Reading pips: the Pips-as-Trumps method


It's certainly not an original idea to interpret pip cards by correlating them with trumps I-X. Many folks here over the years have said that they use that system, however lately I haven't seen many people actually using it in readings, unless I've simply missed it. Looking on the forum index, I didn't find any threads that specifically discuss it. So I thought I'd post a few words about how I've been using it lately.

In my book I relied on numerology for the pips. I still think that's a perfectly good way to read, but a few months ago I did some experimenting, and I found that I actually get better reading results with pips-as-trumps.

First I'd like to say a few words about pips-as-trumps compared to some other methods. Two popular methods these days are Enrique's intuitive/visual approach, and Mel's very-specific-card-meanings-derived-from-several-esoteric-sources approach. (Apologies in advance if I manage to mangle or mischaracterize those approaches.) I like Enrique's approach very much (as well as his writing), and I definitely use his ideas as part of my reading repertoire. But personally, I like to start out with a rudimentary framework of meaning on which to hang the intuitive/visual insights. To me, using the intuitive/visual approach alone feels too much like a Rorschach test, and the visual associations become too free-wheeling without that basic framework to ground it.

While for me Enrique's approach has not enough structure to use by itself, Mel's approach, on the other hand, has (for me) too much structure. The multitude of systems used for the correlations, and the specifically nuanced meanings arrived at for each card, are too concrete. Another factor is that as I get older and as my life seemingly becomes more and more complicated, I no longer seem to have the attention span necessary to memorize particularized card meanings.

Against this backdrop, the pips-as trumps and numerological methods are more appealing to me. I find it to be a very creative process to combine the number and suit meanings -- the simpler, the better -- then add in intuitive insights based on the pictorial elements, adjusting for adjacent cards, and of course in the context of the question.

I think that the simplicity of the approach is the key. I feel that the simpler the building blocks, the more subtleties and nuances can be uncovered, because we are building in those subtleties and nuances brick by brick, so to speak, by ourselves, rather than relying on pre-established meanings for them. And the simplicity has another benefit -- it makes the meanings more flexible, allowing us to bend and twist and manipulate them as we choose, which to me is the essence of creative card-reading, and which allows us to have the most fun with the process.

Now, since what I've written so far applies to both numerology and trumps-as-pips, why do I currently prefer trumps-as-pips? The realization that I came to a few months ago was that the thing that makes the numerology method less appealing to me nowadays is the factor of progression or development. We are so used to thinking of the numbers 1 through 10 as a progression or a story, each card somehow building on and developing from the prior card. But this factor, which makes the system seem so compelling, is also what makes it difficult. If a 5 is like a 4 but more so, then is there enough to distinguish the 5 from the 4? If we use an odd/even dichotomy, then how does the 8, for example, differ from the 6, other than being simply a little more of the same?

The fact of the matter is that numbers by themselves are not very compelling (at least, not to me). In order to use them to construct meaning, we have to apply some characteristics and personalities to them, and that means we must bring in factors from outside tarot -- unless we use pips-as-trumps.

For a long time I avoided pips-as-trumps because when I tried it, I saw the pip card as an aspect of the corresponding trump, sort of a mini-trump. So the 7 of Cups would be a mini-Chariot, applied to cups. This proved unsatisfying to me, because it was as if I had simply added four more sets of trumps I-X to the deck. Why bother adding to the deck what is already there in the trumps?

After experimenting a bit, I found a way to use the trumps which didn't create this redundancy effect. Instead of considering the pips as mini-trumps, I decided to merely use the trumps as mnemonics. I would choose a single keyword from each of the trumps I-X and apply it to the pip card. Of course, my interpretation of the trumps wouldn't be limited to that single keyword. The keyword might not even be the first thing to come to mind when viewing the trump. But when seeing a pip card, I could immediately bring that trump to mind, enabling me to recall the keyword with no effort. After that, the pip card acquires a life of its own and no longer has a connection to the corresponding trump.

Again, I found it worked better if I assigned no progressive or developmental concepts to the cards. So Aces do not signify beginnings, and 10s do not signify an ending or a completion.

