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Table of the Lesser Arcana Tarot cards

This is a table I put together for my own mnemonic use. I've been using the Waite-Smith-Rider deck for 40 years, and the characters on the cards seem like old friends. When I use a deck of ordinary playing cards, or a Tarot deck with no pictures on the Lesser Arcana, I can usually call the corresponding picture to mind. But I thought if I had some kind of scheme it might help me remember. These are my own interpretations and may not be "correct", but my take on Tarot is that it's like dream interpretation. For me it's a way to look into my subconscious, and so I'm not that worried about being correct. I don't personally think it can foretell the future. It's more about understanding myself.

Of course I have read many books on Tarot over the past decades. Two that helped me the most in making this list were Eden Gray's The Tarot Revealed and Annie Lionet's Secrets of the Tarot. I also discovered, after beginning this project, that a much more knowledgable person named Ravensong had made a similar table. However, I found it very valuable to put one together for myself, and categorize the cards in a way that made sense to me.

For all these years I've had trouble with the court cards, but making this table helped. I plan to make for my own personal use a list of people I know (in person or in the news or literature) who fit these characteristics, as a way of helping me visualize them. But I'll keep that private for obvious reasons.

When I was first encountering Tarot, back in my early teens, I took the court cards pretty literally. Many books gave them phyical characteristics like skin and hair coloring, which I focused on. Maybe that's why they never really came alive to me. I think it will be more helpful to focus on their personalities. Even the age and gender characteristics I've listed here are only archetypes; the person suggested by the card may not be that age or gender at all. An adult might be childlike or immature; a child might be precocious or mature. A man may have "feminine" qualities; a woman may have "masculine" qualities.

Card Meaning Cups
Ace Unity Love,
2 Balance Lovers or close friends Reaching a decision Juggling practical considerations Indecision
3 Widening the circle A group of friends New venture Craftsmen's guild Betrayal, heartache
4 Stability, stagnation Boredom, disenchantment Stop and have a party Miserliness Rest, convalescence, peace after grief or illness
5 Struggle Partial loss Competition, sports Poverty An enemy, violence
6 Harmony Happy childhood memories Success, victory Giving and receiving gifts Vacation, respite, end of difficulties
7 Dreams and Schemes Pipe dreams, fantasies Staying on top of the fray Working on long-range goals Sneaking, scheming
8 Change, upheaval Turning away, changing course Swift energetic action Working, building, creating Frustration, helplessness
9 Hope and despair Satisfaction Wariness Enjoying the fruits of labor Guilt, despair, worry
10 Culmination Happy family Laying down a burden Estate, comfort, family Disaster, death
Page Child, new beginnings, messenger Imaginative, artistic. Rejuvination, news. Energetic, impulsive. Messenger. Exciting opportunities. Practical, diligent. Scholarship, steady progress. An intelligent, devious child. Vigilance.
Knight Young adult, action Sensitive, romantic, idealistic. A proposal. A charming, volatile, unreliable. Travel or moving to a new place. A dependable, responsible, hard-working. Patience, responsibility. A strong ally who may go overboard. Bravery, drastic change, havoc.
Queen Woman, emotions Intuitive, loving, sensitive. Get in touch with your inner self. Warm, extroverted, loves home and nature. Loyal and friendly. Talented, hard-working, generous, enjoys luxury. A financial opportunity. Intelligent, aloof, may be widowed or divorced. Possibly intolerant and judgmental.
King Man, intellect Kind counselor, teacher or healer. Listen to inner counsel. Confident, honest leader, good communicator. Practical, hard-working dependable, enjoys financial success. Mathematical abilities, character. Logical, powerful. Authority, law, judgment. Politician or general, strategy.

