This article will give a basic guide and overview of the Minor Arcana in tarot, also known as the lesser arcana. If you’ve come to the wrong place, here is a guide to the Major Arcana. A deeper dive into each of the cards are given in the links.
What is the Minor Arcana in tarot?
The minor arcana in the tarot is the set of 56 cards that make up the smaller, or lesser, arcana of the tarot deck. They are often divided into four suits, similar to the suits in a deck of playing cards: cups, swords, wands, and pentacles. Each suit has 14 cards, with numbered cards from Ace through 10 and four court cards: the Page, Knight, Queen, and King.
Some people ask: Is the King of Cups major or minor arcana? As you see, this card is in the minor arcana because it has the suit cups.
The minor arcana are considered to be more concerned with everyday life and the practical aspects of existence, whereas the major arcana deals with more profound, spiritual, and universal themes. Each card in the minor arcana represents a specific aspect of life, such as love, money, work, and so on. They can be interpreted in different ways depending on the context of the reading and the other cards that appear alongside them.
The imagery and symbolism on the cards can vary depending on the deck, but most will depict people, objects, and scenes that are related to the suit or number of the card. A reader or interpreter of the tarot would use the pictures on the cards to help understand and interpret the reading.
What does “arcana” mean in tarot?
“Arcana” is a Latin word that means “secrets” or “mysteries.” In the context of tarot, the word “arcana” is used to refer to the 78 cards of a tarot deck, which are divided into two main categories: the major arcana and the minor arcana.
The major arcana consists of 22 cards that represent major life events or experiences, such as The Fool, The Lovers, and Death. These cards are often considered to be more powerful or significant than the minor arcana cards. The major arcana cards often depict archetypal characters or symbols, and they are often seen as representing the journey of the soul or the evolution of the self.
The minor arcana consists of 56 cards that are divided into four suits (Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles), much like a deck of regular playing cards. Each suit has 14 cards, which are numbered from Ace to 10, and four court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King). The minor arcana cards often depict scenes from everyday life and are seen as representing the events and experiences that shape a person’s day-to-day existence.
In a reading, the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana cards can be interpreted together or separately. The Major Arcana are seen as the overall narrative of the spread, whereas the Minor Arcana will often contain more detail about the current situation and how it might develop.
The four suits of the Lesser Arcana
In a traditional tarot deck, the minor arcana is made up of four suits: Cups, Wands, Swords, and Pentacles. Each suit represents a different aspect of life or a different area of focus.
By learning the general meaning of a suit, you will more easily remember what each individual card means.
Minor Arcana suit of Cups
The lesser arcana suit of cups represents emotions, intuition, and spiritual or psychic experiences. They are often associated with the element of water and are often thought to represent the heart and the realm of relationships and emotional connections.
The cards in the suit are as follows:
- Ace of Cups: Represents new beginnings in emotional and spiritual matters, and an openness to love and new emotional experiences.
- Two of Cups: Represents balance and harmony in relationships, and a strong emotional connection between two people.
- Three of Cups: Represents celebration, joy, and happiness, often in the context of a group of friends or a community.
- Four of Cups: Represents emotional detachment, apathy, and a need to reassess one’s emotional needs.
- Five of Cups: Represents disappointment, loss, and grief, but also the possibility of moving on and finding happiness again.
- Six of Cups: Represents nostalgia, childhood memories, and the sense of comfort and security that can come from reconnecting with the past.
- Seven of Cups: Represents choices and decision-making in the realm of emotions and intuition. It also can represent illusions, fantasy and temptation.
- Eight of Cups: Represents emotional withdrawal and a search for something more meaningful or fulfilling.
- Nine of Cups: Also known as the “Wish card” represents emotional satisfaction, contentment, and the attainment of one’s desires.
- Ten of Cups: Represents emotional fulfillment, long-term happiness, and the completion of a cycle in the realm of emotions and relationships.
- Page of Cups: Represents a sensitive, intuitive, and emotional person, often a young person or someone who is still learning about their emotions.
- Knight of Cups: Represents a romantic, passionate, and idealistic person, often someone who is driven by their emotions.
- Queen of Cups: Represents a nurturing, compassionate, and emotionally balanced person, often someone who is in tune with their intuition and emotions.
- King of Cups: Represents a wise, balanced, and emotionally mature person, often someone who is able to control their emotions and use them to help others.
