The Major Arcana contains significant archetypical characters and rites of passage. The numerological reduction of each card is indicated in parentheses. A basic understanding of Elements and Numbers is helpful.
The Five Teachers of the Tarot
The Magician, the High Priestess, the Hierophant, and the Hermit are the four main teachers of the Tarot. These archetypes not only represent different teaching styles, but also represent different realms of study.
Then there is the Fool; s/he is a teacher by example. The Fool does not explain things to you; however, if observed keenly, you will learn a great deal.
0 – The Fool (0)
The Fool is the traveler. The rest of the Major Arcana is thus called the Journey of the Fool. Each of those cards represent characteristic stages along the Hero’s Journey, as it is also called.
The Fool represents each of us as we travel through time from birth to death (and from lifetime to lifetime) or the trek from start to finish of any endeavor. As I often write: the Journey of the Fool is from where you are to where you want to be. You have all of the time in the world, yet there is no reason for you to wait.
The Fool only appears foolish to the uninitiated. When observing from afar, can you tell the difference between foolishness, bravery, or indifference? Is s/he adventurous, trusting, or ignorant? Do not all of these look the same? Do we not simply see a person following the beat of a different drum, taking the road less traveled, or perhaps oblivious to the risks or perils?
In many way, the Fool is an ideal. We can emulate this behavior, but we are not likely to live there for long.
This is the counsel of the Fool: trust; focus on the present; take one step at a time. Let go of fear for it is not necessary or helpful at this time. Take a chance—the Universe is ready to provide for you. Open up to receive. Pause and smell the roses; watch the sunset; listen to the birds sing. Appreciate all that is beautiful…right here…right now.
The Fool represents the beginning of the journey…and the end, but is attainable every step of the way. The Fool is a perspective, an attitude, and a philosophy.
1 – The Magician (1)
The Magician is the first (obvious) teacher. He is methodical, logical, spiritual, but also practical. He is an alchemist and works with all of the elements. His right arm points up, reaching towards the heavens for inspiration. His left hand points down, channeling that wisdom into the earth realm.
The Magician focuses on the fundamentals of metaphysics. He is most interested in manifestation. He will assure you that you create your own reality and teach you how to do this more intently. Pay attention to thoughts and actions. You know (or will know) what is needed; you have the tools. Focus your attention. Hone your intention. Practice what you already know. Someone close might be waiting to offer the help or knowledge you have been asking for. Study something new.
II – The High Priestess (2)
The High Priestess is the second of the great teachers of the Tarot. She is most interested in the occult: all that is subtle or hidden. Her awareness takes her into the unmanifest, the non-physical, the unknown, or unknowable. She is drawn to magic and mystery. She understands that we will never know everything; we will never completely understand why. She also knows that you do not necessarily need knowledge to attain wisdom. Through illumination (and disillusionment), some of secrets of the Universe can be revealed.
Much is happening below the surface. You will not be able to fully understand why things are the way the are or what causes them. Make peace with this lack of mental understanding. Know there is purpose to what is happening. Reach for and follow your intuition. Trust that you have support from the unseen. Some mysteries may be revealed, but at this stage, your intellect will not be your greatest asset or tool.
The Magician versus The High Priestess
The Magician, as male, teaches primarily with the mind; the High Priestess, as female, focuses on the heart. With the Magician, information is received through the Crown and expressed through the Throat. With the High Priestess, wisdom is seen with the Third Eye and expressed through the Heart.
The Magician has understanding; the High Priestess feels intuitively. His work entails all that is knowable; her work reaches into the unknown and occasionally brings some of that out into the light.
As humanity evolves, more of her knowledge is handed over to him. In that regard, metaphysics evolves into physics.
III – The Empress (3)
The Empress represents the Divine Feminine: everything feminine, creative, and beautiful. She may represent a beautiful woman in your life. She guides you to focus on creativity, creating, art, beauty, love, and nature. Connect with people; observe and appreciate children, animals, and plants. Nurture what you love. Nature is ready to yield to you.
