Lesson 3 – The Tools of Tarot

Welcome Back

How did you get on with your Aces Training Exercises?  Did you find them easy or difficult?  If you struggled with them a bit, don’t worry.  The Aces are not the easiest to do free association with.  You will find that the cards from the Aces on have a bit more going on in them for you to work with

In this lesson we will be getting to grips with the mechanics of the cards and the tools we work with when reading them.  Before we can begin exploring each card individually it is necessary for us to get familiar with the Tarot cards themselves, how they are constructed and how they work.

So far we have explored some of the esoteric associations with the Tarot such as the Collective Unconscious with its Archetypes and Symbols and the Subconscious and Intuition. We learned to differentiate between Fortune-Telling and Divination.  We also defined how the Tarot is used as a tool of guidance and not instruction.  In Lesson 2 we made our first attempt at intuitively connecting with and interpreting the Four Aces of The Tarot without prior knowledge of their traditional meanings.  We also learned the importance of our Chakras when it comes Psychic Cleansing, Protection and Grounding and the effect they have on our physical, mental and emotional health.

In Lesson 3 we will take a close look at how the Elements influence the Tarot.  These are the Elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth.  We will examine how the Tarot is broken down into the Minor and Major Arcana which in turn is further broken down into the Four Suits of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles and of course the Court Cards.  We will also explore how Numerology, Colour and Symbolism contribute to their interpretation.  We will look at the implication of Reversed Cards in a reading and the decision as whether to work with them or not will also be discussed.

Take your time going through the Lessons.  You might as well accept now that you are not going to be able to rush through this course.  I will remind you of this again and an again as we proceed through the Lessons.  The important thing is to make sure that you understand the concept of what is being taught before moving forward.  Read and re-read sections or Lessons if in doubt.  Do not worry if you don’t get it immediately.  Learning the Tarot is not a race.

***When I teach the Truly Teach Me Tarot Course in Class or on a One-to-One basis, it takes approximately a Year to complete.  You must remember that for a lot of you approaching this Course, you will be asked to look at the world around you in a different manner. So too will many of you be exploring Esoteric and Metaphysical concepts for the first time. Some of the theories and explanations may be hard for you to get your head around.  Just relax and proceed at your own pace.

So what are the Tarot Cards?

There are 78 Tarot cards in each deck.  Some decks have an additional card which is blank.  We will be covering the meaning of the Blank Card in a later lesson. The Tarot cards are broken into two sections:

The Minor Arcana (small secrets/mysteries) – 56 cards.

Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana also known as the Pip Cards represent the everyday occurrences in our lives.  The ups and down, the mini dramas or traumas of everyday living. Their energy fluctuates and is generally transient.  The Minor Arcana consists of the Four SuitsWands (Fire),  Cups (Water), Swords(Air) and Pentacles (Earth).  Each Suit has 14 Cards which are broken down into the 10 Story Cards of the Suit Ace – 10 along with the Suit’s 4 Court CardsPage, Knight, Queen and King.

The Court Cards (People Cards) – 16 Cards 

Court Cards

They are the personalities or Actors in The Tarot. They represent The querant and People Involved with The querant.  Sometimes they just carry the message of the Energy or Suit they represent such as “Act like Me in this situation”. The Minor Arcana Cards Ace to 10 tell us what is happening while The Court Cards tell us who it is happening to along with other Key Players in the situation.  We will be studying The Court Cards in-depth in Part II of this Course.

The Major Arcana (big secrets/mysteries), – 22 cards.

Major Arcana

These cards carry far more weight and their energy is more fixed and powerful.  The Major Arcana represent the deep driving forces behind what the Minor Arcana is showing.  Major Cards appearing in a reading suggest that the querant is accessing, or is being accessed by powerful forces which are feeding the situation being represented by the Minors. The Major are more serious and fixed in nature.

Whereas, the Minor Arcana tell us what is happening in our life, the Major Arcana tells us why.  The Major Arcana is deeply Spiritual and they contain Karmic Lessons that the querant is dealing with or trying to overcome.  We will be looking at them in much detail in the Part  III of this course.

Each card has a picture depicting Archetypes, Archetypal Situations or Symbols with Universal Meaning. The cards are shuffled, drawn blind and laid out in a spread.  The spread is then interpreted. The cards are used to gain insight into a particular situation or for guidance, and each card is multi-layered with many interpretations. It is up to the reader to determine their specific meaning in a particular reading.

