The Big Book of Tarot: How to Interpret the Cards and Work with Tarot Spreads for Personal Growth

The Big Book of Tarot: How to Interpret the Cards and Work with Tarot Spreads for Personal Growth

by Joan Bunning


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, May 10


Joan Bunning's The Big Book of Tarot offers a complete course on how to use the tarot cards for personal guidance. The author communicates the basic depth and beauty of each card and shows how the cards trigger psychological projection, enhance intuition, and improve communication with the Inner Guide. While there are countless books devoted to tarot, what sets Joan Bunning apart from every other writer on the subject is her ability to take a rather complicated esoteric system and break it down into clear, manageable, and easily learned parts. The lessons Bunning offers cover the basics and then move gradually into more advanced concepts. Exercises and sample responses for each lesson help you learn and practice.

The book includes:

  • Lessons on how to consider one card by itself, how to look for card pairs, and how to create the "story" of a reading
  • A convenient reference section that contains two pages of information for each card including a picture from the popular Waite deck, a description, keywords, action phrases, and suggestions for cards with similar and opposite meanings
  • An exploration of the meaning of reversed cards and how to work with them to give tarot readings a natural flow of high points and low points without abrupt transitions
  • Practical insights on how to work with and interpret a wide variety of tarot spreads

Note to the Reader: This book consists of material drawn from the author's many previous books as well as new material.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578636686
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 08/01/2019
Series: Weiser Big Book Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 144,692
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Joan Bunning received her B.A. in Social Psychology from Cornell University and has worked as a writer, editor and computer programmer. Since 1995, her "Learning the Tarot" website has helped thousands of people worldwide discover the personal value of the tarot. She lives in Virginia with her husband, two sons and two dogs.

Read an Excerpt



The Major Arcana

The standard tarot deck consists of seventy-eight cards divided into two sections: the major and minor arcanas. The word arcana is the plural of arcanum, which means "profound secret." To the alchemists of the Middle Ages, the arcanum was the secret of nature. The tarot cards are therefore a collection of the "secrets" that underlie and explain our universe.

The twenty-two cards of the major arcana are the heart of the deck. Each of these cards symbolizes some universal aspect of human experience. They represent the archetypes — consistent, directing patterns of influence that are an inherent part of human nature.

Each card in the major arcana has a name and number. Some names convey a card's meaning directly, such as Strength, Justice, and Temperance. Other cards are individuals who personify a particular approach to life, such as the Magician or the Hermit. There are also cards with astronomical names, such as the Star, Sun, and Moon. They represent the elusive forces associated with these heavenly bodies.

The major arcana cards are special because they draw out deep and complex reactions. The images on the Rider-Waite deck are evocative because they combine esoteric symbolism with recognizable figures and situations. The symbolism is subtle, but effective.

A major arcana card is always given extra weight in a reading. When one of these cards appears, you know the issues at stake are not mundane or temporary. They represent your most basic concerns — your major feelings and motivations.

The major arcana is often considered as a unit. Different schemes have been developed to show how the cards form patterns that cast light on the human condition. Numerology, astrology, and other esoteric sciences often play a role in these schemes.

Many interpreters view the major arcana as showing the different stages on an individual's journey of inner growth — what some call the Fool's Journey (see Appendix A, p. 337). In these systems, each card stands for some quality or experience that we must incorporate before we can realize our wholeness.

We all travel this road to self-actualization, though our trips more often involve detours, backups, and restarts than smooth progression! Our specific paths are unique, but our milestones are universal. The twenty-two major arcana cards are markers on the path of inner development leading from earliest awareness (card 0) to integration and fulfillment (card 21).

The Fool's Journey seems to move smoothly from one order of experience to the next, but our learning adventures are usually not so tidy. We make mistakes, skip lessons, and fail to realize our potential. Sometimes we lack the courage and insight to discover our deepest levels. Some never feel the call of the Hermit to look inward or never experience the crisis of the Tower that might free them from their ego defenses.

