Tarot is a very old system of esoteric knowledge developed over the centuries in secret Mystery schools and esoteric organizations.
The Major Arcana is a set of 22 tarot cards that are considered the core and foundation for the deck. The whole deck is full of archetypal significance, but this is more intense within the Major Arcana. Each card reveals some of this wisdom, through tables and symbols. It incorporates the energy of the symbols into it, reflecting and transmitting this energy to the user of the deck.
The Tarot can be used as an instrument for orienting oneself on the path toward greater awareness. We can use the Tarot as a guide for our inner transformation, revealing hidden messages and expanding our vision of ourselves and the cosmos. (Further reading: Comprehensive Timeline of Tarot History – 14th to 19th Century.)
If we have a sincere desire to see and accept, it can give us insight and new perspectives about any unclear situations, while it can lead us to valuable breakthroughs, greater clarity and deeper insights in areas of life that concern us most. Additionally, the Tarot will give us information showing special strengths as well as revealing blind spots. Let’s start examining the cards of Major Arcana one by one.
0. THE FOOL
- Hebrew letter: Aleph: The Ox
- Kabbalah: Ensoph
- Astrology: Uranus
- Element: Air
Keywords: New Beginnings, Impulsive, Alienation, Free Spirit, Adventure, Inspiration .
Amongst the cards of Major arcana, there is one which does not bear any number. It is the Fool and this peculiarity troubles us when it comes to assigning this card to a place in the pack. Should we place it in front of the Magician (Card I) or at the end, after the World (Card XXI)?
This is out of the question when we place the Tarot on a cycle, as the word ROTA suggests on arcana X (The Wheel of Fortune). This way the Fool seems to be a transition card, placed between the beginning and the end and symbolizes, the incomprehensible “Infinite” from which we come and to which we are destined to return.
It bears the number Zero, which in occult arithmetic stands for absolute Unity, for “The One Reality” which is “Before All Beginnings”. The Fool is pictured as a careless man, who continues on his way without wondering where he is going. He is just about to fall from a great height into a deep abyss without paying attention to a dog barking him.
The dog was used as a symbol of conscious clarity and of remorse for faults committed, which in another case could hold a person capable of discretion.
His costume is very colored to show the multiple and incoherent influences which he constantly undergoes. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a sack curiously embroidered. His sack is inscribed with dim signs, to show that many subconscious memories are stored up in the soul.
The sun, which shines behind him, knows where he came from, where he goes, and how he will return by another path after many days. He is the spirit in search of experience. Insentient and irresponsible, he walks the path of his life as a passive being who does not know where he is going and is led by irrational impulses.
At the deeper inner level of interpretation, the Fool is a picture of the absolutely free and perfect Being. He represents all that is beyond the sphere of the intelligible, hence the Infinite outside the finite, the absolute enclosing the relative. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot)
If we look closer to the picture will see that though the Fool stands close to the edge of a precipice, there is room for him to take another step forward. This indicates that we never come to the very limit of our possibilities. Always we can retrace our steps a little, and come to a place where further progress is possible.
This detail of the symbolism signifies an eternal esoteric truth. “No matter how far the Life-power may advance, it can always take another step.”
A practical lesson we can get from the Fool is this. Anyone who is so engrossed with actual or metaphorical sky-gazing that he pays no attention to his present situation run the risk of great dangers. So, do not project yourself so far into the future, that you don’t see where you are. Dreams and visions have their proper place, but also, you must always retain the clarity to deal with the practical issues of life.
Inspiration. The bottomless Abyss. The Absolute. Infinite. Whatever is beyond our understanding. Adventure. The irrational. Emptiness, Nothingness. Primordial substance. Freedom. Disintegration, spiritual annihilation. Nirvana. Innocence. Passivity, impetuousness, giving way to blind instincts, to gross desires and passions. Irresponsibility, alienation, madness. Lack of self-direction; incapable of resisting outside influences. Agency, subject to domination, loss of free will. The toy of occult powers. Unbalanced and easily influenced. A subject for hypnosis. An instrument of other people. Lack of consciousness. Unable to be initiated. Dragged blindly towards one’s downfall. The foolish person prey to his own whims. Insensitivity, indifference. Nonchalance. Incapable of recognizing one’s wrongdoings and feeling remorse for them.
