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The Major Arcana

The 22 cards of the Major Arcana (meaning, “Greater Secrets”) are also known as the Trumps or Triumphs. In early decks, only the Major Arcana were illustrated or illuminated with symbolic images. These are the cards containing strong archetypal symbols and meanings. Some of the Major Arcana represent archetypal figures, for example the Emperor, while others represent qualities, for example, the Hermit, and others, like the Chariot and Death Card speak to rites of passage in a person’s life, those transformative events and circumstances, that set us off in new directions, on new paths.

The archetypes of the Major Arcana are energetic imprints that exist in our psyches. Because of the numerology and imagery of the Major Arcana, it is not difficult to understand the key meanings of the Major Arcana, even for the beginner. And since each card is numbered, a basic understanding of numerology will enhance your understanding of the cards. Viewing the cards of the Major Arcana triggers reactions from deep within our subconscious. Even without a deep understanding of the meaning of these cards, you will find that you naturally come to the correct interpretation of the cards, simply by allowing yourself to react to them… still, it must be understood that to discover the subtler, deeper meanings would require years of study.The Major Arcana are the forces that operate in our lives. In a typical reading, the forces depicted by the cards of the Major Arcana are explained and even modified by the cards around them. When we receive a majority of Major Arcana in a reading, we know that great forces are at work, and the querant may not be able to control the outcomes.

I found this wonderful summary of the Major Arcana on the web. A more detailed summary follows.

Note: I was unable to find the article again to be able to give the author credit, so if you know who authored this piece, please email me at danielle@globalpsychics.com

The Major Arcana Speaks:

Upon the precipice I stand, ready to step into the unknown (0 Fool). My will (I Magician) and my intuition (II High Priestess), my creativity (III Empress), and my reason (IV Emperor) are all present within me. Tradition (V Hierophant) and choice (VI Lovers) are part of me as well, as I charge triumphant (VII Chariot) with quiet and fixed determination (VIII Strength).

I contemplate (IX Hermit) the paths I have taken and the changes (X Wheel of Fortune) of my life, both the highs and the lows as I reflect on my aspirations (XI Justice), sacrifices (XII Hanged Man), and endings (XIII Death). Blending and balancing (XIV Temperance) my material nature (XV Devil), looking at my destructive or penetrating insights (XVI Tower), while maintaining my hopes (XVII Star) can be a challenge.

Self-doubts and motivations that are hidden (XVIII Moon) haunt me until I can consciously recognize and illuminate (XIX Sun) them. Great awakenings (XX Judgment) and awareness bring the true reward (XXI World). And at the end of the journey once more becoming childlike and innocent (0 Fool), I begin my journey again, back where I had started, poised at the edge of the precipice.

A Summary of the Meanings of Each Card

Following you’ll find a description of each of the cards of the Major Arcana in terms of it’s Keywords descriptions, the basic meaning of the card, the astrological associations, its basic element and its reversed meaning.

Note: While some of this material was taken from our experience and early training, much of this material was sourced directly from “The Tarot” by Eden Gray ISBN: 0553277529 and “The Enchanted Tarot” by Amy Zerner and Monte Farber. ISBN: 0312050798. Meanings are divinitory (for use as general guideline in interpretation in a reading) and do not provide the mythical or general background behind each major arcana card.

Click here to purchase a Rider-Waite Tarot Deck from Amazon.com.

0. THE FOOL

Keywords: Choice, Birth, New beginnings, Innocence, Potential, the Unknown

Folly, mania, extravagance, intoxication, delirium, frenzy Now at crossroads. Decision you make is very important. Think correctly. You are a dreamer, mystic. Desire to accomplish great goal. Don’t over-analyze; sometimes you just have to take risks. Don’t look back or attempt to anticipate actions or events. Time for innocence and faith. Not a time for sophistication or searching for hidden meanings in the words or actions or others. Be as a child or you will not see the heaven on earth. Aquarius, Uranus, element of air.

