The Rider-Waite and Rider-Waite based decks are rich with symbolism from the Queen of Wand's black cat to the the boat in the Six of Swords. Many people are fascinated with tarot cards as well as with the tarot symbols printed on them and many tarot teachers feel that to better understanding those tarot symbols it is vital to learn them first, in order to be able to read tarot cards, but I believe that the symbols only add to the many layers of meanings that each card can have.
Like layers on an onion, each aspect of a given tarot card can create a comprehensive picture when you are able to put them all together into a complete picture, like putting together a puzzle. When we find a specific feature in a card that draws our attention, your intuition is bringing to light important issues. When this happens, consider some of the symbol meanings and how they add depth and insight into your interpretation.
Let's look at some of these symbols and see how their meaning blends in with the imagery on the cards.
The butterfly is the universal symbol for transformation. Butterflies appear on the queen and king of sword cards, and typically indicate a change in thoughts of the person being read for, or someone close to them. Butterflies go through several transformations before they develop into their final state of beauty. They symbolize that we as human do the same thing to reach our end goal and to obtain a better way of thought and living.
Cats symbolize watchfulness, awareness, and perception. Seen on the queen of wands card, the cat is a message that there are energies at work that we may not be aware of, but we can certainly tap into. Cats are also a symbol of psychic ability and in a reading, the queen and her cat indicate that you may need to keep your wits about you and be aware of all sides to the story in the situation relating to the card reading
Fire symbolizes both creative and destructive power. Among its many cultural symbol meanings are: energy, transformation, passion, ambition, inspiration and power. Many faiths use fire as a symbol representing a test of faith or the measure of one's purity. Fire is featured in Devil and the Tower. In the case of the Tower card, those flames gushing out from the crown of the tower is a message of downfall due to anger. The fire of the Tower reminds us we can be our worst enemies in how we design our daily lives. But there's a silver lining in the remnants of the Tower (which in itself symbolizes ill construction of beliefs) it tells us we have the ability to start over and rebuild a better foundation.
The fish is featured on all the cups court cards because fish symbol meanings deal with emotion, intuition and creativity. When considering the fish symbol meaning, we must first recognize the nature of the water in which it lives: in motion, unpredictable, and representative of the subconscious . The fish is a symbol of prolific abundance if we have the ability to harness our own passion responsibly.
Symbolizes renewal, vision, enlightenment, and rebirth, the lizard makes its appearance on the male court cards in the suit of Wands. The lizard, or salamander in some decks, suns itself on these cards to signify the importance of vision in the midst of action. In fact, in ancient times it was believed that the lizard renewed its sight by looking into the sun. The lizard is a tiny reminder that big results come from small, conscious efforts.
Also depicted as a crab or crayfish in other decks, the lobster symbol meanings deal with cycles, regeneration, and protection. These creatures are lunar symbols... they cast off their shells for new ones and this is where the rebirth/cycling association plays its part. The protective symbolizm is evident in the hard spiney exo-skeleton found with these creatures. When the Lobster in the Moon card crawls into our consciousness we're reminded of the cyclical nature in our lives and what protection we may need for the path on which we follow.
The tarot deck has been used for centuries for divination and to discover hidden truths. Symbols are key to tarot because they speak the universal language of basic human feelings, ideas and thoughts. Its helpful to remember that tarot symbols are subject to constant redefinition and their meanings evolve with the card reader.