What The Five Suits In Tarot Cards Really Mean

As anyone who's ever played Go Fish knows, a standard deck of cards has four suits: hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. In addition to numeric cards, each suit also includes the "face cards," aka the court cards (via The Playing Card Factory): king, queen, and jack. Tarot cards have their suits, as well, although this term is typically only applied to the minor arcana, meaning the number cards and the court cards: king, queen, knight, and page (via Biddy Tarot). The four suits of the minor arcana are the cups, pentacles, wands, and swords.

Some tarot sources, including Dark Days Tarot, also consider the major arcana to be a suit in their own right, as no major arcana card is affiliated with any of the four minor arcana suits. The major arcana cards are by far the most recognizable ones in the tarot deck, and Refinery 29 says that in a reading they tend to represent major life events. The equally important day-to-day stuff, however, is a tale told by the four suits of the minor arcana.

Each minor arcana suit is aligned with a different element

You could say that the minor arcana tarot suits roughly correspond to those of the standard card deck, with cups = hearts, pentacles = diamonds, wands = clubs, and swords = spades. The tarot suits, however, carry additional symbolic freight. The cups are aligned with the element of water and to the water signs of the zodiac: Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. Pentacles are associated with earth and earth signs Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. Wands are meant to signify the air element, whose signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, while swords are comparable to the element of fire and thus tied to the signs Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.

So what do these tarot suits mean when they turn up in a tarot reading? Cups may have to do with emotions, possibly including matters of the heart. Pentacles frequently signify financial matters and may have to do with your career path, although Dark Days Tarot also connects them to environmentalism and all things "green." Wands bring to mind ideas and communication, while swords speak of passion and possibly conflict and anger. In a more positive sense, swords in a tarot reading could mean that our lives are set to undergo a transformation of sorts, one from which we will emerge like a phoenix rising out of ashes.

The major arcana 'suit' tells a story

If major arcana cards turn up in a reading, they may tell us of significant moments in the past, the future, or already underway. Gaia sees the 22 cards of this "suit" as telling a story about our lifelong journey. It starts with the first card, the innocent fool. The magician and high priestess act as teachers, while the emperor and empress are, in effect, the fool's (or our own) parent figures. The Hierophant teaches us the ways of the spirit, while a ride in the chariot marks the end of our learning, or "graduation." Once out in the world, the strength card denotes the challenges we'll face, while the hermit card gives us time and space for solo reflection. Then we're off for a spin on the wheel of fortune, which is sometimes up, sometimes down, and sometimes just wants to sell us a vowel.

The hanged man and the death card may seem scary, but they're meant to mark change and transformation as we get older and wiser. The temperance card speaks of this wisdom, although the devil and the tower show that all of life's trials and tribulations aren't behind us just yet. The star and moon bring magic and mystery, while the sun card leads us closer to our journey's end where the judgment card weighs and finds us worthy. The ultimate prize we receive is the world — and perhaps other worlds and journeys that lie beyond.