Tarot Cards have fascinated me as far back as I can remember. When I was very young, there was a rumour amongst my brothers that our mother actually HAD a Tarot deck hidden away somewhere and that on this evidence, she was definitely a witch.
Among other stories, they were kept in a box in the attic full of rats. They were made of tattooed human skin cut and dried into squares. They were bigger than dinner plates because they originally belonged to a man with fingers as long as my arms. If you did three readings, the third would foretell your own death. They were a whole mess of different childhood nightmares. They just never actually appeared, strangely enough. Tarot was as real and terrifying as any monster-under-the-bed that any older sibling tells any younger sibling about.
So, I knew from very early on that:
Tarot cards are evil (obviously).
They are for telling the future.
I must not mention them to mum (because she was a witch).
I must not mention them to dad (because he didn’t approve).
If I find them I should put them back immediately and not play with them (because they are evil).
With these assumptions thoroughly burned into the back of my brain, I went on about my life for a long time not really engaging with tarot directly, but always a little interested when it popped up.
When my mother died there were murmurings amongst my brothers about where the tarot deck was and who would inherit it. I was semi convinced after all these years that her tarot cards were fully fictitious and made up only to scare me as a child. Looking back, I was unsure if I had ever seen them or not. I felt that self-doubt of memories that might be dreams.
They were, in fact, very real. Hidden at the back of a drawer under some clothes, wrapped in a raggedy black cloth. Very evil. Nice touch.
I argued my case as the rightful inheritor and got the cards. And then I got a bit obsessed with them. I read up a lot about the history of tarot. I got myself a few other decks. I started learning how to read tarot spreads. I unlearned some of my early assumptions, mainly that tarot is evil. I even wrote a play about tarot cards and then sort of did nothing with it. Maybe I’ll put it on or include it in a pack with these cards one day.
The play was about tarot and grief, I think considering the circumstances those two themes made sense together. That makes it sound pretentious and sad but it was actually very funny I promise. But those two themes became very intermingled along this whole process. Grief and Tarot. Maybe it’s obvious in my drawings. Along with all those childhood horror stories. I just hope some of the humour made it in there too.
It has taken me over two years to make this deck which has been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to start another. It is an awefully long time though and it has definitely sent me a bit mad. All the drawings are done by me. They were mainly sketched out in biro and then inked with a dipping pen. The style of the artwork draws from countless influences from the clinically morbid anatomical sketches of Leonardo DaVinci to Aubery Beardsley’s illustrations of decadent poetry to the comic books I first copied in order to learn how to draw. They reflect my own interests in European literature, theatre, folklore and history.
If you ever get lost this booklet has some descriptions about what all the cards mean according to me. I hope you like them. I hope they’re witchy and scary and gruesome and delicate and precious and sometimes very funny.
All the best,
0 The Fool
The Fool represents new beginnings, new challenges, and the ability to adapt to them. The Fool is innocent and inexperienced but has a thirst for knowledge, and a lust for an unknown future.
Upright card: Beginnings, Freedom, Spontaneity, Naivety.
‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts,’
– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene VII
If the twenty-one Major Arcana cards are thought of as a roughly linear narrative, the Fool, card zero, is not a part of the story but the protagonist of it. The path that the Major Arcana map out is often referred to as ‘the Fool’s journey’ in a similar analogy to Shakespeare’s seven stages of man’ soliloquy. If a life were split into twenty stages of events experienced and people met, then the Fool is the character we follow through it.
While perhaps obvious, it is also important to acknowledge that the Fool is inherently foolish and though there is a certain romance to foolishness, in being carefree, spontaneous and trusting there is also a danger in naivety and gullibility. The Fool may end up lost after taking a spur of the moment fork in the road. They may find themselves in over their head or outmatched after not acknowledging their own amateurism.
It may be that the Fool cannot stop playing the fool, falling back on a projected light persona to dodge emotional honesty to the frustration of those close to them. They may find that playfulness and joviality was a wrong response to a serious situation or instances of intimacy, and this may upset others.
The Fool is understood as a Card of fresh starts and new beginnings. The Fool walks through life unburdened by any worry of which direction to take next, with an utter willingness to change direction on a whim. This wild temperament will undoubtedly lead many journeys, stories and adventures but also risks many dangers and dead-ends on the paths taken unprepared.
The Fool cares very little about material possessions and instead runs freely into a world with a passion to see, touch, hear, smell and taste everything the world has to offer, no matter how fleeting. The Fool does not like to be tied down or to settle down, whether in a relationship, career or home. Nor do they see anything wrong with rejecting the socially accepted markers of success if these strike no interest.
The Fool will live many lives, meet many people, and see many places in their life. The Fool also never stops travelling and is always in search of the next experience, whilst often leaving a lot of people behind. People close to the Fool may harbour feelings of abandonment as the Fool, only wanting to make the most of life, may forget to look back often enough.
Reversed: Impotency, Regret, Mundanity
Whereas the upright Fool connotes a light disposition and a sense of unchecked freedom, the reversed Fool carries with it a sense of weight or burden in a figure forlornly grounded in realism.
The reversed Fool is dogged by indecision or meekness in straying from the norm. This could mean living a blinkered life, wilfully oblivious to the alternate paths that appear, are passed, and eventually lost. For example, staying within a relationship because it is the easiest course of action and not because it brings happiness or staying in a miserable job out of fear of unemployment. A crippling fear of risks could lead to a stagnant existence wherein a life passes by unlived.
In a more literally opposite meaning, it could mean a certain chapter or narrative is coming to an end. Unlike the youthful adventurous spirit of the upright Fool, the reversed Fool is a figure of regretful bitterness looking back on a youth wasted from old age. This figure is regretful of all the risks not taken, the friendships left unreconciled, loves never expressed, and even families never started.
On the lighter side, it could be read as a sign that the Fool is maturing and taking on responsibility instead of forever wandering, blissfully lost. No longer will the Fool create an emotional barrier with a clownish persona, but begin to accept and present themselves as a multifaceted person who comes to terms with the emotional self, allowing themselves to show how they truly feel.
The Magician is someone who always has ‘the right tools for the job’, whether these tools are physical or intellectual, there is no task that cannot be overcome or puzzle too difficult to solve. The card is also connected to leadership, in particular, a figure of notable rhetorical talent.
Upright: Skill, Manipulation, Dexterity, Shaping reality
The magician is the master of his own reality and avidly rejects to simply exist as a passenger. This figure often refers to a natural leader who radiates confidence and inspires those around them. In a physical understanding, the magician is a builder, a carpenter, or an artist, someone who actually creates things for himself or others.
The other side to these characteristics is that this figure can be a keen manipulator and can inspire followers regardless to what means. Just because the Magician is a natural leader and social charmer, does not necessarily mean that his motives are moral, and this must be taken into consideration.
The Magician may also change their personality to their environment, using a number of performative tools to become a social chameleon. While this person may be well known and well-liked by many people, it may become apparent that none of these people hold the same image of the Magician’s persona in their heads. Considering this, while the Magician may handle a wide array of social interaction with ease, they may struggle with an understanding of true selfhood.
Perhaps obviously, but this is also a figure linked to magic. It refers to an awareness and relationship with a world other than the physical and known. The Magician is never fully sated with the apparent boundaries of reality and is possessed with a fascination with the extraordinary and the unknown
Reversed Card: Failure to plan, Inadequacy, Pessimism
Whereas the upright Magician is a figure full of creative energy and multiple possibilities, the reversed Magician is one of sneering defeatism who sees no point in expelling effort for anything or anyone.
This card may refer to disregarding safety for quicker results, or not packing the right provisions for a journey and paying for it later. In the worst cases, it could imply indifference to others in favour of conquest and material gain.
Similarly, the reversed Magician possesses the opposite of the upright Magician’s natural charisma and charm when placed in the same scenarios; the Magician charms in front of a crowd but his reversed counterpart chokes and crumples under the pressure. The Magician has all the tools for any job, reversed he has a hundred jobs to do and has no tools to complete them.
2 High Priestess
The High Priestess is thoughtful, secretive, and introspective. A passive witness and advisor on the universe. She is associated with paradoxes, possessing great knowledge but keeping many secrets, often overlooking moral or emotional problems in favour of seeking greater symmetry within the universe.
Upright: Equilibrium, Wisdom, Reason, Mystery
Also known as the Popess, or “La Papesse”, the High Empress is a card of great power and knowledge in regards to the spiritual and immaterial realms. Where the Magician is the ultimate extrovert, the High Priestess is a true introvert. The Magician is focused on practicality and always having the right tools for the job, but the High Priestess ponders the puzzles that have not been solved and the things we have no tools to tackle yet.
She is thoughtful and introspective, less concerned with action but with passively recording events and advising others through the multiple possibilities that span from said events. Through the eyes of the Priestess, time sprawls out through past, present and future like a spider’s web. She believes history cannot be told from one point of view, the present constantly in flux and the future never set.
The High Priestess is fascinated with and, in some readings, the personification of Paradoxes. She is a figure that is aware of the fact that one can love and hate simultaneously, and that order and chaos, light and dark, good and evil, all must coexist to mean anything. She possesses great knowledge but also keeps many secrets. She is well known and deeply mysterious. Awesome and terrifying. Powerful beyond measure and gentle beyond belief.
This desire for the bigger picture and acceptance of a greater equilibrium to things can lead to the High Priestess placing herself above concepts like law or morality that seem petty and inconsequential in the grand scheme. She may come off as blunt, arrogant and disinterested in the everyday matters. Because of this, despite her great knowledge, she is not always the best teacher.
Reversed: Lost spirituality, Lost harmony, Uncertainty, Determinism
The reversed reading of the card illuminates a figure who has lost touch with their spirituality or any connection to another side of reality they may have once had. She cannot see anything more to the earth than dirt or to the sea than water. She sees a world stripped of magic and this has begun to take its toll, becoming a black cloud around her.
The Priestess reversed connotes a general fogginess of mind and acceptance of liminal ideals or grey areas. In Biblical terms, she does not see through the looking glass clearly or darkly, but through a murk. This is how she sees herself, as a sort of ghost. This is how she sees those around her also. The paths ahead are not signposted and within social politics, she exhibits an inability to see clearly the circles in motion or the powers in play.
Again, this clouded vision is reflected in her world-view, wherein right and wrong becomes inadequate tools when faced with the moral ambiguity of choices in the real world. Simplistic moral codes become obsolete and pointless when tested against the realities of complex scenarios. In her world, there is no horrors of war and joys of peace, just monotonous spikes in violence and boredom, a hazardous worldview to harbour.
In an alternate reading of the card, the reversed Priestess is a rejection of duplicity. Unlike the upright Priestess, who can see both sides of the coin, the reversed twin can see only in terms of singularity through a kind of tunnel vision. This opposite is deterministic and sees only one version of the past, present and future. She is unable to shake the idea of an objective and concrete reality. This deterministic stance can be nightmarish to the High Priestess, who is fully aware of the futility of free will in a ‘scripted’ universe.
3 The Empress
The Empress signifies a rebirth in all interpretations. It is a card of connotes motherhood, pregnancy and maternal influence. She is someone who makes music or art or generally engages in the pursuit of beauty in just about any way.
Upright: Motherhood, Harvest, Sexuality
The Empress is often depicted as pregnant and is a symbol of the abstract idea of motherhood but in more than just a literal sense. She resides in the Edenic but ultimately earthly paradise where harvesting fruit is only possible through love, toil and cultivation. She is at heart a creator, someone who nurtures things; plants, animals, people, etc. A large part of this is having the patience to watch things grow in their own time.
She is someone who makes music or art or generally engages in the pursuit of beauty in just about any way. She starts romantic relationships in a mindset of consciously attempting to create and enjoy something beautiful. She is always active in these scenarios, whether she is watering plants or reading to her children, and she is always well-intentioned. However, there can be problems with becoming an overbearing mother who cannot accept letting children mature into independent adults and leave home.
Sometimes depicted as the Ancient Greek Goddess Aphrodite, the Empress is associated not only with motherhood but sex and passion, and the importance of love in procreation. It is important that the Empresses links to motherhood are not understood in static terms of reproduction and wifely duty, but joy and pleasure.
In regards to rebirth, the card connotes new beginnings with a focus on taking new paths with enthusiasm and looking forward with nothing but hope and grit, regardless of what has come before. This card in some ways mirrors the Death card, and it is worth considering that with every beginning there must come an end, and vice versa.
Reversed: Barrenness, violence, letting go
The reversed Empress is honestly a bad card to pull. She is the opposite of all the best attributes of the Empress. Instead of creating, the reversed card destroys. She is the dismantler of families. She is the wrecker of homes. The burner of books.
Where the Empress nurtures Flora and Fauna in the pastoral Idyll, the Empress reversed sets hound on fox for pleasure, burns crops and salts the earth. She does not curate a beautiful garden but carves out a hellish waste.
This is not the glowing expectant mother but a symbol of childlessness and bitterness. In other narratives of parenthood, this is a figure of abandonment. Perhaps this signifies the end to excuses and second chances for someone toxic who you have always felt a responsibility to love.
In less severe readings, some interpret this card as a simple acceptance that motherhood is not for everyone and that deciding that is completely acceptable and normal. Making the choice that a life of nurturing and protecting is not going to be forced upon you is important and if you are finally coming to that realization it can be a great relief. This could even be read in a literal sense in that something in your life has been demanding masses of attention and its finally become apparent that it is just unimportant.
