MAJOR ARCANA

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...The Major Arcana cards are the most recognizable and impactful cards in a Tarot deck. These 22 cards represent situations we all face in the grand scheme of life, with each carrying specific messages of perspective and guidance to help you in times of need. While the Minor Arcana cards focus on the everyday actions and decisions you must face, these Major Arcana cards reveal messages about the bigger picture of your life and its long-term direction.

Though each of the Major Arcana cards stands alone with its own deep meanings and influences, these 22 Tarot cards also tell a story. The first card, The Fool, is the main character of this story, and his experiences as he learns, grows, and makes his way through life are represented by the 21 cards that follow. This storyline is a great description of the accomplishments, setbacks, and lessons we all learn as we go through the trials and tribulations of our lifetime, growing into whole, complete beings by the end of our journey.

Pamela Coleman-Smith's artful rendition of The Fool in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck is often used to represent Tarot in general. Early classical versions of The Fool card, however, portray quite a different character -- a person driven by base needs and urges, who has fallen into a state of poverty and deprivation.

In some earlier instances, The Fool is made out to be a carnival entertainer or a huckster. In others, he is portrayed as decrepit and vulnerable -- as the cumulative result of his delusions and failures. Not until the 20th century do you see the popular Rider-Waite image of The Fool arise -- that of an innocent soul before its fall into matter, untainted by contact with society and all its ills.

Modern decks usually borrow from the Rider-Waite imagery. Most Fool cards copy the bucolic mountainside scene, the butterfly, and the potential misplaced step that will send The Fool tumbling into the unknown. Don't forget, though, that the earlier versions of this card represented already-fallen humanity, over-identified with the material plane of existence, and beginning a pilgrimage toward self-knowledge and, eventually, wisdom. The Fool reminds us to recognize the path of personal development within ourselves -- and the stage upon that path where we find ourselves -- in order to energize our movement toward deeper self-realization.

Traditionally, The Magician is one who can demonstrate hands-on magic -- as in healing, transformative rituals, alchemical transmutations, charging of talismans, and the like. A modern Magician is any person who completes the circuit between heaven and Earth; one who seeks to bring forth the divine gold within her or himself.

At the birth of Tarot, even a gifted healer who was not an ordained clergyman was considered to be in league with The Devil! For obvious reasons, the line between fooling the eye with sleight of hand and charging the world with magical will, was not clearly differentiated in the early Tarot cards.

The High Priestess is a Major Arcana, or "trump" card, that represents human wisdom. The High Priestess can be viewed as a kind of female Pope (a Papess), or the ancient Egyptian Priestess of Isis, the even more ancient snake and bird goddesses, the Greek goddess Persephone, or Eve, before the fall.

For the accused heretics who were burnt at the stake for revering her in the 14th and 15th century, the Priestess symbolized the prophecy of the return of the Holy Spirit, which was perceived as the female aspect of the Holy Trinity.

In terms of the Major Arcana ordering of cards, The High Priestess appears in the sequence as soon as the Fool decides he wants to develop his innate powers, making a move toward becoming a Magician. The High Priestess is his first teacher, representing the inner life and the method for contacting it, as well as the contemplative study of nature and spiritual mystery.

The Empress is a Major Arcana, or "trump" card, that portrays the energy of the great mother. She is nature, around us but also within us, the ever-unfolding source of life-giving power. The Empress is often pictured as a pre-Christian Goddess, as the one whom The High Priestess is channeling down ato Earth for the rest of us.

In medieval Europe, The Empress card was painted to represent whatever queen currently ruled the land, probably to satisfy the Inquisitors. But the scholars of the Renaissance and beyond had no doubt of her true identity -- she could not be fully revealed on Tarot cards as "the woman clothed with the sun" until after the French Revolution.

This supreme archetype of femininity also symbolizes fertility. It is The Empress who provides us nourishment and security. She is also sometimes seen as delighting us with flowers and fruit. A potentially terrifying aspect of this archetype manifests itself whenever karmic mood swings wipe out our plans, like a storm that has come upon us. Whatever happens, The Empress is the source of our embodiment and of natural lLaw. She might even be called "The Great Recycler."

