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Tarot Card Interpretation & Meaning - The Major Arcana


The major arcana are in some ways the most important cards in the tarot deck. Generally they are the cards that a new tarot user will learn first; partly because there are fewer of them, (there are 22 major vs. 54 minor arcana cards) and partly because they are considered to signify the deeper, more meaningful, more “spiritual” parts of life. Of course all parts and events of life are important to us as we are experiencing them, but the major arcana are signposts to things, events, and people, that are meant to be taken more seriously and looked at more closely, in general, than the minor arcana cards will generally represent.

For example, consider the first card in the majors, (numbered zero) “The Fool.” The Fool is not about being foolish, it is about the open-heartedness and risk-taking inherent in youth but which we can exhibit at any age. It is about going forward and being fearless, and not freezing like a deer in the headlights because of what “could” happen to us. This is a complicated concept, and a deeply meaningful one, because it is also tied to personal and profound renewal and the fact that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” no matter what age one happens to be or the situation one happens to be in.

By comparison, several cards in the minor arcana have as an element of their interpretation the concept of “new beginnings or risk-taking,” but in the minors this is far more likely to be on a more superficial level, and is usually tied to a specific mundane element of life, for example, the Ace of Wands can be tied to a new beginning in the career sector of one’s life. To contrast, the Fool is about a more profound “new beginning,” which may include but is not likely to be limited to that new career/job - such as a new career which also involves a completely new self-image, and some new spiritual realizations, such as a long-term housewife who develops the skills and self-esteem necessary to become a high-powered executive, etc.

When you lay out a spread or perform a reading and you see mostly major arcana cards, you can assume that the matter in question, and/or the querent’s life, is more profound or in a more “deep and meaningful” stage than usual. As with all tarot cards, over time you should, and generally will, develop some personal interpretations of what a particular major arcana card means in your readings; this meaning should always take precedence over a meaning found in a reference book. These take time and experience to develop, however.

In any reading, pay particular attention to the majors and their proximity to each other and the other cards in the spread. They carry particular emphasis and color the rest of the “story” that the cards in your spread are telling. A positive major arcana card, for example, when next to even two or three generally considered “negative” minor arcana cards, often will nearly evaporate or contradict the “negative” part of the story that the minors are telling. Experiment with your perceptions of the majors and see what they mean to you, before jumping headlong into learning the minors. You’ll have an easier time in absorbing and remembering the minors, and in discerning the “story” that the spreads are telling you.

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0: The Fool
1: The Magician
2: The High Priestess
3: The Empress
4: The Emperor
5: The Hierophant
6: The Lovers
7: The Chariot
8: Strength
9: The Hermit
10: The Wheel of Fortune
11: Justice
12: The Hanged Man
13: Death
14: Temperance
15: The Devil
16: The Tower
17: The Star
18: The Moon
19: The Sun
20: Judgment
21: The World
0: The Fool Reversed
1: The Magician Reversed
2: The High Priestess Reversed
3: The Empress Reversed
4: The Emperor Reversed
5: The Hierophant Reversed
6: The Lovers Reversed
7: The Chariot Reversed
8: Strength Reversed
9: The Hermit Reversed
10: The Wheel of Fortune Reversed
11: Justice Reversed
12: The Hanged Man Reversed
13: Death Reversed
14: Temperance Reversed
15: The Devil Reversed
16: The Tower Reversed
17: The Star Reversed
18: The Moon Reversed
19: The Sun Reversed
20: Judgment Reversed
21: The World Reversed