This card suggests the end of an ascent and success realised. After much struggle; recognition, respect, and power are achieved. However, the Emperor is a ruler that prioritizes stability and strength over personal liberties and democracy.
Upright: Leadership, Control, Force
The Emperor is a card of unchecked power and rule which has been earned through much sacrifice. The hardships endured acquiring such a position of power mean that the responsibilities that come with it are not taken lightly. This is by no means a person who was placed on the throne by birthright or default but by being unanimously accepted as the best person for the job. This figure is the master of their own destiny and is not one to rely on the support of, or adhere to the boundaries set by others. The Emperor sets their own goals, knows their own limits, and lives by their own laws, and once in power, they expect others to follow their example. In characteristic terms, the Emperor embodies little words but spartan actions.
The Emperor is also a symbol of self-compromise, who will indulge in staining his own purity and blackening his own heart to protect the innocence of others. Having seen much of the world and witnessed the savagery and horror that humanity is capable of, he is willing to put his own soul at hazard, to indulge in brutality and make difficult choices for the benefit of those under his protection.
However, this is a figure that holds complete control and offers stability and strength to his people at the cost of their personal liberties and democratic powers. This could be understood as a father who will protect his family without fail and at all costs but will rarely listen to their opinions. Though rich with wisdom there is often an inability or discomfort with relaying to others what has been learnt over a painful journey to success. Similarly, the Emperor has collected many scars over the years but few will know where they have come from.
This card also carries a warning of power as the ultimate corrupting influence that has often turned good men into monsters and sours reason into madness. The figure naturally evokes the Caesars of Rome and the historical evidence that near ultimate power makes for stable leadership and public stability until of course, anyone attempts to relinquish that power. This is especially recurrent in leaders who flourished and were championed as saviours in times of war, who become violent and outmoded in peacetimes. Freedom fighters have often become dictators as soon as freedom is won.
Reversed: Childishness, Tyranny, Deposition
Where the upright Emperor generates stability and safety, the opposite inspires fear and reaps chaos. It is a figure of impulsive mood swings and volatile decisions.
The reversed Emperor can be read as a spiteful and childish tyrant. Someone who abuses status that they have somehow acquired but do not deserve. The archetypal character that personifies this card would be a spoilt child who is raised to power before they are ready and commands resources for personal gain.
Just as the upright Emperor can be tyrannical, the reversed is more so, often mad with power but with no redeeming quality, not a leader that seizes complete power for the greater good in hopes of unquestioning unity, but one that holds power viciously out of an inflated sense of entitlement. To this figure, a kingdom is not a responsibility but a personal playground.
In another reading, the reversed Emperor can be understood as a signifier of being denied status or being blocked from a position of power. This could be as simple as not being taken seriously in social or professional situations. Inequality is a harsh reality that often rears its ugly head, and confronting it is often harder than to ignore it or let it go. Resilience is truly necessary if one is to overcome discrimination and not be worn down by it.
On a similar vein, the opposite of the Emperor’s stability and power is reversed into an image of a figure of status being overthrown or otherwise unseated. Overall the reversed Emperor evokes Richard II in Shakespeare’s history plays; childish and Godlike, tyrannical and fragile, and ultimately on the cusp of deposition.
“You may my glories and my state depose, But not my griefs; still am I king of those.” Richard II, Act 4 scene 1
The Hierophant, or ‘Pope’ card is primarily a figure of religious power and a symbol of law and order. At best the Hierophant is a wise, thoughtful spiritual leader. At worst a bloodthirsty tyrant hiding under a shield of religious justification and legal technicalities.
Upright: Power, Faith, Law and Order
The Hierophant, originally ‘The Pope” or “Le Pape”, is at its core a symbol of a religious leader. A figurehead and mouthpiece of traditionalist law and order, assigning their own wisdom to a long line of similar predecessors.
The Hierophant seemingly has an answer to every question and knows exactly which quote or parable will back them up. The ideal manifestation of this card is a spiritual leader who is patient, thoughtful, and gentle with support and advice to followers. The Hierophant can be a compass and anchor to those lost and struggling to keep their heads above water. When there seems to be no obvious answer to ethical dilemmas or social-political upheaval, the Hierophant is often the first person that people turn to.
If the Emperor is understood as a protector from physical threats, it could be understood that the Hierophant is the defender of people’s souls, whose purpose is to shepherd people through threats to the soul and temptations of this world.
The Hierophant is also an indicator of the institutional side of marriage and is often associated with arranged marriage or in love as a mutually beneficial partnership instead of passion manifest. This is the other side of the coin to the next card, the Lovers which symbolizes organic ‘romantic’ love instead of the Hierophants ‘courtly’ love.
It is also important to note that the original “Pope” card most likely arose from a renaissance era in which the Catholic church was a serious political and militaristic force, and the Pope was seen as truly God’s voice on earth. From the 8th century up until as late as 19th, the Pope ruled over the Papal States, a large, independent region of central Italy, including Rome. This gave the Pope huge sway as a major force in medieval and renaissance Europe.
Perhaps a good example of this kind of figure would be Pope Julius II, also known as “the Warrior Pope”. Julius II rose to power in the Italian wars amidst promises to rid Italy of barbarians; a promise that he largely upheld. He was seen as a great rhetorical speaker, keen political negotiator, and cunning war tactician. This is by no means the fridge-magnet and bobble-head mould of Pope that has become typical in the modern world. The Pope depicted in tarot is powerful and often bloody, he is the iron, bloody fist of early Catholicism.
Other parallels may be found in the vicious schemers of the Borgia Family popes. Firstly, Alfons de Borja (Pope Callixtus III) who ruled 1455–1458, was, in short, a crusade-thirsty warmonger chiefly remembered for his trial and execution of Joan of Arc. Secondly, Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia, (Pope Alexander VI), who ruled 1492–1503, who despite the large debate over the legitimacy of such claims, has a legacy tarnished by rumours of murder plots and incest. Some historians place him as the catalyst of the modern western European slave trade.
It is important to note that these two examples of wicked Popes are not, for the large part, seen as criminals. This may be the most troubling aspect of the Hierophant. Though technically always on the right side of the law this figure is discomfitingly often found to reappear on the wrong side of history. In the worst cases of law-abiding villainy, the Hierophant is the conductor of witch trials, the marital rapist or the slave master. However, this insidious tradition of morally deficient and legally impeccable persons is sadly not reserved in the past and can be found in many forms throughout modern society.
Reversed: Servitude, loss of faith, Godlessness
The reversed Hierophant is often seen as a symbol of weakness and servitude. The other side of the magnetic power of the upright Hierophant is the susceptibility and to a degree gullibility of this reversed version. While the upright card sets its own laws, the reversed blindly accepts and follows rules by rote, never questioning why these boundaries are set or to whose benefit. This manner of law-abiding for its own sake creates a system where morality is removed from the law and vice versa.
In a religious sense, this card could imply the loss of religion or spirituality. The gradual disappearance of faith could lead to feelings of loneliness or abandonment. One reversed reading concerns the Pope’s position as the voice of God on earth and how in reverse this implies Godlessness. If we literally probe the connotations of the opposite, then one who can hear the voice of God and act as his mouthpiece now becomes deaf to God’s voice and can say nothing. The Holy man who has forsaken God, or religious leader who has no guidance becomes a form of a cult leader, who still holds power but believes in nothing. This is naturally a frightening prospect, what are the limits of what a powerful man can achieve with no fear of damnation and no hope for redemption?
Taking this even further leads to connotations of a powerful figure of not only a non-religious disposition but of the anti-religious. In possibly the darkest of readings, the reversed Hierophant becomes a high priest of a satanic nature.
6 The Lovers
The Lovers concern all spheres of romantic love; from love at first sight to marriage. Generally, this card implies that the future is bright for romantic relationships, old and new. The Card is also heavily linked to the importance of a romantic choice that needs to be made, for better or worse, that will seriously affect the relationship.
Upright: New Love, Romantic Love, Sex, Choice
The Lovers are naturally linked to romantic love or ‘true’ love. In complete opposite to the courtly institutional connotations of love associated with the Hierophant card where marriage becomes almost business-like, The Lovers card celebrates love for love’s sake. The two Lovers are most often portrayed as a young couple in what is assumed to be a first love, and subsequently represent a love that is innocent and inexperienced. In other words, the Lovers depicted here are holding nothing back and love without inhibitions.
The Lovers card often alludes to a new and exciting romance. It is a celebration of beauty, harmony and trust in another person. The classic example of a reading of this card is that the querent is going to meet a new romantic partner and of course it will be love at first sight, and a wild passionate relationship will ensue. Passionate sexual romance will develop into true intimacy. In a similar vein, those already in relationships will go from strength to strength.
This is not to assume however that love is not often painful and volatile. Jealousy, lust, and heartbreak are all recurrent aspects of this more passionate form of love. If one loves another intensely, it can just as often end in rejection as reciprocation. If a lover has become irrational, obsessive or controlling it may require the acceptance of some hard truths and self-evaluation.
These Lovers do not plan for the future but live in the present, which is inherently beautiful but also comes with the caveat of danger, played out most famously perhaps in Romeo and Juliet for example. To a degree this is a love that casts caution to the wind, bordering on the physical/primal/sexual side of romance.
This card is often attributed to a big decision or choice regarding romantic relationships. The card does not refer to or advise any specific example to whatever the choice may be, but simply that a choice must be made. For better or worse this choice generally revolves around the escalation or de-escalation of a relationship; taking the leap into marriage or accepting that the time has come to part ways. Choices may also refer to any number of queries:
Is it time to consider marriage?
Is it time to consider divorce?
Is it time to consider children?
Is there temptation from outside a relationship?
Can one partner forgive another? And if not, what happens next?
Is it time to tell someone you love them?
Is time running out?
Is it time to tell someone you don’t anymore?
Essentially, this card signifies the answer is yes, it is the time, for better or worse. Either way, however, the card holds positivity, and there is just as much bravery in declaring love or proposing to someone as there is in admitting that love has gone and done something about it. The crossroads indicated by the card are never simple, and no road is easy nor without sacrifice and whatever choice is made is bound to have a lasting and often life-changing effect.
The Lovers card also concerns the strength and healing power of the heart, and the resilience of the heart to piece itself back together. This card signifies that a broken heart will mend itself, that the trauma can be moved past, and that time heals all wounds. To those who are lamenting lost love, this card is a sign to come back to the world and open up again.
Reversed: Separation, Stagnation, Regret
The reversed Lovers are naturally not a particularly good sign. At a surface reading, this is usually associated with separation, divorce, and generally things coming to an end. Specifically, this card is reserved for the worst of breakups. Just as the upright card signifies passionate whirlwind love affairs, this foretells falling out of love hard. Unfortunately, this card rarely means amicable, mutual, friendly separation but instead implies venomous, tearful, lasting splits. While this card is not a definite sign of the end of love it is definitely a serious warning, and though with change a relationship can be saved, the changes must start now.
In terms of opposite meanings to the question of choice, there are a few main readings. Firstly, that a choice has already been made and it is becoming apparent that it was the wrong choice. Perhaps someone has chosen the wrong person out of a choice of potential partners or has agreed to a marriage that in the long run will make them unhappy. In these examples, this card is often the final warning and the last chance at love that is on the cusp of fading away. There may never be another chance, so take the risk. Whether it is confessing Love before a wedding or telling someone to stay on the train platform, it is either time to make the jump or be content with letting go.
However, this card may full well have come too late, some decisions cannot be undone, some mistakes cannot be taken back, or things unsaid. As the dust settles, the reversed Lovers offers a chance to reflect. Perhaps love was only lust all along. Maybe confessing true love has irrevocably changed a close friendship. In these cases, the card is simply implying that sadly it is time to move on because not everything can be fixed.
It could also be understood that the person at the crossroads is paralyzed, unable to make any choice. There seems to be no obvious ‘right’ path to take, and this comes with the fear that if no choices are made, then all roads begin to close off.
Similarly considering the upright Lovers focus on the escalation or de-escalation of a relationship, the reversed card indicates stagnation. The road a couple is on may seem monotonous but there are no alternatives, no crossroads, no way out.
It could be interesting to probe the opposite implications of the upright cards focus on monogamy and the importance of finding an equal and opposite other. This could then surely lead to assumptions that this reversed card is the Tarot decks champion of Polygamy or polyamory. The reversed Lovers could be read as a celebration of free love, and positive promiscuity. It could be read as an informed rejection of social ideals of finding happiness in someone else or being ‘two halves of a whole’. Given this, there is a positive reading to be found in an acceptance that self-love and autonomy do not have to be desexualized, disregarded or condescended as a failure of solitude.
The Chariot is the champion of hard work and resilience. This is a figure who will not stop for anything and never stays down for long. This card denotes setting sights on a goal and seeing it through no matter the cost, personal, physical or otherwise.
Upright: Resilience, Determination, Self-Obsession
The Chariot card is one of motion, about consistently moving onwards and upwards despite, and in some cases spurred on by, the obstacles along the way. In many ways, the Chariot is a testament to the resilience and the importance of failure on the road to success. These ideas are grounded in self-belief and the importance of achieving goals for oneself. The Chariot commends those who strive not for fame, glory, reward, or anything other than to prove it to themselves; set their own limits, beat their own records. It can be near impossible to steer the Chariot from its chosen course, and the near-obsessive nature of battling only the self can lead to impossibly high standards of success and a deafness to anyone pointing this out.
