I haven't written a lot about card meanings, because there are plenty of tarot tutorials online already. But I realised it might be a good thing to have at least a bit of a cheat sheet available here, too. So let's explore the Minor Arcana pip cards and court cards to open up their symbols. Another cheat sheet for interpreting Minor Arcana court cards and the Major Arcana cards are coming up soon.
The difference between Major and Minor Arcana
The standard tarot deck has 78 cards, of which 22 are Major Arcana (cards for major life lessons and profound or underlying situations more or less out of the querent's control); and 56 are Minor Arcana representing faster-changing energies, such as everyday feelings, actions and behaviours.
Minor Arcana are divided into suits, like a standard playing card deck. The suits are actually the same as in the playing card decks, just under different names. In tarot:
Clubs are Wands (or Batons, Rods etc.) representing fire.
Spades are Swords (or Spears, Pens etc.) representing air.
Hearts are Cups (or Chalices, Hearts, etc.) representing water.
Diamonds are Pentacles (or Disks, Rocks etc.) representing earth.
What do the suits mean?
The element of Fire - Wands - speaks about the inner drive, the inner fire of people: energy, excitement, passion, inspiration, motivation.
The element of Air - Swords - deals with the world of thought: words, communication, rational thinking, thoughts that can either cut through the clouds of confusion, bring clarity, or hurt if they are too sharp or said at the wrong time.
The element of Water - Cups - is about the whole range of emotions and feelings we humans can experience, from love to joy to sadness to disappointment to contentment to overflowing bliss, and everything in between.
The element of Earth - pentacles - is about all things material: the physical body, the physical world, material possessions and belongings, work and money, but also nature around us.
What do the pip numbers mean?
Minor Arcana pips actually work very logically and the meaning consists of both the suit element and the number of the pip. There are 10 pip (or number) cards in Minor Arcana, and four court cards per each suit, the royal family. I'll discuss the court cards in a separate blog post.
It's practical to know some numerology for interpreting cards, but it's not necessary. Often the meaning of the number can be figured out with a bit of logic, intuition and deduction skills. It also helps to think what the previous number meant, and what could follow if you add +1 to it.
#1 - this is obviously the start, the first number. So, it can mean a beginning, first step, seed that can grow, an opportunity or potential, birth of something (like a new idea or new feelings). When you combine the number and the element, you'll be able to figure the basic meaning of what the card is about:
Ace (#1) of Wands is the spark that sets something on fire, meaning passion, motivation, energy... it can be anything from a creative idea to sex. Ace of Cups is a birth of feelings, so it can be about falling in love or experiencing something fresh and overflowing. Ace of Swords is a birth of a new idea, the absolute clarity or truth. Ace of Pentacles is the first seed, the opportunity that can grow into something steady and valuable.
#2 - what can follow from 1+1? Options. Now there are two instead of one. It can be about a need to choose, balance, discard something in favour of the other, or grow this idea/energy further, to three and beyond. Or, it can be about split focus and inability to concentrate before a choice is made.
There can also be literal two bodies: 2 Wands is about choice but it can also mean two passionate people; 2 Cups is about two hearts connecting, 2 Pentacles can be two people who have been brought together by circumstances, and 2 Swords is the inability to choose (possibly between two people).
#3 - when two becomes three, what's going on? Growth, expansion, more. Three as a number can be promising or destabilising. It can indicate a team or a family, or a group of friends. But, sometimes three is a crowd.
3 Wands means growing your burst of an idea/passion/motivation, planning ahead. 3 Cups is three hearts coming together in joy: friendship and reunions (or a love triangle sometimes). 3 Swords is about words that hurt (after the indecision or deliberate blindfolding of 2 Swords, there is clarity but it's not always pleasant) and 3 Pentacles is about teamwork, coming together to build something valuable (add the third brick on top of two and it's a beginning of a building, symbolically).
#4 - four legs of a chair makes it stable, and four corners of a house keep it standing. Four is about stability, steadiness, culmination, the first possible stage of completion of something.