The Empress is also the quintessential mother. If she represents you, get in touch with your feminine side. Reach into your soft, creative, nurturing nature. Give love to receive love.
IV – The Emperor (4)
The Emperor represents the Divine Masculine: everything that is masculine. He sits on his throne of empowerment and experience. He draws from his inner (personal) power. He is ready, willing, and able to act, yet patiently awaits the call. He does not need to prove himself in any way, perhaps having done that in the past.
The Emperor is the quintessential father. He may represent a strong, masculine man, a father-figure, an admirable leader, or a big brother. He is resourceful and can help you.
He might be here to remind you of your strength, your power, your ability to take action or lead. He may even encourage action, but not from a place of need. Find your readiness first, then act.
V – The Hierophant (5)
The Hierophant is the teacher of the masses. He is a religious leader and thus adheres to the teachings of his religion. His nature is conservative and his wisdom conventional.
The Hierophant may suggest you consider the straight and narrow; sometimes the path most traveled is the best path for you to take. Conventional wisdom is practical, and has proven effective repeatedly over time.
This card could also relate to: religion, the mundane, dogma, rules, marriage, structure, limitation, caution, waiting until you have all of the information you need and not taking chances.
The Hierophant versus The High Priestess
The Hierophant and the High Priestess are essentially opposites. When you pull the High Priestess, you want to look deeper into the causes and effects; when you get the Hierophant, you want to consider the obvious and evident.
VI – The Lovers (6)
The Lovers primarily represents a choice between two opportunities. It emphasizes the choosing (not necessarily suggesting one option over the other). Remind yourself that you do have options. Recognize that you can choose (you have free will); you have the ability to choose. Choosing is what you are being asked to do now.
The Lovers also signifies romantic, loving relationship, which is, in and of itself, a choice. Will you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to take the risk and bond with another?
VII – The Chariot (7)
The Chariot highlights movement, action, activity, and integration. Typically, it indicates strong momentum, when things are happening all on their own, as if guided by an unseen hand.
Go with the flow. Trust the motion. Don’t try to control what is happening, but you can guide it and adjust the pace.
The Chariot is a results card. Often we are in a phase of receiving experience we asked for or got ourself into, like it or not. You might have to hold on for a bit and allow yourself to move through this experience before you can adjust your direction.
The Lovers and The Chariot
Philosophically, the Lovers represents the choice between self and other: serving self and serving others; satisfying one’s own needs or that of another; choosing to partner with others or go it alone.
God is the Source of All-That-Is. Thus God is everything. Loving self and loving others is loving God. Both paths are an expression of love and thus neither is greater than the other.
We have no choice but to choose. Not choosing is, after all, a choice.
We cannot know the results of our choices until we make them. Choosing is creative, thus whenever we choose, we embark a journey. The Chariot is the journey that results from the choice we make at the Lovers.
All paths forward will contain contrast; that is unavoidable. We choose, embark, but always have more choices ahead.
VIII – Strength (8)
The courageous are not fearless; they are simply the ones who move forward despite fear. The Strength card could show up to remind you of your strength and courage. It might counsel you to be easy with whatever you are struggling with.
It is tempting to think of strength only in its masculine, physical form as represented by the Emperor. This card, however, emphasizes the more feminine expression of strength. When you connect with your own inner strength, you also find empathy and compassion—for yourself and for others.
You do not need to wrestle the beast. You do not need to beat it into submission or lock it in a cage. Be cautious, but also be easy. Guide the beast; tame the beast. Listen to what it is telling you.
Be the master of your fears; don’t let them be the master of you. You have the strength to walk through your fears, but don’t force it. Be easy with yourself!
It may be helpful to pay attention to animals.
IX – The Hermit (9)
The Hermit is the most advanced teacher of the Tarot. As nine, he represents the highest point within the cycle.
The Hermit may represent an actual teacher. He is indeed wise, but unlike the Hierophant, does not stand at the pulpit. He is more likely found deep in the woods or high on a mountaintop. He shines his light for all to see, but you must follow the glow to find him; you must hike or climb. You do not encounter the Hermit at the start of your journey, but much closer to the end. He will help bring you to the next level.