The card is also linked to pushing boundaries to exhaustion, perhaps highlighted by it being at odds as the seventh card with Christian connotations of the seventh day of rest. In theory, the seventh card should be a sign of peaceful reflection, not restlessness and physical determination. The Chariot also runs the risk of taking introverted tendencies to the extreme. In a different manner to the hermit however, the Chariot does venture into the outside world, just not necessarily engaging with anyone else. No one else’s opinion matters, and while they understand the motivations and drives of those around them, the Chariot simply does not care. It may take some serious self-evaluation to confront the fact that to see oneself as a competitive other is to set an impossible adversary, there is no winning, only the setting of new challenges. While this kind of thinking produces near unstoppable determination, it practically rules out any healthy form of achievement or lasting happiness, the Chariot’s work is never done.
Reversed: Giving up, Lack of direction, Cowardice
If the upright Chariot is a symbol of determination and resilience, then reversed it becomes one of desertion and quitting. It implies defeatism and general apathy to the merit of struggle. The opposite of the Chariots unquestioned set course here becomes not only a lack of direction, but a disinterest in moving forward in any direction. Unlike the Chariots almost arrogant self-assurance, the reversed wallows in self-doubt and self-deprecation. This figure would rather be subservient to the point of degradation than left alone with themselves.
The reverse of the figure that keeps getting back up no matter what is then surely an image of cowardice, the foolish heroism of not knowing when to give in becomes twisted in reverse into one who cowers before blows pre-emptively. Weak and subservient, this card essentially depicts someone who has lost all control and has no plans to attempt to regain any.
Opposite to the Chariots nigh unstoppable tunnel vision focus on success could be read as a someone slowly watching their life fall apart, and as they witness their own slow descent, they have trouble understanding how or why this is happening. They feel locked in, a passenger impotently trying to halt their own failure.
The Justice card is largely self-explanatory, it refers to people getting what is deserved. Evil is weighed and suitably punished, good is recognised and rewarded. However, the sword of Justice can often be ruthless, and what is fair is not always what is compassionate.
Upright: Justice, Unbiased Evaluation, Punishment.
The Justice Card is one of the less cryptic cards to analyse and is more than anything the epitome of its namesake. The card concerns the rightful arm of the law, and how justice is inevitable and inescapable.
The numbering of the Justice card is sometimes changed depending on the deck. Most modern decks place Justice as number eleven but this actually only dates back to the early 20th century Raider-Waite-Smith deck and only for the reasoning that is more accurately fits into Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s astrological theories. Before this, practically all major decks number the Justice card as eight (in replacement of the Strength card). Though this change does not really affect the inherent meanings of the cards, it does slightly alter the ‘Fools journey’ through the narrative metaphor of the major arcana, in terms of what events in life are encountered or learned in what order.
Though not in this deck, Justice is also sometimes depicted as blindfolded, a tradition that can be traced back to the Renaissance paintings of Raphael, and essentially allude to the unbiased nature of justice, based on a rational consideration of facts alone.
This figure can sometimes be brutal in its dedication to justice, and sometimes what is fair doesn’t always feel like what is right. Finding equal punishment for an offence is not always the most productive or informed method for dealing with real-life situations. While the reasoning makes sense on paper, in reality, it can lead to eye-for-an-eye ideology, where thieves have their hands cut off, liars their tongues removed, and murderers executed. This form of justice is unnervingly removed from the humanity that is usually interwoven with moral dilemmas.
Interestingly this interpretation is usually associated with the male sphere, and is sometimes reinterpreted as a feminine alternate of the card, renamed “Mercy”. Where masculine Justice can be an unwavering, harsh arm of the law, Mercy is a champion of forgiveness and reason. This split could be understood as the punishment (Justice) vs rehabilitation (Mercy). Judgement concerns what is technically deserved, Mercy what is actually productive. This multiplicity of the card complicates the nature of reversing the card, and it could be read that this Mercy figure is the natural opposite, which makes a lot of sense but is also an alternate reading of the upright card. Essentially this is one of the cards that ask the reader to make up their own mind about what they believe. Considering this the reversed meaning that follows should be taken with a grain of salt and if one subscribes to Mercy, then the reversal can be roughly flipped for a more accurate result.
Reversed: Injustice, Abuse of Power, Imbalance, OR Mercy
The reversed readings here are generally negative, concerning legal immorality, yet there are alternate readings concerning the Justice vs Mercy debate that carries, albeit less popular, more fulfilling, positive readings.
The most basic reversal of Justice is naturally injustice, and the implications of this opposite are fairly obvious to decipher.
The Card links to Law and order, and therefore implies legal injustice such as someone acting immorally within the parameters of the law. This could be a person who takes advantage of laws for personal gains or motives.
Whereas the upright card usually infers an impartial judge, the reversed could be read as a judge, or at least someone in a position of power, making decisions under the guise of justice, yet actually has a personal stake in the issue.
What is being uncovered then is the lawmaker raising taxes for the poorest in society, while erasing debts and giving tax cuts to those who already possess limitless wealth. This person becomes fat by taking the food from starving mouths, and yet commits no crime.
It could refer to the fact that laws are often not grounded in morality but in their ability to benefit the already wealthy and powerful.
Finally, on a more positive note, the reading of the reversal of the ‘sword of justice’ character is the figure of Mercy. This reversed card, therefore, becomes the advocate of mercy, with focus not on exacting revenge or punishment but in forgiveness. This opposite of Justice is hopeful, and is grounded in a belief in second chances, and giving wrongdoers the opportunity to make amends and better themselves.
The Mercy figure believes that true justice is not an eye for an eye mentality but to strive to be better than those that have wronged her. It is the philosophy of turning the other cheek, of combating hatefulness with love and compassion, of not steeping to the pettiness of dealing with violence violently.
The Hermit is essentially a searcher, usually (though not always) depicted as a wise old man making his way through a darkness with a lantern. The Hermit can be found illuminating the dark areas of the physical and intellectual realms. This focus often comes at the cost of comradery and companionship, however admirable or important, the Hermit is at its core a signifier of solitude and loneliness.
Upright: Illumination, Solitude and Knowledge
It is initially productive to confront the connotations of the Hermit as antisocial, as a recluse, and generally as the caricature of a grumpy old man that revels in solitude and gravely desires to be left alone by anyone and everyone. Despite being the first image the word ‘hermit’ conjures, this understanding is not completely accurate or fair to the figure depicted here or the meaning of the card in general. That being said, all these points are definitely valid interpretations and should not be discounted.
It may be worth considering the symbolism of the Hermit raising a lantern, the connotations this carries of illumination, of bringing things to light, lighting the way, and other similar ideas. Perhaps the Hermit signifies the uncovering of something hidden in the dark, or a secret being unearthed, a person’s ulterior motives discovered, or a physical hidden object found.
It could be viewed that the Hermit is searching for something or someone. A very common interpretation is that this card references simply the search for knowledge, and what is being depicted is a translation of the metaphorical desire to light up (or study) the dark (a lack of understanding). These uses of light and dark as knowledge and the lack thereof can be seen for example in the categorisation of historical periods; the dark ages and the enlightenment are obvious examples.
Reversed Withdrawal, Lack of knowledge, Corruption and secrets
The simplistic reading of the Hermit reversed is simply to equate the figure to the classic negative stereotype of a Hermit. In essence, a bitter old recluse who has spent so long removed from the world they now cannot stand it. This person is close-minded, paranoid, and generally puts people on edge.
Considering the importance of the lantern in the upright card, then the same light in the reversed card has presumably been snuffed out. The figure is still a searcher but the search is more futile and frantic, they are in deep darkness and unlikely to find what they seek. The old figure trapped and lost in some oppressive dark is definitely not a good omen, so it may be more productive to strip the image down to metaphorical meaning. It becomes a ‘needle in the haystack’ card and advises that what is being sought is near impossible to find, if it exists at all. It alludes to the pursuit of something that is not yet within grasp or that the route taken is somehow wrong and will never lead there.
10 Wheel of Fortune
This card depicts a world in constant flux, where luck and destiny can change at any moment. To those graced with happiness and stability, this card predicts a hard fall, but to those down on their luck, it predicts great fortune. However, nothing is permanent, and the wheel will always come back around.
Meanings: Change of Luck, Karma, Equilibrium
The Wheel of Fortune is a visual representation of a belief structure that seems to appear and reappear throughout human history in many forms. The theory is essentially that fate is a wheel, which is spun to keep fortune and luck continuously in flux. The system decrees that no luck is endless and the simple fact that the wheel keeps spinning achieves equilibrium in the grand scheme of the universe. The Wheel literalises the idiom that what goes up must come down, and what is down, will not stay there forever. To those who are down on their luck then this card signifies that things are beginning to look up, and their luck is finally changing. To those who feel themselves to be the master of their own world, then this card is a warning that nothing lasts, and success can be fleeting. It is a card that upturns the status quo and allows villains to achieve redemption and heroes to fall from grace.
The Wheel also champions the ideals of Karma, and the simple mantra that good deeds beget more good deeds and bad deeds beget further bad deeds. If every action is understood to have an equal and opposite reaction, then the way one acts in the world will affect the experiences and people they encounter within it.
In many interpretations Fortune is personified as a woman, often directly stated to be, or at least inspired by, the Roman Goddess Fortuna who spins the wheel at random to decide the fates of others.
In a sense the Wheel of Fortune is a philosophical counterpart to the World card, both focus on similar things coming to natural ends before new starts, deaths and births, time moving on and the ever-changing state of things. The wheel suggests a somewhat comforting mantra that all things will pass, and celebrates the beauty in impermanence. The Wheel also discounts all notions of infinite power or immortality and reassures that no tyrant or regime will rule forever.
The version most commonly depicted in tarot is the Wheel of Fortune, or ‘Rota Fortunae’, that seemingly manifests out of middle ages Europe, specifically popularized by early English literature such as in the 1495 morality play, ‘Everyman’(“The Somonyng of Everyman”), frequent allusions in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Specifically “a Monks Tale”), and later referenced throughout the work of Shakespeare but specifically as a recurrent theme in the history plays.
In many ways, the Wheel plays into most Dickensian narratives and is heavily implicit in the troupes of Great Expectations for example. A pauper is raised to a gentleman, a wealthy Gentleman becomes a prisoner and then raises himself up again, a beautiful woman becomes a decrepit spectre, and many other such examples appear. The novel successfully depicts Wheel of Fortune in action through the fluid themes of circumstance and destiny.
The iconography of the Wheel of Fortune is shown to predate this Western interpretation however and seems to manifest centuries before several times and seemingly independently of other examples in multiple cultures. Some link the Wheel to the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon,
There is also evidence of similar meanings attributed to the Ancient Indian “Bhavacakra” (Wheel of Becoming), a zodiac based interpretation of the wheel used in the Egyptian Ptolemaic period, and a three-dimensional sphere in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy. The coming of the allegory to western Europe is largely attributed to Saint Boëthius, a late Roman philosopher, who summarized the Wheel neatly,
“It’s my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconstancy is my very essence,’ says the wheel. Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you’re cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it’s also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.”
REVERSED: Stagnation, Personal Autonomy, irrevocable change
The opposite of the Wheel of Fortune is generally understood as a sign of stasis, the wheel has stopped and there seems to be a cessation of change in the universe. Perhaps a relationship has stagnated and become a chore, an injury not healing, or trauma not getting easier. This is then counter to the idiom time heals all wounds, this card has become frustrated with waiting for fortune and asks when. In this circumstance, it could then be read as a wake-up call for personal autonomy and urges that people take their future into their own hands.
Some read the reversed card simply as a symbol of bad luck, though Luck, good and bad is inherent in the meaning of the upright card, so perhaps it is worth understanding this reversed card as the absence of luck. This card can then be read as a denial of destiny and fortune in favour of a more practical tangible understanding of how the world works. This then implies someone is viewing reality through a clinical scientific lens, believing in only what they can see, touch, or otherwise prove. This reading is not entirely negative, it could even be said that fate and fortune are simply tools for persons to shrug off personal responsibility and that perhaps it is more admirable to make one’s own luck. There are similar sentiments here to the Chariot card, in that the focus is on achieving goals through hard work and determination, instead of waiting until the wheel turns.
There are also implications of breaking the Wheel, where unlike the endless cycle of ups and downs of the upright card, this reading warns of some manner of irrevocable change or other such action which cannot be made right or go back to how it was. The broken wheel, therefore, urges acceptance as the only appropriate response to a life-changing action or event, it teaches that some wounds will never heal and some bridges stay burnt, and it also teaches that this is okay.
The Strength card is the ultimate symbol of Female empowerment in everything from success to sexuality. It asserts the importance of facing one’s fears and signifies the completion of a goal. It also advocates bravery and integrity over physical strength.
Upright: Bravery, Feminine power, Feminine sexuality
In many ways, the Strength Card is very similar to, and a natural conclusion to the Chariot Card just before it. If the Chariot concerns striving for a goal, then Strength is the realisation of said goal. The restless energy and militant training of the Chariot here comes to a head with a trail of some finality.
No matter how gruelling, no matter what it cost, no matter how long it took, it will now be finished and left in the past. At best the struggle has prized a magnificent trophy. At worst, the path to moving past a traumatic struggle can now begin. Hopefully a moment of peaceful reflection, and quiet celebration can now be had.
