So, you’ve done your research, you’ve gotten your very own tarot deck, and now you’re ready to learn about the cards inside. Well, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, we will discuss the 22 cards that make up the Major Arcana. In the first post of this series, we gave you a general overview of tarot: the origins and purpose of the practice, the importance of choosing the right deck, preparing for a reading, and the spreads you can employ during one.
In that post, we also briefly touched on the cards you’ll find in your tarot deck. As a reminder, your deck includes two types of cards: the Major Arcana, of which you will find 22, and the Minor Arcana, of which you will find 56. The Major Arcana features 22 named cards, of which 21 are numbered 1 through 21 (don’t worry, we’ll get to the unnumbered card soon). These 22 cards are said to represent the “big picture” and hold deep meaning regarding one’s life, while the Minor Arcana conversely concern themselves with everyday life.
Below, we will explore each of the cards that make up the Major Arcana. If you flip one of these cards in your reading, you should heed its meaning. Revealing one of these cards is indicative of some overarching significance in your life. The Spirits placed it before you for a reason, after all.
Note: For the Major Arcana especially, you may also be interested in the exploration of reversals. A “reversal” occurs when a card is revealed from the deck in a reverse orientation rather than upright, which could be telling of a potential area for growth and improvement. While some readers choose to do without reversals, others believe orientation should not be taken lightly. The choice is yours as to whether you wish to take reversals into account in your reading!
The only unnumbered card of the group (see, I told you we were getting to this one) is The Fool. It is commonly accepted that the Fool is the protagonist of the story, and the other cards in the Major Arcana represent “The Fool’s Journey,” or one’s journey through life. For this reason, The Fool is unnumbered, as it is considered ever-present in the journey. Revealing this card symbolizes a new beginning. Whether this is the beginning of a new journey, a new relationship, a new career path, etc., is up to the reader’s interpretation!
I. The Magician
The first card in the tarot deck, The Magician, embodies spiritual energy and the willpower to manifest and achieve one’s desires. With one hand outreached to the sky and one toward the ground, meaning “as above, so below,” The Magician is indicative of the relationship between the spiritual and physical realms.
II. The High Priestess
The High Priestess concerns herself with wisdom and inner knowledge. When things are not what they seem, The High Priestess appears to offer clarity. If this card is revealed in your reading, it is a good sign that your intuition will lead you in the right direction. Look inwardly and you will find the answers you seek.
III. The Empress
The Empress symbolizes one’s relationship with femininity, namely with respect to nurturing, fertility, and creativity. The Empress urges the reader to seek out abundance and happiness in their life. If you pull this card, it should be a sign to put yourself in situations that bring you joy. In this way, you will find fulfillment.
IV. The Emperor
While The Empress fills the role of Mother in the tarot deck, The Emperor conversely is the Father. The Emperor represents authority, protection, and respect. When revealed, The Emperor encourages the reader to pursue their goals with discipline, certainty, and determination. By emulating The Emperor, one will be strategic and unwavering in this pursuit.
V. The Hierophant
The Hierophant is very ritualistic in nature, valuing tradition, convention, and structure above all else. Revealing this card suggests that one should follow a set process when taking on a situation or challenge. By trusting “tried and true,” or widely-accepted, methods in tackling a problem, one will find success.
VI. The Lovers
The Lovers card depicts Adam and Eve standing in the Garden of Eden. If the name didn’t give it away, The Lovers do, in fact, represent love! More specifically, The Lovers symbolize harmony and alignment in a relationship. Revealing this card in a reading is telling of a meaningful relationship with another person in one’s life.
VII. The Chariot
The Chariot, which depicts a warrior riding a chariot driven by two sphinxes, symbolizes focus and determination. This is because although the chariot is driven by two sphinxes, the warrior holds no reigns. Instead, he controls the chariot with the use of his mind. If you reveal this card in your reading, it should be a sign to use your will to drive yourself toward success.
The eighth card in the tarot deck, Strength, is concerned with strength (of course), courage, and power. Depicting a woman with her hands placed around a lion’s head, this card signifies one’s ability to overcome obstacles using one’s inner strength as opposed to force. By taming the lion (said to represent feelings and emotions), the woman is able to have dominion.
IX. The Hermit
Representing wisdom, The Hermit depicts an old man standing on a mountain peak holding a lantern in one hand and a staff in the other. Using his lantern, The Hermit lights his way. If this card is revealed in your reading, it is urging you to guide yourself through life’s journey and to trust your inner voice in your search for answers.
