How to Use The Major Arcana Tarot Cards, A Complete Guide


How to use the Major Arcana Tarot Cards

At first glance, a Tarot deck is complex. A Tarot deck includes four main suits, various court cards, numbers, and is divided into two categories of cards (major and Minor Arcana). So much information already!

When I first began to read Tarot, I felt that the Major Arcana cards specifically were intimidating. Unlike their Minor Arcana counterparts, the cards did not follow an easy to understand pattern.

In this article, I would like to go through the Major Arcana cards of the Arcana Deck to help you to

Have you ever been curious about why a Tarot deck is separated into Major and Minor Arcana, or are you looking for ways to not struggle with reading Major Arcana cards? Has the Major Arcana piqued your curiosity with learning about its history? This article is for you!

This guide will support you with understanding the Major Arcana and working with the cards on a deeper level.

For this article, much of the specific information will pertain to the Rider-Waite-Smith style for Tarot. However, Major Arcana cards exist in the other styles of Tarot (Tarot of Marseilles, Thoth Tarot, Wild Unknown and many more).

Though some details of this article will not directly apply, the methods of reading can be transferred to other deck styles.

Additionally, Major Arcana cards are classically gendered, but this does not necessarily mean that a Major Arcana card only applies to people who identify as the gender(s) depicted. There are many Tarot decks being released that use gender-neutral labels.

For the purposes of this article, some cards will be referred to as he/she to reference the Rider-Waite-Smith illustrations.

Once you have read this article, you can read the Completed Guide to the Minor Arcana here.

Major Arcana – The Fool’s Journey

The Major Arcana are numbered from 0 to 21 (22 cards total) and they outline the Fool’s Journey. This is symbolic of experiences in life that one must go through for self-discovery. After acknowledging this and learning about how these cards represent themes, the roman numeral ordering maintains order for the story.

Of course, our life path may not take us on the exact order that the Fool did in their journey but viewing the Major Arcana cards as a story will help greatly with interpretation. If you would like to read the Fool’s Journey in more detail, visit this website: http://www.learntarot.com/journey.htm

To summarize the Fools Journey… The Fool represents a person who is a blank slate who is eager to take on the world. The Fool ventures into the world and comes across significant figures that teach him about love, confidence, reflection, and society.

There are also difficult life choices that the Fool comes across that will teach him acceptance and strength. Overall, we can journey with the Fool as well as we recognize the significance of the lessons he learns.

Here’s an article that talks about the Fool: The Fool Tarot Card, A Complete Guide!

Summary Chart for the Major Arcana

First, let’s look over a summary chart of the Major Arcana. Keep in mind that this is simply a summarized and simplified version of the information available. When reading, use your intuition and other knowledge sources to determine the meaning of a card.

This can be used as a quick reference tool in case you are struggling with an interpretation.

Name Roman NumeralBuzzwordsElement
The Fool0Blank slate, new beginningsAir
The MagicianICreation, resourcefulness, capabilitiesAir
The High PriestessIIIntuition, subconscious, knowledgeWater
The EmpressIIINurturing, fertility, nature, femininityEarth
The EmperorIVStrength, wisdom, structure, powerFire
The HierophantVTradition, religion, conformityEarth
The LoversVIUnity, oneness, connectionAir
The ChariotVIIControl, decisions, willpowerWater
StrengthVIIIConfidence, capability, strengthFire
The HermitIXIntrospective, self-reflection, retreatEarth
Wheel of FortuneXFate, success, cyclesFire
JusticeXIBalance, responsibility, truthAir
The Hanged ManXIISacrifice, alternative perspectivesWater
DeathXIIITransformation, change, renewalWater
TemperanceXIVBalance, emotionsFire
The DevilXVTemptation, addiction, self-inflicted difficultiesEarth
The TowerXVIChange, revelationFire
The StarXVIIHope, renewalAir
The MoonXVIIIMystery, intuition, uncertaintyWater
The SunXIXOptimism, happinessFire
JudgmentXXSurrender, sacrifice, forgivenessFire
The WorldXXINew cycle, completionEarth

Similarities to the Minor Arcana

The Major Arcana is different from the Minor Arcana but is also similar in many ways. If you are looking for more detailed information about the structure of the Minor Arcana, you can read this article: (insert article here)

Minor Arcana cards associated with an element

The Minor Arcana, being divided into suits, are also divided into elements. Fire is wands, water is cups, earth is pentacles, and air is swords.

The elements also represent various themes, as depicted in the chart below:

FireCreativity, passions
WaterEmotions, relationships
EarthFinances, tangible means
AirCommunication, thoughts

The Minor Arcana is presented in a straightforward manner with this information (an example of this would be ‘Ten of Pentacles’). Although the Major Arcana do not follow the same naming structure, they too have an elemental association.

