The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana, or the Trumps, are the twenty-two Tarot cards that do not belong to one of the four Tarot suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks. The Major Arcana are sometimes referred to as the suit of the “Spirit” (as the four suits correspond to the elements Fire, Water, Air, and Earth). The Major Arcana can then, in a way, be connected with the Sefirot of Daath, which lies above the plane of the Tree of Life. However, Kabbalistically, the Major Arcana are usually thought of the paths connecting the ten Sefirot, linking them together. Each Major Arcana card corresponds to one of the connections between the Tree of Life, and shares characteristics of both of those points, and represents energy flowing from the lower-numbered one into the higher-numbered one.
The Tree of Life represents the flow of energy from the divine realm of EinSof into reality (Malkuth). It is a form of Kabbalistic Theosophy; an attempt to examine the what God might look like. The energy of EinSof passes through ten points to arrive at reality, in an order corresponding with the Naples arrangement – from original spiritual perfection to reality. The energy does not just flow strictly in this order, and indeed connects many of the other Sefirot, joining them all to make the Tree of Life.
The Major Arcana cards that lie on the “numbered” and “ordered” path of the Sefirot are The Fool, the Empress, a blank spot (Binah and Chesed are not connected), Lust (in the Rider-Waite tradition, the card in this spot is Justice), Adjustment (numerically Strength in the Rider-Waite tradition), Death, The Tower, The Sun, and the Universe (the World in the Rider-Waite tradition). These cards form the “natural” path of the energy of EinSof, and reflect the most important aspects of the Fool’s Journey (see below for full details on this). Kether is connected to Chokmah by the Fool, who begins his journey inspired by his spirit and ready to leap into action. He is guided initially by his mother (the Empress), who helps him realize his full potential. Following that, he is hesitant to leave the home and the safety of his mother for a little bit (hence the blank spot), but eventually summons up the courage and goes. He is initially strong and focused on his journey, but quickly realizes that he has to learn to master himself and control his impulses now that his mother is no longer there to help him (Lust). He then learns how to balance himself and reach an accord with the rest of the world through his new ability to adjust himself (Adjustment). However, his satisfaction is disrupted by a traumatic event and a drastic change in his life (Death). He feels as if all is lost (The Tower) and that he can never recover, and then sees the light of the Sun, and realizes that in every ending there is a new beginning. He picks himself up and moves on, finally realizing who he is and how he fits in with the universe (the Universe/World).
The Major Arcana, when looked at numerically, also tell a story known as The Fool’s Journey. In this journey, the reader is the Fool (O), about to set out on a journey, a naive young man or woman ready to unlock his full potential. The journey the Fool is setting out on can be any journey, and mirrors the journey of life. The Fool represents the start of the journey. The first few Major Arcana represent the early personalities that he encounters that influence his life, just as a young child is strongly influenced by the personalities around him. The Magus (I) is one of the most powerful personalities to come to him first, and represents the teacher who may have initially aroused the Fool’s interest, and who guides him initially in his quest, giving him knowledge from above, and telling him what his purpose is. The Magus encourages the Fool to go forth, and gives him the tools necessary to succeed. Interested in the Magus’ words, the Fool seeks out the advice of the Priestess (II), who tells him what will happen, again channeling divine knowledge, and showing the Fool the mysteries of life he shall discover on his quest.
The Fool then prepares to leave, and says goodbye to his mother, the Empress (III). She is the nurturing, caring figure who raised the Fool to be the way he is, and she does her best to make sure the Fool is ready for what is coming. As he leaves the home, he bids farewell to his father the Emperor (IV) as well – the stern man who made the Fool’s life possible and who taught the Fool the basics of how to live through his example.
As he leaves the house and passes into the village, he encounters the Hierophant (V), who blesses him and his journey, and formally initiates him into the community and into the wider world. He educates the Fool and teaches him how to survive in the world beyond, and then wishes him well and sends him off. The Fool is eager to finally be off, and needs to urging.
As a young man, he quickly becomes overpowered with passion for another individual he meets on his way, and becomes one of a pair of Lovers (VI). He feels a sense of true intimacy with someone outside of his parents for the first time, and he exalts in it, feeling compelled to do all he can in this person’s honor. Filled with a fervor, he decides that he will make the world a better place through his strength, and so embodies the spirit of the Chariot (VII). However, he soon is dragged back to reality and sees that he can’t do everything by himself, and learns how to balance his urges with practicality through a state of constant Adjustment (VIII). He begins to learn how to balance his own needs with that of his lover and the rest of the world.
