If you’re new to reading tarot for yourself or for your friends, one of the best places to start is by learning the meanings of The Major Arcana cards.
In the tarot, The Major Arcana cards represent big lessons and major experiences we experience on our journeys through life.
The Major Arcana reflects pivotal moments in life — those who define us and make us who we are!
You may notice that these cards, in sequential order, tell a story.
You might come to hear of this story as “The Fool’s Journey”, and it discusses the path one might take through life.
Through the Major Arcana, we can follow The Fool through life. We can see his wins, losses, and the lessons he learns along his journey.
Growing familiar with these cards will help you deepen your understanding and practice of the Tarot as well as deepen your connection with yourself.
So, are you ready to learn all about The Major Arcana?
I thought you might be!
Let’s jump in!
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0- The Fool – Possibility & New Beginnings
The first card in the Major Arcana is “The Fool”.
The Fool in the tarot represents new beginnings, opportunities, and freedom.
It’s the card that often shows up when things are fresh and new in your life – a blank slate just waiting to be drawn on.
The Fool also represents potential. The journey has yet to begin, the story yet to be written.
The Fool is also connected with the idea of spontaneity and living in the present moment – not being afraid to leap before you look.
There is also an element of innocence and naivety when The Fool shows up.
Are you ready to embark on this journey and experience the ups and downs?
When the Fool is reversed (or in the upside-down position), it means either you are resisting going on a new journey, or that you are being naive and being too much of a risk-taker.
1- Magician – Manifesting
Number one in the Major Arcana is The Magician, who is the ultimate card of manifestation.
If you look closely in the image, you will see that the Magician has all of the elements together in one shop.
When the Magician shows up, you have everything you need to manifest what you want in life. The power is in your hands and now is the time to take inspired action to get what you want and need.
The number “1” in numerology is like the beginning, the start of the fire, the spark of inspiration that gets things going.
If you draw this card, use that energy to create what you want.
When the Magician is reversed, this energy is blocked in some way.
Something is blocking you from getting what you want, whether it be poor planning, grandiose ideas that are unlikely to be executed, or manipulation.
2- The High Priestess – Intuition
The next card in the Major Arcana is The High Priestess, who symbolizes intuition, the subconscious mind, and divine knowledge and wisdom.
Think of what’s “behind the veil.”
When The Priestess shows up, you are called upon to listen to your inner voice, follow her guidance, and trust in the wisdom of the universe.
The Priestess is a spiritual card that always points you towards something bigger than yourself: whether it be divine knowledge or universal truths.
When reversed, she can point to someone who doubts their intuition and neglects this powerful feminine force.
3- The Empress – Nurture, Creation
Next in the Major Arcana is The Empress, who some say represents the Mother archetype.
She is nurturing, graceful and feminine. There is debate surrounding whether she is pregnant in the imagery.
Either way, the Empress represents creativity and “birthing” of ideas and projects. She also symbolizes abundance, beauty, and nature.
When reversed, she can represent having a fear of success, creative blockages, or feelings of overwhelm.
4- The Emperor – Authority
After the Empress, or “mother” figure, the next card in the Major Arcana is The Emperor, who represents authority, or the father figure.
The Emperor is usually depicted as a seated figure, holding two symbols of power in his hands. One hand holds the sword and one hand holds the orb or scepter, symbolizing that he has control over both physical and spiritual worlds.
Sometimes The Emperor card represents external (political) authority figures like fathers, bosses, or rulers.
While this card may represent a masculine figure, keep in mind it does not have to be male.
When reversed, the Emperor tends to be a bit reckless, abandoning safety or paying attention to precautions of any kind. It also represents bullies — all talk, muscle but no brains, and exerting their force upon others with no regard for what’s right.
5- The Hierophant – Tradition
When you think of The Hierophant, you should think of tradition. Things being done just because they have always been done that way.
With religion, it may be the long, old religions and traditions — not necessarily “spirituality.”
