The “Major Arcana” are considered the heart of a tarot deck. Also known as the “Trump cards” there are 22 of them. They do not have suits attached to them like the rest of the tarot deck. It is human life and experience from birth through death that is represented in the Major Arcana portion of the tarot deck. It symbolizes the physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional aspects related to man and the universe.
The trumps includes archetypes of people in its 22 cards. For example some of the aspects of the cards in the major arcana may relate to warmth and nurturing as with a mother figure or strong and commanding as an authoritative figure ,as is a traditional religious figure or a mystical personality; these are just some of the types of people it can represent. The archetypes in the Major Arcana are however indicative of real people whether figuratively or actually in someone's life.
Each card of the 22 Major Arcana depict a scene which contains symbolic elements in it. In many decks each card is numbered from 0 to 22 in Roman numerals with a word describing each card. There are some decks however with no numbers or word on top to describe the card. Some decks only have pictures. The earliest decks had no numbers or words as well; probably because most people were illiterate. In the early days the cards were not in a standard numbered order as they are today.
The pictures on the major arcana are steeped with symbolism. Major Arcana cards are related to thing regarding one's higher purpose or a deep significance affecting one's life. They depict a person's journey in life particularly in relation to personal development. As their numbers start at 0 to 22 it is the journey from innocence to wisdom. Some tarot scholars believe the sequence depicts the enlightenment one attains in one's lifetime. It is also intended to be a path of enlightenment for one to take as well as learning the meaning of one's true self. We see the first card the fool starting out in life with decisions and directions to make where he meets the magician who gives him an idea (card #1) and then we meet the high priestess etc. and so on down the line to 22. The Major Arcana focuses on our spiritual self but also gives us answers to things concerning our day to day lives like family, social relationships, jobs, finances and more.
The Major Arcana represents some aspect of the human experience we go through in our lives. It also looks at our spiritual journey here in our life, our hopes, dreams, fears, joys and sadness. When one starts their learning of how to use the tarot it is always suggested to familiarize yourself with the Major Arcana first. When you are comfortable with them they can help unlock the intuition you use for the divination of the Tarot.
When doing readings with the tarot deck you look at the card in the upright position and the reversed position. Depending on how the cards falls indicates if it is in a positive or negative aspect. Just because a card in itself is reversed does not make it negative. It depends on the cards imagery, its meaning and it relationship to the other cards in the spread. Like I said earlier in the book; people also use their own interpretations of the symbolism once they get an idea what the card represents as well.
For purposes of this blog we are going to focus on the Rider Waite Deck. There are other decks you can work with and choose, I find this is the best for introducing someone with how to read the tarot. This is because there is so much information available for this particular tarot deck. The Major Arcana have been referred to as the 22 keys to life.
Here is a general divinatory description and meaning of each of the Major Arcana Cards:
The Ruler: Air
The major Arcana Starts with the Fool. He is represented by the number zero. In medieval times he was the court jester. An innocent in god's eyes who said and did the most inappropriate things and got away with it. He chooses and does what he wants.
The Fool is the card of new beginnings and making choices. It represents unmolded potential which is neither good nor bad but contains both good and bad. The choice is the Fool's to make whether to go on the good path or bad. He is at a crossroads.
The Fool Upright
This represents the type of person who is unconventional and does not care or listen to what others have to say. The fool does what is comfortable to him. He does not hide from the light; he is like the light of an innocent child.
This card stands for new beginnings, new choices to be made, new experiences and a new path or direction one is thinking about taking.
It is also a path or choice that is filled with uncertainty. The Fool is a card of taking chances. The expression associated with the Fool card is “look before you leap.”
It is also a card of a new life energy cycle. It is about energy, force, happiness and optimism. The Fool is about overturning the status quo of existing states of things by unexpected happenings. Innocence, naivety and spontaneity is also attached to the Fool. The Fool is the card indicating that important decisions have to be made.
When the Fool is reversed it is advised not to take risks at this time. It is also advising against rash decisions, as well as impulsive actions and choices. Upside down the Fool represents being foolish, gambling, instability and wasting creative energy. When the Fool appears in reverse it is indicating that it is a bad time to make commitments and also indicates that this person likes to start things but never finishes what they start. It also points to a person who is constantly changing their environment and job.