In the summary chart of the Major Arcana (above), you will see that there is an element associated with the card as well. You can use this information to help you with remembering the cards’ meaning or being able to interpret a reading.

Does a reading show up with many ‘water’ or cup based cards? Consider if your inquiry needs considerations towards emotional aspects of the situation.

Similarly, if a reading draws multiple fire cards; is it time to begin a new creative venture?

Follows a path/journey

Like I discussed before, the Major Arcana are numbered from 0 to 21 to represent The Fool’s Journey. The Minor Arcana are also numbered from 1 to 10 and have a journey of their own. For example, in a minor arcana card, an Ace (known as 1, or the first card in the suit) depicts new beginnings.

This continues through a numeric system, where the 10th card often will symbolize completion. The Minor and Major Arcana mimic each other in a sense that the numbers they follow are not simply random and further assist in understanding the cards.

When Major Arcana Shows Up in a Reading

Next we will review how to interpret a Major Arcana card in a reading if you are using an entire Tarot deck (both Major and Minor Arcana).

Significant Events

Think of the Major Arcana as MAJOR information! Like the Fool’s Journey, the Major Arcana may be informing you of something to consider on your life journey. In comparison, the Minor Arcana cards outline the everyday emotions, trials, and tribulations we experience. This is, however, not to imply that Major Arcana are more important than Minor Arcana cards.

When a Major Arcana pops up, or multiple of them appear, I see this as a message to pay attention to. It can also be representing a significant theme relating to the inquiry at hand. How will you

Number of Major Arcana Cards

Maybe your reading is filled with only Major Arcana cards! What could this be trying to say to you? What is the context of the question being asked? Is there a deeper aspect of the question that needs to be considered before moving on?

Like indicated before, Major Arcana often represents major information; what are the cards attempting to inform you?

For example, you do a reading for yourself about something you are struggling with at work. You pull multiple Major Arcana cards, such as The Fool, The Magician, and Strength.

Although your perceived inquiry may present as minimal initially, a spread with multiple Major Arcana seem like they are presenting a strong message of creating change that you may have not considered.

Perhaps the change offered is significant and pivotal, such as moving workplaces or changing careers.

Position of Major Arcana Cards

Tarot can be read in many unique styles. Some readers will pull cards in no particular order and see how the cards interact to tell a story. Other readers can set an intention of what each position will represent and pull cards in this manner.

If you read like this, it’s important to consider where a Major Arcana card is placed in the card spread. If a Major Arcana card is placed in a “future actions” section, use the power of this card and meaning to move forward with what needs to be done to achieve a goal.

I wrote a couple of posts about different types of Tarot Spreads, find them here:

Related Elements/Themes

As discussed in the “Similarities to Minor Arcana” section, both the Major and Minor Arcana are associated with their respective elements. It can be helpful to note what types of elements show up together in a reading. Again, this may be another signal of themes to focus on more intensely.

For example, you might be asking a question about finances, but many cups/water cards show up. Could there be an emotional aspect to the question that you have not considered?

Reading Additional Major Arcana Cards Included in a Deck

Standard Tarot has 22 Major Arcana cards, but modern artists and deck creators have added to this tradition. There are many decks available that include additional Major Arcana cards. A couple of my favorite decks, The Fountain Tarot and The Moonchild Tarot, include new Major Arcana Cards.

In the Fountain Tarot, there is an additional, un-numbered Major Arcana card called “The Fountain”.

This card is described as one that transcends birth, life and death, and encourages the querent to allow things to simply “be”. Mainly, this card symbolizes giving control over to the ebb and flow of life. It comes off as a card that is full of divine energy, and I find it to be a calming card when it pops up in a reading.

For the Moonchild Tarot, there are three additional Major Arcana cards known as Divine Knowledge, Shadow Work, and Moon Child.

Divine Knowledge represents information that has been passed on through ancestral means that lives within us.

Shadow Work is a card that encourages us to confront the aspects of ourselves that we may try to hide.

Lastly, the Moon Child is a card of someone who embraces the mysteries that the moon has to offer, and this card is quite appropriate for the deck it is named after.

I personally enjoy reading with additional cards and considering the purpose that the artist has added them for. In the examples I explained before about The Fountain Tarot and The Moon Child Tarot, the additional cards add to the allure of the deck, and some of these cards are now my favorite to receive during a personal reading.

It’s important to consider what the deck designer has written about these additional cards to fully understand them, but also it’s important to use your intuition to develop meaning!

Because these decks are not standard, there will not be additional information available to you to learn about them. Use your body and mind to full understand the message they are trying to share.

However, do not feel obligated to use additional cards in a deck. Although a deck creator included these cards to add to their vision, you own the deck and will ultimately be the one using it for a purpose, whether that is reading for yourself or for others.