Think standard, traditional weddings and knowledge gained from old books, not from exploration of new ideas and thought.
The Hierophant is about obedience and conformity, and may indicate that you need to educate yourself, stick to tradition and avoid bending the rules.
Or it may be that you need to go back to school, further your education, and get a new career.
Either way, it’s all about structure and avoiding reinventing the wheel.
The reversed Hierophant represents a “know it all” — someone who says it how it is and there is no room for disagreement. No room for truth.
6- The Lovers – Partnership/Connection
The Lovers is obviously a card about partnership and connection, but also about choice.
On the Fool’s Journey, he has encountered the establishment, his mother, his father, the Priestess, but eventually, he wants to go out on his own and do things his own way.
The Lovers represents that feeling you get when you meet your very first love. Maybe the world disapproves, but you love them and you want to go your own way and learn your own life’s lessons.
The thing is, you don’t know if you’ll get heartbroken. If you’re making the right choice. But it feels good and you want your independence so you are free to make your own decisions.
Reversed, the Lovers suggests that you need to establish another type of love — self-love before you can feel whole in a relationship.
Beyond that, though, you need to know yourself and be authentic to who you are to make the choices that are aligned with your highest and greatest good.
7- Chariot – Movement
The Chariot in the Major Arcana represents action, movement, confidence, determination, and the will to work hard to get what you want.
The Chariot is so determined that if something is too easy, it’s boring.
It’s this burning desire and willpower to go out and make things happen. To make your mark on the world and be somebody and go somewhere significant.
This is the card that shows up when you first start to realize your inner strength and power.
It’s the ultimate card of self-confidence and self-worth.
When the Chariot shows up, you cannot and will not be stopped from reaching your goals.
Inverted, the Chariot has that same passionate energy, but there is no control or sense of direction.
You are moving — really fast, even — but everything is a mess and there’s no sense of clarity or focus.
8- Strength – Quiet Control/Courage
The Strength card in the Major Arcana is all about strength, but by being gentle. It’s not a forceful control like you may see with The Emperor.
The type of strength in this card is courage. It’s knowing you don’t have to exert force to command respect.
It’s an inner knowing that you’ve got this, you can do this, and you are enough just the way you are.
When reversed, Strength usually means that you may actually be physically, mentally, or emotionally incapable of dealing with what’s in front of you at that time.
It could also mean that you’re not interested in dealing with it (though you could).
Or, it could mean that you are overly confident in your abilities.
9- The Hermit – Rest/Respite/Isolation
By the time you reach The Hermit on the Fool’s Journey, you’ve had some ups and downs.
You are more self-aware and are “awake.” And you might be a little burnt out.
The Hermit is the card of self-reflection. Taking time for yourself to rest.
While The Hermit is alone — they aren’t lonely.
It’s much-needed rest and a break from the long journey ahead.
When reversed, the Hermit actually is about feeling lonely and isolated — not by choice.
You’d rather be part of something, but you’re excluded, and it doesn’t feel so great.
10 – The Wheel – Chance/Fortune
The Wheel is one of the most frustrating cards in the deck, as it is like a game of chance.
But isn’t that what life is all about anyway?
We make decisions and we don’t always know how it’s going to turn out. So you have to just spin the wheel and see what you’re going to get!
The Wheel is also about Karma, however. Think “what goes around comes around.”
Reversed, the Wheel of Fortune means you are likely in a situation that you dislike, yet you aren’t doing anything to change it.
You’re just going to keep going around and around in circles until you make a decision to change.
11- Justice – Balance/Karma
When The Justice card shows up in the Major Arcana it is 100% logical with no room for emotion.
It’s “let’s look at the facts and the outcome will be determined based on what’s real.”
Sometimes Justice can be cold and unfeeling, but this is just how it is. Think about the court of law.
Justice looks at the evidence and decides what happens to you based on your past actions.
If Justice comes up in a reading, it might be a sign to remove your emotions from any decisions. Weigh the pros and cons, do research, do your due diligence, and make the most logical choice.
