Symbols of the Tarot

symbols of the tarot

Exploring Symbols of the Tarot…I dig symbolism. I’ve devoted most of my life to seeking and understanding the deeper meaning in all things. I spend most of my time writing all about symbolic meanings on this and my other websites ( and my blog,

Given this passion for meaningful insights, my devotion to the Tarot just makes good sense. Tarot and symbolism go together like peanut butter and jelly. That’s probably why I got so jazzed about Tarot the first time I picked up a deck over two decades ago.

Symbolism is a language. In fact, symbolism is humanity’s first language. Consider cave drawings. Man has communicated via symbols long before an alphabet was every created. Consequently, every human is hard-wired to think in terms of symbolic language. Think about it. Out of all our physical senses, sight is one of the most powerful tools of perception. So when we see a symbol, like in the Tarot, our perception instantly attributes meaning to it.

The neat thing about this kind of communication is that it’s open to interpretation. Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone. You perceive the conversation one way, while the other person has a completely different opinion. Same with symbols of the Tarot. Your idea of a symbol’s meaning will be different from anybody else’s. There may be similarities in interpretations, but like snowflakes, your viewpoint is unique.

That’s the cool thing about Tarot reading – we each bring a special take on what we’re perceiving. But even though our interpretations of symbols may be different, there are certain symbols that should maintain standardized meanings. These symbols are the four foundations of the suits: Pentacles, Swords, Wands (rods) and Cups. These four symbols can serve as a highly useful scaffolding. We can build our readings on the meanings of these four symbols. Starting with the prime meaning of each suit symbol will ground us while we interpret all the rest of the symbols of Tarot.

So what are these core meanings for the suit symbols? Here is a basic guideline…

symbols of the tarot
Symbols of the Tarot – Chart of Associations

More About Symbols of the Tarot

This is a symbol of materialism. It is a grounding concept. Pentacles represent the earth. So when you see cards in this suit – be mindful of things that are tangible. Pentacles will clue you in on what’s going on a grass-root level. Home, money, material things…stuff you can physically deal with.

This is a symbol of the mind. It’s a mental concept. Swords represent the realm of air. So when you see cards in this suit – be aware of things that are intangible. Swords are kind of like the cell phone of the Tarot. They clue you in on those thoughts that are first and foremost in the mind.

This is a symbol of emotion. It’s a feeling concept. Cups represent the realm of water. When you see these cards, pay attention to feelings that are bubbling up on the surface of the heart. Cups are the barometer of intense feelings. They will tell you about a person’s dreams, intuition and emotional condition.

Wands (rods):
This is a symbol of passion. It is a concept about the will and desire. Cups represent the realm of fire. Like fire, wands indicate potentially hot topics in a person’s life. What motivates, drives and ignites a person will be indicated in these cards. Wands will clue you in on the fire that burns inside someone – what they need, and what drives them to obtain these needs.

The Tarot is a multi-layered system of meaning. Symbols of the Tarot are just one layer. To be sure, tapping into Tarot symbols certainly enhances our readings – but it’s only one facet. Even though I’m wild about symbols, I maintain a broad, open-minded view when reading.

A simpler way to remember these symbolic suit symbols is to recall the four elements: Fire, Earth, Air, Water. You can also associate the four elements of life: Mind, Body, Spirit, Feeling. The four seasons can be a good association too: Summer, Winter, Spring, Fall. These all correspond to the suit-symbols go like this:

Having a general idea about these foundational symbols of the suits (and their corresponding elements), can give you a clear direction about your readings. Don’t let the symbols of the Tarot overwhelm you. Like any new language, it will take a little time to learn the terms and dialect. Be patient with yourself. You will learn, and in time you will read the symbols of the Tarot as easily as you might read a book.

I hope this article on symbols of the Tarot has been helpful. These insights have served me very well over the years, I hope they do the same for you on your Tarot journey.



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