Simply put, the Major Arcana of a tarot deck is the collection of “face cards.” In a conventional 78-card pack, there are generally 22 of these cards, numbered from 0 to 21.
A Brief History of the Major Arcana
Tarot decks were used for gaming and gambling prior to the 17th century. The Major Arcana represented the trump cards in this game.
They may have had metaphorical and cultural importance, but they had no mystical or magical significance when they were first created. These cards are distinguished from the remaining cards, the suit cards, which are known as the Minor Arcana.
The Major Arcana originally had simple allegorical or esoteric meaning and fit into a classic “Hero’s Journey” paradigm, sometimes called “The Fool’s Journey,” because the first card is The Fool.
The story begins with ignorance (the man is about to step off a cliff!). As the journey progresses, the character encounters many wise people and goes through trials, setbacks, and victories. The journey finally ends with The World, a card symbolizing true enlightenment.
This is the path all people must undergo for spiritual enlightenment, and so the Major Arcana was formed as a way to remember and predict this progress.
The building of the tarot’s esoteric and divinatory meaning advanced through the centuries, as well as the development of the standard meanings of the Major Arcana.
Understanding the Major Arcana
What does the Major Arcana represent? As I pointed out earlier, the Major Arcana represents the archetypal journey from ignorance to enlightenment. These are universal human experiences that happen across all points of all lives.
Once I truly understood these origins, my ability to interpret Major Arcana cards clicked into place.
When one of these cards appears in a reading, it carries a ton of weight and significance. It will tell you exactly where the subject of the reading is on this journey.
Does The World appear in the “past” position? Then this means the subject attained the highest reaches of their journey and will need to begin again with something new.
Does The Fool appear in the “future” position? Then this means the subject will begin a new journey in the future, beginning back at the ignorance phase.
And so on.
What does it mean to get Major Arcana cards in a reading?
When you encounter Major Arcana cards in a Tarot reading, you’re being asked to think about life lessons and themes. The Major Arcana card will frequently establish the tone for the whole Tarot reading, with other cards connecting to the Major Arcana’s primary meaning.
When the Major Arcana cards form the majority of a Tarot reading, you are witnessing life-altering events that can have long-term consequences. In order to grow farther in your individual spiritual search, you should give heed to several crucial teachings.
However, if several of the Major Arcana Tarot cards are reversed, it indicates that you are not listening carefully to these crucial life teachings and that you need to complete them before moving on.
What does it mean if you pull 3 Major Arcana cards in a classic 3-card spread? Pay attention! This is the most significant crossroads of your life. Meditate on the meanings. Clarity will come from within you. This is not something to take lightly.
What is the most powerful card?
In almost all tarot games, The Fool is considered the most powerful card. This is because the card is traditionally not one of the Major Arcana trump cards (which is why it is given the number 0 and not 1).
Depending on the type of game, it allows the player to not have to follow suit; it functions as a complete wild card, and it functions as the highest trump card.
Even if you don’t play these games, it is clear how strong this card can be.
This power translates well into a tarot reading. The Fool cannot be ignored in a reading.
List of the Major Arcana
Here is a list of the cards in the Major Arcana. Links are to pages on learning the meanings of these cards in a simple way. The articles give tips for remembering the symbols as well as more modern interpretations.
|II||The High Priestess|
|X||Wheel of Fortune|
|XII||The Hanged Man|
The numbers of these cards have significance. Check out this article on numerology in tarot card readings.
How do you read a Major Arcana card?
This comes with study, time, and practice.
The Major Arcana tend to be easy to learn because the symbols are very clear on each card. If you learn what each of the symbols represents, then you will find yourself reading the Major Arcana cards with ease.
It is important to remember that the classical readings are not the only ones. You should always take into account the subject of the reading, the place in the spread, the context of the other cards, your own divination skills, and many more factors.
Tarot takes a lifetime to master.
There are many articles on this site to help you on your journey.
- Decker, R., Depaulis, T., & Dummett, M. (1996). A Wicked Pack of Cards. Bloomsbury Academic.
- Wang, R. (2017). The Jungian Tarot and its Archetypal Imagery. U.S. Games Systems Inc.
- Yotka, S. (2016). Tarot 101: A Beginner’s Guide. Vogue. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from https://www.vogue.com/article/tarot-101-beginner-guide-how-to-small-spells