The Major Arcana of the Tarot

There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, each showing some aspect of the human experience. The cards of the Major Arcana are focused on three themes: the realm of the material world, the realm of the intuitive mind, and the realm of change.

In A Complete Guide to the Tarot, Eden Gray points out that the the different events and emotions and experiences we have are reflected in the cards as laid down by a reader. Ultimately the Fool is at the center of it all, an innocent about to embark on a journey which will include many trials and tribulations.

Depending on which deck you're using, you may find that your cards are not in the order presented. Don't worry about that -- go by the meaning of the card, not by the numeric order. The illustrations on these pages depict cards from the Rider Waite deck, which is one of the most popular Tarot decks available today, and one typically used by new readers as a way to "get to know" Tarot.

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The Fool is just setting out on his spiritual journey. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington
The Fool is an oddity in the Major Arcana, because unlike his compatriots, he is numberless, and represented by a zero. When it comes to spiritual development, the Fool is in the earliest of stages. He's an infant, developmental-wise. There's really nothing practical or sensible about the Fool and the steps he's about to take, but he doesn't care - it's time for new things. When reversed, the Fool indicates a tendency to "look before you leap." Think before you act, and accept that a lack of attention to detail could lead to costly mistakes later on. More »
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The Magician reminds us that man's will can be used in tandem with the Divine. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Magician wears a long robe, and stands before a table, or perhaps an altar. The flowers of nature surround him, and above his head floats the universal symbol of Infinity. When the Magician card pops up in a Tarot reading, consider it a warning of opportunity. The Magician is the master of his own destiny, and brings about the changes he wishes to see, by his own will and action. It's a card that reminds us that by taking action, we can make big things happen. When the Magician shows up reversed, it typically indicates a person who looks like a bit of a perfectionist but is completely falling apart on the inside. More »

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The High Priestess is linked to our intuition and our power to manifest. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The High Priestess is the symbol of spiritual enlightenment, inner illumination, and the link between the seen and the unseen. She is balance and power in a feminine form. In a spread she often represents an unrevealed future with hidden influences at work, and a need to trust in one's intuition. Reversed, the High Priestess symbolizes open knowledge and obvious facts that you've been ignoring. Not only that, you're probably denying your own intuitive hunches. More »

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The Empress is an earth mother, full of fertility and abundance. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When the Empress arrives in a spread, look for material wealth and abundance, as well as fertility - not only for hopeful parents, but also for artists and other creative types. If the Empress appears in your Tarot layout, keep in mind that she often represents a sense of contentment, and pleasure in what you have, particularly in terms of family and home life. Reversed, the Empress often indicates some disharmony on the domestic front. When you see this card reversed, take some time to think about what's causing disruption in your home. More »

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The Emperor dominates the material world. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Emperor is majestic and has a commanding presence. When the Emperor appears in a Tarot spread, he shows not only authority and law but also paternity and power. The Emperor is a war-maker, a leader, and represents the results of taking action. He is a strong and assertive individual who offers guidance and wisdom when needed, although not always when wanted. If the Emperor appears reversed in your reading, look out. This reversal is also connected to a loss of control, and symbolizes things that happen when one doesn’t take action at all but sits passively on the sidelines. More »

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The Hierophant often symbolizes conformity and societal approval. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When a Hierophant card comes up in a Tarot reading, look for some indicator of a preference for ritual and ceremony. In part, this can be interpreted as a need for acceptance from others, even from society as a whole. Think of it as a desire for institutionalized approval. The Hierophant indicates the importance of conformity - but keep in mind that belonging to a group isn't necessarily bad. A reversed Hierophant shows someone who's open to new ideas and willing to think outside the box. This is the card of the non-conformist -- the rebel, the hippie, the artist who colors outside the lines. More »

