Tarot cards were invented in medieval Italy as a regular deck of playing cards. It’s probably not surprising then that the original iconography was a lot more Catholic than it is today. They didn’t really become associated with mysticism or the occult until the 1700’s. The major arcana has 22 cards and was originally called the trump cards because they were used for gambling. The minor arcana looks a lot more like a regular deck of playing cards except instead of clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades there’s cups, wands, pentacles, and swords. Each card has a pictogram that represents a certain concept.
It is a myth that Pagans use tarot cards to “see the future” in a literal sense. Most people who give readings will tell you that tarot cards show you the forces at work in your life and help you see what your next steps should be.When it comes to the names, let’s focus the Major Arcana:
1 — The Magician — Hermes. It is actually hard to find a name that goes with this card, but some people associate it with the god Hermes. The Magician shows a man with a small table that has the four symbols of the Minor Arcana placed on it. This card represents practicality, initiative, and creativity.
2 — The High Priestess — Joan. The card now known as The High Priestess was originally known as The Popess. This could be in reference to the legendary Pope Joan who allegedly became Pope while disguised as a man. The High Priestess is associated with secrets, mystery, and powerful feminine forces.
4 — The Emperor — Charles. Historically not connected to any one person like the last two, but all the original cards clearly refer to the Holy Roman Emperor. The first Holy Roman Emperor was Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. This card is associated with tradition, control, and powerful masculine forces.
5 — The Hierophant — Jupiter/Jove. This card is also known as “The High Priest,” “The Pope,” or “Jupiter.” Guess which Jupiter they mean? The Hierophant represents knowledge, respect, and social convention.
7 — The Chariot — Bravery. One of the most complex cards in the deck, The Chariot depicts a princely warrior sitting in a chariot being pulled by either two horses or two sphinxes. Aside from bravery, this card is also associated with pride, self-confidence, recognition, and honor.
8 — Strength — Forteza. Now known as Strength, it’s Italian name was La Forteza, meaning the same thing. This card is also sometimes called Fortitude, which could also work as a name. The Strength card shows either a man or woman with a lion and represents perseverance, self control, and kindness.
9. — The Hermit. — Sage. The Hermit is seen as a shamanic figure. The card traditionally shows an old man with a staff in one hand and a lantern in the other, traveling through a wasteland. A sage could be a term for a very wise person, so it fits. This card represents introspection and guidance.
11. — Justice — Justice. Why not? It sounds a lot like Justin. This card is associated with the goddess Athena/Minerva (and traditionally depicts her) and represents intellect, objectivity, and responsibility.
12. — The Hanged Man — Odin. This card was originally known as The Traitor, and hanging by the ankle was a common form of punishment for them back then. B ut The Hanged Man on the card never has a look of pain on his face. Comparisons to Jesus are inevitable, but me being me I’m going to take the Pagan world view and say that it’s Odin. The Norse god hung upside down from the world tree Yggdrasil for nine days in order to obtain wisdom. This card represents sacrifice, patience, acceptance, and new world views.
13. — Death — Mort. The Death card is not as ominous and literal as the movies make it out to be. This card traditionally depicts a skeleton riding a horse and represents the ending of a chapter in life. Mort could also be short for something. Like Mortimer.
14. — Temperance — Temperance. The most obvious name in the deck. The Temperance card usually shows a person (often a woman) pouring water from one vessel to another. It represents balance, moderation, and the blending of opposites.
15. — The Devil — Shadow. Yeah, I know this pick is a stretch, but the Devil is typically associated with “lurking in the shadows” so it’s the best I’ve got. I would have thought that this would have been changed to something else by now, since most Pagans don’t believe in the Devil, but the Devil remains. This card does not represent evil, instead it stands for materialism, stagnation, and ignorance.
16. — The Tower — Sagitta. The card now known as The Tower, which depicts an apocalyptic scene of people falling from a crumbling and flaming building, was originally known as La Sagitta (“The Arrow“). This doesn’t seem to make any sense, unless it’s referring to the lightning bolt striking the building. This card represents chaos, uncomfortable revelations, and ruin.
21 — The World — Cosmo/Cosimo/Cosima/Cosmina/etc. In most decks the last card in the Major Arcana is known as The World. But in some it’s known as The Universe instead. This card traditionally represents wholeness and success.
0 or 22 — The Fool — Journey. In many Tarot decks, the Major Arcana and each suite tell a story and The Fool is the protagonist of that story. This is called “The Fool’s Journey.” The Fool is shown as a simple beggar with a dog nipping at his heels. The dog represents common sense and The Fool ignoring it represents the thirst for new experiences, clean slates, and risk.
Going through all 56 cards in the Minor Arcana would take forever, so I’ll just limit this to each suit.
The Wands — George. Originally, each suit would have been associated with a particular social class, the Wands representing peasants and the working class. George means “farmer,” so it fits well. This suit represents nature, simplicity, and creativity.
The Pentacles — Artisan. The Pentacles (also known as The Coins) represent the merchants and artisans. The Pentacles represent the material body and possessions.
The Cups — Chalice. Basically a fancy word for cup, but it suggests spirituality. The Cups stand for the clergy and represents love and emotions.
The Swords — Noble. Swords are traditionally associated with Nobility and the Military. This suit represents reason.
Isadora Vega has been blogging about names of Witchy and Pagan interest on Bewitching Names for several years. She is not an expert in names, but her lifelong name geekitude and passion for rarities makes writing about this topic a treat. She is currently based in the Pacific Northwest