Here are some associations that help me remember what the numbers mean:

  • 1 is unity by definition. The aces are like abstract values for each suit.
  • 2 is balance, like an old-fashioned scale. Two lovers, two choices.
  • 3 is more than 2, so I see it as an expansion beyond the limitations of the 2s. You meet more people, embark on new ventures, and sometimes get your heart broken in the process.
  • 4 is solid, "four-square", so it reminds me of non-motion.
  • 5 could be visualized as the five corners of a pyramid, which I imagine struggling upward to a point.
  • 6 I see as a Star of David, a male triangle and a female triangle like a Yin and Yan in harmony.
  • 7 reminds me of "Heaven", which reminds me of the visions of the 7 of Cups, and therefore of dreams and aspirations.
  • 8 is like a wheel, which turns and rolls, bringing about changes.
  • 9 is just short of ten, so it reminds me of someone reaching for a goal with hope, or despairing of reaching the goal.
  • 10 is the last number used on the cards, so I see it as the culmination.

I notice that sometimes the swords are like the negation of the general meaning. For example, the 8 is a person stuck, unable to move. And the 9 is despair, while the other three feel more hopeful. And in several cases the wands are a little less positive than the cups and pentacles.

When using ordinary playing cards, the Jacks can be thought of as having the qualities of both the Pages and Knights, which are very similar anyway.

Update I seem to resonate better with words than with pictures sometimes. My Prayer beads page is full of words that are evocative for me. So I took an ordinary deck of cards and labeled each one with a title in large black letters using a permanent marker. I used the chart above as an aid. Since cards can be oriented two ways, I put a title on each end. You could use the same title on both ends, or use "reversed meanings", or use two synonyms for the two titles. I don't do reversed meanings, but I did decide to use two synonyms for each card, to take advantage of the subtle nuances of language. I've found that it's a huge aid. While I can call up the images and meanings from memory, taking that effort out of the picture makes for a much more relaxed interpretation experience. I still find myself visualizing the Tarot images, but the words add an element of abstraction that feels like poetry. The table below is similar to the one above, but only contains the two titles I chose. (I'm still tweaking them.) I included two Jokers, one to represent the Fool and one to represent the World.

Card Meaning Cups
Ace Unity Love, Fertility Birth, Beginning Wealth,Prosperity Intelligence, Force
2 Balance Lovers, Soulmates Decision, Choice Juggling, Preoccupation Indecision, Stalemate
3 Widening the circle Friendship, Comfort Enterprise, Venture Craftsmanship, Artistry Grief, Heartache
4 Stability, stagnation Inertia, Disenchantment Celebration, Festival Miser, Hoarder Rest, Convalescence
5 Struggle Partial loss, Imperfection Competition, Struggle Poverty, Financial worry Enemy, Defeat
6 Harmony Memories, Nostalgia Triumph, victory Gifts, Charity Vacation, Respite
7 Dreams and Schemes Fantasy, Illusion Advantage, Success Progress, Long-range plan Scheme, Plot
8 Change, upheaval Turning away, Changing course Action, Energy Creativity, Apprenticeship Frustration, Bondage
9 Hope and despair Satisfaction, Well-being Wariness, Watchfulness Opulence, Reward Guilt, Despair
10 Culmination Happiness, Peace Burden, Resolution Estate, Legacy Disaster, Devastation
Jack Child, new beginnings, messenger Imaginative, Romantic Messenger, Opportunity Diligence, Scholarship Spying, Vigilance
Queen Woman, emotions Intuitive, Inner Self Extrovert, Friendly Gracious, Generous Intelligent, Aloof
King Man, intellect Kind, Counselor Politician, Good communicator. Practical, Dependable Authority, Analytical
Joker Fool Folly, Frivolity
Joker World Synthesis, Liberation

This got me to thinking about using the cards in an ordinary deck to represent the trumps. One idea would be to choose a trump suit and use the numbers of the cards to reflect the numbers of the trump cards somehow. But I also thought of using the court cards to represent some of them, since the court cards have never been as resonant for me as the rest of the cards in the deck. The aces and tens could also do double duty. Here are some possibilities:

Card Cups
Ace The Sun The Moon The Star Death
10 The Lovers Justice The Wheel of Fortune The Tower of Destruction
Jack Judgment The Chariot The Hermit The Magician
Queen The Empress Strength Temperance The High Priestess
King The Hanged Man The Emperor. The Heirophant The Devil
Joker Fool
Joker World

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copyright 2009 by Karen Deal Robinson

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