Lesson 4 – The Four Suits

How the Cards are Broken Down

In Lesson 3 we learned that The Tarot Card Deck consists of 78 cards.  We learned that these cards are further broken down into 56 cards called the Minor Arcana or Pips (small mysteries) and 22 cards called the Major Arcana (big mysteries). The Minor Arcana is comprised of the 40 cards of the Four Suits (10 in each Suit) plus 16 Court Cards (4 in each Suit).  Some decks also have a Blank Card, which will be discussed later in the course.

In Part I of Truly Teach Me Tarot  we will be focusing our study on the 10 Cards(Ace to 10)  in each of the Four Suits (Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles) of the Minor Arcana.  We will visit the Court Cards in Part II and The Major Arcana in Part III.

The Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana, Pips or small mysteries, are broken down into four different groups each consisting of 14 cards, 10 of which are numbered Ace to 10 with the remaining 4 of each Suit un-numbered.  These un-numbered cards are known as The Court Cards.  The Minor Arcana are strongly affected and influenced by their individual governing Element.  The Minor Arcana are composed of the Four Suits of the Tarot and this is where knowledge of the Elements and their associated Zodiac or Sun Sign come into play.

While the Major Arcana deals with archetypal energy, spiritual learning, karma and inherent aspects of our self that influence all we do and how we behave, the Minor Arcana deals with the everyday side of things.  The flux and flow of life is represented in the Minor Arcana.   The Minor Arcana will tell us what is happening whereas the Major Arcana will tell us why it is happening.  The Minor Arcana will tell us what we are experiencing on a day-to-day basis and the situations we get ourselves into.  It is through the Minor Arcana that the Major Arcana expresses itself.  The Minor Arcana effectively becomes a symptom of the Major Arcana as it expresses its driving energy in how we think, act, feel and behave on a day-to-day basis.

The Four Suits are known as the following:

Wands – The Element of Fire – Aries, Leo, Sagittarius

Cups – The Element of Water – Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio,

Swords – The Element of Air – Aquarius, Gemini, Libra,

Pentacles – The Element of Earth – Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

There are fourteen cards in each Suit. The cards are numbered 1 (Ace) to 10. The remaining four cards in each Suit are not numbered and are known as the Court Cards.  The Court Cards are the Page, Knight, Queen and King. The Court Cards represent archetypal characters or personalities.  In a reading they can be people surrounding the querant or the querant themself.

They are the actors in whatever drama is going on around the querant.  The Court Card personalities carry the energies of their particular Suit governed by their Elemental and Astrological Associations.  The Court Cards will be covered in great detail in Part II of this course.  Before we can think about the Court Cards, we must first get to know each Suit from 1 (Ace) to 10.  It is best to approach the Minor Arcana as four individual stories which reflect the personality of the storyteller.

Getting to Know the Four Suits

By understanding the story behind each Suit we will get to know the cards much easier than viewing them as 40 individual, stand-alone cards.  Once you understand how the governing Element and Number of each Suit is likely to affect each card this again assists in the learning process.  When we combine the above with your growing knowledge of Symbolism and Colours much more can be predicted.  So let us now explore the nature of the Four Suits and the characters or actors (personalities of the Court Cards) in each Suit who will make their individual journeys from Ace to 10.

Once you have completed your study of The Four Suits, I do hope that you will have a better understanding of how the governing Element of each Suit  and its Number has affected the journey of the characters from Ace to 10.  We must always remember that each Suit is represented by a particular Element and its associated energy.  Each Element behaves in a certain manner which as we go through the cards becomes quite predictable.

You will notice that each Suit appears to be extreme in how they approach life.  This is because each Suit behaves only in the way it instinctively knows and that instinct is based on the Element that governs them.  Their challenge is to find a way to interact with and integrate the energies of each other’s Element in order to find just the right balance of mind, emotions, body and spirit. Indeed, is that not our challenge too?

When we then apply Numerology, Colour Meaning, Symbolism and Archetypes to the four personality types we can glean much information from the cards before one traditional meaning is ever looked at.

The following four descriptions represent a form of Character Profiling and will greatly assist you as you begin to learn the cards.

