Getting a tarot reading (or doing one yourself) is exciting. There’s hope for confirmation that you’re on the right path and anticipation about receiving a message that serves as the kick in the butt you need to make a change. Once the cards have been pulled, you could rely solely on intuition to tell the story of your reading— or you could trust the experts. Major arcana tarot cards are full of symbolism and rife with meaning. Cards that seem scary can actually be harbingers of better times ahead and a reminder that you’re not as powerless as you feel.
In this post, you’ll learn about all the cards in the major arcana. From The Fool to The World, these 22 cards will take you on a journey to new heights, providing guidance for the bumps in the road and encouraging celebration when things are on track. One thing is guaranteed: these cards will help you better understand your experiences— past and present– so you can work toward a future you love.
New to tarot? If you’re just getting started, this blog post will help you with the basics, like finding a deck and discovering a few options for how to read the cards.
What do the major arcana tarot cards represent?
Most tarot decks have 78 cards— 56 minor arcana and 22 major arcana tarot cards. Standing alone, each of the 22 cards from the major arcana can help you understand life lessons around significant events. However, when you lay the cards from zero to 22, they tell the story of the Fool’s journey through life. Each card has a symbolic meaning and represents a human experience— from falling in love to coping with heavy feelings of powerlessness and loss.
Every person has a different relationship to their deck, but many people assign a deeper meaning to major arcana cards when they appear in a reading. After all, these cards represent pivotal moments in a person’s life. When these cards are pulled during a reading, they can grant clarity on a past situation or offer a new perspective in light of the other cards.
Every deck is different, utilizing imagery representing the deck’s theme— from playful and childlike to delightfully dark. No matter which deck you choose, understanding the meaning behind the major arcana is essential to getting the most out of your reading.
22 major arcana tarot cards: what do they mean?
Zero – The Fool
The name of this card can be misleading. After all, no one wants to be called a fool! This card actually represents new beginnings. When it appears in a reading, it can mean vulnerability, a blank slate, a new adventure, and possibility. It’s up to you to take hold of this opportunity and embrace what’s next with fearless, childlike awe.
I – The Magician
When a magician pulls a rabbit out of their hat, the audience watches as something entirely new appears. Only the magician knows the rabbit was there all along. In the same way, The Magician card is the card of manifestation— taking a dream you hold internally and using your skills and grit to make it a reality. When this card shows up in a reading, take it as a sign to move forward with your dreams— you have what it takes!
II – The High Priestess
Your inner voice is whispering— are you listening? The High Priestess card represents the divine feminine intuition available in every one of us. If you’ve been searching for wisdom externally, this card reminds you to slow down and look within. Before moving forward with plans, get alone with your inner voice— it knows the path you should take.
III – The Empress
Did someone say self-care? The Empress is a feminine card, but regardless of gender, it represents love, beauty, compassion, and fertility. This card reminds you to practice self-care and tune in to the beauty around you. With connections to Mother Nature, The Empress represents maternal influence, which could mean the beginning of a new life or a new business venture.
IV – The Emperor
Representative of structure and stability, The Emperor card reminds you that your hard work and discipline have brought you to where you are today. It also encourages you to take control of your future. Rules are important to The Emperor, so make sure you cross your Ts and dot your Is before moving forward with your next endeavor.
V – The Hierophant
As the masculine counterpart to The High Priestess, The Hierophant represents tradition, spiritual wisdom, and convention. It may even describe a specific counselor or mentor in your life who can provide wisdom or guidance. When this card is pulled, take it as a sign to stick to the conventional path.
VI – The Lovers
Everyone loves to see The Lovers card in their pull. After all, who wouldn’t want to see two happily-in-love people pop up in their reading? But this card is more than just the prediction of smooth sailing in a romantic relationship. It represents the communication and commitment needed to make all types of relationships work. This card may even indicate that you should sacrifice a lifestyle or habit to choose your desired relationship.
VII – The Chariot
A chariot without motion is just a glorified couch on wheels. This major arcana card represents the forward motion and drive necessary to accomplish your goals. Stay committed, be brave, and keep moving forward toward victory. Through hard work and action, you will be victorious.
VIII – Strength
Everyone is fighting a battle, and the Strength card predicts a victory in your future. No matter what life throws at you, you are bigger than your fears, greater than your trials, and stronger than your weaknesses. You have the strength to control your destiny, and your strength of character will help you succeed.
IX – The Hermit
When The Hermit makes an appearance in your tarot pull, it’s a reminder to pull away from the noise and outer influences so you can take some time for introspection. Modern life requires fast thinking and swift action. The Hermit reminds you to slow down, step away from the demands of “now,” and isolate yourself for a period of time. Once you have clarity, the lessons learned during this time away will better equip you to help yourself and others.
