learn the tarot

LESSON ONE: What is the Major Arcana?

In the Tarot, the Major Arcana consists of twenty-two cards bearing a progressive Roman numeral. Each card is illustrated with a picture that that represent one aspect of a universal story: the journey of life as we master progressive lessons. In the Rider-Waite Tarot, this universal story begins with The Fool (numbered 0) and ends with the trimphant vision of The World (numbered XXI).

When Major Arcana cards appear in tarot readings, they can represent recurrent themes or important changes. Major Arcana cards suggest there's more to a situation than meets the eye. They challenge us to view our lives as larger than we can see, deeper than we can imagine. 

What follows is an overview of the Major Arcana illustrated by cards from the Rider-Waite Tarot. A note: Some people like to include reversed, or upside-down cards, when they use the Tarot. (We'll have more about reversed cards in another lesson.) For the sake of completeness, we've included meanings for both upright and reversed.

Got it? Let's begin!

O - THE FOOL

Keywords: New ventures, trust, innocence

Meanings: Time for a new start of a great journey. Beginnings. Optimism and trust. Feeling protected by divine forces. Reversed: A need to look deeper into an opportunity before proceeding. Overconfidence. Leaping before looking. Folly or naivety . 

Question to consider to better understand this card: If I could start anything knowing it would reach success, what would I do?

I - THE MAGICIAN

Keywords: Self-empowerment, awareness, mastery

Meanings: An awareness of the magic within yourself. A yearning to grow beyond limitations. The ability to transform your life through the strength of originality and personal power. Renewed creativity and vigor. Reversed: Blocked power, creativity. Manipulating others. A need to control situations from behind the scenes. Secrecy. 

Question to consider to better understand this card: What does magic mean to me? 

II - THE HIGH PRIESTESS


Keywords: Spirituality, education, enlightenment

Meanings: An interest in spiritual knowledge. A teacher who will share with you what you are seeking—or perhaps you are that teacher. Wisdom gained in a graceful manner. Honoring the powers of intuition, dreams, the Divine Feminine. Reversed: Lack of trust in intuition. Over reliance on intellect. Superficial knowledge. Fear of searching within oneself for answers. 

Question to consider to better understand this card: Where could I use more wisdom in my life? 

III - THE EMPRESS

Keywords: Fertility, abundance, growth

Meanings: Feelings of fertility and abundance. A new marriage or special relationship which celebrates one's growth as a woman. Creativity which manifests as physical product, whether that be children, artistic endeavors or wealth. A pregnancy, either of yourself or someone close to you. Reversed: The opportunity to work through the manure of the past to better fertilize your life. Deprivation or sterility. Feeling the lack of material resources. 

Question to consider to better understand this card: What would I like to manifest in my life?

IV - THE EMPEROR

Keywords: leadership, wisdom, authority

Meanings: The ability to use power wisely. Meeting an authority figure or teacher who can help. The ability to lead and inspire others. Knowledge of how to "work the system" without giving up personal values. Reversed: Oppressed by another's power. Insecurity. Loss of personal authority. Passive aggression. Manipulating others.

Question to consider to better understand this card: How can I best act as a leader?

V - THE HIEROPHANT

Keywords: Structure, conformity, ritual

Meanings: Following established social structures. In love relationships, desire for the declaration of intentions for the sake of security. Awareness of public image. Conforming to gain approval. Possible rigidity. Reversed: The need to throw out old social structures that no longer serve your needs. Fear of unconventional ideas. Nonconformity.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What traditions or rituals do I honor?

VI - THE LOVERS

Keywords: Harmony, passion, sexuality

Meanings: A renewed awareness of the nature of passionate love. Artistic creativity. Sexuality. The integration within oneself of the masculine and feminine—the Divine Marriage, if you will. A new, important relationship. Reversed: Manipulating with sexuality. Inability to find a loving partner. Irresponsibility in love relationships. Disharmony.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What would my ideal love relationship be like?

VII - THE CHARIOT


Keywords: Timing, transition, change

Meanings: Movement into the next phase of life. If you are feeling impatient, don't worry—transitions will go smoothly. External forces that work with you. Career advancement. Good timing! Reversed: Necessity of waiting. Impatience. Inconvenient timing. Feeling trapped or unable to make a transition.

Question to consider to better understand this card: Where would I like more progress in my life?

VIII - STRENGTH

Keywords: Strength, endurance, integrity.

Meanings: Any strength you need is within you now. The abiility to create peace between opposing forces. These forces may be internalized or personified in a situation. Tame them—you have the strength! Reversed: Scattered energies. Imbalance.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What does true strength mean to me?

IX - THE HERMIT

Keywords: Meditation, withdrawal, introspection

Meanings: The need for time alone. Withdrawal to better contemplate life's direction. Intuition. Reversed: Superficial distrations. Refusal to listen to intuition. No time to think or reflect.

Question to consider to better understand this card: How can I be more in tune with my inner voice?

