A Tarot Deck consists of 78 cards, 22 which belong to the Major Arcana. Some refer to them as Soul cards, because they all show scenes a mature person is likely to experience at some point during life. The other 56 cards are everyday types of situations we encounter. Not every person is so spiritually evolved that they will experience the blessings and trials of all 22 Major Arcana cards. Some can deal with only the first seven and still be considered productive members of society. Also, some people keep repeating the same lessons over and over, until they learn to master one and move onto another. This journey was coined by tarotist Eden Gray as “The Fool’s Journey.”
The First Line of Cards Represent the Physical Plane of Existence
The Fool—People all begin life as The Fool, innocent, pure, and eager to learn. The Fool is joyful and free, because he has not yet learned to worry, and is open to taking risks. He is standing on a high cliff, and it almost seems as though he will fall off. But maybe he will catch a breeze, and soar through the air! If he takes no chances, he will never know. Willingness to try new things can open doors to adventure, and bring knowledge, liberation and understanding. The Fool carries a knapsack, which could contain his life experiences, or maybe memories of past lives. Whenever we dare to risk something new, or try something different, we are The Fool.
The Magician—He stands before a table which holds all the tools necessary to do whatever he desires to find success. He is extremely willful. He raises the wand in his right hand toward the heavens, and with his left hand, directs this energy to earth. The Magician acts as a conduit for the energy to flow through him. This is an example of the rule, “As above, so below.” Artists and writers understand this energy flow. We start a project, and suddenly it veers off in a direction seemingly on its own, in a most magical way. The Magician represents the light of male consciousness, fire energy, in its very best sense, as the number 1 is the self united with a higher purpose. The Magician also has a lemniscate or infinity sign above his head, and a snake with its tail in his mouth around his waist, an old symbol of eternity. We only experience the infinite and the eternal in very extraordinary moments. Even if life seems meaningless at times, we are always connected to that flowing energy. Remember—energy cannot be created or destroyed. Magic is always present!
The High Priestess—She sits silently between two pillars, light and dark, marked B and J, which stood at the entrance to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. The scroll in her lap hides secrets. The High Priestess keeps her wisdom to herself, because the truths she knows are so complex, words alone cannot express them. Some knowledge is so complicated it is not possible to explain, no matter how hard we try. People must learn to intuit these truths for themselves. The High Priestess represents the dark, female spiritual power, as a balance to the Magician. If we peek behind the veil of secrets, we see only still water, an image of peace and depth. It must be learned that there should be time for stillness and silence, times to trust intuition and to be alone. Some mysteries do not need explaining, we can sense them. The pool represents the unconscious truths which remain hidden, even though our unconscious is often a turbulent and frightening place. We can only enter the temple when we learn to go quiet our minds, to go deeper into ourselves.
The Empress—The Tarot has two versions of women, the High Priestess is the virginal, self contained, mysterious woman, the Empress is the passionate, sensual woman who loves nature. She is comfortable in her own skin, adores nature in all its glory, and is generous and loving, willing to share her enthusiasm for life. She is considered to be a Mother figure, and is normally depicted as being pregnant, either with ideas, or an actual child. Her crown is studded with 12 stars to represent the signs of the Zodiac, and her shield has the glyph for Venus, the Goddess of Love. The Empress is very emotional, and very open in her expression. She can also indicate your Mother in a reading. She is satisfied, seeks pleasure and comfort, as well as being nurturing and giving comfort to others. Her passion flows through all her endeavors, like the waterfall that empties into the brook underneath her throne. An abundance of flowers, plants and trees grow wherever she is.
The Emperor—He is the Father figure, who appears very strict, dressed in armor as if ready for battle, seated upon what looks like a very uncomfortable cement throne. The Emperor takes on the role of the strong and sometimes harsh Father, but along with The Empress, it is his job to teach the children how to behave at home. The Emperor brings structure and order to life, and to society. We need laws to govern, and he is up to the task. He can be seen as unkind, but where would we be in a lawless and unsystematic society? We need The Emperor’s organizational skills. He can also represent your Father, and the responsibilities that Fatherhood entails. He is the voice of authority, and cares about rules, government and power. He teaches his children and others to take charge of their own lives by his example, and how to defend what is theirs. Many people are closer or know their Mothers better than their Fathers, but even though a person seems stern, it must be remembered that they are trying to teach a lesson out of love.