This card is also a symbol of female empowerment, here depicting a woman battling a lion. This imagery is particularly powerful in that it subverts expectations of the classical herculean imagery of a rugged masculine figure. The Strength card, therefore, offers up an alternate mythology and celebrates the feminine hero. The Strength card is not necessarily about being the strongest or most fearless but about being outmatched and trying anyway, in being afraid and working past the fear. The Strength card is an acknowledgement that bravery is grounded in mortality. If a herculean demi-god overpowers a lion it is gratuitous, even vain, but for a regular person to even approach a lion takes great bravery.
It is also important to note that the card has strong links to sexuality, and is even renamed the “Lust” card in Alister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck. The word lust probably carries worse connotations than its meaning in this context however. Once again viewed through the feminine lens, lust could perhaps be more accurately redefined as a healthy expression of sexual desire, drive and the pursuit of pleasure. The Strength card, therefore, could be understood as an acknowledgement and celebration of female sexuality as more than an organ with no other purpose than reproduction. “Lust” might be a slightly outdated or negative descriptor, but it’s not entirely wrong, and it is a powerful emotion which repression or denial will not help in the long run.
Reversed: Subservient femininity, Cowardice, abuse of power, fear
In the most simplistic sense, if strength is understood as a virtue then the opposite is a failing in character. Specifically, of course, the opposite of strength is weakness. This can be examined further however, if the type of strength represented in the card is bravery then this card is surely the symbol of cowardice.
The opposite to imagery of female empowerment and the feminine hero become somewhat discomforting in reverse. In a simple reading, this card alludes to feminine subservience, timidity or fear. Instead of achieving set goals, the woman reversed is becoming overwhelmed or even crushed by the challenges she faces.
This may allude to a person that is too trusting in risky scenarios, too eager not to disappoint, too timid to not go along with situations in which they feel uncomfortable. If it has not already become apparent, this card is often applicable to the slightly nastier side of sex, and warns of the dangers of not expressing one’s boundaries and being taken advantage of by a more dominant other. These kinds of situations can lead to a lot of confusion and shame, and though normally held onto as personal guilt, are very common and are valid to admit to and work past.
This connotation can, however, become unnervingly dark if one dissects the reversed imagery of a woman holding the power over the subservient, wild beast. The beast then becomes physically dominant over a woman who has no control over the situation. Perhaps this particular reading should be left at that but implications are understandably unpleasant.
In another reading, if the upright figure is understood as an underdog archetype, then the reversed could be understood as a bully. This reversed figure could be interpreted as someone who is in fact very physically strong, much stronger in fact than the upright version, but is deficient in moral strength. To this figure physical strength becomes a tool to overpower and humiliate those physically weaker than them for no other reason than that they are able to. If the upright is a David figure, the opposite is Goliath.
12 Hanged Man
The Hanged Man symbolises perspective and intellect. It is about allowing yourself to pause and reflect on previous decisions and experiences to allow yourself to grow and mature materially and spiritually. This card recommends the consideration of events past, present, and future. At the halfway point of the Major Arcana, it also connotes an inherent change from the challenges previously faced to those that will follow.
Upright: New perspective, Reflection, Suspension, Paradox
The Hanged Man is a card of paradox. What initially appears as a simple image of punishment and martyrdom, in fact, belies a deeper spiritual depiction of enlightenment through self-sacrifice. This card can be enigmatic and unsettling in its contradictions. If his stance – strung up by the foot on a wooden beam, or tree – signifies punishment, why is The Hanged Man’s face so serene? Why are his arms folded behind his back, seemingly unconcerned for his fate? What is the significance of the man’s free leg, bent at the knee behind the other?
What is interesting to consider regarding The Hanged Man card is not simply the card itself, but its place in the deck. Its position within the Major Arcana can reveal answers to some of the card’s ambiguities. The card will always come sequentially before Death, card XIII, and coupled together these two cards mark a significant change in the Fool’s journey. What causes this change depends on the deck the querent may be using. Traditionally, The Hanged Man is preceded by Strength, a card of assurance, completion of goals, success, and fearlessness. With this in mind, the position of The Hanged Man may then become one of suspense, a caution against becoming lost or feeling trapped by a period of inaction following the achievement of an important goal or the overcoming of a difficult obstacle. Instead of feeling helpless, the querent is encouraged to pause and quietly reflect on future actions.
The Hanged Man is not in a position of punishment, but self-sacrifice. He is suspending himself between life and death in order to achieve understanding and wisdom, shown by the serene facial expression and closed eyes, allowing for contemplation of the self as the outside world is shut out. This can further be seen by the imagery of Martyrdom that surrounds him, an evocation of the cross or sometimes the presence of a halo signifying saintly enlightenment through sacrifice. The Hanged Man’s arms are placed behind his back to show an acceptance and unconcern for his predicament, a lack of struggle, and by having one foot untethered and free and one rooted to the branch of a tree, he is finally able to find balance between his material, physical self and his spiritual self.
In the upright position, The Hanged Man is drawn to remind us that the best course of action is not necessarily the easiest or most obvious. Instead, the querent is encouraged to surrender control and pause for contemplation before acting.
Perhaps it is useful to consider Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the archetypal Hanged Man, a man who is suspended, impotent and lost. He can fully see all the cogs in motion, he knows everyone’s ulterior motives, he is equipped with every tool or weapon needed, and yet cannot make a choice.
This figure exists in a liminal state in a no man’s land between all emotion, a living ghost of sorts.
Reversed: Denial, Selfishness, Indecision.
Rather than reading this card as one of hopelessness and defeat, in the upright position, the querent should remember that it is important to use this time of suspension and pause in order for reflection and understanding. Only by doing this will the querent continue forward on their journey.
Once you have focussed your attention on something for so long, to finally get it, what comes afterwards?
The paradoxical nature of this card presents a test to the querent – namely, whether the querent is ready to look beyond their preconceived notions of life and spirituality in order to continue along the journey of the Major Arcana, to perceive truths that previously remained hidden. At this point, the querent must be ready to pause, to reflect upon what they have learnt on their journey so far.
After a period of contemplation with The Hanged Man, Death follows to allow you to let go of previous traumas and anxieties that may be holding you back. It is symbolic of purging, of rebirth, to completely severe the mistakes of the past to allow for significant and permanent change in the future. While this severance can be painful, it should also be viewed as a strengthening of character.
Upright: Transformation, Transition, Rebirth.
Ultimately, the Death card is one of endings, for better or worse a period or narrative in one’s life is coming to a close. There is also a promise of the new soon to follow, but which has not manifested itself or proven realisable yet.
Before going any further it may be worthwhile to confront the stigma around this most infamous of Tarot Cards. Just as common as people’s shock horror at pulling the Death card is the common rebuttal that it is really not a ‘bad thing’. Neither of these reactions is exactly warranted, the Death Card often does concern a negative or sad narrative turn in one’s life, but confronts it in an incredibly understanding and measured focus. It is not the ultimate threat of death and ruin, but also neither can the implications of Death be explained away or dodged out of fear of offending someone. Most often this is a bittersweet card, where endings and sorrows are tough but necessary and not without a point.
This could be understood in many ways, firstly it regards a kind of cocoon narrative, wherein a part of the self must die in order to transform (such as ‘killing’ the childish persona to become an adult). It could be in reference to other relationships in the querents life, such as a romantic partner leaving but there is a new romantic interest soon to come. It could refer to a segment or part of one’s life ending and a new one beginning, so consider leaving education to start working or similar leaps between stages.
Finally, Death does sometimes, sadly, actually mean death. This is something that needs to be accepted, not necessarily meaning great tragedy but acknowledging the universal truth that those around us will sometimes pass, and this does not have to be met with fear but celebration.
Reversed: Stagnation, Reluctance, Inner Turmoil, Indecision.
The reversed reading could firstly be understood as too much of a good thing, something that does not end when it should and as such, sours (and in doing so sours its legacy in the process). Consider a good King who lives so long as to become a paranoid tyrant. It could be as simple as to suggest that too much revelry will or has lead to great sickness. However, this is can imply a lack of closure.
If Death is taken literally then the reversed card suggests the prolonging of a life, though not necessarily satisfactorily or at the least artificially.
There is also a suggestion of a kind of grief that cannot be moved past and has become stagnant. Whereas in the upright with Death, metaphorical or otherwise, also comes moving past this death with a rebirth or new start on the horizon, the reversed interpretation is that something has ended but the new is not being allowed to begin. It alludes to a person stuck in a limbo, having suffered great loss and yet unable to move on.
Temperance, in line with its namesake the cardinal Virtue, is a symbol of meassuredness, moderation and Mercy. In contrast to the Justice card, Temperance is concerned with not what is fair, but what is right, and the unfailing advocate of staying the executioner’s sword in favour of forgiveness. The card is also historically linked to Alchemy and the process of mixing elements together to create new elements.
Upright: Moderation, Restraint, Mercy, Alchemy
Firstly, when discussing the Temperance card, one should acknowledge the importance of Temperance as a Cardinal Virtue, which can be summarized as a personal control over restraint and moderation. It is useful to pinpoint the importance of the four Cardinal Virtues in their own right as temperance is often viewed as one of the more incongruous, and even forgettable, of the Major Arcana in modern tarot which is largely unwarranted. The common use and prominence of temperance has largely fallen out of favour in modern society with the role of religion in the last century shifting out of the public knowledge. Though it is understandable, that the virtue of moderation is less striking than some of the other majors, particularly when placed between the pop-culture staple of the Death card and fire-and-brimstone iconography of the Devil card, Temperance is rich in meaning and historical significance.
Interestingly of the four Cardinal virtues, only three appear in most Tarot decks, Temperance, Courage (The Strength card), and Justice. The fourth virtue, Prudence, despite occasionally appearing in obscure and some much older decks, is largely left out, sometimes being referred to as a ‘lost major’. It is argued by some that Prudence was a kind of prototype and predecessor of the Hanged Man that was replaced somewhere in history.
Temperance carries a very similar message to the feminine alternate of the Justice Card, Mercy. It essentially symbolizes restraint in anger, retaliation, punishment. Temperance advocates non-violence, rational consideration of all factors, and a genuine belief in others ability to achieve redemption.
The virtue of Temperance is also attributed to sobriety and teetotalism and symbolizes the inner strength required to abstain. If these themes are relevant to a reading then it could either be taken as a celebration of ongoing sobriety or an indicator that perhaps it is time to consider sobriety and acknowledge that perhaps addiction in some form is emerging as a problem. This leads neatly into the next card in the deck, The Devil card which carries heavy themes of addiction.
Primarily Temperance is understood as a call for synergy. It is focused on bringing together binaries in the desire to create something new, an effective third. An example of this could be how the bringing together of two people in a romantic sense could result in the birth of a third, a child. It is also a symbol of achieving unity in opposites, such as successful relationships between wildly different people, unlikely pairings are sometimes the most fulfilling.
This is different to the Lovers card for example, where two halves make a whole, Temperance implies that two halves create something new and separate.
This card is heavily linked to alchemy, medicine and cookery. Temperance advocates creative energy and the importance of using what is at hand to physically make things, this theme is accentuated in Allister Crowley’s Thoth tarot, where it is renamed “Art”. These connotations are grounded in the nearly uniform imagery of the card in most decks of a feminine/androgynous person or angel, pouring a liquid from one receptacle into another. Therefore, Temperance evokes ideas of mixing together substances or ingredients and concocting something new.
Because of these qualities, Temperance can be linked to Hekate, Goddess of witchcraft, magic and, to a degree, the occult in general, a powerful and morally ambiguous deity.
Reversed: Decadence, division, Poison
When the temperance card is reversed, the core features or the virtue; moderation, restraint, control, become excess, decadence, lack of control.
Taking into account the status of Temperance as a cardinal virtue, the reverse becomes a symbol of cardinal sin. The connotations of Temperance reversed actually applies neatly to practically all of the seven deadly sins, most aptly greed and gluttony due to the obvious implications of the want of too much and hoarding as opposed to moderation. The other sins are similarly applicable, Wrath is surely the lack of control over anger, Lust the insatiable pursuit of the flesh, sloth an over-excess of rest, etc. etc. The seven sins are generally perfectly normal human behaviours made monstrous by a lack of moderation, and this sentiment is the basis of the reversed card. In summary, unchecked faults can have serious consequences.
If Temperance upright concerns cohesion and ideas of bringing things together, then in reverse this is a dividing presence, personified it is someone driving a wedge between harmony. Especially in situations where there is a general attitude of compromise and cooperation, this figure stubbornly refuses to concede and makes truce impossible usually at the cost of everyone else’s happiness.
Another reading is the exact opposite of the previous one, essentially being the idea that Temperance reversed utilizes the metaphor of trying to mix together two ingredients that cannot be combined. This card urges the acceptance of the fact that certain people will never agree to a truce.
In parallel to the ideas of mixing together ingredients to make something better, the reversed card can reference the mixing of substances to make something worse, Poisons instead of cures. One severe example of the reversed card would be the negative image of Macbeths three witches enacting black magic through alchemy,
In a more grounded reading, this could be interpreted as some form of moonshiner type figure, instead of producing medicine, it could be that more harmful drugs are being created. Maybe this figure could be a dishonest peddler of false medicines, taking advantage of people’s sickness and hope for financial profit, such as the stereotypical snake-oil salesman. It could simply imply a lack of nourishment as a reverse of Temperance as a skilled cook.
