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Major Arcana Card Meanings
(The Trumps — or — 5th Suit)
There are 22 cards in the modern "major Arcana" of the tarot, but why? What does it all mean anyway, and why 22? Why not 17, or 40? And how can a handful of images of people sitting in chairs foretell the future? Let's find out!
But first, we have to address the elephant in the room: There are so many *lies* about the tarot, that we have to dismiss these, or else you will fall victim to bad information, and you will look like a fool in front of anyone you read cards for, and especially in front of REAL tarot masters. (Let's avoid that). So, let's remove the lies by exposing them:
Lie #1: The tarot is from Egypt. Okay, this is laughably stupid, but without boring everyone to tears, let's cover this really quickly. You can research all of this for yourself by the way. We can recommend many excellent books on tarot history, written by real tarot researchers and history professors (rather than pop-tarot bloggers and Youtubers—and the fake experts who write books to steal your money. The tarot was invented in Northern Italy around 1438 C.E. (give or take a few years). Playing cards, dice, dominoes, and the iChing—all invented in China—gave birth to cartomancy (divination by cards), divination by dice, and divination by sticks. But no one read tarot cards until 1790! By then the Egyptian Pharaohs were long gone.
Lie #2: There are no "major Arcana." This lie was spread by Paul Christian (nom de plume), a French occultist and bullshit artiste! He created the lie that TAROT meant "Royal Road," and that the suit of Trumps (below—the cards with pictures on them) were the "big secrets" ("major arcana") of Egyptian magic, and the pip cards (the four other suits, that had no pictures on them) were the "small, or common, secrets" ("minor arcana") of Egyptian magic. These lies are still told to this day in books, blogs, and videos. Wow.
But it's okay if none of this is true. The tarot WORKS because it is a representation of life through pictures. It is always your intuition that reveals the future, past, or "hidden information" that is hard to obtain through other means. ANYONE CAN READ THE TAROT. Anyone: All you need is training (which is why we have books, and classes, and tons of free lessons). First, you need to know how the tarot works, but this part is easy:
There are 21 "trump cards," which we will still call "major Arcana," even though we know that is a lie. It is the name that everyone knows these as, so rather than be correct and have no friends, you might as well get along with everyone else (and secretly be better than them). The numbers go from one to twenty-one. This was done way back in the late 1730's, long before Waite hired Pam to draw the modern tarot cards we all use today—and longer still before NEW artists redrew Pam's art. Your cards descend from THIS set of images. 1 through 21. Drawn by Italian Catholic artists. So, what numbers are "sacred" to Catholics? Well, there is one, and three, and definitely seven. This gives us one trump of 21 cards. A "trump" or "overlord" suit is found in card games like Bridge, Spades, Crazy 8's, Uno, or Poker (where the Joker is the "trump" card). Then there is The Fool. That is an "escape card," meaning that you can toss it down and say "I refuse to play this hand—but I do not lose!" in the game of Tarot / Tarocchi (invented around 1740).
Think of it this way: If you are playing Spades, and you have *one* spade that you really need to do its job (win the hand), but it is the King of Spades, you are in good shape. But some jerk throws down the Ace! The ace of spades demands (by the rules) that you have to toss out a spade card, but you only have the king, and if you play that, you lose not only your king, but the chance to win a hand with that king. So you play The Fool and jump up and shout "Ah—ha!" You do not with that hand, but you keep your Fool (for points) and the next time spades come out, you throw out your king and you win that hand! That is the beauty of an escape card.
Somehow this all got turned into a fortune telling device (see "Etteilla" and how he started as a cartomancer (fortune teller using standard playing cards), but the Tarot was so popular in France, that he designed his own "divination tarot deck" and became extremely popular with the ladies, by reading their fortune with the Tarot. Well, that started the whole "let's read tarot cards" craze, and even though the Tarot is played as a card game all over Europe (to this day), in the United States, the Tarot has *always* been used exclusively for fortune telling.
So, we have (3x7=) 21 "majors" and The Fool, but we put them all together to form one 22-card suit, or "the fifth suit" in our tarot deck. So let's examine the "major Arcana" tarot cards. They are almost always said to be the 22 cards that deal with some of the aspects of daily life that seem beyond “mortal control.” That is fine for beginners, but advanced students know better.
The images presented in the Major Arcana are stagnant and “posed.” There is less action and more impression of concepts at work here. These trump cards have always been designed to be intimidating (because they were designed to "trump" the mundane, regular cards. You can't "trump" a pair of kings with a picture of someone washing their car (or horse), but you can with an image of "The Emperor!" or "Justice!" Over the years, these cards have come to represent concepts that have vexed mastery by the masses over the centuries. This is the nature of religious allegory: Images and symbols of the forces of nature (real and imagined) that baffle the mind of the average peasant, who does not have the time, nor inclination, to spend their few free hours every week studying philosophy and religious canon.
