Learning how to read and navigate the subliminal messages of the Major and Minor Arcana requires both memorization and intuition. Having a firm grasp on the meanings of all 78 cards is a marathon rather than a race and is a journey to be enjoyed rather than rushed. Of course, this journey would not be complete without a useful guide given by a tarot reader herself.
What are the Arcanas?
Arcana is the plural form of the Latin root word “arcanum” which translates to “secret”, meaning these Major and Minor secrets contain within them important spiritual lessons and themes that help us tarot readers to further decipher the messages of the divine that would otherwise go unheard.
By parsing all 78 cards into these Major and Minor categories the tarot system is essentially giving the reader a succinct blueprint for how to begin analyzing and interpreting the cards. Knowing which group each card falls into will clue you in on the nature of the message that the cards are trying to express. This is especially useful when you feel stuck with a certain reading.
The key to understanding the difference between the Major and Minor Arcana has to do with their themes and types of lessons they teach.
The Major Arcana Explained
The Major Arcana contains 22 cards which are arguably the most recognizable tarot archetypes as seen in the Lovers, the Devil, and other identifiable figures like the Fool. These cards allude to cosmological themes, and their impact and presence is something that presides over both universal and spiritual laws.
The Major Arcana is celestial in nature and is deeply tied to the spiritual journey as a whole. These cards deal with karmic lessons and their presence in a reading indicates tidings of great change and spiritual shifts and should not be taken lightly in any reading for better or for worse.
One could also view Major Arcana in terms of archetypal forces. For example, the Empress, she can be viewed as the avatar of the divine feminine an embodiment of all things motherly and nurturing, or how the Star card is the personification of hope and renewal.
Whatever card you happen to pull from the Major Arcana, know that you are dealing with powerful overarching energies and archetypes who bear messages and lessons regarding your spiritual journey rather than your earthly one.
The Minor Arcana Explained
While the Major Arcana looks to the heavens the Minor Arcana pertains to our earthly matters. The other 56 cards in the deck are the masters of the 3-D, with this we’re talking about dealing with more tangible concepts, things that you can feel, see, touch, and experience firsthand.
The Minor Arcana presides over the physical realm and is divided into 4 suits of Wands, Cups, Pentacles, and Swords. Each suit contains 10 cards plus 4 additional ones that are referred to as the “Court Cards”.
These Court Cards are the rulers of their respective suits. They are referred to as Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages (though some card decks may also choose to alter the terms Knight and Page to Prince and Princess).
The 4 suits are used to highlight specific earthly matters and each suit is linked to an elemental force such as fire, water, earth, and air. They invite a closer look at the mundane everyday components of life such as day-to-day thoughts, emotions, creative pursuits, and finances.
Now, with the general overview of both Arcanas complete, let's delve further into the earthly concepts of each individual suit.
Suit of Wands
The Suit of Wands is ruled by the element of fire and is characterized by ideas surrounding passion, expansion, and boundless creativity.
Most of the cards encountered in this suit will have to do with ideas surrounding what sets your soul aflame. It brings to the forefront a need for expression, recognition, and excitement in all forms.
The wands represent spontaneity and the joy of the unexpected. However, some cards can also represent haste and misguided efforts with many cards warning against rash action that can lead to conflict or quarrels.
This suit also highlights a desire to lead and have confidence but warns us not to get carried away. Confidence fueled by ego and self-righteousness will burn bridges faster than it can build them.
Suit of Wands at a Glance:
- Fast paced
Suit of Cups
The Suit of Cups, like the element of water it is ruled by, is emotional, ever flowing, and deeply connected to our innermost world.
The Cups deals heavily with our emotions and feelings and is ruled by a dreamy and fantastical languidness. Cards in the suit of cups explore the trenches of our deepest emotions and desires and are heavily connected to the psychic realm and our dreams. Thus, the suit of cups is very imaginative, harping on our deepest desires and need for emotional connection.
On the flip some cards within the suit of wands forewarn of carrying too much emotional baggage or to those who fail to make solid plans being far too caught up in illusory fantasies to ground their deepest wishes. The cups also warn of false emotional attachments to specific people, places, or things that are either long gone or persistently failing us despite our best efforts to remain afloat.
Suit of Cups at a Glance:
Suit of Pentacles
The Suit of Pentacles is grounded and connected to the element of earth. Dealing with all things regarding finances, career, higher learning, and apprenticeship.
This is the slowest moving and most rigid of the suits, preferring to follow the rules step by step to achieve its desired results. The suit of pentacles is strenuous and runs a marathon rather than a race believing that everything is bought through hard work, diligence, and consistency. This is also why the suit of pentacles is so deeply connected to our money and our careers, which we build up and earn brick by brick only enjoying the fruit of that labor after all the hard work has been done.
Themes of generosity, home life, and charity may also surface. The suit of pentacles promises riches to those who earn it but warn against stinginess or expecting a bigger cut when an equal give and take has not been properly achieved.
Suit of Pentacles at a Glance:
- Hard working
Suit of Swords
Critical, calculated, and intellectual the Suit of Swords is ruled by the element of air which is connected to the mind and our thoughts.
The Suit of Swords seeks truth, justice, and knowledge above all else. It is socially savvy, communicative, and careful with its words.
Known to be cerebral and strategic it is synonymous with legal matters, social media, networking, and education. Swords move quickly through matters yet asks of you a careful but swift deliberation to decide the superior course of action.
At its worst the suit of swords represents gossip, misinformation, cut-throat attitudes, and deceit. This can lead to feeling stuck in toxic environments full of untrustworthy people or perhaps it is you who has not been the most forthright about their intentions.
The suit of swords values honesty and open communication. Highlighting the many ways in which we engage and converse in the world.
Suit of Swords at a Glance:
- Socially savvy
While Major and Minor Arcana both contain within them mystical secrets each one offers different aspects of the spiritual journey. These fundamental forces underline the various attributes of the world and cosmos around us. They inhabit both earthly and celestial matters that define the human existence.
Depending on what cards appear in your spread you’ll now have a better understanding of how these major and minor themes are helping you along your own individual journey.
Thank you so much for reading and stopping by our magical lil corner of the web. I hope this newest blog post has provided you with the information you were looking for and I’m wishing you the best of luck and encouragement on your tarot reading journey!