Your greatest teacher is your own Inner Being or Higher Self. Thus, often, the Hermit card indicates periods of solitude. You have access to the infinite wisdom of the Universe, it is all inside of you, but you must have silence to hear it.
Silence…or rather quietude, is best found in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. When you cannot retreat in physical terms, you can still retreat through focus—be it meditation or contemplation.
Even if the Hermit manifests as a person, you still have to pay attention. You cannot just hear with your ears, you must listen.
The Hierophant versus the Hermit
The Hierophant preaches to the masses. His message has therefore been filtered down to basic, structured truth and conventional wisdom. All that hear the teachings of the Hierophant must use discernment to extract the pertinent information needed in any given situation. Take what applies and leave the rest.
The Hermit is not a teacher for the masses. Not many embark the journey, let alone reach his dwelling. His teachings are advanced, require discipline, yet contain potential for the greater reward. He will require introspection. He won’t give you the answers, but can teach you to find them yourself.
X – The Wheel of Fortune (10/1)
The Wheel of Fortune describes life on the surface of a planet in a time-space reality. Time unceasingly marches forward. We are seemingly at the whim of circumstances. Fortunes rise and fortunes fall; a turn in fortune can happen at any time.
Although the Wheel represents essentially everything we cannot control, it counsels us to change the one thing we can: our point of view, our perspective. The Wheel is ever turning; by moving to the center of the Wheel, we minimize the effects it has on us. By centering ourselves, we are better able to harmonize with the chaos. We can better accept the benefits given us and let go of the rest.
Think less in terms of lessons, happenstance, coincidence, or luck. Guide your focus and perception. Roll with the punches. Look for the gifts offered within all situations and remember: this too shall pass.
XI – Justice (11/2)
Madam Justice, as I like to call her, is here to remind us that there is Perfection in the Universe. We reap what we sow: the good, the bad, and the seemingly indifferent.
Manifestation, on a pure energetic level, has an exactness. We are where we are for a reason, even if we will never know the whole of that.
This card represents Karma and cause and effect. By accepting your role in your own life, you can better change it. Don’t blame yourself; but don’t blame others either. Accept what is happening and harmonize with it as best you can.
Whatever has shown up now was created (or called forth) from the past. Examine past thoughts and actions to understand the present. Examine present thoughts and actions to see where you are heading. Make adjustments if needed.
You are a creator.
XII – The Hanged Man (12/3)
The Hanged Man represents spiritual practice. It needn’t be about a specific practice, but it does represent walking the talk.
Often, the recommended action is inaction. You might need to separate yourself from others to seek your own truth and healing. Meditate. Relax. Take a break from the daily grind. Stop pushing on problems and allow the correct path to show itself. Give your body time to heal and rejuvenate.
Sometimes the Hanged Man indicates a situation that seems to be calling for sacrifice, but as this card is a three, the sacrifice is creative rather than destructive. Think of it as “giving in” rather than “giving up”; letting go of what is not working out to allow a better path to reveal itself.
The Hanged Man can indicate a time of suspended animation. In other words, it looks or feels as if nothing is happening. Take advantage of this time.
XIII – Death (13/4)
The Death card is probably the most feared card in the Tarot; yet it rarely indicates death in actual terms. Death and Rebirth is an archetypal process. In the Tarot, Death (this card) and Rebirth (XX Judgement) are seven positions apart.
The Death card thus highlights the part of the cycle where things are breaking down. It’s primary meaning is transformation, which does entail the ending of one experience to make way for something new.
When not so deep and intense, this card could simple be indicating a transition, and one in which you will be more aware of what is ending, but not yet sure of what is replacing it.
Allow yourself to mourn and grieve. Know that you will soon be in a better place. Release that which no longer serves you. You have an opportunity to make and reap significant changes now or soon. Don’t resist the changes happening within and around you.
