Tarot cards divided into two major parts:
- Major Arcana
- Minor Arcana
In this article, we are going to cover the Major Arcana – I’ve tried to keep it simple with a cheat sheet included for reference.
The tarot deck features 78 cards of which 22 comprise the major arcana and 56 from the minor arcana. The 22 Major Arcana cards supposedly depict a journey through one’s life. The range of cards begin with the fool card and ends with cards called The World.
Some interpretations reveal that this is the road of life, and some clergy have said that these cards represent the road to hell and even the Devil. The Devil is a card in the major arcane, but rather than Satan; it depicts enslavement, addiction, and even misdirection. The Death card is another widely misunderstood card. It does not refer to the physical body’s death, but merely change and transformation of some kind. The fool cards are the predecessors of the Joker cards we discard before shuffling most decks for a game.
If I were painting a picture, these Tarot cards would represent the impact of our experiences on ourselves as we develop our creativity and expression, along with the effects in our further experiences on our identity just as one artist.
Major Arcana Cards and Meaning
The Fool is numbered 0 – The Major Arcana is often considered the Fool’s journey through life and can be placed anywhere on the deck. Not bound by a specific sequence, the 0 symbolizing unlimited possibilities. He is usually depicted as a young man embarking on an exciting journey, blissfully unaware of what lies ahead. He is clasping his bindle (hobo stick) and accompanied by his loyal companion rallying for his attention at potential oncoming dangers.
When drawn in a reading upright, it is interpreted as a call to action to encourage risk-taking and embracing the unknown of what lies ahead. Alternatively, a reversed Fool card can show that you are living in the moment and not planning for the future.
Upright: Beginnings, Innocence, Spontaneity, a Free Spirit
Reversed: Holding Back, Recklessness, Risk-taking
The Magician is numbered 1 – Directly associated with the planet Mercury, the card images are rather complex. The Magician is depicted pointing to the sky with one hand while the other points to the ground. The Magician can be interpreted as a go-between or conduit between the spiritual or physical realms.
Moreover, the table in front of the Magician has four symbols representing the elements. The infinity sign on his head indicates the infinite possibilities of creation.
When I draw the Magician card, I interpret this as utilizing your full potential to engage with a new love interest, job, or project. Alternatively, in Reverse, this card might mean that there is someone who pretends to have your best interests, and it’s time for a change.
Upright: Willpower, Desire, Manifestation, Resourcefulness, Creation
Reversed: Trickery, Manipulation, Poor Planning, Untapped Potential
The High Priestess
The High Priestess is numbered 2 – The High Priestess corresponding planet is the Moon. Depicted sitting between the two pillars at Solomon’s Temple, Jachin, and Boaz. Jachin (on the right) referred to as the Pillar of Establishment and Boaz (on the left), commonly known as the Pillar of Strength. They represent Yin and Yang, Good and Evil, Masculine and Feminine – Negative and Positive.
She wears the crown of Isis and the solar cross denoting a magical reference and connection to the season. The crescent moon at her feet also refers to the Virgin Mary – the divine feminine.
The High Priestess acts as a mediator and related to inner knowledge. When the High Priestess is drawn, I liken this to soul-searching. The answers to the questions are deep-seated within the seeker, that the answers to the questions are within, not without. Alternatively, when drawn in reverse, it may indicate that the seeker has failed to follow their initial gut instinct and now has to reassess their path.
Upright: Intuition, Inner Voice, Divine Feminine
Reversed: Secrets, Lack of Centre, No Inner Voice
The Empress is depicted as a woman sitting on a throne with an abundance of hair and fuller figure Costumed in a pomegranate-patterned robe representing fertility. Her Hair is crowned with 12 stars representing her connection to the mythical realm and the Earthly cycles. She is seated on cushions embroidered with a Venus sign and surrounded by an enchanting green forest with a river streaming through it. I liken the Empress card to Mother Earth.
Drawn in the Upright position could point heavily towards pregnancy and motherhood, or a new idea will emerge of which, and you will be successful in your endeavors. It’s a bountiful and a sign that you will be successful.
Drawn in Reverse, this could represent that you are neglecting your own needs, or that you are meddling or smothering people affairs that don’t concern you.
