In general, a Tarot deck is comprised of two sections. The first section contains 22 titled cards and is usually called the Major Arcana or Trumps. The second section consists of the remaining 56 cards, comprising four suits. These cards are the Minor Arcana. They are sometimes called pip cards because of the dots (as in playing cards) or multiple representations of the suit emblem used to indicate the value of the card. Many modern Tarot decks have illustrated Minor Arcana, so this term is a bit misleading when used to refer to these types of decks.
The four suits that make up the Minor Arcana are:
- Wands – also Staves, Batons, Rods, Sceptres and Clubs
- Cups – also Goblets, Cauldrons and Hearts
- Swords – also Spears, Daggers or Spades
- Pentacles – also Coins, Disks or Diamonds
Generally the elemental attributions of the Minor Arcana suits are as follows:
- Wands – Fire
- Cups – Water
- Swords – Air
- Pentacles – Earth
However, some decks switch the elements assigned to Wands and Swords, making Wands – Air and Swords – Fire. These is a bit of a debate about which is the correct system, with each side claiming that the other side is only perpetuating an intentional blind meant to mislead the uninformed. Personally, I prefer Wands as Fire and Swords as Air, but that is mostly because that is the way I first learned the system.
The cards of the Minor Arcana deal with aspects of everyday life, as opposed to the major life events depicted in the Major Arcana. In general, Wands deal with mental activity (school work, thinking up ideas, etc.), Cups deal with emotions (most notable love), Swords deal with obstacles and spiritual issues, and Pentacles deal with the physical world and material goods.
Many readers obtain the meaning of Minor Arcana cards from a combination of the suit element, the picture, and the numerological meaning assigned to the cards value. For example:
- Aces – the root of the element, new beginnings
- duality, manifestation of the elements focus
- foundation, stability
- re-establishment of harmony
- new awareness leading to an upset
- maturity, acknowledgement of errors
- fulfilment, completion
- preparing for a new cycle
The Minor Arcana’s court cards can be difficult to interpret. Each card has, over the years, been associated with a certain traditional personality. The reader can choose to interpret the card as indicating a person with this personality or physical characteristics. This person could be someone who will help out in the situation being examined in the reading, or it could indicate a facet of the Querent’s personality that will need to be used and/or developed. Ellen Cannon Reed, creator of the Witches Tarot, uses the court cards as a modifier for the next card drawn. There are also a books that deal with the interpretation of court cards, the most promising of which is Understanding the Tarot Court by Mary K. Greer and Tom Little.