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Tarot Cards Meaning - Major Arcana

It is said that the original concept of divination through symbols on paper, or "Tarot cards" dates back to early Egypt and India. The gypsies used them on the banks of the Mediterranean long before they were used by the Renaissance schools. Though they lost popularity due to the fierce admonishment of the church, a revival of their use and interest surged in the middle of the 19th century. Also emerging during that period in English speaking countries was cartomancy. Cartomancy is also a divination practice where a card reader, or cartomancer, uses his or her sixth sense to reveal information from a person's past, present and future. Cartomancy uses a standard 52-card deck with the 2s through the 6s removed leaving the 7s through 10s, the face cards and aces.

Unlike the cartomancy deck, Tarot cards are a highly symbolic deck of cards consisting of 22 Major Arcana cards, and 56 Minor Arcana cards. Arcana means secrets or mysteries, which is why the ability to decipher the symbols is half the gift of the translator. There are also Minor Arcana suits which consist of 4 court cards including the king, queen, knight and page in addition to 10 numbered cards. The card reader usually places them upside down and asks the person receiving the reading to pick cards for a "spread", which is a pre-selected pattern of how the cards will be laid out. A spread can be a quick yes or no pattern, a three ace spread, a Celtic spread or any number of other popular ones. After they are laid out the questioner turns over the appropriate number of cards for the spread and then the diviner, or card reader, deciphers them to expose the very mysteries the cards represent. Whether you believe in them or not, they have been, and still remain, a source of fun and fascination for people all over the world and of varying cultures.

Try our online tarot reading tool to explore this further by yourself.

How to interpret the Major Arcana Tarot cards when you do a reading:

The Fool

The Fool Divinatory Meaning: The young man, with his carefree posture, symbolizes youth and innocence. He aims to be pure as shown by the pale rose he holds but is still inexperienced and a bit irrational because he stands so near the cliff. His face is turned upwards seeking dreams and adventure. His bag is light and so is his soul. This card can mean a new beginning or a spiritual awakening. What might seem foolhardy to others is a karmic lesson needing to be had. Positive associations with this card are freedom, new beginnings, adventure, a positive outlook and innocents. Some negative associations are irresponsibility, inexperience, and immaturity.

The Magician

The Magician Divinatory Meaning: This serene looking man with a double nimbus over his head is a person of deep esoteric knowledge who has the ability to take his magical powers and use them as he wishes. Note the Minor Arcana objects laying at his disposal on the table: The cup, sword, staff and pentacle. This card is about intelligence and creativity. The ability to see beyond the physical or ordinary. Positive associations with this card are magic, insight, spiritual evolution, and self-recognition. Negative associations would include a person who uses their special gifts for self-serving reasons, trickery, perusing risky endeavors that only gratify the ego.

The High Priestess

The High Priestess Divinatory Meaning: This evolved High Priestess sits between the two pillars of life. One pillar represents Boaz (B), which is the dark force of water and earth. The other pillar is Jachin (J) the elemental forces of fire and air. This card represent that by understanding a circumstance, we can changes work on removal of emotional obstacles before moving onto other areas of our life. A negative interpretation may mean blocked energies, which prevent us from releasing old ways and habits. This card encourages us to let go of emotional attachments to that which does not serve us so the next cycle can begin. The presence of this card in any reading signifies that enlightenment will come, if even through our mistakes.

The Empress

The Empress Divinatory Meaning: Like a mother, this card represents fertility and gentle authority. The twelve stars over her head represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. She is the Empress of the universe and open to all who seek her out. The seven pearls that adorn her neck represent the seven major chakras of the Hindus. This is a powerful card of intuition, spiritual development, and the ability to control oneself. This card suggests that we should follow our natural instincts and gut feelings. This card often revels itself at the time of new beginnings such as a new business, the birth of a child, and new undertakings. The negative variation of this card would be not heeding our inner voice, the loss of a loved one, in particular a child, or that our vanity may lead us down an empty and wasted path.

