The Rider-Waite tarot deck is beyond comprehensive, as each little detail of the cards holds weight and meaning in the way in which each card ought to be deciphered. The astrological associations behind both the major and minor arcana are also remarkably significant. Knowing the astrological associations can be incredibly useful for numerous reasons. It can be helpful for gauging which transits, astrological periods, and seasons are coming into effect. It can be useful to understand the individual card’s interpretations by knowing the associated astrology.
Learning the astrological associations of each card can be broken down quite simply. The minor arcana suits can be represented by the elements. The minor arcana can also be further broken down and associated with Zodiac signs within the elements. The major arcana can be connected with either a Zodiac sign or a planet. The astrological application of the deck can be applied broadly and generally, or definitively. It’s wide-open for interpretation!
The Major Arcana
In the major arcana, the cards are either associated with a single Zodiac sign or a planet. Each card is pretty definitive in an application. Advanced practitioners (and even astrologers) may further associate the major arcana cards with additional astrological associations.
The following major arcana cards are solely associated with a Zodiac sign. Below each traditional tarot-astro association is the corresponding planetary ruler which can also be applied to the card’s meaning and representation.
- Aries: Emperor (4)
- Taurus: The Hierophant (5)
- Gemini: The Lovers (6)
- Cancer: The Chariot (7)
- Leo: Strength (8)
- Virgo: The Hermit (9)
- Libra: Justice (11)
- Scorpio: Death (13)
- Mars, Pluto
- Sagittarius: Temperance (14)
- Capricorn: The Devil (15)
- Aquarius: The Star (17)
- Saturn, Uranus
- Pisces: The Moon (18)
- Jupiter, Neptune
The following major arcana cards are associated with with a planet. Below is either the planet’s ruling sign, or signs that are complimentary to the meaning of the card as well.
- The Fool (0): Uranus (Air)
- Aquarius, Pisces, Aries
- The Magician (1): Mercury (Air)
- Gemini, Virgo
- The High Priestess (2): Moon (Water)
- Pisces, Virgo
- The Empress (3): Venus (Earth)
- Taurus, Cancer
- The Wheel of Fortune (10): Jupiter (Fire)
- Aquarius, Leo, Scorpio, Taurus
- The Hanged Man (12): Neptune (Water)
- The Tower (16): Mars (Fire)
- Aries, Scorpio
- The Sun (19): Sun (Fire)
- Judgement (20): Pluto (Fire)
- The World (21): Saturn (Earth)
- Aquarius, Leo, Scorpio, Taurus
In the minor arcana, the suits are associated with an element (water, fire, earth, air). From there, cards 2 to 10 are further associated with a modality (cardinal, fixed, mutable). So, the suit and card number will give a hint as to what Zodiac sign it is associated with!
Each suit directly coordinates with an element. The general traits of said element tend to reflect in every card within the suit, no matter what the card is. Underneath each bullet point is the corresponding signs within the element that will play out within the suit itself.
- Wands/Rods: Fire
- Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
- Swords: Air
- Libra, Aquarius, Gemini
- Cups/Chalices: Water
- Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
- Pentacles/Disks/Coins: Earth
- Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo
Modality Associations for Cards 2 through 10
Each card represents one of three modalities. When you take the modality and the element into consideration, you’ll then have the corresponding Zodiac sign for the card. Underneath each bullet point is the general list of the Zodiac signs that share the modality.
- Cards 2, 3, 4: Cardinal
- Aries, Libra, Cancer, Capricorn
- Cards 5, 6, 7: Fixed
- Leo, Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus
- Cards 8, 9, 10: Mutable
- Sagittarius, Gemini, Pisces, Virgo
In addition to this, cards 2 through 10 are also associated with an additional decan or planetary association which allows for differentiating meaning. This is reflected in the Chaledaon calendar, which is perfectly described here. You can most certainly break each minor arcana card down via this calendar to the most minute astrological detail. However, if you wish to associate the minor arcana in a broad sense, this is also perfectly acceptable to do. It’s a matter of how you want to practice!
Aside from cards 2 through 10, the aces and court cards are categorized somewhat differently. Aces and pages are reasonably similar in the sense that neither are strictly assigned a Zodiac sign. Pages represent the personification of an element, which depends on the suit the page is in. In contrast, the aces are the combined power of all signs in an element that are working together.
In addition to this, the court cards (Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings) are all ranked via element. The corresponding elemental association is the personification of the general qualities of that element in the court card. Then the Knights, Queens, and Kings are also further ranked via modality. The modality indicates what sign the card is associated with depending on the suit.
Court Cards Ranked via Element
This ranking system goes from the lowest court card, the Page, to the highest court card, the King. Each court card is associated with an element that dictates its rank. The additional bullet point highlights key qualities for each element, which can help one better understand the elemental component of the court cards.
- Pages: Earth
- Building blocks & desires
- Knights: Fire
- Drive & passion
- Queens: Water
- Instinct & intuition
- Kings: Air
- Strategy & intellect
Being ranked by element implies what the general four cards per type of court card correspond with. Pages represent the building blocks and innate desire. Knights usually represent a life force & drive to get going. Queens represent feminine qualities of intuition and instinct. Kings represent logical qualities.
Knights, Queens, & Kings
Now that the court cards have been elementally ranked, the Knights, Queens, and Kings are then associated with a modality as well. Knights are associated with fixed, Queens with cardinal, and Kings with mutable. Knowing the associated modality and the suit the court card is in will give you a corresponding Zodiac sign.
- Knight of Wands: Leo (fixed fire)
- Knight of Swords: Aquarius (fixed air)
- Knight of Pentacles: Taurus (fixed earth)
- Knight of Cups: Scorpio (fixed water)
- Queen of Wands: Aries (cardinal fire)
- Queen of Swords: Libra (cardinal air)
- Queen of Pentacles: Capricorn (cardinal earth)
- Queen of Cups: Cancer (cardinal water)
- King of Wands: Sagittarius (mutable fire)
- King of Swords: Gemini (mutable air)
- King of Pentacles: Virgo (mutable earth)
- King of Cups: Pisces (mutable water)
Knowing what specific sign is associated and represented in the court cards plays a key role in understanding how the card interact with one another in the reading. It can also clue the reader what Zodiac signs may be at play in the manifestation of the reading. For example, a tarot reader may pull the King of Wands which is a Sagittarius, and this may resonate with the client as a Sagittarius may be part of an ongoing situation in their life that is represented by the cards.
How Do I Practice?
With all astrological associations in mind, it would be wise to get a general idea of elemental associations for the minor arcana and the Zodiacal themes in the major arcana. Depending on one’s reading style, one can be as specific with the astrological associations or use it in a broad sense. Knowing the astrological associations can greater deepen one’s understanding of the card itself, how it’s represented in the card’s meanings, and one’s practice. But the use and application of such will differ from reader to reader. Do what you feel is right for your tarot practice.