The Devil card represents the seduction and entrapment of carnal pleasures and living to excess. It concerns itself with addiction, temptation, lust and power – and the strangely alluring dangers of following any of these materialistic pursuits to excess.
Upright: Sexuality, Obsession, Restriction, Fear.
The Devil is a card of material and physical desires, most often when used in excess or an otherwise negative context. These vices are often the focus of addiction or temptation. It also confronts feelings of entrapment, though not really in a physical sense, as in not literally behind bars but still one who feels no way out.
If read as a person, the Devil is either a seductress or a corrupting figure. It warns the querent to reconsider who is in charge and to what end.
As an object, item or ‘thing’ this most likely refers to some manner of drug or other such physical addiction.
In a metaphorical sense the Devil becomes more complex, regarding corrupting ideas and ideologies that one may be swayed towards.
There is also a sense of recklessness, of saying yes to anything and everything and holding nothing back. There is certainly a romantic side to this, in being wild and free but it also comes with the risk of not knowing or being unable to stop.
It is worth probing the imagery of the two figures in this peril together. It appears to be some manner of dark mirroring of the Lovers card. It suggests not only a kind of carnal sexual connection between the two but also a comradery in sharing an addiction. It suggests firstly that whatever the addiction referenced is, it has become intertwined within a relationship that further complicates hopes for recovery. It may be that the abandonment of said vice may come with the abandonment of a loved one. There is also the likelihood that one of these lovers has dragged the other down with them to share in their vices.
Reversed: Freedom from Bondage, Overcoming Addictions, Release, Restoring Balance and Control.
The Devil reversed could be understood as a brush or near-miss with temptation. This may concern reformed addicts, in whatever form, being faced with their past addiction once again. In the positive outcome here, the former addict confronts and rejects the thing that had previously kept a hold over them. In the negative scenario, the addict is lured back into addiction. Either way, the situation presents a touch and go personal dilemma.
When reversed, the Devil carries connotations of prudishness, wherein a fear of taking risks blocks all opportunity. This could also be a fear of commitment, especially in relationships.
It could, on the other hand, be read as a card of reckless abandon. Detailing a willful, knowing, and autonomous descent into self-destructive behaviours.
The Tower signifies an earth-shattering event. It predicts utter desolation or otherwise irrevocable change. However, it must be acknowledged that hardship is inevitable and no one passes through life unscathed. A smooth sea never made a skilful sailor, and this will be the roughest sea yet.
Upright card: Destruction, Chaos, Purification, Ruin
The Tower can inspire a lot of fear at first glance. It is the harbinger of cataclysmic change and warns us that states of stability are impermanent.
The Tower card often depicts the Tower of Babel, and subsequently concerns similar themes of pride and arrogance before a great fall. Consider the story of the Tower of Babel and how sudden change decimates a community, how harmony and certainty can turn suddenly to madness and confusion. Similarly, tangible reliable things, stone and mortar, turn to ruin and dust. The parable ends with a scattering of people who are left lost and homeless. This suggests then an end to the camaraderie and in a larger sense the end of an era, a period of good times has or will come to an abrupt end.
If one follows the Fool’s journey through the arcana then the Tower is a direct sequel to the Devil. It is suggested then that what follows addiction, vice and lust will be great disaster and loss.
Consider also the importance of illumination in the imagery of lightning. The lightning is in itself inherently the catalyst of the Towers destruction, but also in its light, it shows how the structure assumed to be stable was in fact not built to last.
If something is to be learned here, it is that when attempting to rebuild, it is paramount that foundations are built on honesty and good intentions.
Reversed card: Averting or Delaying Disaster, Fallout, Rebuilding
The reversed Tower could indicate that a disaster has somehow been delayed, but not necessarily dealt with in a permanent or healthy sense. This could be a huge revelation that almost came out, for some reason did not, and is now lying dormant just under the surface.
While at first, it may seem fortunate that a crisis has been averted the reality may lead to drawing out the problem. The secret is not out, but this does not mean it is forgotten, and could lead to a period of anxiety and paranoia about when, if and how it will eventually come out.
Alternatively, it could refer to an open secret, something that would be assumed to be crucially damning but is actually well known and simply ignored for some manner of convenience or a greater good.
The Star is the beginning of the healing process. The rekindling of hope, and the second chance. To those that had nearly lost hope, the Star appears as inspiration and guide.
Upright card: Newfound Hope, Guidance, Revelation, Healing.
It is perhaps important that the Star comes at a point in the Fool’s journey across the major arcana, after which all seems lost. The narrative has taken a downward spiral with the temptations and vices of the Devil followed by the desolation of the Tower, and yet the Star appears, offering a promise to rise. The Star does not mean that things will instantly or magically get better, but it does confirm that something better is possible and worth fighting for. In this sense, it is about aspirations and looking forward. It suggests it is better to move towards a better future rather than constantly looking back, and subsequently defining one’s self through their past.
There is also heavy connotations of healing both mentally and physically. This could refer to traumas being worked through. Consider the metaphors of light and dark within Tarot, specifically ideas of illumination and finding one’s way in the darkness, such as in the Hermit for example. This also aligns with the symbolism of the north star as an end to being lost and as a route to get back home.
Working concurrently with connotations of healing, the Star is a card of great creative energy. It suggests turning pain and trauma into art, building something positive from negative experiences and finding beauty in the process of healing.
Reversed card: Disorientation, Trauma, Disillusionment
Since the upright Star is about looking forward and healing, in reversed it suggests that there is something that cannot be moved past. It is possibly some physical/psychological trauma that is festering instead of getting better. If the Star suggests cutting harmful ties to the past and looking forward, then in reverse it suggests someone who defines themself by trauma. This person hangs onto the traumatic events of their past as the crux of their personality, essentially becoming a person stuck in time. This again plays into the imagery of illumination, wherein the bright star that leads the way has been snuffed out, or never existed in the first place, leaving a figure lost in the dark.
Carrying this further the meaning could be understood as a metaphor of blindness, about being so self-consumed with despair that one cannot see what is right in front of them, though it is often a way out or a helping hand. This continues with ideas of self-deprecation and depression, it is someone who refuses to look for a way out of their current situation because they see it as hopeless, so there is no need to attempt.
The Moon concerns the affairs of the imagination and the power of the mind to see past the material world. Most often read negatively, this denotes a loss of grip on reality, hallucinations, fear and paranoia. However, taken positively, this card suggests creativity, passionate love and dreams.
Upright card: Imagination, Insanity, Fear, Dreams, Tragedy
The overarching themes of the Moon are imagination and dreams. Both of these concern ideas of selfhood and the world we inhabit that are separated from physical means of perception. How do we build upon the physical facts of the world around us, and how can we distort them? The mind has the power to change real things through the lenses we perceive them through, at least to ourselves. What we believe and what we know about people, places, actions, memories etc., all of this is filtered through imaginative distortion and dreams that reproduce them. People become more beautiful, buildings become homes, actions less random, and memories can change entirely. Imaginative power is real and not to be underestimated.
The Moon also asks the querent to consider their relationship with the night, specifically how they sleep. Due to this personal focus, the meaning of the Moon can vary massively, such as if the querent has trouble sleeping then the meaning will largely be routed in this, if they have been having vivid dreams then it will regard these, and so on.
Running on from the theme of sleep, it may signify that the reading as a whole may take the form of a dream interpretation or otherwise hint towards the significance of specific dreams experienced by the querent.
There is undeniably a darkness to this card which largely regards a disconnect with reality. It warns of losing one’s grip on what is real and sinking into delusion, hallucination and insanity. While drawing this card does not mean a straight-up descent into madness it asserts an imperative to keep rooted and not lose touch with loved ones and pay close attention to their concerns.
There are also some connotations of a wild and sweeping romance, perhaps tinged with an aspect of melodrama, consider Wuthering Heights as an example.
Reversed card: Nightmares, Insomnia, Psychological deterioration, Invasive or unpleasant thoughts and fantasies
The Moon reversed is generally a bad omen. It advises an immediate revaluation of one’s mental health. Consider the themes of imagination and dreams at their most insidious and harmful. Imagination instead of creative force becomes a corrosive one, encroaching on and eventually replacing reality.
Reversing the focus on sleep and the night generally conjures negative aspects and images. Through this lens sleep becomes sleeplessness. Dreams naturally become nightmares. Moonlight is lost to full blackness.
There is an overall picture of melancholy, not insomuch as a resigned sadness but a restless, sleepless, overbearing melancholy. So heavy that it may seem impossible to consider reasonably or focus on anything else.
Perhaps the most positive card in the deck, The Sun foretells unchecked joy and success in all forms. This suggests a lasting period of peace and happiness, where without threat one can bask in sunlight, setting down all cares. The Sun is the master of its own destiny, confident in its abilities and a champion of moral rightness.
Upright card: Happiness, Light, Art, Comedy, Victory
The Sun foretells that the future is bright and warm rays of sunlight will wash over life.
This is also a card focused on youth and a celebration of childlike qualities. Following this, the sun is linked to play and imagination in the context of how children play but also with links to theatre and entertainment. Some early tarot decks, including the Tarot De Marseille, are believed to depict two players or actors on stage mid-performance, a tradition continued in the artwork here.
The Sun is the figurehead of comic drama, silliness, mischief, confusion, love, adventure, marriage, and happy endings. The appearance of a happy ending is perhaps what is most important here, as the Sun assures us after some of the rockier cards of the Major Arcana faced on the Fool’s journey (Death, The Devil, The Tower, The Moon), that the clouds now part, the sun shines, and suddenly it becomes apparent that everything is going to be alright.
The Sun advises and promises good humour and revelries in the near future. Set down cares and rejoice.
Reversed card: Sorrow, Lack of Clarity, Discontent, Failure.
When tackling the Sun reversed, first of all, one must consider the obvious. The opposite of the Sun’s themes of success, happiness, resolution become exactly their natural reversals. Success becomes failure, happiness becomes sorrow, and resolution becomes things left unresolved. Instead of a happy ending, there are feelings of bitterness and discontent. This card asserts that things are not fair, that things did not end the way they should have or deserved to. These feelings are warranted but this is little consolation. This is a card about trying hard and failing anyway, about doing everything right and still not being able to make things work, about giving a lot of one’s self away and getting little in return.
In relation to the ideas of drama, and the role of comedy, it would make sense that the reversed alternate is tragedy, but that is not quite right. Firstly, the Moon is already a signifier of tragic drama and a natural opposite to the Sun, and secondly, tragedy is a kind of parallel to comedy, not an opposite. A more useful metaphor is to consider the Sun reversed as a tragicomedy. What seemed to be leading to a happy ending somehow ends in tragedy. A joke is built up but never pays off. A simple mistake ruins a chance at happiness. It is not a tragic hero that this card concerns, but a clown turned tragic.
Before coming to the end of the Fool’s Journey through the majors, his deeds must be weighed. It is a time to ask answer any questions raised along the way. The card calls for honesty and sincerity, in the face of fair judgement. It connotes a final chance to admit guilt and repent, in the hopes of forgiveness.
Upright card: Resurrection, Redemption, Self-evaluation.
The Judgement card deals with ideas of return in many senses. In terms of the Fool’s journey this signifies the Fools return home, which could be understood as a past home revisited, or as the creation of a new home.
The card is a reference to the biblical last judgement or judgement day. Here the artwork depicts, in some variable form, corpses arising from crypts/graves awoken by the angels sounding trumpets (known as the Crack of Doom) to announce the end of days.
Naturally, this all reads slightly too grandiose and terrifying so this card usually needs a little breaking down.
Essentially the meaning of this card is centred in being held to account for one’s actions, often, but by no means always, actions now long in the past. It concerns themes of facing one’s past and roots, and confronting where you come from.
Judgement could be interpreted as a narrative of reassimilation once coming home, after the adventures of the Fools journey, the final test is mundanity, peace and how one eases back into this life.
There are also themes of letting go present, of either setting down one’s cares or being released from service. Either way there is a sense of responsibility being lifted.
Reversed card: Evasiveness, Burden, Self-doubt
In reverse, Judgement could refer to the resurgence of something negative. This could be understood as a counterproductive step in the wrong direction. Consider this as someone or something returning for the worse. It could even be that something positive from the past has now returned and complicated a happy present. Perhaps a past lover is now endangering a happy relationship or an old friend has re-entered one’s life but as an adversary.
On a similar vein of life, it could be read that Judgement reversed suggests a descent back into one’s ‘old’ life or habits for the worse, or simply allude to regressive behaviour.
If Judgement concerns being held to account for actions committed in the past, then reversing this could suggest that an action made in the present will carry a lot of weight at some point in the future, even if it seems of little importance now.
The World is simultaneously the end of the journey and the herald of a new beginning. A chapter of life is coming to a close in a natural and fulfilling way. Whatever is lost or left behind, though indisputably final, will offer great closure. If The Fool departs in search of knowledge; The World returns to bestow knowledge.
Upright card: Balance, Wholeness, Satisfactory/Happy Endings, Fresh Starts
There is a serene sense of completion and success in this card as a chapter comes to a natural and satisfactory end. This clean ending also allows for new ventures to blossom in their own right and with full attention.
The World is the happy ending of the deck and signifies that now that one story is over, it is time for another to begin. It tells that everything has come together. The card depicts the culmination of four figures representing the four elements and the woman at the centre represents the supposed fifth element or aether.