The Emperor

The Emperor Divinatory Meaning: This card is the masculine counterpart to the Empress. It is the seed that brings about fertility such as creativity and ideas. Like her, he too is powerful, spiritually developed, and wise. The yellow orb he holds in his hands shows his need for feminine intuition and the value he places on his partner of choice. This card suggests that we will learn through our lessons. That wisdom will be ours to use for the betterment of self and others. It especially works well when coupled with feminine energies, such as with a mate. The positive aspect of this card states that action and self-discipline will reward our endeavors. The negative meaning would be emotional outbursts and lack of control over our feelings. Thoughts of self-importance may blind the viewer and make them resisting to the advise of others. Vanity should be kept in check.

The Hierophant

The Hierophant Divinatory Meaning: The Hierophant is a priestly figure with two apprentice priests at his feet. This card suggests spiritual completeness. The triple crown he wears on his head suggest that his powers come from the heavens and can be used here on earth. His left hand holds a sceptre indicating his knowledge and understanding of the seven deadly sins (lust, envy, pride, sloth, wrath, gluttony and avarice). This card represents a figure that wants to help men ascend from the negative to the positive. From evil to good. This card is about partnerships, alliances, and advise from a good friend or associate. Ịt suggests a time for a person to better themselves through spiritual self-reflection. The negative meaning might indicate that rules have been broken by immoral behavior, ill given advice or prejudice. It may indicate that a decision recently made may need to be rethought. Seeking counsel from a trusted friend may be in order to help make the right decision.

The Lovers

The Lovers Divinatory Meaning: The closed eyed angel Raphael floats above the two lovers below with a blazing rising sun rising in the background. Like the rising sun, new beginnings are coming about but those beginnings are based on the very choices we make. The card symbolizes the same choices that Adam and Eve made. Here you see eve with the serpent and apples near her. While eve is looking up at Raphael for help on what she should do, Adam is looking at Eve. The closed eyes of the angel suggests that no advice will be given. We must make those choices ourselves. The positive meaning of this card is that we need to decide which course we need to take. We have to call upon ourselves to give us the correct guidance. The negative association of this card is that we are not making decisions on what is truly best for us, but what might feel better in the moment. Like the rising sun or spring, decisions are right around the corner. This card can also represent adultery or a partner vying for attention.

The Chariot

The Chariot Divinatory Meaning: Two sphinxes pull a chariot. The sphinxes are black and white in color, representing both positive and negative forces. In Greek mythology, the sphinx represented a winged creature who had the body of a lion and the head of a woman. The sphinx is the guardian of knowledge not meant to be understood by humans. The two moon plates that the rider wears symbolize the ability to bring forth from the subconscious mind both emotions and dreams and to utilize them for the betterment of life. This card is a card depicting an emotionally strong person who can make things happen. The true trick here is to utilize your abilities to their fullest to make your dreams come true. This card's emphasis is self-mastery, discipline and working on our strengths. The negative side might include not seeing how and where properly to use our energies which may mean they become wasted.

Justice

Justice Divinatory Meaning: The scale that the woman holds is balanced. The sword, which could bring swift justice depending on the outcome of the scales, is poised and ready to use. It too offers its own balance by pointing up, while the scales counter it by pointing down. The thrust of this card is that passion must be balanced with honor. This card may also imply that tests are being put forth before you, or that you are being judged. One must pass these tests and judgments before successes can be truly realized. It could also indicate legal issues that are either in your life, or soon will be. The negative aspect of this card could indicate that one-sided opinions and biases could cloud a person's judgment.

The Hermit

The Hermit Divinatory Meaning: This card shows on lone figure holding a star filled lantern representing knowledge. His lowered head represents sacrifice for his chosen life-style but his spiritual and intellectual gains have been well worth it. This old man has chosen a solitary path towards enlightenment, not one of lust and passion. He is not necessarily an ordained person, but one who is educated in the world and one that has chosen to follow his own inner voice. As in other spiritual masters, one must sometimes walk a solitary path to find true enlightenment. The positive aspect of this card is self-knowledge leading to mastery, the pursuit of truth, and that spiritual growth is its own reward. Negative associations might include false humility might bring about loneliness and isolation. It may be trying to suggest that you need to face the truth or the current circumstances.

