Tarot Treasure Hunt: Little-Noticed Symbols Revealed

Ok, so I’ve given you plenty of time to delve into your deck and find the mysteries of these little-noticed symbols. Here’s your “official” answer key. Be sure to share your thoughts with me in the comments section!

Where in the tarot minor arcana will you find…

  • Butterflies on a throne?
    Queen of Swords, below the angel. King of Swords, above his crown. A lovely depiction of the “airy” energy of this suit. I swear to you I never noticed the butterflies before I read “Tarot and the Tree of Life” by Isabel Radow Kliegman. It was a sort of “shocking” discovery because once you see them, they’re hard to miss, and, butterflies seem like such friendly and gentle creatures, and frankly the rather harsh suit of swords is not one I ever would have associated with the beauty and delicacy of a butterfly. So it was a lovely discovery for me of a lesser-noticed facet of the swords suit.
  • A small snail crawling on the ground?
    This was one of the first “little known” symbols that popped out to me in my tarot studies years ago, that got me more conscious about looking for these hidden gems. Why would the snail be slowly crawling across the ground at the feet of the woman in the 9 of Pentacles? I like to think of it as “stop and take time to smell the roses,” because here’s a card that’s all about appreciating and luxuriating in the abundance of the material and physical world.
  • A brown rabbit?
    Love this little guy, sort of “hiding out” in the lower right-hand corner of the Queen of Pentacles. You can read more about my thoughts on him in this post: The Queen of Pentacles and How to Stop Negative Comparisons to Others.
  • Three cards of the same suit with three mountains (some may see as pyramids) in each?
    Another gem pointed out to me in Kliegman’s book. Why would the Page, Knight, and Queen of Wands all have three pyramids? And why then would the pyramids vanish in the King of Wands? Kliegman doesn’t touch on the absence of the pyramids in the King, but she goes into a rather complicated explanation regarding intuition, arid landscape, the magic of the number 3, and mummification in ancient Egypt. I dunno, folks. Frankly to me they don’t even strike me as pyramids so much as mountains. But the symbolism of the emphasis on three strikes me. So at this point personally I’d go on an in-depth research regarding the symbolism behind the number 3, and how that relates to the fiery, creative and intuitive energy of the suit of wands. Here are some starting points: The Symbolism and Spiritual Significance of the Number Three, The Number Three in Religion, in cartomancy, Gurdjieff’s The Fourth Way.
  • Two cards from different suits with stained glass windows?
    These aren’t necessarily little-noticed, but perhaps associating the two cards where they appear doesn’t happen at first glance. The struggle and hardship of the church that goes unnoticed in the 5 of Pentacles as contrasted with the serenity and peaceful rest from the inside of the church in the 4 of Swords. Could it be the same church?
  • Two cards in which the figure in the card has their hand resting confidently on top of the pentacle?
    The confidence expressed regarding abundance in both the 9 of Pentacles and the King of Pentacles show how the figures in both of these cards move comfortably in their luxuriant and materially privileged settings. Their hand securely and almost casually resting on top of the pentacle, rather than gazing at it adoringly or holding it aloft, expresses having achieved a sense of inner and outer security regarding wealth.
  • A fish necklace?
    Gotta love the King of Cups and his fashion sense. I feel like his wearing of the necklace is a symbol of his mastery of the qualities of the suit of cups: watery and emotional, slippery and tough to pin down, and the ability to go with the flow and modify and adapt to circumstances, like a fish flows in a stream. Reversed we can imagine the fish swimming against the current or fighting his way upstream like a salmon going to spawn.
  • A figure wearing one shoe and one boot?
    Another gem from Kliegman! How in the world did I miss this one all these years? Why in the world did the 7 of Wands leave the house wearing a shoe on his right foot and a boot on his left? Kliegman says that it has to do with allowing the self to be eccentric without hurting anybody. As with a lot of her interpretations, they don’t always “hit” me just right. My gut instinct? Take it for what you will. But I feel like his shoe and boot combo is telling us that he’s versatile in the fight. I mean look at the guy, he’s clearly beating back competition or struggle. So the shoe and the boot is like “I’m prepared for anything, just try me, I can go around wearing a shoe, and a boot, whether I need a light approach or a heavier stance, I’m on it.” What are your hypothesis regarding this interesting footwear choice?
  • A wand bolted down?
    What in God’s name is the guy on the 2 of Wands doing, bolting down that wand behind him? I like to think it has to do with moving forward while relying on a basis of stable and solid support to sustain your adventure. Some readers interpret it to mean that he isn’t taking any chances and feels like he’s bolted to the ground. Your thoughts?
  • Two cards that have an arched bridge with two arched passages underneath?
    Kliegman strikes again. (She should have just named her book “hidden symbols in the minor arcana that Shelley has missed for years.”) A very interesting combination here: first in the pain of the 5 of Cups, then in the joy and celebration of the 4 of Wands, both in the same lower-right position. Has the figure from the 5 passed under the bridge of grief and come through it to celebrate on the other side?
  • A patchwork quilt with zodiac signs on it?
    What does the presence of the 12 signs of the zodiac lend to the anxiety and despair of the 9 of Swords? All of us suffer this anguish at one time or another. And, as with many cards in the tarot, life is a constantly cyclical process, just like the rotation of the zodiac signs through the heavens. Your thoughts?
  • Two cards of the minor arcana whose figures have their hands forming a blessing similar to The Hierophant?
    Here’s something you’d expect to see in a religious leader like the one depicted on The Hierophant card. But what to make of it when shown on the hand of the poor man pinned to the ground by 10 Swords? Or how about the super subtle gesture of the hand of the man giving money to a beggar in the Six of Pentacles? EH!? Ever noticed that one? Taken in these new contexts, is it a blessing? A warning? A lesson?
  • The only knight without a helmet?
    Oops, my bad. I promise this wasn’t a trick question. There isn’t a knight without a helment in the minor arcana. I meant to say “the only page without a hat.” Where my mind wandered off to there, I have no idea. But it’s the Page of Swords, for the record. My guess is that he’s so airy and the wind was blowing so hard, the hat never would have stayed on anyways! Too much fast movement and quick thinking!
  • Two black angels with disproportionately large wings?
    On the chalice in the Queen of Cups, these are the hidden symbols in the “handles” that sort of look like hands. The shadow side of our emotional life? To honor it as holy and divine even if it isn’t pretty to look at?
  • Circus tents?
    The classic fairgrounds in the 7 of Swords. That trickster, walking away with all those swords and really getting away with something, without anyone noticing. Or will they?
  • The moon?
    The melancholy of the moon eclipsed on the 8 of Cups, perhaps foreshadowing a brighter future despite the sadness of having to move on; the closed-off turning within of the woman on the Two of Swords.
  • Two cards showing balanced scales of justice?
    The 6 of Pentacles, perhaps indicating a fairness between give and take, and the small scales behind the old man’s head on the 10 of Pentacles: a sign of achievement in financial dealings?Your turn! Add in any and all of your interpretations in the comments section!


