Tarot Symbols & Their Meanings: How to Interpret Tarot Cards

You can always use the booklet that comes with your tarot deck. But to become proficient at reading tarot, learning the symbols is a great place to start.

Updated April 29, 2024
woman with tarot spread

When I first started with tarot, instead of learning the meaning behind every specific card, I learned what the various tarot symbols meant. This made readings a lot easier.

Don't worry. We'll make it all make sense. Once you understand the tarot card symbols, you'll be able to toss away that book of tarot card meanings and read more intuitively. 

Need to Know

The tarot symbolism in this article comes from the traditional Rider-Waite deck. You'll find different types of decks that all loosely follow the arrangement. If it doesn't have major arcana/minor arcana, it's probably an oracle deck instead of a tarot deck, and you'll need the booklet to interpret until you learn it a little better. 

Tarot Symbols in the Minor Arcana

We'll start with the minor arcana, which are 56 cards in the deck that are kind of like suits in a regular deck of playing cards.

  • Each minor arcana suit has 10 number cards (1-10) and four court cards (page, knight, queen, king).
  • Minor arcana cards reflect things that are happening in day-to-day life. 
  • The four suits in a tarot deck are pentacles, cups, wands, and swords. 
  • Each minor arcana suit represents one of the four classical elements.
Tarot Minor Arcana Suits & Meanings at a Glance
Suit Element Meaning How to Remember
Pentacles Earth Physical body/material world The earth is round & so is a pentacle. 
Cups Water Emotional realm Cups hold liquid.
Wands Fire Spirituality/passion/drive Wands shoot fire.
Swords Air Mental realm Swords swish through the air.

Pentacles Symbolism

Pentacles tarot cards

In tarot, pentacles (sometimes called coins) represent the Earth element. This is a grounded element, and it's rooted in the physical. So when a pentacles card appears in a tarot spread, it offers info about something physical, which can include health or things in the physical world. Topics pentacle cards may cover include:

  • Finances
  • Health
  • Property
  • Business or trade
  • Career

Cups Symbolism

Cups tarot card

Cups represent the water element, which is primarily about emotions. When cups appear in your tarot spread, it addresses issues associated with emotions. Some topics a cups card may represent include the following.

  • Feelings and emotions
  • Love and relationships
  • Connections with others
  • Personal interactions
  • Creative endeavors

Wands Symbolism

wands tarot card

Wands represent the fire element, an active and primal energy that's associated with spirituality, higher thought, passion,  and drive. When wands show up in a reading, they may be indicating some of the following.

  • Ambitions and goals
  • Purpose
  • Motivation and meaning
  • Passion and drives
  • Change

Swords Symbolism

Swords tarot card

Swords represent the air element, which is associated with your mental self and the realm of thought. Some things swords may represent when they show up in a tarot reading include the following.

  • Challenges
  • Confrontation
  • Courage
  • Conflicts and arguments
  • Decisions

Tarot Symbolism for Numbers

Like a regular deck of cards, each minor arcana tarot card is either a number card (ace through 10) or a court card (Page, Knight, Queen, King). Each of these has its own symbolic meaning.

Tarot Numbers Symbolism
Number Symbolism
1 (ace) New beginnings, unity
2 Relationships, duality, balance, partnership
3 Creativity
4 Stability, structure
5 Luck, conflict, growth, change
6 Harmony
7 Life lessons, growing spiritually
8 Understanding and accomplishment
9 Success, coming to the end of a cycle
10 Completion, enlightenment

Tarot Symbolism for Court Cards

Tarot court cards

The court cards are the face cards in each suit of the tarot. There are four in each suit, and they symbolize the following.

Tarot Court Card Symbolism
Card Symbolism
Page Youthful energy, service
Knight Taking action, mature energy, moving forward
Queen Empathy, compassion
King Leadership, attainment, success

Color Symbolism on Tarot Cards

Colorful tarot cards

Tarot cards are colorful, and the colors chosen in the images tend to have symbolic meanings based on the psychological effects of colors and their association with chakras or auras. So when interpreting a tarot card, pay attention to the colors the artist or printer has chosen along with the images and numerology.

Color Symbols on Tarot Cards
Color Symbolism
Black Protection, groundedness, darkness or missing elements, illness, negativity, root chakra
Red Groundedness, safety, security, passion, anger, root chakra
Pink Love, femininity, compassion, forgiveness, heart chakra
Orange Joy, creative ideas, optimism, sacral chakra
Brown Stability, neutrality, comfort, earthiness, muddiness or lack of boundaries, sacral chakra
Yellow Opportunity, spontaneity, enthusiasm, solar plexus chakra
Gold Mastery, divinity, spiritual leadership, crown chakra or above
Green Healing, love, harmony, balance, envy, bitterness, heart chakra
Blue Communication, peace, self-expression, trust, sadness, judgment and criticism, throat chakra
Purple Intuition, psychic ability, spirituality, reason, critical thinking, third eye chakra
White Connection to the Divine, higher self, newness, innocence, inexperience, birth, crown chakra
Silver Emotion, sensitivity, empathy, crown chakra

Tarot Art & Images Symbolism

art on tarot cards

Most tarot decks have detailed artwork on each card. The elements within the scene can help you interpret the insights gathered during the reading. Many of these elements are not what they appear to be, but they are symbolic and may have a meaning that varies slightly from the obvious picture.

