How to Master All 78 Cards of the Tarot in 3 Simples Steps

The beginning student of the Tarot is often overwhelmed and intimidated by the sheer number of things you need to know and remember about the 78 cards that make up the Major and Minor Arcana.

What follows is the system that is designed to bring the new student up to speed as quickly as possible.

STEP ONE: Keep A Journal

This is probably one of the most important things you can do to build a strong foundation for your understanding of the Tarot. It is highly recommended that you use a 3-ring binder to make adding pages a simple task. Ideally, your journal will be personalized in ways that make it meaningful for you, but you should seriously consider including at least the following sections:

Philosophy Section
This section is for writing down ideas and inspirations that will come to you as you develop your understanding. This section can also be used to file any interesting articles that you come across that illustrate the various principles of the Tarot.

Interpretation Section
You may want to start with 2 pages per Tarot card, and expand as time goes on. This section is where you will keep notes on the meanings and interpretations of the various cards. It’s especially interesting to look back after a few years, and notice the path your thinking has taken on any given card.

This section is for readings, dreams and reflections. Whenever possible, you should transcribe the cards that come up in a reading, and try to reconstruct what is said for each card. The interesting thing about this technique is that often you will often come up with additional insights that may have missed during the actual reading. While it’s not always possible to share this information with the client for whom the reading was done (especially in the context of a psychic expo or party), you will find that this exercise to be very useful in future readings.

Custom-colored Tarot Deck
During the 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn required its initiates to color in black-and-white reproductions of their Tarot decks. In our day, it’s a very simple matter to photocopy your favorite deck and include it in your journal. Regardless of whether you follow the deck’s original color scheme or use a different combination of colors, this is an excellent way to become familiar with the details of your cards.

STEP TWO: Learn A System

The system described here is made up of learning four basic components:

The 4 suits of the Minor Arcana
The Numerological Significance within each suit The Court Cards
The Major Arcana

The interesting thing about this system is that knowing the first three components allows you to do readings with an ordinary pack of cards. This is especially useful when you find yourself at a friend’s house without your Tarot deck. The only adjustment you will need to make will be to interpret the Jacks as a combination of the Tarot’s Pages and Knights.

The 4 Suits of the Minor Arcana

For each of the four suits, there are a number of correspondences to remember, including Meaning, Element, Season, Psychological Aspect and Playing Card Suit.

Meaning: Creative power in your external world Element: Fire

Season: Spring

Psychological Aspect: Intuition

Playing Card Suit: Clubs

Cautionary Key: Fire by itself cannot thrive

The suit of Wands is associated with opportunities and events in your external world, including social (family and friends) and business (job, career) spheres.

The visual cues found in the Rider-Waite deck’s depiction of the Wands can help you remember the Element and Season. If you look closely at the wands, you’ll notice small leaves sprouting from them, which can help you to remember the Season as Spring. When trying to remember the Element, try to picture these leaves as little flames.

To remember the Psychological Aspect, think of how the Wands’ fire can be seen as the spark of intuition and creativity that inspires you to make the most of the opportunities you encounter.

It’s important to remember that in the context of a Tarot spread, it is essential to have a good balance of elements, and this is especially true of Fire, since it needs the fuel provided by the other elements if it is to thrive.

Meaning: Love and Emotion Element: Water

Season: Summer

Psychological Aspect: Feeling

Playing Card Suit: Hearts Cautionary Key: Too much water can drown

It may be helpful to remember the Meaning of the Cups (Love and Emotion) by remembering the corresponding Playing Card Suit (Hearts). The Element is easy to remember, since not only do the Cups hold water, but there is water in just about every Cups card in the Rider-Waite deck. You can remember the Season by thinking of which season is best suited for swimming.

The Psychological Aspect is easy to remember, as it is the aspect most associated with the heart.

When interpreting the number of Cups in a spread, keep in mind that too much water is rarely a good thing and can lead to the drowning of other aspects of your life.

Meaning: Intellect and Challenges Element: Air

Season: Fall

Psychological Aspect: Thinking

Playing Card Suit: Spades

Cautionary Key: Thought without action is nothing more than dreaming.

