When The Tarot Is Literal

Can Tarot be literal? Yes!

Tarot works in three main modes. There is the ancient and enduring symbolism of the Major Arcana, which so often reflects our inner narrative, rather than outward events. An example: a person getting the Tower may be restless around a relationship, wanting to leave it.

The Tower shows that agitation, aptly, as opposed to any situation incoming that would break up the relationship. Judgment is a Plutonic card with the sensibility of that planet, rather than a suggestion that something outside of you is going to be calling the changes.

Then there are the more worldly cards that conjure up the genius of your intuition, the images combining with the interpretation suggestions to evoke an ‘aha’ moment. The Tarot can be as inscrutable as dreams. It is more Sphinx than Oracle.

Or; the Tarot can be super-literal. People often say that the Tarot on the site is particularly accurate regarding the “people” cards and I agree. Characters such as the King of Swords show up repeatedly, well before they materialize. If you get into the right mindset when looking at the Tarot, it tells you little stories. Sometimes they are highly practical – the Four of Pentacles is always a ‘don’t spend’ cue, and there are cues that someone may not be as free for a romance as you thought they were.

The Seven of Swords can point to thieving, and though it is a Major Arcana card, the Devil seems connected to people getting out of their depth with debt, drugs, or a seriously dodgy bit of business in relationships.

What do you think the most literal cards are?

Image: Irving Penn

54 thoughts on “When The Tarot Is Literal”

  1. Page of pentacles coming up a lot, and king of Wands. The elusive king of wands I’ve been looking for since a september tarot reading from an amazing reader

  2. I have tarot as part of my morning ritual. I ask what it is they want me to know, messages are always accurate to what I am going through, needing a reminder of any questions I ask I usually get the answer. Some not always good, those are reality checks, but I do much prefer getting nice auspicious messages…don’t we all.

  3. I’ve had a little love affair with the tarot since the beginning of that retro mars this year. The cards do have a patterning that resonates

  4. 8 of swords – literally tied up in pain of your own mind with the ability to free yourself if you choose to step away

  5. I’ve been pulling 3 of cups, and omgosh. The alliances are real. The king of pentacles real. The actual emporer card during saturn king? Real. I have used the tarot here religiously, but i even got these kinds of cards in person with a friend. The king of pentacles flew out of the deck and became the overall theme. Head hunted after making strong relationships with other massage therapists, temperance for the game of schemes at work, the world card for soon soon soon. Queen of pentacles! Pentacles pentacles and more pentacles. Sometimes the devil. Fixed those money admin probs. All the knowledge being channeled. Very happy.

    Bring on work during the holidays! Aha. A business offer starting late Jan.

    Yes yes yes.


  6. The Devil. Earth licking, addiction, and being in a bind.

    In the Victorian Flower Fairy Tarot (my favourite “Fluffy Deck”) its The Goblin Market – all the pleasures of Earth dissolving into pebbles and dead flowers in the light of day. In the Gaian Tarot its “Bindweed” – being tied up in a situation out of control and out of balance.

    The one I never read literally ? 6 Pentacles. There is no gift here. Its Charity with a capital “C”. I read it as “What is given will be earnt. Get on your knees”

    My favourite card is the 9 Pentacles, which is pretty straightforward.

  7. Can we talk cards that we DONT understand as well?
    Strength. I don’t ever understand what I’m meant to get off the Strength card.
    2 of Swords and 8 of swords. Are these cards that imply one NEEDS to act?
    The Sun.
    The pages? I don’t understand who they are!

    And those that we want to imagine have different meanings?
    The Moon…. Very romantic, not dangerous at all. Neptunian nights.
    The 5 of Swords, 7 of swords.
    7 of Cups….. this can just mean I have a lot of great choices, amirite?

    1. strength card, are you a leo perchance? I often get it when dealing with my Leonine SO 🙂
      Higher meaning can be the taming of turbulent, unconscious energies by reason, also an image of a strong woman. Pages are often young people. 7 of cups could be a bit of an addiction, or too many choices.