  1. Fascinating… It really is the little things that matter and they all have so much meaning.
    Here my thoughts on two of the cards you mentioned: I had never paid attention to the signs of the zodiac on the quilt of the nine of swords, but now that I see it it makes perfect sense to the meaning of the card. Being incarnated means being “inside” the wheel of the zodiac, which means being “under the spell of the zodiac signs”, or so we “think” (think=air=swords). However, despite the fact that we are bound to our physical body, we always have the possibility to identify with our innermost being, our true selves “above” the earthly, restricted plane (heaviness of quilt “pulls” us down and lets us forget our true self which is ALWAYS free and unrestricted!). So for me the nine of swords with the quilt of the zodiac covering the legs (legs=movement=air=swords) is actually a reminder that we ALWAYS have the possibility to just “lift the blanket” by identifying (thoughts=air=swords!) with our true self and BE the radiant health, beauty and happiness we are born to BE.
    As to the seven of wands and the different shoewear. I find it interesting that the shoe is on the right foot whereas the boot is on the left foot. In the healing art and philosophy that I practice left stands for “past” and right for “future”, so the boot could mean the past which is already “fulfilled”, whereas the open shoe still has “room to grow upwards”, or in other words: Despite the fact that 7 means “victory” and 7 of wands stands for “having the upper hand in a situation” the shoe on the right foot shows us that the ultimate goal depends on our actions, on how we handle the fiery nature of the wands. Another thing I noticed here: If we take a look at how the feet are placed, we see that the “boot-foot” stands closer to the cooling and calming water than the “shoe-foot” which actually stands close to a steep cliff – another warning to handle the fire of the wands carefully and not let the flames of passion consume us? It is a well-known fact in astrology that the most challenging combination in the birth chart (sun sign and ascendant) is actually the combination water-fire or the other way round. (Who is telling that? I am a water-fire combi). Mastering fire and water is like an initiation, or rather IS initiation to let the soul soar to victory (7 and fire(wands) of the soul).

    • Wow. Just, wow. Irene your interpretations are profound and eye-opening. Thank you so much for sharing. The quilt interpretation particularly struck me. I love how you bring in so many various aspects from your healing background. I would love to see more of your writing!

  2. Hi Shelley – great post! Another place to see the butterflies is around the chest of the horse in Knight of Swords. You know what I realised while looking through the cards for this post? Something had always been nagging at the back of my mind about the setting of these cards – it looked familiar. Then I realised! It’s rural Italy. Thank you for lots of insights.

    • Sherry, that’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing! Yes, I’ve often thought about the sort of medieval looking Italy-type landscapes in these images. Reminds me a lot of Siena, for example, Umbria in general… such beautiful countryside.

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