what are tarot cards

What Are Tarot Cards? An Introduction

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

Tarot cards, the intriguing art of cartomancy stemming from the 15th century all the way to our current present, are tools that can be used to gain insight, knowledge, and guidance. Tarot cards tell a story, they provide lessons, they point you in certain directions, by tuning in with our own intuition they help us find the answers to the questions we have – whether that be about ourselves or others. But that being said, tarot cards mean something different to each user. 

You can use tarot cards however you please, whether you use them to focus on one aspect of your life, or work with them frequently and ask a multitude of questions, there’s no right or wrong way. Some people use them daily, others use them as and when they feel the need, and both of those are okay

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Why are tarot cards rising in popularity in recent years?

Well, a lot of people are starting to go down the route of embracing their own inner magick. We have become surrounded by so much technology that, whilst it’s not always necessarily a bad thing, it has seen a lot of people being called back to nature and wanting to explore who they are underneath all of those layers we develop due to societal pressures and expectations; and sometimes we can lose sight of who we are because of this.

But, on the same hand, with the rise of technology has come the exposure to new things, new hobbies, new interests, and the world of divination is now more accessible than ever. It isn’t just a niche for people in small fortune-telling shops, the craft is available to dive into at the tip of your fingertips on your phone, laptop, or any other device. 

People can now learn at their own leisure with more ease than ever before, and the rise of social media has allowed for those within the field to develop and grow their following and/or business, and this in turn generates exposure. So those who may not have been exposed to the world of tarot before have been finding it readily available in front of them on their social media apps, and once interest has been peaked so begins the snowball effect!

We are also swooping into an era of people feeling more confident to being their most authentic self, whereas the likes of witchcraft were once frowned upon, now it’s more mainstream and people are more willing to be unapologetic about their interests and hobbies as the judgement and stereotype surrounding tarot readers isn’t as prevalent as it once was. 

Related article: What are tarot cards used for?

How many tarot cards are in a deck?

A tarot deck is made up of 78 cards and this is split between 22 major arcana and 56 minor arcana cards. The minor arcana cards are split between 4 suits, typically known as swords, wands, cups, and pentacles (but this can vary from deck to deck, pentacles sometimes being coins, or wands sometimes being spears, but the meanings remain the same), and each suit is made up of 10 number cards from the Ace of that suit,  through to the 10 of that suit, and then 4 royalty cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King).

Wands are linked to the element of fire and focus on our ideas, who we are at our core, our passions, and usually come out to highlight parts of our personality.

Cups are linked to the element of water and focus heavily on our emotions and emotional state –  both the good and the bad side.

Swords are linked to the element of air and are seen as being linked to our mind, whilst cups can be seen as we’re following our heart over our mind, the swords would suggest we are following our mind over our hearts, and are usually quite calculated, mostly harsher than the cups, but can focus on decision making as an example!

And finally, the pentacles are linked to the element of earth, and these relate to the material aspects of life such as money, our career, and our possessions. 

The minor arcana, sometimes known as the lesser arcana, cards typically relate to the day-to-day elements of our lives, they help provide detail to the bigger picture, they usually focus on the short-term and current situation at hand. 

The major arcana cards don’t fit into any of the suits, they are stand-alone cards, and they each relate to an important archetype (such as love, career, tradition, etc) but can also represent an individual that plays an important role in our lives.

The major arcana are the main picture, something we can all relate to, and it’s the minor arcana that provide the small details that make us all different, the minor arcana can change the narrative and provide further insight that’s specific to us and us alone. 

tarot cards meanings

Can tarot cards predict the future?

To put it simply: no. Tarot cards can’t predict the future. Whether you believe the future is set or not, tarot cards provide us with responses based on our current path in life. If you suddenly changed your mind tomorrow and changed the direction you were going in, the advice from the cards wouldn’t necessarily still be applicable as they would have been connecting with where you were at that current moment in time.

Their answers come from you and your energy. Whilst their guidance can indeed lead to many a revelation that may look like they are “predicting” what will happen, this just isn’t the case. So never take a tarot reading and run with it as something that will 100% happen, listen to their words and their messages and let them guide you in the right direction. If you choose not to listen, or change things up, don’t blame the cards or a reader for not being “accurate”. 

