When we work with tarot, we are forging a connection to a magical, spiritual tool. This connection is ever-evolving, ever-changing, ever-growing. The more we work with tarot, the more practice we gain in strengthening our connection to the meanings it holds for us and our understanding of them. In doing so, we increase the value we gain from it. Over time, we also experience the added benefit of strengthening our intuition and the connection to our higher understanding; in this way, we can better receive and interpret messages, information, wisdom, and guidance. Like a muscle we work to develop, the more we work with tarot, the more clearly we are able to intuit what counsel it may hold for us, and the greater the detail and accuracy we can obtain.
While tarot decks traditionally have 78 cards consisting of specific pip cards, court cards, and Major Arcana cards, the symbolism can vary widely from deck to deck. It is that symbolism that conveys so much meaning to us, beyond just the archetype each card represents or the symbols it may present.
For example, the Queen of Wands may represent prosperity, passion, abundance, warmth, creativity, confidence, authority, and fruitfulness in general. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, she is pictured holding a sunflower (which can indicate happiness) in her left hand, and a wand in her right. Two lions—symbolizing strength and protection, perhaps—adorn the base of her throne, one on each side; two lions are emblazoned on the high back of her throne, which ascends above her head. A black cat (a familiar? An emblem of protection?) sits at her feet. If we drew this card after having asked a question about where we stand with a potential romantic partnership, perhaps with someone we recently met, and then drew this card in response, we might interpret it to mean that the relationship has the potential to develop in a way that will bring us happiness. It could also indicate that we have protection or guidance available to us in regards to this relationship. How we interpret it is very much up to our intuition. What are we feeling about this? There may be a fated or karmic aspect, as if we are meant to be with this person. On the other hand, it could indicate we are supported by our guides or allies in the nonphysical as we navigate this new partnership.
In the The Hermetic Tarot, the Queen of Wands is pictured holding a long wand or staff with a large spherical head; her right hand rests on the head of a leopard. Written beneath her staff are the symbols for Pisces and Aries. In this deck, the Queen of Wands is called Queen of the Thrones of Flame, and fire is depicted around her; this symbolism aligns with wands as the representatives of the element of fire. The prominent staff could indicate that there is the possibility of great passion in this relationship, and that the person we identify with the female energy in the partnership is very much in their power—confident in their ability to navigate the world and the relationship in a way that lends to the success of both parties involved. The symbolism of Pisces and Aries adds another element to the interpretation. One or both of the people in the partnership may have aspects of Aries or Pisces in their birth charts that could inform the relationship; an investigation into the astrological placements could reward further inquiry (if we are so inclined).
Colors, numbers, and placement of the cards (in relationship to other cards) can add additional layers of meaning. For instance, the color red may connect us to the root chakra or to family, or, in the Chinese tradition, it can symbolize good luck, happiness, success, vitality, and beauty. The number four often indicates stability and solid foundations, so the Four of Pentacles and The Emperor (which is the number four card in the Major Arcana), share this interpretive connection. More than one instance of a number in a deck can convey additional meaning. Three fours could indicate stronger foundations in three areas of life, or a tripling of the four energy. Placement also informs the meaning of the cards. A Nine of Pentacles following the Five of Pentacles, for instance, could mean abundance and prosperity are flowing to us where there is or has been lack or blocks in those areas, or perhaps could offer guidance to save instead of spending to support our future well-being.
One of the really helpful aspects of working with tarot is that we can ask any question we like. We can also ask clarifying questions or ask for a clarifying card to divulge further information on a card we already pulled. We may choose to work within the constraints of a spread or we can simply ask a series of questions and continue drawing cards. We can draw a card a day, or several cards, asking questions like, What energies are supporting me today? Or What is my guidance for the day?
It can be beneficial when first beginning to work with the cards to gain a foundational understanding of their traditional meanings. One good way to go about this is to refer to the guidebook for the deck you use most often, or to guidebooks for several different decks, to obtain a better understanding of how various decks and authors approach the cards' meaning and symbolism. This provides us with a jumping-off point from which we can launch into a deeper and more personal understanding. It may be that you do not resonate at all with the interpretation the guidebook provides for a certain card, and that is okay.
Ultimately, it is key to trust our intuition, over and above what any guidebook may say. When we doubt our intuition, we may unintentionally set up blocks to receiving the information that is meant for us. It may be that we are getting a strong sense of what a certain card means to us, and it may not necessarily align with the guidebook or the traditional meaning. In my book, Tarot by the Moon, I discuss different approaches to interpreting a reading and also to connecting with our inner guidance to ensure we get the most out of our interactions with the cards. With practice, it becomes easier and more natural to glean information from tarot. And, over time, a well-loved deck can become like a constant companion—an old friend who always offers us just the advice we need.
Want to know more? Check out Tarot by the Moon: Spreads and Spells for Every Month of the Year. You can also follow me on Instagram at @victoria.constantino.author and @tarot_by_the_moon and on Facebook at @VictoriaConstantinoAuthor.
Victoria Constantino (Birmingham, AL) is a longtime tarot practitioner and seeker of visionary wisdom. She spent more than a decade as an editor and publisher of literary fiction and non-fiction, and was the managing editor ...