The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune Divinatory Meaning: The Wheel of Fortune is the Gods spinning their wheel over our lives. We are at their mercy and where it lands, only they truly know. It is fate, divine intervention, and all things we don't understand. Though we think we create our existence, much of it is already decided for us. To aid in our own outcome, we need to use the wisdom of Anubis who is to the positive force of nature's elements on the right side of the wheel and we should endeavor not to fall victim to Typhon, the serpent representing self-destruction and greed, to the left of the wheel. The positive association of this card is that if we pass the tests placed before us by the God, good fortune will be ours. A negative association is that the less we see of the lesson when it's first presented to us, the harsher its outcome. It will also return in our lives until we fully understand the meaning.

Strength

Strength Divinatory Meaning: This card represents a young maiden so strong that she may handle the open jaws of a lion. The woman represents the feminine intuitive energies while the lion is the masculine counterpart. This card suggests that true power is using both energies and not just one. This unified energy results in abundance and purity, which is depicted by the fertile land in the background. As a team, two healthy halves will make a powerful whole. The meaning of this card is that there is often a struggle between two halves; positive and negative and spiritual and animal. Everything worth having must be worked for. What we fear is often not as bad as it is made out in our minds. We must put these over inflated fears aside and use our strength to achieve our dreams. The negative counterpart to this card is strength out of balance, such as too much physical and not enough spiritual. Out of balance souls can end up ill-mannered, bad tempered and brutish.

The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man Divinatory Meaning: The hanged man is a card that relates to self-sacrifice in order to attain a higher spiritual goal. The upside down position can reflect that this person is an outcast of society and tends to follow his or her own inner voice. The fact that the man is suspended upside down can represent a time of transition, limbo or a pause in life until something or someone is sacrificed for the greater gain of others. This card has been linked to spiritual lives such as Christ's and the legends of Osiris where the destruction of the ego brings greater meaning and awareness to society. A negative slant on this card would represent poor health, a weakness of will, selfishness and a person who uses their self-sacrifice ways to become a martyr. It suggests patience and to watch out for paths that lead in a bad direction.

Death

Death Divinatory Meaning: Though this card is rarely about physical death, it is about change, renewal, transformation and abandonment of that which no longer serves us such as a relationship. Like time, we cannot escape this and it is a warning that we should be paying attention to what is happening in our lives. We should take a review of our life and take note of something that may need to be shed other than our worldly body. It can also have a spiritual connotation suggesting that we have to shed old beliefs before we can take on more enlightened one. We may be heading for a spiritual impasse and may have to look at what we consume, how we feel and think. If we can, then we're ready to take on more exotic passages into the underworld. Not all change is welcome so the negative aspect of this card can mean that we are fighting change and have become stagnant. It may mean the loss of an opportunity because we won't walk through that open door. It may mean the loss of a lover, friend, or family member.

Temperance

Temperance Divinatory Meaning: The positive aspects of this card represents moderation, self-control, harmony with self and others, and compromise. It can relate to the positive physical condition of the body depicting health and the path to healing and recovery. This card represents a person that can take something out of balance, like a relationship, and bring it into accord or the ability to take two opposites and meld them in harmonious fashion. This is depicted in the card where one fluid (historically wine) is poured into another goblet (water) and the two merge. Positive results from chaotic factors are to be had if this card is present. The negative aspect of this card is imbalance, impatience, domestic problems, lack of foresight and quarrels. This card warns of jumping to hasty decisions due to lack of patience and suggests that a time-out be taken for a full account of what should be done.

