The Major Arcana is the group of cards in a tarot deck that most people think of when they hear the word “tarot”. They are also called the “trump” cards.
There are 22 Major Arcana cards and they are numbered from 0 to 21, beginning with “The Fool” and ending with “The World”. Each card has a name and a picture representing the theme. For instance, on the “The Chariot” is a picture of a chariot. On “The Tower” is a picture of a tower. Each card is highly symbolic and represents the major (see the relation to Major Arcana?) events we will all go through in life.
When you're reading about tarot cards you may come across the term “The Fool's Journey”. This is a metaphor for our, a human's, life cycle. We all start our lives young, with energy, with hope, with great expectations.
You can see that reflected in the card. The upturned face, the look of joy, the character is embarking on a journey with his faithful companion and all the world lies at his feet. When you're starting out life is full of possibilities.
As he makes his way through life he'll encounter many, if not all, of the other cards in the Major Arcana. Each of these cards represents a specific life event or circumstance. For example, let's focus on “The Hanged Man” because this card makes people very uncomfortable but shouldn't be taken at face value.
In general, all The Hanged Man means is that you are at a crossroads. You are experiencing an internal tug-of-war about making a decision. It may be because the decision itself doesn't have any clear answers. It may be because one option requires a lot of sacrifice but has a bigger payout. It may be because you'll have to rebel against a long-held belief or ideal.
Whatever the case, we all have times in our lives where we struggle to choose a path.
And so it goes for every card in the Major Arcana, each card representing a major life event. The Fool's Journey culminates with The World. This card represents a sense of contentment that everything has come full-circle. The journey is over. You are at your destination. The goal has been met. Of course, receiving The World in a reading doesn't mean your life is at an end, just that symbolically you have reached the final point for this particular period of your life. It's a great feeling of accomplishment to receive this card because it represents success.
I like to think in the bigger picture that's how we'll all look back on our lives at the end; with contentment and pleasure at all we did and experienced. A life well lived.
Let's delve a little deeper into the meanings of each card, shall we? Part of interpreting a tarot card is understanding its symbolism and general meaning. Click on any card to read a more in-depth description.
0. The Fool
The Fool begins
our journey, numbered at 0. Key meanings include new beginnings,
youthful exuberance, excitement, innocence, spontaneity, and its
namesake of foolishness. It's a happy and optimistic card but with
some lack of fear. Read more about The Fool here.
1. The Magician
represents the potential of all things. This is where you'll be
making something from nothing. Willpower and perseverance, logic,
ability, intellect all will play a roll in the manifestation of one's
goals. Read more about The Magician here.
2. The High Priestess
The High Priestess illuminates the
quest for knowledge. She embodies deep secrets and ancient wisdom.
She speaks strongly to intuition and trusting your gut. She will help
you see through the facade and discern reality. Read more about The High Priestess here.
3. The Empress
identifies with femininity almost exclusively. She signals fertility,
motherhood, strength in the home, fondness for family, and nurturing.
She's also a particularly positive card in regards to prosperity and
abundance. Read more about The Empress here.
4. The Emperor
signifies patriarchal strength, stability, and dependability. This is
a strong male figure who is in control, and sometimes maintains that
control by extremely regimented means. Protection is evident, also.
Definitely a symbol of strength. Read more about The Emperor here.
5. The Hierophant
The Hierophant is
also known as “The High Priest” card and emphasizes tradition.
Here's where you will see traditional beliefs, traditional values,
traditional gender roles, and traditional behaviors come up. There is
emphasis on conformity and living a strict lifestyle or by a strict
moral code. Read more about The Hierophant here.
6. The Lovers
The Lovers focuses
on strong relationships, and not just romantic ones. The theme of
unity and being united against a mutual danger, or force, is in full
effect with this card. There is also the romantic and sexual aspect
which bodes well for those looking for partner. Read more about The Lovers here.
7. The Chariot
The Chariot is an
example of victory and triumph. This eighth Major Arcana card shows
you've overcome some obstacles, often through hard work and your own
ambition. It reminds you to keep your focus and persevere and you
will win. Read more about The Chariot here.
As evidenced by
its name this is a pretty straightforward card. It means mental
fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough. It means passion
to continue driving yourself to be better and stronger. It means
emotional strength to endure the process. It also points to good
overcoming evil. Read more about Strength here.
9. The Hermit
The Hermit is a
card of self-reflection and introspection. It outlines thoughtful
contemplation of one's spirituality and morality. It is a highly
spiritual and inner-being perspective. Enlightenment is the goal of
this card. Read more about The Hermit here.
10. The Wheel of Fortune
Fate has to come
into our lives at some point. This card reflects that dynamic in our
world. Call it luck, fortune, or karma -it is that force bigger than
ourselves. These events are out of our control.
Sometimes we just have to accept it and the circumstances it leaves us with.
Everybody likes the Justice card because it means the scales will be balanced. People who do good will receive rewards and people who do evil will receive punishment. It's a good lesson in cause and effect and gives hope to those struggling with circumstances beyond their control. Read more about Justice here.
12. The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man is
famously known for its embodiment of being at a crossroads in life.
When one feels trapped it generally requires letting go of the past
in order to move into the future. However, this is easier said than
done. Uncertainty is usually evident, too. Read more about The Hanged Man here.
The Death card is
probably the most feared in the whole tarot deck. This Major Arcana
card virtually never means physical death. It does mean
big changes, though, and often they are sudden and unexpected. This
card can leave you feeling a great sense of upheaval. Read more about Death here.
us that patience is a virtue. While big changes can take time, it is
to our benefit that we proceed with patience and inner peace. By
doing so we can maintain balance in our lives and live a harmonious
existence even as circumstances may be difficult. Read more about Temperance here.
15. The Devil
The Devil is
basically the counterbalance to Temperance. It represents temptation,
materialism, addiction, and obsession (and the sense of helplessness
that occurs with those feelings). It reminds us that all things in
life have a cost, and for some the price is quite great. Read more about The Devil here.
16. The Tower
This card is
actually more “doom and gloom” than the Death card. This is truly
the most negatively foreboding card in the deck. The Tower
foreshadows great calamities, great upheavals in live that are
usually spurned by traumatic events, and, basically, the breaking
down of your current situation. You have no choice but to try and
survive the fallout. Read more about The Tower here.
17. The Star
On the other side
of every tragedy is hope and renewal and The Star card promises this.
It is the card of optimism and hope and possibilities. In it you will
find encouragement to recommit yourself to your spiritual and
creative projects and life will look good again. Read more about The Star here.
18. The Moon
An air of mystery
and magic surrounds the moon, and this Major Arcana card symbolizes
that experience. It is the card of dreams. It is the card of
illusion. And to your benefit, it is also the card of intuition. Be
careful when you receive this card because things are not as they
seem. Read more about The Moon here.
19. The Sun
positive card in the tarot deck is The Sun. It highlights personal
success, good luck and good fortune, and a general joyful atmosphere.
The sun's rays warm and cheer the soul and receiving this card will
do the same. Read more about The Sun here.
Judgement can be
an internal or external force and The Judgement card allows for both
possibilities. You may be doing some introspection or others may be
judging you. It's also got positive aspects, such as offering or
receiving forgiveness, coming to a resolution, and rebirth. Read more about Judgement here.
21. The World
Finally, the last
card of the Major Arcana: The World. It represents a sense of accomplishment stemming from completion of some big event or period
in your life. You glow with the feeling of achievement and fulfillment.
Bask in the glory of a job well done, for you've earned
it! Read more about The World here.