The secondary Meaning of the Swords (Challenges) is easy to remember, since so many of the images have a grim (and therefore ‘challenging’) feeling about them. To remember that the Swords also represent the Intellect, think of what one of your most effective tools is for working your way through a challenge.

You may want to remember the Element by picturing a sword whistling through the air. You can remember the Season by imagining the Swords being used to chop firewood for the coming Winter months.

The Psychological Aspect is easy to remember if you are able to recall the primary Meaning of the suit (Thinking).

When looking at a spread predominated by Swords, it’s important to remind the person that too much thought and too little action will do little to resolve a challenge.

Meaning: Prosperity and Physical Needs Element: Earth

Season: Winter Psychological Aspect: Sensation Playing Card Suit: Diamonds Cautionary Key:
There’s more to life than wealth

The primary Meaning of Pentacles is easy to remember - there are coins on every card! The key to truly understanding the suit of Pentacles, however, is remembering that prosperity comes in many different forms besides money. All the money in the world will comfort you little if you don’t have physical health and security.

You can remember the Element of Earth by thinking about the source of all material things, and sometimes visualize the individual Pentacles as seeds that are planted in the ground (Earth).

You can remember the Season by thinking of what you need to get through the Winter, especially if you live in the northern climates where you wouldn’t last long if you didn’t have the money to buy heating fuel.

The Psychological Aspect is relatively easy to remember if you think about the different forms of wealth, such as gold coins (i.e., the golden Pentacles) and diamonds, and what a sensation it would be to have your life filled with them.

Numerological Significance within Each Suit

By combining the meanings of the numbers one through ten with the meanings of the four suits, you will be able to understand the basic qualities of 40 of the 78 Tarot cards. Once you’ve done this, you will have mastered over half of the cards of the Tarot.

The meaning of the individual numbers is easier to remember if you picture them as qualities of a natural progression of something from beginning to completion. In this way, Wands progress towards constructive energy, Cups progress towards emotional fulfillment, and Pentacles progress towards prosperity. Because of their dual nature, Swords can represent either a progression towards increased intellectual abilities or the path a challenge can take on its way to resolution. It is also helpful to visualize odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, and 9) as being active and dynamic, while even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) are inherently passive and stable.

Is the number of New Beginnings and Originality, usually experienced as an Upsurge of Energy. Think of the enthusiasm and energy that accompanies a new project. You can also think of ONE as the number of New Ideas, an example being the idea a couple may have to start a family.

Is the number that witnesses the Bringing Together of Forces in the form of people, resources and ideas necessary to bring the idea of the ONE into being. These forces must embody the characteristic of Cooperation if the idea is to progress past this stage. One of the strongest examples of the TWO nature is the coming together of the couple we saw in the explanation of the number ONE.

Is the number of Creativity, Manifestation and Growth, which is the result of the ONE and TWO being combined. Carrying forward the example provided for the TWO nature, you can visualize the THREE as the child that results from the union of the TWO.

Is the number of Stability and Solid Foundations, and is the result of the first three numbers. The developing child is able to get around quite well by crawling on their 2 hands and 2 knees.

Is the number of Change, Variety and Adventure. You must be flexible to change, and realize that adventure also implies risk. When the child first stands and learns to walk, they can be seen as the 5-pointed star (2 legs + 2 arms + 1 head). Their new-found freedom is a definite Change from their previous FOUR nature (and maybe just a little wobbly at first), bringing both Variety and Adventure into their life.

Is the number of Harmony and Balance, which is necessary after the unpredictability of the FIVE. You must cultivate the practice of Responsibility to realize the qualities of harmony and balance.

Is the number of Introspection and Wisdom (that often comes from asking ‘Why?’), which usually come after going through the previous six numbers. There is a feeling of Completion within the context of a larger cycle, and the temptation to experiment with what’s already been established.

Is the number of Success that results from going through the previous seven numbers and applying the lessons learned. Eight often represents a desire to regroup and reorganize before moving on to the next level.

Is the number of Universality and the understanding that every action has a global implication. There is a feeling of forward motion and momentum in the Nine that carries it on into the Ten.

Is the number of Completion and the Transition that comes with it. The transition may be seen as going deeper or further with an established direction or starting something new. Because the basic numbers only include 1 - 9, TEN must resolve to ONE.