X – Wheel of Fortune
Nothing is permanent, and the Wheel of Fortune is a reminder of that truth of life. Good times won’t always be good. Bad times won’t always be bad. Prepare for change while enjoying every moment of life. Embrace the joy or the lessons of your current situation because things will change soon.
XI – Justice
Karma is real, and Justice is a reminder that the consequences (or rewards) you’re experiencing result from decisions you’ve made. What you put out into the world is what you’ll receive. When you pull this card, it’s a reminder to be fair and just in all of your relationships and interactions.
XII – The Hanged Man
Pulling The Hanged Man can feel scary, but take a closer look at the card. The figure is usually portrayed upside down, hanging by his foot in a meditative state. This card often appears when you know you need to take action but are unsure where to begin. By letting go and surrendering, you will release yourself to step confidently into what’s next.
XIII – Death
Here’s another card that sounds scary but actually isn’t. The Death card can represent the end of a relationship, a job, or a phase of life. Endings can be painful, but holding on to things not meant for you can be much more painful in the long run. Accept the end of this phase and prepare yourself for new, hopeful times ahead.
XIV – Temperance
Temperance is the tarot equivalent of rolling with the punches. If you’re considering adding to your already-full plate, Temperance reminds you to practice patience and moderation so you can be flexible no matter what comes your way.
XV – The Devil
If you pull The Devil card in a reading, you likely feel powerless to change your circumstances. Whether you’re stuck in a cycle of addiction or trapped in a bad relationship, this card shows you that external circumstances do not bind you. Shake free of the chains and step into freedom.
On a positive note, this card can also represent pleasure. Some decks focus on a more erotic aspect of this card— encouraging physical pleasures and indulgence.
XVI – The Tower
Symbolizing destruction, The Tower is often the most dreaded card in a tarot deck. When an aspect of your life is on the verge of falling apart, this card encourages you to let it crumble. Only when the old, weak parts of your life have cleared away can you begin building something stronger in its place.
XVII – The Star
In the storyline of The Fool, this hope-filled card follows The Tower. After everything falls apart, The Star is a message of optimism, renewal, and a promise that the universe is bestowing its blessings on you. Have faith in the process and trust that good things are coming your way.
XVIII – The Moon
The actual moon needs the light of the sun to appear to shine. In the same way, The Moon major arcana tarot card shows up when things are not as they seem. Perhaps unresolved trauma is causing problems in your personal life. Or maybe a misunderstanding is causing a rift. When you work through these deceptions, you’ll be free to live in the fullness you were destined for.
XIX – The Sun
When The Sun shows up in your reading, it’s a sign that you’re on the right track. Representing happiness, joy, optimism, and harmony, accept this symbol of good fortune and embrace all the good things and people around you.
XX – Judgment
If Judgment is pulled, you’re likely in a time of resurrection and renewal. This is a reminder to reflect on past choices and decide how you want to use those as fuel to go where you want to go. The future isn’t written yet, and you’re in charge. As you prepare to embark on a new adventure—whether in your career, your dating life, friendships, or a move— you get to set the course for a new beginning.
XXI – The World
The World represents completion and fulfillment as the final card in the major arcana. Breathe a sigh of relief. Seeing this card in your spread may mean a healthy relationship, a job well done, or a good business decision. Your journey hasn’t been easy, but you’ve earned a well-deserved celebration.
What if I get a bad major arcana tarot card during a reading?
Cards called Death, The Devil, The Tower, and The Hanged Man” sound scary, but there are no bad cards in tarot. Most of the cards we fear are about change and transformation, which I suppose is usually a little uncomfortable. Usually, these cards won’t tell you anything you don’t know already in your heart. Take the fear of change and the unknown and channel it into making a positive change in your life. “The Death” of something that doesn’t serve you is a death that leads to your ultimate happiness— even if there is sadness at the moment.
The authors of some decks choose to rename certain cards to fit their theme or avoid preconceived notions. For example, the Manara Erotic Tarot Card Set replaces the major arcana tarot cards The Hanged Man with The Punishment and The Wheel of Fortune with The Mirror.
I know my major arcana! Now I need a new tarot deck!
Now that you understand the major arcana tarot cards, you can conduct readings for yourself and others armed with everything you need to interpret the cards in your reading. Pure Journi is a trusted source for tarot decks for every interest. From whimsical and angelic to decks designed to help you explore your shadow side, you’re sure to find a deck that speaks to you.
Although every major arcana tarot card has a meaning typically ascribed to it, use the symbolism on the card alongside your intuition to discover a message that’s meant just for you. Tarot is a journey into yourself. Use these tools to understand your past and make changes to create the life you’ve imagined. Your destiny awaits— are you ready to discover it?