The Hierophant—What is a Hierophant? In olden days the card was called The Pope, and he represented a religious figure, the head of a church. There are two people kneeling before him, who want his approval, and he holds the keys to his kingdom. Although in our time the Hierophant can still represent a Priest or Minister, he (or she) is more often considered a teacher. The card is number 5, and in the Tarot, fives always mean change. Until now the Fool has been learning what is expected of him at home, what behaviors are acceptable there and what are not. Now it is time to gain new experiences outside of the home, at church, or nursery school, or some other activity where The Fool starts to learn social skills that will be needed in life, such as how to interact with people his own age.
The Lovers—This card normally represents the first really important decision a person makes on their own, without consulting parents. Many believe it is about a person’s decision to experience sex for the first time. But it does not have to be so. The Lovers can be about any situation where a person has to make a mature choice, and has to do it alone. There is a small hill between the woman and man in the picture, so this means it will not always be smooth sailing, that there will be complications along the way. So this can be true in a sexual relationship if it is the first one a person experiences. But it could also be a choice about what college to attend, or whether the person should get an apartment with a friend and is mature enough to move away from parents. The decision does involve two people, and the choice is a serious one.
The Chariot—This is where The Fool’s will and focus is tested. The lesson he learns now is that power and success do not come from other’s opinions and approvals, but from his own ability to direct his energy and make his life into whatever he envisions it to be. If you look closely, the man in the chariot is not using reins to control the two sphinxes, he is using his mental strength and strong will to guide them. One sphinx is black and one is white, suggesting the oppositions and contradictions in life. The man is under a canopy of stars, suggesting that he has celestial protection. But any card numbered 7 tells us that even if the challenge is won, the battle will be a hard one, and victory will be fleeting. But he has experienced some success in the world and won the respect of others. On a mundane level, sometimes the Chariot means a person buys a new car.
The Second Line of Cards Represent the Challenges of the Mental Plane of Existence
Strength—This beautiful card tells us that brute force is not necessary in order for a person to be strong. The woman is calm and gentle as she touches the lion, and trusts that he will not hurt her. She has the lemiscate or infinity sign above her head for protection. Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to realize how strong we really are, and we learn through the test we have more strength than we think. Plus strength means different things to different people. For some it is an inner belief in themselves. It allows some to continue on a difficult path, because they feel it is the right thing to do. The Lion in the scene can be interpreted as overcoming animal desires or passions. Sometimes we can solve fights with calm and rationality instead of with aggression. Strength is the ability to overcome destructive impulses, to face life with grace and courage, confidence and openness.
The Hermit—He stands alone on a mountaintop, with a lantern to light the way, either for himself or for a fellow traveler along the path. Sometimes The Fool must be alone in order to ponder, to decide what he wants out of life, to gain wisdom and maturity. The Hermit is also a teacher of sorts, because he knows inner truths. He is willing to guide those who seek him out. The star in the lantern he holds faces two directions. The upward triangle symbolizes Fire, the downward one Water, both which are essential for life. But also it means a withdrawal from the outer world to concentrate on the unconscious in his inner world. The Hermit can be either a teacher or guide for you, or you may act as one for somebody else. We sometimes have a need to be on our own, to think about life and our direction without distractions, to discover our true selves. A teacher, counselor or role model may come into The Fool’s life now.
The Wheel of Fortune—Those familiar with Ezekial’s vision in the Bible will recognize the symbolism of the chariot in the sky. The four creatures or people in each corner of the card can be the four Evangelists of the Gospels, or the four fixed symbols of Astrology. Sometimes life moves at such a fast pace it’s hard to understand all that is going on, but usually karma is at work here, and it is a lucky period of change in The Fool’s life. The Sphinx at the top of the card holds a sword, so we know truth is running through all the ups and downs of our daily lives. Usually life takes a turn for the better when the Wheel of Fortune is turning, so it is a welcome sight for someone in tough times. It is a time when it is safe for The Fool to take a risk and try something new. We get more attention at such times as well.
