matters, and/or rejection, jealousy, envy, sadness. The realisation that something is wrong in a relationship. Also, the swords of the mind hurt the heart and/or the realisation that sadness is part of life, cannot always be avoided
Three of pentacles: working hard on a project in a team, building something up together, discussing the next steps, the drive to make a go of it
The fours stand for rest, taking a break, withdrawal
Four of wands: celebration of a completed project. Partying. Fitting out a new home. Possible downsides are wanting to finishing too quickly
Four of cups: withdrawal, emotional satiety, wallowing in emotions, no need for even more, lack of interest, boredom, life loses its glans. Need for inner attention. Possibly, meditation.
Four of swords: acceptance, rest, withdrawal to recuperate, laying down the weapons, mediation, truce. May also indicate a sickbed, burn-out.
Four of pentacles: material stability, self-satisfaction. Own home, personal possessions. Possible downsides are selfishness, not wanting to share or invest, stagnation, personal limitation, greed.
The fives stand for obstacles, difficulties and challenges
Five of wands: competition, fair fight between multiple parties. Possibility of winning, or in any case not losing.
Five of cups: loss and disappointment, sadness, grief, emotional defeat.
Five of swords: winning unfairly, fleeing, dishonesty.
Five of pentacles: exclusion, homelessness, illness, cold, not belonging, poverty. Possibly too: victimhood
The sixes stand for a positive turn of events, new balance, prosperity, success, pleasure. Sixes are generally positive
Six of wands: victory, public recognition, appreciation. Possible downsides may be arrogance, ego-inflation
Six of cups: Nostalgia, melancholy, heartwarming memories of the past, childhood, innocence, longing for the past. May also indicate childhood trauma, and/or grieving past pains and losses.
Six of swords: Travel to a better place, adventure, taking off, exploring the wide world, travel with the mind, science, intellectual adventures. Possible downsides: flight from reality.
Six of pentacles: generosity after achieving financial and material success. Sharing with others. Or, receiving material help from someone with means. Possible downsides: sharing for selfish reasons, for attention, personal benefit
The sevens stand for impulsiveness, lack of control and self-control, impatience
Seven of wands: having to defend yourself against attackers, courage, not being well-prepared, ambush. Unexpected setbacks.
Seven of cups: losing oneself in too much choice, illusions, obsession, delusions, derailed fantasy, lack of boundaries, mind-altering substances, romanticism, flirtation, addiction.
Seven of swords: insincerity, sneaking off, theft, deceit, betrayal. Possibly, need for secrecy for self-protection.
Seven of pentacles: project is unsuccessful or postponed. Now is not the right time. Impatience, Need for patience and marking time
The eights stand for taking a different road and/or the need to do so, to walk away, reflection and realisation
Eight of wands: speed, communication, a letter, e-mail etc. Something may happen very soon
Eight of cups: turning one’s back on stagnation, walking away from a hopeless situation, moving on
Eight of swords: being stuck, blocks, prisoner, victimhood, external or internal setbacks, possibly both. The person may be able to easily extract themselves from a situation but does not do so.
Eight of pentacles: down to business, focus on hard work, progress, precise work, slowly but surely building something up in the material world, gradual growth
The nines stand for wish fulfilment on one hand and the unintentional manifestation of our fears on the other. Hopes and fears
Nine of wands: recovery, recuperation. The threat has passed, you have overcome, but take care, continue to protect yourself, building up your strength and resilience
Nine of cups: happiness through wish fulfilment in the area of relationships and emotions. Things are going well; you have finally achieved emotional wealth and satisfaction. You are blessed, but take care not to become complacent
Nine of swords: anxiety, worrying, fear of what may happen, you may be realising the mistakes you have made, the problems and misery in your life you yourself have caused
Nine of pentacles: material goals have been reached, beautiful surroundings, luxury, independent, perhaps too much, sometimes loneliness, too little connection to others
The tens stand for completion, and endings leading to new beginnings
Ten of wands: over-responsibility, taking on burdens of others, victimhood, martyrdom.
Ten of cups: domestic happiness, suburban bliss. Take care it doesn’t get too restrictive.
Ten of swords: it’s dead, completely lifeless, Done, past, over. Possibly indicates violence. Far away, the sun gleams.
Ten of pentacles: family wealth/money, inheritance, grandparents, extended family, spending time with family, family home. Often a powerful yes card.
The court cards
The sixteen court cards indicate a specific person or possibly a group of persons. None of them have to correlate with the sex/gender on the card, although this is what I myself will first consider.
Like the cards ace to ten, the court cards are divided into four suits. Each suit includes a king, a queen, a knight and a page. Furthermore, each suit corresponds with an element, a tool and an aspect of our existence. Wands stand for willpower, courage and spiritual development. Cups stand for the emotions, intuition and relationships. Swords stand for our mental capacity, our thoughts, and pentacles stand for our earthly reality, our natural environment, work, money, growth.
We therefore have a king, queen, knight and page of wands, a king, queen, knight and page of cups, a king, queen, knight and page of swords and a king, queen, knight and page of pentacles.
If a court card turns up in a spread, first look at whether the card indicates a person who is influencing the situation in a certain way. If the court card does not seem to indicate a specific person, it may also represent the person for whom the tarot reading is being done, an aspect of their personality at that moment, or advice, a recommendation. The key is to use your intuition, based on what you know.
In principle, the kings can all be seen as different aspects of the emperor, expressed in the energy of the suit they correspond with. Kings can also represent a father or father figure. In essence, the kings, like the emperor, indicate stable authority and structure. They stand for established leadership and mastery. They refer to a person or possibly a group of people. They may also represent a person of the other sex/gender. If they do not refer to a specific person, they may represent the querent themselves, particularly a controlling and determining energy around the person, or which is necessary at that time. This may be positive, neutral or negative, depending on its effect.