Consider these figures as a cast of characters, now all here together at the end of the story. There is a tinge of sadness in this happy ending. Though it may not be considered presently, it is also possibly the last time that all these characters shall share a stage, for their adventure, now concluded, has allowed them to return to separate lives. Relationships interwoven and now cemented at their peak, begin to unweave again. Such is the way of things.
The World is also associated with dispelling murk and ambiguity, denoting the revelation of truth, specifically in reference to secret desires and motives.
Reversed card: Refusal to let go, Fragmentation, Inability to start over, Unsatisfactory/Sad endings
The World reversed signifies some manner of fracture or problem within the cycle of endings and beginnings. The first and most simple way to read this is that an ending has been in some way unsatisfactory or without closure. Something that should or could have come to a natural end has for some reason not and is now being drawn out. It also suggests a narrative blurring of segments in a person’s life, where it is not so clear cut where one-part ends and another begins. Instead, different narratives begin to overlap and seep into each other. For example, with relationships instead of the healthy standard of one relationship being fully ended before the next starts, the reversed World implies that the previous is left unresolved and may hang over to interfere with the new.
Alternatively, it could be read as new pathways being unclear after the current path is completed. While the World promises that with each ending comes a new beginning, the reversed version poses the question of what if it doesn’t? What does a person have left when they have achieved their goal and now finds themselves suddenly without purpose? Without a new direction, this prospect may be frustrating and leave one at a loss. The most common solution is that new paths are presenting themselves and yet the querent deems them as unimportant in comparison to their latest journey, and therefore this card may implore groundedness and a shift of perspective.
1 Ace of Wands:
This card is often linked to fresh drive in the face of a new conquest. Something new is being tackled and done so with the utmost vigour. There are also recurrent views that this card is a symbol of male libido and sexuality, most probably because of its obvious phallic imagery.
Upright: Vitality, New Opportunities, Male sexuality
Reversed: Procrastination, Lethargy, Impotence
2 Two of Wands
A figure akin to a tactician, the Two of Wands is concerned with always being several steps ahead of their opponent. They can look at a chessboard and calculate where every piece will fall. Though patient and intelligent, this is not a particularly emotional or sensitive person, who can often be criticized by those around them as cold.
Upright: Planning, Strategy, Prudence
Reversed: Indecision, Unreliability, Spontaneity
3 Three of Wands
This card has a grounded focus on looking towards the future. The figure is looking out into an ocean of possibilities, entertaining the possibility of getting on a ship and going on a voyage. This is a symbol of positive change and making active choices to chase a better life. This choice is also a great risk, but ultimately a rejection of mundanity.
Upright: Travel, Adventure, Looking Forward
Reversed: Setbacks, Toil, Stunted Progress, Mundanity
4 Four of Wands
This card, and often the depictions on the card, are associated with celebrations. More often than not it is taken to insinuate marriage but can be more generally applicable to traditions of carnival and feasts. Particularly in a historical context, these traditions involve elements of subverting social order, where (for a set period) peasants unseat nobles. In some cases, this went as far as anointing a ‘Lord of Misrule’ or ‘Master of Revelries’ to preside over the festival as a Bacchanal figure. As a person, this card could embody this figure.
Upright: Marriage, Revelry, Carnival, Subversion
Reversed: Disappointing celebration, A funeral, Rebellion
5 Five of Wands
This card is associated with conflict and often carries imagery of physical dispute. However, this conflict is generally frivolous in nature. It is by no means depicting scenes of war or serious violence, but youthful competitive scuffles.
Upright: Strife, quarrel, Physical Aggression
Reversed: Agreement, Reason, truce
6 Six of Wands
This card is linked to basking in one’s own success. Specifically, a celebration or event in acknowledgement of one’s accomplishments. For example, some manner of graduation or coming of age ceremony. There is a slight chance this could exceed into the grounds of indulgence or arrogance, but the card is mostly positive.
Upright: Rising Status, Praise, Popularity
Reversed: Disgrace, Notoriety, Shame
7 Seven of Wands
We take the Seven of Wands to mean that, though you are enduring a somewhat tumultuous period, you are handling it in the best manner possible. There will always be hard times, but if you do not let yourself be overcome, and keep rising to the challenges, hard times will pass. This card is symbolic of strength of character in the face of adversary.
Upright: Defence, Hardiness, Perseverance
Reversed: Defeatism, Being Outmatched, Overwhelmed or Outnumbered.
8 Eight of wands
The Eight of Wands can be understood as an allegory for snowballing progress. Though the message is essentially positive, the reality can be intimidating and overwhelming. With higher achievement comes higher pressure, rising status demands rising levels of responsibility. It advises caution that spiralling success does not spiral out of control.
Upright: Change of Pace, Runaway Success, Movement
Reversed: Lost Momentum, Crashing Breakdown, Patience
9 Nine of Wands
The Nine of Wands is a card that teaches the importance of learning one’s limits. In a way it is a card of defeat, but to be taken in a positive sense. To lose is to learn and to be humbled. Without making mistakes we would never know our boundaries or how hard to push them. Failure can leave us humiliated and sometimes wounded, but these aspects are not only humanizing, but essential life experiences.
Upright: Knowledge in Failure, Humility, Experience
Reversed: Bitterness, Stubbornness, Inability to accept defeat
10 Ten of Wands
This card is often interpreted as a person who is overcompensating for others around them who are not pulling their weight. Though selflessness is an admirable quality, it is insinuated here that it is either not necessary or not being appreciated. It can be a hard truth to admit, but sometimes the people who you would do anything for don’t deserve you.
Upright: Burden, Stress, Selflessness
Reversed: Laziness, Manipulation, Taking Advantage
11 Page of Wands
The Page of Wands often refers to receiving some positive information or message. Often this message will take shape in a physical form, as in it is likely to be an actual letter or note. Alternate readings interpret this card as a symbol of male youth.
Upright: Communication, Written Word, Good News, Youth
Reversed: Bad news, Undelivered or mislaid messages, Stunted Development
12 Knight of wands
The Knight of Wands is often understood as someone leaving someone else’s life quite suddenly. This movement is generally not something that can be adjusted to but something that will bring a relationship to a permanent or at the very least semi-permanent end. For example, it is not someone moving to another town or city, but to the other side of the world with no intention of coming back. The loss of a relationship is not the cause of the move, but a consequence of it. Whether you are leaving someone behind, or someone is leaving you, the relationship is an unfortunate casualty, but acceptance is the only realistic action.
Upright: Emigration, Parting, Physical Distance
Reversed: Agoraphobia, Staying, Choosing a Person Over an Opportunity
13 Queen of wands
The Queen of Wands embodies one of the deck’s more modern female mentor figures. Unlike the religious stereotypes of gentle, nurturing mothers and pure passive, virgins, the Queen of Wands embodies confidence, power, enterprise, passion, sexuality and authority. This figure possibly already exists in your life or is soon to appear, and should help to dispel any sexist myths among other sage advice.
Upright: Feminine Role Model, Humour, Extroversion, Luck
Reversed: Lack of Confidence, Unsavoury Mentorship, Bad Luck
14 King of wands
The King of Wands is seen as a bold leader, who is warm, charming and well-liked. He is a champion of truth and symbol of incorruptibility. Unquestionable righteousness can sometimes waver into the realm of a tedious self-righteousness, however, generally, his heart is in the right place. This figure is also a skilled orator who has the power to inspire those around him.
Upright: Decisiveness, Honesty, Charisma
Reversed: Doubt, Deceit, Social Awkwardness
1 Ace of Cups
This is a card of contentment and inner peace, and alludes to one who seeks out and is able to find happiness in all things and every corner of existence. In one reading, the Ace of Cups relates to the sensory realm, what can be touched, smelled, seen, heard, and tasted in this world. This could be understood as a focus on beauty, art, food, music, physical intimacy. It advocates appreciating the world, in Hemmingway’s phrasing, ‘a Moveable Feast’.
Upright: Enthusiasm, Joy, Optimism, Sensory experience
Reversed: Cynicism, Insatiability, Carnal/Base Greed
2 Two of Cups
In many ways a suggestion of the Lovers Card within the Minor Arcana. The Two of Cups cover similar ideas of romance and union but without some of the more serious implications of marriage or any other big decisions. If anything, this card suggests a more passionate, volatile love affair than the Lovers, just a more fleeting one. There is also a slight warning of an overly exclusive pairing, of being so embroiled in a relationship that everyone else is pushed away.
Upright: Romantic Love, Sexual Attraction, Exclusivity
Reversed: Lost Spark, Romantic Dissatisfaction, Prioritization of the Self
3 Three of Cups
The imagery paired to this card often depicts or is evocative of the Three Graces, or Charities, of classical myth. The Graces were said to be Minor Goddesses “created to fill the world with pleasant moments and goodwill”. The Three of Cups is subsequently linked to their respected and shared values. The Graces are linked to three different virtues, Aglaea Goddess of Splendour, Euphrosyne Goddess of Merriness, and Thalia Goddess of the Festival. When reading this card, one should consider not only the associations of the Graces, but their bond with each other.
This card concerns a sphere of female joy, revelry, and relationships, away from the judgement laws or interruption of any patriarchal structure or male gaze.
Upright: Revelry, Splendour, Merriness, Festival, Female Friendship and Empowerment
Reversed: Toxic Festivity, Indulgence, Isolation
4 Four of Cups
The Four of Cups is a card indicating dangerous listlessness. No matter what is offered it is never enough and never satisfactory. This card is a relatively apt summary of depression, in that in concerns not necessarily an excess negative emotion, but the perceived absence of emotion. In a nightmare opposite of the ace of cups, all senses are rendered useless, the figure sees as if through a murk, all food tastes like ash, every smell has become rancid, all music becomes shapeless noise, human touch becomes corpselike. This loss of grip with the sensory tangible world can be met with apathy or violence wherein one shrinks back from the world they see as meaningless or takes advantage of apparent freedom where they believe nothing to matter.
Upright: Discontent, Depression, Apathy, Disillusionment, Insatiability
Reversed: Rehabilitation, Recovery, Psychological Return, Nourishment
5 Five of Cups
The Five of Cups implores the querent to refocus their attention not on what has been lost, but what still remains. It denotes some manner of consuming loss that is distracting or stealing the light from more important commitments. The most recognizable example is being so affected by grief after losing a loved one, that a person forgets their responsibilities to other loved ones. It could also be understood as great shame prohibiting further progress when someone is unable to bounce back from a mistake.
Upright: Consuming Loss, Misplaced Responsibility, Regret, Shame.
Reversed: Newfound hope, Second Chance, Adjustment
6 Six of Cups
The Six of Cups is associated with nostalgic regard for one’s own past. Although it also warns of an unrealistic belief in ‘better times’, bolstered by exaggerated or ‘rose-tinted’ memories. There are also connotations of unconditional, uncomplicated, childlike love, which though realistically seems unattainable or naïve, is nonetheless a good sign applicable to romantic readings.
This card can also herald the return of someone from your past, who you had thought wholly lost. For better or worse, it could be an old friend, estranged family member, or ex-lover. This reappearance of a character in your life will often carry with it an opportunity for an apology or a choice for forgiveness and a second chance, or the choice of rebuttal and grudge (both are completely valid).
Upright: Nostalgia, Memory, Childhood, Innocent Love,
Reversed: Disconnect with the Past, Dementia, Reopened Wounds, Old Enemies
7 Seven of Cups
This card, referred to by Arthur E. Waite as “Strange Chalices of Vision”, often depicts a shadowy figure contemplating seven cups filled with metaphors for different futures. There is some debate whether this card is an allegory for boundless choice and opportunity, or a warning about lofty, unrealistic goals and the indulgence of playing out fantasy narratives.
The first reading essentially mimics the sentiment that the world is your oyster, wherein whatever can be imagined can be achieved, but a person must actively choose one goal, likely at the sacrifice of others.
The second reading deducts that the multiple paths the querent sees as options are self-indulgent and arrogant. Not only does the figure see themselves as the rightful inheritor of infinite spoils, but they waste their lives running out these scenarios where they are piled with treasures, instead of doing anything to get any closer to achieving these goals. When the figure is forced to return to reality and acknowledge that these dreams will never be realized, it will be bitter to swallow.
Upright: Choice, Sacrifice, Indulgent Fantasies, Disconnect from Reality
Reversed: Loss of Imagination, Running Out of Options, Clarity, Pragmatism, Sobering Up
8 Eight of Cups
This Card is often interpreted as a figure who after investing in something or someone for a long time, has finally accepted it is time to quit trying and move on. The connotations are not as negative as they may first appear, and it is important to learn to let go. Not everything can be fixed, and throwing more energy, money, or time into fixing something unfixable can be heart-breaking. There is no shame in cutting your losses and going out in search of something new.
Upright: Abandonment, Cutting Losses, Starting Anew
Reversed: Return, Compromise, Second Chances
9 Nine of Cups
The Nine of Cups signifies victory with a slight tinge of smugness, and celebration slightly tainted by gloating. It echoes similar ideas of sensory pleasure found in the ace of cups, though with slightly less purity. It predicts a revelry tinted with a sinister aura.
This card predicts a singular success and the promise of celebration after but warns the querent to stay grounded, reminding them that haughtiness is an ugly quality, and being a sore winner is just as bad, if not worse, than being a sore loser. Consider this an exclusive gathering of aristocratic young men, toasting to their own brilliance, (in this artwork, amidst the presence of a pig’s head).