Click On The Individual Cards Below To Discover

 The Personality and Nature of Each Suit

  Ace of Wands  Ace of Cups  Ace of Swords Ace of Pentacles

     Wands            Cups           Swords      Pentacles

Stage Cards

So what are Stage Cards? Stage cards are cards where the scene depicted on the card appear to resemble a stage backdrop. The figures on these cards do not seem to be part of the actual scene but are literally placed in front of it as if they were actors on a stage.  You will be able to identify these cards by a certain line or border that separates them from what is going on in the background. The foreground is plain or flat and generally colourless in comparison to the background.  If you let your imagination wander for long enough you can sense the heavy stage curtains and the hushed voices behind the set working hard to make sure the next scene is set up and ready to go.  So what does this tell us as readers? Well there are two well-known concepts about Stage Cards.  The first one concerns the illustrator herself, Ms Pamela Colman Smith while the second one is based on the scene depicted in the card only being ‘An Act’.  Let us look at Pamela’s involvement first.

Pamela Coleman Smith   Arthur Edward Waite

Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951) collaborated with Arthur Edward Waite to create the Waite-Smith Tarot Deck of today.  Published Rider  in 1909 it is more commonly known as the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS).  Pamela was an artist and writer when Arthur approached her to create, under his guidance and instruction, the illustrations for a deck of Tarot he was working on.  Pamela at that stage had spent some years as a theatrical designer working on sets and costumes.  Many believe that these so-called ‘Stage Cards’ were influenced by her theatrical background.  After all she did have 78 cards (she claims 80)  to create art-work for and must have called on her direct experiences from time to time.  It is known that Arthur Waite instructed her in the design of the Major Arcana, which has always being considered by many to be the most important part of the Tarot Deck.  Pamela was probably left very much to her own devices when designing the Minor Arcana or Pip Cards which up to then had mostly being quite boring, only depicting the symbol of the Suit in varying numbers e.g 6 Swords lined up on a plain background or 3 Cups hanging in thin air.  Pamela, a writer and very intuitive too,  brought to life the Minor Arcana and  in my belief  is responsible for the wonderful story lines that run through the illustrations of the Four Suits.

The second concept: ‘An Act’

It is totally up to you as a Tarot Reader to either adopt this concept as you deem necessary when reading the cards or to ignore it altogether.  Have a read through it first before you decide.  We will be exploring the possible meanings for each Stage Card as we progress through the lessons.

When Stage Cards appear, we must look to surrounding cards for verification of what is really going on. Are the figures in role play or character? Are they pretending to be someone they aren’t? Is it all a facade or a mask that is dropped once the curtains go down? Is the situation real or is it only an illusion? If it is an illusion, then why go to the bother? Is someone working hard behind the scenes to create an image to the outside world that is false? Or is it possible that the figures have got so used to, or are caught up in, the role or character they play that they have lost all sense of reality? Do they actually believe they are the hero, the saintly mother, the devoted husband or wife or that their marriage is solid? Are they trying to portray the ideal family image of  ‘The Brady Bunch’  to friends and neighbours when really they rot from the inside out? The truth is that we can fool many a lot of the time and even ourselves at times but deep down we know the truth.  The Tarot will expose it.

Often when we do not want to face the harshness of our reality we stick our head in the sand and believe that there is nothing wrong. We act out our role every day in order to keep up appearances in front of family and friends. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that at times, we are all guilty of such pretence. Sometimes it is to keep the peace, to stop people worrying about us, to be liked or even to be loved. However, if circumstances dictate to us that if we were to leave our mask at home for one day a rancid can of worms would open, then we are guilty of living a lie.

When we desperately want to hold onto a situation, a relationship, a friendship, a lifestyle, we will go to unbelievable lengths to protect it and will varnish over any cracks or flaws with a plastic smile and a brittle jolly attitude.

2 of Pentacles Upright  10 of Cups Upright

      Examples of Stage Cards           

  6 of Cups Upright

Regular Tarot Card with Scenery in Foreground, Background and Surrounding Figures

A couple of examples of Stage Cards are the Two of Pentacles and the Ten of Cups. In the Two of Pentacles are we trying to maintain the appearance of financial stability for the sake of others? Does the Two of Pentacles demonstrate the family who are determined to appear as though they have everything?  The beautiful house, the fabulous decor, the extravagant presents, the exotic holidays? But can they really afford it? How much effort is going in to maintain this illusion? Who are they trying to impress?

In the Ten of Cups we see the illusion of the happy family. Are they really happy or are they like actors who appear so amazingly friendly to each other and so close when on-screen but actively detest each other offset? How many times have we been shocked by the evening news or a headline in the paper detailing traumatic and tragic stories of the death of a child or a spouse under suspicious circumstances? How many times are the family, friends and neighbours bewildered by what has taken place under their very noses? “They were so happy”, “no one could have met a nicer family”, “they did everything together”, “they were devoted to each other “, “they had a lovely house, he had a wonderful job and they wanted for nothing” “she was such a good mother”. So what went wrong? Something was going on behind those closed doors that no one but the occupants were aware of.  Someone worked very hard to to keep it that way and to keep the ‘Act’ up.