XIV – Temperance (14/5)
In a phrase, Temperance is all about the middle way. It counsels you to avoid the extremes. Like the Hanged Man and the Wheel of Fortune, it asks for you to center yourself for balance and ease. Temper fire with water; temper air with earth. Consider the bigger picture.
Temperance also highlights blending. In Chemistry, a solution is a mixture of ingredients. Pour high vibrations into low vibrations to raise them up. It is not always possible to jump to a better situation; you might have to cultivate what you desire while still dealing with what you don’t like. We put waste material (compost) into the soil where we plant our seeds.
XV – The Devil (15/6)
Another card that often brings trepidation is the Devil. It does feature a rather foreboding image.
To my way of thinking, the Devil is simply about the encumbrances of physical existence. This realm features pleasure and pain; the pleasure is enticing and the pain is unavoidable. Often, the more we seek the one, the more we run into the other.
It is not uncommon to feel trapped when this card presents itself. Life itself can feel all encompassing. After all, no one gets out of here alive. Problems can be quite sticky. Sometimes, the more we pull on our chains, the more they pull back on us, and the more it hurts.
When the Devil shows up, it usually indicates that the problem, the struggle, or the suffering is based in something physical…something real. It’s not just in your head. It didn’t manifest overnight, even if it seemed that way, and it probably won’t be resolved overnight either.
Take inventory of your attachments, burdens, and encumbrances. Are there things you can let go of? Recognize that you are choosing (or have chosen) to be attached to people, places, and things. Harmonize with your responsibilities. You can choose less, it just might take some time to unwind and disentangle.
Recognize that physical pleasures are not evil, but do take care to not become enslaved by them. Always consider your own value system. The only morality that matters (that manifests for you) is your own.
XVI – The Tower (16/7)
The Tower can be another intimidating card and often the experience it represents is intense. It signifies disruption and/or an abrupt change of direction. Even if not destructive, it can be jarring.
Keep in mind that every structure must be built upon solid ground and with a stable foundation. If either the ground or the foundation is not sound, the structure will be weak and compromised. If you are experiencing a failure of some kind, this may be the cause.
Often, as we evolve, we grow beyond concepts, people, places, or habits we used to take for granted. The Tower is a seven, thus we have to replace or repair our foundational beliefs in order to build more or better. We can’t just add another story to an old house.
Outworn structures not abandoned by choice and in a timely fashion may collapse. If you are honest with yourself, you were given the warning signs. Know that what is crumbling no longer serves you. If you are diverted down the detour, know the original road was not going to take you where you wanted to go.
As with Death, we must allow ourselves to mourn what is lost.
Ultimately, what you most desire might require building anew. Even if you think you are staring from scratch, you are not. You have experience that you are carrying forward.
The rebuild may require moving (literally or metaphorically). The new location will better suit the foundation needed for the new home or phase.
XVII – The Star (17/8)
The deeper we go into the seven, the higher we soar at the eight. The Star is a wonderful place to be.
The primary meanings of the Star are guidance and connection. Your guiding star shines brightly.
Guidance can come in many ways. The best of these is your Inner Being, your Higher Self. I like to think of this part of you as: your source of peace and your piece of Source. You can think of your Inner Being as your Guardian Angel or your piece of God: the part of God that is decidedly focused on you.
Focus and appreciation are expanding forces. When this card appears, you should be aware of the guidance that is available to you, but if not, use focus and appreciation to expand your experience.
If you think you received a message from spirit, this card is telling you that you did.
Go outside at night and look up at the stars…and let them speak to you!
XVIII – The Moon (18/9)
The best way to understand the meaning of the Moon is to consider being out in the countryside in the moonlight.
Even during the full moon, the light at night is much less than during the day. It is hard to see what is lurking in the shadows. The path in front of you might be obscured. At best, it is dimly lit; thus you cannot see very far down the road. In the darkness, those fears we tend to entertain may float to the surface. If we are nervous, the slightest sounds will startle us.
