The 22 tarot cards of the Major Arcana depict fundamental themes or shared archetypal human experiences and impart wisdom around the major lessons of life. Whereas the Minor Arcana cards reflect the themes and concerns of everyday experience and describe our behavior, emotions, thoughts, and the ways we relate to the material world, the Major Arcana cards mean something broader. In general, the Major Arcana reflects spiritual lessons to be integrated.
The Major Arcana can be broken up into three distinct lines representing three phases of soul development, a concept formulated by tarot scholar Rachel Pollack.
The First Line, which includes Major Arcana cards 1-7 (The Magician through The Chariot), can be seen as representing the process of ego development and the desire to concretize the Self through external achievements, relationships, and participation in society.
The Second Line, which includes Major Arcana cards 8-14 (Strength through Temperance), represents an examination of one’s subconscious material through inner work, self-reflection, and a reckoning with universal forces outside of the individual’s control.
The Third Line, which includes Major Arcana cards 15-21 (The Devil through The World), represents the development of a superconscious or transpersonal awareness and the dissolution of the ego through experiences where a deeper essential self can be realized, contacted, and integrated.
The Fool, Major Arcana card #0, stands apart from the Three Lines and can be thought of as the protagonist in “The Fool’s Journey,” the figure who encounters and assimilates each archetype along the journey of the Major Arcana.
List of the Major Arcana Tarot Cards
Keywords (Upright, Reversed)
Empowerment, Creative Blocks
Inner Wisdom, Distraction
Confronting Fears, Denial
The Fool’s Journey
The Major Arcana illustrates what is commonly referred to as “The Fool’s Journey,” as The Fool (#0) is the first card of the Major Arcana. The Fool’s Journey is not a linear ascent to greatness but rather a spiraling path to wholeness that involves the reconciliation of many dualities and the integration of the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the psyche.
Because all 78 cards can be seen as aspects that exist within each of us, the tarot can help us to individuate by revealing the parts of ourselves which may exist on an unconscious level. This process leads one away from identifying exclusively with one’s ego (desires, drives, and identity markers) and towards a realization of a deeper essential self.
Archetypes: What are They?
The tarot is archetypal in nature, meaning that the cards are not merely images of individual figures or scenes but are illustrations of universal patterns, images, symbols, and themes that exist within the collective unconscious. Carl Jung conceived of the collective unconscious as a kind of shared repository of psychic artifacts which have evolved throughout the course of human evolution.
Archetypes are universal patterns, symbols, and motifs that exist within the collective unconscious.
Archetypes are a reflection and an expression of both our interior worlds as well as the world at large, which is why the tarot deck can effectively reflect both. When we become conscious of the archetypes present in our lives, we can deepen our self-awareness and work to integrate them consciously. The tarot helps us to do that by mirroring what is present for us at any given moment in time.
Major Arcana Tarot Card Meanings
In a tarot deck, such as the Rider Waite Smith version, each Major Arcana card’s meaning constellates around a central theme, but its specific meaning and interpretation can change depending on its position within a spread, the question posed, and whether it faces upright or reversed. While each card of a tarot spread innately carries a range of both negative and positive meanings, some tarot readings interpret reversed cards as indicating a kind of blockage or inversion of the card’s upright meaning.
