More Thoughts on the Major Arcana

After writing about each of the cards in the Major Arcana, I wanted to revisit this portion of the deck and think about how it functions together.  There are many schools of thought about this and one topic may resonate for some but not for others.  Here I’m attempting to think about what speaks to me, but is by no means comprehensive of the “true meaning” of the Major Arcana as a whole.  

As I mentioned when I first began this journey, the Major Arcana are all about the big mysteries.  These archetypes transcend the mundane part of our lives but have over-arching themes throughout.

The Fool’s Journey:

One school of thought is that the Major Arcana represents the Fool’s or Hero’s journey.  The Fool sets out on his journey, somewhat naively, with his pack, his pup, and innocence about the world.  He meets the Magician who opens the pack.  He shows the fool the tools he’s got at his disposal inside that pack: the wand – creativity, passion, and will; the cup – love and spirituality, allowing for the emotional alignment in order to create; the sword – intelligence and communication, allowing the Fool to put plans into action in the material world; and the pentacle – the manifestation of earthly work.  After discovering these tools, the Fool meets the High Priestess who introduces him to his intuitive side.  While we have many tools at our disposal to learn and grow on the earthly realm, our intuition teaches us far more than we could learn through traditional study.  She teaches the Fool to be quiet and learn from his inner voice.  The Fool then meets the motherly Empress.  She teaches him that the connection of both the earthly and spiritual tools learned from the High Priestess and Magician are needed for creation.  But how can he bring these creations into fruition?  The fatherly Emperor teaches him through a system of logic and order, with a foundation of love, he can manifest the world he seeks to create.  The Fool understands but suddenly develops fear of this unknown world.  He meets the Hierophant who explains that our traditions and spiritual community provide a solid foundation – there’s no need to be afraid.  By attuning to spirituality, he discovers guidance within himself and his community.  He finds a shared sense of community through the traditions around him and established social structures.  After understanding this structure, he’s ready to decide for himself what traditions and structures are his truth and what to leave behind.  Only by finding his own individual truth does the Fool become mature enough for a relationship with his soul mate in the Lovers card.  The Lovers are a perfect union – both knowing themselves individually and together.  The Fool and his partner move forward together.

At this point in the Fool’s journey he’s made great progress, but now faces competition and challenges.  He meets the Chariot who teaches him to move full steam ahead.  Through confidence in himself and fierce determination, he can conquer the challenges that lie ahead.  After a victory over these obstacles, the Fool meets Strength – a woman taming a lion only through her gentle touch.  He learns that brute force isn’t the only strength.  Instead he learns to call on his inner strength.  He learns to call on his inner strength, compassion, and patience to overcome even greater obstacles.  Phew.  This has all be a lot to take in.  The Fool learns from the Hermit that it’s time for some quiet reflection.  Instead of carrying his pack, he uses a lantern to guide him.  Through this quiet introspection and isolation, the Fool learns even greater insights.  He can’t hide away forever, though.  The Hermit’s light is meant to shine.

snoqualmie path

Trail near Snoqualmie Falls

After all these life lessons, the Fool returns to the world only to find that it’s spinning – the Wheel of Fortune.  It’s a time of good luck but also of big changes.  Nothing is fixed and things are always changing – an important lesson for the Fool.  Along his way he finds circumstances that seem unfair.  He’s frustrated and feels wronged – like life should somehow be different than it is.  He meets Justice – a reminder that while things on the earthly realm feel inherently unfair, from a divine perspective, everything is in balance.  By continuing to put good into the world, good will eventually return.  The Fool recognizes that his life has become unbalanced – he becomes like the Hanged Man – again returning for some deep introspection and sacrifice.  He surrenders all he has in an ultimate surrender.  As a result of this surrender, he’s able to break the damaging patterns of his past.  His perspective on life deepens and as a result he’s able to ‘hang’ between the regular world and the spiritual realm on a more profound level.  After this period of introspection, the Fool encounters Death.  In a way, he too has died, by surrendering his past way of thinking.  He also has a full realization of death – recognizing that no one can escape death, and as a result, he realizes he needs to live life in a way that is profoundly meaningful.  The Fool mourns his former life but recognizes this death is necessary for something new to emerge.  Through meeting Temperance, the Fool finds the way to live this profoundly meaningful life – through the middle way.  Through perfect equanimity and balance, the Fool works to release his sense of “I” and instead understands his greater place in the universe.

While the Fool feels he’s made great progress, he is suddenly haunted by his darker side through the Devil.  The lust and addictions he thought he surrendered are still buried inside.  Just as he starts to feel he’s making progress, contradictions emerge.  The Devil is a reminder to him to look at our desires as merely thoughts.  He learns the feelings inside of him are not something to judge or feel shame about and instead just to sit with and acknowledge.  He comes to the Tower – a tower he built.  But lightening strikes, and the Tower is burning.  All he has known and believed to be true is crashing down.  He ego is decimated.  The Fool thought he had come so far, but only when everything is destroyed does he truly understand real sacrifice.  He finds some clarity but also is exhausted.


Our fire pit on a crisp summer night – perfect for rejuvenation!

The Fool takes some time for healing, for rejuvenation, and for renewal under the light of the Star.  She shows him how to nourish himself and nourish his five senses.  Through this renewal, the Fool feels refreshed.  He goes out for a walk under the full moon, and takes a deeper look at his shadow self.  He sees his illusions, his fears, and insecurities under the light of the moon. He travels a path between two towers – the path to his unconscious.  He discovers the fear he’s projecting forward as a result of his past.  He comes face to face with his darkest side.  And after the darkest hour comes the greatest light – the light of the Sun.  The Fool has discovered what he stands for and can rejoice.  Everything has come to light and the Fool’s world is as positive as it could possibly be.  The Fool can live life lightly, knowing his understanding of himself and the world will allow him to find success and happiness along his way.  Because of the work the Fool has done, he has found true freedom.  The angel Gabriel calls to him in the Judgement card – he’s leveling up and being reborn in a sense, in a completely new stage of life.  He has earned the right to ascend to this next level.  After reaching this new level, the Fool celebrates all he’s accomplished.  The World card – a time of celebration and achievement.  And suddenly the Fool realizes, with a smile, he’s back at the edge of that cliff he traveled so long ago.

The Major Arcana in Three Parts:

There are many who break the Major Arcana down into three parts:

  • Part 1: Cards I through VII: The Magician through the Chariot
  • Part 2: Cards VII through XIV: Strength through Temperance
  • Part 3: Cards XV through XXI: The Devil through the World
  • What about the Fool?  He is like the thread that runs through all the cards of the Major Arcana
major arcana

Rider-Waite Tarot Deck Major Arcana Cards

There are lots of ways to think about the three parts.  For example, Rachel Pollack explains in 78 Degrees of Wisdom, that the three parts represent the conscious, subconscious, and super-conscious, respectively.  Lindsay Mack describes a division in terms of soul age by life, death, and rebirth in her podcast from November 13, 2017: Life/Death/Life: The Three Lines of the Major Arcana.  In my first post examining the Major Arcana, we considered the three parts as foundation, growth, and transformation.  How to consider this journey varies based on the question of the seeker, other cards arising, and our own intuition.

This hardly scratches the surface of the deep mysteries contained in the Major Arcana, but are some of the ideas that resonated with me.  What resonates with you about these big mysteries?

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