Upright: Femininity, Motherhood, Fertility, Nature
Reversed: Smothering, Dependence on others
The Emperor is the Father figure, an astute ruler. Connected to Aries, the Emperor is depicted sitting on a large stone throne, adorned with four rams heads. On the one hand, he carries a wand, representing his reign, and in the other an orb, a symbol of the world over which he is the ruler.
His long white beard is symbolic of his vast experience, and along with his gold crown asserting his dominion.
Behind him shows a rugged mountain representing his stable foundation and an ability to strive for great things.
When drawn in the Upright, I equate this as a looming opportunity or new responsibility in charge of something important. On the other hand, when depicted in Reverse, I translate this to abuse of authoritative power intent on dominating others.
Upright: Authority, Control, Structure, Father Figure
Reversed: Domination, Lack of discipline, Rigidity
Hierophant or High Priest (or even Pope in some Decks) is a wise man and a teacher. Ruled by Taurus, he is wearing three elaborate vestments that are designated to represent the three different worlds. Sitting between two pillars of a sacred temple or another Religious environment, he raises his right hand in the act of benediction, a sign of blessing. In his left hand, he holds the Papal Cross, a triple scepter that signifies the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
In front of him are two followers; attentive in his teaching as he passes on knowledge within an institution – the path of learning and education.
When drawn Upright, it represents the conventional, no straying from the path a desire to follow order and process on a preset well-traveled path. Alternatively, in Reverse, this can express that an individual has somewhat lost control or feeling caged in a situation. That head strung on breaking the shackles of conformity.
Upright: Spiritual wisdom, Conformity, Tradition, Institution
Reversed: Subversiveness, Freedom, Rebellious
The card depicts a naked man and woman under the protection of an angel; the couple appears to be happy in what seems to be the Garden of Eden represented by the sake and the fruit in the background. The angel depicted here is Raphael, the angel of air – who is of the same element of the zodiac sign that governs this card – Gemini. Raphael’s presence represents both physical and emotional healing. The angel blesses the man and woman, providing balance and harmony, symbolizing their union.
Appearing Upright The Lovers represents perfection in a relationship, trust in their bond, those destined to marry, or accompanying close friendship and relationship. On the other had appeared in Reverse, I translate this to a disharmony that can make daily life difficult, placing immense pressure on a relationship. A break down in communication or shirking one’s responsibilities – requiring amends.
Upright: Love, Harmony, Partnership, Duality
Reversed: Self-love, Disharmony, Imbalance
The Chariot is linked to the Cancer zodiac sign. The card illustrates a warrior sitting inside a vehicle that is being driven by two black and white sphinxes – sitting beneath a blue canopy decorated by white stars. He wears armor, stylized with crescent moons, a tunic with a square and other chemical symbols – these representing what is coming into being, strength, and spiritual transformation.
At the head of the chariot sit a black and a white sphinx, representing duality, positive and negative, and, at times, opposing forces that warrior must learn to control. The sphinxes are pulling in opposing directions. The warrior must guide the sphinxes towards their destination, one that is marked by the cosmic forces that he represents.
Upright The Chariot is all about control and success, mastering your surroundings and to victory. The reverse, however, draws attention to a lack of willpower, aggressive behavior, and demotivation.
There are times when it is right to go with the flow, and there are times when compromise is the best approach, but when this card turns up, it often indicates that what is needed is a gritty determination to win.
Upright: Control, Determination, Willpower, Success
Reversed: Self-discipline, Lack of Direction, Lack of Control, Aggression
Governed by Libra, the Justice card is a symbol of truth, fairness, law, and structure. The scales in her left represent intuition and, in her right, a double-edged sword symbolizing impartiality. Justice wears a crown with a small square on it represent well-ordered thoughts and a red robe with a green mantle. A white-shoe beneath her clothing is a reminder of the spiritual consequences of your actions.
Appearing Upright – the Justice card represents atonement for actions that may have effected yourself or others, or if you have been wronged expressing relief or a warning for your future interaction with others. Not all doom and gloom. It represents an opportunity to change. In Reverse – Justice indicates that the individual is in denial, unable to accept or acknowledge the potential consequences of one’s actions.