Another benefit to using the trumps in this way is that, unlike numerology, we don't need to bring in anything from outside the deck. So our interpretive system becomes nicely self-contained.

Here are the keywords I came up with. As with any specific meanings I mention in this post, I'm not suggesting that mine are better than what anyone else could come up with, and I'm merely posting them here to give an idea of my thought processes. My suggestion to anyone who wants to try it would be to come up with your own keywords based on your interpretive preferences, or use some of mine if you like, or use all of mine if you like -- the choice is entirely yours! (I realize this should really go without saying, but I just want to make it as clear as I can that it's the concepts that I feel are valuable here, not the specific meanings that I came up with using those concepts.)

I (Magician) - Excel
II (Popess) - Look within
III (Empress) - Care for
IV (Emperor) - Take charge
V (Pope) - Do right
VI (Lover) - Interact (based on Jodorowsky's interpretation of the Lover, which I like a lot)
VII (Chariot) - Win
VIII (Justice) - Equalize
IX (Hermit) - Discriminate (in the sense of differentiate - thinking of Diogenes here, looking with his lamp to find an honest man)
X (Wheel) - Adapt

You might be wondering if I apply the higher trump cards (XI-XXI) to these numbers. Personally, I see no reason to. For me it would add a layer of undesired and unnecessary complexity. Also, it implies that the two trump cards assigned together are somehow connected. I prefer to let the trump cards stand by themselves rather than trying to shoehorn them into some grand scheme.

I use simple and traditional meanings for suits:

Batons - creativity, endeavors
Cups - feelings, relationships
Swords - thoughts, plans, words
Coins - finances, material world, values

So here is what I got when I put it all together (again, these are posted just as examples; also, remember that they are deliberately simple to allow for greater flexibility and nuance when reading):

Ace - Talent/potential for creativity and for convincing others
2 - An original idea for an endeavor
3 - Encouraging creativity
4 - Taking charge of an endeavor
5 - Engaging in endeavor without hurting others; altruistic endeavor
6 - Dealing with other groups or projects; accepting input from others
7 - Your endeavor is triumphing over others'; one person becomes leader after power struggle
8 - You earn rewards from your work according to what you put into it
9 - Evaluating results of efforts
10 - Circumstances cause a change in plans

Ace - Talent/potential for relationships and for awareness of feelings
2 - An isolated couple; exploring own feelings
3 - Encouraging relationships or feelings
4 - Taking charge of a relationship or of feelings
5 - Treating people right; treating yourself right
6 - Groups of friends; large family; social occasions; any social interaction
7 - Receiving the love one wants; seeing partner as a prize to be won
8 - The love you take is equal to the love you make
9 - Evaluating feelings/relationships
10 - Circumstances change feelings or relationships - a change of heart

Ace - Talent/potential for thought/speech/writing
2 - Examining own ideas; being alone with your thoughts
3 - Encouraging thought or speech
4 - Taking charge of own thoughts; conservative thinking
5 - Proper thoughts (i.e. Buddhist concept of "right thought")
6 - Considering others' points of view; exchanging ideas with others
7 - "I win, you lose" mentality
8 - Concepts of fairness; punished/rewarded for thoughts
9 - Evaluating own or others' thoughts; being judgmental
10 - Circumstances cause you to change your mind

Ace - Talent/potential for dealing with material world
2 - Relying on your own resources
3 - Encouraging manifestation (e.g. gardening); saving money (e.g. allowing investments to grow)
4 - Paying taxes (rendering unto Caesar); taking charge of finances; guiding growth
5 - Charity; spending altruistically
6 - Circulation of money or resources; you have to spend money to make money
7 - Making more money than your competition; building something better/stronger
8 - Achieving rewards for sacrifice or punishment for greed
9 - Evaluating your value system
10 - Circumstances cause a change in physical surroundings/finances/value system

When reading, of course, I apply these meanings very loosely. I may even abandon them altogether if I get a strong visual insight from a particular card.