The "major Arcana" cards are said to be the “secrets of magic, the path to [the Judeao-Christian] ‘God,’ and portals to wisdom,” by ceremonial magicians. This is an attempt to weave Hebrew, Egyptian, and Greek religions into the Christian religion, so as to create a "super" magical system of accessing God without having to go to church. Now, whether these cards are or not, they are fun to look at and make great jewelry pendants. The main problem with the "major Arcana" tarot cards in divinatory usage is that they tend to be rather vague, and need clarification cards to specify who and what they are, or mean. Or, you can work hard and practice developing your intuition by using the "minor Arcana" so that when you do readings, your intuition guides you to the exact meaning in each and every spread you cast. Or, you can just read descriptions like the ones we have below.
The Major Arcana cards will show you overall concepts, large forces, institutions (e.g., hospitals, government agencies), “major” events (being ones that deeply impact your clients), priorities, and karmic paths; but they will not usually show the means or the details. But, for complete information on all of these cards including how to use it to manifest your desires please try out a copy of The Easiest Way to Learn the Tarot—EVER!! and Advanced Tarot Secrets.
Major and Minor Work Together
All "major Arcana" cards are highly dependent on Minor Arcana cards to define, shape, and clarify them. This is why the two different parts of the deck work seamlessly together, and you should become comfortable and familiar with the Minor Arcana first. Consider the "major Arcana" are simply an extension of the "minor Arcana" for the purposes of reading for your clients.
Major Arcana Cards Explained . . .
The Fool sits outside of the fixed “reality box” of the numerical concepts of positive and negative numbers. The Tarot limits existential understanding to 21 hard-coded stages. The Fool laughs gleefully at them all. The essence of this card is the essence of “humanity.” This card emphasizes the Buddha seed in all of us, the spark of creativity, the joy of unbridled freedom as we escape from the limitations of the “minor” Arcana (food, sleep, money, sex, love, etc.). Click here for The Fool Card meaning
Our friend The Magician is primarily representative of the jewel of the achievement of humanity: the force of the human will. “I AM!” A statement so simple yet profound simply by the speaker’s ability to make it. As the (alleged) “dominant” life form, we enjoy the ability to shape and control our planet and everything contained on it with ever more daring and skill. This is a skill reserved to homo sapiens among known primates, and it is the power over all of “existence” (as existence is merely a concept of awareness). Click here for The Magician Card full meaning
Our celestial lady sits comfortably on a cushioned throne. In case you were wondering, this is what “Mother Nature” looks like (at least according to one P.C. Smith). The goddess symbolism of this card is unmistakable, from her Venusian throne (with extra-cushy pillows!) to the wheat, the crown of stars. Click here for The Empress full meaning
Patriarch. As The Empress is representational of the prime maternal energy and the matriarch of the Tarot, The Emperor is its father, grandfather, judge, jury, and executioner. This man’s authority is absolute. The inclusions of kings and queens and emperors into the Tarot reminds us that it was created in a time long gone, one where kings and queens lorded over all of the other residents of an area, usually under the guise of “protection.” Click here for The Emperor full meaning
The original point of a hierophant was that while most members of the tribe toiled for the common good of their collective, a set few would spend their days and nights laboring in constant meditation, study, research, contemplation, questioning, debate, and sharing of their findings to the rest of the group for the benefit of all. The investment of one’s life searching out the meanings and mysteries of life, magic, and deep philosophy may sound like fun on the surface, but it is intensely demanding both physically and mentally. Click here for The Hierophant full meaning
This card has been altered over the centuries by various artists to the point where you will find any number of meanings for this extremely simple but powerful card. On some decks cupid replaces the angel; other times it is a priest. Some cards will show two women where the man has to choose lust versus family. That is an oppressive puritanical spin on the fact that love is lust, and it is friendship, sacrifice, pain, heaven, and the magic of continued breath. Click here for the lovers full meaning
Depending on the deck you look at, this card will be an emperor or prince on his “mobile fighting platform,” a priest on (or as above “part of”) a chariot, or a shiny red corvette. Thus, the subtle inferences change, but the basic meaning is clear to all. This man wins. This card shows us victory and power, but it does so in a style that equates being “right” (winning) with “being right” (as in “God” speaks through me—not you). Click here for The Chariot full meaning
Strength in all its forms—physical, mental, emotional, comes from will. Deep inside every giant and every miracle worker is a fierce determination to a cause. That determination can be a quiet one, or it can be loud, and fueled by rage. It can be ignited by a spark, or it can be an ongoing passion that is as much a part of life as is the breath we draw. It is fed by purpose, by the feeling of being supported by others who mean something to us. Click here for the Strength Card full meaning