Upright: Justice, Truth, Clarity, Law, Cause, and Effect
Reversed: Unfairness, Dishonesty
The Hermit depicts an older man standing alone at the peak of the mountain while holding a lantern in one hand and staff on the other. The snow-capped mountains symbolize his spiritual mastery, growth, and accomplishment; I liken it a long grey beard. The Hermit refers to the level of spiritual knowledge gathered and ready to pass to others.
In his right hand, he holds a lantern with a six-pointed star inside; it is the Seal of Solomon, a symbol of wisdom. The staff, however, depicts authority and power.
When drawn Upright, I interpret this as a soul-searching – to find one’s self – contemplating that you need to be alone to achieve your goals without distraction – being Never afraid to clear your mind of the clutter that comes with everyday life. It can also represent the appearance of a teacher or mentor. Drawn in Reverse, the Hermit can represent that you are already on a path of solitude but in doing so could become harmful to both yourself and others. Before an individual, it truly trapped must take the time to communicate with others bringing a balance.
To summaries, it symbolizes that you are in a phase of self-examination and willing to explore some unknown facts for self-satisfaction. This card also explains that you are in a period of inner reflection.
Upright: Soul-Searching, Introspection, Inner Guidance
Reversed: Isolation, loneliness, Lost
Wheel of Fortune
The Wheel of Fortune is one of the most highly symbolic cards in the deck, filled with signs that each has its meaning. At the center of the card, lies a giant wheel, covered in symbols – three figures on the outer edges. Four Hebrew letters – YHVH (Yod Heh Vau Heh), the unpronounceable name of God – are inscribed on the wheel’s face. The wheel is also surrounded by the angel, the eagle, the bull, and the lion. These are related to four fixed signs in the zodiac – Leo, Taurus, Scorpio, and Aquarius. These four animals are also representatives for the four evangelists in Christian traditions, which is perhaps the reason they all have wings.
There are also the letters TORA, thought to be an adaptation of the word Torah, meaning ‘law,’ or TAROT, or even ROTA (Latin for ‘wheel’). The middle wheel has the chemical symbols for mercury, sulfur, water, and salt – the building blocks of life and the four elements.
The snake represents the story of the Garden and humanities descent into the material world. On the wheel, itself rides a sphinx that sits at the top, and Anubis at the bottom. These two Egyptian figures are representative of both the wisdom of the gods and kings (in the case of the sphinx) and the underworld (Anubis). They are in a perpetual cycle suggesting balance – that when one is up, the other is down.
Upright represents the circle of life in that we will continue to endeavor both the good and the bad. That we should enjoy the good times as when we come full circle, we should brace for the bad. This motion is out of our control, like the seasons we should enjoy or endure. Drawn in Reverse – suggest that the individual has been followed by misfortune. That luck is not on your side; these are events that are out of their control, like the wheel they will come full circle. Ride the storm!
Upright: Good luck, Karma, Change, Life Cycle
Reversed: Bad Luck, Resistance to Change, No Control
The strength card is illustrated with a woman holding the jaws of a lion. The woman appears to be in complete control over the lion. The woman has tamed the lion with her calming, loving energy. She is in full control, which is representative of her discipline while facing great adversities. The care by which she holds the lion symbolizes her love and compassion, coupled with the bright sky in the background further presents calmness and stability.
Drawn Upright, the Strength card, denotes inner strength and courage. It shows an overwhelming ability to remain calm and composed under extreme duress. In Reverse, I mean that you are currently or are about to experience great fear or anger. That you lack the inner strength that the card usually represents. Moreover, the Reverse may also represent draining, leaving the individual in a state of depression – indicating that they have detracted from society and have lost the love and happiness in their lives. Pay attention to the Reverse, regain confidence, and ignite that inner strength.
Strength deals more with handling the power within than with the manifestation of power in the outer world. In contrast, the Chariot Card deals with using our powers over beings or things from our environment to achieve our final victory.
Upright: Strength, Focus, Compassion, Bravery
Reversed: Self-doubt, Low Energy, Weakness
The Hanged Man
It’s one of the most unusual cards in the Tarot deck. Yet the image of a man hanging upside down from one leg does not quite depict the morbid scene one might imagine. He seems quite content with his predicament!
The card illustrates a man who is suspended upside-down; he is hanging by his foot from the world tree. While upside down, he views the world from a different perspective. It is believed that the hanging man is positioned there by his own free will. We believe this because of the serene expression, which is on his face.