Another concept came to me when I was watching the movie "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." It's not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but I quite enjoyed it. One important part of the plot is that there are seven swords which the heroes must place on a table in a circular starburst pattern. (I don't recall whether that's in the book or whether the filmmakers added it for the movie.) This gave me the idea that the pip cards could be seen as missions that we must undertake or responsibilities that we are given, thus lending a "mythic journey" mood to the reading. Perhaps one pip card in a reading, rather than all of them, might be seen in this way. Negatively, the pip cards might be seen as a trap or an "evil spell" to be defeated.

If anyone's interested, perhaps we could start a three-card reading thread here specifically for this method. I'm not suggesting that we all use these particular keywords and meanings, of course -- just the basic concept of using trump meanings for the pips, so we can all easily follow along with each other's interpretations.

I wasn't planning on sharing this, or at least not for a long while, as I enjoy keeping a relatively low profile these days. But le_charior's TdM enthusiasm over the last several weeks has inspired me to stick my nose out of my lair and sniff the sunshine. So if you don't like this approach -- blame him! :D


Thank you for the post, Lee! Hope it encourages more people to experiment with this method. I've been using a similar approach, but there seems to be a dearth of specific information about it. Maybe it will stimulate some discussion.


Well done Lee!. I have explored this method before as it is described in C.C. Zain's 'The Scared Tarot'. I have found that the meanings I came up with are not that different from the traditional ones. For example 'Four of Coins' =The Emperor = controlling money and finances in a 'The buck stops here manner' = material gain. 'Nine of Cups' = 'Personal happiness comes to you concerning something you have pondered/studied for a long time' = wish card.

I also found that I could relate the court cards to the last four cards of the major arcana.

Valet = The Moon - a bit murky and obscure, but the intial 'go forth' feeling is there.

Valet of Swords - dangerous enemy, lack of emotional intelligence.

Knight = The Sun - The lights are on, but the person is still exploring their new found conciousness, so he/she is not a fast thinker and mover just yet. Gut reactions rule.

Knight of Coins - Good intentions, hardworker, but slow and plodding.

Queen = Judgement - Higher conciousness has taken place. The obscurity and murkiness are gone. The person is more able to act than the previous two cards.

Queen of Wands - Wonderful gift of gab, friendly person.

Queen of Swords - hateful, ability to cut heads to get what she/he wants and won't feel bad about it. Can use intellect to justify actions.

King = The World - Intellect has now entered the picture and the person has reached a level of being able to do the 'dance of life' has the ability to execute their own divine will.

King of Cups - Happy family man, likes to est, drink and be merry. Wants love and doesn't care as much about worldly satisfaction as others.

Great post lee!!!



Thanks, LRichard and Freddie! I'm probably being overly enthusiastic about something which is self-evident and obvious. It's exciting to me because the cards in my TdM readings using this system have really started speaking to me in a way they really hadn't been before.

Freddie, I like your idea for the court cards. I too have been thinking about how the system could be extended to the court cards. Using the last four trumps certainly does seem to match many traditional meanings.

I was thinking in terms of simply continuing on from the X. So that would give us:

Page = XI Strength
Knight = XII Hanged Man
Queen = XIII Death
King = XIV Temperance

In this scheme, the Page might symbolize a gentle, nonaggressive approach; the Knights, identification with a cause to the extent of being willing to sacrifice the self; Queens take on a Kali-like sharpness, intelligence, and willingness to use unsympathetic or unsentimental means; and the Kings would show a wisdom sort of like that of the ideal ruler in the Tao Te Ching: "For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation." And each of these would have their corresponding negative sides as well (Pages, lack of ambition; Knights, fanaticism; Queens, cruelty ["Off with their heads!"]; and Kings, overly concerned with harmonious relations).


You might be wondering if I apply the higher trump cards (XI-XXI) to these numbers. Personally, I see no reason to. For me it would add a layer of undesired and unnecessary complexity. Also, it implies that the two trump cards assigned together are somehow connected. I prefer to let the trump cards stand by themselves rather than trying to shoehorn them into some grand scheme.
I sometimes use the pip-trump method, but use trumps XI-XX for the reversed pips. And I think there CAN be a connection between the two (some of which can be very thought-provoking, almost as if they are meant to be connected):

I (Magician) and XI (Strength) - mental strength and physical strength, mind over matter/matter over mind etc
II and XII - knowledge and ignorance
III and XIII - life and death
IV and XIV - rigidity and fluidity
V and XV - speaks for itself!
VI and XVI - union and break-up
VII and XVII - war and peace
VIII and XVIII - clarity and confusion
IX and XIX - introvert and extrovert
X and XX - life's uncertainties and life choices

The Fool and World are special and stand alone. Not sure about how the courts play into this, but I do like the idea of it being a self-contained system and not reliant on 'outside' meanings (numerology, astrology etc).