A long, long time ago, Prometheus, one of humanity’s best friends, stole fire (back) from the gods and gave it (back) to humans, and saved us all from certain destruction. Zeus did not like this one bit. In fact, he disliked this thwarting of his will (ego) so much that he chained our hero to a rock where a vulture (some say an eagle) ate his liver—daily. For years. In fact it took Hercules (another friend of humanity) to kill the bird (it was an “evil” bird) and free our (other) hero. The moral of this story? Wisdom equals pain. Click here for full The Hermit meaning
For all we plot, do, and hide from, the whole of everything keeps moving along with us along for the ride, and when we are gone, it just keeps going. Such is the way . . . Part of being human is to personalize our experiences here, to see the world around us as we exist in, rather than a whole of which we are a part (an important one), and that means that we all too often take things very personally. Click here for the Wheel of Fortune full meaning
The esoteric concept of justice implies a natural order to the universe, a baseline or rudimentary set of laws that govern the resulting chaos of so many individual forces acting upon each other. This is a highly popular notion, one at the very core of all but a handful of the world’s religions, and the foundation of scientific research. This card is representational of one of the greatest of all “secret” laws, that being the Manifold and Mystic Law of Cause and Effect. Click here for the Justice Card full meaning
So why is he dancing upside down? Sailors placed their hands behind their backs when they danced for a number of reasons: it kept them from flailing about in an undignified manner, and it certainly kept them from slapping into things (like people, and lines [ropes], masts, and other boat “stuff”). It also was a rather controlled (“manly”) placement. The pose here (when the card is upside down) shows our friend mid-leap, with the classical “pointed toe” of a ballet dancer, and the kicked up heel (as in to “kick up your heels”) mid-leap. Click here for The Hanged Man full meaning
Death rides a pale horse into town at sunset. Sunset, by the way, was the official ending of one day and the beginning of the next in Druidic calendars, which are the basis for much of modern paganism. Today’s calendars start each day at midnight (the daily equivalent of Yule), even though the sun rising every day is synonymous with spring, and “the time of waking,” both physically and metaphysically. Click here for the Death Card full meaning
“Temperance” is one of the four cardinal virtues in ancient Greece, and thus through Rome became one of the four cardinal virtues central to the Catholic Church (and thus the Tarot). Even Buddhists admire it, claiming it as one of their five precepts. But it is far older than any of that. Here it is in “secret mystery school lingo.” Ready? Click here for the Temperance Card full meaning
This card really is a mishmash of religious symbolism that would give Jung nightmares in its inconsistency. It is the ultimate bondage card, but it is also a “get-out-of-jail-free!” card, a warning of the excesses of enjoying life, too much responsibility, the effects of tyranny, complacency, bad partnerships, lack of foresight, and the dangers of playing with matches. Click here for The Devil Card full meaning
The tower in The Tower represents the raw collective power of humanity’s ability to band together in physical, mental, and emotional congruency to harness resources and create physical and psychological monuments of function and form, and ultimately how empty those achievements are if the soil they are rooted in is devoid of the nutrients of divinity. Click here for The Tower Card full meaning
Most tarot books of old give this card the astrological sign Aquarius, and give the simple interpretation of “hope,” as if that is all you need to know. Generally, when you see The Star you can have hope; good things will come to pass. Well, that’s all fine and nice; but let’s really look inside and see why everyone seems to accept this vague meaning of happiness. First: the name of the card is The Star, not “The Naked Lady Who Pours Water Onto the Ground.” Click here for the Star Card full meaning
The moon really got a bad rap in the Tarot. When the Tarot was invented, and during its major revisions over the centuries, the moon (“luna”) was “known,” by scientific minds at of the time, to cause mental illness; hence the long-standing association of the moon with lunacy (insanity in all its forms). You can blissfully ignore all of this if you want to use The Moon in your magical or meditative workings to illustrate the moon (the one in the sky). Click here for the Moon Card full meaning
This is the Sun über alles (before or above all others). Everyone knows the raw power of the Sun. It officially gives earth life. Haud sol solis , haud vita. (No Sun, no life.) In fact, the Sun is the single most worshiped object ever. In all parts of the world the Sun is equated with the local deities, mostly male, but occasionally female. The Sun is everywhere and is always welcome, although in the most harsh of desert climates it is often seen as a harsh master rather than a benevolent “god.” Click here for The Sun Card full meaning
His is the end of the line. “The test is over. Please close your books and turn in your papers. You got about as far as you are going to get, and any of you who ‘finished early’ and have been waiting for the rest of the class can finally leave. Have a great summer everyone! See you next year! Click here for The Judgement Card full meaning
Tranquility, enlightenment, evolution. If the Buddha were a female (and one made a special guest appearance in the Lotus Sutra), this would be her. She is both source and seed, being the physical manifestation of and the spiritual essence of purity through experience and awareness. She has completed “the circuit” and passed all judgments, tests, and has moved well beyond such mundane concepts as “testing and progress.” Click here for the World Card full meaning
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