Saturday, 23 February 2013

Tarot Suit Characteristics

All cards of the same suit in the Tarot share common attributions which provide a general background to the interpretation of a specific card or the dynamics within an entire spread. Below, I present a general overview of the positive and negative aspects of the four suits of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. The register is that of psychological or behavioural characteristics. The four suits correspond in playing cards to Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds respectively. Aces, in particular, embody the raw potential of these characteristics, albeit in fledgling form. Detail and context is provided by the specific card, its position in a spread, and its relation to other cards in the spread. The card images are photographs of the Aces from my Morgan-Greer tarot deck. I have used timings based upon the beginnings of the seasons indicated by the astrological signs - other Tarot readers use other methods. I sometimes use alternative systems of timing depending on the question.

(Batons, Staffs, Rods, Clubs, Staves)
Aries, Leo, Sagittarius: Fire signs
Timing: Spring

All Systems Go! The Wands are the fiery dare-devils and  risk-takers in the Tarot suit quartet; ignited by passion, enthusiasm and energy. They are all about determination, courage, and daring. Wands cards have an element of ambition and expansion to them; they are concerned with action, movement, change, innovation and creativity. The Wands are dynamic, inspirational, adventurous, ardent and entrepreneurial with great leadership abilities. Bold and dashing: it's all full speed ahead with a Wand - indeed, they  often signify travel and journeys. The Wands are outgoing and involved, full of life and heart. Similar to the Cups, they often refer to one's "inner" life and for the Wands that concerns spirituality, attitudes, opinions and beliefs (whereas the Swords are fact and knowledge based; the Pentacles are about turning ideas into reality). Often a little competitive (the Five of Wands shows a bit of a tussle going on), they are nonetheless generous, charismatic, spiritual, and exuberant.  Of course, all qualities have their flip-side, and these same qualities can also be less than fantastic. The go-getting forceful spirit of a Wands person can become rash impetuosity, with a failure to think things through or take account of consequences. They can be careless, superficial, hasty, over-confident, brash, exhibit a lack of foresight and judgement, express themselves tactlessly, and be hot-headed and impatient. At worst, they can be foolish risk-takers, utterly chaotic, and all over the place (this is especially true of the Knight in certain contexts). 

(Vessels, Bowls, Cauldrons, Chalices)
Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces: water signs
Timing: Summer

I Take That To Heart. The Cups are concerned with the emotional world of affective ties. It's all to do with love, intimacy, feelings, relationships and affairs of the heart. They often point to psychic awareness, empathy, intuition, and the subconscious. The heart rules the head with the Cups! They are all about heart-felt longing, romantic desire (especially the Two of Cups) and close connections with partners, friends, family, or even business associates if there is a close affinity. Cups are kind and affectionate, considerate, introspective, imaginative, dreamy, sometimes fanciful, compassionate, and often creative and artistic. Sometimes a Cups card can indicate a social gathering full of emotional joy and celebration (the Three of Cups). Cups people are responsive and sensitive, kind and caring, loving, nurturing, humane and sympathetic.  They will treat others with tolerance, understanding and wisdom. They are highly perceptive and patient. Some of the Cups cards signify emotional hurt (especially the Five of Cups). The negative side of the Cups can mean they are over or under emotional: either awash in histrionics or else distant and detached. They can be temperamental, self-obsessed, lazy, moody, flaky, credulous, and given to impossible fantasizing and escapism. It's all a "touch of the vapours" with a Cups on a bad day. They can brood, sulk, smother, be affectatious and petulant, emotionally manipulative, and  prone to moroseness and melancholia. Creativity and the ability to express oneself may be lacking. The downside of the Cups can also mean depression and repressed emotions. Again, the focus is on an over or under-exaggeration of the positive qualities. 

(Epees, Blades, Spades)
Gemini, Libra, Aquarius: Air signs
Timing: Autumn

Head Up To The Truth! Have a look at that crown over the tip of the sword in the image. It is wonderfully emblematic of the suit of Swords: it's the head ruling over the heart. Reason, logic, clarity, and the intellect govern the Swords. It's all "straight to the point". The sharp sword metaphorically reflects a sharp mind and the power of thought and ideas. The Swords are concerned with impartiality, justice, decisiveness, fortitude and integrity. Concern with the truth is a priority. The suit is also about communication skills; a Swords person is usually quick-witted and articulate. Thought and ideas dominate, especially free-thought: Swords are nothing if not analytical and discerning; able to cut through the crap, as it were. Versatile, original and curious, Swords focus on understanding rather than just accepting. They are dispassionate, knowledgeable, forthright, and always "to the point". At an extreme, however, Swords can lack emotion and be aloof. The excellent verbal skills can degenerate into sarcasm and gossip. The shadow side of the Sword emphasis on the truth presents as lying, cheating, ruthlessness, a lack of impartiality, being judgemental and opinionated, bluntness, intolerance, dishonesty and fraudulent behaviour (Five and Seven of Swords) or even betrayal and backstabbing (Ten of Swords).  In extremis, Swords can be dominating, overbearing, unfeeling, inflexible, bullying and even abusive. It is often said that the Swords are the most powerful suit but can also be the most damaging and destructive. The double-edged sword: it can be used for good or for ill. This also relates to choice, and Swords often represent a choice (particularly evident in the Two of Swords). As the suit of the mind, Swords usually figure when there is mental anguish: worries and conflicts and arguments - daggers of the mind keeping you up at night (for example in the Nine of Swords).