Attention also has to be paid to the surrounding cards in a spread as these can strengthen or weaken the meaning. Attention also has to be paid to the dominance or lack of a particular Suit i.e. Wands/Cups/Swords/Pentacles. The Numerical Association of the cards, the general Colour Trend, Elements, Symbols, Astrological Associations and whether a card appears Upright or Reversed must all be taken into consideration in order to build up a picture of what is going on in the querant’s life in relation to their question.

As a self-development tool, the Tarot opens the doors of our mind by tapping into our Subconscious to truly know who we are, to understand why we are the way we are and also to realise that we have the power to change who we are.  The Tarot will open our eyes to the workings of the human psyche and realisation of the results of cause and effect influencing just about everything we do in life.  The Tarot will help us take a hold of our life and accept responsibility for where we are in our life as opposed to the blame syndrome which we so easily and readily fall into.

The Tarot cards are multi-layered, quite like an onion. Peel one layer away and lo and behold another is just below it. Getting to the specific meaning of the card for an individual sometimes involves peeling away layer after layer of meaning to get to the heart of the matter.  It is the job of the reader to decipher which meaning is applicable to the individual.

The Tarot should reveal itself like a story with beginnings, middles, endings, important characters, various scenarios, surrounding friends and foes, family, work, relationships and travel.  As humans we are very complex.  We are never just experiencing one thing at a time in life and when we do a reading for someone, even though they seek insight into a relationship issue, more than the issue in question will come to light. Therefore we must learn to read on many levels.

Where do I start?

It is easy to say, the best place to start is at the beginning, but where exactly is the beginning when it comes to learning Tarot?  For those of you (like many have before you) who have bought their first deck of cards and believe that the little accompanying booklet contains sufficient information on how to read the Tarot I’ve got bad news for you.  I am sorry, but the Tarot is heavily more involved and intricate than the contents of a few keywords in these booklets.  Unfortunately, it is not enough to just learn off their brief interpretations (sometimes bizarre) of individual cards.  To get the most out of the Tarot and to seek insight into their deepest meanings involves having a working knowledge of a few very important disciplines.  Let us now look at the first of these disciplines.


The Tarot is steeped in symbolism. It was designed to be just so.  A great deal of time and effort went into carefully constructing the detail in each card.  There is absolute rhyme and reason for every stroke and swirl of colour, every flower, animal or cloud in the sky, every building, mountain, cliff or bridge.  Nothing appears in the imagery or depictions in the Tarot by accident.  As mentioned before, this is not just art for art’s sake.  There is no limit to the variety of Tarot Decks available to purchase and imagery will vary greatly from deck to deck.  However, regardless of choice each of these decks will have been designed to symbolically represent a situation, a person, a personality, joy, trauma or catastrophe on every level of being.

Symbols are loaded with meaning and when used in the Tarot, their aim is to symbolically tell a story without words. A story that we will all respond to and identify with.

We are surrounded by symbols in our daily life.  For a most simplistic example, think of all the street and road signs indicating a series of bad bends ahead, a cross roads, end of motorway etc. We may not all speak the same language but for most of us in the world we can readily and instinctively read and interpret symbols.  Therefore, by acquainting ourselves with the symbolism present in each card a whole story opens before us.  Often when reading, a certain symbol rather than another will jump out of the card at you and instantly you will know what story needs to be told. You will automatically make the connections and will be able to relate its relevance and importance to the querant. At times several similar looking symbols will appear in a spread and these will reinforce the message for the querant.  As Tarot readers you must train yourself to be observant not only when it comes to spotting and interpreting symbols but also spotting recurring symbols and hidden symbols.

Most symbols you will identify immediately as they carry universal meaning and you will probably have grown up with an understanding of them.  The meaning of other symbols you will be learning about for the first time. Understanding the deep symbolism in the Tarot will greatly improve your reading skills and also make the whole process of learning each card considerably easier.

Certain symbols will appear repetitively throughout the Tarot especially when representing a particular Suit or Element.  The Tarot works with many levels of symbolism. Some of this symbolism is deeply mystical such as the symbols relating to the Kabbalah and Alchemy.  The Kabbalah will be explored in Part III when we accompany The Fool on his journey through The Major Arcana.  However, references will also be made to the Kabbalah in Part I and Part II.   Do not attempt to burden you workload at present by delving into the Kabbalah as it is quite complex.  Instead just absorb the snippets that will accompany the Introductions to all the numbered cards in the Suits.  This will give snapshots of the Kabbalah and when the time comes to look at it in more depth in Part III, your mind will be better prepared

For now we will keep things as simple as possible and only focus on the following:

The Symbolic Importance of Numbers – Numerology

The Symbolic Importance of Colours

General Symbolism

The Elements – The Building Bricks of Life and their Symbols

The Symbolic Importance of Astrology

Now don’t start to panic.  You are not required to be an expert in any of these highly intense fields of study, but it is necessary to have some sort of working knowledge of the above subjects.  There are many simple to understand books and wonderful websites to be found and I recommend you take time out to do some additional reading.  Some of you will seek deeper knowledge in these subjects and others will be content with a general understanding of them in order to work with the Tarot. Whichever you choose, remember that throughout the course these areas will be covered to a certain extent on an ongoing basis.  It is not however the aim of this Tarot Course to make you an expert in any of the above. The aim is to inform you sufficiently so as to understand their influence on the cards.  * Now Click here or on the Individual Links above to bring you to the pages on Numerology, Colour, General Symbolism and The Elements & Astrology

***When you have finished exploring the above Sections please return to this Page Lesson 3 to read about the importance of Reversed Cards below

Those Dreaded Reversed Cards

When conducting a reading some cards can fall reversed, as in upside down, and this will affect the meaning of the card.  A reversed card generally negates the meaning of the upright card but not always. Reversed cards generally point to extremism or the opposite of the meaning of the upright card or that one must go back to the preceding card of the Suit to learn the lesson contained therein before goals or potential can be realised.

Even if the upright card is a positive card, it can still be negative when reversed if it is experienced in the extreme e.g. too much of a good thing is bad for you/ less is more etc.  Reversed cards often represent blocked potential and our shadow side.  Our shadow side is the side of us that we wish to deny or hide from others.  Our shadow side is often projected onto others when we demonise those who unconsciously display those unsavoury traits, habits or attitudes that mirror our own hidden feelings, thoughts and desires.  Reversed cards are invaluable and can show us what it is that is holding us back from developing our full potential.  Our blind spots are often highlighted in reversed cards.  By acknowledging our failures or shortcomings in the reversed cards we can take steps to overcome them and so grow in the process.

Sometimes the presence of a reversed card in a reading is there only to draw attention to itself (Hey, don’t overlook me, I hold special meaning for you!).  When this happens it can be useful to do a separate reading based on this card.

The reversed card sometimes shows us what is subconsciously going on behind the scene of the conscious meaning of the upright.  It can highlight areas where we are subconsciously resisting the message of the upright either to our own benefit or detriment.

Often what we dislike or deny in our self is projected onto others.  This is typically our shadow side. Sometimes when we point the finger at others and accuse them of being a bitch, mean, ugly, unloving etc we are actually pointing at our self.  We can also project an unrealistic image onto someone or something giving them or it power and influence where it is not warranted.

To show you a couple of examples of how reversed cards work we will look at the 2 of Cups upright first.

2 of Cups

The 2 of Cups depicts the archetypal happy couple who appear to be connected to each other. As this is the Suit of Cups and connected with the Water Element we are generally dealing with the emotions and relationships. The man and woman hold their Cups at equal height (symbolising equality in their relationship).  They look tenderly at each other suggesting that their love is deep and that they respect each other. The scene almost looks as if they are taking their wedding vows.

2 of Cups Rx

When we turn this card into reverse we are now looking at not so happy a couple.  Possibly the love that once was there is no longer.  Breakups and separation may be indicated.  Rows and upsets will be present. The equality found in the upright becomes inequality in the reverse.  One dominates or bullies while the other is submissive or passive.  The number 2 numerically in the upright suggests cooperation and union, opposites attract.  The reversed two may suggest lack of cooperation, lack of union and opposites repelling. Do you see how the reversed cards work?  In this case we have gone for the opposite of the upright but it could just as easily be overly in love, too wrapped up in each other, too co-dependent.  The surrounding cards will give you further information.

Some cards will give you more to play with when reversed.  They will give you definite options of excess or lack.

5 of Wands Rx

For instance the 5 of Wands reversed can indicate conflict and skirmishes resolved resulting in cooperation and resolution but it can also indicate a skirmish becoming more intense and turning into a battle.  Mediators or the law may need to be called in.  To work out which meaning to associate with the reversed it is important to look to the surrounding cards in the spread for insight.

Reversed cards allow you to see and tell the full story, warts and all.  Reading with reversed cards will give you a much better idea of what is going on or not going on in a querant’s life.  It will also fill in the gaps when the querant holds back on information or tries to conceal secret desires or a hidden agenda.