Rev: Have you made the right choice? You could be wrong. If discontent or lacking motivation, why not review things to date. Folly, indiscretion, thoughtlessness. Choice likely faulty. Negligence, absence, distribution, carelessness, apathy, nullity, vanity.

1. THE MAGICIAN

Keyword: Individuality, Practical Knowledge, Scattered Forces, Will

Skill, diplomacy, address; sickness, pain, loss, disaster; self-confidence, will; the Querent, if male Everything is possible through power of God. Will, mastery, organizational skills, creative talents. Able to take power from above and make it real. If your willpower is consciously and aggressively directed, you can accomplish all you visualize. Challenged to go forward in the world and use your skill and intelligence to produce change for the better. Make magic. Gemini, Mercury, element of air

Rev. Abuse of power. Able to manipulate words and actions to suit selfish ends. Indecision, weak will, inept. Use of power for destructive ends. Physician, Magus, mental disease, disgrace, disquiet

Your content here…

2. THE HIGH PRIESTESS

Keywords: Unseen Wisdom, Spirituality, Hidden Forces, Secrets, Intuition

Secrets, mystery, the future as yet unrevealed; the woman who interests the Querent, if male; the Querent, if female; silence, tenacity; wisdom, science. Activity beneath the surface. Much depth. Whole picture cannot be seen yet. Unrevealed future, hidden influences at work. Very valuable for artists, musician, poets, mystics. When in a man’s reading, may represent perfect woman. In a woman’s reading, may indicate she can find such virtues in self or friend. The all-seeing spiritual sight and image of The High Priestess should be invoked and meditated upon, before the asking of any question. Her appearance is a message to go quietly within yourself to become aware of your eternal connection to all that is, was and will be and the strength you gain from this knowledge will bring insight. Cancer, Moon, element of water.

Rev. Conceit, sensual enjoyment. Accepting surface knowledge. Superficial situation. No secret activities involved. Passion, moral or physical ardour, conceit, surface knowledge.

3. THE EMPRESS

Keywords: Abundance – Fertility, Birth, Creativity, Contentment with One’s Life

Fruitfulness, action, initiative, length of days; the unknown, clandestine; also difficulty, doubt, ignorance. Promise of growth, prosperity and fertility in all things. Needs fulfilled with joy and satisfaction. Material wealth, marriage, fertility – especially would be parents, farmers and people in creative arts. If not well placed in relation to other cards then indicates luxury or dissipation. Have an open and sympathetic heart and your wishes will be provided for. Be aware of your contact; mental, emotional and physical, with the ever-new beauty, sensuality, fertility and peace of our earthly garden paradise, and you will not want for these things in your own life. Creative inspiration and productivity are available to you if you will try and bring heaven down to earth. Exert your power with a loving hand. Taurus, Venus, Earth element.

Rev. Infertility, loss of material possessions, inaction, frittering away resources. Possible destruction by war/famine. Poverty may disrupt home. Psyche problems causing instability. Wasteful energies causing despair and failure. Unproductive activity affects home and income. Light, truth, the unraveling of involved matters, public rejoicings; according to another reading, vacillation.

4. THE EMPEROR

Keyword: Discipline, Control, Entrepreneurship, Reason

Stability, power, protection; a great person; aid, reason, conviction. Balance and authority. Mind over matter. Experience and knowledge. Leadership. Mental activity, domination. War-making power, paternity. Fruits of your labours – results of action. Controlled and directed sexual drive. Your attitude about acquiring and using power and authority is being tested. How do you relate to figures in authority? Act like a leader. You must take charge and use balanced, reasoned power to achieve your goal, while convincing others to help you keep your position. Aries, Mars, element of fire.

Rev. Positive direction needed. Lack of control. Need for self-discipline. Loss of control. Serious injury in battle. Emotional immaturity. Possibility of being defrauded of one’s inheritance. Benevolence, compassion, credit; also confusion to enemies, obstruction, immaturity.