Meanings of Images as Symbols on Tarot Cards
Image Symbolism
  • Inspiration
  • Listen to your inner voice
  • Pay attention to details
  • You're not seeing clearly
  • Someone is refusing to acknowledge the truth
  • Someone is hiding the truth
  • Unseen energy
  • Psychic ability
  • Be aware of all circumstances before acting
  • Loyalty
  • Honesty
  • Truth
  • Heading in the right direction
  • Pay attention
  • Major change coming
  • Fertility
  • Abundance
  • Completing a task
  • Vocation
  • Use force to bring a chore to an end
  • Separation
  • Isolation
  • Growth through a season of completion
  • Knowledge
  • Discovery
  • Opportunity
  • Vision
  • Conscious effort yields big results
  • Passage of time
  • Femininity
  • Reflection
  • Change
  • Possibility
  • Relax and allow the power of the universe to work in your life
  • Emotion/states of emotion
  • Movement
  • Balance
  • Seek a balanced solution
  • Support
  • Sadness
  • Cleansing
  • Growth opportunities
  • Personal journey
  • Transformation
  • Staying afloat
  • Shelter
  • Regeneration
  • Strength
  • Victory
  • Triumph

Major Arcana Tarot Symbolism

Major arcana tarot cards

The major arcana cards represent significant life events. There are 22 major arcana cards in the traditional tarot. Each of the major arcana cards has symbolism based on numerology and archetypes. The major arcana cards are numbered from 0 to XXI (21) and depict the soul's journey from newness and innocence to enlightenment. 

Tarot Major Arcana Card Symbol Meanings
Number Card Symbolism
0 The Fool Innocence, the beginning of a journey
I The Magician Creation, alchemy
II The High Priestess Subconscious, intuition
III The Empress Feminity, compassion, wise woman archetype
IV The Emperor Power, authority
V The Hierophant Spiritual guidance
VI The Lovers Relationships, partnerships
VII The Chariot Goals, ambitions, and motivation
VIII Strength Courage, perseverance, and standing up to life's challenges
IX The Hermit Going within to find wisdom
X Wheel of Fortune Impermanence, change
XI Justice Fairness, balance
XII The Hanged Man Patience, perspective
XIII Death Change, new beginnings, endings
XIV Temperance Moderation
XV The Devil Temptation, control or lack thereof
XVI The Tower Cataclysmic change
XVII The Star Healing, hope, encouragement
XVIII The Moon Subconsciousness, deep fears or emotions, reflection
XIX The Sun Happiness, joy, excitement, awakening
XX Judgment Recognizing how your past actions affect others, taking stock, righting past misdeeds
XXI The World Fulfillment, the end of a cycle or quest

More About Interpreting Symbols on Tarot Cards

I've used universal symbolism in the interpretations above. What's that mean, you ask? Essentially, it means these are symbols that are agreed upon universally because they've grown to represent these things over years and generations. These are also known as collective symbols that mean the same thing outside of religion, culture, gender, race, family background, etc. For example, in collective symbolism, pregnancy and birth are widely recognized as representing creativity, and hearts represent love. 

In some cases, though, the symbols may relate to personal symbolism, family symbolism, cultural symbolism, etc. In these cases, I always recommend going with your first thought when you see the card. Interpreting tarot is a highly intuitive process, and all the symbolism is just there to help you focus on your intuition.

Related: Tarot for Beginners: Reading Cards & Interpreting Meaning

Symbols Based on Personal Experiences and Beliefs

These tend to be personal and individualized. For example, if you had a pet cat when you were a child, a cat may symbolize joy, love, or happiness to you. I'm afraid of snakes, so in my personal mythology, snakes represent fear or danger.

Symbols Associated With Family or Community of Origin

Families and communities have their own symbols within the unit that vary from unit to unit. For example, plaid may represent family to a Scottish clan, while to someone else it may represent a school uniform. 

Local and Regional Symbols

Where you live also affects how you view certain symbols. For example, if a local high school has a dolphin as a mascot, the dolphin may represent learning or sports prowess regionally. 

Symbols Based on Religion, Racial Identity, Culture, Nation, or Heritage

Each of these societal units has its own symbolism that's important and recognizable to that group. For example, in the US, the eagle symbolizes freedom, and in the Christian religion, the cross represents the crucifixion. 

Tarot Card Symbols Are a Great Place to Start

All of the above go into interpreting tarot cards based on their symbolism. I know it's a lot to remember, but this page makes a great cheat sheet as you get used to the symbols. The more tarot readings you do, the sooner it will be second nature. 

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Tarot Symbols & Their Meanings: How to Interpret Tarot Cards