Anatomy of the Deck

The seventy-eight cards are daunting when you look at them. Traditionally, the cards are broken down into two groups: the Major Arcana (22 cards) and the Minor Arcana (56 cards, in 4 suits of 14 each). I break it down into four groups that answer four different questions in a reading.

The Trumps (Major Arcana)
The Trumps are the BIG cards, the archetypes of our life. They are the enduring patterns of the human story. When they come up in a reading they talk about the why behind the situation. I don’t think of these cards as the fate cards or the immutable; these are the universal and enduring patterns in our lives. When you understand the why of the pattern, you can begin to take control and shape your destiny.

The Pips (Minor Arcana, part 1)
The pips answer the where in the Aces, where is the energy in your life going and where should the focus of things be? This question is answered further in the suits (which we will get to). The rest of the pips (2-10) talk about what is going on, they give context to the situation. They talk about the everyday effects of life and guide us in how we can navigate the ups and downs of life.

The Courts (Minor Arcana, part 2)
The court cards answer three very different questions in a reading. They tell us who is in the situation and the personality aspect of it. They give context to the people that are involved, helping us to understand the role that they play. They can also answer how we are supposed to approach the situation. Our approach and attitude can make a difference in how things turn out. The court cards, for all of their complexities, can also give context to what is going on (the what as in the pips). Distinguishing which role the court cards take on in a reading depends on the context and impression the rest of the cards; it takes practice and flexibility in understanding these cards.

The Suits
There are four suits in the Tarot deck; in the traditional decks they are coins, swords, batons/wands, and cups. RWS decks turn the coins into pentacles. Each of the suits correspond to an element and an aspect of our life. They answer where our energy is, where our focus is, what part of our life is taking center stage. If there is a majority of one suit in a reading it is the focus.

As you read and work with the cards, you will get a better understanding of how these aspects of the deck play out in readings. When you break the deck down into its parts, you see that there is a greater gestalt to the deck. It has an order and structure and once you understand that your readings will become more dynamic and not dependent on the meanings in the book. The deck takes on a life of it’s own.


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