Tarot Card Anatomy: Learning about the different parts of a Tarot card

Healing Light, Tarot Card Anatomy: Learning about the different parts of a Tarot card, Main photograph

If you’ve ever been intrigued by the mystique of Tarot cards, you’re not alone. These ancient cards have been used for centuries to gain insight into the past, present, and future. But before you dive into the world of Tarot readings, it’s essential to understand the basic anatomy of a Tarot card. Each card is a unique piece of art with several elements that contribute to its meaning and interpretation. In this post we’ll break down the different parts of a Tarot card, so you can start your Tarot journey with confidence.

The Card Background

First things first, let’s talk about the card’s background. The background sets the stage for the card’s imagery and symbolism. Tarot cards typically have one of two types of backgrounds: plain or illustrated.

  1. Plain Backgrounds: These cards have a simple, solid color background, often in shades like white, black, or a muted pastel. The lack of intricate designs or images in the background allows you to focus more on the card’s central imagery and symbols. Cards with plain backgrounds are known for their clarity and straightforward interpretations.
  2. Illustrated Backgrounds: In contrast, some Tarot cards feature intricate, detailed illustrations or patterns in the background. These illustrations can be anything from lush landscapes to complex geometric shapes. The illustrated background can add layers of meaning to the card’s interpretation, offering additional insights and nuances.

Card Title or Number

Next, let’s look at the card’s title or number. This element is crucial for identifying the card and understanding its place within the Tarot deck. Depending on the deck you’re using, the title or number may be prominently displayed at the top, bottom, or center of the card.

  • Major Arcana: For cards in the Major Arcana (the 22 most significant cards in the Tarot deck), you’ll typically find a Roman numeral and a title. These titles represent archetypal themes and major life events. For example, “The Fool” (card 0) symbolizes new beginnings and adventures.
  • Minor Arcana: In the Minor Arcana, the cards are divided into four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles (or Coins). Each suit contains ten numbered cards (Ace through 10) and four Court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King). The card’s title or number will indicate its rank within the suit and provide insight into its meaning. For instance, the Ace of Swords represents new ideas and intellectual breakthroughs.

Card Imagery and Symbols

Now, let’s delve into the heart of the Tarot card—the imagery and symbols. This is where the real magic happens. Each Tarot card is a visual masterpiece, filled with symbols and images that convey a specific message or energy. Understanding these symbols is key to unlocking the card’s meaning.

  1. Central Image: The central image of a Tarot card is the primary focus. It often depicts a scene or character that encapsulates the card’s theme. For instance, the Lovers card shows a man and a woman standing beneath an angel, symbolizing love and choices.
  2. Secondary Symbols: Surrounding the central image, you’ll find various symbols and objects. These can be anything from animals and plants to celestial bodies and everyday items. Each of these symbols contributes to the card’s interpretation. The moon, for example, represents intuition and the subconscious.
  3. Colors: Pay attention to the colors used in the card’s artwork. Colors evoke emotions and energies. For example, red can signify passion and action, while blue represents calm and introspection. The choice of colors can provide additional depth to the card’s meaning.
  4. Numerology: The number of objects or figures in the card can hold significance. In numerology, each number has a specific meaning. For instance, the number three often represents creativity and collaboration, so if you see three of a particular symbol in a card, it may carry that energy.

Card Border and Frame

The border and frame of a Tarot card may seem like a minor detail, but they can offer valuable insights into the card’s interpretation.

  1. Border Color: The color of the card’s border can provide context and emphasis. A dark border might suggest challenges or obstacles, while a bright border could indicate positivity and opportunities.
  2. Decorative Elements: Some Tarot decks include decorative elements within the card’s border, such as vines, stars, or geometric patterns. These elements can be seen as additional layers of symbolism, adding depth to the card’s meaning.
  3. Card Reversal: Some readers choose to read reversed Tarot cards, where the card is upside-down. The orientation of the card within the border can change its meaning. For example, a card that’s normally positive may take on a more challenging interpretation when reversed.

Card Number and Suit

Every Tarot card has a unique combination of a number and a suit. Understanding these aspects is crucial for interpreting the card’s message accurately.

  1. Number: The number of the card within its suit represents its numerical significance. For example, the Two of Cups signifies partnership and harmony, while the Nine of Swords represents anxiety and worry.
  2. Suit: The suit of the card provides insight into the card’s theme. Each suit is associated with specific aspects of life:
    • Wands: Action, ambition, and creativity.
    • Cups: Emotions, relationships, and intuition.
    • Swords: Intellect, challenges, and communication.
    • Pentacles: Material matters, finances, and practicality.

