The Meanings of the Major Arcana

Finally - the Major Arcana!

Often referred to as The Fool’s Journey, the Major Arcana is usually thought of as consisting of 22 cards that contain the images that most people associate with the Tarot. It’s interesting to note that The Fool is the only card of the Tarot that is not numbered (unless you consider ‘zero’ to be a number). Although there are many layers of understanding associated with The Fool, this card can be seen initially as an innocent person as they leave the comfort of their home to discover what the world has to offer. Although The Fool may appear to be naive to outside observers, he is in reality an optimist with no fear as he approaches the edge of the cliff. He is fully prepared to make “the leap of faith.”

An easy way to remember what the other 21 cards of the Major Arcana represent is to think of them as lessons that must be learned in order to achieve enlightenment and success in all its forms in this world. Some writers represent the characters on the subsequent cards as mentors that instruct The Fool, and others propose that the characters are actually The Fool himself as he moves through life.

The story of The Fool is one that most of us can identify with, because it is the story of our own lives. The Fool is often seen in mythical terms, and his birth is seen as the birth of The Hero, having both mortal and divine parents.

The story begins with the childhood and education of The Fool by The Magician. The other big influences at this point in The Fool’s life are his mortal and divine parents (The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor and The Hierophant), from which he learns the value of intuition, creativity, rationality and spiritual tradition.

The Fool is next confronted by the choices that must be made in the arena of love (The Lovers) and learns that any victories and triumphs are the result of achieving a balance (The Chariot).

The Fool’s education continues with the lessons of adulthood, in which he learns the importance of Justice, Temperance, Strength and Introspection (The Hermit). These are difficult lessons, especially since they are usually learned as a result of life experiences that require basic and profound changes (Wheel of Fortune, The Hanged Man, and Death). These experiences require The Fool to travel to the underworld of his internal world to learn what is at the root of this upheaval (The Devil, The Tower).

Upon his return, The Fool learns the lessons taught by the heavenly bodies (The Star, The Moon and The Sun), which result in the rebirth of The Fool (Judgement) and final triumph (The World).

It should probably be noted here that there are two kinds of meaning for each Tarot card - the symbolic meaning, and the intuitive interpretation. The symbolic meaning is closely tied to the archetypal image in the card, and may have some bearing on the question being asked, but this is not always the case.

The intuitive interpretation, however, is in most cases directly related to the question being asked. This meaning is exactly what the name implies - it is an interpretation of the card that comes directly out of your intuitive mind. It may be a literal interpretation, or it may be presented to your conscious mind wrapped in symbolic imagery.

If you are reading for someone else, describe what you are sensing even if it doesn’t make sense to you, because the other person may recognize elements of your description and how it relates to them. This recognition may be immediate, or may occur later upon reflection.

The next section presents the order in which The Fool learns about life. These descriptions are based primarily on the symbolic meaning of the cards.