Justice—The scales of justice tell The Fool that he has to put his life in order now. We are halfway through the Major Arcana cards, and there are many dualities we have seen that need to be integrated into each other. Sometimes a lawsuit is happening in life when this card comes in a reading. It means the decision will be just and fair, although it may not seem that way at the time. The figure on Justice just looks right through us, because we are being challenged to honestly look at our lives. The Sword points straight up, for it is the Sword of Truth. We always have Free Will, but do not always use it. Justice urges us to really be truly aware of who we are so we can genuinely make free choices. This is a time to examine ourselves, to balance different issues in life, to be totally honest and make moral choices.
The Hanged Man— The Hanged Man is hanging upside down from the tree, because it is time for The Fool to look at life from a new perspective. He does not always have to be conventional. When the Hanged Man influences your life, it often feels like it is stalled, that not much is going on. But nothing could be farther than the truth. The Fool is undergoing an immense amount of Spiritual growth while hanging from that tree. We are sometimes called to make sacrifices when we see this card, but then we grow in patience and understand our limitations. The Hanged Man has a halo of light around him, and does not look particularly uncomfortable, because he is Spiritually protected. He is attached to his deep spiritual values, and comes to appreciate them. Looking at your problems from a new point of view can bring joy and revelations.
Death—This card does not mean you or anyone around you is going to die. Death is a transition, a card about change. The Fool is going to have a change of some sort thrust upon him, it will not be a change he seeks on his own. Sometimes something has to die in order to bring about something new. We outgrow relationships, and must leave them to make better ones. Leaves fall from the trees in Autumn, they look dead in the Winter, but Life springs back in the Spring once again. We need to give up bad habits, dead end jobs, relationships that no longer work for us. Sometimes The Fool gets into such a rut he feels dead and lifeless, and craves change very badly. But then room for change must be made in his life, and something must go for new things to come. The Fool needs to release something without fear or regrets, to open the way to new possibilities. If physical death is really an issue (and it cannot be avoided, we all face losses) we must face it honestly.
Temperance—This angel is here to help The Fool regain his calm and balance after Death. He is tempering, or mixing liquids in two different cups, to make an elixir to help find that balance. Maybe now it is possible to do something you used to think was beyond your abilities, but find you have grown as a person. The angel has big wings, but they are very powerful, and he brings peace and focus. Temperance means to keep your energies and actions in balance in harmony, calm and moderation. It is a symbol of self control, a victory over temptations, addictions, pride, or self loathing. The angel stands with one foot on land and the other in the water, an example of blended energies. Water symbolizes emotions, while the Earth represents grounding ourselves. On his head he wears a circle with a dot in it, the Astrological symbol of the Sun. The Sun has now risen over Death, and shines over the mountains, the beginning of a new day and a new consciousness.
The Third Line of Cards Represents The Spiritual Plane
The Devil—This card looks much scarier than it is. We see that the chained people that surround the Devil are very loosely bound. They are caught up in a web of negativity and depression, but do not realize they have the power within to get out of their situations. Sometimes this represents people in abusive or obsessive relationships, people who have drug, alcohol or sex addictions, or people who are just too afraid to try to make their lives better. It is a card of oppression, addictive behaviors, illusions, mistakes and lies. Many view it as a “party” or “orgy” card, of wild times and rebellions that never really bring any happiness, they just dull the pain of reality. We must face our weaknesses when we see this card. Religious zealots always use this card to make their case that The Devil made the Tarot! We always have Free Will and must make our own choices, no matter how bad things seem to be. But in the grip of depression or fear, we can easily lose sight of that. We must draw strength from our experiences learned in the other cards, for they hold the liberation of the Spiritual light The Fool needs after being trapped too long in the darkness.