(Discs, Coins, Stones)
Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn: Earth signs
Timing: Winter

Time To Get Comfortable. The bright, gleaming pentacle or coin in the card tells us immediately that the Pentacles are concerned with money, finances, and material well-being. Accordingly, the suit is "down to earth", dependable, industrious, persevering, cautious and grounded. They are meticulous, diligent and responsible. If they make a resolution they'll stick to it doggedly. Pentacles love beauty, earthy sensuality, and the creature comforts and security provided by material stability and possessions. Pentacles are all things earthly, including nature, the physical body and health. Ideas are turned into physical reality by the Pentacles; the suit reflects external consciousness and is concerned with practicality, work, business, commerce, and property matters. The Pentacles person is pragmatic, sensible, generous, and willing to work hard. They are also incredibly loyal. The reverse side of these traits comprise a lack of imagination and creativity, inflexibility, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, gloomy pessimism and stubbornness,. They can be too cautious, uncompromising, staid and conventional, unromantic, over or under organized and can put too much emphasis on career at the expense of other areas of life. Pentacles can also display overindulgence, greed, financial and business incompetence, lack of spontaneity, wastefulness or miserliness, and failure to plan properly. 

This concludes the summary of our Tarot suits in terms of general personality traits figured in the cards either as background energies and environments, or as people. 

 © Donna at Tarotdon Tarot


  1. Thank you for this post I have been looking for a good definition of the suits for ages.

  2. Donna is that the Morgan Deck?

  3. Hello Grey Moon (what a great name!), yes it's the Morgan-Greer I've used here. Glad you liked the Suit Characteristics post - I think it's the easiest way into learning something about all of the cards almost straight away. Once you have an idea of the Suits you can say a few words about the general theme or energy carried by any card in the deck.

  4. I should add, any card in the Minor Arcana. Although the Majors do carry emblematic and symbolic aspects of the four suits, and can emphasize or diminish the suit energies of the cards they are read in relation to, it's more helpful to see them as comprising their own family unit when learning their significance.

  5. Hi Donna,

    Would you agree or disagree on the Major's numbering 1-10 reflecting their aspects to the corresponding Minor numbers? It is unfortunate that the book I am learning from does not make the card relationships very clear. Also I assume like me you may like a Deck overall, but still feel some of the cards do not match what your intuition would like to see depicted on them. I can see now why so many opt to design their own cards as I find I am mentally fighting trying to hold the definitions when looking at certain cards. Any top tips to get around this snag?

    I have a habit of speed reading and totally missed your introduction that mentioned the Deck you were using. I am learning to open my eyes more :)

    Oh finally thank you for taking time to reply, much appreciate.
    GM a Brit abroad.

  6. Hello Grey Moon. I'll address each question individually:

    1. Yes, numerologically the numbers of the Majors reflect a similar significance in the Minors. For example the Four is the Emperor card in the Major Arcana and is said to symbolize foundations, stability, structure, order and organization. This same significance is also a theme of the Fours in the Minor Suits.

    2. Put the book aside for now and come back to it later. It's half book-learning and half your personal intuition. Dwell in each card with a notebook or journal and jot down what impressions you have. How does each one make you feel? What is going on in the card? Which colours and symbols stand out? What structures are in the card? What are the people doing? For example that shifty character in the Seven of Swords looks as if he's sneaking off with something that isn't his - as Swords are to do with the mind, maybe he has pinched someone else's ideas? Take your time and enjoy each card, see what they say to you. Then compare your impressions to what might be said in books.

    3.If you have a strong sense of the meaning of a card that is contrary to what a book says, go with your intuition. When that card comes up it will be with the meaning you and the card have "agreed upon", as it were. Additionally, experience will also add layers of meaning - you might find a certain card always ends up meaning something specific.

    4. Reading the cards in relation to one another: pick out a card. Is there a story going on in it? Pick out another card, do the same thing, and put them next to one another. Now see if you can put the stories together into a unified whole. Let your imagination and intuition have fun with this. Then try and refine the combined meaning into a few sentences. For example, say you pick the Nine of Swords and the Reversed Four of Wands. Your story might be something like, "you are struggling with deep worries about security issues relating to your home life; perhaps you are having property or family troubles."