His arms are bent, with hands held behind his back, forming an inverted triangle. The man is wearing red pants representing human passion and the physical body, and a blue vest for knowledge. His intellect is further symbolized by the yellow color of his shoes, hair, and halo.
Appearing Upright suggests that actions or decisions need to be adequately implemented, that’s its time to take a step back and look upon the situation with fresh eyes to move forward. It may also indicate sacrifice as penance for prior wrongdoings. Drawn in Reverse – It’s as if you are putting your entire effort and attention into something, but nothing turns out as it should.
Upright: Pause, Surrender, Release, Sacrifice
Reversed: Delays, Fear of Sacrifice, Stalling, Indecision
Death is depicted riding a white horse while holding up a black flag with a white pattern. His armor gives him invincibility – referencing that no one can destroy Death. Death carries a black flag decorated with a white, five-petal rose – symbolizing beauty, purification, and immortality and the number five representing change. Together, these symbols reveal that Death isn’t just about life ending but both the beginning and end, rebirth, and transformation.
Beneath him, all walks of life have been trampled, reminding us that Death has no favorites – not one class or gender is favored over others.
One of the most misunderstood cards, as it’s very name strikes, fear, and it’s taken too literal. The meaning is quite the opposite. Death represents that one primary phase in your life is ending, and a new one is going to start. If, however, you are in the process of transformation, it’s a reminder to let the old you die and the new you be reborn – remove unhealthy attachments that you have in your life.
The Death reversal meaning is also about change, but that you have been resisting it. The circumstance could have you worried about letting go of the past, alternatively unsure of the changes that you need to make to go forward.
Upright: Endings, Change, Transformation, New Beginning
Reversed: Fear of Change, Stagnation, Holding On
The Temperance card depicts an angel with one foot in the water and the other on the land. This represents the subconscious and material world. The angel dons a robe that has a triangle enclosed in a square on the front, representing that humans (the triangle) are bound by the Earth and natural law (square). Holding two cups, the angel can mix the waters, which represent the super and subconscious minds. The water flows between them, suggesting union and infinity.
Upright – Temperance represents moderation, patience, and balance. It implies higher learning, a balanced plain of existence critical to your journey through life. It reflects that you have found peace in your endeavor, that your well-laid plans are unfolding as expected. Reversed – This is representative of the imbalance; that something in your life is out of place, causing anxiety and worry.
The card has the simple message of moderation in all things, test the waters before jumping in. Temperance means showing restraint in our actions and feelings.
Upright: Balance, Patience, Purpose
Reversed: Imbalance, Excess, Lack of Balance
The Devil – illustrated as Baphomet half man half goat; bat wings and an inverted pentagram on his forehead. He is standing on a pedestal where there a naked woman and man chained, symbolizing his dominion. Although both the man and the woman have horns, they do not appear to be happy in the current situation. Their tails tipped by fire and grapes, respectively representing lust and pleasure.
It is almost as if the longer the man and the woman spend time with the Devil, the more they become addicted to the finer things denoted by there tipped tails. Moreover, the chains around there neck are loose and could be removed at any time.
Upright – the card represents entrapment and lack of fulfillment or that you prize materialism, indulgence, abundance, and luxury above all else, like an addiction. Reversed – represents that light bulb moment when an individual can throw off their shackles, break the chains and detract themselves from the dependence of bad habits. Rigorous self-assessment is called for.
Upright: Playfulness, Attachment, Addiction, Sexuality
Reversed: Release, Restoring Control, Freedom
The Tower is illustrated on top of a mountain. The Tower has been struck by lightning setting it on fire. In the act of desperation, the blaze forces people to jump from the window to escape the destruction. The Tower represents ambition and goals backed by dodgy foundations. Demolition of the Tower has to occur before it can be re-built, representing divine intervention and change.
Although the card itself is dramatic, the Upright symbolism is a change that doesn’t necessarily have to be scary and cause upheaval; it could wipe the slate clean and re-building. Reversed – represents a lack of realization, in the fact that there is an outstanding issue, almost as if you are not willing to accept delaying the inevitable. The situation should be embraced.
Upright: Broken Pride, Chaos, Awakening
Reversed: Personal transformation, Fear and Suffering, Averting Disaster.
