Introduction to the Major Arcana
A standard tarot deck comprises 78 cards: 56 Minor Arcana and 22 Major Arcana. The Major Arcana, sometimes called ‘trumps’, are numbered one to 21 and zero. The zero card is the Fool, which has no fixed place in the procession of the Majors.
The Minors represent happenings and actions in our daily lives but the Majors reflect important life stages and lessons which we cannot ignore. Everyone progresses through these stages whether they realize it or not.
Think of the Majors as a spiral, beginning at the bottom with the Magician and circling upwards to the World. The zero card, the Fool, flits through the spiral, representing each of us on our life journey. We don’t always visit with each life stage in order… life isn’t so neat and tidy as that. We may jump around, go up a little way and come crashing back down, as though competing in a joyful, and sometimes tortuous, game of chutes and ladders. When we finally get to the top and breathe a sigh of relief, we look up to see that the process starts all over again.
Understanding the Major Arcana
You could study tarot all your life and still make new discoveries about the Major Arcana cards. They continually open doors to the subconscious and offer new insights. Often they’ll slam the door in our face because we are simply not ready to understand their deep complexities.
Each Major can be compared to Jung’s archetypes and this will give you a basic understanding. However, the archetypes just scratch the surface. Take the Hierophant: it is often thought to represent institutions, such as marriage or actual places like churches or universities. However, start to delve a little deeper and you will discover the wisdom in this card. It appears early on in the procession, at number five. You’ve made a little progress on your own but not sure where you are going. The Lovers is next and that stage is very scary for the solitary Fool. The Hierophant is here to reassure you that you are not forging a lone path, that others have been this way and you can draw on their experiences to guide you. You may still decide to do it your own way, but the knowledge is there should you need it. Therefore, the Hierophant is your safety net, a method of touching base and tuning in to the collective unconscious, or, if you prefer, the great pool of human experience.
Major Arcana Cards in a Reading
When one or more Major Arcana appear in a reading, you should take notice. They may or may not refer to specific events, and they generally mean you can’t prevent the energy from manifesting. It may be a life-lesson you must assimilate, a turning point, an important decision or an external influence you can’t avoid.
A Major Arcana card might be a warning, a heads-up, confirmation, reassurance, or encouragement. They can tell you where you are on your life journey, indicate your level of spiritual development or point to gaps in your self-awareness. They can reflect your outward behavior – good and bad. They are also useful tools for meditation and study. There is always something new to be learned.
It’s useful, when any Major Arcana card comes up in a tarot reading, to pull out the cards on either side, so for example, should the Moon turn up for you, then go through your deck and pull out the Star and the Sun. In this way, you can see what brought you here and where you are headed.
Major Arcana Tarot Spread
This short reading will give you deep insight into the current stage of your life journey. It only uses four cards, but it is important to study it in depth and return to it often.
Separate the 22 Majors from the rest of the deck. Find the Fool and place it face up on the table. Shuffle the remaining cards and pick three. Place the first one below the Fool and the other two to the right of the first.
Interpret the Fool and the first card as a pair. Imagine you are the Fool, meeting this archetype. What lesson could you learn from the past? Can this card give some insight into where things went well or badly? Could you have made better decisions?
Move the Fool along so it is now above the middle card. What can this card teach you about the present? What life stage does this card represent. What can you learn right now?
Finally, slide the Fool so that it is above the last card. What might this card tell you about where you are headed? What do you need to look out for? What can you look forward to?
You could use this spread in several ways. Take a photo and journal about it. Try writing about it on different days and see if your perception changes. Use the spread as a meditation and pretend you are meeting the archetypes. Write out imaginary conversations between the Fool and his three mentors. Make a note to revisit the reading after a week, a month and a year. Repeat the above suggestions each time without reading your previous journaling until you’ve finished. What changed? What have you learned?
The Major Arcana Keywords
0 The Fool – impulse, risk, beginning, faith
1 Magician – confidence, power, intelligence, our public persona
2 High Priestess – intuition, inner-self, peace, awareness
3 Empress – manifestation, abundance, growth
4 Emperor – structure, tradition, society, father
5 Hierophant – guidance, mentor, institution
6 The Lovers – love, two-as-one, choice, divergence
7 Chariot – control, moving forward, negotiation
8 Strength – persuasion, inner strength, quiet confidence
9 Hermit – withdrawal, understanding, wisdom
10 Wheel of Fortune – luck, change, being subject to external forces
11 Justice – fairness, law, legal matters, karma
12 Hanged Man – stasis, stuck, turning point, letting go of the outcome
13 Death – endings, change, transition, death
14 Temperance – balance, equilibrium, moderation, harmony
15 Devil – enslavement, addiction, bad habits, powerlessness
16 Tower – catastrophe, cleansing, shock
17 Star – hope, peace, love
18 Moon – confusion, fear, illusion, cycles, instinct
19 Sun – blessings, relief, improvement
20 Judgment – calling, purpose, awakening
21 The World – self-realization, achievement, ending/beginning.