The tarot consists of 78 cards in total. Twenty-two of which are known as the Major Arcana and fifty-six are known as the Minor Arcana. The difference between the two is that the Major Arcana represents the bigger life lessons. Potential life-altering experiences, karma, destiny and things that are more set in stone.
The Minor Arcana with the Swords, Pentacles, Cups and Wands suits can also represent these things on a smaller, more everyday scale. Although they are more changeable and not so set in stone. So you should pay attention when a Major Arcana card comes up in a reading. It can show that the situation in question is one that is pivotal, important and may have a destined feel.
If you haven’t already, a good idea might be to read our beginners guide to tarot. This will give you a good overview of the different aspects and prepare you to start doing readings yourself.
Sometimes you may have a lot of Major Arcana cards show up in a reading. This can indicate that making a decision in the matter will have a profound effect. Sometimes even life-changing effects in your life. They can show that certain things about your situation can’t really be changed. You may need to go through the process and learn the lesson in order to move beyond it.
The Fool’s Journey
The cards in the Major Arcana are referred to as “The Fool’s Journey”, as the first card in the Major Arcana is the Fool, and each card thereafter represents a stage on his journey. The final card of the Major Arcana is the World, which represents the final achievement and culmination of this journey and the profound wisdom that comes with that.
The Fool represents the first initial realization of an idea, or an opportunity, and the optimistic view about the potential of that idea. The reason this card is referred to as “The Fool” is that a level of naive optimism is required to motivate someone to take this journey. There is also a level of bravery needed in order to be courageous enough to take a risk and pursue a dream.
The thing with the Fool is that he’s inexperienced and does not have the wisdom about the journey he’s embarking on. This means that he’s likely to make some mistakes and foolish choices along the way, and this is why he’s called the Fool.
Although without a certain level of naive optimism and fearlessness, one may never take chances or risks in life. Which means that little growth and development will occur in their life. The Fool is overly confident in his dream and this allows him to step boldly out into the unknown and pursue the calling of his heart.
The Hero’s Journey
The Fool’s Journey can also be connected to the myth of the Hero’s Journey. Which is a template for various myths involving a “hero” who goes on an adventure to pursue an important mission. On this journey, the hero encounters situations that are both challenging and enlightening, and by the end of the journey, the hero returns home as a transformed person.
The hero in the story is “called” by some unseen force to embark on this adventure, which could be dangerous and perilous at times. Although the call is something that can’t be ignored as it compels the hero to take action and step out into the unknown, come what may.
This is a spiritual calling and one which is led by supernatural forces, which means that it’s aligned with your soul and your fate. The Hero’s Journey is meant to provide the person with a rare opportunity to find themselves amidst the chaos of life, as a way to discover one’s true potential.
The Major Arcana can be seen as a version of the Hero’s Journey with the Fool representing the beginning and the World representing the final transformation of the hero. All the cards in between can be viewed as the various experiences, obstacles and challenges that come up throughout the journey.
Numerology of the Major Arcana
Each card in the Major Arcana comes with a number and each number carries its own vibration which affects the energy of the card. Although the Fool is the first card in the Major Arcana it’s numbered zero, as it represents infinite possibilities and potentials.
The last card is The World, which is numbered twenty-one, which means that there are twenty-two cards total in the Major Arcana. The number of each card has a definite correlation with the energy and esoteric meaning of the card. Which adds more depth to their spiritual meanings.
The first ten cards in the Major Arcana are represented by single-digit numbers which are 0 – 9 and then move onto double-digit numbers, which are 10 – 21. The numbers zero – nine can be seen as the root numbers for the rest of the numbers in the Major Arcana.
The double-digit numbers can be seen as more advanced or built-upon versions of the numbers they reduce down to. For example, the World Card is number 21. This number when added together reduces down to 3, which is the number of the Empress.
This means that the energies of the Empress can also be found in the energy of the World. It will just manifest in a different way. Having a good understanding of basic numerology zero – nine, it can give you a nice foundation for understanding higher numbers.
Astrology of the Major Arcana
Each card in the Major Arcana has an astrological association as well, such as a zodiac sign and planet. This adds more depth and intrigue to the meanings of the cards, which can also help your interpretations.
Here I will briefly go over the energies and meanings of each zodiac sign, along with the ruling planet. This will give you a basic understanding of what the signs stand for and how they blend with the energies of the cards.
Certain cards have multiple planets ruling over it. This is because the zodiac sign associated with it has two ruling planets. The last two cards of the Major Arcana, Judgment and The World, only have a ruling planet, no zodiac sign.
Ruled by Mars, Aries is connected to leadership, passion, ambition, taking charge, anger and enthusiasm.
Ruled by Venus, Taurus is connected to stability, traditions, beauty, creativity, abundance and stubbornness.
Ruled by Mercury, Gemini is connected to socializing, communication, curiosity, learning, wittiness and gossip.
Ruled by the Moon, Cancer is connected to intuition, emotions, sensitivity, nurturing, empathy and moodiness.
Ruled by the Sun, Leo is connected to courage, bravery, leadership, pride, being in the spotlight and vibrancy.
Ruled by Mercury, Virgo is connected to analytical thinking, problem-solving, detail-oriented thinking and being critical.
