While the Major Arcana cards represent important and significant life stages that all human beings move through, the Minor Arcana, sometimes called the ‘lesser mysteries’, reflect events and people in daily life. They are extremely useful, enabling us to get perspectives and insights we might not discover without the cards.
There are 56 Minor Arcana cards in a traditional, standard tarot deck. They comprise 40 numbered cards in four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. There are also 16 ‘personality’ or Court cards. Together with the 22 Major Arcana, they add up to 78.
Understanding the Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana complement the Majors perfectly by letting us know how and why we reach those important milestones in our spiritual development. They act as pointers and mini road maps. They can show us where we are doing well and where we’re going horribly wrong. They can encourage, redirect and even give us a good telling-off.
Whenever a Minor highlights a problem, it will also offer a solution. Let’s take the problematical Nine of Swords, for example. It shows a woman sitting up in bed with her hands covering her face. She is obviously consumed with worry and anxiety, fearing the worst is going to happen. It’s very likely the thoughts are going round and round, driving her crazy. No-one could sleep when they feel that wound up. She’s got a problem.
Let’s take another look. Her bed looks comfortable and pretty. The carving on the side looks a little like Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden. Perhaps she is feeling cut off and isolated? As if no-one can help her with her situation? And look at those swords ranged on the wall behind her. They look a little like a ladder, don’t they? If we imagine that the swords are the problems, then maybe she could try to look at things in another way? Perhaps the solution she yearns for so intently can be found within the problem and not from the outside? Maybe she is trying to work out how she can force the problem into submission? All she has to do is very, very carefully climb that ladder, metaphorically, into the light. Tackle those problems from another direction.
By seeing the symbolism within each card and asking questions of ourselves, we will come to a deeper understanding of the Minor Arcana.
Another thing to be aware of is little memory pops into your head when you are looking at a card. Often, all you need to do is speak it out loud, and suddenly you can make a connection betwixt the question and the card. Those connections stick and will help you become a proficient reader.
Minor Arcana Cards in a Reading
Minor Arcana cards are governed by their suit and by their number. Knowing a little basic numerology can help you decipher a card’s meaning in a reading quite easily, as there is a logical progression from Ace to 10. However, there are nuances within nuances in these enigmatic images, so the more you can learn about symbology, the more you can increase your understanding.
Even then, you should develop your own interpretations. For instance, if the color red always signifies danger to you, then pay attention when you see cards with red in them. To another person, that vivid red might mean courage and bravery. The more time you spend with your cards, the faster you will be able to interpret their meaning.
Sometimes, only Minor Arcana will appear in a reading — this signifies that the seeker’s issues all lie within daily life and can be dealt with accordingly. That doesn’t mean that they are not important to the seeker, of course.
Minor Arcana Tarot Spread
When you are facing a problem, you probably want a quick answer. There’s no need for complicated spreads that include the Majors – that’s not what you are looking for. This three-card reading will give clarity and advice. Separate the three components of the deck: Majors, Minors and Court Cards. Hunt out the Fool – he is your tarot representative. Put the Majors aside.
Focus on the problem, and then formulate your question in a way that you will get a good solid answer. For example: “What is my best course of action in this situation?” or, “How should I deal with this obstacle?”
Place the Fool down in front of you, face up. Shuffle the Minors and draw one card. Depending on your deck and which way the Fool is facing, place the card down so the Fool is looking at it.
Ask the question you formulated, “What is the Fool’s best course of action as he faces this card?” Make a note of the first answer that pops into your head. Move the Minor card aside.
Ask, “Who could help the Fool with this?”
Shuffle the 16 Court cards, pick one and place it so the Fool is looking at it. Work out whether this might be an actual person or whether the Fool (you) needs this card’s energy. You might ask, “What would the Queen of Swords (or whichever card turned up) do in the same situation?”
You should have your answer by now, but if not, lay the three cards down in a row (the order doesn’t matter) and wait for any other insights to come to you. Try moving the cards around – sometimes changing their position can make all the difference.
As with any spread, you can journal about it, keep it nearby so you can look at it again and mull over the possibilities, or gaze at it before you go to sleep and see if any other solutions come to you in that dreamy state before and after sleep.
The Minor Arcana Suit Keywords
Wands – Inspiration, first cause, action, passion, enthusiasm, responsibility
Cups – Emotions, feelings, love, connections, nurturing, empathy, intuition
Swords – Thought, communication, logic, judgment, fairness, mental issues
Pentacles – Practicalities, manifestation, health, work, day-to-day matters.