The Major Arcana is a set of 22 cards belonging to the Tarot. It is one of the systems’ most prominent and unique features. It differs from the four suits of the Minor Arcana as its cards are not specifically tied to individual metaphysical elements – neither Fire, Water, Air nor Earth – but their energies are instead an amalgamation of the four forces, thus belonging to a different realm altogether – that of Spirit. While the images of the Minor Arcana and their meanings largely focus on our everyday reality, those of the Major Arcana are archetypal symbols tied to the higher planes, our subconscious, and the world beyond what contemporary science is able to explain. These powerful images carry with them a plethora of meanings and, when they appear in a reading, signal that strong forces are at play. The 22 cards, 21 numbers and the Fool remaining outside of the sequence, are believed to depict said Fool’s journey to self-realization and attainment of the ultimate spiritual truth through trials and tribulations, with challenges to overcome and lessons to learn.
0 The Fool – The Fool begins his journey around the Major Arcana with starry-eyed innocence. Full of potential and in possession of all the basic resources, he flings himself into adventure without much notion of what awaits. Is this but sweet abandon or simply careless risk-taking? Only time will tell.
I The Magician – The Magician on the other hand is taking full control of his destiny. He works hard to attain the skills needed for his spiritual journey and to become the master of all four elements. He is the symbol of power, concentration and deliberate action.
II The High Priestess – Mysterious and half-hidden behind the veil of darkness, she is the symbol of feminine intuition, of the dark side of the Moon, of all that is concealed from plain sight and needs a key (whether real or metaphysical one) to be accessed. Only through embracing the subconscious can her mysteries be revealed.
III The Empress – The archetypal Mother Earth figure – pregnant with children but also pregnant with meaning, ideas, love and affection – she stands for abundance and fertility. Nurturing and gently guiding everyone she considers her offspring, the Empress presides over nature and life itself. Closely related to the High Priestess, she represents the more earthy aspect of the Divine feminine.
IV The Emperor – The master of the Divine masculine, he is the Horned God, the insatiable satyr but also a stable father figure, one of moral authority and great wisdom. He provides the Major Arcana with a sense of structure and stability and can stand for any sort of higher power in our lives.
V The Hierophant – Also referred to as the Pope, he is the face of organized religion, conformity and, in a more negative context, pack mentality. Still, he is the upkeeper of tradition and long-held beliefs, and offers us a path well-trod – if we chose to walk it. The benefits can be substantial.
VI The Lovers – The card presents a relationship, a coupling of the masculine and the feminine but also any other kind of union, of any gender, and any type of energy that feels compatible. In the older Marseille decks, Lovers are sometimes presented as a menage-a-trois – a (perhaps difficult) choice between two equally good (or equally bad) prospects.
VII The Chariot – Following the ambivalence of Lovers, this is the image of finally gaining control and managing to tightly hold the reins of irrational forces raging both within our own very being but also outside of our soul. Only through sheer determination and strong power of will can we expect to assume such a position and take charge of our destiny, ultimately stirring it in the right direction.
VIII Strength – Another symbol of power and control, it is perhaps a bit less forceful than the one before it. Here, our Fool is winning, not through brute force but through courage, patience and, most important of all, compassion. Only a gentle touch can tame the beast.
IX The Hermit – No proverbial Hero’s journey is complete without withdrawal from the real world, casting aside all of its glories and riches, and finally looking within, deep into one’s soul, and determining what is it that we truly stand for and are willing to walk that extra mile for. Only through introspection and soul-searching can we receive the (inner) guidance we seek.
X Wheel of Fortune – Suddenly, the roads get rocky, things are out of control and our entire world is upside down. This sort of upheaval is an integral part of our life’s path. Still, this is by no means an inauspicious sign. Quite the contrary – it brings good karma, a stroke of luck, and a new life cycle filled with opportunities. Our journey will eventually come full circle.
XI Justice – Here to strike some balance into the whole situation, Justice is the card of legal proceedings, fairness, honesty and, ultimately, truth in its most balanced form. We shall reap just as we sow, no better nor worse. The law of cause and effect is in full swing.
XII The Hanged Man – Sometimes, sacrifice is needed in order to progress. Giving up control of the situation may sound frightening but may also prove to be the only choice you have. Confront your fears, don’t be intimidated by feeling restricted for a while, and eventually a new day will dawn, freeing you from the prison of your own making.
XIII Death – Much like the Coffin in Lenormand and Fatality in Kipper, Death is the most frightening card in the deck and a feature of many a dramatic scene in movies. Still, it only stands for endings and catharsis, transformation and transition and, further down the line, final rebirth. In this, it is akin to the Judgement which will happen sooner or later, depending on the speed of your progress through the Major Arcana.
XIV Temperance – Another card that looks to strike a balance in the world but, unlike Justice that focuses on the physical, Temperance is a symbol of harmony in the higher planes of existence. It brings inspiration, patience, a sense of purpose, and an idea that only through moderation can you expect to reach your ultimate spiritual destination.
XV The Devil – Frightening as he may appear, the Devil holds us in his power only by our own choice. Much like the Prison card in Kipper, he stands for a gilded cage we have gotten ourselves into, for addictions and materialism, for excessive focus on the carnal and paying very little attention to anything else. A very consumerist figure, one must admit, and one that we can defeat, if only we’d try.
XVI The Tower – Perhaps the most dramatic image in the whole deck, it brings about equally shocking change – a disaster, upheaval, tearing apart of everything that comes in its way – blowing up the old and the established order of things to make way for something different altogether. What? We still don’t know.
XVII The Star – Following the dramatic events from the previous card – this is a moment of divine inspiration, a guiding light in a dark night, a glimmer of hope. The Star is a symbol of serenity and peace but also of intense mental activity focused on achieving our spiritual aims. Pictorially connected to Temperance, it strikes balance into the situation so thoroughly disturbed by the Tower.
XVIII The Moon – The Moon shares some of its symbolism with the High Priestess, standing for intuition and the unconscious side of our psyche. Its light and dark side are the very image of our anima and animus, our yin and yang, of our dreams and our nightmares. Fear and anxiety are at the very core of its meaning.
XIX The Sun – Not too different from the Sun in Lenormand, this is the card of joy and happiness, success in every aspect of our lives, of having fun and truly being and peace with the world. A symbol of positivity and vitality, it is one of the most auspicious signs in all of Tarot.
XX Judgement – An idea taken directly from Christian teachings, the final Judgement uncovers the naked truth and brings about either ultimate absolution or eternal damnation. Weeding out the bad and the impure, it only leaves room for the truly good, for what is beneficial to one and all.
XXI The World – This is the completion of the Fool’s journey and the most intensely positive card in the deck. It stands for achievement, unity and integration – all symbolised by the dancing androgyne surrounded by the creatures of the four elements. The World is all about being where you ought to be.
(The images in this article are taken from The DruidCraft Tarot illustrated by Will Worthington and published by Connections Book Publishing)