Upright: Victory, Gloating, Arrogance
Reversed: Humbleness, modesty, Humility, Sportsmanship
10 Ten of Cups
The Ten of Cups is one of the most positive cards in the deck. It promises lasting true happiness. It suggests contentment within family, marital, and general home life. It alludes to an Arcadian setting, and the joys of rustic life. This image of the perfect idyll can be taken literally, and suggest an actual beautiful place or retreat that has been or will be encountered.
It can also be understood as an idea or concept, not everyone can live a simple rustic life among nature, but it suggests a tranquil home life nonetheless. Often this place is interpreted as the querents home, however to what end ideas of home are being conjured depends on other cards within the spread.
Upright: Familial harmony, Fulfilled Love, Pastoral Idyll, Home
Reversed: Familial Split, Raiding, Urban Dystopia
11 Page of Cups
The Page of Cups refers to a passionate and yet somewhat introverted young person. This figure is creative, curious and sincere but not the best at expressing this to others. If the querent sees themselves in this card it reassures that confidence will grow with every small step, but it will not happen without a conscious effort. If it becomes apparent that this person is someone else within the querent’s life it advises patience and support. In a more general sense, the card connotes spoken or written messages of love and is a very positive and exciting card to be dealt.
Upright: Poetry, Declarations of Love, Gentleness, Anxiety
Reversed: Secrets in a Relationship, Declarations of Heartbreak, Going Over Unfulfilled Declarations of Love
12 Knight of Cups
The Knight of Cups is a roving romantic, often a beautiful young person (by no means necessarily a man, despite the gender implications of ‘knight’). If the knights are taken as literal knights, then the Knight of Cups is more of a figure of pageantry, unlike the other knights who are militaristic and warlike. This knights armour and sword are ceremonial instead of being battle-ready.
This person is a talented musician, poet, or artist, and like the other knights embarks on quests, but of a much less violent or domineering nature. This knight is less conquistador and more missionary, with an ambition not to conquer peoples but to help and teach them.
However, sometimes there is a degree of superficiality to the talents of the Knight. There is a slight concern here that this figure is a dangerously charming or overly promiscuous person or seductress.
An alternate reading is a combination of the element association of water to cups and travel to knights, simply alluding to some manner of travel on, over, or through a body of water.
Upright: Pageantry, Beauty, Seduction, Journey Over Water
Reversed: Trickery, Concealment of True Self, Masquerade, Inability to Distinguish Truth and Lies
13 Queen of Cups
In a rare meta turn for tarot, this Queen is something a fortune teller herself. It could be imagined that in the cup she contemplates are tea leaves that she interprets meaning in. She is also a symbol of pure heart, a true believer and advocate of goodness. Though often depicted as beautiful, this is more a translation of her inner beauty, as the Queen of cups is ambivalent to physical attractiveness. Like the other Queens, the Queen of Cups is a maternal character, specifically, she is the vision of maternal advice and wisdom. The other Queens somewhat accentuate and reinforce the divisionary power relationship of mother and child, teacher and student. The Queen of Cups is unique in being a sort of maternal equal, where mutual respect allows for a healthier environment where the child can test their curiosity on a non-judgmental and open-minded mentor. This maternal figure also admits fallibility, offering advice from her own experiences and mistakes, fully rejecting an attitude of ‘follow the rules because I am in charge’.
Upright: Sage Advice, Maternal Respect, Inner Beauty, Good Will
Reversed: Disgrace, Female Perversion, Depravity OR Self Love, Overdue Prioritization of the Self, Personal Time
14 King of Cups
The gentlest of all the kings in tarot, the King of Cups is sensitive, emotionally mature and perceptive. While still undoubtedly a paternal authority figure, this king is the first to listen to his children and easiest to sway. Above all, he is a champion of compassion and forgiveness. This figure has very close relationships with all his family and believes that fatherhood is a lifetime commitment, not to be taken lightly. This person also struggles with the application of discipline and may have problems juggling respect for his children and the necessity of punishment.
He is also most likely of the kings to fill the role of an adoptive or surrogate father as he is less focused on strict importance of kin and blood ties.
In terms of fatherly duties this figure will emphasize the importance of artistic skill and appreciation over traditional physical masculine values of competitive sport or marketable labour. In a sense the King of Cups is the kind of father who has nurtured the traits of the Page and Knight of Cups. Essentially this person is the perfect tutor for creatives, and probably has a catalogue of experiences and contacts within artistic spheres.
On the downside this father figure is by far the most likely to spoil his children and be taken advantage of. Being so focused on being the ultimate provider, this king runs the risk of raising children that find themselves under-equipped or unenthusiastic when faced with independence. Though the King of Cups is extremely protective over his family, he himself is slightly less equipped to defend them than the King of Swords for example. Despite being more distant to his Children, if crossed, the King of Swords would go out for blood, the King of Cups doesn’t really have this option no matter how much he might want to.
Upright: Sensitive Leader, Patron of the Arts, Emotional rock
Reversed: Volatile Leader, Emotional Manipulation, Fatherly Indifference
1 Ace of Swords
The Ace of Swords is a symbol of clear sight, about being immune to deception. This Sword has the power to cleave through lies, confusion and ambiguity. It is the champion of truth and righteousness. It also suggests a firm groundedness in reality, which can sometimes verge on bluntness but is generally positive. As with all the aces it is ascribed to new beginnings, projects, and ventures, so coupled with its general meaning it can be read as a sign for realistic and well thought through plans.
Upright: Seeing Clearly, Realistic Plans, Inability to Fool
Reversed: To be Hoodwinked, Lofty Plans, Murk
2 Two of Swords
The Two of Swords is about sitting too long on a choice. This figure is trying to hold on to too much and must let go of something and settle on another or risk losing everything. It could signify being split between two conflicting sides, and despite being ambivalent to the conflict in of itself, being forced to choose one.
The Two of Swords can also be read as a nightmarish twin of the High Priestess.
Considering the repeated symbolism of a central woman sitting and the presence of the moon, as well as the cards being the respective twos of their suit, there is definitely grounds for this link. If the High Priestess is seen to be an omniscient figure, who knows and sees all, then the Two of Swords is a twisted opposite, she is blindfolded, seeing and knowing nothing. The Priestess is shown against a luxurious background indicating wealth and safety, pillars and tapestry, however, the Two of Swords is alone and presumably unsafe, a woman in the wilderness at night, alone and blind. Of course, the woman is armed, overly so in fact, and this is part of the problem as previously discussed, she cannot bear the weight of both swords at once, and though she may look intimidating she is weakening herself by the second.
It is also worthwhile considering the different moons, and the symbolism of the Moon in tarot as dreams, nightmares, imagination and psychosis. The Priestess has the moon tethered at her feet, she indulges in the realm of fantasy and madness, but ultimately, she is the master of her own dreams and has a grip on her own mind. Contrasting against this we have the Two of Swords, where the moon is untethered and compositionally dominant in the frame. This implies that the woman here is the whim of her own deteriorating mind and the hallucinatory nightmare realm that she can no longer differentiate from reality, she cannot detect the fantastical or surreal as she is blindfolded, unaware of the domineering power of the moon behind her.
Upright: Between two sides, Pressing Choice, Blindness, Madness, Nightmares, Danger
Reversed: Clear Sight, Playing sides against each other, Return from Limbo, Regained Consciousness
3 Three of Swords
The Three of Swords is the broken heart of the deck. It symbolises a painful romantic split and is more likely to refer to a messy sprawling break up than an amicable divorce. This card is not about falling out of love, but more accurately the paradoxical coexistence of intense love and intense hate for another within a person, and how these incompatible emotions tend to cleave a heart into pieces. This may refer to an inconceivable and unforgivable act committed by an irreplaceable loved one, things done or said that cannot be undone or unsaid. It is a translation of romantic stalemate when you cannot let go and cannot forgive, when you cannot stand to be around someone and yet cannot be without them, what then happens next? Often, it ends in a tumultuous train wreck of conflicting emotions, a series of vicious arguments and passionate reconciliations that can never last.
Upright: Heartbreak, Volatile dispute, Coexistence of Love and Hate
Reversed: Healing, Piecing together the Broken Heart, Love Rekindled, Something that must be said (an elephant in the room)
4 Four of Swords
After the Volatility and Excitement of the Three of Swords, now in the clear light of day the aftermath and fallout are considered in the Four of Swords. After the emotional spikes comes a period of emotional emptiness
The Four of Swords is sometimes read as a cloud of depression descending on a person, in that it is not an abundance of negative emotion, but an absence of emotion, feelings of apathy and nothingness. All of this is very reminiscent of the Four of Cups, in terms of emotional vacancy, however perhaps less of a long-term state of mind, and more a short-term reaction to a specific event.
This is a time to withdraw, contemplate, and reconsider recent events with a cool and clear head. It may be that after such a drawn-out break up where both parties ended up hating each other, now that they find themselves alone, they begin to miss the other again. No matter how venomously a relationship ends, it is nearly inevitable that good memories will begin to creep out of the woodwork when a partner is gone.
Upright: Solitude, Reflection, Regrets, Depression, Happy Memories Unfulfilled
Reversed: Inability to move on, discord between emotional separation and necessity of physical proximity,
5 Five of Swords
The Five of Swords is first and foremost a card of Betrayal. It tends to signify victory but victory deficient in grace, glory and mercy. This figure wins a battle by switching sides at the last moment, they gloat over defeating an army a tenth their size, refuse to honour surrender. This figure could be understood as a sore winner, a pirate and a reaver, infamous and without honour.
Upright: Betrayal, Infamy, Gloating, A Loathsome Arrogance
Reversed: Reconciliation, False Victory, Fleeting Glory
6 Six of Swords
The Six of Swords is about leaving something behind, often something toxic, and usually, this departure is overdue, nevertheless, it is still a difficult and painful decision. In many ways it is a ‘last straw’ card, where the options have run out and every attempt to fix something has been unsuccessful, it has now become apparent not everything can be fixed.
In relationships, this exit also has connotations of permanence and physical distance, whatever has been left behind, is most likely gone for good or at least long enough to change the dynamic forever. Though the split can often be the best course of action, it does not necessarily mean that it was a bad relationship or friendship, but that it has come to a premature end, and the only option moving forward is acceptance.
This is also a card of quiet heroism. An acknowledgement of more understated but nonetheless commendable heroic acts, such as removing a child from a dangerous environment, as often suggested in the artwork. This is not, as seen in the Strength card, a kind of mythical heroicness of taming wild lions, but nonetheless securing the safety of vulnerable people from the more everyday monsters of this world.
Upright: Painful Separation, Escape, Permanent Leaving, Lost Love, Understated Heroism
Reversed: Unsatisfactory Ending, Unpredicted Return, Near Escape, Bystander Effect
7 Seven of Swords
The Seven of Swords is sometimes renamed the Thief Card. Considering this, an interpretation is relatively straightforward. The Thief refers to dishonest or illegal acts, and charming yet roguish characters. There are also implications of infiltration, disguise and ulterior motives.
The Card is not wholly negative and may to refer to someone resorting to more underhanded methods after playing by the rules for long enough to know that the rules do not work in their favour and the odds are stacked against them. Often what is legal is not what is right, and what is law is not fair. Some readings take into account ideas of imposter syndrome, of feeling like you don’t deserve to be somewhere, or that you are in some way unworthy.
Upright: Thievery, disguise, stealth, Imposter Syndrome
Reversed: Unsuccessful Heist, Being Discovered or Outed, Planting or Secretly Leaving a Material Possession or Object Behind
8 Eight of Swords
The Eight of Swords is about having no easy options but still having to make a choice. Even if every path is less than ideal, refusing to move is not an option, and there is an admirable quality to moving through something despite how painful it may be.
This figure is sometimes referred to as the prisoner, and this can be taken literally and refer to some manner of actual imprisonment, or it can be taken in a more metaphorical sense, regarding feelings of being trapped or acts of entrapment. It could be read that the figure is only a prisoner of their own design, and though they cannot see it, the only thing holding them back is themselves.
Upright: Undesirable choices, Feeling Trapped, Blocking Self Interest, Arrest or Imprisonment
Reversed: Freezing Under Pressure, Choking, Shutting down
9 Nine of Swords
Quite Possibly the worst card in the whole deck, sometimes renamed the Nightmare. Unfortunately, a bad omen in any spread. The Nine of Swords is firstly an indicator of sleep in any negative context, from night terrors to sleep paralysis to insomnia. It is an unfortunate herald of sleepless nights regardless of context.
The Nine of Swords also carries heavy connotations of irrevocable loss, and overwhelming, crushing grief. Whatever has been lost can never be replaced, fixed, or made right again. This grief is claustrophobic, all-consuming and will feel endless. Some interpret this as the loss of a child or miscarriage, as derived from the Smith and Waite artwork and descriptions respectively.
Of course, it is important to state that no matter how terrible feelings of loss and grief may feel, every day passed will get a little easier, and eventually hope will wash in and the broken heart will begin to mend.
Upright: Nightmares, Sleep Paralysis, Insomnia, Overwhelming Loss, Inconsolable Grief, Miscarriage
Reversed: End of a Nightmare, End of Sorrow, Waking Up, Clarity, Moving On
10 Ten of Swords
The Ten of Swords refers to a premature or unsatisfactory ending. Something that has not been allowed to run its full course. As a person, this card is someone who has become weary of the tumultuous ups and downs experienced through the suit of swords and has now finally had enough and is putting a stop to it. This is the father who stops children mid-argument, nothing is really resolved, but in the immediate future, nothing gets any worse.
