Getting Smart with the Minor Arcana

It is now a part  the common knowledge that most Tarot decks are comprised of 78  cards, 56 of them belonging to the Minor Arcana; and the other 22 belonging to the Major Arcana. Arcana meaning “secret, mystery, details unknown to the average person” (1), it is clear that the designations “Major” and “Minor” are not attributed in accordance with the area they cover within a deck. Instead, they are attributed due to the pneuma (soul, spirit, energy) they represent: Each Major Arcanum relates to an archetype, a stage of spiritual evolution or ascension, in short, “Major” themes, whereas Minor Arcana relates to the more earthly, day-to-day elements of life. Still, the accomplishment of any Major Arcanum is inseparably connected to the mundane features of life -The leaps, awarenesses, breakthroughs – Miracles and Disasters- are almost always build, rather than just being destined to happen.  Henceforth, I do want to devote this blog entry to getting smart with that building stones.

Image by Akelliona via DeviantArt

Classical Elements

Minor Arcana is made up of four suits; the Suit of Cups, the Suit of Swords, the Suit of Wands,  and the Suit of PentaclesThe symbolism in Minor Arcana comes in view even under this skin-deep approach, each of the suits corresponding to one of the four Classical elements – in their respective order, Water,  Air, Fire and Earth (2). It is important to point out the fifth element, quintessence (aether, heaven), often (though not always) listed with the  former four in ancient cultures (3) (4) do not find its correspondence in the Minor Arcana; as it is encapsulated in the Major Arcana, representing intrinsic and quintessential features that are not parts of our day-to-day life.

Expounding elemental correspondences; almost all authors and readers (5)(6) of Tarot are settled on the basics. Drawing them together, this succinct conclusions can be expressed:

  • The Suit of Cups, corresponding to water; connotes emotional processes, such as relationships, feelings, etc. Water is a dangerous yet essential force, sustaining life with the capability of eradicate it when flows with pressure and in huge amounts.
  • The Suit of  of Swordscorresponding to air; connotes mental processes, such as ideas, arguments, etc. Air is a moving force, subtly stirring and changing environment and structure.
  • The Suit of Wandscorresponding to fire, connotes fervent processes, such as values, willpower, etc. Fire is both destructive and creative in character, thus it is a transformative force: transforming what it touches into light and heat.
  • The Suit of Pentaclescorresponding to earth; connotes referential processes, such as resources, funds, practicality, etc. Earth is where roots are, and on that roots living things grow.

The Stages of the Processes

Going in a bit more deeper, each of the Suits consists of fourteen cards; ten cards numbered form Ace to Ten, and four Court Cards (Page, Knight, Queen, King). The numbered cards of the Suits denote stages of the processes, while court cards stand for  ways of being; facets of individual personalities, other people, phenomenon etc. In this level, numbers and ranks of a royal court are to be added to the symbolism in Tarot.

Numbers, even without Tarot; correspond to much more than mere quantities in the daily language. To exemplify; in English language,we have idioms such as “to be one with” , “at sixes and sevens” (a state of conflict), “dressed to the nines” and much more (7). Their incorporation to the symbolism in Tarot, hence; is not at all peculiar.

By and large, numbered cards of a Suit illustrate all stages of a process; from coming into one’s head to the end product or completion. A process is (8) illustrated by numbers as follows:

  • Aces denote the potential, aspiration or drives in a process. At this stage, there is nothing but the indication that  a process is about to begin: A seed is planted to the soil.
  • Twos denote the initiation of a process. At this stage the resources are gathered and a  blueprint of the process is conceived. What was  a potential has not yet started to be manifested, but tools for manifestation are getting together. The seed, with water and minerals in the soil; is yawning.
  • Threes denote initial manifestation of a process, a leaking from potential to reality has begun: Germination.
  • Fours denote getting into the action. What was a little stemming, becomes a steady flow, and the process starts to get observable as a stable “work” or “action”: The germinated seed is now a seedling.
  • Fives denote conflicts during manifestation. At the middle-way of completion, more than often, tests or challenges arose; as there are several perspectives and angles only arose after some level of tangibility: The seedling is subject to challenges that winter brings about, fighting and adapting to survive.
  • Sixes denote re-balance, and the manifestation process getting back on the track after overcoming challenges or conflicts. The process seems to more harmonious and stronger, as it has passed the test: The seedling is becoming a young tree.
  • Sevens denote the flow into manifestation: The young tree is growing up to be a mighty hardwood, though the rate and limits of expansion are uncertain – and it is not final.
  • Eights denote consolidation, fruition of the process: The growing tree is yielding fruits.
  • Nines denote nearing completion; the process is about to end, producing its final outputs and taking its final shape. The tree is now a mighty hardwood, standing tall in the forest.
  • Tens denote completion of the process, here is the realisation of potential recognised  in Aces and acknowledgement of that.

