What Is The Difference Between The Major And Minor Arcana?


What's the difference between the major and minor arcana

The most common Tarot deck consists of twenty-two Major Arcana cards and fifty-six Minor Arcana cards. However, each Major Arcana card stands on their own, whilst the Minor Arcana cards are organized into four suits.

What is the significance of this and what is the difference between the two Arcana?

The Major Arcana often symbolizes an energetic overview of a situation, and multiple in a reading indicate one that can significantly impact an individual’s course. The Minor Arcana occupy the smaller events that occur in daily life. The Major Arcana can also be drawn to emphasize and extend upon a certain message.

Before we delve into this topic, I want let you know that at the end of this article, I have a list of articles that you will find relevant and topical.  You can find these in the Related Articles section.

Let’s first examine the Major and Minor Arcana separately, and then how they work to combine in our readings.

Majority of Major Arcana

The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards that each represent a highly archetypal situation. Both the meanings and the symbolism present in each card provide an all-encompassing view of our collective experiences on earth.

Therefore, they indicate a transformation, significant change, or maturation when they do appear. These will impact an individual’s perception of the world, themselves, or their identity.

Keep in mind that this will likely apply in a situation where the querent is drawing many Major Arcana cards repeatedly. A majority of Major Arcana in one reading signifies an expansion or shift in the individual’s consciousness.

This shift can occur in both an external and internal landscape. The noticeability of this change is not necessarily on par with its significance. Therefore, although the meanings of the cards and what has been written above sound abstract, grand, or even disruptive, this fated direction can simply be as small as a death of a mindset, or as large as a significant change in career.

It may not be as dramatic as many say it to be, but its effects will certainly be influential.

When asking about a situation, and a majority of Major Arcana are drawn, then this situation, however it turns out, will have a significant influence upon your life lessons, life path, and relationships.

You can find more details about the Major Arcana cards and how to read them in this article: “How to use the Major Arcana Tarot cards, a complete guide.”

Divine Assistance and Free Will

However, when simply asking in a general reading, for perhaps the month ahead, know that whatever happens will occur under divine control. You are being assisted by whoever and whatever entity you choose to believe in.

You may ask, “But what about free will? Does the divine have permission from us to control our choices? Surely not?”

Indeed, that is correct, but in this case, free will is required to work around or with the situation at hand. This is because that the Major Arcana often indicates something that is out of our control. Think of it as the divine saying to you, “Alright, time to move on. We’re pushing you to go through this now because we want you to learn.”

When we experience the cards of the Major Arcana, we are transitioning through universal human experiences. Sometimes, I hear people talk about some cards as being scary and bad.  Here are to articles that talk about Major Arcana cards…

We cannot exert our free will upon or attempt to avoid these fated events, because they were meant to come into our lives. Instead, we can use our skills of adaptation to reflect upon, or even appreciate, how our consciousness, situation, or mindset has evolved.

Again, Major Arcana cards operate upon a macrocosmic level. The day-to-day or individual energies may be fragmented or constantly shifting, but an overview of the overall energy will be shown.

Minor Arcana and Comparison

Unlike the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana operate on a much smaller significance, as well as a smaller time-frame.

These cards show energies on a microcosmic level, picking up on the energies of the current moment. It may show an indecision to leave behind a situation, or even nervousness before an exam. What we consider as ‘big’ problems at that moment are often reduced in size after a while, and consequently, our energies will constantly shift back and forth.

These are the normal, every-day emotions that we all go through in a day. They can be affected by both the animate and inanimate environment around us.

Unlike the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana is separated in four suits- the Swords, Cups, Wands, and Pentacles. These four suits ultimately assist us in our readings, because we can assign them to different areas and realms of our daily experience.

You may read more in-depth about each specific Minor Arcana suit here: “How to read the minor arcana tarot cards, the ultimate guide.

The Minor Arcana, although less significant, must not be looked down upon. Where the Major Arcana can seem a little bit vague and general at times, this component of the tarot deck helps us to dive into the specifics of a situation and to dig deeper into what area of our lives the Major Arcana card can refer to.

Where the Majors look to the overview of what energies the situation will ultimately address, change, and bring into your life, the Minors detail the thoughts and actions that result in this change.

Of course, when this major change is due to an external influence, the cards may show instead other figures in the court cards of the suits, or your own emotions before, during, and after that change when it is enacted.

Think of a timeline, where we may have particular goals that we want to reach. These goals need to be broken up into smaller sub-goals for us to reach them effectively. Thus, the minute shifts in energy that we experience as we build up to that major shift are almost unnoticeable. But we can look back upon where we were a year ago, and affirm the progress that we have made.

There are therefore distinct differences between the two Arcana, but both are equally important in building the tarot reading experience that we have learned to recognize and appreciate.

Combination of Major and Minor Arcana

In reality, we do not always draw a majority of Major Arcana cards at once. Often, we will be shown only Minor Arcana cards, or most commonly, an adequate mix of both where the Major Arcana occupy the minority of the reading.

In this situation, if a Minor Arcana card is clarified by that of a Major, or vice versa, then the Major card is an emphasis or an extension of that energy.

It is important to remember that there are no two cards that will repeat the same message in a deck of tarot cards. One card will always possess a variation in imagery, meaning, or energy.

In this way, a Major Arcana card paired with a Minor Arcana card will intensify the importance or meaning of the message.

For example, the Page of Wands may be drawn. It can mean both ungroundedness present in an abundance of ideas, or otherwise, a curiosity that leads to a discovering of information or spiritual advancement. Paired with the Judgement card, the querent can be certain that a spiritual path is calling out to them, and it will be something that the divine is supporting them in.

When a strand of a spider’s web is twanged lightly, every other strand can be observed to shake slightly due to the disturbance. This mirrors the ripple effect of the Major Arcana.

It may first complement or be complemented with a Minor Arcana to show which dominant area of your life will be impacted, which then spreads to impact other areas of life, as well as areas of other peoples’ lives who may benefit from your success or change.

Additionally, tarot in itself operates on a very cyclical basis. The Minor Arcana can be seen as a cycle within each suit, starting from the Ace to the King, and then an elemental cycle, from Air, Water, Fire to Earth (represented by each of the four suits).

These four elements, as well as being a cycle in themselves, all impact each other in some way. (Here’s an article that I wrote about the elements and their compatibility: Fire and Earth Signs Compatibility

As a side note, we can see the interconnectedness in the natural elements and how easily they either subdue or give growth to one another. So, it is also extremely important to keep our communication, emotions, spirituality, and physicality, respectively, balanced and stable.

The Major Arcana then represents a larger cycle in an individual’s walk of life, starting with the Fool and ending with the World and encompassing the smaller cycles of the Minor Arcana.

Imagine yourself using a microscope to zoom in and out of the larger perspective, such as significant life lessons, and the smaller perspective that we tend to get wrapped up in.

I think that you get the idea!

Summary

Therefore, the difference between the Minor and Major Arcana is the significance in their energy and time frames. Whilst the Major Arcana can indicate something that will have a long-lasting impact on your life, the Minor Arcana can point to smaller events that happen along the way, building up to these larger events.

In many ways, it is up to the reader to decide upon an appropriate interpretation of their spread. Depending on the question you ask, as well as the position the card is in, the Major Arcana, along with any court cards, could easily represent a person in your life that embodies the energy or has the astrological sign of that card.

Tarot can be used as a powerful tool for self-growth, and so understanding how the deck is organized is the first step to gaining a deeper understanding of how it reveals such insights.

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