Not the one that feels the best.
When reversed, things are unfair, emotions rolling out of control, and all over the place.
Nothing is based on fact, nothing even makes sense! And somebody needs to be reigned in and brought back down to reality.
12- The Hanged Man – Pause & Release
When The Hanged Man shows up it’s all about letting go and releasing.
You may feel like you want to go-go-go but you are being forced to hang back.
At this time, there’s nothing you can do to press forward, you have to wait.
It’s not the same as feeling like you can’t move forward. It’s acknowledging that maybe you don’t have the power to change everything and being okay with sitting in the moment.
Even if things aren’t going well, it’s a period of grace.
You know things are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and nothing lasts forever.
You take whatever lessons are coming your way and accept them and learn from them.
When reversed, The Hanged Man doesn’t have a dramatically different meaning.
You have to take the good with the bad and pause for self-reflection to take responsibility for your outcomes in life.
13- Death – Transformation
Next in the Major Arcana, we have the Death card.
No other card carries so much charged sentiment!
Much of the time, people totally freak out when Death appears in a tarot reading. But the Death card is nothing to be afraid of.
It doesn’t mean literal death, but it means transformation and rebirth.
Death is a sign that it’s time to change things up, release (put to death) what is no longer serving you so you can move forward to the next phase of your life.
It might be unnerving and challenging. You may experience pain. But not always!
Sometimes it’s the mutual agreement to leave a relationship or even a business partnership that no longer serves.
Sometimes it’s the push to leave your job and start a business for yourself.
Other times it is dramatic and stressful.
But there’s always something on the other side. And you will take those lessons with you.
When reserved, death represents a blockage to transformation.
It’s stillness – but not the good kind.
It’s that feeling of knowing you should leave your job or relationship, but refusing to make the leap because you’re moderately comfortable.
14- Temperance – Balance/Moderation
Up next in the Major Arcana, we have the Temperance card.
Temperance is the balance that we need to seek in our daily lives.
There is always so much going on, different wants and needs and obligations vying for our attention.
Maybe you never get to be 100% perfect at everything all the time.
The Temperance card shows up when you need a reminder that it’s okay.
Reversed, Temperance is about excess, and is a sign that you need moderation and balance. Particularly with vices, but with anything.
If you’ve been a little off-balance lately and you feel yourself giving too much in one area of your life to the exclusion of all others?
It’s time to re-evaluate your priorities.
15- Devil – Vices/Temptation
Another frightening card to most, The Devil really isn’t all that scary.
When you see this card in the Major Arcana, realize one thing…
This Devil isn’t about the Biblical devil who we are all taught to fear. Rather, he represents making choices on our own that either support or worsen our outcomes.
Much of this has to do with temptations and vices as well. But it’s about the power and the choice that you have.
Sure, you may want to call off work because you were out partying too hard last night. But should you?
Maybe you’re in a relationship that’s on the rocks but you meet a hot, new stranger. How do you feel about giving your number to the new person?
It’s these types of things that The Devil brings to your attention.
Who are you? How do you behave? Do you live your values?
Reversed, The Devil represents falling into bad habits, poor decisions, loss of direction in life, and letting bad influences get the best of you.
Things aren’t hopeless, but you’ve got some work to do to dig yourself out of this place.
16- Tower – Loss/Disruption
One of the most frightening cards of the Tarot that often goes overlooked by tarot newbies is the Tower card.
Make no mistake about it — the Tower comes when there is a shocking, major disruption about to unfold in your life.
It comes out of nowhere, shakes you to your core, and major aspects of your life are changed forever.
A Tower moment can manifest in many ways.
Maybe you found out your partner cheated on you with your best friend. A natural disaster destroys your community. You lose a loved one. You get fired from your job.
But the thing is, it’s part of life. And eventually, you heal and get better. Sometimes something better even comes along after the smoke clears.
The good thing about The Tower is that things always turn out okay in the end.
Reversed, The Tower can be a bit tricky.