The number one is the number of creation and individuality. This is what “The Magician” is about; the power to transform through the use of his will. He takes the nothing like the Zero of the Fool and transforms it into the number one. He is the conduit of a higher power. The Magician is also an illusionist. Like all illusionists he can create an illusion of reality by the use of the sleight of hand and tricks. He is only confident in the skills he has in order to bring forth the results he wants. His real power comes from those sources outside of himself, just like in a magic show there are people behind the scenes to make it happen. Without the sources he too is powerless.
When the Magician pops up it is warning about opportunity that we can have as long as we pull all the aspects in our life together to make it happen. It tells us the more prepared we are for the change the better it will be. It talks about the person mastering the material world. It's done through being organized, using creative action, self discipline, and a willingness to take risks.
This person has the gift of speech and to sway people. He or she has to recognize their potential and have the power to initiate things. They are witty and have very good communication abilities. This person can achieve anything they set out to do.
When the magician appears reversed this person is a bit of a perfectionist. They may appear outwardly to be able to handle any situation because they seem cool and calm; but inside they are indecisive and unprepared. They can use their gift of gab to manipulate and take advantage of people. It also indicates someone who abuses their power and uses it for negative purposes.
The magician reversed indicates someone who is confused and unorganized. They do not make decisive choices. They like to hesitate rather than choose. They are unable to properly utilize their time and talents. People who are represented by this card in this position are lacking inspiration and energy. They give up easily, have a poor self image and have poor coordination; and sometimes learning difficulties.
The High Priestess
The High Priestess is the symbol of spiritual enlightenment. She sits between a palm and pomegranate tree which are symbols of male and female energy. Her crown has the full moon and she represents every virgin goddess.
The High Priestess Upright
Along with spiritual enlightenment she also represents inner illumination and the link between that which is seen and unseen. She is the feminine form of balance and power. When she shows up in a spread she is telling us to use our intuition or that we have good intuition. The High Priestess also represents the unconscious mind and inner voice we have trying to give us a message. It is said when she appears hidden knowledge or information will be revealed or there is such information that is hidden that needs to come to the light. She represents unrevealed truth and hidden influences at work.
If she appears in a man's spread she represents the woman of his dreams. It's the love he has been hoping for. In a woman's spread she represents the virtues that the woman wishes for or has. In any spread she means something is yet to be revealed. That there may be duality and mystery in association with a situation or person. This card suggests hidden influences that affect the home and work of a person. It also represents a woman's influence.
High Priestess Reversed
In the reverse position the High Priestess means obvious knowledge and facts. It means any decisions you make will be based on facts and logic rather than intuition. It can indicate in this position the lack of balance and harmony due to insufficient foresight. It also indicates that the feminine or intuitive side of a person's personality may be repressed. If it's reversed in a woman's spread they have a problem coming to terms with another woman or themselves. It also means surface knowledge and or repression or ignorance of true facts and feelings. Sometimes it indicates being self centered and sensual pleasures depending what's next to it in a spread. Reversed it can also mean things and circumstances are not what they seem.
This card represents the personification of the Earth Mother. Her shield which is heart shaped has the symbol of Venus on it. The Empress is the Goddess of love and fertility. Some of the names she is known as is Venus and Aphrodite.
The Empress upright represents fertility and bounty. Her power is that of creation. She creates life in all forms and ways. As an archetype she represents a mother. Motherhood, pregnancy and nurturing are the characteristics this card brings with it. She also represents everything created in nature. The Empress as with a mother also represents unconditional love. She represents abundance material wealth, creation infertility and in artistic expression. The Empress can also represent the security and stability that comes from years of a blissful marriage. When she shows up in a spread it can indicate a person who is over protective. She can also indicate a person who is gentle and loving, elegant and gracious. In a spread upright it can mean the birth of a child is on the way. It can also indicate that you need to be open to unconditional love. The Empress can also mean for those artistic types that they need to nurture and develop their artistic expression as in planting the seeds for a bountiful harvest. It is a card promoting well being and security. The person is creative in finances, love and parenthood. This card indicates a person who is maternal in nature as well as domestic stability. The Empress indicates achievement in goals and growth. Depending on the other cards around it can also mean a marriage.
When she shows up reversed it indicates trouble in paradise; domestic disharmony. It can also indicate that the problem in the home is arising from infertility and or finances. The reversed Empress indicates a lack of affection either given or received and lack of achievement. It can indicate a creative block, problems in a relationship, an unwanted pregnancy or abortion, infertility, promiscuity or sterility. The reversed Empress can indicate poverty and trouble with children. When the Empress shows up reversed its time to think about what is causing problems in your home