X. Wheel of Fortune
The Wheel of Fortune signifies the constant change of life’s journey. This card, which is chock full of symbolism, shows us that life is cyclical, taking one on a journey of many ups and downs. When revealed, The Wheel of Fortune should remind the reader of this. The bad times are temporary and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and, conversely, the good times should be cherished, too, because change is always right around the corner.
The eleventh card in the tarot deck, Justice, symbolizes truth and fairness. This card depicts a woman holding a double-edged sword in her right hand, which suggests that each of our actions bears some consequence, while the scales in her left hand signify how intuition should balance logic. Revealing this card in your reading means that some kind of judgment will take place in your life. This could mean that you, yourself, need to take responsibility for some action, or it could mean that somebody significant in your life will have justice served upon them.
XII. The Hanged Man
While the name of this card may evoke a negative connotation, there is more to The Hanged Man than his unfortunate orientation. The expression of The Hanged Man is calm and enlightened, suggesting he got into this position of his own accord. For this reason, the symbolism of this card is sacrifice for the greater good. Revealing this card in your reading should urge you to look at life from a different perspective, much like The Hanged Man.
The Death card depicts an armored skeleton, which tells us that Death is inevitable and cannot be defeated. If you pull this card in a reading, fear not! This card should not be taken literally (you can breathe a sigh of relief). Revealing Death simply means that a significant phase of your life is coming to an end. When one door closes, another one opens, so one should accept this coming period of change and transformation as a gift.
Temperance depicts an angel of an ambiguous gender standing with one foot in the water and the other on land and pouring water between two cups. This card symbolizes balance and patience. Temperance, when revealed, should assure the reader that they know what they want and how to achieve this goal. By attaining balance in one’s life and focusing on what is important, one will find success.
XV. The Devil
Depicted in his half-man, half-goat form, The Devil makes an appearance in the Major Arcana. The Devil represents a person’s vices, selfishness, and other negative qualities. The other figures featured in the card appear to be trapped under Baphomet’s control. If the Devil is revealed in your reading, do not be discouraged! This should be a wake-up call, and perhaps an opportunity to make a positive change in your life.
XVI. The Tower
The Tower is another card of the Major Arcana with a seemingly negative connotation at first glance. This card, which depicts a tower with an unstable foundation being struck by lightning, represents sudden change, which, as humans, we are conditioned to fear or reject. The bolt of lightning represents a major revelation that, in turn, causes the tower to come crashing down. While this change may be disruptive, one will emerge stronger on the other side.
XVII. The Star
The Star is the card of optimism and hope. Immediately following The Tower, which often brings with it upheaval and destruction, The Star reminds us that, no matter what happens, we have the strength to persevere and carry on through times of turmoil. Revealing this card should remind one to be thankful for the gifts that the universe has provided and have faith that things will work out the way they are meant to.
XVIII. The Moon
The Moon represents illusion and subconscious fear. This card, which depicts a dog and a wolf separated by a path, shows us the line between the conscious and the unconscious. The dog represents our tamed, civilized side, while the wolf represents our natural state. When this card is revealed, one should be cognizant of any fear or uncertainty that may be affecting their decision-making and make their best attempt to let it go before moving forward.
XIX. The Sun
When The Sun is revealed in a tarot reading, it’s always a good sign. The Sun, which represents happiness, is one of the most positive cards in the Major Arcana, if not the most positive. As you experience this period of joy in your life, you are also providing others with joy and projecting that positivity into the world around you. Let The Sun radiate its warmth on you and, in turn, radiate that good energy to those you care about.
The Judgement card signifies, well, significance! When this card is revealed, it is telling of a point of major significance occurring in one’s life. If this card appears in a reading, it should be a sign to reflect inwardly in order to further grow as a person and meet one’s full potential. Furthermore, one of the themes of this card is destiny. As one continues on their journey, they should consider all of the forks in the road that led them on their current path.
XXI. The World
The last of the Major Arcana, The World, represents accomplishment and complete harmony. If The World is revealed in your tarot reading, you should feel a sense of fulfillment and wholeness. This card demonstrates your acceptance of the world around you. Through the highs and lows, you have powered through, and your dedication is finally paying off. You should feel great pride in these accomplishments as you move on to the next step in your journey.
Note: All of the above images come from the original Rider-Waite tarot deck, which was printed in 1909 and is now in the public domain. If you like the artistic depictions of these cards, check out the restored Rider-Waite tarot deck, which is still in print today!
Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the 22 cards that make up the Major Arcana, you may be eager to perform a reading of your own. Check out our full collection of tarot decks, choose the one that best suits you, and try interpreting a reading yourself! Most importantly, let the Spirits guide you and trust your intuition!