By combining the number and suit, you can gain a deeper understanding of the card’s meaning in your Tarot reading.

Card Reversal

In Tarot readings, cards can appear either upright or reversed (upside-down). The orientation of the card can significantly alter its meaning and interpretation. Let’s explore how card reversal works and what it adds to your Tarot reading.

  1. Upright Cards: When a Tarot card appears upright in a reading, it typically represents the card’s core meaning or the positive aspects associated with it. For example, the Ace of Pentacles in an upright position may indicate a new financial opportunity or a manifestation of material goals.
  2. Reversed Cards: When a card appears reversed, it introduces a layer of complexity to the reading. Reversed cards can suggest obstacles, delays, or inner conflicts related to the card’s theme. For instance, the reversed Two of Swords might signify a difficult decision or a reluctance to confront a situation.
  3. Degree of Reversal: Some readers consider the degree of reversal. If a card is only slightly tilted, it may suggest a minor challenge or a temporary setback. If the card is completely upside-down, the challenge or conflict may be more pronounced.

It’s essential to consider the context of the reading and the surrounding cards when interpreting reversed Tarot cards. They often highlight areas where you need to pay extra attention or make adjustments in your life.

Card Associations

To deepen your understanding of Tarot cards, it’s helpful to know the broader associations that each card may have. These associations can provide valuable context when interpreting a card’s meaning.

  1. Astrological Associations: Many Tarot cards are linked to astrological signs and planets. For example, the High Priestess is associated with the moon, representing intuition and the subconscious mind, while the Emperor is linked to Aries, symbolizing leadership and authority.
  2. Elemental Associations: The four Tarot suits are often associated with the four elements:
    • Wands: Fire
    • Cups: Water
    • Swords: Air
    • Pentacles: Earth

Understanding these elemental associations can provide insight into the energy and qualities of each card.

  1. Numerological Significance: Numerology plays a role in Tarot interpretation. Cards with the same number may share common themes, while the number itself can convey specific meanings. For instance, the number four often represents stability and structure, so the Four of Pentacles may indicate financial security.
  2. Archetypal Symbols: Tarot cards often draw upon universal archetypal symbols, such as the Hero’s Journey, the Mother, the Wise Old Man, and the Shadow. Recognizing these archetypes in the cards can help you uncover deeper layers of meaning.
  3. Historical and Cultural References: Some Tarot cards have historical or cultural references embedded in their imagery. For example, the Hierophant card may feature religious symbols or attire, signifying spiritual guidance or tradition.
  4. Personal Intuition: While these associations are helpful, it’s essential to trust your intuition as a Tarot reader. Your personal connection to the cards and your own interpretations can be just as valid as traditional associations.

Card Size and Design Variations

Tarot decks come in various sizes and designs. These variations can influence how you connect with the cards and how you interpret them.

  1. Deck Size: Tarot decks can range in size from standard to oversized. The size of the cards can affect how comfortable they are to handle and shuffle. Some readers prefer larger cards for their detailed artwork, while others prefer standard-sized cards for ease of use.
  2. Artistic Style: Different Tarot decks feature unique artistic styles, from traditional to contemporary, from realistic to abstract. Your personal preferences and connection to the artwork can influence your readings. It’s essential to choose a deck that resonates with you.
  3. Card Borders: Some Tarot decks have elaborate, decorative borders, while others have minimal or no borders at all. Borders can frame the artwork and add to the overall aesthetic appeal of the cards. Your preference for border style may vary.
  4. Card Backs: The design of the card backs is an often-overlooked aspect of Tarot decks. While card backs don’t directly impact the reading, they should be visually pleasing and symmetrical to prevent accidental reversals during shuffling.


Understanding the different parts of a Tarot card is like learning the language of a profound and ancient art form. As you explore Tarot card anatomy, you’ll gain insight into the rich symbolism, numerology, and associations that make Tarot readings such a powerful tool for self-discovery and guidance.

Remember that Tarot reading is a personal and intuitive practice. While these guidelines on Tarot card anatomy provide a solid foundation, your unique connection to the cards and your intuition will ultimately shape your Tarot journey. So, embrace the mystery, trust your inner wisdom, and let the Tarot cards be your guide on your quest for self-awareness and insight. Happy reading!


See all Tarot products for sale by following this link 

View our Live Telephone Psychic Readers

Main photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Read further posts: