Tarot Lexicon

by Douglas Gibb on May 29, 2009

I thought it would be a great idea to create a Tarot Keyword Library. This would be a place where people could add their own thoughts, impressions and ideas on what each of the 78 cards mean; an exchange centre, a rotating lexicon of keywords. I’ll start by adding a brief outline of how I see the Tarot, followed by five separate posts on the keywords themselves; you can add your own suggestions in the comments section below. This will be a great resource for checking out some divinatory meanings or, DMs for the Tarot.

The Pips or Minor cards

The Pip cards, as a rule, refer to what is actually happening within the life of the client. They refer to actual, objective, day-to-day events. They refer to an objective reality that is outside, for the most part, the direct control of the client. This is technically a false statement as the Pips can be changed through the individuals own efforts and free-will (to what extent is debatable) but how many people use their free-will? Of course people will tell you that they do, but do they? The exceptions use free-will, not the rule.

The Pips do not focus on, as their primary meaning, a subjective inner-world day dream. When reading Pip cards, start off asking your self:

  1. What is the objective reality
  2. What is not under the direct control of the client
  3. What is shaping the clients subjective reality

Once those questions have been asked, allow the Aces, Courts and Trumps to enrich your understanding of the client’s life. Use the information to find out how much:

  1. Free-will is possible
  2. What the dreams and aspirations of the client are
  3. The possibility for a good outcome (as far as the client is concerned)
  4. What the client Does Not Know

The Pip cards are an excellent way of indicating things that the client does not know; is unaware of; is too uncertain to be sure.

Are there different systems or formulas used to allocate divinatory meanings to the Pips? The answer is yes.

One system states that the Pips derive their meaning from their number and suit. Another, which is from the Golden Dawn, states that the Pips derive their meaning from number, suit, Planet and Zodiacal signs.

The Pips are divided into the four Elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth.

The Fire cards are active

Thoth Tarot Fire Cards

  • Concerned with day to day events
  • Negotiating with others
  • Are optimistic
  • Exhaustion
  • Burn out
  • Burning the candle at both ends

The Water cards are passive

Thoth Tarot Water Cards

  • Concerned with emotions
  • Study
  • Art
  • Relationships

The Air cards are active

Thoth Tarot Air Group

They suggest the need to act to overcome problems.

  • Sickness
  • Surgery
  • Dentist
  • Arguments
  • Moving away from troubles

The Disk cards are passive

Thoth Tarot Earth Cards

  • Concerned with money
  • Goods
  • The organization of business
  • They refer to the clients property and land

The Twenty-Two Trumps

Do the picture cards hold a special place within your deck?

Yes, they do, but not for the reasons we all assume.

At first glance, they don’t seem to represent anything concrete, just a strangely incomprehensible philosophical position on some particular aspect of human experience.

When I first started reading Tarot, this first impression was immediately crushed by all the authoritative works I read. They told me that the Trumps were the most important. They explained a hierarchical division between the Majors, Courts and the Minors (very occult terminology). This didn’t make sense to me. After all, the Pips depict what’s happening on a practical ‘real-world’ level, not the Trumps. It is perfectly understandable however, given the historical context of the Tarot and the past times of the upper classes.

The way I resolved this, in my mind, was to liken it to the way mythology is presented. Usually all the gods/goddesses are represented by one animal or another. Peculiar don’t you think? Animals? Animals just act on their base desires. How could gods be represented in this way?

Zeus Seduces Antiope As A Satyros

The answer is similar to the difference between the Trumps and the Pip cards of the Tarot. The Pips are right here with us, side-by-side. The Trumps aren’t. They live in some transcendental, almost god-like location. Their influence on the day to day events of life here on Earth is non-existent until they adopt their animal form, their ‘Minor’ form.

One final analogy, different and not necessarily compatible with the first, much like the historical relationship between the upper and lower classes: they ignored them at every opportunity but trumped them at every turn.

In terms of fortune telling, it’s important to understand these cards; to understand their contradictions, and secondly their interactions with the Courts and Pips. The way I see things, on a spiritual level at least, hierarchy is wrong. It breeds jealousy and is, in my view, simply the product of politics and has nothing to do with Nature.

The idea that the Trumps are at the top and the Pips are at the bottom is damaging to our spiritual development. It’s the same as denying the needs of the body in favour of some higher principal (that usually has no reality or value, other than what that individual, or society gives it). I see one big circle of interactions between the Trumps, Courts and Pips, with no one particular grouping having any more value than the other.

The Four Aces

The Aces are the Tarot!

Thoth Tarot Aces

Certainly, this is the view expressed by a system put in place by the Golden Dawn. If we take this system as a starting point then it’s best to start off thinking about the Aces as a concept. The concept is this: all the Minor and Court cards reside within the Aces. The Aces are not the Minors or the Courts of their respective suits, but rather the potential for those Minors and Courts to be created. In this way the Aces, on a very primordial level, represent the potential for anything to happen.

Going further with this concept, we can state that the Ace of Wands has all the other cards within in. The Ace of Wands, the Fire of creation, is the Tarot.

When reading Tarot cards, view the Aces as:

  1. Potential
  2. The suit
  3. The suit of the Ace will indicate what potentially might happen within the Client’s life
  4. Overall an Ace doesn’t represent anything as such; simply the potential for something to happen, a possibility

The Courts

The Court Cards are ways of representing abstract ideas on how the Universe was created and how it sustains itself. The King and Queen represent the Active and Passive principle. When they join in Union (a union being any two things that produce a third thing completely different from the original two) they can go one of two ways. They can transcend this state or move forward into Matter.