It could mean that you nearly had a life-altering moment but missed it (maybe unknowingly) by a hair.
Or that you may have had a Tower moment in your life — but some aspect of it is still unresolved.
Maybe you caught your partner cheating and you two have chosen to work through it. But they’re still doing it and you’re unaware.
The smoke is not yet going to clear. There’s more shaking up to do.
17- Star – Hope
In the last few cards of the Fool’s Journey, so much has happened.
We’ve experienced loss, upheaval, drama, and more.
The Star emerges after the smoke clears from the Tower and offers a symbol of hope for what’s to come.
So many brighter days are ahead if you just wait.
The Star signifies the beginning of a new dawn and the end of darkness.
The Star is full of hope.
It offers you the reassurance that everything will be okay in due time even if things seem really bad right now, or as though they’ve been going on for way too long.
This card can symbolize an awakening–a revelation–of sorts.
You are being called upon to restore your faith in yourself and in what’s possible, so you can move forward and rebuild your life.
Reversed, the Star is ultimate sadness.
It’s after the Tower moment when everything is dark and hopeless but the light of the Star just doesn’t come through.
18- Moon – Façade/Illusion
Next up in the Major Arcana we have The Moon.
Like The High Priestess, The Moon is about intuition but not the beautiful kind that makes you feel connected to a higher power.
The Moon is intuition, but more like premonitions of something bad.
It’s that feeling you get when you’re walking down the street at night and something tells you to turn around and go the other way.
You are not in control here, but you are being called upon to trust your gut.
Maybe you’ve been feeling under the weather lately but it’s gone on just a tad longer than usual. Go get checked out.
The Moon represents uneasiness and fear that is brought about by your intuition and your sixth sense. Do not ignore it.
Inverted, the Moon is about mental health, anxiety, depression, delusions.
It’s about letting fear and anxiety taking over and becoming so unable to function that you crumble.
You need to trust your instincts, but if The Moon appears and it resonates with you, seeking mental help is not a bad idea.
19- Sun – Enlightenment & Happiness
The Sun is probably one of the most joyful cards in the Major Arcana and it represents rebirth, coming out into the light, and surviving and thriving after the darkness of the past few cards.
When you open your eyes and look around, you can find so much beauty that still exists around you.
The Sun is a card of healing and hope and actual happiness moving forward once you are ready.
The Sun is one of the cards that inverted isn’t that much different. IT still means you’re going to experience the happiness and awakening from the Sun, but it just may be a bit delayed.
It’s still coming, just hold on!
20- Judgment – Awakening/Arrival
The Judgment card of the Major Arcana represents your moment of reflection on your journey. And you might remember all those little moments in your life that make you cringe just a little bit.
Maybe you remember how you used to be a little mean, or stingy, or you were hurt so you hurt people.
You’ve since matured and have grown, but you think back on all the embarrassments and mistakes you’ve made and you can go two routes.
You can choose to love and accept yourself in spite of those things and embrace them for helping make you who you are today.
That is the energy of the upright Judgment card.
When this card is reversed, however, you are unable to love and accept yourself.
You compare yourself to others, judge yourself too harshly, never think you’re good enough, and find ways to punish yourself for your mistakes.
21- World – Completion/Ending
The last card of the Major Arcana, The World card symbolizes reaching the end of a cycle.
It’s like you’ve graduated to the next level and are ready to advance.
Maybe you get the job, you graduate, and get the degree. You close on the house, you marry the soul mate.
But sometimes we tend to think once we’ve “made it” that it’s the end, when really it’s the beginning.
You will start over again in the next phase as The Fool.
When reversed, there is some resistance to moving on to the next level.
Maybe you’re a student preparing to finally graduate and get your degree, but deep down inside you’re freaking out about how you’ll thrive in the real world.
Or you are preparing to have your first baby and you’re terrified of what parenthood will bring.
You can’t escape the transition, regardless. If the World shows up reversed you are asked to accept your feelings but don’t get lost in them.
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