Often, we try to overcome our difficulties, but fail repeatedly. The lesson of the Hanged Man — to let go and surrender to experience — is one that is particularly hard and may need to be faced over and over before it is fully incorporated.

Sometimes we experience lessons out of order. A person may absorb the qualities of Strength early in life due to a difficult childhood, but only later develop the Chariot's mastery and control. Someone may overcome the attraction of the Devil's materialism through a life of seclusion, but then need to learn about relationships and sexuality — a lesson of the Lovers — at a later time.

The major arcana contains many levels and models of experience. These cards hold all the patterns of growth, whether they occur within one segment of a life or a whole life span. We could even say that an entire lifetime is really just one growth episode within the larger saga of our soul's development.

No matter what our pattern of self-discovery, the major arcana shows us that wholeness and fulfillment are our destiny. If we keep this promise as our polestar, we will eventually realize our true nature and gain the World.


Choose any major arcana card to explore from the Card Descriptions section (page 57). Become familiar with keywords and actions. Notice how keywords reinforce each other to create a certain kind of energy or focus. Note also how the actions flesh out the keywords. Read the description, but just glance at the other information for now. Repeat this exercise for as many major arcana cards as you like. Don't worry about memorizing anything. The goal is simply to get comfortable with the card descriptions.

The Minor Arcana

While the major arcana expresses universal themes, the minor arcana brings those themes down into the practical arena to show how they operate in daily events. The minor arcana cards represent the concerns, activities, and emotions that make up the dramas of our everyday lives.

The Suits

There are fifty-six cards in the minor arcana divided into four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. Each of these suits stands for a particular approach to life. Our everyday experiences are a blend of these four approaches. Your tarot readings will show you how the different suit energies are impacting your life at any given moment.


The Wands are the suit of creativity, action, and movement. They are associated with such qualities as enthusiasm, adventure, risk-taking, and confidence. This suit corresponds to the yang, or masculine principle, in Chinese philosophy and is associated with the element Fire. A flickering flame is the perfect symbol of the Wands' force. This energy flows outward and generates passionate involvement.


The Cups are the suit of emotions and spiritual experience. They describe inner states, feelings, and relationship patterns. The energy of this suit flows inward. Cups correspond to the yin, or feminine principle, in Chinese philosophy and are associated with the element Water. The ability of water to flow and fill up spaces, to sustain and to reflect changing moods makes it the ideal symbol of the Cups suit.


The Swords are the suit of intellect, thought, and reason. They are concerned with justice, truth, and ethical principles. Swords are associated with the element Air. A cloudless sky, open and light-filled, is a symbol of the mental clarity that is the Swords' ideal. This suit is also associated with states that lead to disharmony and unhappiness. Our intellect is a valuable asset, but as an agent of ego, it can lead us astray if it is not infused with the wisdom of our Inner Guide.


The Pentacles are the suit of practicality, security, and material concerns. They are associated with the element Earth and the concrete requirements of working with matter. In Pentacles, we celebrate the beauty of nature, our interactions with plants and animals, and our physical experiences in the body. Pentacles also represent prosperity and wealth of all kinds. Sometimes this suit is called the Coins, an obvious symbol of the exchange of goods and services in the physical world.

The Ranks

Each suit is structured much as our everyday playing cards with ten numbered cards (Ace–Ten) and four court cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Page). Each card has a role to play in showing how the energy of its suit is expressed in the world.


An Ace announces the themes of a suit. The Ace of Cups stands for love, emotions, intuition, and intimacy — ideas that are explored in the other cards of the Cups suit. An Ace always represents positive forces. It is the standard-bearer for the best its suit has to offer.

Middle Cards

Each of the middle, numbered cards present a different aspect of a suit. The Wands explore such themes as personal power (card 2), leadership (card 3), excitement (card 4), and competition (card 5). A card may approach an idea from several angles. The Five of Pentacles shows the many faces of want — hard times (material want), ill health (physical want), and rejection (emotional want).


A Ten takes the themes introduced by an Ace to their logical conclusion. If you take the love, intimacy, and emotions of the Ace of Cups to their ultimate, you have the joy, peace, and family love of the Ten of Cups.

