Tarot Symbolism and Imagery

While the interpretations of the Tarot cards can differ from tarot reader to tarot reader, there are many universal themes that remain constant. The more knowledge you have about the Tarot's imagery and symbolism, the easier it will be to grasp their meanings.

Before we move on, however, I would first recommend getting to know your cards intimately. Keep a tarot journal. It is totally acceptable to invent your own tarot meanings. The best tarot readers are the ones that utilize free association. Free association is similar to the concept of a stream of consciousness. During this process you allow your mind to gather information about the cards without any judgment or hesitation. Your ability to read the cards of the Tarot will largely depend on your own intuition. The more you become familiar with the cards, the easier it will be to identify their symbolism and meanings. As I have discussed before, these are images that reflect universal themes. In tarot reading, it is just as important to be familiar with tarot symbolism as it is to trust your intuition.

Now let’s move on. As a beginning tarot reader, I was fortunate to have worked with an expert. She identified elements in the Tarot Cards that had illustrative themes. She taught me how to recognize the significance of distinctive features that comprise the overall picture on each card. After years of study, I have broken these features down into four categories: animals, colors, the landscape, and the distinctive imagery that appears throughout the tarot. It is important to note that there are hundreds of tarot decks. Obviously not all decks have the same imagery. Often, the artist and/or author will develop their own imagery that reflects their interpretation of specific tarot card meanings. That’s what makes the tarot such a fascinating tool for divination. The symbolic interpretations that I will provide are really just suggestions. Ultimately, you, as the tarot reader, will have to rely on your own associations for the tarot cards.


Let’s begin with animals. Animals reflect our instinctive natures. They can expose our primal needs, desires and behaviors. In a tarot reading, animals offer insight into our characters, often shedding light on how are natures and behaviors are influencing a situation.

Birds: Birds are associated with thoughts and spiritual aspirations. Birds in flight represent freedom from limitation.

Bull: Bulls are associated with power, fertility, permanence, charging ahead, and generosity. They can also be associated with stubbornness and denial. Whenever you see a bull in tarot reading, there is typically an association to powerful forces working in ones life.

Butterflies: The image of transformation. Butterflies may indicate a change of thought, change of action, or change of circumstance.

Crab: The crab is the astrological sign of cancer. Crabs are unique because they have mastered their ability to escape a situation by moving sideways. They also can be defensive and overprotective. They have the remarkable ability to move through water, thus they have the tools to move through their emotions.

Dog: The dog is the faithful companion. They represent loyalty and protection. Dogs can also represent the need to have trust and may signify the arrival of a new helper.

Dragon: Dragons represent the use of our intelligence. They symbolize protection and security. Their shedding of their skin can reflect a transformation of some kind.

Eagle: Eagles are the bridge between heaven and earth. In a tarot reading, Eagles can signify the need to look for hidden spiritual truths. Eagles can represent creativity, healing and freedom. They may represent a need for courage.

Fish: The fish is the astrological sign of Pisces. Because fish live in the water, they usually reflect our emotional world. Fish can represent the subconscious, the dream world, creativity and prosperity.

Horse: The horse represents travel and personal power. Typically, when a horse is drawn in a tarot reading, there will be movement. An action might be required or there may be a change in circumstance.

Lion: The lion is the astrological sign of Leo, which rules the heart. Lions represent the need for courage in the face of apprehension. The Lion may also indicate the need to release stress. The lion is a leader and enjoys seeing his supporters achieve success.

Salamander: Salamanders represent the need to connect our emotions with our belief system. When they are drawn in a tarot reading, it may indicate a time to reevaluate our behaviors and perceptions. Do they match up with one’s true feelings?

Snake: The snake typically represents transitions or transformations on one’s life journey. The snake may also represent fertility, the need for a more masculine approach to a situation, and can identify the areas in our life where we may need to adjust and/or adapt.


In addition to animal symbolism, there is also the use of color in tarot symbolism. Colors can be incredibly useful for identifying tarot card meanings. Color influences our emotions, our behaviors and how we react to various people, things and ideas.

White: Purity, joy, truth, peace, enlightenment, neutrality.

Black: Death, power, emptiness, sorrow. It is the color of night and may refer to things that are hidden. It is also the color of renewal and transformation.

Blue: Feelings, the unconscious, intuition, unity, harmony, reflection, tranquility. It can also represent coldness, depression and mourning.

Green: Fertility, growth, abundance, nature, wealth, money, youth. It is the color of spring and may refer to a new beginning.

Orange: Ambition, action, forcefulness, energy, enthusiasm, security and balance.

Purple: The color of royalty. It represents justice, nobility, mystery, pride and envy.

Red: Passion, strength, anger, sexuality, aggression, danger, masculinity and love.

Yellow: The color of illumination. It represents, joy, happiness, optimism, intelligence. It may also represent weakness, cowardice and fear.

Gold: The color of the universe and sun. It represents realization, success, and spiritual learning.

Silver: Mystery, contemplation, hidden wisdom, femininity and intuition.

Gray: Sadness, mourning, emotional turbulence, humility, old age and dullness.