      I don’t see them as a NEED to act, more like a picture of a situation in the moment, and what you might want to focus on further

    2. Traditionally the 2 of Swords is about making decisions. I always read it as “the decision you have already made but are afraid to act on”. People often know the answers they are seeking, and the choice they want to make, but want the Universe to bless their course.

      Strength I read as “Stoic practices” – its about your internal strength of mind to overcome animalistic emotional reflexes.

      The 8 swords is one of my favourite cards. She looks likes she’s in a terrible bind, but the problems are all in her head. She can literally let her bonds slip, take off the blindfold and walk home. Its about opening your eyes and taking real stock of a situation you can literally walk away from if you want to.

      Both the 2 and 8 of swords are blindfolded and imply that if you don’t act, you’ll just sit in the dark until you do 🙂

      The Sun is about a joyous, happy time. Its a simple card in many ways, but its powerful – like The Star it casts a positive take over the whole reading.

      The Pages are either young people with the suit characteristics *or* the beginnings of the suit energies /characteristics; so an incoming emotional / practical / intellectual / creative energy or person.

      I personally loathe the 7 Cups. Too many choices are as bad as none. Being paralysed by choice is an awful feeling.

    3. I tend to get the moon when I am swimming in feelings about something. Not necessarily treacherous circumstances, but that I am in Major Feels .
      I see the 7 of cups simply as blue sky thinking, daydreaming, “what if….” Speculation. It’s actually damaging for me with a pisces mercury to equate that with error or as some kind of personal flaw. If it comes up, I know to ping my imagination and make sure I’ve done a little awareness check too.

  8. I don’t know that I can call a particular card” literal”or knowing when it is literal for me anymore. The more I have delved into any form of divination the more complex I find it to the extent that I don’t trust my own interpretation of it and certainly am wary of any “reader’s” take on it no matter how good they are. If I do read for myself, I wait for the evidence in the physical to see what mode the tarot has presented itself to me this time around.

  9. I get the fool so often. And although the ace of cups is my utter favourite I vibe very very much with the fool. Ny last reading he was in the 12th house.

    1. because you are significantly starting afresh – the fools leap into uncharted territory protected by beginner’s luck 🙂 also the fool has ties to Uranian energy…

  10. Three of swords.. I have never not had the literal meaning of it, ever. Its always heartache & I have always remembered how severe it’s blows have been. Last time I read for someone else I wanted so much to avoid the literal meaning but sadly, it was very real. I focused much of the reading on solution and where her support would come from and this really helped her for a year afterward.

  11. I’ve been reading for almost 16 years. I think the most literal cards are the 3 of swords, 10 of swords, and 5 of cups. 9 of swords too. Pretty much anything doom and gloom, haha

  12. I am really appreciating this, and the comments. I am a bit shit at Tarot. It gets better if I ignore the specifics – a la DL’s comment – and look at what is where, and the general vibe. the I ching suits my pisces 9h mercury better, and maybe cap moon with its need for a sense of ageless wisdom and a focused attention on the issue.

    the court cards sort of bamboozle me. I get a reading loaded with Kings and I interact with maybe two adult men at best. is it sometimes that i read too much into it? e.g. oooh king of cups in the 8th house could this the the tantra master introducing himself, with a glint of You in his eye (I wouldn’t trust that intro anyway, lol)? or, is it the phone call from Centrelink by a guy who happens to be a scorpio [and i would never know?] you see my dilemma.

    1. Your last paragraph I could have written. Apparently, the love of my life is the King of Pents … not that I’ve met anyone yet. 🙁

  13. The court cards are incredibly literal on the site tarot. I have a King of Cups character in my life and haven’t spoken to him this year, I also hadn’t got that card. A few weeks ago I got the King of Cups in the 3rd house and two hours later he messaged me. It’s not just that example, it happens over and over.