How can I use tarot cards?

There are so many ways in which you can utilise your tarot cards, from asking about your life path to about a situation at hand, for advice, for insight, or simply for guidance. Perhaps there’s a new job offer on the horizon and you’re unsure whether or not you should go for it, or you want to gain more insight into the deepest parts of yourself that you’ve never explored, or have this voice in the back of your head telling you something about a situation but you can’t quite pinpoint what, you can always turn to the tarot to receive messages to point you in the right direction to help you find your answers.

You may use them to solely focus on one aspect, such as turning to the deck when you want career advice, as one example, and using them to help guide your decisions, or you can use them on a daily or weekly basis! You could even pull a card a day, either in the morning or the evening, to ask about what the day has in store or as a way to reflect on the message of the day, and this is a great way to bond and learn about the cards messages too – especially for beginners! 

You may use them during rituals, such as full moon rituals, or sabbat rituals, in which you could turn to them to find out what’s on the horizon for you between this sabbat and the next, or even doing a ‘the year ahead’ spread! This is another great way to connect with the cards and begin to learn their meanings and also train your intuition when it comes to interpreting them, as you can look back at the end of each month and reflect what that card was telling you, what did it relate to? What has occurred that the card was focusing on? 

But fundamentally, if it feels right then it feels right, it doesn’t matter how often you want to use the cards, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it, it’s whatever is going to suit you the most and whatever you want them for!

Where can I learn to use tarot cards?

You have all the tools you could possibly need at the very tip of your fingers right now to be able to learn tarot, you need not just turn to a book! Thanks to the social media boom you have all the resources available to be able to effectively learn in your own time and at your own pace, and thankfully because there is such a love for tarot, there’s so much content out there so if one website/page/explanation is proving to be a bit too confusing and not resonating with you, there’s thousands of other options out there! 

You will find something that is easy enough for you to grasp and understand beyond all doubt. A couple of websites that are useful are biddytarot.com and labyrinthos.co as both of these websites break down the meaning of each card, including its reversed meaning, in simple but detailed terms. 

You can even find information on various spreads that you can do and how to interpret the cards you pull based on this, fundamentally if you need to know it, it’s on one of these websites! However, if you prefer to watch and/or listen to someone, then I highly recommend the YouTube channel ‘Moonlight Guidance’ as one of their most popular videos is covering all of the 78 tarot cards in around 1 hour and 22 minutes, going over their meanings in a clear and precise video that is easy to refer back to time after time as the comments section on this video contains timestamps, so you can quickly navigate the video to whatever card you like at any time! 

Though if you are someone that prefers to turn to a book, then you could even just refer to your own guidebook that comes with your tarot deck! Most guidebooks usually include various spreads you can do, and also go into detail about them and how to interpret the cards, but of course, also include the meanings of all the cards in the deck! You could choose to use your guidebook as your main source of information, without necessarily having to buy any other books for the sake of learning, and use the likes of YouTube to top up your knowledge, or turn to Google to look up different spreads that you can do! 

But if you do choose to explore the realm of tarot books to add to your collection, then one I personally recommend is ‘The Modern Witchcraft Book of Tarot: Your Complete Guide to Understanding the Tarot’ by author Skye Alexander. 

This is quite a popular book, I mean you need only look up the reviews for this book, as it’s such a good one for beginners especially! It’s written in a clear manner, doesn’t skimp on information, provides enough insight and knowledge, and the most common thing people say about this book is that it provided them the confidence as a beginner to do their first, or one of their first, readings and be able to trust themselves in understanding that they were doing – very little second guessing! 

What are reversed tarot cards?

Reversed Tarot cards? What now? WELL! It basically means you have had a card come out, or get pulled, that is “upside down”. Quite literally just get a card and flip it 180 degrees, that’s a reversed card, pretty simple, right? And the same goes for its meaning! You take their ‘upright’ regular meaning and flip that on its head. 

Take the major arcana card The Fool as an example, upright this represents a person that is carefree, yet reversed this would represent someone that’s anxious and cautious. It can take a while to wrap your head around, as on top of learning the standard 78 regular meanings, you have to learn their opposite ones too! 

