The Basics: Anatomy of a Tarot Deck.

Alright. This is not the first post on this blog – far from it (this will be my 70th post, as a matter of fact, but who’s counting?). And until this point, I have taken for granted that my readers know the Tarot basics. This has allowed me to just jump right in and write whatever I was thinking without getting bogged down by explanatory digressions.

That approach suited me for a while, but I’ve been thinking about what I want my purpose in writing this blog to be. Among other things, I wish to spread the word of the Tarot to folks who may be misinformed, or perhaps who are totally unfamiliar with the cards – or, at the very least, explain in relatively rational terms a hobby of mine which many find to be irrational.* Such an endeavor would be fruitless, however, if I just continue to assume knowledge on the part of the reader. So I’ve dedicated a few posts to fleshing out the basics, to which I can refer those who are not yet acquainted with the cards.

This post, though not my first, represents square one.


In order to be considered a Tarot, a pack must include four suits of ten cards each, numbered consecutively from Ace to Ten, much like a pack of regular playing cards.

Each suit must also include four court cards or face cards (as opposed to the three court cards of a regular pack), arranged in ascending order of rank.

These 56 cards are collectively referred to as the “Minor Arcana”.

In addition to the Minor Arcana, there is a set of 21 numbered picture cards, called trump cards for purposes of gaming. In Tarot, these are called the “Major Arcana”.

Finally, a single unnumbered card completes the Major Arcana, bringing the total number of cards in a Tarot pack to 78.


That’s it. That is the bare bones of a pack of Tarot cards. These fundamental criteria must be met, or there is no Tarot. Everything else is variable.

However, there is a rough tradition that most Tarot decks will more or less adhere to.

For example, the four suits of the Minor Arcana are typically Wands (or some variation like Scepters), Cups, Swords, and Coins (often called Pentacles). The four ranks of the court cards are traditionally Page, Knight, Queen, and King.

The unnumbered Major Arcana card is almost universally called the Fool. The remainder of the Major Arcana are usually based on agreed upon images, with traditional titles, and a certain order. None of this is a hard and fast rule, though, and almost every single pack out there will have at least one exception.

In fact, there is only one pack that I’m aware of that actually adheres to every one of these traditions, and that is the Marseille Tarot. This style of Tarot pretty much established the tradition. Despite the fact that subsequent packs put their own spin on one aspect or another of this tradition, they are virtually all rooted in it.

I’ll talk more about the Marseille Tarot later.



*I say “relatively” because I occasionally find myself discussing things on this blog which just are irrational, plain and simple. Such things include faith and matters of spirituality, as well as magic – although I sometimes attempt to rationalize even these to some extent, particularly the latter.


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