  14. I have a really good relationship to tarot and I -ching, developed over years and years. I have friends phone me up to ask me to flip a card for them…I don’t claim to have clairvoyance with the cards but I really do understand what they are saying to me. Both in Rider Waite and Thoth decks. Have had some people say that the find tarot cards scary or something, but I never get that from them, not at all like I how find Ouija scary…

    Hardly ever do a physical full spread these days, mostly I do them online, a quick question or temperature check. And sometimes they want to tell you something else other than what you might be asking about! I always tell friends who are learning to pay attention to the cards that fall out.
    An ace of pentacles always means an offer of work, ten of swords generally means my partner has a sore back, or four of swords that he needs a rest. 8 of wands is Always a message incoming. I like to get 3 of wands, as it tells me to centre myself in my creativity. Certain people have a regular card presence as Knight of pentacles, queen of cups etc..

    But if I want a very nuanced answer to a question about work or relationship, I go to I ching. (At one stage I had about 6 different versions of I ching, ranging from the original classic to more contemporary interpretations).
    It has always been very helpful. I have stuck out very difficult situations, encouraged by advice from I ching when it seemed like I should have totally walked away and they have unfolded for my higher good. There is a wisdom there which I don’t completely understand the mechanics of, but it kind of helps to navigate.

    Speaking of other spontaneous dark- matters, I was at dinner a couple of weeks ago with a new-ish friend and towards the end of the evening, she started channeling my long-gone father! it surprised us both, and I think it was him by things she said that He said which she could not have known at all, and it was lovely!

  15. I find there’s many multiple interpretations of most of the cards, but that’s because I’ve been reading those things since I was a kid. I think one of the most literal is 4 of cups. Just take the freaking cup already. Oh, And the 8 of cups.

  16. First card Devil, second The Tower (it’s been confirmed today that my I’d has been stolen and used for health care fraud).
    12th card King of Pentacles (I really don’t want any man thinking I want anything from them especially an old era version of someone from my past…no thank you). I don’t believe in fairytales or empty romantic sentiments. Someone with chronic PTSD just can’t allow that to happen.

    1. Ugh, identity theft and fraud, just ugh. Sorry you have to now deal with this along with all the work you do for your health. It is just so unfair, S. Wishing you extra pieces of strength to manage the admini-crappia parts in effective small blocks, that don’t undermine your energy and time for care of self, including dreaming and flowing xx

      1. Thank you x
        Sadly I haven’t been able to enter dream states for years. Trauma took those. Could be a nice change for my dreamscapes to return.

  17. I think it’s important in any form of divination to develop your own interpretations of symbols. If you always refer to the interpretations of others or those of the ‘experts’, then I think you will never truly trust or fully understand what the oracle is attempting to impart, without irritating anomalies and misunderstanding. This happened to me with the IChing 40 years ago. I found that interpretations of the hexagrams others had, in a way imposed on the one on one relationship with the sage the soul, the personality of the oracle I required to be a good student.
    Over the years I blocked standard interpretation out and worked on my own relationship to the sage. Together one on one you can develop a unque language of meaning. Once you are speaking the same language the oracle can clearly set out the teachings and you will understand what those are and mean to you. When I show you this, it means that. When I present this symbol with this symbol it means this and so on. I believe that the magic of any oracle is it’s ability to have this one on one unique relationship with any student that seeks the knowledge.