1. THE MAGICIAN
- Hebrew letter: Beth (Double): The House
- Kabbalah: Kether
- Astrology: Mercury
- Element: Air
Keywords: The beginning, the first cause, the center of the action, skill.
In Arcana I, we meet “The Magician”, the keeper of esoteric knowledge. He is the god of Tarot, the father of all things, the eternal generator of the Word which takes form.
Upon the head of the Magician, there is the divine sign of infinity, which indicates the infinite possibilities of creation with the will. On the bottom of the image, there is a garden, representing the subconscious field from where the hidden powers of man come. These powers are symbolized by the white lilies and red roses.
The lilies stand for various aspects of truth, and the roses are symbols of human desires. There are four lilies because all possible human knowledge falls naturally into four main categories, and five roses because every human desire has a relation to one of the five major senses. The Magician cultivates these flowers. Using his power to control their development, takes them far beyond the conditions provided by nature. It is a transformer and a transmitter of experience.
The Magician himself is placed behind a table covered with four objects. These objects represent the mental tools employed by human consciousness to deal with the actual conditions of the human environment. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
- The wand, symbolize the first tool. Consider that simply as a pointer. The first requisite for the solution to any problem is to give it one’s full attention. Every problem contains its own solution, and that solution is perceived by attentive observation.
- The cup symbolizes the second mental tool, the imagination. Observation collects experience. Imagination shapes it, as a cup shapes what is poured into it.
- The Sword symbolizes the third tool, the action. Nothing changes until we do something for it.
- The last is the coin, the finished product. This is the proper symbol because everything made by man’s ingenuity has value.
If we look closer, we will notice that around Magician’s waist is a serpent-belt. In this belt, the serpent seems to eat its own tail. This is a familiar symbol of eternity, but especially here indicates the eternity of attainment in the spirit.
Among all symbols on this card, perhaps the most important detail is the position of Magician’s hands which brings in our minds the hermetic principle, “as above, so below”. On his right hand is a wand raised towards heaven, while his left-hand points to the earth, making the universal gesture of attention.
The position of the hands represents the ability to act as an intermediate between the world above and the human world. Additionally, they could represent the two principles, active and passive, of the Great All, and it corresponds with the two columns Jakin and Bohas of the temple of Solomon.
So, we can say that Arcana 0, The Fool, puts you in touch mentally with the limitless Source of all power, and Arcana I, The Magician, calls in action the mental activities which you can apply in order to change the conditions of your life for the better. (Also read: The Best Tarot Books For All The Occult Students)
The beginning of all things: the first cause, the unity-principle, pure spirit, the unique and universal thinking subject, refracting in the ego of every intelligent creature. The initiative, the center of the action, keenness of discernment and comprehension, the presence of mind, self-possession, autonomy, a rejection of all impertinent suggestion, freedom from all prejudice. Skill, diplomacy. Lack of scruples, opportunist, intriguer, liar, scoundrel, swindler, charlatan, exploiter of ingenuousness in human nature. Influence of Mercury on good as on evil.
2. THE HIGH PRIESTESS
- Hebrew letter: Gimel (double): Camel
- Kabbalah: Chocmah
- Astrology: Moon.
- Element: Water
Keywords: Mystery, Devotion, Secrets, Creative thought, Silence, Intuition, passive.
In this card, we have the first idea of passivity. The Mother of all things, which in the Tarot takes the form of the High Priestess, is seated motionless and calm, as opposed to the Magician who is the original cause of all action and cannot relax.
Her place is between two contrasting pillars at the door of a mystical temple, and the veil of the Temple behind her is embroidered with palms and pomegranates. The black and white pillars, give us to understand that all our perceptions are subject to the law of contrasts, light is only conceived as opposed to darkness, good would be unknown to us if there was no evil.
Additionally, the two pillars, Jachin and Boaz, are like the arms of the Magician, expressing the Positive and the Negative or White and Black. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot II)
The scroll in her hands is inscribed with the word Tora, meaning the Greater Law, the Secret Law, and it is partly covered by her mantle, to indicate that some things cannot be said but implied. The High Priestess wears a horned diadem on her head, with a globe in the middle and on her breast she bears the solar cross, while she has the lunar crescent at her feet.
The predominant color of the card is light blue in contrast with the warm red which dominates the card of the Magician. The vestments are flowing and gauzy, and the mantle has a shimmering radiance.