Bringing the numbers and elemental correspondences together, a basic meaning of a suit card shows itself; for instance, Five of Cups might basically correspond to a challenge during emotional processes: feeling of loss, loneliness etc.

In any case; however, it must be noted that there is also a symbolism related to the visuals in each Minor Arcanum, which falls beyond the scope of this post – but of substantial importance for a significant reading. In fact, each Minor Arcanum tells its story through the visuals; for instance, Ten of Swords, depicting an apparently dead man with ten daggers in his back, tells a story of “being stabbed in the back” – maybe even the betrayal of over-analysis in the aftermath of a mental process. Going over the visuals, it would also picked out that Ten of Swords and Ten of Wands, on direct contrary with Ten of Cups and Ten Pentacles do not look at all like “happy endings”. This is the part of the facts of life: Not every path ends up in felicific locations, and especially intellectual and fervent procedures might become self-destructive and consuming.

Ways of Being

Apart of numbered cards, each of the Minor Arcana suits include four Court Cards, summing up to sixteen court cards in a Tarot deck. The Court Cards do not have numerical correspondances; but rather they have their correspondences in the most prominent figures of a royal Court: King, Queen, Knight and Page; each of them being certain “ways of being”, being more related to personality, personal development and growth matters rather than processes (9). As such,

  • Page being the youngest member of the Court, is seeking his call and direction;  he represents  childlike, exploratory ways of being. 
  • Knight being the adventurer, is always in a quest – jumping from one danger to another, seeking progress in his skills and reputation; he represents the adventurous and extreme ways of being. 
  • Queen being the matriarch of the Court, represents backstairs (indirect) control, nurturing and grounding ways of being.
  • King being the patriarch of the Court, is the final decision maker – he is  controlling and authoritative; he represents mature, decisive ways of being. 

This “Ways of being”, in a reading, would emerge as people, situation or advice; depending on the position of the card and approach of the Reader. Still, as in the numbered cards, by bringing the Court rank and suit’s elemental correspondence together; a basic meaning of  a Court card can be reached.  For instance, Knight of Pentacles might correspond to seeking to improve financial matters through investing into untouched fields or methods or a person who is seeking to make a relatively risky investment for a hefty return.

Getting Smart with the Minor Arcana begins with understanding their position in a Tarot deck, in the bigger picture, and basic meanings – however so, it does not end here. There is so much more – in the energies of each Minor Arcanum, and there are also many more correspondences falling beyond the scope with this post, such as its correspondences in Mysticism or in occult trends – yet, more importantly; meaning of each card is built upon its connection of the Reader, on the knowledge of the basics.


(1) arcana. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved December 8 2016 from <>.
(2) McGrew, T. J. (n.d.). The Development of the Greek Conception of Nature. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from <>.
(3) Wangyal, T., & Dahlby, M. (2002). Healing with form, energy and light: The five elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Pub, p. 1
(4) Lloyd, G. E. (1968). Aristotle: The growth and structure of his thought. London: Cambridge U.P. , p. 135
(5) Palmer, R. (2016, June 20). Delving Into Tarot and Astrology in the Golden Dawn Tradition. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from <>.
(6) Greer, M. K. (2008, February 5). Elemental Dignities. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from <>.
(7) 100 Idioms About Numbers. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2016, from <>.
(8) Louis, A. (n.d.). Numerological Significance of the Tarot. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from <>.
(9) Madhavi, G. (n.d.). Understanding the Court Cards. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from <>.

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