Major Arcana Card Meanings
(The Trumps)

Here we examine the Major Arcana tarot cards, being the 22 cards that deal with some of the aspects of daily life that seem beyond “mortal control.”

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, as they represent concepts that have vexed mastery by the masses over the centuries.

The Major Arcana cards are said to be the “secrets of magic, the path to [the Judeao-Christian] ‘God,’ and portals to wisdom.” Whether they 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.

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. 

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 Arcana 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 Arca​​​​na ​​​​Cards

Major Arcana - The Fool — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - The Magician — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - The High Priestess — Rider Deck Blue Box

Our lady of mystery sits on a simple throne which is little more than a block, with pillars left and right supporting the weave of pomegranates behind her, masking off the evening sea of her domain. Click here for The High Priestess full meaning

The Major Arcana - The Empress — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - The Emperor — Rider Deck Blue Box

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 Major Arcana - The Hierophant — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - The Lovers — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - The Chariot — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - Strength — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - The Hermit — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - Wheel of Fortune — Rider Deck Blue Box

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 Major Arcana - Justice — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

The Major Arcana - The Hanged Man — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - Death — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - Temperance — Rider Deck Blue Box

“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

Major Arcana - The Devil — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - The Tower — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - The Star — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - The Moon — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - The Sun — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - Judgement — Rider Deck Blue Box

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

Major Arcana - The World — Rider Deck Blue Box

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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