The minor arcana has always been an overwhelming mystery to me, particularly when dealing with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck because of the vibrancy and complexity of the images used. I’m not always able to relate the given interpretation with the symbols within the images and I’ve never been very good at remembering long complex meanings.
I was equally put off by the unillustrated minors because ‘where was I going to get my meaning!’
Even without buying into the RWS my brain had been locked into the idea that the card should guide my subconscious, a perfectly fine concept which for me works with Lenomard cards but not for the more detailed RWS.
(Un)Fortunately, the Arcana deck used partially illustrated pip cards so I have had to take the time to try and learn the system a different way. This has meant breaking down various layers of association into steps, learning step by step, and then building the meanings of individual cards back up again.
Step One – Suit
The first step is being clear on the suit you are dealing with. Each suite has its own energy which can be distilled into a representative element.
Wands – Fire
Creativity, Action, Willpower, Hobbies
Cups – Water
Feelings, Relationships, Love, Social iteractions
Swords – Air
Intellect, Thoughts, Ideas, Intellectual pursuits
Pentacles – Earth
Finances, Home, Body, Physical/ practical activities
I’ve distilled these down into phrases using the system of association outline above but the exercise can still work if you reverse the elemental associations for Wands and Swords as is the case in the Thoth system.
Burning with energy / a breath of fresh ideas
Brimming with emotion
A cutting intellect / forged in fire
Money and Material
Step Two – Numbers
The are many ways to allow the number of the card to inform its meaning. Some can be used side by side with other options but it is possibly best to pick a method and stick with it.
The most straight forward way is to view the number as an odd or even number to get an immediate flavour of the cards energy.
Dynamic, unstable, potential, movement
Balance, stability, consolidation, introspection
Alternatively you can view the numbers as a progression in a story.
The Story Cycle
Another way is to see the numbers as part of a sequence of developing energies, a story as such. Aces to Nines are broken into their groups with the tenth card standing outside of the cycle.
Aces – commencement of the suit’s energy
Two – opposition to the suit’s energy
Three – the realisation of the suit’s energy
Four – commencement of an opposition
Five – opposition to the opposition
Six – consolidation of the opposition
Seven – commencement of the suits realisation
Eight – opposition leading to failure or reduced success
Nine – the realization of success
Ten – If Nine is the realisation of success then Ten is a stage beyond it. It is the combination one and zero, and odd and technically even number. This places the Tenth card a stage beyond competition with a flavour of energy if the Ace, indicating that a new phase of the suites energy has been reached.
If that dosen’t work for you gry tapping into the mind palace that is the Tree of Life. This can be a deep rabbit hole to descent but at a basic level…
The Tree of Life
Ace – Kether – energy of the suit in its purest form. No manifestation.
Two – Chochmah – energy of the suit in its purest expression. First manifestation.
Three – Binah – energy of the suit first physical manifestation. Physical manifestation.
Four – Chesed – energy of the suit consolidated. Constrained manifestation.
Five – Gevurah – energy of the suit from an external source. Unconstrained Manifestation.
Six – Tipheret – energy of the suit in a practical expression. Manifestation of functionality.
Seven – Netzah – energy of the suit in all its intensity. Overwhelming manifestation.
Eight – Hod – energy of the suit under control. Manifestation of progress / stagnation.
Nine – Yesod – energy of the suits strengths and weaknesses. Illusionary manifestation.
Ten – Malkhut – energy of the suit fully expressed. Absolute and complete manifestation.
Finally you can look at the minors in relation to their counterparts within the majors.
The Major Arcana
Another way to get a flavour for the minor card is to link it with its partner in the major arcana. There are 10 number cards and the energies can be broadly associated with the major of the same number. I’ve tried to select keywords which are open to both positive and negative interpretation which reflect the principles outlined in step two.
Ace – Magician – Beginnings, Potential
Twos – High Priestess – Preparation, Evolution
Threes -Empress – Manifestation, Expression
Fours – Emperor – Stability, Order
Fives – Hierophant – Expansion, Exploration
Sixes – Lovers – Pleasure, Beauty
Sevens – Chariot – Purpose, Movement
Eights – Strength – Balance, Harmony
Nines – Hermit – Withdrawal, Decline
Tens – The World – Transition, Destiny
The final step is to put it all together in a way which makes sensse.ive blended a couple of concepts together, drawing on all the overlapping meanings.
Step Three put it all together
Aces are the quintessential representation of their suites energy but it is an energy which is latent and as yet unrealized. The Aces are the minor companions of the Magician, who represents potential and promise when skills and energies are correctly harnessed. Aces represent the beginning of the beginning; nothing is certain or assured but there is great potential.
The Twos are the first card of pause and balance within the minors, the beginning of the begining and the point in which we prepare for the next phase of the movement. The companion of the Twos is the High Priestess, a quiet contemplative figure who looks within herself for direction and answers to the question faced.
The Threes represent the birth of that which has been incubated in the preceding two cards. The matter may not yet be fully formed but its has become a tangible manifestation. It makes sense then that it is the Empress which represents the Threes as an archetype of fertility and material joy.
After birth into the world, we begin the process of finding our feet and establishing a state defined by the laws of nature. Solid foundations have formed and the first hints of restriction are present. Stability, organisation and order are the preserve of the Emperor, the Major arcana card associated with the Fours.
Having found our place within the material world we reach beyond our own limits for growth and development. We transition from the realm of the familiar into the realm of unknowns. External influences are at play, bring about change in a way reflected by the suits energy. The Pope is a mediating archetype, allowing communication between Heaven and Earth, which well illustrates this type of transition.
As we explore and expand our horizons we encounter realms of pleasure and enjoyment. There is a practical expression of the suits energy, which brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and it is tempting to pause and enjoy the moment. The sixes point towards the things we enjoy and find beauty within which typifies the energies of the Lover as an archetype.
After pausing to enjoy the moment the sevens bright us back into a phase of change and development. The energy of the suite is intense to the point of being disruptive, creating a period of uncertainty. The archetype here is the Chariot, which reflects the importance of qualities such as focus and control in overcoming such wild energies.
The archetype associated with the Eights is Justice, with scales balanced but indicating consequences as a result of our actions. The eights indicate the presence of harmony and equilibrium but also a need to consider on what is needed in order to proceed and avoid stagnation.
After balance and harmony we approah another period of transition. Sometimes the ending of a cycle can feel like a period of crisis and upheaval but it is often key to being able to bring it to a close, despite sometimes feeling like the end itself. It can be necessary to withdraw, physically and energetically, in order to allow such endings to come about which is entirely fitting for the archetype of the Hermit but this should not be viewed as the end of the process .
The Tens bring the cycle to a close but also herald a new begining and a sense of moving forward. Whatever the outcome is it will never get better, or worse, without begining over. This energy is well represented in the archetype of the Wheel of Fortune with each full revolution leading on to the next and all the ups and downs which are to come.