A typical Tarot deck consists of seventy-eight cards. Of these, the first twenty-two are identified as the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana (which means mysteries or secrets) represent the mysteries or secrets of the universe that reflect universal law. As such, they are the most complex cards in the deck and require more diligence to understand. Each of the Major Arcana cards, which are also often called trump cards, is illustrated with specific symbols or scenarios, which are basically the same in all decks, even though they may differ thematically according to the philosophy of the designer. Each of the Major Arcana cards has a title, such as The Magician, The Empress, The Lovers, The Moon, The Tower, and so forth. They are numbered from zero—The Fool—to twenty-one—The World.
The cards in the Major Arcana represent forces beyond yourself and the limits of mundane, earthly, human existence. Depending on your personal worldview, you could think of these forces as fate, god, goddess, cosmic, karma, or your own higher self. Whichever way you choose to see the energies or entities behind the cards, they indicate that something larger, outside yourself is operating and influencing you and the issue about which you are seeking advice.
The Major Arcana cards possess many different layers. As you work with them, these layers reveal themselves. It’s a bit like digging into an archaeological site. For example, on a strictly practical level, The Empress may be a direct reference to your mother or your desire to become a mother. On the mundane or worldly level, The Magician may refer to your desire to live a more creative life, to be more creative in your work. Each individual unfolds according to his or her own inner blueprint. There’s no hurrying the process, which ultimately takes place on its own time schedule. The cycles in life show you the patterns you are following and suggest new directions. The Major Arcana can be a guide that helps us to explore universal concepts as they apply to our lives at any given moment. Let’s take a look at the cards that make up this important part of the Tarot.
Note: Since its introduction in 1909, the Rider-Waite deck (which is also sometimes called the Waite deck) has been one of the most influential and popular Tarot decks. The deck was illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith, a theatrical designer, artist, writer, and member of the occult Order of the Golden Dawn. Guided by Arthur Edward Waite, Smith produced a series of seventy-eight allegorical paintings that included storytelling images on the Minor Arcana as well as the Major Arcana cards. More than 6 million Waite Tarot decks are now in print and this classic deck is widely used to illustrate books about the Tarot—including the images found next to the Major Arcana cards in this chapter—and as a teaching tool for beginning diviners.