The Minor Arcana, comprising 56 cards of the traditional 78-card Tarot deck, serves as a mirror to our daily lives, reflecting the trials, tribulations, joys, and triumphs of our earthly existence. Each card, pulsating with symbolism and brimming with meaning, offers insights into the quotidian aspects of human experience. In this article, LotusBuddhas will provide a comprehensive look at the Minor Arcana, its meaning and use in Tarot reading.
What is Minor Arcana?
The Minor Arcana is a key component in a Tarot deck, comprises 56 cards subdivided into four suits typically denoted as Cups, Swords, Wands (or Staves), and Pentacles (or Coins). Each suit contains fourteen cards: ten numbered cards (from one, or Ace, to ten) and four court cards – King, Queen, Knight, and Page (or Jack).
The etymology of the term “Minor Arcana” is rooted in the Latin language, where “minor” means “smaller” and “arcana” means “mysteries” or “secrets.” Thus, the Minor Arcana represent the smaller mysteries of life in the realm of tarot symbolism.
These cards, originating from the mid-15th century Europe, are considered to be a precursor to the modern 52-card deck. They were originally used for games like Tarocchi and Tarock and later incorporated into cartomancy and divination practices. In most tarot decks, the images and symbols on the Minor Arcana cards depict everyday life situations, offering a detailed and intricate representation of human experiences.
The Minor Arcana’s four suits symbolize different elements and human conditions. Cups often signify emotions, relationships, and spiritual consciousness, correlating to the element of water. Swords, associated with the air element, generally denote intellect, thoughts, and conflict. Wands, aligned with fire, represent energy, passion, and growth, while Pentacles, associated with earth, denote material aspects, such as work, money and physical health.
The interpretation of these cards varies considerably, depending on their context within a reading, their position, and their interactions with surrounding cards. They are interpreted in a variety of ways across different tarot traditions, such as the Rider-Waite-Smith, Thoth, or Marseille.
Despite their name, the Minor Arcana’s role in tarot reading is not lesser than the Major Arcana. While the Major Arcana symbolizes significant life events and deep spiritual lessons, the Minor Arcana provides insight into the subtleties and nuances of daily life. They reflect the joys, sorrows, challenges, and triumphs we encounter every day, offering a profound layer of understanding in tarot readings.
Symbolic meaning of Minor Arcana cards
The symbolic meaning of the Minor Arcana cards in a tarot deck is multilayered, reflecting the complexities of human life and experience. Each of the four suits in the Minor Arcana has unique symbolism and relates to distinct aspects of life, namely emotions (Cups), intellect (Swords), passion and energy (Wands), and materiality and physicality (Pentacles).
- The Suit of Cups, associated with the water element, symbolizes emotions, feelings, relationships, and intuition. Cups cards are often connected with love, friendship, imagination and creativity. For example, the Ace of Cups often signifies new emotional beginnings or spiritual awakenings, while the Ten of Cups might denote a harmonious family life or the fulfillment of a dream.
- The Suit of Swords, aligned with the element of air, symbolizes intellect, reason and conflict. Swords cards are often tied to actions, decisions, power struggles and ethical issues. The Ace of Swords can denote a breakthrough or a major decision, while the Ten of Swords often signifies an end of a difficult period or extreme mental or physical stress.
- The Suit of Wands, associated with the element of fire, symbolizes energy, growth, and personal development. Wands cards often relate to passion, inspiration, ambition and determination. The Ace of Wands, for example, can signify a new beginning or opportunity, while the Ten of Wands might indicate carrying a heavy burden or reaching the limit of one’s capabilities.
- The Suit of Pentacles, linked to the element of earth, symbolizes the physical and material aspects of life, including work, money, health and property. Pentacles cards often speak to practicalities, financial matters, and matters of security and stability. The Ace of Pentacles might signify a new financial or career opportunity, while the Ten of Pentacles often denotes wealth, inheritance, or a solid family structure.
The court cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Page) in each suit represent different people, personalities, or stages of life. Generally, Kings symbolize mastery and authority, Queens denote nurturing and understanding, Knights represent action and adventure, and Pages signify learning and potential.
Interpreting these symbols within a reading requires an understanding of the complex interplay between cards and their positions within a spread. The meanings can change significantly depending on these factors, reflecting the dynamic and intricate nature of human experiences.
Uses of the Minor Arcana in Tarot reading
When interpreted within the framework of a Tarot spread, these cards offer detailed and specific guidance about day-to-day matters, complementing the broader spiritual and life lessons suggested by the Major Arcana. Here are the primary uses of the Minor Arcana in Tarot reading:
- Highlighting everyday matters: Unlike the Major Arcana, which speaks to significant life events and spiritual lessons, the Minor Arcana cards focus on mundane, everyday concerns. These include emotions, thoughts, actions and material conditions. Thus, they provide a closer look at the smaller, but equally important, details of daily life.
