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What’s the Definition of Tarot?

Definition of Tarot

The definition of “tarot” is something that’s been coming under a lot of stress lately.

Today’s tarot card creators play with the structure of tarot decks like alchemists play with rare metals. More and more decks bend the rules today. They change card-names and some even add additional cards to the traditional deck of 78.

So are these modern decks of cards, true “tarot” decks? Or are they something else?

So, what’s the definition of tarot?

With all the mind-bending creativity at work out there in the world of tarot, it’s important to define what exactly constitutes “tarot” — and what doesn’t:

DEFINITION: Traditionally speaking, tarot is defined as a deck of 78 cards used for fortune-telling, personal insight and playing card games. Tarot decks consist of two different parts: A Major Arcana and a Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana are 22 individually titled cards, while the Minor Arcana are 56 numbered cards. The Minor Arcana is divided into 4 different suits in a fashion similar to playing cards. Each suit has 14 cards. Tarot suits are typically: Swords, Cups, Pentacles and Wands — although the names of the suits vary from deck to deck.


Are decks with different numbers of cards not “real tarot”?

There’s nothing wrong with decks that bend the definitions of  the traditional tarot deck.  Generally speaking, decks with an extra card added to the Major Arcana, are still considered tarot decks. (For example, the famous OSHO tarot deck contains an additional 23rd card in the Major Arcana).

The traditional structure of a tarot deck is:

  • 78-cards in total
  • A Major Arcana of 22 cards
  • A Minor Arcana of 56 cards
  • 4 tarot suits

Any major departures from this standard formula, and the deck is generally  categorized as a deck of “oracle cards” and not true tarot.


Is an online tarot reading a true tarot reading?

Another question that comes up often is whether or not an online tarot reading is a “real” reading.

Yes! But not always.

Online tarot which uses a full deck of 78 cards, and allows for tarot shuffling, tarot card reversals, tarot spreads and open interpretations is a real tarot reading.  On the other hand: Online tarot spreads which use a small subset of cards, offer no reversals, and include canned interpretations are not real tarot readings.

If you’ve never experienced a real online tarot reading, try one now.

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