There are also, because of the often grizzly artwork of a corpse impaled with ten swords, bleak connotations of crushing defeat and at worst, a death. There are some interpretations that this is the other side of the coin to the Five of Swords, wherein we see the traitor, now we see the betrayed. Instead of the action, here we are forced to face the consequences.
Upright: Dissatisfying or Sudden Ending, Desolation, Betrayal
Reversed: False Ending, Unwanted Return, Unforgiven, Narrow Escape
11 Page of Swords
The Page of Swords represents a person who is able to wheedle information out of anyone without revealing anything about themselves. They are a master of secrets and whispers, seemingly all-knowing while remaining themselves wholly unknowable. This figure is often associated with spying and ulterior motives, likely appearing as a warning of a false friend. In terms of the Pages connotations of messages and news, the Page of Swords is an indicator of gossip, lies, and false news, and advises the careful consideration of the legitimacy of spoken and written word.
Upright: Spying, Manipulation, Gossip, Secrets
Reversed: Brutal honesty, Hard truths, Coming Clean
12 Knight of Swords
This card is a harbinger of substantial change, specifically a change that is taken to with great enthusiasm and positivity. However, there is a slight warning of over-eagerness, of rushing into something without preparing.
In many ways, the Knight of Swords is the archetypal hero, brave, capable and charming. This figure is also tinged with violent and hot-headed traits, and though they are greatly skilled, they are arrogantly self-aware and vain because of it. This person is also a masterful linguist and relishes in any opportunity to debate, argue and perform speeches.
Upright: Bravery, Over-Eagerness, Heroism, Violence
Reversed: Reconsideration of Path, Tentativeness, Cowardice
13 Queen of Swords
The Hollow Queen, a card of strange and unpredictable sadness. This figure is decked out with all the robes and jewels, presented with all the pageantry and yet possess no true power. The Queen of Swords gives off connotations of putting on a happy face; of repressed sorrow and the performance of gaiety. This may simply be a perceived impotency, similarly seen in the Seven of Swords with its connotations of imposter syndrome. It may be wholly self-criticism that has deemed this queen unworthy or unfit to rule.
As a mother, this card again suggests a sadness, and a degree of abandonment, not necessarily in a sinister sense but it evokes the widow who has lost a partner and now whose children have grown and left home. She finds herself, for the first time in years, suddenly and completely alone, and cannot help but contemplate what has become of so many selfless years. How does one confront the self after prioritising others for decades? What does one say? What do they do next?
As a female mentor, the Queen of Swords is someone who would never know that they are thought of as a mentor, or even idolised at all. This Queen shares a lot of the nurturing kindness as the Empress, though they would never admit to it. She also differs from the Empress in that she performs this persona with far more dry humour and sharp wit.
She proves herself in actions, and though she may not think of herself as a teacher, those who pay close enough attention will learn a lot in compassion, cultivation, and love.
Upright: Hidden Sorrow, Widowhood, Loneliness, Wit, Compassion, Humour, Absence
Reversed: Malice, Bigotry, Maternal Abandonment, Forgetting
14 King of Swords
The King of Swords is passionate and fierce, a warrior king who inspires these qualities in others. This figure is strong, passionate, and fiercely protective. He is the head of the pride, and to be on the wrong side of his family means desolation. Admired and liked by many, this figure is known intimately by very few. This king would rather lead a battle charge than be confronted with their own psyche.
The King of Swords could be understood as a split between the qualities of the Emperor and Justice. He is perhaps the most powerful of the kings, but also the most terrifying, unlikely to forgive and impatient when it comes to negotiations. His unbreakable ideals make him incorruptible and difficult to manipulate, but they also make him unsympathetic and near impossible to reach a compromise with. As a mentor, he may not always be understanding and his paramount idealism can often drive others away. To this person what has been broken cannot be fixed, and no matter how apologetic or ashamed his loved ones may be about doing him wrong, to this king the deed is done, and nothing can undo it.
It can also be read that the King of Swords is a symbol of adopting new philosophies that will subsequently change one’s own worldview. It could reference a particular event or observation that completely changes a person’s perception of themselves, others, or the world around them.
Upright: Valour, Authority, Idealism, New Theories and Ideas
Reversed: Abuse of Power, Tyrant, Warlord, Sinister Ideals, Suppression of Ideas (in self or others)
1 Ace of Pentacles
The Ace of Pentacles is a celebration of contentment and humble accomplishment.
This Ace is not about possessing or coming into great wealth in any way, it is simply about being happy with what you have. It certainly implies a degree of stability, implying any seemingly pressing financial troubles may not be as serious as they seem or at least are in the process of being dealt with.
Upright: Financial contentment, Humility, Gratitude
Reversed: Scraping by, Struggling to make ends meet, Being unable to afford the bare essentials
2 Two of Pentacles
The Two of Pentacles is, at a surface level, connected to scenes of performance and revelry and often depicts an entertainer as its central figure. This figure could be understood as more of a court clown, wherein their role as a performer is more of a career than just a personality trait, as in this is not just someone who is confident and funny, but someone who actually makes a living off some kind of comedy or performance art.
There are also connotations of balance, in that the figure is juggling the two pentacles, just as the Two of Swords is struggling to hold up the two swords, so too is that dilemma true of the juggler here. No matter how impressive this split attention is, at some point, a ball will get dropped, and hopefully the other can be caught in time.
Upright: Gaiety, Entertainment, Clowning, Juggling
Reversed: “Forced Fun”, Taking on too much, Losing control
3 Three of Pentacles
The Three of Pentacles is a symbol of skilled labour, often a carpenter, stonemason, or sculptor. This figure is undoubtedly an artist, but what they create is not simply cosmetic or decorative but practical and unpretentious. As with most of the pentacles, there is a financial aspect, the skill referenced here is a marketable tool, not just a hobby. Also, there are connotations of a change from apprentice to journeyman with this card, where an artist has an opportunity to show their quality and newly learned talents to become ‘professional’.
Upright: Craft, Skill, Sculpture, Artistic Breakthrough
Reversed: Mediocrity in work, Cutting corners, Lack of pride
4 Four of Pentacles
A Strange lesser king within the deck. A miser and who holds on tightly to their meagre wealth with a fierce grip. Though the figure is seen crowned, the title of King seems unworthy and so the card is kept separate from the ‘true’ kings of each suit. There is a slight warning of sitting on money, which is of no use if neither spent nor invested. This figure is unwilling to work for more income or part with a single coin, therefore they find themselves at a stalemate, technically wealthy but with nothing to use. The social consequences of the selfish hoarding of wealth are realised in the poverty and vagrancy of the following card, the Five of Pentacles.
Upright: Hoarding, Misery, Delusions of Grandeur
Reversed: Wanton Generosity, Boundless Charity, Sacrifice, Saving Nothing for Yourself
5 Five of Pentacles
Generally a bleak omen, the Five of Pentacles is often linked to a lack of security and at worse homelessness. This card refers not to the act of charity but to those in need of it. It is also somewhat cynical of charitable organisations and religious morality in action. This card depicts two injured mendicants struggling in a cold night outside the lights of a church window. While it might be expected that the church would care for these people down on their luck, here we see it is apparently not the case. Following this line of thought, it may be a signal to remember the core values at the heart of one’s beliefs and to consider if they have been strayed from.
Upright: Hard Times, Vagrancy, Begging
Reversed: Return of Hope, Romanticised Images of Vagrancy, “Saddle Tramp” figure
6 Six of Pentacles
The Six of Pentacles offers deliverance from the dire conditions of poverty and need previously seen in the Five of Pentacles. The figure here is a champion of Charity, and patron of those in need. There are implications of great financial success but not greed, as can be seen with the Four of Cups for example. This person does not want to accumulate wealth beyond simply what they need to get by, anything extra is a bonus that can be happily given away. There is also thematic mirroring of the Justice Card, specifically the connotations of the scales as a tool of judgement, however while Justice is generally more concerned with weighing up punishment, the Six of Pentacles is more concerned with weighing up rewards.
Upright: Charity, Gifts, Just Rewards
Reversed: Charity with Ulterior Motive, Hidden Costs, Money Lending
7 Seven of Pentacles
The Seven of Pentacles regards reaping what has been sown and cultivated. Those who have the patience to simply wait will be gifted ripe fruits, yet there is a slight sense that the figure here is somewhat tired of waiting. Perhaps time constraints are wearing patience thin, and the rustic idyll of harvest is now forced to confront the realities of gruelling agricultural toil. There is a warning that those who do all the work can simply be robbed by those with a more ruthless temperament and less patience to wait. It poses the question of why farm all year round to carve a living when one could raid a farm’s stores in a day.
Upright: Cultivation, Toil, Thin Patience
Reversed: Pestilence, Rotten, Soiled or Soured Prospects
8 Eight of Pentacles
The Eight of Pentacles has similar connotations of craft and trade as the Three of Pentacles but differs in how these connotations are interpreted. While the Three of Pentacles is understood as the first breakthrough of a young and upcoming artist, this is more concerned with a return to quality of an established master. An undeniable skill that has for whatever reason faded in quality or gone out of fashion is now thrust again into the spotlight. This is then a revival or second chance for those fallen from grace, to once more prove their quality.
Another difference is that the Three of Pentacles is producing work for recognition or reward, looking forward to something, but the Eight of Pentacles is looking back. There is a sense that his labour is to make up for something, a kind of penance.
Upright: Mastery, Penance, Revival, Renaissance
Reversed: Wasted Talent, Usury, Outdated Skills
9 Nine of Pentacles
This figure could be understood as an heiress, relishing in the delights of the fruitful garden in her decadent estate. She is a connoisseur of high art, fine food, and all other pleasurable things. While not fully hedonistic, this figure is definitely indulgent when it comes to material joys. This figure is also a patron of the natural world and is an advocate for art in nature.
There are slight connotations that this figure has not earned this money and subsequently does not appreciate the value of it. Often this person is a feminine and aristocratic figure, who in a historical context would have been born or married into money, most likely both. Following this, it can, therefore, be assumed that this person does not have full access to their money either and is in some way dependent on another.
Upright: Luxury, Bounty, Aristocracy, Materialism, Dependency
Reversed: Dissatisfaction with Wealth and Marriage, Money can’t buy happiness, Disinterest in the Natural AND material worlds
10 Ten of Pentacles
The Ten of Pentacles is an overall good omen associated with good fortune and abundance of wealth. It also suggests a groundedness despite good fortune and implies that money, in this case, has not become an obsession or corruptor. This card also pertains to inheritance, either in the sense that security is assured for future generations or that wealth is being handed down from past generations.
Upright: Lasting Success, Stability, Riches, Inheritance
Reversed: Inheritance Exclusion, Loss of Wealth, Robbery
11 Page of Pentacles
Like the other pages, the Page of Pentacles is a messenger, in this case, they herald of good news within the sphere of education, knowledge, or learning. There are also recurring page connotations of youth and beginnings, in this case, we could take this as someone on the first step to success, inspired and willing to make something of themselves. This Page is an acknowledgement of aspirational dreams, but not a promise of fulfilment and should not be read as such, however, it does suggest a solid and encouraging start.
Upright: Study, Pursuit of Knowledge, Prospects, Plans, and Good News on Material Matters
Reversed: Selfish Enterprise, Lack of Goals, Prodigality, News of Material Loss
12 Knight of Pentacles
The Knight of Pentacles is a figure that, no matter how long it takes and no matter the cost, will always get what they want. This person is methodical, meticulous and relentless. They are a tracker and a hunter. Patient beyond expectations and dedicated beyond reason. Essentially, this card is about not quitting until the goal is achieved, never cutting corners, wavering in loyalty, or doubting the legitimacy of the cause.
Upright: Loyalty, Dedication, Relentlessness
Reversed: Conservatism, Bias, Ignorance
13 Queen of Pentacles
The Queen of Pentacles could be understood as the Nine of Pentacles fully matured, an admirer of natural and material beauty, but also someone who can balance these interests amongst a wide array of other interests and commitments.
The Queen of Pentacles is definitely a woman that is dependent on no man and will be accepted as an equal even if that means working ten times as hard. There are also connotations that this woman is a mother but is not necessarily ‘motherly’, she does not and will not let her children or her ability to have children define her. As a maternal figure, this Queen possesses a wealth of intelligence and material bounty but is somewhat more prone to emotional distance than many of the other female mentors of the deck. This is a Mother who is sometimes more appreciated in retrospect, who raises polite intelligent and independent children, but errs on the side of overly strict.
Upright: Feminine Power, Equality, Admiration for Material and Natural Beauty, Strict Parenting
Reversed: Lack of Empathy, Overt Materialism, Snobbishness, Pretentiousness
14. King of Pentacles
The King of Pentacles regards the achievement of success and power, and the acceptance of these mantles with grace. This figure is a symbol of wealth but also of philanthropy, having earned his wealth through grit and determination whilst never stepping on those less fortunate than him in order to succeed.
This King, like the others, is a father figure, however, unlike the others, his protection and provision comes at a price. There is a sort of contractual obligation to being in the care of the King of Pentacles, those who earn their keep will be rewarded tenfold, those who show respect shall receive it back, and those who adhere to his law will benefit from it. However, this king will not stand to be dishonoured or embarrassed and will cast out unworthy and ungrateful children.
Upright: Grace, Betterment, Stern but Fair Parenting,
Reversed: Vice, Exploitation, Perversion
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