X - WHEEL OF FORTUNE

Keywords: Luck, surprise, change

Meanings: Receptivity to change. Good fortune. Unexpected opportunities. Chance. Reversed: A disappointing surprise. Unexpected endings or beginnings. Capriciousness. Rigidity.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What expectations do I hold about luck?

XI - JUSTICE

Keywords: Wisdom, fairness, detachment

Meanings: The need for a detached viewpoint towards a troublesome situation. Legalities. Dealing with bureaucracies. Reversed: Frustration with bureaucracies or legalities. Impatience with red tape. The appearance of this card shows that this is a temporary situation.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What do I consider true justice?

XII - THE HANGED MAN

Keywords: Surrender, patience, need for a rest

Meanings: A temporary roadblock. Surrendering to higher principles. Self abnegation. Empathy. Reversed: Impatience. Lack of compassion. Focus on materialism at the cost of spirituality.

Question to consider to better understand this card: Where could I have more patience?

XIII - DEATH

Keywords: Change, endings and beginnings

Meanings: Transformations. The need for something to die to create room for the new. Change which may feel painfult, but is necessary. Reversed: Stagnation. Resisting change. Holding onto a situation or person that we've outgrown. The need to move in a new direction, but the inability to do so.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What do I need to let go of so I can move on?

XIV - TEMPERANCE

Keywords: Harmony, self-control, balance

Meanings: Experiencing harmony and union. Integration and moderation. Balance between the spiritual (symbolized by water) and the physical (symbolized by earth). Reversed: Imbalance. Discomfort. Inability to find peace. Lack of moderation.

Question to consider to better understand this card: How can I find more balance in my life?

XV - THE DEVIL

Keywords: Addiction, sexuality, obsession

Meanings: Tempted by uncontrollable forces. Something dark within the psyche is personified as temptation or addiction. Envy. Sensual desires. Gluttony. Envy. The need to be controlling. Reversed: Freedom from temptation. Transforming a weakness into a strength. Experiencing the envy of others.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What temptations do I need to free myself from?

XVI - THE TOWER

Keywords: Confusion, difficulties, release

Meanings: Overwhelmed or oppressed by circumstances. Depression. A new start after a painful ending that may have shattered you. Reversed: Though your situation may feel overwhelming, hidden forces are at work to transform things for the better. While this situation is painful, it will not last.

Question to consider to better understand this card: Where do I feel the most oppressed in my life?

XVII - THE STAR

Keywords: Inspiration, hope, dreams

Meanings: Goals and dreams. Success, good fortune, creativity. All is well with the world; your highest hopes are supported by the universe. Reversed: Not following your bliss. Insecurity. Feeling unworthy. Fear of following your dreams or reaching a goal.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What are my highest hopes and dreams?

XVIII - THE MOON

Keywords: Femininity, intuition, emotion

Meanings: Intense emotions. Vivid or lucid dreams. Intuition. An opportunity to work on your relationship with that which truly nurtures you. The support of caring women. Reversed: Discomfort with emotional situations. Uneasiness with maternal figures. Feeling as changeable as the moon; instead of seeing this as a negative, recognize that what is empty will become full again in time.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What people or situations nourish me most?

XIX - THE SUN

Keywords: Creativity, success, fertility

Meanings: Creativity and inspiration. Relationships with children. Procreation. Love and sexuality. Masculine or yang, energy. Reversed: Unwillingness to accept affection. Problems with children. Creativity blocked by external or internal forces.

Question to consider to better understand this card: What special brilliance do I own?

XX - JUDGEMENT

Keywords: Changes, decisions, confidence

Meanings: Important decisions or news. Movement into the next phase of life. Time for a major and necessary change in life—often welcome, but frightening because of its magnitude. Reversed: Stagnation. Inability to act. Blockage.

Question to consider to better understand this card: If I could make one major change in my life, what would it be?

XXI - THE WORLD

Keywords: Expansion, travel, interconnection

Meanings: A new sense of expansion and hope. Travel and communications may be featured as well as career expansions for the better—all ways to connect with the peoples and lands that make up the world. Travel and communications. Career growth. Hope. Reversed: Fear of expansion. Feeling pessimistic about the future.

Question to consider to better understand this card: How do I view my greater place in the world?

The Major Arcana might seem like a lot to remember! For what it's worth, it really does help to think of each card as one chapter of a bigger story. However, the Tarot is made up of seventy-eight cards; the Major Arcana has only twenty-two. What about the remaining fifty-six cards—aka the Minor Arcana?

To find out, let's proceed to Lesson Two.

continue

learn tarot sponsor

The Learn Tarot online course was adapted by permission from The Goddess Tarot Workbook by Kris Waldherr, published by US Games Systems, © 2000, all rights reserved. (The Goddess Tarot is available as an app here.) Permission is granted to print out this lesson for personal use only. Sharing or selling this content in any form is strictly forbidden by law.