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The Foundational Terminology of Tarot

In creating this blog, I wanted to build a corner of the internet where one could find a compilation of information and knowledge about tarot. Where you, the seeker, wouldn’t have to go far to learn the basics or to understand deeper concepts.


Here you can find some of the most commonly used terms. Please feel free to bookmark and refer to this as often as you need to on your journey.



The Terminology

 

Court Cards

The court cards are those that represent the prominent positions in a traditional court. The King, The Queen, The Knight, and The Page. In some decks, the Knight and Page are replaced with The Prince and The Princess, respectively in that order. Any cards bearing these titles are considered to be court cards, regardless of the suit which they bear. Court Cards make up part of the Minor Arcana.


Court Cards

Major Arcana

Any trump card of the standard tarot deck is considered to be a part of the Major Arcana. Most decks today have 22 trump cards, including The Fool. Each one is labeled with a number, from 0 to 21. It is easy to distinguish the Major from the Minor Arcana, as the Major Arcana are not connected directly to any of the specific suits of the deck.


The major arcana
Major Arcana (i.e. the fifth suit)

Message

This is the message that is interpreted from the cards by the Reader. It’s the response to the Querent’s query or question(s).


Minor Arcana

Also called the Lesser Arcana, these are the remaining cards in the deck that are not part of the Major Arcana cards. These cards are connected to one of the four suits of the deck, and in the standard deck, there are 56 Minor Arcana cards.


Pip Cards

In tarot, Pip cards make up a part of the Minor Arcana that are not the Court Cards. Each one is associated with one of the four suits and is labeled with a number of 1 to 10.


Pip cards in tarot
Pip Cards

Querent

The term Querent is derived from Latin roots and simply means one who seeks. In the context of tarot, the querent is the person who is seeking answers from the deck.


Query/Question

This is the request for information that the Querent is seeking. It may come in the form of a question, and it’s addressed to the cards.


Reader

Probably the most straightforward of terms, the Reader is the person in tarot, who simply reads and interprets the cards. Usually for the Querent, or for themselves.


Reading

A reading in tarot encompasses the entire process of presenting a query, laying a spread, and then reading and interpreting the message from the cards. A new reading occurs each time the Querent presents a new query or question to be answered. There can exist multiple readings within a single session.


Reversed Cards

Reversed cards are cards revealed in the upside-down position during a reading. There are many ways to interpret and read cards that are in this position. Most commonly, a card’s reversed meaning is in opposition to the upright meaning of that card. It is important to note that there are many readers who do not acknowledge any significance in Reversed cards and do not interpret them any differently from their Upright meanings. It is a personal choice of the Reader to choose how to view these cards within their readings.


Upright vs. Reversed tarot cards.
Upright (left) vs. Reverse (right)

Session

A session encompasses the period of time a Reader sits down to perform a reading or readings. Usually, a session is specific to a single Querent and will be deemed over, when that Querent is ready to leave. Multiple readings may happen within the span of one session.


Spread

A spread is a physical pattern in which the cards are laid during a reading. The pattern usually has importance, and each card position represents an aspect of the query or question. There are quite a few common spreads used worldwide, but spreads may also be fabricated by the reader if they wish to do so.


Some examples of spreads. Left to right: 3 card spread, 4 card spread, and 10 card spread.

Suit

The different cards within a deck are separated into categories called suits. Each suit is represented by a single object. In a common deck of playing cards, the suits are represented by Spades ♤, Hearts ♥, Clubs ♧, and Diamonds ♢. In Tarot, however, these suits are a bit different and may vary from one deck to another. Some of the first tarot decks used Cups, Swords, Polo Sticks, and Coins. As time went on Polo Sticks became Staves and then Wands. Coins became Pentacles. These four basic suits make up the Minor Arcana, however in tarot, there’s a fifth suit, and that fifth suite consists of the Trump cards (AKA the Major Arcana).


In the most modern decks, many new creators choose to veer away from the typical symbolism for the suits and you may find decks with very different objects and items representing the 5 different categories.


Ace card from each of the four suits.
Ace card from each of the four suits.

Upright Cards

Upright cards are cards that are revealed facing the reader during a reading. Within a deck, each card is usually assigned a specific meaning. This meaning is typically associated with the cards when drawn upright. It may or may not change if the card is drawn in a Reversed position. It all depends on how the reader chooses to read the cards.

 

At the end of the day, if one is unfamiliar with Tarot and the terminology, it may feel a bit overwhelming to try and learn it all at once. But don’t fret. It comes with time and practice, and the more you delve into learning and practicing, the easier it will be for you to understand and remember the jargon.


Are you ready to start your journey?

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