Thoth Tarot Court Cards

The product of this Union was twins; The Knight (Prince) and the Page (Princess); or daughter if you apply the Formula of Tetragrammaton, which in many ways this is. The Prince then marries the Princess; kills the old King and is subsequently appointed the new King. The Princess becomes the Queen and the new King and Queen then join in Union, produce twins and the cycle repeats itself.

This cyclic process represents, on a very abstract level, how the Universe sustains itself. Consider the Two of Disks as a good example of: the more things change the more they stay the same.

The Formula of Tetragrammaton would be a good thing to look into if this interests you. Check out the Book of Thoth and The Golden Bough.

One final point I would like to make: in this system, the King, Queen, Prince and Princess represent the Elements, Fire, Water, Air and Earth. In the Golden Dawn System, the Court cards consist of sub elements. In many ways, this system makes it easier to develop a personality profile for each Court card, should you wish to do so.

In fact, it might make an interesting project to try using the sub elements and astrological associations to develop your very own Court card personalities.


Remember, Tarot cards, in the sense of using them to divine the future, are simple. The books make learning these cards complex, but there is nothing complex about a Tarot card. The study of keywords and symbols, as a method of learning how to predict the future is unnecessarily complex. It won’t work; it won’t work because Tarot cards are simple.

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6 comments… Let's discuss

Catherine May 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

It’s interesting how despite the Tarot hierarchy is handed down to us, and how we see the Trumps as lofty, in a reading, we pull them right down to earth to incorporate them into the client’s life!

If we consider the High Priestess particularly, her high spiritual status and seemingly other worldliness, in a reading, we could tell the client to use their intuition more, or apply self trust to a situation that they’re not comfortable in – a loose association when you consider how highly we place her in the hierarchy of the Tarot.

Despite the ranking, or the number of the suit, I agree that we have to allow the interactions between them remain on an even keel as they each bring a unique quality to a Tarot reading.

Love this idea by the way – and the name :) I’m looking forward to reading what other people have to say about individual cards and how they see them within the hierarchy we’ve all at one time applied.


Douglas June 22, 2009 at 10:32 am

Hey Catherine, it’s cool you like the idea of this being a place to share ideas. I’m glad because I think it’s important for people to see that the divinatory meanings we use in an actual Tarot reading can vary between readings and also, hopefully, to show that the theory behind the cards isn’t necessarily informative in terms of actual fortune telling.

The High Priestess is a great example. In occult decks this card is often associated with the Qabbalah and the position given to it and the importance placed upon it, does not always translate well in an actually tarot reading.

I’ve been enjoying your lessons on Elemental Dignities which is just one technique that we can use to assist our readings; but more importantly, it’s one technique that shows the need to balance out how much importance we place on individual cards and their divinatory meanings. I look forward to reading more of your posts.


S. Elizabeth Tarris June 11, 2009 at 2:10 am

It’s odd but I have never looked at the Tarot as having a hierarchy. I look at the Tarot as circular, each card representing a particular point in a person’s life, beginning with The Fool and ending at the last Minor Arcana/Pip.

Each Major Arcana represents an Eventful/Larger point in our lives, but the Minor Arcana fill in the details. To me the details are more important, because as humans, we have more control and understand the details more than we do the Eventful/Larger points in our lives. The details are what ultimately cause and affect the major events in our lives. A minor change is always easier and more successful than a major change. And the minor changes eliminate the need for a major change down the road.

Just as our life is a circular journey, the cards that appear in each reading progress until all the cards relevant to our path, have come and gone or returned as the case may be. One card, be it Major or Minor, is never more important than another, each represents a moment, but that same kind of moment is more important to some than it is to others! So any card can have more importance if it applies to some thing that really matters to the querent.

Thanks for the thought provoking articles!


Douglas June 11, 2009 at 11:09 am

Totally, I agree with the circular approach you take. The significance of any one card is depended on the person you’re giving a reading to and can change depending on differing people’s lives.

Life itself, it seems to me, doesn’t really go any place or evolve into anything ‘higher’ so to speak.

There have been a lot of documentaries on television recently that discussed or celebrated Darwin’s 200 year old evolution theory. It got me thinking that life simply reacts and adapts to changing circumstance that ‘life’ finds itself. The changes in circumstances tend to be chance or random as does the adoptions that life itself takes. In this sense there doesn’t seem to be any evolving to a higher state of consciousness; or that life itself, or more specifically, human consciousness is evolving. If it does then it will simply be a reaction to, say the threat of global annihilation, forcing an adaption in how humans relate to each other, the planet and life itself.

With all those musings in mind, a circular approach to exploring the Tarot and in framing a Tarot reading make absolute sense to me.


Charles January 2, 2010 at 7:19 am

You make an interesting point about the ace of wands “containing” the other cards. But I disagree. It’s the ace of pentacles that contains the whole deck. Note that when you open a new deck of tarot cards, the ace of pentacles is on the bottom. It is the ultimate destination of all forces, to appear on the physical plane as represented by the ace of pentacles. Note that even Crowley held similar beliefs, his personal sigil is on his ace of pentacles card design. That ace is the symbol, the foundation of the deck.


Douglas Gibb January 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Hi Charles,

That’s a good point. I liked how you linked it to Crowley’s sigil (I believe that that is a traditional place for the creator of deck to place his mark – I wonder if your point of view links into this tradition?). I also like the concept of something starting from Earth.


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