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Tarot has been Around for hundreds of years. Through the years there have been many iterations of new decks with people deriving their own meaning. However, in our contemporary world many tarot card designers always look back to the potent and deeply symbolic design of the artists A.E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith who created the iconic “Rider Waite Smith Tarot” in 1909. This is definitely the deck your mom told you never to touch in high school. But who knew that within these cards is incredible insight, metaphor and meaning?
Since the deck is absolutely so potent, I am primarily going to focus on symbolism in tarot cards around objects, plants, animals, flowers, and various spiritual symbols. And within these I will only go into detail with the ones that show up most frequently. I highly recommend taking your time to look at each card and see what you notice! I have studied Tarot symbols for many years and each time I come back to this deck I am astounded to find further symbols I never saw before!
Tarot Symbols - Objects
The 4 Minor Arcana Suites are built around powerful tarot symbols (Wands, Pentacles, Cups, and Swords) you may have noticed but not fully understood. Let’s start this discussion with a look at the Minor Arcana Symbols and their meanings.
Wands symbolize passion, exuberance, vitality, fire, and motivation. Wands are often held by mystical people as a conduit to exude their magic. As the representative of fire, it's a tool that can help us cook food or start a forest fire. Wands remind us that balance and intention is best. It also can be a Tarot symbol for motivating us to move past any limitation.
With the waving of our wand, our worries can be cast aside. Look to the wands to motivate and ignite that passionate fire.
Pentacles are talismans that are drawn out on paper, cloth, metal or in this case inscribed on a coin. The symbol itself is a pentagram where each point of the symbol represents one of the five elements. Therefore, the suit in Tarot often represents the physical manifestations of reality. Which in our modern times has to do with money, business, and physical objects.
The Pentacle suit is represented by the Earth element and can be a reminder to also look to our earthly experience for answers for which you are searching.
Cups symbolize a container to hold our emotions, our relationships, friendships, nourishment, and love. This suit is ruled by water. Cups in feudal times were also signs of the clergy so there can also be a spiritual connotation with the cups.
This Tarot symbol reminds us to be conscious of how nourished (full) our cup is or how we may need to tend to our needs, so our cups don't remain empty.
Swords symbolize power, authority, protection, and courage which comes up a lot in the stories of knighthood and chivalry from medieval times. In a metaphysical sense they represent discrimination, discernment, and a sharp intellect. In some cases, swords also remind us of the duality of life and death.
When you get a card with any sword expect there to be an intellectual message or consideration for ideas and the capacity of the mind.
Tarot Symbols – Flowers and Fruits
Colorful flowers and fruits are found among a variety of Tarot decks. Let’s discuss two of them and their important symbolism in Tarot cards.
Roses have different meanings depending on the color. Aside from the rose The Fool holds, all the rest in the deck are Red. Roses in both Pagan and Christian myths represent rebirth, resurrection, love, and romance. The white rose symbolizes innocence and purity, which the Fool holds as he jumps into the unknown like a newly born person. When you see a rose in a tarot card there is likely a lot to do with a personal rebirth and an essence of love and romance.
The Pomegranate represents sensuality, fertility, and marriage. Sometimes it can represent the fertility and ripeness for a new idea, the marriage of two concepts as well as the traditional meaning of the words. The Empress and the High Priestess show this beautifully. Both sensual beings enjoy the fruits of the body and mind. In many cultures the pomegranate is present to inspire the conception of children and good luck for relationships. When you get this card look to remind yourself to enjoy life's pleasures and allow all parts of yourself to be present in your experience.
Other flower and fruit Tarot symbols: sunflowers, pumpkins, vines, trees, and gardens.
Tarot Symbols - Animals
Creatures small and large are quite common among the symbolism in Tarot cards, but what do they all mean? Let’s dig into three of the most prevalent tarot symbols represented by horses, birds and lions and find out more.
Horses represent freedom, endurance, nobleness, confidence, and competition. Horses are often depicted in the Tarot as guiding a person in some way. In the Death card, Death rides their horse to take down old political and spiritual systems while the Horse in the Knight of Pentacles waits patiently and perhaps even stubbornly in place reflecting its riders need to not change. Regardless of the quality of the scene, horses always represent being on a journey. A journey to get to a new point, often traveling distance or using reference to time. If you get a card with a horse as a Tarot symbol, know there is a significant meaning to this point in your journey of life, and that you have the freedom and endurance to meet it.
Birds generally represent truthfulness, purity, good luck and are messengers of healing. Certain birds have different symbolism. For example, the Nine of Pentacles features a hawk which represents adaptability and spiritual awareness. But in general when you see birds as a Tarot symbol, know that the messages will revolve around truthfulness of thought and intention and that you will be receiving words of healing or some form of luck. Also, as a bird flies free it is a welcome message of more freedom coming your way!
Lions represent courage, nobility, royalty, strength, and valor. As the King of the Jungle, lions take the symbolism seat of being the leader because of their ability to rule and fearlessly take on any adversary. In the tarot you can see the lion represented in a couple of ways: one as the Zodiac Sign Leo, and the other embracing and combating the ideas of what leadership and courage mean. As with the Strength card, the lion in this scene is a loving and open, almost like a house cat. Strength can also mean being vulnerable. When you get a Tarot card with a lion on it meditate on all the ideas around how you view strength, leadership and being influential.
Other animal Tarot Symbols: Bull, Ram, Dog, Lobster, Rabbit, Wolf, and Snake.
Tarot Symbols - Spiritual and Cultural
The Tarot has always been deeply connected with various spiritual and cultural symbols as a part of its creation. I will explore two of these Tarot symbols below and encourage you to look for others that speak to you during your next Tarot reading.
The Sphinx represents guardianship and protection. With the body of the lion and the face of the human, it is the ultimate representation of transcending our humanness to step up into a more spiritual aspect of our being. In the Chariot card the rider is being carried by two sphinx. One black, one white. Here it is a reminder to transcend the light and the dark, the duality and to move forward in a detached and powerful way. On the Wheel of Fortune card, the Sphinx sits at the top of the wheel as a reminder to reach to the higher versions of ourselves. Like a wheel we will come to this space of self-realization repeatedly.
Angels are strewn throughout the tarot representing celestial or other worldly messages. As angels are the messengers or intermediaries between the realms, often the message of the card is to help you connect to the spiritual sides of yourself. In some cases, the Archangel Michael. Michael is present in the card summoning others to follow his call. He is the chief of the archangels and often is depicted as battling Satan (although various religions have various depictions) and is often a big wakeup call symbol (Judgment). When you get this card look at the other Tarot symbols or characters in the card and keep in mind you are being guided and given a message. Often you are being facilitated into a place of higher awareness. Open up your heart.
Other Spiritual and Cultural Tarot Symbols: Torah, Stained Glass Windows, Ankh, Infinity Symbol, and Yod.
When using the tarot, become more curious about all the facets of the Tarot symbols. Waite and Smith made an extremely intentional deck where no brush stroke is gone unintended. As the deck itself took years to finish it was done with such precision and care. Using these supporting symbolic elements will help you connect deeper to your interpretations and readings of the cards. If you have any questions about specific Tarot symbols that you find, reach out and get a reading with a Psychic Source Advisor to help you decipher the message.
Marlo is a Psychic with a passion for Tarot Reading and Astrology. She holds a Masters Degree in Art from an Ivy League school and is a certified Spiritual Coach with 13 years of professional psychic reading experience—she even has read for several celebrities! She is a poet, author, and performer and in her spare time runs covens and community circles for women to heal and overcome their difficulties.