The High priestess represents Isis, the priestess of mystery. She is adorned with all the attributes of authority and persuasion. Her veil must not be raised before the profane, and the hidden doctrines cannot be revealed without her help. The teaching of the High Priestess is in fact based on the imagination, as the crescent on her feet shows us.
Another meaning of this card is that depicts the subconscious mind. In this case, in her scroll, there are records of the past, as memory is the basic power of subconsciousness. With that in mind, we can see that the High Priestess is perfectly quiet and perfectly passive, as this is the first requirement for developing the faculties of the subconscious mind.
According to some views, this card is the highest and most sacred of the Great Arcana.
Wisdom, Secrets, creative thought, the word, Intuition, the second person in the Trinity, Isis, nature, the wife of God and mother of all things. Divine law. The field of action of the active and intelligent cause, the fruitful opposing forces from which all is born. The differentiation which allows us to perceive, hence to know and to be able. The Sacred Science whose object is beyond the power of our senses. Divination, intuitive philosophy, knowledge discerning mystery, faith. Silence, discretion, reserve, meditation, modesty, patience, resignation, piety. Deceit, hidden intentions.
3. THE EMPRESS
- Hebrew letter: Daleth (double): Door
- Kabbalah: Binah
- Astrology: Venus
- Element: Earth
Keywords: Transformation, Prudence, rich fertility, discretion, idealism.
The third card of Tarot is “The Empress” and is the result of the mutual action of the first two Tarot cards. The absolute creative force of the Magician and the absolute preservative force of Priestess, working together, gave birth to a new complete entity, the transforming principle.
The Empress is a seated, royal figure, with rich vestments and calm aspect, as of a daughter of heaven and earth. A happy serenity lights up her face, framed pleasantly by her soft blond hair. She wears a crown with twelve stars, which remind us of the Zodiac, the celestial space on which the natural growth here below is based, and the gestation period required for reproduction.
In the left hand, she bears a scepter which indicates the passive influence, which Nature, Venus, or the woman exercises in the generation of beings. She has the symbol of Venus on her shield, as a direct correspondence to the astrological sign of Venus.
In front of her, there is a field of corn and behind her a small forest with a fall of water. All this scenery with the abundant nature signifies that the Empress represents the Mother Earth, the goddess of fertility. (Quiz: Test your Knowledge on the Hidden Meanings of Tarot)
Like the Magician, she is in a garden, and the pomegranate-patterned robe which is a prominent feature of this card represents fertility. The Empress is a woman in a seated position like the High Priestess but simultaneously is in contrast to the High Priestess because, as the Tarot tradition says, she is a wife and a pregnant mother. Specifically, the wife of the Emperor, whose picture follows hers in the series.
The High Priestess corresponds to the moon, related in mythology to virgin Diana. But the Empress is Venus, the traditional patroness of childbirth, and mistress also of the arts and beauty. The card 3 is by number the sum of 1 and 2, or a symbol in the Tarot series of the Magician’s union with the High Priestess, whereby the virginity of Diana is transformed into the fertility of Venus.
Transformation is the main meaning of this card and it is your duty to begin the process of renewal of your life. You can create your future, no matter what, your past was. In the sense of this card, you can put into motion forces that, although at first, work almost imperceptibly under the surface, will inevitably lead to fulfilments far beyond the best of your present expectations. (Also read: The Best Tarot Books For All The Occult Students)
Fruitfulness. Intelligence, comprehension, the abstract conception which generates ideas and shapes the Supreme Ideal. Natural growth. The sphere of recognizable and understandable objects. Discernment, reflection, study, observation, inductive science. Instruction, knowledge, erudition. Affability, grace, charm, strength of character, rule through gentleness, civilizing influence. Politeness, generosity. Abundance, wealth. Pregnancy. Adornment, vanity, frivolity, luxury, prodigality, seduction and show of superficial ideas, pose, affection.
- Arthur Edward Waite, “The Pictorial Key To The Tarot” 1911 (aff.link)
- Oswald Wirth “Tarot of the Magicians” 1927 & 1985 (aff.link)
- Paul Foster Case “Introduction to Tarot” 1922 (aff.link)
- Papus “The Tarot of the Bohemians” 1896 (aff.link)