- Indicating time frames: In certain Tarot traditions, the Minor Arcana can suggest specific time frames. For instance, the suits might represent different seasons, and the numbers might hint at days, weeks, or months. The interpretation can vary depending on the reader’s preferred system and intuition.
- Representing people: The court cards of the Minor Arcana (King, Queen, Knight, and Page) often represent individuals in the querent’s life. These cards can indicate people’s roles, attitudes, or impacts on the situation at hand. They might also reflect different aspects of the querent’s personality or stages of personal development.
- Predicting outcomes: Depending on their position in a spread, Minor Arcana cards can predict potential outcomes or future events. They might suggest actions to take, attitudes to adopt, challenges to prepare for, or results to anticipate.
- Clarifying Major Arcana cards: Minor Arcana cards can provide additional context or clarification to Major Arcana cards in a spread. They can elaborate on the implications of a Major Arcana card, suggesting how its themes might manifest in concrete, everyday terms.
- Guiding personal reflection and growth: By depicting a wide range of human experiences and emotions, the Minor Arcana encourages self-reflection. They can guide personal growth by prompting the querent to consider their feelings, thoughts, actions, and circumstances, helping them navigate their life’s journey more consciously.
In sum, the Minor Arcana brings depth and nuance to a Tarot reading. Through their rich, symbolic imagery and multifaceted meanings, these cards illuminate the complexities of everyday life, contributing significantly to the holistic wisdom of the Tarot.
How to read Minor Arcana cards
Reading the Minor Arcana cards in a tarot spread involves a nuanced understanding of the symbolic language of tarot, an awareness of the cards’ individual and collective meanings, and a strong intuition to interpret the cards in their specific context.
Understand the symbolism of each suit: Each of the four suits in the Minor Arcana – Cups, Swords, Wands and Pentacles – corresponds to a specific element (Water, Air, Fire, and Earth, respectively) and represents a particular facet of life. Cups typically relate to emotions and relationships, Swords to intellect and conflict, Wands to energy and passion, and Pentacles to material matters and physical health. Familiarity with the symbolism of each suit is foundational to understanding the Minor Arcana.
Recognize numerical associations: Each card in the Minor Arcana is numbered, either from one (or Ace) to ten, or as a court card (Page, Knight, Queen or King). Each number carries its own symbolic meaning. For example, Aces often symbolize beginnings or potential, while Tens may indicate completion or fulfillment. Court cards often represent people in the querent’s life or aspects of their personality.
Study the imagery: Each Minor Arcana card features unique imagery filled with symbolic details. Pay attention to these symbols and how they interact with each other on the card. The characters, objects, colors, and even the direction in which characters are facing can provide additional insights into the card’s meaning.
Consider card position and relationships: The meaning of a Minor Arcana card can be significantly influenced by its position in a spread and its relationship to the surrounding cards. For example, a card in a past position will have a different implication compared to the same card in a future position. Furthermore, certain cards can amplify, modify, or even negate the meanings of others when they appear together.
Integrate intuition and personal interpretation: Tarot reading is as much an art as it is a science. While knowledge of traditional meanings is important, so too is your personal intuition and interpretation. Each reader might see something slightly different in a card, based on their life experiences, cultural background, and intuitive insights. Trusting your intuition is key to accurately interpreting the Minor Arcana.
Apply context: The specific question or situation at hand also shapes the interpretation of the cards. A reading related to a career question, for example, will give a different nuance to a card than a reading focused on love or personal growth.
What do the court cards represent in the Minor Arcana?
The court cards in the Minor Arcana consist of sixteen cards: four each of the King, Queen, Knight, and Page (or Jack), one from each of the four suits (Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles). These cards, each featuring a character, often personify a specific individual or type of energy in a reading.
- King: The King cards in the Minor Arcana typically represent maturity, control, authority, and leadership. As the highest-ranking court cards, they embody the mastery of their suit’s element. Kings often suggest rationality, stability, and the ability to command respect. They may represent a father figure or a person of significant influence. In a symbolic or personal sense, Kings can denote the querent’s capacity for leadership, decision-making, and mastery over their own life.
- Queen: The Queen cards symbolize emotional intelligence, understanding, and nurturing energy. Queens have mastered their suit’s element through introspection and emotional awareness. They often suggest a mother figure, a significant female presence, or someone who is supportive and understanding. On a personal level, Queens can represent the querent’s nurturing and empathetic qualities or their ability to understand and manage their emotions.
