There is a difference between tarot reading and cartomancy. Tarot cards have become so popular that the art of cartomancy has somewhat fallen out of favor. Cartomancy is divination with playing cards. Skill with cartomancy is still an important ability when reading tarot cards if we include the minor arcana in the deck with a reading. A deck like the Rider-Waite has unique images for every card of the minor arcana, so that makes it easy. But with many other decks…all we have to go by are the suits and the number of pips.
The symbolism of the major arcana is fairly standard. I have not seen any real standard meanings for the minor arcana. The way I look at them, we are pretty much on our own when it comes to determining their meaning in divination. We still need some guidance, so I combine numerology along with the recognized meanings behind the suits. A problem is that numerology also doesn’t have any rock solid meanings either. However, we may be able to cobble together some basic ideas.
First are the meanings of the suits. The heart represents the feminine principle, emotions and matters of relationships and the family. In the tarot the cup symbolizes it. The club (tarot’s literal club) represents the masculine principle, of labor and effort and non-emotional pursuits. The diamond (tarot’s coin) obviously represents money and matters of money and wealth. And finally the spade (tarot’s sword) represents strife and conflict of one sort or another.
When we combine these basic core concepts with a number, we can sort of figure out what is going on. Below are some generally accepted ideas about the symbolism with numbers:
This would be the pure essence of a thing without balance. An Ace of Hearts could symbolize unconditional love…or an unrequited fatal attraction!
This symbolizes two opposites, the ying and yang, which may not be in balance. The two sides of a coin that don’t connect.
Where the number 1 is a point, and 2 cannot form a shape, 3 can now create the first geometric shape…the triangle. Unity and Duality combined into manifesting reality in 3 dimensions. And when a couple gives birth to a child, two now becomes three and that is the start of society and the continuation of life.
FOUR: Physical matter.
The square, and the material world, the 4 corners of the compass, the 4 classic elements, the 4 seasons of nature define the number.
FIVE: The Body.
5 points create the Pentagram or Pentagon. This represents the human body. Now the 4 points of matter and physicality are ruled over by the 5th point of the brain-spirit. The 5 points symbolize the human body, the arms and legs and head, with the head ruling over all of them. This also symbolizes the power of humanity to control matter and nature in general.
SIX: Balance and Harmony.
Six points creates the Hexagram or Hexagon. This is a special number, the first perfect number. 1+2+3 = 6, and 1x2x3=6. It is the union of two triangles upwards and downwards merged together in unity. Unlike the number two which can be unbalanced, here is balance achieved. It is the combination of forces…like the male and female principles or sky and earth.
SEVEN: Good Fortune.
Seven is a prime number and the seven points create the Heptagon or Heptagram. This is considered to be a lucky number. It is the sum of 3 (spirit) and 4 (matter). This combination of spirit and matter means we will get what we seek. It can create two heptagrams and the second is called the Fairy Star and imbued with special importance in some traditions.
Eight: Material Concerns.
The two squares of matter are combined into one. This is not about material objects itself but about our relationship to material matters. It is the complexity of material existence. The eight points creates the Octagon and Octagram. This number is often thought of as symbolizing success.
This number is considered a negative number. I think because it is a chaotic number. Nine points can suddenly take many geometric shapes; meaning order is giving away to chaos. Chaos does not have to be bad, but it opens up the door to chance and randomness.
Ten is the number of completion. Mathematics is based on 10.
Now if we have a suit card, we can come up with some idea what it might represent without having to remember each card’s meaning. A nine of spades would be a bad card…chaos and conflict. But a ten of spades could represent success from a conflict. The real trick is how each card relates to others in a layout, and modifies their meaning. It really becomes an intuitive exercise. I find pondering a card layout is a lot like playing chess…a lot of thinking is going on. It’s like trying to fit the pieces of a puzzle together. Except chess has clear rules!