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The Lovers card often reminds us of the power of choice. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When the Lovers appear, it doesn't necessarily have to do with physical or romantic love. Instead, it traditionally indicates someone who must make a decision and overcome temptation. The Lovers show us that we have choices, and that we are beings who struggle between sacred and profane love. When reversed, the Lovers show us the possibility of poor choices, quarrels, and infidelity spawned by temptation. This card indicates a need to stabilize the emotions and get in check with our rational selves, and to put aside our carnal desires. More »

7 - The Chariot

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The Chariot shows us that we can have success and control over the forces of nature as well as physical enemies. Card from Rider Waite Tarot by US Game Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When the Chariot card shows up in a Tarot spread, it indicates success and triumph, control over the forces of nature. This includes triumph over poor health, natural disasters, and other external forces. This is an excellent card to see if you're involved in business - it can mean more responsibilities and the rewards that come along with them. A reversed Chariot often represents a victory that is less than ethical -- cheating, lying, or manipulating others to get one's own way.

8 - Strength

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The Strength card shows us we can learn to create a balance between our spiritual and carnal natures. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

Shown upright, the Strength card reminds us that we are in sight of our goals, and that spiritual power can help us overcome material desires. Be patient and persevere, and eventually your force of character will shine through. When this card appears in the reversed position, it can often indicate someone whose life is ruled by material gain, rather than emotional or spiritual balance.

9 - The Hermit

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The Hermit stands alone, high upon a rugged cliff, and he holds the lamp of truth and illumination. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Hermit stands upon a snowy mountaintop, looking out upon the world. In one hand he holds the lantern of truth to guide seekers below. When the Hermit appears in a reading, know that you have a chance to receive wisdom from the Divine, or from the spirit world. The Hermit reminds us that our goals can be attained, but the journey is not always smooth or easy. A reversed Hermit card shows someone who is unwilling to listen to the wisdom of their elders, or who refuses to take advice even when it's offered from knowledgeable sources.

10 - The Wheel of Fortune

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The Wheel of Fortune reminds us that we're not always ruled by chance. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Wheel of Fortune card reminds us that we're not always governed by chance or fate, but that we have the power to change our lives. When this card appears in a spread, expect success thanks to some intelligent decisions, a change of fortune for the better, or significant creative evolution. Reversed, the Wheel indicates stagnation and setbacks. New conditions and unexpected changes require you to be courageous and take some big steps, but remember that the energy you put into an endeavor will come back to you many times.

11 - Justice

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Justice shows us that ultimately, life needs balance. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When Justice appears, know that justice will be done. Fairness and balance will rule the day. In terms of personalities, the balanced individual is one who knows how to get rid of excess baggage and toxic relationships, while maintaining positive and uplifting influences in their life. The Justice card may also symbolize a desire for higher education, leading to a well-balanced mind and soul. Reversed, this card indicates legal problems and complications, and the possibility of a losing outcome in legal matters. It also can be a reminder to use mercy and compassion when judging others, and to avoid being unnecessarily harsh.

12 - The Hanged Man

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The Hanged Man must learn to stand on his own to achieve perfection. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Hanged Man is a card of profound significance, although a lot of its meanings are hidden. This card is an indicator of wisdom as yet untapped or undiscovered, and even of prophetic power. The Hanged Man shows us a pause in our life, a moment of suspension in time. When reversed, the Hanged Man shows us someone who is resistant to spiritual influences or refused to accept that sacrifices must be made in order to grow and evolve. There is a sense of self-absorption, and of being too wrapped up in material matters.

13 - Death

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Death has many meanings. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

People tend to fear the Death card, but really, there's no reason to.

This card, despite what is often portrayed on television and in movies, doesn't have to signify physical death. Instead, the Death card shows us that there is perpetual transformation, one aspect of which is the cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth. This is a card of change and regeneration. Reversed, the Death card represents stagnation without change or a tendency to inertia. It can also show someone who refuses to adapt to change or accept new things.