Not every reader chooses to read in reverse, it’s very much a personal preference, but you usually find tarot readers will learn or at least familiarise themselves with the meaning because reversed cards are seen as ‘acting out of the ordinary and thus should be given extra attention. 

But if the idea of learning a total of 156 meanings (78 regular, 78 reversed) sounds like too much, don’t stress! The majority of guidebooks will provide you with both meanings, and you’ll find even the most experienced of readers refer to their guidebooks every now and again! 

major arcana cards meanings

What type of tarot card spread can I do?

There’s an endless amount of tarot spreads out there that you can do, or request to have done, and these include relationship, career, self-growth, lessons from the past, planning ahead spreads, plus many many more!

Relationship tarot spreads can vary from wanting to dive deep into your current relationship, or if you’re single but looking for that special someone then a relationship spread can help you identify what’s potentially holding you back from finding someone, whether this is a personal matter such as your heart, mind, and soul just not being ready yet, or if there’s something emotionally you need to work past first, the cards can help pick apart what you need to do to be able to find love.

A career spread is useful if you need to know if you’re on the right path, or if you genuinely have no idea what you want to do and need some guidance to point you in the right direction, and can identify what the best course of action for you specifically would be, what the positives and negatives are of that route, and even explore you own strengths and weaknesses so that you know how to improve yourself to begin flourishing. 

Looking at past lessons can help us avoid making the same mistakes again, but also help us understand how those experiences shaped up with what we took away from them – sometimes without even realising.

A reading like this can really make us start paying attention to ourselves, our actions, and what we have been internalising, and to be able to sometimes move past an event, or at least understand it, we need to be able to pull it apart.

Past lessons spreads do this by identifying who you were during a period of time, what lesson were you learning and how that event impacted you, and what you can take away from it to help develop yourself for the better. Sometimes it’s in our hardest moments that we find our greatest strengths, though it just doesn’t always feel like it at the time!

But other spreads include looking ahead at say the next 3 months, simply needing advice and direction on a matter at hand, or even something as personal as a self-love spread if you need a reminder of why you are a magical human being and deserve to be kind to yourself.

Whether it’s emotional, future development, understanding your inner workings, or just needing general advice, there will always be a spread for your needs.

How should someone interpret the tarot cards they pull?

This is where your intuition really comes into play! Being able to relate the cards back to the question at hand is a skill you develop over time, as the guidebooks will provide you with an explanation, but it’s down to you to be able to take from that what relates to the question, and how it relates to any other cards that have been pulled. 

Take the 2 of Wands as an example, this card shows you are plotting your path ahead and making choices about the future, whether this be about travel, career, or a relationship, and naturally it comes down to you to know which aspect of your life this is targeting. So of course if the question is surrounding job offers, you know it’s going to relate to your career! 

So it’s mainly about common sense but also listening to your gut instinct on the matter, you’ll know if the cards feel right to you! Their message, or messages, shouldn’t leave you confused.  You can always ask for further elaboration and carry on pulling from the deck until you make sense of something, say for example if you did a 3 card spread, you can absolutely carry on pulling from the deck to make the story unfold even more if you need the cards to – and that’s if they have more to say on the subject! 

But the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Your cards will bond with you and they’ll understand you and your energy, and before you know it it just becomes second nature! 

How to care for your tarot cards?

Looking after your tarot cards is incredibly important! They themselves need to be cleansed of all the energy they will hold onto, especially if you are reading for others! You need to cleanse them of stagnant energy otherwise you will find they won’t read correctly, or they’ll just refuse to be read at all! Many readers have experienced this before where a deck just isn’t willing to work with them, but nothing a quick cleanse usually can’t fix.

Think of it as you can’t keep filling a cup that’s full to the brim with water, there’s no more room, it’ll just spill over the edge and go everywhere else, if you don’t cleanse and clean your cards, there will be no room for your own energy, if you’re reading for yourself, or someone else’s for that matter. You must freshen them up so that they can read accurately! There are multiple ways in which you can do so, some of the most popular being crystals, moonlight, and smudging with incense or herbs.

Whilst there are many different methods to cleanse them, if you choose to follow the crystal method this is as simple as leaving a crystal, such as clear quartz, on or between the cards and preferably leaving them overnight – but an hour or two will also suffice if you need to use them. 