Intimacy can be stifling, however, and eventually that period ends as the Fool seeks to balance out that aspect of himself, as well. He retreats into the wildnerness and lives alone as a Hermit (IX), unsure of who he is, and wanting to be separate from his lover. He ponders and meditates on the meaning of life, and when he emerges from his solitude, the Fool has changed, and has a greater understanding of who he is.
However, in his absence, the world has changed. Time passes and fortunes change, and those that the Fool knows are no exception. The first Decade (Trumps O-IX) has ended, and things are about to change drastically. The wheel of Fortune (X) affects us all, even the Fool, and his life suddenly takes a drastic and unexpected turn, as everything around him changes. He must learn then to master his inner emotions that react strongly to these changes, and discover for himself when to give into them and when to control them, channeling the power of Lust (XI). He finds this harder to do than he thinks, and as the changes of Fortune run through his life, decides to again just step back from society and reassess his position – and he realizes that the only way he can win and get what he wants is by giving everything up. He has realized the secret of the Hanged Man (XII), and decides to just go with the flow.
As the wheel of Fortune has shown, life is anything but stable, and a second, even more drastic change sweeps through the Fool’s life, and a period of his life ends as another begins: he has experienced the power of Death (XIII). Not necessarily in the physical sense of the world, but in the metaphorical sense; he undergoes a time of transition as he wrestles himself back into control, and sees for the first time with open eyes the power of forces beyond his control, and the inevitability of drastic change. He becomes serene and calm at this realization, and finally manages to control his Lust and manage the massive changes that have affected his life. He learns that he must do things in moderation, and learn to balance himself. He begins to grow and mature, and sees that he is not alone, and that by combining himself with others, he can make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. He has learned the secrets of Art (XIV) as he achieves once again harmony with the world.
Or has he? The Fool, in his quest for harmony, eventually falls into the trap of the Devil (XV), and his blinded by his ignorance and chained. He might not realize it as he blunders through his life, but he does not see the full picture – until he learns to see everything from a new perspective. As he does so, his prison is shattered and his life flips topsy-turvy, throwing him completely off course again. The suffers the unfortunate fate of the falling and toppling Tower (XVI), and sees ruin and the changing of an era before him. However, he also has broken free of the prison that held him, shocked out of it by a traumatic event that also leaves him in pieces.
But he slowly puts himself back together, and experiences the calm after the storm: the Star (XVII). He sits back and reflects, and sees that there is hope after all as energy from the heavens pours down into his life. Encouraged by the (seeming, at least) immortality of existence, he gets back up and moves on. Perhaps, though, he was not ready, as he is still disoriented and confused, and the shocking re-entry into reality may have been too much for him. He is misled by many and becomes confused and lost as the light of day is eclipsed by the Moon (XVIII). He no longer knows what is real and fears the return of the Tower. However, a moment of clarity eventually reaches the Fool’s mind, and the Sun (XIX) bursts into its full glory, banishing the ambiguity of the Moon and showing the Fool what he needs to know, allowing him to see his life with clear-cut vision. He rejoices and dances for he has emerged finally from some dark times indeed.
As time passes, the Fool ages, and he sees the Aeon (XX) change. He notices how things never remain constant, and that time inexorably rolls forward and everything grows – including the Fool. He has had a long journey, and finally sees how it has helped him grow a little bit at a time, teaching him lessons he needed to know. Finally, with that realization, he completes his journey and becomes one with the world, having realized who he is and what his role in it shall be – he now understands as much as he can about the Universe (XXI) – and is ready then to begin a new journey as he finally integrates with everyone around him and accepts his existence fully for the first time as he is.
The Major Arcana are also each associated with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and share there numerological and Kabbalistic meanings. Additionally, the twelve cards associated with Hebrew single letters are also associated with astrological sun signs (whose meanings the cards reflect), the seven cards associated with Hebrew double letters are also associated with astrological planets, and the three cards associated with Hebrew mother letters are also associated with the three elements above Earth – Fire, Water, and Air.
The Major Arcana are the most extensively studied and the most complex of the Tarot cards, having many different meanings. The true secrets of the Tarot lie hidden in the Major Arcana, which tell of our journey through life and EinSof‘s journey to reality.