The Minor Arcana makes up the bulk of a tarot deck. There are 56 cards in it (as opposed to just 22 in the Major Arcana) and it contains 4 different suits with 14 cards in each. The suits are Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands. These cards are also called pips, suits, suit cards, and minors. Arcana simply means “secret”, so these are the lesser secrets of the universe. The Minor Arcana also includes the Royal Arcana, which are the face cards.
To give a brief primer:
Major Arcana- Portrays the major life events we will all experience at one point or another. These cards also represent a full circle of life from birth to death and are numbered 0-21, though the events they depict do not run in the same order as the cards are numbered. Read more about the Major Arcana here.
Minor Arcana- Provides supporting information for the Major Arcana cards. These cards offer additional insight and clarity as there is too much information and nuance in the world to fit on a single card. (Which, for what it’s worth, is why you should be wary if a reader claims they can give you a detailed reading off a single card.)
So, what makes the Minor Arcana useful in a tarot reading? Why do they exist if the Major Arcana already covers the big stuff?
Like mentioned above they are the supplemental cards. Their job is to provide more detailed information for the "big stuff".
First let’s break the cards down by suit. Each suit correlates to particular astrological signs, personality traits, and behaviors. Knowing the meaning of the symbolism in these cards is extremely helpful for an accurate reading.
Cups are associated with water signs in astrology (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) and identify thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
There are 14 cards in the cups suit starting with the Ace of Cups and ending with the King of Cups.
Pentacles are associated with earth signs in astrology (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) and pertain to material possessions, being in the physical world, and practicality.
There are 14 cards in the pentacles suit starting with the Ace of Pentacles and ending with the King of Pentacles.
Swords are associated with air signs in astrology (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) and highlight communication, the spoken or written word, and social behaviors.
There are 14 cards in the swords suit starting with the Ace of Swords and ending with the King of Swords.
Wands are associated with fire signs in astrology (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) and focus on internal passions, motivation, and drive.
There are 14 cards in the wands suit starting with the Ace of Wands and ending with the King of Wands.
The best place to start when learning the Minor Arcana is at the beginning. We’ll break the cards down into general categories as these are relatively the same from suit to suit. Understanding how each card fits in with the cards on either side of it consecutively, how it relates to the larger suit as a whole, and what it means when it’s standing alone is important to achieve a reliable and useful reading.
Aces- Aces begin the suit and indicate a new beginning. These new beginnings can be uncomfortable periods or they can be welcome changes. However it manifests, a change is coming, regardless.
Number Cards- Cards with numbers 2-9 are going to increase in their difficulty or painfulness of their message until one reaches number 10. At 10 the cycle is complete. This is not always a victorious ending, though. In the cups and pentacles suits the endings are positive and full of celebration, while in the swords and wands suits they are less positive outcomes. Either way the cards indicate the experience, or journey, is at an end.
Royal Arcana- Each suit has a page, a knight, a queen, and a king card. These are “court cards” and their meanings exist both outside of the number the cards and in conjunction with them. While the number cards highlight a journey, basically, and indicate when one will run into struggles or liberation the court cards indicate personality traits, momentum/ability to progress towards a goal, actual people in our lives such as a mother figure or an authoritative male figure, and are more powerful in their guidance than the number cards. They are extremely helpful when describing a person.
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