The Fool upright represents a new opportunity or a new beginning and is an encouragement to take risks that allow for greater freedom and expansion. The Fool reversed can indicate hesitancy or fear around starting a new venture, embracing a new opportunity, or taking a risk.Read more →
The Magician upright suggests that when you position yourself as a channel for creativity, inspiration will flow through you and take form in your life. When the Magician appears reversed, you may be struggling with feelings of self-doubt, creative blocks, or a lack of self-confidence.Read more →
The High Priestess upright suggests that you’re in a period of self-reflection, contemplation, and exploration of your inner realms. The High Priestess reversed suggests that you’re having trouble hearing your inner voice due to fears, anxieties, or a distrust of your intuition.Read more →
The Empress upright suggests that you’re connected to your generative powers of creation and that you’re in a state of flow with what you want to give life to. The Empress reversed suggests a disconnection from your natural creativity and a feeling of blocked life force.Read more →
Upright, The Emperor suggests that you are in touch with your sense of personal power, agency, and authority and that you can draw upon these in order to accomplish your goals. The Emperor reversed urges you to examine your sense of personal power, agency, and interpersonal boundaries.Read more →
The Hierophant upright symbolizes our capacity to perceive ineffable truths and to voice this truth to ourselves and others in our lives. The Hierophant reversed can represent the distortion of truth, either from within or without, or a disconnection from one’s inner voice of wisdom.Read more →
The Lovers upright represents relationships that are a vessel for your growth and maturity where the flow of energy is harmonious, balanced, and dynamic. The Lovers reversed can point to a feeling of disharmony and imbalance within a relationship due to miscommunications, misalignment of values, or conflicts.Read more →
The Chariot upright suggests that you’re motivated by your desire for forward movement and worldly success and can overcome obstacles on your path with determination. The Chariot reversed suggests that you could be on the precipice of catapulting yourself out into the world, but you’re afraid to leave your known reality behind.Read more →
Strength upright reflects your ability to engage with inner or outer situations that may be difficult to face, requiring you to summon your inner strength and self-compassion. Strength reversed suggests that fear may be in the driver’s seat and that this is having an outsized impact on your choices.Read more →
The Hermit upright represents contemplation of the mysteries and the search for meaning through a process of deep self-reflection. The Hermit reversed suggests that you may be tuning out your inner wisdom and that you’re anxious and fearful of abandoning a sanctioned route and carving your own path.Read more →
The Wheel of Fortune upright represents an acceptance of the flow of life and the ability to move with life’s changes. It heralds a time of opportunity and expansion. The Wheel of Fortune reversed suggests a resistance to change and a tendency to move against the current, causing tension and distress.Read more →
Justice upright suggests a period of review of past actions and a consideration of their consequences in the present, whether negative or positive. Justice reversed represents the distortion of facts, the inability to see the truth, or an unwillingness to take responsibility for past actions.Read more →
The Hanged Man upright symbolizes the necessity of retreating from the world in order to potentiate a shift in perspective on one’s life. The Hanged Man reversed suggests a need to examine old attitudes and behaviors that are no longer supportive of your current life, allowing for new perspectives and beliefs to emerge.Read more →
Death upright can appear when you are in the middle of a major transition, ending, or change that brings on a new phase of life. Death reversed suggests that one’s resistance to change is the true source of pain, leading to a feeling of being stuck in a time of important transition.Read more →
Temperance upright represents a sense of greater universal forces entering your life to re-establish harmony by righting a wrong, restoring what was lost, or tempering fiery emotions. Temperance reversed suggests an internal imbalance, emotional volatility, and a need to focus on the health of the body, mind, and spirit.Read more →
The Devil upright represents facing limiting beliefs, examining shame, facing addictive behaviors, or exploring emotionally sensitive and difficult material. The Devil reversed can represent breaking a toxic habit, freeing oneself from addiction, detaching from unhealthy thought patterns, and liberation from whatever has kept you trapped.Read more →
The Tower upright represents sudden changes that rock the foundation of your life emotionally, physically, or spiritually and can liberate you from an unsustainable situation. The Tower reversed can indicate that your denial of or resistance to the changes that are happening are adding to your stress.Read more →
The Star can signal a time of renewed hope, faith, and optimism following a period of loss or challenge and the regaining of strength after enduring an ordeal. The Star reversed can indicate that you are feeling depleted and disconnected from yourself, others, or the larger world around you.Read more →
The Moon upright depicts a confrontation with the subconscious and an illumination of inner fears, anxieties, and repressed desires. The Moon reversed suggests that your inner self is trying to speak to you through dreams, intuitive hunches, or gut feelings, but you may be tuning out these voices.Read more →
The Sun upright speaks to our inner spark of vitality, creative willpower, and the joy of connecting to and expressing our true nature. The Sun reversed may signify a temporary disconnection from your inner vitality or sense of purpose or the feeling of being creatively uninspired or blocked.Read more →
Judgment upright represents making decisions that are in alignment with your highest good and prompts you to rise to the challenge of living an authentic life. Judgment reversed suggests you could be fearful that you won’t be able to rise to the challenge of what you’re feeling prompted to do.Read more →
The World upright represents major completions, accomplishments, and fulfillment of goals, and it can signal a feeling of oneness with your greater calling or purpose. The World reversed suggests that there could be delays to the completion of a project or that you are feeling uneasy in a state of liminality or limbo.Read more →