    1. The fool card is possibly the only tarot symbol I can fully embrace. I know him so well. The others seem a little controlling and sometimes malevolent to me. I sense a lack of flexibility. In other words the tarot and I have a language barrier. And it doesn’t care.
      There is a hexagram in the I Ching. No.4 , “Youthful Folly” has success. It is not I who seek the young fool; the young fool seeks me. At the first oracle I inform him. If he asks two or three times, it is importunity. If he importunes, I give him no information.
      How many here find themselves in that loop with the tarot ? Combine that with a sense of the potentially malevolent nature of some of the cards and you have a recipe for fear and a sense of losing your power.
      Mystic’s tarot I love. I trust the spreads and the intrinsic benevolence of the cards imbued by our mystic x

      1. You are a master in this, DL. We have always known this channels your witchy self. I played with I Ching with one sibling as a young girl, and it was highly appropriate and speaking at the time. I cannot read it the same without her, just like I can no longer understand the clues to the cryptics when she is not here to synch her Virgo with my Pisces. Mystic’s Tarot has replaced so many packs for me, even the ones I hold in my hands, which you would not have expected of a Saturn in Taurus in the Alchemical Daily 6th house! And here’s Uranus coming around!! 😀

        1. I’m way too Gem to be the master of anything 🙂 Interesting about your sister. I was taught that to manifest universal energies and knowledge to make it useful you need to understand triangulation. Between 2 entities there is a line. That is a limited dimension. Add the 3rd entity and there is a plane of activity.
          These triangles can then link to other triangles.
          This is the basis of the merkavah teachings. By linking our triangles of light bodies we form light vehicles that allow interstellar travel. I digress 🙂
          So in your case the 3 entities were you, your sister and the sage of the I Ching. Without one of you it loses form and becomes more nebulous.

          You can use this triangulation idea in many situations in life. Eg if something is not right between 2 people, a married couple say, you can be sure it’s because the 3rd entity is missing or unrecognized.
          Every couple has a 3rd that they triangulate with but it’s often unrecognized. By recognizing who or what this 3rd is you create an incredible tool for relationship problem solving.
          It’s interesting and fun to try and identify the third entity in any one on one situation in business or private life. Once you turn your mind to it the answer is obvious.

      2. Thank you again, your words help to allow me to find my balanced will and ensure that my emotional shell shocked state of mind is not needing to explore this at the moment. Take a pause from tarot and when things are resolved I’ll return to it.

        1. Hi S x
          When the oracle gives no satisfaction I refer to this saying.
          “If you don’t know what cannot be done, you will accomplish great things”
          In other words by surrendering the need to ‘know’ we allow the work to proceed.
          There are powers beyond the knowledge or influence of any oracle and they can be accessed by simply acknowledging their presence and allowing their assistance.
          Oracles sometimes just get in the way of that assistance.

    2. The I Ching has *never* spoken to me and I’ve read dozens of interpretations. Even just reading the most basic transliterations of the hexagrams, I never get anything meaningful or useful. I kept an I Ching Journal for *years*. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I still go back and check, every now and then, just to see if the Oracle will speak this time….

      I get this with decks as well though – some are absolutely beautiful, but they just don’t speak to me at all. And I know within one reading whether I can work with a deck, or whether it will be one that I will pull out to admire the artwork and then put away again. Like the I Ching I reread every few years, just to see if the energies have shifted and *some* of them have come good for me – the Druidcraft is one that never spoke to me when I got the deck, but oddly enough the app has started working for me. But I have been working with the Druid Oracles and their Wildwood as well, so maybe its more about me aligning with the energy of that deck rather than vice versa.

      I LOVE the Gaian and have it in three different guises 😀 😀 but it has never spoken to me. I love Ciro Marchetti’s artwork, but none of his tarots or the Lenormand have worked for me (I can’t get anything form the Lenormand at the best of times) – but his Oracle is spookily accurate for me.

      1. Have you tried an I Ching book by Carol Anthony. Guide to the I Ching.
        This is by far in my mind the most appropriate interpretation for our age.
        Aside from removing all the patriarchal and ancient Chinese cultural elements she provides simple strategies that are elegant understandable and quite beautiful.
        Any female I’ve ever suggested it to , who has had communication issues with the more traditional texts has had incredible success with this book.
        It might be available as an e book ?