But the darkness has purpose. The less you can see, the more you must rely on your hearing & touch. And then there are the clair-senses as well. The Moon implores you to listen to your intuition and take heed of your reacting. Just because you don’t have a lot of information, doesn’t mean something bad is happening or imminent. If you feel fear: terror or trepidation, ask yourself where that is coming from. At the Moon, you are not threatened. Your sight is limited; that is all.
Another apt visualization for this card is a densely foggy day. The fog, like the darkness, limits what you can see. The Moon is not, however, telling you to stop your journeying. In fact, it is inspiring you to continue forward despite not knowing what will happen or where you’ll end up. Use your intuition to expand your trust.
In Astrology, the Moon, in part, represents security—where we find it and how we react when we don’t have it. At the Moon in the Tarot, we come to know where we stand in relation to security.
Trust and move through the fog. Proceed forward despite the unknown. Take caution to not allow your fears to get the best of you. Feel your way through the darkness.
XIX – The Sun (19/10/1)
As with both the Star and the Moon, the Sun can also be understood through physical experience.
The most basic meaning of the Sun is basking. On a cool, clear day, nothing feels better than basking in the sun. The sun is a gift we experience every single day. Even on cloudy days, the sun shines its light and warms the earth even if subtly. Without the sun, life could not exist. The sun is the source of nearly all of the light we see—directly or indirectly. Even the moonlight originates with the sun, as does electricity (perhaps).
The Sun is indeed a good feeling place. Let it in, take it in, and savor what you are blessed with. It should be easy to appreciate the experience you are having. If not, focus on what is good in your life. Feeling good is well within reach, but you might have to stretch just a little bit.
Sometimes, the Sun represents the season of summer.
XX – Judgment (20/2)
Judgement is not about judging. Rather its name (and often picture) relates to Judgement day. A better name, which some decks use, is Resurrection.
Judgement is the penultimate card in the Major Arcana. It is the climax near the end of the movie. It is when the hostages are set free and the hero(ine) sighs with relief.
If starting with the Devil, Judgement is when we are set free of all bondages. If starting with Death, Judgement is when we are born again.
More practically speaking, Judgement is when problems are solved, solutions are reached, and when burdens are released. If this card doesn’t bring joy, it most certainly brings relief.
You have passed the test. You are (about to be) freed from a situation that has held you down. You are emerging out the other side. Know that you are about to enter a new level. Knowledge and wisdom have been gained and limitations fall away.
Celebrate this rite of passage.
XXI – The World (21/3)
Can it get any better than being on top of the World? This card is about as positive as it gets. The World is your oyster.
The World is here to remind us that we can be, do, or have whatever experience we want. Planet Earth is truly the Garden of Eden. There is so much beauty here, even if it is seemingly absent from this place or that one.
At the Wheel of Fortune, we are quite familiar with life on the ground. At the World, it is as if we are seeing the planet from space, where one floats in awe, taking in the breathtaking beauty.
Think about it this way: just about every desire every human has exists here somewhere. Earth is truly abundant.
At times, when this card shows up, we don’t feel the truth of this. We are not necessarily having the time of our lives. Maybe it isn’t even that good. So what then?
The counsel of the World is to reach for a higher perspective. Beauty abounds. There is so much good…always. I love the French way of saying this: Il y a du bien, toute la journée, tous les jours, toujours. (There is good, all day, everyday, always.)
The journey from the Wheel of Fortune to the World takes eleven steps. It it not always easy to find or see the beauty when faced with problems and struggle. That doesn’t mean it is not there. In these cases, we have to rise above the conflict to see it. We need to expand our perspective…in space and time. If we can see the situation from all sides, and see how it develops over time, it is much easier to see the Perfection of it all. Perfect doesn’t mean there is no lesson, no loss, or no pain. It just means that it serves a purpose and helps us get to a better place.
Success is based on when we examine the situation. If we look too soon, we’re not there yet. If we look too late, we’re already on to the next challenge.
In mundane terms, the World could mean completion, one journey ends and another begins. You have reached the center of the wheel and all revolves around you. Conditions are favorable; take risks!