One of the best ways to develop your intuition is to practice reading Tarot cards without relying on your guidebook. Tarot is more of an art than a science. Each interpretation is personal to the individual(s).
While the guidebook is handy as a quick reference or prompt, it can become a crutch, a way of putting off learning and reading the cards for yourself if that’s something you desire to learn. Believe me, once you’ve memorized the cards, divination becomes instinctive.
I always say, start by memorizing the system of the Tarot. There is a grid of suits and numbers to guide you. Once you've mastered the numbers and suits in Tarot, this knowledge base alone will give you a system for reading–even if you’re unsure of what a particular card is supposed to mean.
For example, if you know that the number five in Tarot is both powerful and unstable, signifying shifts and movement, and that the suit of cups represents emotions and relationships, you therefor know that the five of cups card represents shifts and movement within emotions and relationships.
There are five suits in the Tarot. Like your common playing card deck, Tarot decks have a suit of hearts (cups), a suit of spades (swords), a suit of clubs (wands), and a suit of diamonds (pentacles). These four suits are called the Minor Arcana. Unlike common playing card decks, the Tarot has a fifth suit — called the Major Arcana. This suit depicts a series of powerful archetypes within the human experience.
Before I tell you about each suit, please know that there is a ton of speculation and controversy about the elemental pairing for the Minor Arcana suits, particularly the suits of Swords and the suit of Wands. Most decks attribute the element of fire to the suit of Wands, and the element of air to the suit of Swords, whereas Dark Days Tarot features an alternate style:
I designed this deck to fall in line with my witchcraft training, which taught me to attribute Wands with the element of air and Swords to the element of fire. I believe this is partly due to the creative nature of destruction, which produces space for creation. Nature is integrated, so while there are patterns there are no absolutes. (Note: Interestingly, there is no debate as to whether the suit of cups represents water or not, and the same goes for pentacles with earth.)
The suit of Swords carries the element of fire. Passion, love, lust, drive, motivation, sun, heat, war, destruction, change, the goddess Kali, spicy foods, fire signs (Leo, Sagittarius and Aries), South, communication, protection, rage, anger, hurt, wounds, pain, transformation, phoenixes, cats, snakes, raptors, sex, conception and creativity. Truly, the key to memorizing this suit is to tune into the element of fire. Things that reminds you of fire will be relevant in readings you perform that involve this suit.
In your Tarot journal, make a list of your own for this and the following suits (keeping in mind that this is a creative exercise, so you don’t need to be super scientific or reasoned in your associations. Aim to jot down off-the-cuff thoughts and feelings). Refer to and refresh these lists as needed. They’re the basis of your own intuitive language.
The suit of Wands carries the element of air. Thoughts, dreams, spirits, ether, space, energy, auras, creativity, telepathy, beauty, community, movement, watching, hearing, smelling, art, liberalism, angels, intellect, evolution, East, air signs (Libra, Aquarius and Gemini), birds, sloths, raccoons, horses, rodents, writing, acting, study, spells, intention. Anything that reminds you of the element of air will be bound to come to mind during readings involving Wands Tarot cards.
The suit of Cups carries the element of water. Emotions, heart, feelings, love, romance, relationships, friendships, connection, empathy, intuition, oceans and streams, drama, mood, tears, flow, West, water signs, embarrassment, water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), fish, whales, mermaids, sea turtles, crustaceans, sea anemones, rain, storms, etc. Draft your own collection of watery things and thoughts. They’ll come up when reading Cups Tarot cards.
The suit of Pentacles carries the element of earth. Mountains, bodies, soil, fertility, rocks, crystals, health, stability, finances, resources, real estate, earth signs (Taurus, Capricorn and Virgo), goats, cows, humans, vegetarians, food, nourishment, home, career, trade, craft, land development, legacy, net worth, etc. The element of earth is a grounding one, connected to our planet and resources in a myriad of ways. Try jotting down some of your own earth element reminders.
If there are any Major Arcana Cards in your Reading, pay them extra attention. (In the Dark Days Tarot deck, these cards are represented by a stark white background and roman numeral digits.) Major Arcana cards offer an overarching theme, or focal point, to readings involving more than one card in a spread. The first card is the Fool and the final card is the World. The porgressive story within the Majors guides the querent on a very relatable and human path, beginning with innocent individualism and ending with full integration with the our world and beyond.
Now that you know the suits, learn the numbers in Tarot and you'll be well on your way to memorization. Take some time to ponder the connection between the Minor Arcana suits and their corresponding elements.
Snag your copy of the Dark Days Tarot deck here.