    5.What deck are you using Grey Moon? Many of us collect decks which initially seem attractive, then find we can't connect with them. Only read with those that speak to you. That said, yes, even with a deck you do largely get on with there may be a couple of cards you find harder to manage - or even, as you say, you might wish to ascribe a totally different meaning to them.

    Top Tip: put little stickers on the cards with your meaning on them. Alternatively, see if you can imaginatively connect your meaning to a small part or symbol in the card so that you can recall it. A friend of mine bought a giant Rider-Waite for learning purposes and simply wrote her meanings on them!

  7. Thank you for the the detailed reply.
    I am currently using the Universal Waite. So much is written based on these cards I thought it best to acquire them. I have the Scalpini Deck as well, but totally dislike it on multiple levels lol. My dream deck would be large, no borders and no writing on them, even to the exclusion of numbering. Strange I know for a novice to want that. I have my hopes set on the new Deviant Moon with no borders due out soon. I know it will come with annotations but you can not have everything. Would be amazing if these decks at least offered limited editions without writing. Oh almost forgot .. no copyright stamps on the cards. US games ruins it its decks with that. A discrete C hidden within the image is all that is needed. I am surprised USgames is not aware how the DMCA works.. I could go on but must stop LOL
    Although that does give you some insight to my personality and my grumbles and mumbles.
    I will definitely use the sticker method, and finding meanings within the main image. You are also correct in reminding me to use my intuition and have FUN with it.
    Thank you again for your counsel you clearly put some effort into the structure of your reply.
    As for your previous comment about liking my name. I find the Moon has had a haunting effect on me for a long time and has cropped up in varying degrees throughout my life and it was no surprise when starting the Tarot to find the Moon is numbered 18 which is the day of my birth month.
    Oh also if you can think of a deck that might appeal to Mr Anal Potato here do let me know. :)

  8. Yes, the RW-S is the traditional touchstone for Tarot decks. The Scapini is an impressionistic medieval deck, and the Deviant Moon is very popular indeed right now! You draw attention to a contentious and muddled issue in Tarot circles concerning copyright; a lot of people are not sure, myself included, exactly how sedulous each production company of Tarot decks might be when it comes to using images of their cards and there is a lot of confusion with both the users and the production companies over the DMCA, DRM, WIPO and all that. You are correct about US Games Inc, we have to at least acknowledge them when using their particular images, but the copyright for the original Rider-Waite has now expired and anyone can reproduce those. Sometimes it is necessary to contact each company and request permission. There doesn't seem to be a standard process we all follow.

    I'm doing some work on Tarot Birth Cards at the moment, as it happens! You should have at least two that correspond to the numerical reduction of your entire birthdate.

    As for your most suitable deck, it's best to go to something like Aeclectic Tarot and have a look at the deck reviews. There are hundreds!
    See what you reckon on the Deviant Moon. I tend to go for quite detailed and brightly coloured images but some prefer the more abstract and arcane like the Thoth. It's whatever works for YOU. The cards can't say a word if it's not through you.

  9. Hello Donna,

    Thank you for your advise.

    Just a quicky Spreads? LOL no really just a small question. Celtic cross... there seems to be many interpretations of that. Is it a ditto on spreads as with Decks. It is what I say it is? See short and sweet.

    I do have other questions but I am applying pressure between my teeth and lips on that. Tarot Birth Cards... Oh forgot to mention I was also born on June 66. Lot of 18s there. Just wish I could say 18 when asked how old I am lol.

  10. Hi Grey Moon. Ha! Wish I could say I was 18 too!

    Everyone seems to start with the Celtic Cross, I did too, but it's actually pretty complex. Sometimes you can get more out of a less in-depth layout. There are dozens of interpretations of the Celtic Cross: pick just one, try it a few times, and then try a slightly different one until you find the version you most prefer.
    Try shorter 3 card spreads:
    1. Past, Present, Future
    2. Action to Avoid, Issue, Action to Take
    3. Advantages of a course of action, Disadvantages, Deciding Factor
    4. Relationship, How to Improve it, Outcome
    5. Problem, Cause, Solution

    Then make up your own! Add more cards when you're ready. There are plenty of set spreads available, but with practice it's usually better to tailor a specific question with specific card positions you've designed yourself. Have fun with it. Pretend to read for famous people, or problem pages in magazines just for practice.

    As for your Personality/Soul birth cards, you have three (it's usually just two)of the most powerful: The Sun, The Wheel of Fortune, and the Magician. Lots of 18s in your birth date but these three Birth Cards are (in one sentence) about the ability to express your creativity. But I'm another Moon that has cropped up in your life! My cards are Moon/Hermit.

    You're asking all the important questions, by the way.