The Star card illustrates a naked woman kneeling at the edge of a pond. One foot is in the water, symbolizing spirituality and inner strength the other on land, symbolizing practical and physical advantages. She is holding two jugs of which one is pouring water onto the ground, making it fertile and green. In the foreground, there is a massive central star surrounded by seven small stars which represent the Chakras. A bird is standing on a tree branch that represents the holy Ibis of thought.
Upright – The Star card brings hope and strength. The appearance of this card is a great fortune that the Universe is with you in your endeavors. Reversed – The Star card symbolizes that you are up against the wall with your day today. What tasks or situations you would typically enjoy become overwhelming, that you have lost faith in your abilities.
To summarise, the Star points to where we should be heading and holds out the promise of a better future. When the card turns up, it can be a sign that we are on the right track. If we are going through a time of despair, the appearance of the Star can be a positive sign that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Upright: Hope, Faith, Renewal
Reversed: Insecurity, Despair, Faithless
The Moon card depicts a full moon illuminating the night sky. Positioned between two massive towers, the Moon represents intuition, dreams, and the unconscious. There is a path that leads off out of the picture, symbolizing a journey with a dog and a wolf on opposing sides of the track – howling at the Moon they represent both the tame and the feral aspects of our minds. Overlooking the path – the towers characterize as good and evil.
There is also a small crayfish that has recently crawled from the pool in the center of the path symbolizing a new consciousness – one side of the way representing consciousness and the other unconscious coupled with the feral and domestic animal attributes.
Upright – The moon’s light can bring you clarity and understanding, and you should allow your intuition to guide you through this darkness. Almost as if you are embarking on a new journey, you represent the crayfish; there may be hidden dangers in your way ahead. Drawn in Reverse – it represents confusion and unhappiness you are unsure what is the right thing to do. You must overcome the fear and worry.
The Moon card represents the phase in our lives when we are confused and have self-doubts.
Upright: Illusion, Fear, Anxiety
Reversed: Fear, Repressed Emotion, Confusion
The Sun card radiates positive vibes, optimism, and contentment. An overwhelming sense of well-being. Four sunflowers are representing the elements and the suits of the Minor Arcana.
In the foreground, there is a naked child denoting innocence, coupled with the white horse representing absolute purity.
When the Sun card appears Upright, it radiates hope, joy success, celebration, and all that other good stuff. In Reverse, treat this much like a summer day, the Sun is out, but the clouds are shielding you from the rays, promoting negativity, sadness – depression even.
Upright: Positive, Fun, Joy, Success
Reversed: Negativity, Feeling Down, Sadness
The Judgement card shows naked women, men, and children rising from the grave to respond to Gabriel’s trumpet-call – arms outstretched ready for judgment – their actions weighed with a Heaven or Hell verdict. Judgment is unavoidable – Judgement is final.
Appearing Upright – represents as forthcoming, a significant turning point in your life where you must start to evaluate yourself and your actions. Focusing on your activities and taking stock will give a clear understanding of where we are and where we are a-going: self-discovery and a new period of awakening. Reversed can mean that you judge yourself too harshly, no longer content and confident in your abilities; your self-doubt is holding you back.
Upright: Judgment, Rebirth, Reflection
Reversed: Doubt, Self-Loathing, Ignoring The Call
The World card is illustrated with a naked woman dancing. Legs crossed, holding a wand in either hand – wrapped in cloth surrounded by a large laurel wreath.
The Wreath is a symbol of success, while the red ribbons that wrap around it are a symbol of infinity. As in the Wheel of Fortune card, there is a lion, bull, cherub, and eagle bordering the card. Representing the four corners of the Universe, the four elements, the four points of a compass, the four seasons they guide you through each phase of your journey.
Drawn Upright, The World card symbolizes great achievement, completion, and success. That you in tune with what’s going around you, and you dance in harmony alongside it. Reversed The World car represents the end of an era, postponing completion, or an emptiness while reflecting on the past.
Upright: Completion, integration, Harmony
Reversed: No Closure, Empty, Procrastination
Tarot with Confidence
I truly hope that after reading this article you have a better understanding of the Major Arcana and my interpretation of its 22 cards. Every card contains a special role, they can represent new experiences, situations – love lives, and much more. Being able to understand the transactions and unique roles represented by the cards is key; take your time and have fun – practice with friends and family, you never know what could turn up.