5. THE HIEROPHANT

Keyword: Tradition, Teaching, Education, Government, Society (and the demands or rules of)

Marriage alliance, captivity, servitude; by another account, mercy and goodness; inspiration; the man to whom the Querent has recourse. Preference for outer forms of religion, ritual, creed and ceremony. Conventional. Importance of social approval; need to conform to society. He who conforms and searches for truth must recognize that he himself is not truth. Rules and traditions are based on sincere desire of our predecessors to preserve what was useful in their time. But, your interests are not always best served by blind obedience. The repression of your right to think freely may result in conformity. Still, in many situations, religious moral values and traditions will comfort and sustain you. Taurus, Venus, Earth element.

Rev. Society, good understanding, concord, over-kindness, weakness. Keen sense of originality. One who is not afraid to undertake new ventures or explore. Has an open mind. Unconventional. The inventor and the hippie. Take care you do not become superstitious.

6. THE LOVERS

Keywords: Choice with Harmony, Passion, Uniting

Attraction, love, beauty, trials overcome. Two paths. Time has come to make a choice, the outcome of which is of vital importance.. Choice, temptation, attraction. Struggle between sacred and profane love. Harmony of inner and outer aspects of life. Your relationships reflect your own inner balance. Make sure that what is attracting you away from who, what and where you are now is not a reflection of the dissatisfaction you feel with yourself. This card usually means love affair is in progress and the choice is not always romantic or sexual but may be between two allurements. Gemini, Mercury, air element.

Rev. Wanting best of both worlds, causing everyone concerned to feel unstable. Quarrels, infidelity, danger of broken marriage. Need to stabilize the emotions. Possibility of a wrong choice.Failure, foolish designs.

7. THE CHARIOT

Keyword: Control, Movement, Journeys, Triumph

Succour, providence; also war, triumph, presumption, vengeance, trouble. Important to exercise self-discipline. With continued effort you can win the day and be triumphant. Triumph, success, control over forces of nature – triumph over ill health as well as money problems or enemies of any sort including your own base/animal passions. Card of those who achieve greatness. May indicate travel in comfort. Mental and physical powers should lead to fulfillment. In order to triumph, you must take the reins of control and not let go. Enlist the help of the forces of nature in your quest. Right now, there is no room in your life for emotion, just single-minded concentration on your goal. But, as you grow in ability to meet life’s challenges, remember to remove the defensive mask you’ve made for the world to see and fear. Cancer, Moon, Water element.

Rev. Portentous situation, indicating wrong use of energies and talents. Possible negative vibes of unfairness, pressure and force. Decadent desires, possible ill health, restlessness and desire for change. Unethical victory. Riot, quarrel, dispute, litigation, defeat.

8. STRENGTH

Keyword: Strength, Courage, Acceptance (especially of self), Determination

Power, energy, action, courage, magnanimity. Inner qualities of love, patience and gentleness are superior to material power, force or hate. Force of character, spiritual power overcomes material power. Love triumphs over hate, higher nature over carnal desires. The opposing desires of spirituality vs. carnality can be consciously brought into balance with courage and perseverance. In the face of fear, act calmly and with love and you will gain true strength of integrated mind, body and spirit. At this time, force is not a match for spiritual strength. Gentleness will accomplish what force cannot. Leo, Sun, Fire element.

Rev. Don’t lose your nerve. Surrender will force you to resort to alternatives that can upset future plans. Domination of the material. Discord and lack of moral force. Fear of unknown in ourselves. Despotism, abuse of power, weakness, discord.

9. THE HERMIT

Keywords: Inner Wisdom, Teaching(s), Advising, Contemplation

Prudence; also and especially treason, dissimulation, roguery, corruption. Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be open to you. Combination of faith and personal strength may be found within self. Silent counsel, prudence, discretion. Receiving wisdom from above. Instruction from an expert in your field. A meeting with one who will guide you on the path to material or spiritual ends. Attainment of goals. Journey may be necessary in order to gain knowledge. Don’t look outside yourself for the answer. It’s time to withdraw and follow inner light. Some introspection may lead to self-improvement. With mature deliberation things will be resolved. A person may appear, drawing upon their life experience, in order to help you. Prudence may dictate that all answers are not revealed immediately. Virgo, Earth element.