The Devil

The Devil Divinatory Meaning: The positive aspect of the devil is a healthy bond or commitment. If it's drawn with the question of marriage in mind, it's a good omen. In other cases however, the Devil is associated with lust and temptation and may mean a bondage to other things not so healthy for us such as additions, chemical abuse, drunk on power, or clinging to beliefs that do us more harm than good. There are also other kinds of bondage we can suffer from. This may be a case where we are fooling ourselves into believing something blatantly not good for us. An example might be thinking that getting drunk every night on red wine will make us live longer. If the Devil appears in your card, review the course you are on and make sure you're not following a course more out of lower emotions such as lust, greed or desire, versus higher ones like love and altruism.

The Tower

The Tower Divinatory Meaning: The positive side of this card may mean that despite the fact a person is currently in a crisis, they may come out ahead. Chaos can bring positive transformation. It does say that the person pulling the card will be going through hard times, perhaps even ruin. Words associated with this card have been disillusionment, downfall, sudden change, revelation and uncomfortable change. The trick is to look at what you're experiencing right now and see the silver lining. What is the lesson and hope behind the problem? Can you see the light? Behind every rain cloud is blue skies. Keep in mind that this storm will pass. Also ask yourself, are you the storm in someone else's life? Are you the chaos and turbulence? It may be asking for a softer stance from you.

The Star

The Star Divinatory Meaning: The star is a positive card associated with hope, unconditional love, a renewal of energy, faith, calmness and peace. This card brings blessings into the life! If it's selected in conjunction with questions pertaining to new business ventures, paths and relationships, it's surely a good omen. This card gives us hope for the future, even when current times may be trying. Like the stars, it helps us look up from our mundane existence here on earth and look towards the heaven for blessings and guidance. Unlike the Devil card, this stirs up faith and the positive nature of belief. The reverse meaning of this card would be negativity, self doubt and ignorance.

The Moon

The Moon Divinatory Meaning: The moon as we know has an effect over our emotions. When it's full and bright it brings illumination into our darkened world in the form of imagination and unexpected opportunities. This emotional card is linked to artistic expression such as music, writing and poetry. We should let these abilities flow which may lead to opportunities in these venues. We must realize however, that the moon does not necessarily illuminate like the sun and this card can, in the negative, be associated with lack of clarity, befuddled emotions, worry, and a blindness to what is before us. If this shows up in your spread, watch for lies and deceit from others. Look to understand what is not easily understood and be careful of your own indiscretions.

The Sun

The Sun Divinatory Meaning: Like the star, the sun is also packed with bright possibilities! In the positive, it represents happiness, joy, brilliance, vitality and optimism. This card can mean news of an upcoming birth or other glad tidings. Like the summer months it represents, this card reflects family, holidays, and a sharing of good times with loved ones. The negative association might mean delays, bad judgment or an inflated ego. The sun is powerful enough though that even if there are some negative associations, the person will pull through with a happy ending. This is considered one of the best cards a person can pull during a Tarot reading.

Judgment

Judgment Divinatory Meaning: This card is similar to the biblical final judgment of man. An angel is playing a trumpet over a group of people emerging from crypts or graves. This card represents release, a new beginning, accepting one's past, a decision, salvation and judgment. It's a time of reflection from what we've done and where we're going. If our path has been positive and true we can except to reap rewards. If it's been selfish we can expect guilt, delays, or a chiding of self. This card is also associated with new opportunities which will require deeper reflection so that we can make the right decision. Negative associations with this card include obstinacy and great fear, which range from fear of change, death, and illness. You may find yourself locked into a corner, unable to move.

The World

The World Divinatory Meaning: This card depicts multiple elements of the word and beyond, signifying 'wholeness'. It is both man and angel, bird and beast. It's a good card to draw in that it represents completeness, contentment, harmony, success, prosperity and personal realization. This card can also mean the shedding of old and making way for the new. It encourages us to be patient, and if there is a negative side to this card it would be stagnation, impatience, and a soft will. However, the major thrust of this card is that the events of our life, in this world, are coming together to fulfill our dreams!

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