Some years ago I read for a man who was having problems in his marriage.  He had three children and came across all sweetness and light asking how his marriage would fare and what he could do to improve it.  I was a little confused when I saw his cards as they did not make sense to me. His cards seemed to be pointing to the fact that he didn’t want his marriage to work. There was also some evidence of a third person in the relationship, another woman.  The truth was that he wanted out but because he had three children he knew he could not vocalise his true feelings as he would be looked down on by all his family and friends.  He would then become the archetypal villain and deserter.  His spread showed me that he was making no effort in his relationship and in fact actively destroying it bit by bit.  I could see that he was hoping that in the long run his wife would have enough and that she would be the one to leave him.  This would make him the victim and the blame pointed nicely at her. I doubt if he ever had his cards read again! The shock of what they revealed was a little bit too much.  The particular reversed cards appearing in his reading told me the truth behind the external facade.  The reversed cards revealed his shadow side.

Reversed cards are obtained by reversing cards at random whilst shuffling.  There are many methods Tarot Readers have adopted for working with reversals.  Some ask their querant to reverse only a certain number (possibly two or three) whilst shuffling and if these cards appear in the spread they contain strong meaning for the Querant.  Other readers start by reading the cards all upright in a spread, then taking the same cards, the Querant  reshuffles only the cards from that reading, reversing some in the process.  The reversed cards when revealed, will show any areas to pay special attention to, or possible hitches that may occur in connection with the previous reading.

At the end of the day, Tarot Readers find their own way or none at all.  It is wise however, to advise the querant to go easy on the reversals as they are shuffling.  It is not uncommon to have several if not all the cards reversed in a reading.  This can lead to quite a heavy reading for both the reader and the querant.  If you do decide to work with reversals it is best to upright the full deck between readings so that each querant starts with a clean slate.  Don’t worry if you do not have time to upright all the cards between readings.  Just make sure the querant gives them a good shuffle and reverses some in the process.  What cards are meant to be upright will be and so too with the reverse.  The Universe conspires with your subconscious so that everything is exactly where it is meant to be.

Many readers avoid dealing with reversed cards as it involves extra learning and study.  However, once you get the hang of how they work and their influence, you will discover the amazing depth and insight they bring to a reading. Most Tarot Readers will apply only a couple of tried and tested methods of reading reversals so it is not necessary to get yourself into a twist trying to read reversals from every aspect.  Find out which methods work best for you and stick with them. You will discover these particular ones the more you do readings for others.  If you stick with your own tried and tested methods then you will know for certain their effect each time they appear.

Reversed cards force you to stretch your imagination that bit further again and when starting out can be somewhat challenging. Once you understand the upright meaning then you are already 95% on your way to understanding the message it contains when reversed.  It is really worth getting to grips with reversed cards from the outset. However, the decision is yours.  Don’t worry, we will be taking a deeper look at how reversed cards work and how to interpret them in later Lessons. We will also be examining the reversed meanings of each card as we progress through the Minor Arcana.

Effects of Reversed Cards

  • Opposite Meaning of Upright Card
  • Extreme of Upright Card
  • Highlighting the Importance of the Upright Card/Drawing Attention to a Particular Card
  • Early stage of the Upright Card.  Its energy still immature and not at full strength.
  • Resistance/Rejection to the Upright Meaning
  • Subconscious Urges
  • Return to the Message of the preceding Upright Card (unfinished business)

Next Lesson – Lesson 4:

Lesson 1   Lesson 2   Lesson 3   Lesson 4  Lesson 5   Lesson 6    Lesson 7    Lesson 8   Lesson 9 Lesson 10

Aces Intro    Twos Intro   Threes Intro   Fours Intro  Fives Intro  Sixes Intro  Sevens Intro  Eights Intro  Nines Intro  Tens Intro

The 78 Cards – Detailed Study Version (Card Description, Keywords, Upright & Reversed Meanings)

The 78 Cards – Shortened Version (Keywords, Upright & Reversed Meanings)

Part I   Part II  Part III


Copyright © 2006-2013 Vivien Ní Dhuinn

3 replies »

  1. Hey, Vivien! May I copy and paste your numerology information into my own document for personal use?


    • Hi Juliette,

      Yes, that is fine. There are some pieces of content that are not mine but from Hazel Whitaker and I have noted those. There will be more numerology content to follow. I will be releasing free of charge The Wands’ Book of Love and Sex in the next few days. This is part of an ongoing series. This release focuses on the Five of Wands and contains quite a bit about the energy of number Five and how it affects the Suit of Wands where relationships and love are concerned. I will post notification on site once it is ready for publishing. It is a large document, probably over 150 pages so will be providing a PDF Download with extracts available on site. This will be free to download and enjoy.




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