        1. It is a very good interpretation and I believe it is more accessible than most. Stephen Karcher’s Total I Ching is also an interesting version, with flexibility in it’s answers. I often use more than one text, especially if I am not receiving clearly, and at times, I go back to the Wilhelm. Hahaha, I collected 9 versions over the 40 years or so I have used it. I like it better than the tarot, and agree it is more nuanced but I have to say of late I have been using Mystic’s tarot and it has lead to the thought to take out my Rider Waite pack again. This pack I receive very strongly and historically it has felt a little too much but perhaps MM’s influence on my thinking will alter how I see it. I have other packs but the others don’t hold the same energy for me, for some reason. I laughed at your comment re Youthful Folly btw, I remember getting it twice in succession in my early days and being both blown away and embarrassed in equal measure. Ha!

  18. 3 of swords – doesn’t show up for me often, but over the past 10 years it has turned up when an actual beytrayal of one kind or another (work, personal) that I strongly suspect is going down and that is really hurting my wellbeing really IS going down, even if it is not confirmed til a bit later.

  19. love the hermit. want it tattoed on my back.
    seem to get the three of pentaclesca lot…think its that card…where people are meeting up??
    love the tarot
    king of pentacles is always welcome lol

  20. 9 of swords. Especially the image of the original rider tarot of the lady laying in bed with her hand over her forehead

    1. Yes! Anytime I overdo the tarot because I’m obsessing, catastrophising, or negatively ruminating / or when my anxiety is palpable and there’s panic attacks and lost sleep – top of my reading. That image in the bed is like a mirror. It’s almost a comfort now when I get it because it gives me relief that even the tarot thinks I need to calm my tits and breathe

  21. The most literal card I’ve ever dealt with is the ace of pentacles, which showed up on my phone less than 5 minutes before I LOST MY JOB. I’ve never looked at it the same way again.

    1. Whoah! Quite a shock. Tarot can do that so well; it’s super tricksy. Did your job loss then lead to prosperity, like a better work environment, or clearer soul purpose and the riches of space to breathe?

    2. Oh my! The Hanged man. One morning I pulled this card using the Wild Unknown deck in May. The image is a bat hanging upside down. I drove down to the cafe I worked at at the time, there was a dead bat hanging upside down on the fence… The cafe was called ‘The Lucky Bat’. During my shift I started getting some intense PMS, finished early, whizzed home and went straight to bed. I woke up a few hours later and my car had rolled down the street, crashed into someone else’s, and been written off. 2 weeks before I was about to sell it, so that I could move to the West, no insurance. Anyway… here began cycle of unfortunate events involving a death in the family, and a relocation across to the other side of the country, the East. Since arriving here I’ve been ripped off and then fired from the one job I could find. All my money is gone. My whole life has been put on hold – it’s like being suspended in time. And I’ve lost momentum. The goal is to get over to the West in Feb, but we shall see. Ever since I got to the East I’ve been pulling the knight of swords repeatedly. Once I got him 5 times in one day. And I just can’t work him out.

      1. With a few small details changed, you just described my entire life. From sudden job loss, car destroyed by a Mavis mechanic who “changed my oil” but really didn’t, only to realize they emptied the oil but never put oil back inside of it. The job I lost was the only one I was able to find for over a year. Trying to move west, as well. We were going to move at the end of the year, but now we can’t. About to run out of unemployment money in 3 weeks. While I have to also pay rent, so all savings gone. While not a death, my mother lost her job recently after 30 years with the company, which feels like a death to us all. It’s been a super great year. Cap rising, Leo sun, aqua moon.

  22. I have a billion planets in fire, and mars pluto in scorpio in the 1st, so for me the literal cards are all the slow the fuq down cards. I pull temperance, the hermit, four of swords, the hanged man, the high priestess, ten of swords. The universe telling me to calm down, this is a wait not an action zone.

    The devil means a tricky bit of lust for me.

  23. Lux Interior Is My Co-Pilot

    For me judgement is always about a transformation–hence plutonic. I don’t know about ‘literal’…

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