The Minor Arcana: How Numbers and Elements Give Tarot Meaning
Veiled in mystery and feared by some, the tarot is part card game, divination system, and tool for self exploration. While learning the meaning of each card can be a daunting task, it’s not as complicated as you may think. In fact, by breaking the tarot down by Arcana, numerological meaning and element, the evocative images of the cards quickly reveal their secrets.
The tarot consists of two sets of cards called the Major and Minor Arcana. While the Major Arcana deals with archetypes and larger karmic lessons, the Minor Arcana focuses on the mundane aspects of day to day life. As a part of this world, we are all focused on our physical well being, emotional needs, and relationships. This is the realm of the Minor Arcana.
From here, the Minor Arcana is further divided into four different suits, each with their own court cards and imbued with their own element. These suits are actually related to a deck of playing cards and numbered 1-10 with an additional Page. Each suit tells its own story, and each story is tied to the element of the suit in question.
The Elements and the Minor Arcana
Fire, air, water and earth surround us. They are the building blocks of life, and speak to us both metaphorically and physically. These elements appear in each suit of the Minor Arcana, shedding light on where we find ourselves on our current journey.
Within the Minor Arcana, the Cups represent emotions, feelings and the element of water. Wands on the other hand are fire, passion and drive. The Pentacles relate to earth, money and the physical world, while the suit of Swords represents communication, conflict and the element of air.
Learning Tarot by the Numbers: Numerology and the Minor Arcana
Once we add the numerological meaning to each suit, the cards begin to show us a pattern that is deeply affected by its element. Some numbers “get along better” with some elements, which create the richly divergent nature of the cards. For example, the element of air deals better with a situation that is slow and careful, as illustrated by the 4 of Swords in the Rider Waite deck. Water on the other hand, is flowing by nature and leads to stagnation when it is slowed down.
The following list of numerological meanings can help to shed light on the numbered cards of the Minor Arcana.
Aces are the first step on the journey, and represent beginnings and fresh perspectives. When an Ace appears in a reading, pay close attention to the suit to see what kind of rebirth is afoot.
Two is the number of partnership, planning and meditation. It indicates that the new cycle is in its first stages, but more time is needed to realize your plans.
When three appears in a reading, plans are executed and progress is indicated. Here the suits take on a very different tone depending on the element. Cups indicate celebration, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, the 3 of Swords indicates sorrow and misunderstanding.
Four is a peaceful number, but it can also indicate stagnation. Often times with four, we see that a foundation has been laid and now a push of energy is needed to keep moving forward.
Five brings change, instability and conflict, and each element tries in its own way to deal with the uncertainty. But times of disruption often lead to necessary evolution, and the chaos of five is only a temporary setback.
With six comes a right of passage and the power of joining forces towards a common goal. Help has arrived, and difficulties are overcome through empathy and guidance. In each suit, the six carries a positive message, illustrating the human need for companionship and help on the journey of life.
Seven calls for faith and thoughtful conduct. This can be a message for patience, or a warning to examine where we put our faith. The seven can be a tricky number, indicating delusions or the necessity of waiting for the right time to act.
This is the number of action and momentum, and it can indicate taking an active role in the situation around you. Eight is a hopeful number. If projects or situations have been stagnant, having eight appear in a reading brings a return to growth.
Although 10 is technically the last number in numerology, 9 is actually considered the completion of the work that has been underway in each suit. Here we have the finishing touches and the joy of completion. We may have to take stock of what we’ve learned in order to move forward when the 9 appears, and this can either be a joyful or painful process.
The number 10 indicates an ending, and thusly carries the message that a new cycle is beginning. Each suit carries a different message about endings. Some are joyful, such as the 10 of Cups, while others indicate the end of a long arduous battle, such as the 10 of Swords. Regardless, when the 10 appears it’s time to move forward into a new chapter.
The Court Cards
In the tarot, the court cards can be viewed as the various personalities we come across in our day to day lives. Once again, since each court card has its own associated suit, the character in question will be imbued with whatever element they represent. In addition, each court card has an additional elemental meaning that either supports or works against its suit.
If you’re familiar with astrology, this is akin to having different elements ruling the sun and moon in your chart (for example, a Pisces Sun and Capricorn moon). These two elements are either complementary or in conflict. Think of how fire thrives with air, but is extinguished by water. While the Rider Waite deck is very gender oriented, the person in question may not necessarily be the gender of the court card, but will most likely emphasize the masculine or feminine qualities of the elements that appear.
Each of the following illustrates a personality driven by material needs, emotion, communication, passion or a combination of these traits.
As the ruler of the court, the King represents fire and leadership. This is the director, the researcher, and the business person. Fire must have fuel to burn, and if the King is holding a contrasting element, a contradictory nature might be indicated. The King may not be the one doing the work, but he is the one holding the power.
Emotion rules the realm of the Queen in the tarot. With her intuition guiding her, the other element she holds gives us a glimpse into how this insight is applied. Water flows by nature, but will be affected by the suit of the Queen. Note the environment that she resides within for more insight into her motivations.
The Knight is ruled by the element of Air, so there is added emphasis on communication and movement. Take note of the horse that the Knight is riding: is it leaping or walking forward slowly? Some elements, such as air and fire move quickly, while earth moves slowly but deliberately.
All Pages are ruled by earth. Earth is the slowest of the elements, and in this case, the least experienced. With the Page, there is work to be done and much to learn. These are the characters who are new in their field, or innocent by nature. Pay attention to the element at play in the suit of the page in question: does the element of the suit coexist peacefully with Earth, or is it in conflict?
Christine Aprile is an intuitive tarot reader, writer and musician actively pursuing the boundaries of thought and perception. Her interest in all things extraordinary began at a young age at the local library, eventually leading her to the study of visual arts, tarot and symbolism. This passion for the ephemeral can be seen in her approach to the metaphysical and extraterrestrial as subjects meant to illuminate the mysteries of the physical world and human consciousness.