Rev. Too much resistance and objection. A refusal to accept or listen to good counsel. don’t let ego stand between you and good sense. Immaturity, foolish vices. Rejects maturity; tends to be perpetual Peter Pan. Concealment, disguise, policy, fear, unreasoned caution.

10. THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE

Keyword: Change, Opportunity

Destiny, fortune, success, luck, felicity. Remember, when you are down, there’s only one way to go – up! Success, unexpected turn of luck; change of fortune for the better, new conditions. Creative evolution within laws of chance. Turning of the wheel is a message that what goes around comes around, or what goes up, must come down. You will reap what you have sown so think ahead and consider your actions whether you are at the top or the bottom of the wheel. To avoid being ruled by fate, take responsibility for your life and what happens to you. Take risks. Be open to any new or unexpected opportunity. Sagittarius, Jupiter, Fire element.

Rev. Everything may appear to be wrong, no matter how hard you try. Have courage, be strong and put your thoughts to higher things. Failure of an enterprise, setbacks. New conditions requires courage. You will reap what you have sown. Increase, abundance, superfluity.

11. JUSTICE

Keywords: Justice and Decision, Balance, Aspirations

Equity, rightness, probity, executive. Someone has investigated the situation and arrived at a decision that is fair and honest. Justice will be done. Balance is required. Balanced personality demands elimination of excess baggage, wrong ideas, useless forms of education. Mixture of right ingredients is welcomed. May betoken desire for education with well-balanced mind and its objective. Now is the time for reason and for being able to see another’s viewpoint. It’s time for balancing accounts on physical, mental and emotional level and in financial and legal matters. Make preparations to reap what you’ve sown. Have faith that justice will triumph and leave punishment of those you think may have wronged you in her wise and fair hands. Libra, air element.

Rev. Injustice and possible loss. Someone feels inadequate and is unable to change the situation. Inequality, legal complications. Advice to use mercy and understanding when judging others and to avoid tendency to severity. Law in all departments, bigotry, bias, excessive severity.

12. THE HANGED MAN

Keyword: Release, Initiation, Holding back, Sacrifices

Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy. Piercing the barrier of limited consciousness and availing yourself of higher wisdom. In spiritual matters, wisdom, prophetic power. A pause in one’s life, suspended decisions. Self-surrender leads to transformation of personality. Material temptation is conquered. New perspectives are required. This period in your life may seem restrictive but you are being forced to become more introspective and listen to your higher mind. Waiting has its place in any plan. Try not to become a martyr, but don’t be afraid to make sacrifices or be unwilling to adapt to changing circumstances. If you feel powerless, blocked or stuck in a rut, you must lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. Pisces, water element.

Rev. Contentment with present environment and circumstances. Tendency to be preoccupied with material matters. Arrogance, preoccupation with ego, resistance to spiritual influences. Absorbed in physical matters. Wasted effort, false prophecy. Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.

13. DEATH (TRANSITION)

Keywords: Total Change, Transformation, Endings, Rebirth

End, mortality, destruction, corruption. Do not resist sudden change. The vibratory forces around you will provide all the strength you need to accept new situation. Transformation, change, destruction followed by renewal. Change may be in consciousness. Birth of new ideas, new opportunities. Profound change which if resisted may be painful. If ending is unhappy, let it go and move forward. Seek the essentials of the matter, ignoring superfluous detail. Destroy old patterns to reveal a new, rewarding path. Don’t fear change or passing away. Your fear of death must be recognized and confronted before it is allowed to interfere further with your enjoyment of life. Scorpio, water element.

Rev. Feeling of limbo or depression. Need for new ideas and motivation. May indicate a birth, depending on the spread. Disaster, political upheaval, revolution, anarchy. Death of political figure. Temporary stagnation. Tendency to inertia. Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism.