Ruled by Venus, Libra is connected to beauty, fairness, diplomacy, harmony, relationships, art and indecisiveness.
Ruled by Mars & Pluto, Scorpio is connected to intensity, power, intuition, instincts, strategy and control.
Ruled by Jupiter, Sagittarius is connected to growth, expansion, travel, open-mindedness, philosophy and wisdom.
Ruled by Saturn, Capricorn is connected to responsibility, hard-work, determination, leadership, discipline and control.
Ruled by Saturn & Uranus, Aquarius is connected to individualism, innovation, intelligence and humanitarianism.
Ruled by Jupiter & Neptune, Pisces is connected to spirituality, imagination, artistry, creativity, compassion and fantasy.
The Archetypes of the Major Arcana
Each card in the Major Arcana represents a particular archetype or symbol of a rite of passage during this journey. Certain archetypes like the Emperor and Empress are known throughout history and in mythology so they are easy to understand.
Other archetypes like the Devil can be easily understood, as well as the Hierophant (high priest) and the High Priestess. Without really needing to look at the meanings of these cards, you can form a very basic foundation of what the archetype in that card represents.
So if the Emperor comes up in a reading, you can see that a person of power is in question or you are embodying the energy of this archetype. Knowing the archetypes can help you to form a stronger foundation and understanding of the cards.
A Brief Intro Into the Major Arcana
Here we will briefly cover the basics of the Major Arcana which will give you a good place to begin your studies.
The Fool – Number 0
The Fool, ruled by Uranus, represents new beginnings, optimism, courage, inspiration and stepping out into the unknown.
The Magician – Number 1
The Magician, ruled by Mercury, represents manifestation, initiation, creation, taking action, resourcefulness and power.
The High Priestess – Number 2
The High Priestess, ruled by the Moon, represents intuition, the subconscious mind, mystery, secrets, divine wisdom, divine feminine and spiritual awareness.
The Empress – Number 3
The Empress, ruled by Venus, represents abundance, feminine energy, nurturing, Mother Earth, creation, fertility, beauty and sensuality.
The Emperor – Number 4
The Emperor, ruled by Mars, represents stability, authority, masculine energy, structure, building foundations, professionalism and fatherly energy.
The Hierophant – Number 5
The Hierophant, ruled by Venus, represents traditions, spiritual wisdom, a higher level of commitment, beliefs, conforming and a spiritual teacher.
The Lovers – Number 6
The Lovers, ruled by Mercury, represent a choice of the heart, harmony, love, relationships, alignment of values and a soul connection.
The Chariot – Number 7
The Chariot, ruled by the Moon, represents forward momentum, moving towards a goal, travel, success, willpower, determination and duality.
Strength – Number 8
Strength, ruled by the Sun, represents courage, bravery, inner strength, taming one’s ego, personal power, resilience and endurance.
The Hermit – Number 9
The Hermit, ruled by Mercury, represents solitude, inner wisdom, isolation, soul-searching, self-discovery, introspection and spiritual growth.
The Wheel of Fortune – Number 10
The Wheel of Fortune, ruled by Jupiter, represents destiny, a turning point, change, fate, karma, fortune, good luck and universal laws.
Justice – Number 11
Justice, ruled by Venus, represents truth, fairness, justice, balancing out the scales, karma, diplomacy, law and the consequences of your actions.
The Hanged Man – Number 12
The Hanged Man, ruled by Neptune, represents coming into a state of enlightenment, a pregnant pause, surrender, waiting and metamorphosis.
Death – Number 13
Death, ruled by Mars & Pluto, represents transformation, change, endings and beginnings, letting go, finality, completion and transition.
Temperance – Number 14
Temperance, ruled by Jupiter, represents balance, moderation, patience, authenticity, staying true to your purpose and alchemy.
The Devil – Number 15
The Devil, ruled by Saturn, represents temptation, control, manipulation, addiction and abuse of power. Also something that has power over you and sexuality.
The Tower – Number 16
The Tower, ruled by Mars, represents sudden change, unexpected challenges, revelations, epiphanies, chaos and destruction.
The Star – Number 17
The Star, ruled by Uranus, represents faith, hope, peace, serenity, sanctuary, abundance, divine blessings, divine alignment, meaning and purpose.
The Moon – Number 18
The Moon, ruled by Jupiter & Neptune, represents the subconscious mind, instincts, intuition, illusion, fear, emotions, dreams and the unconscious.
The Sun – Number 19
The Sun, ruled by the Sun, represents happiness, joy, success, warmth, illumination, vitality, positivity, optimism and enthusiasm.
Judgment – Number 20
Judgment, ruled by Pluto, represents spiritual awakening, an inner calling, rebirth, destiny, life purpose and making a final judgment.
The World – Number 21
The World, ruled by Saturn, represents achievement, completion, closure, the end of a cycle, the end of a journey, accomplishment and travel.
Hopefully, this can set you up for a deeper understanding of what the Major Arcana represents and what they symbolize in readings.
The best way to work on your understanding of the individual cards, and how they interact is to do readings. Start for yourself or do a reading for a friend.
A great pleace to start is with our guide for easy three card spreads. Moving on we have a few great guides to more advanced spreads; the Celtic Cross and the Work Cycle for example.