In the most practical terms, The Emperor Tarot card represents the highest leadership, a head of state, or the most exemplary and powerful person in the realm. This archetypal ruler is responsible for the affairs of a society or community, which are directly proportional to his well being and happiness.

The more enlightenment and cosmic perspective this energy brings, the better life is for all. The Emperor archetype masters the world of matter and physical manifestation. When you apply this card to your situation, acknowledge your potentials for mastery. Reinforce a sense of sovereignty within yourself, despite any self-limiting beliefs, habits, or appearances to the contrary.

The Hierophant Tarot this card refers to a master and the learning of practical lessons from the study of natural law. This energy of this card points to some agent or resource that can reveal the secrets of life, the cycles of the Moon and tides, the links between human beings and the heavens.

Because monasteries were the only places a person could learn to read and write in the Middle Ages, a Hierophant was one to whom a student would petition for entry. He was the one to set the curriculum for the neophyte's course of study.

Often pictured with the right hand raised in blessing, the Hierophant is linked with the ancient lineage of Melchezidek, initiator of the Hebrew priestly tradition, the one who passes on the teachings. All shamans of any tradition draw upon this archetype.

Although it has taken on a strictly romantic revision of meaning in some modern decks, traditionally The Lovers Tarot card reflected the challenges of choosing a partner. At a crossroads, one cannot take both paths. The images on this card in different decks have varied more than most, because we have had so many ways of looking at sex and relationships across cultures and centuries.

Classically, the energy of this card reminded us of the real challenges posed by romantic relationships, with the protagonist often shown in the act of making an either-or choice. To partake of a higher ideal often requires sacrificing the lesser option. The path of pleasure eventually leads to distraction from spiritual growth. The gratification of the personality eventually gives way to a call from spirit as the soul matures.

Modern decks tend to portray the feeling of romantic love with this card, showing Adam and Eve at the gates of Eden when everything was still perfect. This interpretation portrays humanity before the fall, and can be thought to imply a different sort of choice -- the choice of evolution over perfection, or the choice of personal growth through relationship -- instead of a fantasy where everything falls into place perfectly and is taken care of without effort.

The Chariot Tarot card points to a triumphal feeling of freedom, as if the Charioteer is being paraded through the streets as a hero (or heroine). The card reflects congratulations for high achievement, and serves as a sign of empowerment.

Huge wheels and frisky steeds speed the rate at which the driver's will power can be realized. This kind of charge makes more of the world accessible to one ambitious enough to seize The Chariot's reins. But there is danger in this feeling of freedom, because of the increased rate of change and its power to magnify mistakes in judgment. As a seasoned warrior, the Charioteer is called upon to be extra attentive to the way ahead.

The Strength Tarot card represents nature, which, however wild in its primal form, is tamed by our subtler, finer self -- our feminine side, our inner self. The will and passion of our instinctive nature does not need to be broken, but refined and brought to consciousness, so that all levels of creation may come into harmony.

The feminine soul-force contains a persuasive power that can nurture and induce cooperation from others, stilling disruptive energies by harmonizing differences in the spirit of collective good will.

The challenge of The Hermit card is to be able to recognize a teacher in a humble disguise. This font of mysterious knowledge will not make it easy for the student to acquire his wisdom, as it takes time and long contemplation to fathom what he knows. He often speaks wordlessly, or in ancient and barbaric tongues, communicating with the elements, animals, and nature herself.

While an hourglass was an identifying feature on the earliest Hermit Tarot cards, more modern cards have shifted the metaphor, showing more or less light released from his lantern. In either case, the Hermit card reminds us of the value of time away from the hubbub of civic life, to relax the ego in communion with nature.

The central theme of The Wheel of Fortune card is cyclical change. The wheel keeps on rolling, churning events in a ceaseless progression of ups and downs, either way freeing us from the past. No one can escape its cyclical action, which can feel somewhat terrifying -- no matter whether we are rising or falling. When one is balanced on top of the wheel, there is a moment of crystal clarity. However, the only part of the wheel that's actually not going up and down is the hub, which represents your eternal self.

Every one of us will occupy all the points on the wheel at one point or another. The cycle of the wheel is its lesson -- and we can learn to take comfort in it. If you don't like the look of things right now, just wait -- things will change. Of course, if you do like the look of things right now, enjoy it while it lasts, because that will change too!