Now that you have grasped the basic symbolism for animals and color, let’s examine the landscape imagery of the Tarot. When I refer to the tarot landscape, I am referring to the background imagery. It's an important element that often gets overlooked. The landscape of the Tarot deepens the interpretations of each card. It provides yet another level of meaning and association.

Clouds: Thought, ideas, divine messages and intervention. Clouds can also indicate confusion and lack of clarity.

Fields: New opportunities, the beginning of a new endeavor, fertile ground, creative efforts and hard work. Fields may also indicate the fruition of one’s labor and/or actions.

Flowers: Birth, happiness, joy, friendship, giving and receiving. Flowers are also associated with attainment and beauty.

Horizon: The horizon line typically indicates what is in consciousness and what remains in the unconscious.

Lightening: A moment of truth, divine intervention, being struck into consciousness. In a tarot reading, lightening may indicate the need to let go of old ideas.

Mountains: Obstacles, conflicts, life transitions, abstract thoughts. Mountains can indicate that there is spiritual lesson that must be learned. Mountains also refer to the attainment of one’s goals.

Moon: Karma, fate, femininity, intuition. When there is moon in your tarot card reading, it may suggest that you must move into a new level of awareness. The moon signifies the onset of a new phase in ones life.

Paths: The direction of your actions, the karmic journey, the distance it takes to complete a goal or assignment. Paths can also indicate beginnings and endings.

Rain: Catharsis, detoxification, grief, tears, somber meditation, the need for acceptance.

Rocks: Small obstacles, difficult relationships, unforeseen complications. In tarot readings, rocks may also denote denial of a current circumstance or relationship.

Sea: The unconscious, the emotions, dreams, power, mystery, travel. The sea can refer to one’s emotional state within the context of a situation. The sea can also indicate when one’s emotions are ruling over the relational.

Snow: Cold, difficult, isolated, harsh conditions, a time to do nothing, temporary.

Stars: Guidance, a new direction, a time to shine, coming into one’s own.

Sun: Development, growth, happiness, joy, realization, enlightenment, illumination. In a tarot reading, the image of the sun may also indicate a positive foreshadowing of an event to come.

Water: That which is felt and not seen, relationships, love, emotions, the flow of things, mystery, and depth.


When I refer to the distinctive features in tarot symbolism, I am referring to the imagery that has repetitive themes throughout the tarot deck. These images are universal in nature and often tap into the collective unconscious. This imagery is embedded with archetypal significance. In a tarot reading, noticeable patterns arise that reflect the current crux of a situation. When there are a number of repetitive symbolic images, this typically refers to a circumstance that requires attention, and depending on the symbolism of the cards, it may indicate which actions to take or what choices are available to you.

Below I have listed the meanings for the most common images associated with the Tarot. Please keep in mind that the imagery in the Tarot differs from deck to deck. Although many decks utilize the recognizable symbolism of the original tarot, others have incorporated new imagery with new interpretations.

Arches: Stability, Support, new beginnings, gateways. In a tarot reading, Arches indicate transitions and they often can reflect new opportunities.

Blindfold: Focus on the inner world. Blindfolds can refer to one’s inability to look at reality.

Boat: Travel, a passage, and a change in direction. Because boats are associated with water they may signify a time for considerate reflection of one’s feelings prior to making a life change.

Bridges: The link between two worlds. Bridges also refer to character strengths such as one’s ability to overcome obstacles with the use of one’s skills.

Castle: Obtaining ones desires, being on the right path, the fruits of our labor. In tarot readings, castles may indicate the need to solidify the foundation of our ideas. It is from these foundations that we can manifest our desires.

Chains: Restriction, being tied to a situation, lack of freedom, bondage, addiction to the material.

Children: Regeneration, promise, hope, innocence. Children can represent the need to find the child within one’s self. They can also signify the need to alter one’s perception and look at the world from new eyes.

Cross: Union between the male and female energies, union with a higher power, and balance.

Fire: Passion, power, destruction, and creativity.

Fountain: Peace, abundance, and harmony.

Hammer: Hard work is required but one possesses all the skills necessary. Should a hammer come up in a tarot reading, there may be the need to communicate ones opinions and thoughts more clearly.

House: One’s concept of self, safety, secrets, protection.

Keys: Opened, closed, locked, imprisoned and freed. Keys refer to all that we block and all that we unlock. They are associated with knowledge and can refer to liberation through wisdom.

Lantern: Search for truth, enlightenment, the presence of the divine in a difficult time, self-exploration, the journey of self-discovery.

Pitcher: The things that you hold dear to you. Purity, nourishment, transformation, and sustenance.

Scale: Balance and equality. Scales can refer to where one is ignoring certain aspects of their life that require attention.

Shield: Guarded, protection, hidden aspects of ourselves. The shield often informs us where we need to restrain from our overindulgences.

Sphinx: The balance between thought and instinct, ancient mysteries, riddles, to guard what is most valuable.

Tower: false ideas, shaky foundations, and apprehension.

Wheel: Cycles, motion, travel, universal energy, and creativity.

Wreath: Attainment, success, wisdom, victory, and protection.


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