14 - Temperance

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With Temperance, we can master our own thoughts and achieve balance. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Temperance card shows us that we must learn to transfer our imagination into activity, allowing us to develop our will. Temperance also reminds us to work in harmony with others, and that we can find successful results with well-thought teamwork. When reversed, Temperance is an indicator of poor combinations - toxic relationships, bad business investments, possibly even corruption. Look at this as a warning to re-evaluate issues at hand, and find a better balance.

15 - The Devil

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The Devil is of man's own creation, and represents bondage to the material world. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When the Devil appears in a Tarot spread, look for discontent and depression, or possible emotional stagnation. This can also indicate someone who is so tied to the material that they neglect the spiritual aspects of their lives. The Devil is the card of addiction and bad decision-making. It's not uncommon to see this card come up in readings for people with a history of mental illness or various personality disorders. Reversed, the Devil portrays a much brighter picture -- such as removing the chains of material bondage in favor of spiritual understanding.

16 - The Tower

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The Tower represents big - and often catastrophic - changes. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

Often, the cards in the Tarot represent change, and for the most part, this is gradual, evolutionary change. Not so when the Tower appears. This is sudden, dramatic stuff - and much if it is because of forces that are completely external and out of your control. When the Tower appears in a Tarot reading, it indicates big (and often abrupt) changes, conflict and catastrophe. A reversed Tower card shows that freedom of mind and spirit can be attained, but only at a great cost. This card may indicate someone hoping to break free of an abusive relationship, or leave a potentially disastrous job situation.

17 - The Star

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The Star is the card of meditation and enlightenment. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Star is a card of meditation, showing us that if we just stop to listen, the truth will reveal itself to us. In a spread, this card shows someone who is attaining inspiration and insight, hope and spiritual enlightenment. Reversed, the Star shows doubt and pessimism, someone who lacks the perception to grow spiritually or emotionally. It may also indicate potential mental or even physical illness.

18 - The Moon

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The Moon is the card of sleep and dreams, in which our intuition guides our body, mind, and spirit. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

When the Moon appears in a Tarot spread, look for development of latent psychic abilities. The Moon is intuition and imagination, but can also represent hidden messages and deception. Things are not always as they seem, so trust your instinct. When the Moon appears in reverse, it can sometimes mean that your intuition and psychic abilities are blocked.

19 - The Sun

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The Sun often represents good things to come. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

A Sun appearing in a Tarot spread is nearly always a sign of good things to come -- it's the card of mental and physical health, happy reunions and good marriages. It also may indicate the liberation that comes with the completion of studies and learning, and reminds us that there can be great pleasure found in the simplest of things. It's a card of joy, powerful energy, and revitalization. A reversed Sun often symbolizes a cloudy future -- it may point to someone whose marriage or job is on the line, or someone who is just wandering aimlessly with no direction, and thus, no goal in sight.

20 - Judgment

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Judgment is the card of rejuvenation and awakening. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

The Judgment card indicates a life lived to its fullest, someone who has taken all the necessary steps on their journey to advancement. It indicates awakening and renewal, on spiritual, emotional and physical levels. It can also represent positive legal judgments. This card shows a change in personal perception, and a new ability to blend with the greater surroundings. Reversed, Judgment is a sign of weakness and fear of commitment. It shows a failure to find happiness, in part due to a lack of effort or readiness. It may also indicate losses, such as loss of material possessions, or the end of a marriage or relationship.

21 - The World

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The World is the completion of the Fool's journey, the final state of cosmic consciousness. Card from Rider Waite deck by US Gaming Systems, photo by Patti Wigington

In a Tarot reading, the World symbolizes completion. It is the card of freedom and liberation on many different levels, and indicates triumph in all undertakings. It often serves as a signal that we are about to achieve something amazing that we have been working towards for a long time, the culmination of all of our efforts. It is, essentially, everything falling into the right place at the right time. Reversed, the World shows us that success has yet to be attained, and an unwillingness to move on. This may indicate someone who is overly attached to their home or job, and refuses to take chances at new opportunities that would ultimately be successful.

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