The Justice Tarot card has to do with moral sensitivity and that which gives rise to empathy, compassion, and a sense of fairness. Since the time of Solomon, this image has represented a standard for the humane and fair-minded treatment of other beings.

Often including the image of a fulcrum or scale which helps to balance competing needs against the greater good, and a two-edged sword to symbolize the precision needed to make clear judgments, this card reminds us to be careful to attend to important details. It's a mistake to overlook or minimize anything where this card is concerned. The law of karma is represented here -- what goes around comes around.

The Hanged Man usually indicates a lack of ability to help oneself through independent action. The energy is arrested and awaiting judgment. With this card, there is no avenue for the will to regain control until the situation has passed.

This represents a good time to be philosophical, to study and meditate upon the position you find yourself in, and to form resolutions for the moment you become free again. Only those who possess wisdom, patience, and optimism will be able to see through limitations, including possible humiliation, to grasp the inspiring lesson one can gain from such an experience

The Death card is not about the literal death of any person. It may represent the death of something else, like a project, plan, or relationship. This card also points to a time of harvest, symbolized in classical decks by the reaping skeleton. Unless the fruits of summer are harvested, they are lost to winter's harshness, and the people do not eat. As the scythe cuts the cords that link us to the past, it liberates us to go forward without fear, because we have nothing left to lose. Everything being pruned away is recycled for the fertility of the future, so that nothing is really ever lost, despite seasonal cycles of gain and loss.

In more modern Tarot decks, we see Death mounted on a horse and wearing black armor. The emphasis in these decks is on the punishment of sin, as in the way the medieval Plagu (which the Death image was based on) was used to explain the wrath of God. Luckily, in modern times, we are not so encumbered with such a guilt-ridden philosophy.

The Temperance card is a reference to the soul. Classically female, the woman or angel on the Temperance card is mixing up a blend of subtle energies for the evolution of the personality. One key to interpreting this card can be found in its title -- a play on the process of tempering metals in a forge.

Metals must undergo extremes of temperature, folding, and pounding, but the end product is infinitely superior to impure ore mined from the earth. In this image, the soul volunteers the ego for a cleansing and healing experience, which may turn the personality inside-out, but which brings out the gold hidden within the heart.

The Devil Tarot card expresses the realm of the taboo -- the culturally rejected wildness and undigested shadow side that each of us carries in our subconscious. This shadow is actually at the core of our being, which we cannot get rid of and will never succeed in taming. From its earliest versions, which portrayed a vampire-demon, The Devil evoked the church-fueled fear that a person could "lose their soul" to wild and passionate forces.

The Devil image which emerged in the mid-1700s gives us a more sophisticated rendition -- that of the "scapegoated goddess," whose esoteric name is Baphomet. Volcanic reserves of passion and primal desire empower her efforts to overcome the pressure of stereotyped roles and experience true freedom of soul.

In practically all renditions of the Tower card, disaster is striking or has just struck. The demons of madness and despair are released from ancient hiding places, and nature conspires with human failings to destabilize a society. The upheaval is collective and impersonal. Let us remember these images were created for the educated nobles and clergy -- reminding them that they have the most to lose if the hierarchy is toppled.

Lightning is a fitting karmic payback for the guilt of those whose fortunes come from the exploitation or abuse of others. A modern subtitle might be "revolution," indicating that through drastic social change, oppressed people can find renewed hope of better times. The Tower experience comes like a flash of lightning to topple the hierarchy of the old order, after which everyone can have a fresh start on a more equal footing.

The Star Tarot card is about reconnecting one's soul with the divine -- the transcending of personality, family, community, and reputation. It has to do ultimately with the freedom to be one's self. The soul is responding to celestial influences -- forces that can provide the personality with a stronger sense of purpose. The Star card helps us to remember our exalted origins and our attraction to a higher union.

This card could also be called The Celestial Mandate -- that which refers us back to our reason for being, our mission in this lifetime. The Star reminds us that, in a sense, we are agents of divine will in our day-to-day lives. If we let go of the idea that we are supposed to be in control, we can more easily notice and appreciate the synchronicities that are nudging us along. In this way, we become more conscious of the invisible helping hand, and we better understand our place within -- and value to -- the larger cosmos.