The Tower—Now there comes a huge upheaval, some huge, unexpected change. People are jumping out of the Tower, there is lightning and a terrible storm. But sometimes things can be really bad, and as a consequence of happening, bring about wonderful changes. Maybe you just got fired from a job you really hate. You finally caught your significant other cheating on you a few weeks before the wedding, in time to realize this person could never be in a relationship of trust. Sometimes negative energies build up and just have to be released, the pressure causes an explosion of sorts before we can finally be free. Sometimes the Fool gets too set in his ways and rigid, and his life needs a big shakeup. The change is usually positive, though it will feel painful at first. There will be a shocking discovery, but it will be the ending of a long standing problem. And is it not better to know the truth? But the Tower’s explosion does not have to be negative. It can finally make you free.
The Star—after all the painful and frightening experiences The Fool has endured, there is finally the peace, hope and optimism of The Star. Here a beautiful maiden once again balances life, she has one foot on the Earth and one in Water. She waters the Earth to bring new life, and adds water to the pool of the collective unconscious. She has nothing to hold back, and is pure and lovely in her nakedness. Some believe that the Star card is actually Polaris, the North Star, so it can be used to navigate life back to order and calm once again. The eight pointed Star does resemble a compass. I always read the Star as a health card. If I see it, I know my sick loved one will be fine once whatever the illness is passes. We can also interpret this as being a Star in your own right, shine your own light, let everyone see your natural beauty. Never give up hope, no matter what.
The Moon—The Fool has more emotions to face when The Moon is full. Remember when we wondered what was behind the High Priestesses curtain? Well, it is what we now see in The Moon card. Many kinds of fears and emotions come out now, as our primitive feelings begin to resurface and emotions are running high. The Moon always means change, but this time it is change that you choose for yourself, it is not change trust upon you by misfortune or someone else’s actions. This is The Fool’s last test. We must face we all have a wild side, and sometimes we lock our emotions in. But in another way, our intuition is strong now, our creative urges are there, and our psychic abilities are very apparent. There will be many unusual dreams now, but you will understand why. The Moon always has an air of mystery, but in its light we can find beauty. Trust your instincts now, you may feel some unusual or disturbing energies, but it will be to your advantage in the end.
The Sun—The Sun is when everything becomes clear and evident. An innocent, naked child rides happily on a white horse, as white is the symbol of purity. Now The Fool can think clearly and understand the truth, and now everything seems simple again. “The Child and the Horse symbolize the conformity of spiritual openness and animal nature,” as Waite described this card. There is a feeling of transformation and spiritual light. The Sun is when and where you shine, and all kinds of unexpected and wonderful opportunities will come into life now. You will get attention for whatever your talents are, and people will seek you out because they think you are so much fun. This card is about joy, simplicity, happiness and brightness.
Judgement—The symbolism on this card is very old, and very odd. We see coffins floating in the water, and people coming back to life and getting out of them. The Angle Gabriel is blowing the trumpet, and it looks like Judgement Day is here. But do not fret. This is really a good card. Some upsetting circumstances or difficulties may come your way. But this is because they were kept secret or inside you for so long that it was beginning to be toxic to you. It’s time to get everything out into the open now. You can do it. This is often in the context of a family feud or dysfunctional situation that has been carried on for more than a generation, and must be fixed. But the rewards once it is confronted are so many. The Fool will experience deep and rewarding transformation, the kind that makes a person reinvent their life in a happy and positive way. Much may be different, but recognize that now you are going to begin a powerful new beginning, a fresh start.
The World—The last card of the Major Arcana is a beautiful one about success, fulfillment and understanding. The lovely woman dances within a wreath, which is a traditional symbol of victory. The four symbols of the fixed Astrology signs are once again in the corners of the card, meaning this person is in a stable situation which brings her great happiness and joy. In all the cards we have discussed, only the The Fool and the World have figures which are moving. Their other connection is that one begins the Major Arcana, and one ends it. The victory wreath of The World is seemingly like the 0, the number of The Fool. The wreath is also tied with sashes which form the infinity sign again, and the wisdom, “As above, so below.” Both the Fool and The World dancer are hermaphroditic. The Fool had all the possibility, but nothing realized yet, but the World brings everything to fulfillment. The dancer holds two wands, like the Magician, on each side, also like the pillars of the High Priestess. She dances forwards while looking over her shoulder at the past. This card is about success and breakthroughs, fulfillment, wholeness and freedom. You will be recognized for your talents, and thoroughly know who you are and where you are going!