I'm having a lot of difficulty reading the pips in the Tarot of Marseilles. Very much a newby, I'd concentrated on the Majors so had no particular concept of the other cards until joining this forum, although I have a couple of books which basically contradict each other.

Thanks for posting this. Going off to study and see if this helps.

To be honest, the fun and joy of exploring the cards seems to be disappearing fast. What's the right way to read? Clearly there is no right way but all the same I'm floundering and probably experiencing what a lot of newbies feel. I feel like abandoning the pips and taking the easy route out but that seems like giving up.

To be honest I got my Old English Tarot out last night. Oh, the joy of all those little pictures!! Even though I pulled the Eight of Swords as the final outcome......


I feel like abandoning the pips and taking the easy route out but that seems like giving up.

I think in France where the TdM is most commonly used, it is the norm to just use the trumps for divination - and the majority of French books that I have seen on the TdM only discuss the trumps.

I use the pips myself, using a pips to trumps method (all the trumps, not just I-X).


Thanks for that kwaw.

I'm very comfortable with the Majors. I'm very tempted to stick with them as I felt I was making decent progress.

Unfortunately, being rather rash, I signed up for the Reading Circle for the TdM and that seems to involve the pips. I may just have to unsign myself!


I think in France where the TdM is most commonly used, it is the norm to just use the trumps for divination - and the majority of French books that I have seen on the TdM only discuss the trumps.
I don't know if we can call it a norm...
and I'm not sure most of the forums are a good example of what the "french norm" is or should be ;)
You can find several old books that predates Marteau which use the whole deck, for instance J.Mery's even describes each card, but he's not the only one.
Etteilla's method used 78 cards too.
Since 1981, Tchalai text accompanied the "ancient tarot de Marseille" by Grimaud, although she emphasized the use of the trumps, she also described several methods with the honours and the pips.
Nowadays, I know of several professional card readers who use and encourage the use of pips and honours. For instance C.Morel - who wrote several books - does so (I note her specifically because she peculiarly advise not to mix pips and trumps even if they are to be used in the same spread), so does Laurent Edouard if I remember correctly.

Also the 'trump only' may be (or be seen as) a quicker reading than one using the whole deck - not only for con artists.

Truth is that french talking tarot forum tend to spread the idea that "it's better to start with trumps only", and many people stick to that and do not go beyond, but this definitely cannot be called a norm, just a (bad?) habit.



Truth is that french talking tarot forum tend to spread the idea that "it's better to start with trumps only", and many people stick to that and do not go beyond, but this definitely cannot be called a norm, just a (bad?) habit.


Well, let us just say 'fairly common' practice then :)

Although there are french books that go into using the whole deck - my overall impression was that the majority discuss mainly, and often only, the trumps - but I may be wrong, I am not particularly au fait with the French tarot book and reader scene, and my sense of the scene is probably based upon too limited a selection of books and my experience on several french tarot forums. (It may be that more books are now on the complete deck than they used to be, a quick look at show that while there are many that treat the whole deck* there still plenty being published which discuss using spreads with the 22 trumps only too.)

Though I tend to use the whole deck - I don't consider it a 'bad' habit to just use either the pip & court cards (as is perfectly common with an ordinary deck of playing cards) or the trumps alone - and either can produce readings of a length and depth as using the whole deck, dependent upon the abilities of the reader.


*I also note that many of those books (pre-2007) that do treat the whole deck include in their blurb such statements as 'finally - a book that deals with the whole deck and not just the 22 major arcana', 'one of the few books that treat of the minor arcana as well as the major', as if the copywriters/publishers at least (at that point) treated such as unusual and not quite 'the norm'.