Stage Cards appearing in a spread may alert you to pretence, a facade, a public image or an idealistic view of the querant’s life.  May I stress here and now that you are not to jump on the band wagon and assume that every time a Stage Card appears that pretence follows.  Tarot Students can  get drawn into the drama of the cards so tread carefully.  The majority of the time they will be read as normal cards.  A Stage Card that seems out-of-place with the remaining cards in a spread may however need further investigation and a softly, softly approach with the querant.

As you become more experienced as a card reader, you will literally begin to ‘smell’ when something is not right. Just because the querant is sitting in front of you seeking advice does not mean they are actually ready to take that advice. In fact the querant may have so many blind spots and has been living the lie for so long that even they do not know where the lie ends and the truth begins. The lines can become very blurred indeed.

It is your job as a Tarot Reader to become increasingly observant of those you read for. The additional lessons taught throughout this course in relation to ‘tuning in’ to the querant and learning how to sense energy is all part of the process. It is not enough to just read off the cards in front of you. So many other things must be taken into consideration to get an overall impression of the situation at hand. Remember, that many people who come for a reading expect all Tarot Readers to be telepathic and clairvoyant. They may be reluctant to speak of their deepest fears or insecurities but will expect you as the Tarot Reader to uncover them and then tell them what to do. As a reader you cannot be responsible for every such situation as that would be impossible, but to develop as a unique and respected Tarot Reader you must at least be aware of such possibilities and endeavour to develop your reading skills to the best of your ability.

People go to Tarot Readers for help, assistance, guidance and direction. Some of these people just go for a lark and it is very easy to spot when this is the case as they find it difficult to zoom in on any particular area they need insight in. They are vague and their readings often reflect this. It is the person who has real concerns who will call on your services and arrive, quite apprehensive, and even tearful. These people generally have their questions written down and are extremely focussed. They listen attentively and even write down certain comments. Just because they are focused does not guarantee that they are not blind to what is going on around them or living a pretence.  Remember that many people get into a habit of pretence, are not even aware that it is going on and often find it hard to break out of.  Another example of a Stage Card is the 9 of Wands. There are more but I will leave those for you to discover.

9 of Wands Upright

It is a good exercise to go through the Four Suits and view them meticulously. Search for the Stage Cards and ask yourself of the cards you have studied so far what the images are depicting or possibly concealing.  Try it with the cards you haven’t covered aswell to see if you can come up with any ideas.

NB ***you must also remember that in 95% of cases there will be no façade going on at all and that the card merely demonstrates exactly what is happening in the querant’s life.

Viewing all the cards in a reading and communicating with the querant will bring clarity as to whether a Stage Card is Active or Not.  Being aware of the Double Aspect of Stage Cards can often help make sense of a confusing reading.  The challenge here is to be intuitive enough to realise when a Stage Card is being an Active Stage Card and when it is Not.

In the next lesson, Lesson 5, we will begin our study the first 8 cards of the Minor Arcana,  The Four Aces and Four Twos of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles

 Next Lesson – Lesson 5:

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

6 replies »

  1. Thank you Vivien lovely. I can’t believe that you shared so much invaluable knowledge with the world!!

    Now I am following the course.

    Let me take a brief note here:
    In Lesson 4, I learned about the basics of four suits of Minor Arcana and what the stage cards are.


    • Hi Aminegy,

      I am delighted that you are learning so much from the course and there will be a lot more to follow. I am working hard at writing up more content for all of you as there is still much more to do.




  2. Hi vivien ,
    This is priyankaa from INDIA .I joined this course yesterday and feeling very happy by reading al
    the content you are TRUE TEACHER AND TEACHING /SHEERING such a important knowledge
    actually last 2/3 years i am going under very bad situation due to joblessness so i thought to keep me myself busy with doing good things .finding a solution to get rid of my all problem i turned to this field to get answer . i dont have money to spend onto go actual learning classes so i start searching internet and i found it now i have hope to get guidance for self and in future for others
    Thanks a lot for all your valuable knowledge which you are shearing with all
    good bless you dear

    priyankaa .


    • Hi Priyankaa,

      Thank you so much for your lovely message. I am delighted you are using my site and content to help find guidance for yourself and for others. If you keep up your studies of tarot through my site and other free sites online, you could be in a position to earn a living or part living from reading for others. You are being proactive in gaining the knowledge you need and will be rewarded for your effort. The very best of luck with your ongoing studies and do let me know when you have taken your first paying client.




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