King of wands: he is proactive, progressive, self-assured, courageous, inspired and inspiring. He can help achieve success and satisfaction in the outside world. He may act as a public leader. Possible downsides are dominance and arrogance, etc.
King of cups: he governs from the heart. He is diplomatic, tactful, sensitve and reasonable. He may play a leading role in a spiritual discipline or work in a healing profession. A romantic with a big heart, who aims to get it right. Possible downsides are beating about the bush, lack of focus, distraction, dishonesty.
King of swords: he is analytical, determined, resolute, decisive, intelligent, logical and rational. He leads, rules or governs from his mind. Possible downsides are lack of senstivity, manipulative, judgmental, etc.
King of pentacles: he is throughtful, calm, disciplined, patient and stable, materialistic and typically financially successful. He may be attached to wealth and status, may represent established power. Possible downsides may be prejudice and a conservative nature, as well as slowness to act.
In principle, the queens can all be seen as different aspects of the empress, expressed in the energy of the suit they belong to. Queens can also represent a mother or mother figure. In essence, the queens, like the empress, stand for producing something vital, for nurturing, upbringing, shaping, support. Stereotypically they stand for leadership at social or group level, in the community, family, etc., although a queen may express her nature in any environment. They refer to a person or possibly a group of people. They may also represent a person of the other sex/gender. If they do not refer to a specific person, they may represent the querent themselves, particularly a controlling and determining energy around the person, or which is necessary at that time.
Queen of wands: she is passionate, inspired and inspiring, likes to bring people together, to network and lead. Loves using her wisdom to help others, especially to advance in life. She is communicative, warm, ambitious and progressive. She has a strong, sensual energy she uses in an independent manner. She is in touch with her shadow side and understands our animal nature, our instintive needs and wants.
Queen of cups: she is strongly focused on her inner world and access to the spiritual world. Highly intuitive and mediumistic. Continually engaged in further developing her natural talents in this area. She may be an excellent healer and guide for others on their spiritual path.
Queen of swords: she is just and purposeful. Helps others to see the truth to cut out and eliminate what is not productive or helpful in their lives. She may be strict, intelligent, driven and analytical. Sometimes remote. Very independent. May have suffered greatly to arrive where she is now is. She may be intimidating to some.
Queen of pentacles: she surrounds herself with and enjoys caring for her loved ones and extended family. She is nurturing, focused on security, home life, a warm nest, profection, secure finances and possessions. She may have extensive knowledge of trees, plants and herbs – natural healaing. May be so focussed on her own environment that outsiders find it hard to get through to her.
The knights represent relatively youthful energy and often stand for adventure, movement, the need to prove yourself, enthusiasm and idealism. They may be capable of making bigger mistakes than the kings and queens because the necessary experience is lacking. The knights ride on horseback or are ready to set off. They indicate a person or possibly a group of persons. They can also stand for a person of the other sex/gender. If they don’t refer to a specific person they may refer to the querent himself/herself, particularly an active, enthusiast energy around the person or necessary at that moment.
Knight of wands: wants to change the world, undertake a major rescue operation, be honoured as a hero. Pro-active, and, convinced of his own potential/abilities. Could be an activist, a social-justice warrior, a revolutionary. Eager to help and make a positive impression. Possible downsides are recklessness, self-importance, possibly a poor listener.
Knight of cups: a charmer, een romantic, a flirt, a seducer, an artist. He has a ceative, artistic and mysterious side, and prefers to keep parts of himself hidden from view. He can be honest and upright, but is inclined not to tell the whole truth. He can be jealous and possessive. Strong sexual energy.
Knight of swords: head is full of ideas, stories and theories, gift of the gab, a smooth talker, can be very persuasive. Driven and ambitious but sometimes inconsistent and his plans may be unfounded. Generally finds it hard to make a commitment.
Knight of pentacles: a hard worker, reliable, productive and disiplined. Ambitious and works hard to achoeve goals. He has a sensual, earthy side that makes him easy to trust. His possible downsides are mainly his slowness to act and his extreme caution.
The pages indicate a young person, a person with youthful energy in one way or another. They may indicate female energy as a counterpart to the typically male energy of the knights. Pages represent the need and desire to experiment, to discover the world, to study, learn and collect experiences and discover their potential. Their energy is generally light, playful and curious. They may indicate a person or a group of people. If they don’t refer to a specific person they may stand for the querent herself, someone who starts a new chapter in her life and starts new things that she has to study for.
Page of wands: he/she is optimistc, enthousiastic, blossoming sexuality, lust for life, creative in the area of ideas, passionate. Falls in love or beomces infatuated easily. Possible downsides are impulsiveness, not thnking things through.
Page of cups: he/she is sweet-natured, romantic, dreamy, artitistic, creative and sensative. He/she likes to connect to the mythical world of nature. Has an immense need for connecton with others. May be quickly hurt, inclined to dream away in his/her own imaginery world, immersion in own emotional world. Needs to ground and stay grounded.
Page of swords: he/she has a sharp tongue, is analytical, fast, smart, decisive, scintillating, but can also be argumentative, take rational arguments too far, provoke conflict
Page of pentacles: he/she is the ideal student, committed to learning. He/she is also social-minded, friendly, generous, hospitible, loves cooking and organising events for others, also family-oriented, fun, a loyal friend. Can easily make things work, manifest things. May also indicate pregnancy.