Court Cards

The court cards are people with personalities that reflect the qualities of their suit and rank. The court cards show us certain ways of being in the world so that we can use (or avoid!) those styles when appropriate.


A King is mature and masculine. He is a doer whose focus is outward on the events of life. He demonstrates authority, control, and mastery in some area associated with his suit. A King's style is strong, assertive, and direct. He is concerned with results and practical, how-to matters.


A Queen is mature and feminine. She embodies the qualities of her suit, rather than acting them out. Her focus is inward, and her style, relaxed and natural. A Queen is less concerned with results than with the enjoyment of just being in the world. She is associated with feelings, relationships, and self-expression.


A Knight is an immature teenager. He cannot express himself with balance. He swings wildly from one extreme to another as he tries to relate successfully to his world. A Knight is prone to excess, but he is also eager and sincere, and these qualities redeem him in our eyes. We can admire his spirit and energy.


A Page is a playful child. He acts out the qualities of his suit with pleasure and abandon. His approach may not be deep, but it is easy, loose, and spontaneous. He is a symbol of adventure and possibility.

You now have a basic idea of the role of each card in the tarot deck. You have a feel for how they all fit together and what each one contributes to the whole. In the following sections, you will learn more about these cards and how to interpret them in your readings.


Review the lists of suit qualities in Part Five, page 333. Don't try to memorize these lists, just read them over quickly. These word collections are designed to give you a feel for the energy of each suit in all its many manifestations.


The different suit qualities combine in each person to create his or her personality. Examine yourself in light of the four suits. Ask yourself these questions:

Is one suit quality dominant in me?

Is one quality less familiar?

In what situations do I take on each quality?

Do I reflect the so-called positive or negative side most often?

Do I attract people of the same type, or different?

You can repeat this exercise with another person as the subject, if you like.

Card Orientation

All life is energy — currents of force that mix and blend to form the patterns of our lives. Each card in a reading symbolizes a particular energy. Your actions and intentions as you shuffle and cut the cards align certain energies in a way that is meaningful to you. When you lay the cards out, you can see a picture of those energies all in one place.

At any given moment, these energies will be at different levels. Some will be strong and powerful, others less so. Some will be entering your life, others, moving away. It would be useful to be able to assess the energy level each card represents. I use card orientation for this purpose.

The orientation of a card is the direction it faces on the reading surface, or as you hold it. A card can be either upright or reversed. An upright card appears normal based on its image. A reversed card looks upside-down. When you shuffle the tarot cards, they often end up facing in different directions. (See Part Five, page 333 for a shuffling method that avoids reversed cards.)

Card orientation allows us to interpret a card in two different ways. An upright card shows an energy that is developed, available, and active. The energy is strong and clearly present in the situation. A reversed card shows an energy that is not fully developed. It exists in the situation, or it would not have appeared, but it's weak, incomplete, unavailable or in some other way not fully expressed. (Many tarot practitioners interpret card orientation differently. In such systems, a reversed card is viewed as the opposite of the card when upright. Tarot methods do differ!)

If you are a beginning tarot student, I recommend that you not work with card orientation at first. It's important for you to develop a solid appreciation of the essential nature of each card before you introduce this extra dimension. Later, if you wish, you can add orientation to your practice (see Part Two). Your tarot work will be full and rewarding either way.

The Spread

A tarot reading involves selecting certain cards after shuffling and cutting the deck. When you lay out these cards, you see how certain forces are impacting your life in the moment. Many tarot readers lay out their cards using a spread for greater clarity and insight.

A spread is a preset pattern that defines how many cards to use, where each one goes, and what each one means. A spread is a template guiding the placement of the cards so they can shed light on a given topic. It is within this template that the meanings of the cards come together so beautifully.

A spread is made up of positions. Each position is a place in the spread for a single card. Positions are numbered to define the order in which cards should be placed. A spread with three cards would have position one for the first card, two for the second, and three for the last.

