Illumination Tarot - Exploring the tarot for insight and enlightenment.

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Tarot Glossary

A visitor suggested I add a tarot glossary to the site, and I think it's a great idea, so I've put together this list of words, phrases, places and people commonly encountered in the study of tarot. These are my own "definitions," sometimes brief, sometimes with added commentary.

Baton - see Wand.

Cartomancy - the art of using cards to divine or predict.

Chalice - see Cup.

Club - see Wand.

Coin -one of the four suits, Coins most often refer to areas of life having to do with material objects, possessions, finances, money, wealth, building, home life, practical matters, investments, inheritance, property, work, skills, craftsmanship, harvest, etc., and to the element Earth. Some deck creators prefer to call this suit Disks or Pentacles.

Colman Smith, Pamela - Pamela Colman Smith was the artist commissioned by A.E. Waite to illustrate his tarot deck, in 1909.

Computerized reading - computerized readings are tarot readings conducted by a computer program; there are no physical cards, and no actual tarot reader. They tend to offer impersonal reports that do not give much helpful detail, however there are some programs that are quite effective.

Consultant - a consultant is someone who reads (or consults) tarot cards for others.

Court card - court cards are the "person cards" of the tarot. These are the final four of every suit, and usually include Page, Knight, Queen, and King; but this can vary. For example, a Page is often a Princess, a Knight a Prince. Court cards often refer to people in the querent's life, but may point to aspects of the querent him/herself. Generally, there is a hierarchal approach to interpreting court cards. Pages can point to younger people or to messengers (or messages), innocence, or naiveté. Knights often point to energy, strength, courage, or drive. Queens represent strong female traits or feminine authority. Kings tend to signify male authority, male leadership, masculine energy, or father figures. This is a very loose guide, as each court card has a meaning relevant to its suit, as well as position in a spread.

Crowley, Aleister - well-known author and member of the Golden Dawn who was famous for his magickal works and perversity. He contributed greatly to the growth of the occult, and designed the very popular and dynamic Thoth Tarot.

Cup - one of the four suits, Cups most often refer to areas of life having to do with love, emotion, feelings, art, artistic inspiration, the muse, sensitivity, intuition, romance, friendship, relationships, emotional fulfillment, dreams, fantasy, etc., and to the element Water. Some deck creators prefer to call this suit Chalices.

Disk - see Coin.

Distance reading - a distance reading is a tarot reading conducted for a querent who is not present.

Egypt - Egypt is often wrongly stated as the birthplace of tarot. Although historians cannot find evidence of tarot originating in Egypt, tarot (and its development) has at times been influenced by Egyptian spiritual concepts.

Fortune telling - the act of telling future events.

Free readings - a common phrase online today, "free tarot readings" sometimes indicates actual tarot readings conducted by experienced readers, but it often points to general computerized reports not personalized to the querent, and very often is just a lure.

Harris, Lady Frieda - Lady Frieda Harris was commissioned by Aleister Crowley to paint the images for his Thoth Tarot deck. The deck was published in 1969, years after Harris' death. It is a very popular deck, largely due to Harris' dynamic artwork.

Ill dignified - when a card appears upside-down or reversed, it is often referred to as ill dignified.

Journal - a tarot journal is a place where one can record tarot readings, tarot dreams, tarot exercises and rituals, or notes about tarot study and meditation. Many people, both beginning and advanced tarot enthusiasts, keep a tarot journal; in beautiful books, simple three ring binders, or even web pages.

Kabbalah - (also spelled Cabala, and Qabala) an intricate and profound system from mystical Judaism that seeks to explain the workings of the universe, and the path on which humans can attain unity with the divine. Many people see a connection between Kabbalah and tarot.

LWB - the abbreviation for "little white booklet," referring to the little white booklets that come with most tarot decks. These generally offer just enough information to get by with, although some are quite well written and helpful.

Major Arcana - the Major Arcana (the greater secrets) consists of twenty-two cards, often called trumps or keys, that represent the major forces at work in the universe, major psychological archetypes, and a metaphysical or spiritual progression of human life. When Major Arcana cards appear in a reading, they often signal more significant events or opportunities for personal growth and change than the Minor Arcana cards would.

Minor Arcana - the Minor Arcana (the lesser secrets) includes the cards of the four suits of the tarot, which represent the lessons, experiences, opportunities, and people encountered in daily life.

Numerology - the study of the esoteric or mystical meaning of numbers. Modern numerology has a long and valid history, originating with the ancient Greeks. A basic familiarity with numerology can assist in understanding tarot.

Pentacle - see Coin.

Pip - pips are the numbered cards in the Minor Arcana; for example, the Ace of Wands, Two of Pentacles . Nine of Swords, and Ten of Cups.

Querent (sometimes spelled Querient) - the querent is the person for whom a tarot reading is being conducted.

Query - a query is the question being focused upon in a tarot reading.

Reader - the tarot reader is the person performing the reading.

Reversed card - when a card appears upside-down in a tarot reading, it is often referred to as reversed. Reversed cards have different interpretations than upright cards. Some people read their meanings as opposite the upright card's meaning, some people simply assign negative aspects of the card's upright meaning.

Rod- see Wand.

Scepter - see Wand.

Significator - the significator is a card chosen at the beginning of a tarot reading, to represent the querent, or the person for whom the reading is being conducted. Not every reader chooses to use a significator, and for those who do, there are quite a few different methods of selecting one.

Spade - see Sword.

Spread - a tarot spread is a specifically designed card layout, in which each card position is assigned an overall guideline for interpretation. A spread can vary in size, from one card to many, and can be designed to focus on any aspect of life.

Staff - see Wand.

Stave - see Wand.

Suit - in the traditional tarot, there are four suits of cards in the Minor Arcana: Swords, Wands, Coins, and Cups. These often vary somewhat in title or attribute, but generally refer to four areas of ordinary life and daily living, and to the four elements (Air, Fire, Earth, and Water).

Sword - one of the four suits, Swords most often refer to areas of life having to do with mental processes, communication, writing, messages, thought, intellect, tension, worry, disagreement, confusion, etc.; and to the element Air. Some deck creators prefer to call this suit Spades.

Trump - the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana are often referred to as trumps.

Waite, A.E. - in the early twentieth century, Arthur Edward Waite designed a deck whose pip cards were fully illustrated with descriptive scenes. His designs became the standard, and most tarot decks since Waite's have been illustrated based on his ideas.

Wand - one of the four suits, Wands most often refer to areas of life having to do with energy, action, moving forward in plans or projects, creativity, enthusiasm, zest, passion, impulse, travel, ambition, inspiration, etc.; and to the element Fire. Some deck creators prefer to call this suit Batons, Clubs, Staves, Scepters, Rods, or Staffs.

Illumination Tarot has been publishing articles, reviews, tarot spreads, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts and followers of alternative spirituality online since 1999.
All writing, reviews, and photography © Nellie Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2022