Minor Arcana suit of Wands
The lesser arcana suit of wands represents inspiration, creativity, and passion. They are often associated with the element of fire and are thought to represent the spirit, the realm of ideas, and career goals.
The cards in the suit are as follows:
- Ace of Wands: Represents new beginnings, inspiration, and the start of a new project or endeavor.
- Two of Wands: Represents planning, decision-making, and the weighing of options in pursuit of a goal.
- Three of Wands: Represents exploration, expansion, and looking toward the future.
- Four of Wands: Represents celebration, completion, and the successful establishment of a foundation.
- Five of Wands: Represents competition, conflict, and challenges in pursuit of a goal.
- Six of Wands: Represents victory, success, and the accomplishment of a goal.
- Seven of Wands: Represents courage, determination, and standing up for oneself in the face of opposition.
- Eight of Wands: Represents movement, communication, and progress in the pursuit of a goal.
- Nine of Wands: Represents perseverance, determination, and the ability to overcome obstacles.
- Ten of Wands: Represents overburden, responsibility, and a heavy load to carry, also represents that the end is near
- Page of Wands: Represents a creative, enthusiastic, and energetic person, often a young person or someone who is still learning about their passions.
- Knight of Wands: Represents a confident, ambitious, and dynamic person, often someone who is driven by their passions and desires.
- Queen of Wands: Represents a creative, independent, and confident person, often someone who is able to turn their passions into reality.
- King of Wands: Represents a visionary, charismatic, and assertive person, often someone who is able to inspire and lead others.
Minor Arcana suit of Swords
The lesser arcana suit of swords represents the mind, communication, and decision-making. They are often associated with the element of air and are often thought to represent the realm of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.
The cards in the suit are as follows:
- Ace of Swords: Represents new beginnings, clarity of thought, and the power of the intellect.
- Two of Swords: Represents balance, stability, and the need to weigh options and make a decision.
- Three of Swords: Represents heartbreak, emotional pain, and the consequences of difficult decisions.
- Four of Swords: Represents rest, contemplation, and the need for a break from the mental and emotional demands of daily life.
- Five of Swords: Represents conflict, dishonesty, and a victory at the cost of someone else’s loss.
- Six of Swords: Represents movement, transition, and moving on from a difficult situation or painful experience.
- Seven of Swords: Represents strategy, planning, and the need to think ahead and be prepared.
- Eight of Swords: Represents limitation, restriction, and feeling trapped or stuck in a difficult situation.
- Nine of Swords: Represents fear, anxiety, and the power of the mind to create negative thoughts and emotions.
- Ten of Swords: Represents endings, completion, and the end of a cycle or phase in one’s life.
- Page of Swords: Represents a curious, analytical, and communicative person, often a young person or someone who is still learning about the power of their mind.
- Knight of Swords: Represents a logical, decisive, and assertive person, often someone who is driven by their intellect and their ability to communicate.
- Queen of Swords: Represents a rational, intelligent, and perceptive person, often someone who is able to cut through the emotions and see things clearly.
- King of Swords: Represents a wise, fair, and knowledgeable person, often someone who is able to use their intellect and their ability to communicate to help others.
Minor Arcana suit of Pentacles
The lesser arcana suit of pentacles represents material matters, physicality, and the body. They are often associated with the element of earth and are often thought to represent the realm of material possessions, money, and financial concerns.
The cards in the suit are as follows:
- Ace of Pentacles: Represents new beginnings, practicality, and the start of a new project or venture in the material realm.
- Two of Pentacles: Represents balance, stability, and the need to weigh options and make a decision in the context of material matters.
- Three of Pentacles: Represents teamwork, collaboration, and the accomplishment of a goal through hard work and effort.
- Four of Pentacles: Represents security, stability, and a need to protect one’s resources and belongings.
- Five of Pentacles: Represents poverty, lack, and financial struggles.
- Six of Pentacles: Represents generosity, sharing, and the balance of giving and receiving.
- Seven of Pentacles: Represents hard work, determination, and the need to persevere in the face of difficulties.
- Eight of Pentacles: Represents craftsmanship, skill, and the pursuit of mastery in a particular field.
- Nine of Pentacles: Represents abundance, prosperity, and the rewards of hard work and effort.
- Ten of Pentacles: Represents completion, legacy, and the material reward of a long-term goal.
