Answering the question of how many tarot cards are in a deck is very simple! There are a total of 78 cards in a deck of tarot cards. What makes them interesting isn’t how many cards are in a deck however, but the two different types of cards and the meanings of each one of the cards.
In a single deck of 78 tarot cards you will have two categories of cards: the 22 Major Arcana, also known as “trump cards”, and the 56 Minor Arcana. The major arcana or trump cards are the named cards. The major arcana are: The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgment, and The World. The minor arcana are further broken down into four different suits: swords, wands, pentacles and cups. Each suit represents a different area of life and an element. Wands symbolize creativity and passion as well as the element of fire. Swords are intellect and air. Pentacles symbolize work and money as well as the grounding presence of the earth, and the cups symbolize our emotions and the element of water.
While it is certainly possible to perform a tarot reading using just the major arcana, and this practice is recommended for novice tarot readers as they learn the meanings of the cards and gain a feel for their deck, using the full 78 card deck gives a more detailed and fuller reading allowing you to receive a better detailed answer to whatever your question for the deck may be. Some people find that even with 78 cards their tarot deck seems to be lacking enough explanation for their questions and they may add other cards on their own or may purchase decks with additional cards.
Historically, tarot card readings were not made popular until the mid-1800’s despite the decks having been invented all the way back in 1430’s Italy. It became popular to try fortune-telling using a tarot deck in 1780’s France thanks to Antoine Court and Jean-Baptiste Alliette.
There is no one deck that is ideal for tarot readings. There are a wide variety of artistically designed decks including the best-known and most popular Rider-Waite deck, and even decks dedicated to popular culture movies or with your own custom designs. What your cards look like is less important than making sure you can clearly tell which card it is you are working with and knowing how you acquired your deck. Like anything that you use to perform divination, you want to be sure you know the history of how it came to be in your possession so that you know what energies it has interacted with. Every pair of hands that has touched your deck has left behind energy residue – the last thing you want to do is bring in a deck that has experienced a great tragedy or is home to a strong negative energy that you may not be able to successfully dispel.
Before you begin any tarot reading you want to be sure your deck has clear energy. If it doesn’t or you feel the need to cleanse your deck you may be able to do so quickly by simply shuffling. Reorder your cards from the major arcana through the minor arcana, taking the time to reconnect with the special message of each card as you do so, then shuffle them and reinvigorate them with your energy. When you’re through doing a tarot reading keep your cards clean from negative energy or from others touching them by keeping them carefully stored away, maybe even with a piece of quarts to help absorb any lingering energies from your readings.