You can leave them on a windowsill at night to bask in the moonlight (it doesn’t need to be a clear sky, the power of the moon shines through the clouds), and for smudging this just consist of allowing the smoke from your incense/herb(s) to waft over the deck whilst you focus on the cleansing – making sure to keep the doors and windows open so that the negative energy has a way of leaving! 

How often you need to clean them is up to you, use your intuition, if the cards feel like they need cleansing then do so! If not, then leave them be! If you’re finding you’re having a hard time working with the deck, then it’s always a good idea to give them a quick cleanse just in case they’re holding onto too much, treat is like giving them a fresh shower, we always feel refreshed after we’ve been cleansed don’t we? The same goes for your cards. 

It’s recommended you keep them in the box they came in or in a special container or bag you have gotten especially for your cards, it isn’t wise to just leave them hanging around to get dusty and potentially damaged. Always put your cards away safely once you have used them, this minimises the chance of them getting ruined and forgotten about! 

Having one spot you like to store your Tarot cards will help you get into the habit of putting them back after use, whether this is in a drawer in your bedroom, or a bookshelf in your office or living room, it’s good to get into the practice of taking care of your cards from the get-go, they will very much appreciate you doing so and you’ll find you’ll be able to bond and get along with your cards for years and years to come! 

Further information: Magical ways to cleanse your Tarot or Oracle cards

magic nordic tarot by mystic tarot

Where can you buy a tarot card deck?

It’s entirely up to you whether you would prefer to buy a tarot deck online or from a shop where you can physically handle the packaging before purchase! There’s no right or wrong way! There’s a myth that you can’t buy your own tarot deck, and that it must be either be passed down to you or bought for you by someone else, nonsense! 

This is no longer relevant in this day and age! You can buy as many of your own decks as you like, it makes no difference! If you resonate with a deck and you want to buy it, then you buy it! The Rider Waite tarot is one of the most popular tarot decks that beginners use, and most tarot decks do follow the same imagery and rules of this deck itself so if you familiarise yourself with this one, then you’ll be able to interpret and use the others with ease! 

Though most tarot decks are based on Rider Waite, it’s always best to double-check before purchasing any – granted if this is the style of tarot you choose to learn! The two other main types are the tarot of Marseilles and the Thoth tarot deck, but Rider Waite is the most common one worldwide. 

However if you want something more than just the bog-standard Rider Waite deck then you can get so many variations, some that are even based on pop culture! You can get a Game of Thrones version which incorporates all of a GoT fan favourite characters but relates them back to the original meaning, which can fundamentally help you learn! Such as Daenerys Targaryen being present on the Empress card, or Melisandre being on The High Priestess card, if you are a fan of the show then this is imagery that could really speak to you and help you learn the meanings a lot faster as you’ll already have a reference point in mind! 

There is also the ‘Easy Tarot’ which was made specifically for newcomers! This deck differs from others as the guidebook has specifically been written for a newbie so all of the meanings have been simplified so you can become familiar with the cards and their messages without getting too overwhelmed – this is especially useful for someone that wants to learn the basics before jumping in and learning more detail! 

But it’s all about your own personal preference, whilst some enjoy having all the information in front of them, others prefer to learn in stages, and if the Easy Tarot feels like it’ll work for you, then it’s highly recommended! You can always move onto other more detailed tarot decks after this with more confidence as you’ll have the very basics already mastered! 

There is definitely a deck out there for everybody, even if you’re someone that would be interested in learning on the go, especially if you have an already busy schedule! So if regular-sized tarot cards seem like it may be too much for you to easily flick through, then let me introduce you to the wonderful world of mini tarot decks! And they are quite literally as their name suggests, mini tarot cards! 

They are significantly smaller than regular decks, and can even be called pocket-sized tarot, you receive the same amount of cards and everything is quite literally the same apart from them just been made smaller, perfect for if you’re on the go and just want something to slip into your bag or pocket! 

If you’d like to know more about mini tarot decks, and how I may be able to help specifically with the storage of these cards in a nice, neat, and secure way then please head to https://backyardbanshee.com/mini-tarot/ for more information! 


Written by Amy

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