14. TEMPERANCE

Keywords: Patience and Moderation, Flexibility, Possibility of addiction, Blending and Balancing

Economy, moderation, frugality, management, accommodation. Try new things but keep hold of present securities. At this time it is important to maintain balance in your life. Adaptation, tempering, coordination, self-control, modification. Working in harmony with others, good management. What you imagined will come to pass. Successful combinations will be achieved. The size and quality of your plans is not the issue; patience and timing are the keys to unlocking treasures of future. Now is time for moderation. Experiment if you want as long as you are in harmony with practical considerations and natural laws. Always temper justice with mercy. Like tempered steel, your decision will be much stronger and more permanent. Sagittarius, Jupiter, element of fire.

Rev. Great need to stop and consider how things are going in your life. Good ideas need a well-planned program before being carried out. Energies are being wasted and scattered. Competing interests, unfortunate combinations. Quarreling, corruption, separation. Possible shipwreck or other disaster. Things connected with churches, religions, sects, the priesthood; also disunion, unfortunate combinations, competing interests.

15. THE DEVIL (MATERIALISM)

Keyword: Materialism, Jealousy, Bondage

Ravage, violence, vehemence, extraordinary efforts, force, fatality; that which is predestined but not for this reason evil. Too wrapped up in material concerns. Your journey of life is off-course and you are traveling a dead-end street. Black magic, discontent, depression, illness. Wrong use of force. Bondage to material; sensation divorced from understanding. If you need material objects to make you feel good about yourself, then you must feel empty and afraid that you will be recognized as such. You need to change the emphasis from physical concerns to those of the spirit. Your bondage is the result of your limited beliefs about the world. You have within you the power to change your beliefs, using visualization, affirmations and actions in harmony with natural law. You don’t have to resort to deceit. Enslaved by what was meant to serve you. Capricorn, earth element.

Rev. Indecision is weakness and can cause instability. Now, you have seen the light, you should respond quickly and free yourself from past habits. Beginning of spiritual understanding. Removing chains of bondage to the material. Timidity. Failure to make decisions. Overcoming pride and self-interest. Evil fatality, weakness, pettiness, blindness.

16. THE TOWER

Keywords: Cosmic Direction, Drastic change, Destructive or Penetrating Forces and Insights

Misery, distress, indigence, adversity, calamity, disgrace, deception, ruin. Take a good long look at your life. Situation will change rapidly. Sudden change, conflict, catastrophe. Overthrow of existing ways of life. Old notions upset. Disruption will bring enlightenment in its wake. Selfish ambition is about to become naught. Bankruptcy. Mounting pressures must be released or there will be a sudden reversal of all work carried out so far. There has been a dramatic turn of events and established patterns of thought will be changed. Whether inevitable or not, this explosion of the old, perhaps false values, can be beneficial. Placing exclusive faith in material objects can lead to disaster, because only spirit is eternal. Aries, element of fire.

Rev. Process of change has started. Don’t resist the inevitable breakdown of present circumstances. Gain of freedom of body or mind at great cost. False accusations. False imprisonment. Oppression. According to one account, the same in a lesser degree; also oppression, imprisonment, tyranny.

17. THE STAR

Keywords: Health, Hope, Aspiration, Success, Communications

Loss, theft, privation, abandonment; another reading says –hope and bright prospects. Excellent. Future accomplishment of goals presently developed. Insight, inspiration, hope, unselfish aid. Good health. Gifts of spirit. Great love given and received. Take time to recharge yourself with period of relaxation. Enjoy being “the star” of your own life. Time for quiet excitement and pure enjoyment of spiritual ideas and concepts. Let your ideas pour forth to nourish those you love. Let your mind dwell on what is good and pleasant in your life and avoid negativity for a while. It’s important that you express your creative urge by making or enjoying art. Aquarius, Air Element.

