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What A Pip Tarot Deck Is And How To Read The Cards

    Iremember the first time I heard about pip Tarot decks. I just froze; I had no clue what that meant or even was. After researching the term online, I realized I had been reading pips for a long time, without even realizing it. Maybe you have been reading them too? Let’s find out!

    A pip Tarot deck consists of cards displaying minimal illustrations. The suite cards do not have scenery imagery, as the Rider Waite decks do. A pip Tarot deck resembles playing cards with abstract symbols. The minor Arcana cards are sometimes called pip cards as well. 

    This article will share everything you need to know about pip decks and how to read them. As the cards are not as illustrated as the Rider Waite decks, you have to rely on numerology and the characteristics of the suits. It’s not that hard; you got this!


    A pip Tarot deck is a deck with very minimal illustrations. The minor Arcana is sometimes called as well. Pips decks are also called non-illustrated or non-scenic decks or cards.  

    • Tarot cards with minimal illustrations or symbols + numbers
    • The minor Arcana
    • Non-illustrated cards
    • Non-scenic cards

    The definition of “pip” is small countable items. The domino bricks have small “pips”. The dice have “pips” too. 

    In this picture, you see the pips on the playing cards and the dice.

    The pip cards are not illustrated with scenery that supports the reader, like in the Rider Waite decks, but minimalist symbols. You might see two swords, three swords, and so on. In some instances, you only get a number and a reference to the suite.

    But as always when we talk about the Tarot there are exceptions to the rules. In the picture below you see variations of five of cups as pip-cards. The one to the left is illustrated, and the one to the right is more sparse. 

    Historically Tarot started as a card game, so it is not hard to see that the oldest Tarot deck has variations of pip decks. My Visconti di Mondrone Tarot deck is a replica from 1442. It is an excellent example of a pip-style Tarot deck.

    The suits are symbols and numbers without scenery, while the court cards and the Major Arcana are illustrated. 

    Different types of pip-cards. This is two variations of 5 of cups.
    Different types of pip-cards. This is two variations of 5 of cups.

    The pip cards are not illustrated with scenery that supports the reader, as in the Rider Waite decks, but with minimalist symbols. You might see two swords, three swords and so on. In some instances you only get a number and a reference to the suite.

    Sandra Törnroth

    There are rules on how a pip cards should look. The illustrator of the Tarot deck creates a system of their own. In some cases, the suites are not regular suits. It can be knives (swords), elixirs (water), and so on. This makes it a little harder for a beginner Tarot reader to get in flow.

    If you are more experienced, pip cards can be great as your intuition is not interfering with the illustrations on, say, the Raider Waite cards. You are free to create your own connections and attributions. 

    The most common pip Tarot deck is the Tarot de Marseilles (Paid link – Amazon). It might be seen as the “Rider-Waite” deck of pip decks. This style of deck is referred to as “Marseilles Tarot” and comes in many shapes and forms. 

    A Tarot card (10 of Swords) from the Tarot of Marseilles

    A Tarot card (10 of Swords) from the Tarot of Marseilles (Wikipedia)


    As you don’t have supporting illustrations as in the Rider Waite system, you have to rely on your knowledge of basic numerology and the elemental virtues of the suits. 

    As a general rule, you decode the Tarot pip card meaning by combining the numerology meaning with the virtue of the suite. Pip cards are cards ranging from 1 to 10 in the Minor Arcana.

    As a beginner Tarot reader, it can be challenging at first, but don’t give up. It’s not as hard as it first looks. As everything, almost, in Tarot, there’s a system to it. 

    As a reader, you need to memorize the basic numerological meanings from 1-10 and the virtues of the Suite. When you connect the two, you get the meaning of the card. When you get even more skilled, you can add astrological meanings to mix. 

    As you probably understand by now, you get as deep as you wish with the Tarot. That makes it such a fantastic tool. There are no rights or wrongs. As you grow as a reader, the information you receive from the cards will grow. But don’t rush things; take your time. Do you!



    When you are reading with only pip cards, your flow might be impacted when you’re just starting. It takes time to refine your skill and get in the zone as you have to use your abstract thinking.

    There’s a misconception that you need to memorize every card of the deck. If you learn basic numerology and the meanings of the Suits, you come a long way. Mix and match the information, and you have the meaning to all the cards in one go. 

    As the cards do not have scenery or imagery depicting a scene, you will have fewer visual cues. If you are a visual reader, pip cards might not be the thing for you. But give it a try before making up your mind.

    Non-illustrated cards have their pros. When you get the basics down, your intuition will not be restrained by the cards’ images. You can focus entirely on your inner voice and the messages. 

    All Tarot card systems have their pros and cons. To know what fits you and your vibe, you have to try them. There’s no way around it.

    I use the Visconti di Mondrone (Paid link – Amazon) and The Modern Tarot Reader deck by Claire Goodchild (Paid link – Amazon) for pip card readings. They are different in style but still have pip-ish vibes to them both. 

    This is my beloved Visconti di Modrone Tarot deck. This is a replica of the Tarot decks used in the Renaissance Courts in the 1400s. (Paid link – Amazon)


    Start by counting the pips on the card and taking notes of the suit. By combining the numerology meanings in the table below with the virtue or the suit, you decipher the meaning of the card. 

    Numerology + Suite = Tarot pip-card meaning


    1Beginnings, potential
    2Balance, duality, partnership, choice
    3Expansion, creativity, friendship
    4Structure, rigidity, manifestation, balance
    5Conflict, imbalance
    6Harmony, communication, flow
    7Discovery, divinity, knowledge
    8Action, accomplishment, inner wisdom
    9Near completion, experience, energy
    10Competition, endings, infinitive potential


    CupsWaterEmotions, creativity, Intuition, relationships
    PentaclesEarthMaterial wealth, manifestation, work, money
    SwordsAirIntellect, rationality, authority, communication
    WandsFireEnthusiasm, energy, opinion, belief, spirituality

    The keywords are gathered from my class notes from the Biddy Tarot Certification Program and my personal experiences throughout the years. As you get more comfortable reading the pip-cards, you will soon be creating your keywords from experience.


    Using Tarot deck with pip-cards can bring much joy, but it takes a little practice before getting the hang of it. Try different tarot decks and see how you feel. There are, as always, no musts in Tarot. You do you, and the most important thing is that you feel connected with the cards and the technique.

    You don’t have to learn every card by heart. The easiest way is to learn the basics of numerology and the virtues of the suits. When combining the both, you get your card meaning. 

    Enjoy the wonderful world of pip-cards and decks. They will take you on a fantastic journey. 

    Sandra Törnroth

    Intuitive multi-modal tarot reader with a love for crystals and everything esoteric


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