So much attention has been given to the Major Arcana — the 22 trumps of the tarot — because of their universal, archetypal resonance. Yet we don’t live our lives in the Great Mysterious 24 hours a day; we connect with that Mystery in life’s everyday experiences within and around us. The Minor Arcana — the four suits — depict how we experience the Big Mysteries in the quotidian. What are these suits and what are they about?
The first thing to know about the tarot suits is that each one of them contains 14 cards. Ace through Ten, then Page, Knight, Queen, and King. For me, the 14 cards depict a journey through each suit, Ace being the beginning, planting, or envisioning stage and King being the completion, ending, or sharing stage. Many modern tarot decks get away from hierarchical ideas by changing the court cards to something else. e.g. Shaman instead of King, Woman instead of Queen, Explorer instead of Knight, or Place instead of Page.
One of the suits relates to the element of Fire and is often called Wands (can also be named something like Pipes, Trees, or Batons). This suit is about the self, self-discovery, self-expression, individuality, anything connected the concepts of “me, my, mine, myself”. The journey of the Wands is a journey of envisioning and creating who we’d like to be, gaining self-esteem, connection with our core spirit, and becoming a leaderly, confident being.
Another suit corresponds with Water and is often called Cups (can also be titled something like Bowls, Rivers, or Vessels). Cups are about feelings, emotions, relating with others, intimacy, intuition, groups, anything about the ideas of “we, ours, us, ourselves”. To spend time with the Cups deepens our relatedness, opens our hearts, supports dipping into the unconscious, heals our addictions, and sharpens our psychic knowing.
The Air-related suit, often referred to as Swords (also called things such as Arrows, Birds, or Crystals), tells us stories about ideas, thought, the conscious mind, speech, writing, teaching, learning, anything mental, philosophical, or communicational. To stroll through the Swords is to gain and share knowledge, hone our worldview, discern our learning style, figure out how to analyse keenly, live a lifestyle consonant with our beliefs, and hold conversations that matter.
Finally, the fourth suit, often called Pentacles (or names like Stones, Coins, or Worlds), is the suit of Earth. This is the suit of the body, anything physical or tangible, our material goods, money, work, sexual expression, security, and health. To abide with the Pentacles for a while grounds us, fosters our sense of safety, points the way to material and physical well-being, connects us with the spirit of Earth, and reminds us how good it is to be embodied.
On any given day or week, we can be at different points in the various “suits”/aspects of life. For instance, I might have a mature sense of self-esteem (Queen of Wands), feel emotionally stable (Six of Cups), be compiling huge list of diverse ideas (Seven of Swords), and notice an unstable bank account (Five of Pentacles) all going on at the same time. This wholistic and realistic view of life is one of the tarot’s great gifts to us. As a mirror of who we are and who we can be, it allows us to notice what is so we can make choices. How empowering!
The Minor Arcana isn’t just a tag-along to the Majors, it’s a vital part of the tarot that can guide us in the real life we’re living. Without the four suits, we wouldn’t see our full selves.