How to Read Tarot Cards The Major Arcana


This is your introduction on how to read tarot cards. It covers the meanings of each of the cards making up the Major Arcana. The interpretations are based on the Rider Waite Tarot but also include relevant comments from other packs and commentators. The comments in blue are mine and from time to time I will expand on them. Each card tells a story, and it for you to build your own story lines using the explanations as a guide. After all it should be your own story line that matters.

The figure represented on each major arcana card during a reading can either be representing your subject themselves or someone influencing your subject. This will of course depend upon the context in which the card has been drawn.

How to Read Tarot Cards

The Fool :


Symbols – Colorful clothing and carrying all his possessions and accompanied by a dog and carrying a flower, the fool or Jester is a traveler who is free to make his own choices.
On his shoulder he carries a staff to which is tied a bundle of previous experiences.

He is off to see the world, but knows not where.

Meaning – The Fool is seen to express innocence and optimism with scant regard for the present or for consequences.

Denotes positive inner forces which may influence an individual in their choices.

Reverse : Warns that the choice made is likely to be foolish.

If seen to be significant, the flower can be a reminder to stop and smell the flowers along the journey, and to be aware of the ramifications of his decisions, ie. look before you leap.

The Magician :


Symbols – Male figure, the the infinity symbol over the figures head, a small wand, a table on which are a chalice, a pentacle, a staff (wand) and a sword, that is, all the suites (elements) of the tarot.

Meaning – The Magician represents the ability to translate ideas into action, to use skills, both practical, interpersonal and psychic to advantage.

In short, it is a card of self-confidence.

Reverse : Warns that the use of power or skills for destructive ends will attract bad luck.

Often I see this card as a reminder to the subject that they have the skills and abilities they need, so the time has come to put plans into action.

The High Priestess :


Symbols – Wise woman enthroned, the moon, two pillars, two flowers, thoughtful contemplation.

Meaning – The High Priestess represents the spiritual feminine principles of knowingness, love and relationships. Wisdom, sound judgment, serenity, common sense and intuition.

Reverse : Indicates superficial qualities, ignorance, shortsightedness and selfishness. Poor judgment.

The High Priestess is the wise woman of long ago in whom insight and understanding of the world resided. In ancient times she was embodied as Isis – the universal mother.

The Empress :


Symbols – A gown decorated with pomegranates, a crown of stars, a rod, (the scepter of authority), a heart-shaped shield with the symbol for Venus, a field of ripe grain or fruit.

Meaning -The Empress represents fertility of both body and mind, a bountiful harvest and good luck.

Reverse : Indicates lack of interest, inaction, indecision, possessiveness, jealousy, disruption.

The Empress is a creator, whether it is creation of life, of romance, of art or business. This card can represent the gestation of an idea or the bringing to reality of a project by fostering and nurturing it.

The Emperor :


Symbols – Throne, ram’s heads, orb and scepter.

Meaning – Authority, control, confidence, accomplishment. One who is master of his emotions, who is able to realize his ideas.

Reverse – Immaturity, tendency to be gullible, weakness of character.

This is the guy in charge! The emperor represents the authority to make things happen. Take control of your affairs.

The Hierophant


Symbols  – Triple crown, Twin pillars, 3 tiered staff, throne, hand raised in blessing, two acolytes, two crossed keys).

Meaning  – Papal figure who holds the keys to the kingdom. The hierophant counsels rising above worldly concerns to release creative powers through the divine.

Reverse  – Foolish over-generosity, vulnerability, openness to new ideas.

In order to move forward one must overcome or put aside fears or stubbornness and see the larger picture. Stop putting things off!

The Lovers :


Symbols – Male and Female figures, in the deck shown it is the classic Adam and Eve.

Meaning – This card can refer to marrage and friendship, but has a wider meaning of the necessity of choice, which means responsibility. When all is in balance it reflects beauty and inner harmony.

Reverse – Quarrels, separation, frustration,

Trust you instincts, to choose this challenge, person, or career path. Decide and go for it!

The Chariot :


Symbols – A crowned conquerer rides in a chariot drawn by two sphinxes/lions/horses representing positive and negative forces.

Meaning – Control over tension of opposites. A struggle, and an eventual, hard-won victory. It can mean a union of opposites.

Reverse – Failure in carrying out a project, defeat. Not facing reality.

A difficult card to interpret. Eventual triumph over all difficulties through perseverance. Movement forward is indicated. Hang in there!

Strength :


Symbols – A woman dominant over a lions head, holding its jowls with her hands as it rests in her control.

Meaning – Strength, courage, determination. Mind over matter. Confidence.

Reverse – Weakness, impotency, sickness. Lack of faith.

The important message of the strength card is not to give up. To have the courage to keep at it till you succeed and to have the faith and optimism that you will succeed. This card is able to offset any negatives in surrounding cards.

The Hermit :


Symbols – An elderly bearded man wearing a habit holds a lantern in his right hand. The lantern represents occult knowledge.

