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The Structure of the Deck

Traditional exoteric tarot decks are composed of 78 to 80 cards, most include a blank card and many now include a signature card with a printed face, which could be a single symbol, an advertisement, an invocation or just about anything. These decks contain four suits plus the major arcana which is the group of 22 cards numbered from 0 to 21. There are many published decks which follow this form.

The suited cards are referred to as the minor arcana, or lesser secrets, the major arcana being the greater secrets. The minor arcana includes the face or court cards which depict various personages of a royal house.

Contemporary and esoteric traditional decks often are composed of more than 78 cards. Some have a fifth suit and have added one card to each of the other four suits, some have extra major arcana corresponding to specific spiritual beliefs on the part of the user or the group publishing the deck. A few of these decks comprise over 100 cards and can get quite unwieldy if the cards are large. Most useful of the larger decks is the 97 card, five suit deck. Attributions of the 97 card deck are the same as the 78 card deck with the exception of the additional 19 cards. Some of the articles and tables on this site will include reference to the 97 card deck. If you are using a traditional 78 card deck merely ignore the references for the larger deck.

The suits are composed of numbered and face cards. The numbered cards represent events while the face, or court, cards represent people and influences. The cards of the major arcana represent stages in the evolution of awareness and consciousness, they use archetypal symbols to outline a path to realization ever present in the ongoing experience of a human life.

A modern Tarot pack is a pictorial pack, one that has an image on each of the cards. The best decks usually have both an artist and a designer working in collaboration on the execution of the images. Traditionally one of each gender, a male designer and a female artist. This provides for works better balanced in human experience.

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This page last updated 9 November, 1997 by Bev Thornton

Copyright © 1997 Bev Thornton, All Rights Reserved.