The most important feature of a spread is the fact that each position has a unique meaning that colors the interpretation of whatever card falls in that spot. For example, the keywords for the Four of Pentacles are possessiveness, control, and blocked change. If this card were to fall in a position meaning "the past," you would look at how these qualities are moving out of your life. In a position meaning "the future," you would instead view them as coming into your life — a quite different interpretation!

When cards are related to each other in a spread, an entirely new level of meaning is created. Combinations appear, and a story line develops with characters, plots, and themes. The weaving of a story from the cards in a spread is the most exciting and creative aspect of a tarot reading. It is an art, but there are many guidelines you can follow. Later, I will explore spreads and the story-making process in more detail.

Learning the Deck

Every beginning tarot student faces a major hurdle. Somehow, you must become familiar with all seventy-eight cards to some degree. This task may seem daunting at first, but it need not be arduous. In fact, it can be fun!

It's tempting to rush into this task. You may try to stuff all the information into your head as quickly as possible, but this method doesn't work well. Nothing sticks for long, and you wind up feeling overwhelmed. In fact, many beginning students give up at this point.

Learning Procedure

The secret is to be patient and take this learning project in small, daily doses. You choose one card a day to study, and you cement that learning by allowing the card to teach you its energy as you go through a twenty-four- hour period. Here's a procedure to try:

Select one card as your card for the day. You can be spontaneous or systematic (first all the Wands, then the Cups, etc.). You can pick a card with an intriguing image, or one that otherwise catches your eye. It doesn't matter as long as you work your way through the deck.

Choose your card at a time that works for you. Mornings are good because you can pick a card during your wake-up routine. You can also select one at night. You will be ready to work with your card the following day as soon as you wake up. Your main goal is to make selections regularly so your tarot work progresses.

1. Look up the card in the Card Descriptions section.

Read the description page for your chosen card at least once. Study the details of the card's image. Write down the keywords, and try to memorize them. They will help you remember the meanings of the card quickly.

If you like, make a copy of the card's pages to refer to during the day. I don't recommend carrying your card around as it could get damaged or lost.

2. Stay aware of your card's energy during the day.

Let's say you draw the Two of Cups. The keywords for this card are connection, truce, and attraction. Watch for signs of these qualities during the day. In the morning, you may notice that a colleague, who has been rather hostile, comes to your office to talk. You sense a truce. In the afternoon, while working on a problem, you see the connection between two approaches. Later, at a party, you talk to someone who attracts you. On each occasion, you have touched the energy of the Two of Cups.


Excerpted from "The Big Book of Tarot"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Joan Bunning.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface v

Introduction vii

Part 1 Tarot Basics

Chapter 1 Elements of the Tarot 3

Chapter 2 Doing Readings 11

Chapter 3 Interpreting the Cards 22

Part 2 Energy And Card Orientation

Chapter 4 Upright and Reversed Cards as Energy 41

Chapter 5 Upright and Reversed Cards in Readings 49

Part 3 Card Descriptions

Introduction to the Card Descriptions 59

Major Arcana Keyword Chart 61

Major Arcana Card Descriptions 62

Minor Arcana Keyword Chart-Ace-Ten 128

Minor Arcana Keyword Chart-Court Cards 129

Minor Arcana Card Descriptions 130

Part 4 Tarot Spreads

Chapter 6 Elements of Spreads 273

Chapter 7 Spread Shapes 276

Chapter 8 Small Spreads 281

Chapter 9 The Celtic Cross Spread 283

Chapter 10 The Flex Spread 298

Chapter 11 Creating and Using Flex Spreads 302

Flex Spread Position Meanings 310

Part 5 Reference

Simplified Reading Procedure 330

Full Reading Procedure 330

Interpretation Procedure for a Single Card 331

Procedure for Writing a Question 331

Shuffling Methods 332

Areas of Life 333

Suit Qualities 333

Suit Pair Meanings 336

Court Card Rank Pair Meanings 336


Appendix A The Fool's Journey 337

Appendix B Reading for Others 343

Appendix C Three Sample Readings-Celtic Cross 347

Bibliography 353

Notes 356

Acknowledgments 357

Customer Reviews