- Page of Pentacles: Represents a practical, reliable, and hard-working person, often a young person or someone who is still learning about the material world.
- Knight of Pentacles: Represents a steady, hardworking, and reliable person, often someone who is driven by their desire for material success and security.
- Queen of Pentacles: Represents a caring, nurturing, and practical person, often someone who is able to create a comfortable and stable home and family.
- King of Pentacles: Represents a wise, successful, and financially secure person, often someone who is able to use their material success to help others.
The number meanings (numerology) of the Minor Arcana
In a traditional tarot deck, the numbers of the minor arcana can have various meanings, which can be interpreted differently depending on the context of the reading or the interpretation of the reader.
Generally, the numbers of the minor arcana can be thought to represent different stages or phases in a process or journey. Here are some of the possible meanings of the numbers in the minor arcana:
- Aces: Represents new beginnings, potential, and the start of a new phase or journey.
- Twos: Represents balance, stability, and the need to make a decision or take action.
- Threes: Represents growth, expansion, and the accomplishment of a goal or objective.
- Fours: Represents stability, security, and a need to establish a foundation or to consolidate one’s resources.
- Fives: Represents change, challenges, and potential for growth or loss
- Sixes: Represents harmony, balance, and the achievement of a goal or objective.
- Sevens: Represents determination, perseverance, and the need to overcome obstacles or challenges.
- Eights: Represents progress, movement, and the attainment of a goal or objective.
- Nines: Represents completion, fulfillment, and the attainment of a goal or objective.
- Tens: Represents the end of a cycle, completion, and attainment of a goal or objective.
For more information, we have an article on numerology in tarot.
Lesser Arcana astrological significance
In traditional tarot, the minor arcana are often associated with the astrological signs of the zodiac. Each suit is associated with a specific element and set of astrological signs:
- Cups are associated with the element of water and the astrological signs of Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces. These signs are all characterized by strong emotions and intuition, which aligns well with the suit of Cups.
- Wands are associated with the element of fire and the astrological signs of Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius. These signs are all characterized by energy, passion, and enthusiasm, which aligns well with the suit of Wands.
- Swords are associated with the element of air and the astrological signs of Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. These signs are all characterized by the mind and communication, which aligns well with the suit of Swords.
- Pentacles are associated with the element of earth and the astrological signs of Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. These signs are all characterized by practicality, stability, and material matters, which aligns well with the suit of Pentacles.
How the Minor Arcana works in a tarot reading
In a real tarot reading, the minor arcana can play a variety of roles depending on the question being asked and the spread is used. Here is an example of how the minor arcana might play a role in a specific reading:
A client comes to a reader asking about a new job opportunity they’re considering. The reader lays out a 3-card spread that addresses the client’s current situation, the potential job opportunity, and the potential outcome. In this spread, the reader draws the following cards:
- The current situation: The Four of Cups
- The potential job opportunity: The Ace of Wands
- The potential outcome: The Nine of Swords
In this reading, the Four of Cups represents the client’s current emotional state, which is one of detachment and apathy towards their current job. The Ace of Wands represents the new job opportunity and its potential for inspiration, creativity, and passion, a new beginning in career matters.
Finally, The Nine of Swords represents the client’s fear and anxiety about making a change and the potential consequences of taking this new job.
The reader would then interpret the cards and provide guidance to the client. They might point out that the Four of Cups suggests that the client is feeling unfulfilled in their current job, but that the Ace of Wands represents an exciting new opportunity that could bring a lot of passion and inspiration into the client’s life.
The Nine of Swords would be interpreted as the client’s fear and anxiety about making a change in their career, but the fear and anxiety are mostly within the client’s mind and it is important to address and overcome it.
In this example, the minor arcana cards were used to provide specific information about the client’s current emotional state and the potential opportunities and challenges associated with the new job opportunity.
The minor arcana can play a crucial role in a reading by providing detailed information about a specific situation or event and can help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the client’s current circumstances and potential future outcomes.
- Dean, L. (2015). The Ultimate Guide to Tarot: A Beginner’s Guide to the Cards, Spreads, and Revealing the Mystery of the Tarot. Amsterdam University Press.
- Ivtzan, I. (2007). Tarot Cards: A Literature Review and Evaluation of Psychic versus Psychological Explanations. Journal of Parapsychology, 71, 139.
- Wiccan Divination Methods