4 Wands is steadily-burning, contained fire, like a home hearth or a relationship that has settled down beautifully. 4 Swords is about calming down restless thoughts, making them steady through rest. 4 Cups can mean steady feelings, but what do you get when feelings don't change at all? Complacency and boredom. 4 Pentacles is about steady material matters, but again, it can mean settling for too little due to not wanting to risk a thing.
#5 - add one to four and things become unstable again. There is something shaky, shady or wobbly going on now.
5 Wands is about unstable passion: frustrations, energy flare ups, competition, each wand (motivation/passion/person) trying to come out on top. 5 Swords, too, is about competition, but in an underhanded way. Words and thoughts are used to destabilise the other, to gain steadier ground for oneself with any means necessary. 5 Cups is about instability in emotions: something is not lasting or something was not gained. And 5 Pentacles is about shaky finances or physical matters (health, shelter): 5 is half way to the completion of 10 so 5 Pentacles is about not having enough and worrying about it.
#6 - now we have the first number that's closer to completion (10) than the beginning (1). At this stage the number symbolism becomes a bit more abstract, but it's still followable. The main theme is: having enough.
6 Wands is about victory, praise and acclaim (you've showed enough drive to be recognised); 6 Swords is about moving away from distress and turmoil (having had enough of stress); 6 Cups is about fond memories and enjoying sweet little things in life (having enough emotions to cherish them); and 6 Pentacles is about having enough to give out - help out - in terms of money, resources, time, support, advice...
#7 - things grow shakier again when an odd number is introduced. Number 7 is very much about taking a risk: the "enough" of 6 was not enough forever, now it's time to stand up and go after more.
7 Wands is about taking a stand for what you believe in, try to win against the odds, achieve the almost-impossible. 7 Swords is about wanting more thoughts/info/knowledge for your own gain: strategising, taking other people's thoughts (as in; doing research but also as in: spying), running with your own agenda. 7 Cups is the emotional risk that follows from dreaming up options, making wishes, building cloud castles; and 7 Pentacles is about assessing risk by patiently waiting for uncertain rewards.
#8 - we're getting closer to 10 and 8 is about the suit's energy aligning to form a perfect set: but what builds up is not always what you wanted, after all.
8 Wands is the smooth alignment of passion and inspiration: whatever action, thought or plan you have, it's flowing fast-paced: news are coming in, things are happening fast. 8 Swords is about too many similar thoughts forming a wall: you feel trapped, but it's all in your head. Stepping away from these thoughts, or thinking different thoughts will set you free. 8 Cups is about feelings growing old and stale: what you have turns out or proves to be unsatisfying, it's not enough or the right kind. 8 Pentacles is about hard, repetitive work: practising something day after day, keen to reach the completion - mastery or financial success.
#9 - The culmination and completion of 10 is just around the corner, so the theme of 9 is: almost there - either this is nicely enough, or it's not enough, depending on the perspective.
9 Wands is about fire that has to be kept burning for one reason or another: stand your ground, persevere, don't give up. 9 Swords is about thoughts filling your head, their sharp blades hurting: rationalising or trying to solve something has not worked and now the thoughts keep you up at night. 9 Cups is about satisfaction and contentment: whatever you have, makes you feel good. 9 Pentacles is about enjoying confidence and independence of having enough in material sense, be it resources, money, possessions, health, and the following happiness.
#10 is the end of the number journey: it's about perfection, completion and culmination. However, 10 can be about "having all you can dream of" or "having too much and can't bear it".
10 Wands is "too much" passion: the projects and ideas you've picked up have now turned into heavy obligations and you must let something go before you collapse. 10 Swords is about thinking something too much, obsessing: there's no clarity, just the torture of the blades. It must and will end: your mind will grow tired of this topic and will let go even if it hurts. 10 Cups is about the happy bliss, the perfect moment of joy and satisfaction; and 10 Pentacles is about being satisfied with your material circumstances and/or financial stability. 10 Pentacles can also speak about the extended family and heritage/traditions/roots/comfort zone.
This is not an exhaustive list of what the cards can mean in readings, but hopefully it gives food for thought for how to work out meanings even from the cards you are not that familiar with yet!