You can choose to include these cards for some readings and not for others, or simply remove them completely.

Creative Ways to Use Major Arcanas

Selecting a Major Arcana card as a signifier

Something that you want to embody

Use the Major Arcana to become inspired! Naturally, we may be drawn to the art or symbolism of a card. Alternatively, the words that outline the cards meaning can hold personal significance to us.

Before a reading, especially a reading where you need support, select a card that you want to give your strength. For that work promotion, select the Emperor!

Struggling with your spirituality? Select the Hermit to look inward.

A card that matches your astrology sign, or an element

As discussed earlier, each Major Arcana card has an associated element. When it comes to astrology, each sign is also related to an element.

If you feel drawn to selecting a Major Arcana card for a signifier, you can base your selection off your zodiac sign.

AriesFire
TaurusEarth
GeminiAir
CancerWater
LeoFire
VirgoEarth
LibraAir
ScorpioWater
SagittariusFire
CapricornEarth
AquariusAir
PiscesWater

Some of the Major Arcana cards are still associated with a planet rather than a zodiac sign.

The relationship between astrology and Tarot is deep, and it can help your practice by expanding on this knowledge.

If you would like to read more about astrology with the Major Arcana, you can check out this article:

Biddy Tarot discuss ways to apply astrological meaning to tarot cards, read here: https://www.biddytarot.com/tarot-astrology-golden-dawn/

I also wrote an article about How is Astrology And Tarot Related

I also talk about what Tarot cards represent different zodiac signs:

Are you struggling to understand Major Arcana card?

Is there a card that continues to pop up for you in readings? Is there a card that makes you fearful to pull? It might be time to face it head on. It might be helpful to select a card that you can confront head on.

You can use the other cards you pull as a way to better understand the card that you are struggling with.

A couple of cards that people seem to struggle with are the Death card (does something need to end before it begins?), the Devil (are you experiencing dependencies that are impacting your quality of life?), or The Tower (is change coming soon)?

I wrote an article about the tower card:  Can the Tower Card Be Positive? This article can give you a little more insight into this Tower Card!

I also wrote an article about the Devil card: When the Devil Tarot Card is Positive, 7 Meanings Explained

These cards can often be intimidating to read, but pulling them as a signifier can provide understanding, clarity, and hopefully tool to reduce fear with these cards.

Reading with only Major Arcana Cards

Tarot has 78 cards normally, but some artists have designed decks to only include the Major Arcana cards. If you do not have a deck with only the Major Arcana, feel free to select these out of a standard Tarot deck and solely use them!

Readings with only Major Arcana cards can be extremely useful during readings for significant situations, versus a daily card pull. Of course, Tarot has no real rules; use the Major Arcana for any reading you feel is right!

Using Major Arcana cards in certain positions in a Tarot reading

If you still want to incorporate the Major Arcana, you can also use these cards only for certain placements in a reading.

A Major Arcana card could serve as a great summary or action card for an extensive reading. You can also use the Major Arcana card as a ‘bonus’ card that is selected for a purpose of providing an energy for the reading at the end.

Reading Reversals

Reversal readings in Tarot can easily be an additional article. In short, reversals can be read in many different ways and there is much discussion in the Tarot community about how they should be interpreted.

This applies to both the Major and Minor Arcana, but is included in this article about the Major Arcana.

This article speaks about the Hanged Man Reversed, read here.

Blocked energies

When a Tarot card is reversed in a reading, this may signify that there is an aspect of this card that is not fully recognized and is “blocked”. It could be something that the reader is subconsciously aware of but is being presented as a possibility if the barrier is fully addressed.

One card that I see often in my readings is the reversed Chariot; this card is about control amongst chaos. Deep down, when this card appeared, I became aware that I truly did not feel like I was mastering my hectic schedule.

Aspects to focus on

Another way that reversals are interpreted is that reversed cards are there to catch the reader’s attention. Instead of being a “negative”, they just are there to encourage the reader to focus on them more.

This can be helpful when reading for others and can help better direct a conversation during a reading to investigate when the reversed cards may mean for that person.

Opposite of the upright card meaning

Many readers will read reversed cards as a contrast or opposite to the traditional meaning. This is, at times, the most difficult way to read a card because instead of having to remember 78 meanings, you now have this doubled to 156!

With the Major Arcana alone, 22 upright meanings become 44 reversed! However, reading with reversals can provide more elaborate and detailed readings.

Summary

Although the Major Arcana is intimidating, learning more about its origins can reduce the stress of working with it! Like with any skill, practice, practice, practice.

The Major Arcana can provide significant insight to any reading. Do not hesitate to try the various techniques and ideas outlined in this article to find methods of interpretation that work for you.

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Other Related Articles

Articles about Major Arcana Cards

Major Arcana Guide To Each Card

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