Meaning – Withdrawal, meditation on the meaning of life. tendency to withhold emotion. Fear of discovery.

Reverse : Denotes an inability to mature and deepen ones wisdom.

Predicts a meeting with one who will counsel the seeker or inspire them and show the way. be willing to take good advice when it is given. Don’t be stubborn.

The Wheel of Fortune :


Symbols – A wheel turning clockwise with rising/falling figures or beasts on or by it. Waite also includes Hebrew letters I H V H (Jehovah) and alchemical symbols. There is a sphinx perched atop the wheel.

Meaning – Destiny. Fortune, fate. Approaching the end of a problem. Movement, advancement.

Reverse – The quality of your involvement will be your reward.

This card can mean movement, change/evolution. Change will seem to come out of the blue, a stroke of good, unexpected luck. One must find the still centre for tranquility. A card of Karma.

Justice :


Symbols – A crowned woman holds the scales of justice and a heavy double edged sword. In some decks she is blindfolded.

Meaning – Fairness, balance, justice. Sense of proportion in one’s self and life.

Reversed – Bias. False accusations, injustice, lack of balance.

This card means we are held accountable for our actions. This applies to the material/physical/ethical world. Its spiritual equivalent is the (XX) Judgment card.

The Hanged Man :


Symbols -A man hanging by one foot from a Tau cross. His free leg is always bent to form a “4,” his face is always peaceful, never suffering. His hands are secured behind his back.

Meaning -This is a time of trial or meditation, selflessness, sacrifice, prophecy.

Reverse – Failure to give of ones self. Egotistical approach.

This card can also imply a time when everything just stands still, a time of rest and reflection before moving on.

Death :


Symbols -Skeletal Death, black robes or armor, sometimes with a scythe or a flag featuring a white rose on a desolate black field. There is often a rising sun.

Meaning -Transformation. Clearing away the old to make way for the new.

Reverse -Stagnation, immobility, lethargy. Narrowly avoiding a serious accident.

Great change in ones life. New beginnings.

Temperance :


Symbols – An angel, a pool or river of water. Two cups or beakers, a fluid flowing between them.

Meaning – Moderation, temperance, frugality, harmony. Accomplishment through self-control. Fortunate omen. Successful combination of elements (or people).

Reverse – Discord, disunion, conflict of interest.

Finding balance as an individual. Sovereignty in ones life.

The Devil :


Symbols – A winged, horned devil, a black pedestal, a naked male and female figure, chains, inverted pentagram.

Meaning -Subordination, subservience, downfall. Lack of success. Bad outside influence of advice. Self destruction.

Reverse – Possibility of spiritual understanding. Throwing off the shackles. Release.

Material emphasis to the detriment of others. Lack of essential humanity. Beware of a destructive force.

The Tower :


Symbols – A tower on a rocky outcropping, a powerful bolt of lightning, one or two figures falling from the tower, sometimes waves crashing below.

Meaning – Complete and sudden change. Severing of a friendship. Changing of beliefs, opinions. Disruption, unexpected events.

Reverse – Entrapment in an unhappy situation. Following old ways.

This is not a tarot readers favorite card to get in a reading. The subject is going to have their style of life and way of thinking disrupted, which they will see as a catastrophe. The disruption may be followed by enlightenment. Clearing away the old to make way for the new.

The Star :


Symbols – Seven or eight stars, a kneeling woman, a pool of water, two urns.

Meaning – Hope, faith, inspiration. Mixing the past and present. Promising opportunity. Good health.

Reverse – Illness, unfulfilled hopes, bad luck.

In contrast to the previous card, this is a card of inspiration. The subject should be able to see their way forward past old obstacles.

The Moon :


Symbols – A full moon (with a crescent within), twin pillars, two dogs/wolves howling, a stream that runs to the ocean, a crayfish emerging out of the water.

Meaning -Deception, obscurity, disillusionment, caution. Bad influence.

Reverse – Peace will come after a difficult period.

A yearning for fulfillment, but unforseen perils, threatening situations. Psychic forces may be at work. This very much a cautionary card for the subject to take great care during the period represented by this card.

The Sun :


Symbols – The Sun, one or two naked children (a naked little boy, sometimes riding a white pony or a boy and a girl), sunflowers, often a wall, sometimes a banner.

Meaning – Satisfaction, accomplishment, contentment, success, achievement.

Reverse -Uncertainty of future plans, loss of something of value.

A very positive card. Contentment, attainment of personal goals. Happy marriage.

Judgment :

Symbols – Angel, trumpets, graves with people rising from them, often water or an ocean.

Meaning -The need to repent and forgive. Atonement, rebirth, development, promotion.

Reverse – Delay, disappointment. Health warnings.

Growing awarenesses. I often see this as a card of spiritual growth – shift in personal consciousness, a growing of personal awareness. Its material/ethical equivalent is the (XI) Justice card.

The World :


Symbols -A clothed woman stands within an oval wreath. She holds a thin wand. The four corners have symbols of the apocalypse – an angel, an eagle, a bull and a lion – guardians of the truth.