- Knight: The Knight cards in the Minor Arcana represent action, adventure and movement. Knights are often seen as the activators of their suit, bringing the suit’s energy into action. They might symbolize a young adult or someone who is impulsive, passionate, or idealistic. Knights can also indicate the querent’s courage, drive, and willingness to undertake necessary actions or changes.
- Page: The Page cards symbolize curiosity, potential and learning. Pages are often associated with children or adolescents and are seen as the explorers of their suit. They bring a message of curiosity, open-mindedness, and eagerness to learn. They can represent a young person in the querent’s life or the querent’s own sense of wonder, curiosity and potential for growth.
These court cards can also correspond to certain stages of personal development or reflect different aspects of one’s personality. Furthermore, they can indicate the influence of people in the querent’s life or even specific events or situations. The interpretation of these court cards, as with all Tarot cards, depends largely on their context within a reading, their position, and their relationships with surrounding cards. Thus, the court cards, with their personified symbolism, provide a significant and dynamic layer of interpretation in the Minor Arcana.
Some popular tarot decks that feature the Minor Arcana
There are countless Tarot decks available today, each with its unique artistic style, thematic focus, and interpretive approach. Nonetheless, several decks have gained significant popularity due to their distinct imagery, depth of symbolism, and widespread use. Below are some of these widely recognized decks that feature the Minor Arcana:
- Rider-Waite Tarot Deck: This deck, created by Arthur Edward Waite and artist Pamela Colman Smith, is one of the most well-known and widely used Tarot decks. Published in 1910, it was one of the first decks to feature detailed pictorial scenes on all 78 cards, including the Minor Arcana. The imagery is rich with symbolism, making it a great deck for beginners and experienced readers alike.
- Thoth Tarot Deck: Created by Aleister Crowley and artist Lady Frieda Harris, the Thoth Tarot Deck is recognized for its complex, intricate symbolism and abstract art. Its Minor Arcana cards include astrological, zodiacal, elemental, and Qabalistic symbols, offering a deeply esoteric interpretation of the Tarot.
- Morgan-Greer Tarot Deck: The Morgan-Greer Tarot, designed by Bill Greer and Lloyd Morgan, is known for its vibrant, colorful imagery and its use of close-up perspectives. The deck follows the Rider-Waite tradition, but the Minor Arcana cards have unique, updated interpretations that make the deck feel contemporary.
- Universal Waite Tarot Deck: This deck, a recolored version of the Rider-Waite Tarot, features softer colors and a more realistic style, created by artist Mary Hanson-Roberts. Like the original, the Universal Waite deck maintains detailed imagery in the Minor Arcana cards, making it accessible and easy to interpret.
- Shadowscapes Tarot Deck: Created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, this deck is beloved for its beautiful, ethereal artwork and its incorporation of various mythologies and folklore. The Minor Arcana cards are richly illustrated with animal and nature motifs, offering intuitive and introspective readings.
- The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck: Designed by Kim Krans, this modern deck is known for its minimalist and nature-inspired artwork. The deck’s Minor Arcana cards feature a variety of animals and natural elements, offering a unique perspective for intuitive readings.
How do the Minor Arcana cards differ from the Major Arcana?
The Tarot deck is divided into two primary sections: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. While both subsets play crucial roles in a Tarot reading, they differ significantly in their symbolism, themes and applications.
Major Arcana comprises 22 cards, beginning with The Fool (0 or 22) and ending with The World (21). Each card in the Major Arcana represents a significant life event, a major transition, or a profound spiritual lesson. The Major Arcana often highlights transformative events, key challenges, or dominant influences in a Tarot reading.
On the other hand, the Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards divided into four suits: Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles (or Coins). Each suit contains ten numbered cards (Ace through Ten) and four court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King). The Minor Arcana, in contrast to the overarching spiritual themes of the Major Arcana, deals with day-to-day matters. These cards reflect the subtleties and intricacies of daily life, including emotions, thoughts, actions and material circumstances.
While the Major Arcana reveals the broader themes or significant life events, the Minor Arcana provides a more detailed and nuanced picture of everyday life. The suits of the Minor Arcana are associated with different elements and aspects of life: Cups with emotions and relationships, Swords with thoughts and conflicts, Wands with energy and ambition, and Pentacles with material matters and physical health.
Together, Major Arcana and Minor Arcana create a holistic narrative, offering a comprehensive understanding of the querent’s life situation and potential path forward.
- How to choose the right Tarot deck: https://lotusbuddhas.com/how-to-choose-the-right-tarot-deck.html
- The meaning of Reversed Tarot Cards: https://lotusbuddhas.com/the-meaning-of-reversed-tarot-cards.html
- The different types of Tarot decks: https://lotusbuddhas.com/the-different-types-of-tarot-decks.html