The Tarot

The origin of tarot cards is uncertain; they were perhaps introduced into Europe by Crusaders or by gypsies and are known to have been in use in Italy in the early 14th century.

Although tarot (or tarok) is still played in central Europe, the cards are now mainly used for fortune-telling. A full tarot deck consists of 78 cards: the minor arcana (56 suit cards) and the major arcana, or trumps (22 pictorial symbol cards). The minor arcana, somewhat like a deck of modern playing cards, is composed of suits of wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Each suit contains 14 cards: 4 court cards (king, queen, knight, and page) plus cards numbered from ace to ten, from this evolved the 52-card decks that are used in England, France, the U.S., and several other countries. (In the standard deck, each of the 4 suits comprises 13 cards, consisting of 3 court, or face cards, that is the king, queen, jack, or-in England-knave, and cards numbered from ace to 10. In addition to these, one or two cards known as jokers. Jokers were introduced in the U. S. in 1872 and are derived from the tarot card known as the fool.)

The Major Arcana

The major arcana consists of a fool, or madman card (comparable to the modern joker), and pictorial cards numbered from 1 to 21.The Major Arcana are the Greater Secrets, the cards of power and mystery that touch on all the great powers of the Universe. They deal with what would be called the Archetypes, the root images from which all other images spring. They represent the forces behind and within the life of the Seeker, over which the Seeker has no control. They are the Trumps, the portion of the deck that sets Tarot apart from regular cards.

When more than a few show up in a reading, then it becomes apparent that the reading is concerned with major forces, and all that the Seeker can do is hang on for the ride, and learn as much as possible.


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The earliest tarot decks were often designed by artists such as the German Albrecht Durer. The pictures, representing such subjects as the sun, death, the devil, and a hanged man, symbolize natural forces and human virtues and vices.


Cups represent the element of Water, and deals largely with emotional matters. They also deal with imagination, dreams and healing. Their direction is West, their season is Autumn, time of day is evening, and time of life is maturity. They correspond to the standard deck suit of hearts.




Pentacles represent the element of Earth, and deals largely with quietness, rest and peace.
also deal with richness, wisdom and sensuality. Their direction is North, their season is Winter, time of day is midnight, and time of life is elder. They correspond to the standard deck suit of diamonds.



Swords represent the element of Air, and deals largely with handling knowledge or authority. They also deal with sacrifice, redemption and transformation. Their direction is East, their season is Spring, time of day is morning, and time of life is childhood. The correspond to the standard deck suit of spades.





Wands represent the element of Fire, and deals largely with the will, self control, creativity, and energy. They also deal with growth, negotiations, nimble speech and cleverness. Their direction is South, their season is Summer, time of day is Noon, and time of life is young adulthood. They correspond to the standard deck suit of clubs.

The cards shown on this page are from the Rider-Waite deck. In 1909, Arthur Edward Waite encouraged Pamela Colman Smith to produce a tarot deck with appeal to the world of art that would have significance behind the symbols, and thus make the deck more important than tarot packs previously used for centuries. The result was the unique Rider-Waite Tarot deck which has endured as the world's most popular 78-card tarot deck. The innovative cards, including the 56 Minor Arcana, depict full scenes with figures and symbols. This featured, combined with Pamela Smith's ability to capture the subtleties of emotion and experience, has made the Rider-Waite Tarot the basis for the designs of many 20th Century packs. The Original Rider Waite Tarot Packs were printed from plates that were destroyed during the bombing of London during World War II.

Learning to read the Tarot

There are many excellent books available for learning this tool of divination. These and others can be found at Barnes and Noble, and Amazon online, or at most Borders bookstores.

The Robin Wood Tarot-The Book, Robin Wood, Living Tree Books, July 1998
(I have a copy of this book that Robin Wood signed for me personally.)

Tarot Made Easy
, Nancy Garen , Simon & Schuster, February 1989

The Mythic Tarot
, Burke Juliet Sharman Liz Greene, Simon & Schuster Trade, October 1986

Tarot for Beginners, P. Scott Hollander, Llewellyn Pub., March 1995

Tarot Plain and Simple
, Anthony Louis, Robin Wood (Illustrator), Llewellyn Pub. October 1996

Complete Book of Tarot Spreads
, Evelin Burger, Johannes Fiebig, Sterling Publishing Company, June 1997

Rider Waite Tarot, Arthur Edward Waite, Pamela Colman Smith, Publisher: U.S. Games Systems, January 1993

The Tarot Bible: The Definitive Guide to the Cards and Spreads, Sarah Bartlett, Sterling Publishing Company, September 2006


Tarot Decks I own and read

The Legacy of the Divine Tarot (Box set ~ includes a paperback companion book-"Gateway to the Divine Tarot") by Ciro Marchetti , includes perspectives from Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone, James Ricklef, and Leisa ReFalo.~Llewellyn Publications,U.S.; Pap/Crds edition, Sep 2009

The Tarot of Dreams (includes an interactive CD) by Ciro Marchetti in collaboration with Lee Bursten, self published in 2005.

The Gilded Tarot (Box set ~includes a paperback companion book) by Ciro Marchetti and Barbara Moore ~ Llewellyn Publications,U.S., September 2004

Robin Wood Tarot Deck (Cards) by Robin Wood ~Llewellyn Publications,U.S., July 1991

Art Nouveau Tarot Deck (Cards) by Matt Myers ~ Publisher: U.S. Game, December 1987

Sacred Rose Tarot Deck (Cards) by Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman ~ Publisher: U.S. Game, April 1987

The Original Rider Waite Tarot Pack (includes a small, card sized paperback) by Arthur Edward Waite ~ Publisher: U.S. Game, 1971 reprint

The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot with Cards (includes Paperback) by Caitlin Matthews ~ Publisher: Clearway Logistics Phase 1b , October 2005

The Llewellyn Tarot (includes a 288 page companion book) by Anna-Marie Ferguson ~ Llewellyn Publications, September 2006

Of all the decks I own, I have to say honestly that the 3 Marchetti decks are my favorites.

I also own and read (although they aren't Tarot cards)

The Viking Cards by Gudrun Bergmann and Olafur G. Gudlaugson ~ Publisher: US Games, February 1997

The Green Man Oracle Cards by John Matthews & Will Worthington ~ Connections Book Publishing Ltd, September 2003