Meaning – Attachment, completion, perfection. The end result of all efforts – success.

Reverse – Fear of change, failure to complete venture. Lack of vision.

Reward ,completion. I often ‘see’ travel associated with this card.

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Tarot Card Reading Instructions


These Tarot Card Reading Instructions are designed to give you an overview of a the process for a typical reading. Of course all readers have their own style and method.

I’ll give you give you a few examples and situations as I would perform them when reading for a client. However what works for you is what you should follow as each reading is a highly intimate association between you and your client.

Some readers like to surround their readings in mystique and symbolism and for others it is simply a straight forward casting of the cards. I preferred for lighting to be a little on the low side to make aura reading easier. Also I always recorded each reading and presented the client with the tape for future reference.

Basic Tarot Card Reading Instructions :

  • Many (most) readers keep their tarot deck wrapped in a cloth which usually doubles as a tablecloth whilst reading.
  • Unwrap the cards and lay the cloth out on the table.
  • Pick up the cards and shuffle thoroughly. Because the cards are usually on the large side, it may help to shuffle end on rather than side on.
  • I like to be sure that the cards are all right side up, and keep them that way unless a subject hands them to me reversed.
  • Hand the deck to the subject and ask them to hold them for a minute or so. We want the deck to reflect their vibes.

(This is sacrilege to some readers as they allow only their own touch on the cards.)!

When I receive the deck back, I hold it for about 30 seconds or so to see if I can obtain a psychometric* reading from the deck. Usually I will receive an impression of their state of mind from doing this.

** Psychometry – Psychic sense from holding an article familiar to someone. Sometimes quite vivid impressions can be gained.

Now I spread the deck face down out across the cloth in an arc and ask the subject to select and hand me a card. Naturally if you do not allow others to handle your pack you will have to select the cards for them. Of course before this point you need to know what type of spread you want to work with. As your subject hands you each card turn it over and lay it down in its order/position in the spread.

Continue until the spread is complete. Now start interpreting the spread. Don’t think, don’t analyze, just let it flow. It may not make sense to you – it doesn’t have to – It is not your reading!

These Tarot Card Reading Instructions are a broad guide only. Actually, you will find that most readings take on a life of their own. Of course you will tailor the reading to the person you are reading for, but be warned, appearances can be deceiving, so let the cards do the talking.

It is all very well to have your tarot card reading instructions by your side, but when it come to a real reading, you are reading for people, and usually people you do not know. An understanding of people is most important because your clients have come to you for advice. Whilst the advice is in the cards, its delivery is in your hands.

Tarot card reading instructions get you as far as the reading, then you have to deliver! If you find that you need clarification on a card, don’t hesitate to ask your subject to draw another card to expand on the card in question. A personal quirk of mine is to have the subject draw a “character” card a the start of the reading.

From this card I give them an overview of their character or situation. This for my own confidence, to be sure that I have made a “connection” with my subject. (There have been one or two times when for whatever reason I simply could not make a connection with my subject and have had to call the reading off.)

On some occasions I have also had my client draw cards for the past and future outcome for the same reasons. I recommend that you read the self understanding chapters of the free online personal development course –
Be Master of Your Life. These chapters of that course will give you at least a basic understanding of people and how they operate, and in addition, will most likely take you on a journey of self discovery.

Sometimes you will have all sorts of specific impressions popping into your mind regarding the client, (which of course you pass on), and with other clients you may find the reading to be very general.

What ever passes into your consciousness during the reading is part of the reading.

Don’t expect it to make sense!

It doesn’t have to.

It is often more difficult to read for friends and acquaintances than for strangers because we think we know them so we skew the reading to meet expectations, both ours and theirs.

When reading Tarot Cards your clients will expect you to be :

  • A clairvoyant.
  • A psychologist.
  • A confessor.
  • A counselor.
  • An oracle.
  • A listener.
  • A best friend.
  • A confidant. **

** We never, ever repeat anything that is said in a reading outside of that reading!

What transpires in a reading stays in the reading.

Same rules as would apply to a priest!

After all that is how some people will regard you!

Important Tarot Card Reading Instructions :

Important for you that is!

You are acting as a counsellor when you are reading someones cards.

A certain level of detatchment is important.

Empathy is great, sympathy is not!

When you are reading for someone else, the impressions you receive are not yours, you are simply the mouthpiece!

The information and impressions you receive for some-one else are for themselves.

So give them away and don’t own them!

Carrying around someone elses problems is a sure recipe for disaster in your own life.

You will surprise yourself reading tarot cards at just what you come up with.

Things you ‘see’ as interpretations of impressions you see on the cards will amaze the person you are reading tarot cards for.

“How could you have known that!”, is often a reaction you will receive. (However, you may have no idea what they are talking about. After all it is their reading).

Don’t put your reality in there – it is your clients reality you are describing when you are reading their tarot cards.

I hope these tarot card reading instructions are of some help to you in what is a fascinating field.