Rev. Through lack of judgment, loss will be incurred. Could indicate ill health. Pessimism, doubt, stubbornness, lack of perception. Chance for physical or mental illness. Arrogance, haughtiness, impotence.

18. THE MOON

Keyword: Intuition, Mystery, Self-Doubt

Hidden enemies, danger, calumny, darkness, terror, deception, error. Be alert for any subtle changes. Don’t be deceived by apparent security. Allow your intuitive powers to guide you. Intuition, imagination, deception. Unfoldment of latent psychic powers. Unforeseen perils, secret foes. Bad luck for one you love. This is darkness before the dawn. You must separate illusion from reality. Even though path may seem frightening and treacherous, you need not fear the mysterious unknown. Your intuition can guide you to hidden opportunities. Remember to save your energies for the challenges ahead and don’t squander them on anxious worrying. Cancer, (or Pisces) Water element..

Rev. Don’t take risks at this time. Possibility of misunderstanding. Don’t make changes; wait until storm is over. Imagination will be harnessed by practical considerations. Storm will be weathered, peace gained at a cost. Don’t take risks. Instability, inconstancy, silence, lesser degrees of deception and error.

19. THE SUN

Keyword: Attainment, joy of achievement, Illumination.

Material happiness, fortunate marriage, contentment. Regardless of present circumstances, when this is the outcome, there will be joy and happiness in your future. Material happiness, success. Good marriage. Happy reunions. Achievements in arts, sciences and agriculture. Studies completed; liberation. Pleasure in simple life. Everything will be sunny and bright. Love, friendships and relationships of all kinds are highlighted. It’s time to emulate the Sun’s active, creative ability and realize new works of art and love. Be a dynamic, inspiring and influential leader whose light shines for all to see. Show the world who you are and what you’ve done. Express yourself so that everyone you encounter can feel your warmth. Leo, Sun, element of fire.

Rev. Need for a realistic outlook on life. Be perfectly honest with yourself. Stop daydreaming and put some effort into reaching your goals. Depression and failure is not for you. Future plans clouded, trouble in marriage or broken engagement. Possible loss of job or home. The same in a lesser sense.

20. JUDGMENT

Keyword: Self Analysis, Decisions, Great Awakenings

Change of position, renewal, outcome. Wonderful things starting to happen. You have the ability to look ahead and see what future holds. Break away from conventional thinking and face life realistically. A life well-lived, a work well done. Awakening, renewal. Legal judgments in your favour. A change of personal consciousness, which is now on the verge of blending with the Universal. From deep within the core of your being comes a call announcing that it’s time for an important change. No matter how you’ve been caught up in affairs of the world, you must evaluate past actions, become more aware of who you are and what your ultimate goals should be. You might be reluctant to admit the necessity for change but you should listen to the call of the spirit. You are who you are, not what you do for a living. Scorpio, Water element.

Rev. Feeling uneasy, lonely and often in a self-made rut. Longing to be free of certain situations but unable to see a way out. Weakness, disillusion. Fear of death. Failure to find happiness. Separation, divorce. Possible loss of worldly goods. Weakness, pusillanimity, simplicity; also deliberation, decision, sentence.

21. THE WORLD

Keywords: Awareness, Victorious Completion, Expansion

Assured success, voyage, route, emigration, flight, change of place. Now, you are free to go in any direction. A job well-done. You will be triumphant in any undertaking. Completion, reward, success. Travel, change of residence, arrival at a stage of cosmic consciousness. Path of liberation. By uniting and balancing your long sought inner harmony with the skills you’ve learned in life, you have achieved real success. The world can be yours in this situation. Hard work is demanded to attain this but material rewards and inner peace are promised. You must view your life in the context of the whole life itself, before you will have the knowledge you seek. Capricorn, earth element.

Rev. A refusal to explore new horizons. Because of your reluctance to try new ideas, fear will create stagnation. Success yet to be won. Fear of change or travel. Too great attachment to one’s place of residence or job. Lack of vision. Inertia, fixity, stagnation, permanence.

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