There are many stories that are associated with the major arcana for the tarot and a number of stories that accompany the journey within the tarot itself. I like to think of the Fool’s journey as the representation of man’s existence from childhood to old age and the various aspects that are represented along the path of humanity. When reading the tarot, it is important to realize that there is no true ending to the journey and the major arcana cards while sometimes simplistic or on the opposite end of the spectrum: dire; are not tools that give cause for dire concern. They are designed to be like street signs along the road to life.
The major arcana itself is the beating heart of the tarot. The cards have a weight to them that offer direct clarity and give strong emphasis on your path much like a detour or stop sign does on a roundtrip. When you see a major arcana card in a reading it is a good time to take pause and listen to exactly what the universe is trying to convey to you.
The best way to understand these signals from the divine are to understand the secret story which is unfolded within the major arcane to give you an appropriate amount of context. Understanding the aspects of each card as being relatable to periods in one’s life can often bring added insight that could otherwise be missed in a reading. Follow not only the keyword you see on the major arcana card but the number, astrological data, and symbolism in the card as well.
There are probably thousands upon thousands of different ways to organize tarot cards in a reading. They vary from person to person and are situational. Some spreads are better for love, some for money, and some for general guidance.
The Fool is the first card of the major arcana but is numbered at zero. He is our focal point and the beginning of the story relating to birth, innocence, and the first breaths of humanity. When he begins on his journey he is open hearted and open minded and willing to accept whatever comes his way. He doesn’t know understand the difference between good or evil and he lacks a certain amount of healthy common sense. He is simply meandering and wandering into the world full of joy for the new experience in which he has found himself. Around him the sun shines and a happy little puppy nips at his heels just as he is about to walk off a cliff.
But wait, walking off a cliff is bad! The Magician steps in and blesses him with communication and knowledge just as he was about to make a terrible folly of unplanned cliff diving. The Magician explains to him that there are material aspects to the world in which he needs to not only be careful of but also to be aware of.
“What is awareness?” asks the Fool. There is a rustling behind the curtain of the universe as the High Priestess *Poof* appears. She is a brilliant light of feminine beauty and about her she has hidden the invisible strings of the universe. Now, this is a lady that knows what’s what in the world.
“What is awareness, you ask?” she says to the Fool. “Why, awareness is the act of simply being aware. Even though you do not fully understand it now, the Magician and I are offering balance between the worlds. There are invisible worlds and knowledge that is for now beyond your comprehension, but soon my child you will understand.”
The Fool, still somewhat confused takes time away from his new journey to soak in the skills offered to him by the magician and the sudden clarity of understanding landed to him by the High Priestess. As the first two cards (officially) in the tarot, they offer a balance between the conscious world in which he sees and an alternate invisible world beyond his recognition that he knows is now in existence. The still young Fool blinks his newish eyes and looks around the world once more and realizes that there are possibilities before him and they are not all going to be pleasant… but understands as well that they are not all bad. The world around him is still unknown and he craves adventure to find out more.
He is still a babe and his knowledge has no basis for understanding but he realizes that there is more to the world than he knew before and he turns and seeks comfort as his brain sinks in all that he must take in to be prepared for the world. Thankfully his mother is present and in the story of the tarot she is represented as the Empress.
The Empress is the third card in the deck and is truly the mother of us all. The Fool innately recognizes her for who she is and instinctively reaches for her for comfort, nourishment, and security. She is a loving figure who coddles him while he screams and kicks against the world and shows him (more gently than the blunt force of the Magician and the High Priestess) the way of the world. She prepares him for his boyhood and teaches him the ways of the world that she knows. A boy must grow up however, and eventually he is ready for training of another kind. The kind of training only a father can give. The fourth card in the major arcana is the Emperor. He is a strict authoritarian and has no patience for the Fool’s blathering and ideology. It was once standard that boys were home with their mother until around the age of eight, and then at this time they went to work in the fields or the trade of the father. The Fool, being ready for more training, is prepared to leave with his father. He is instructed in the ways of the land of the Emperor and is shown all that is his. He learns that he must protect what is his and that he must respect the boundaries which are laid down by his father.
When he is ready to move beyond the gates of his own home and to create a life for himself, the Emperor allows the Fool to seek his way in the world. To teach the Fool about the world beyond and to provide a proper education the Fool is introduced to the Hierophant.
“So, you feel that you are ready to understand the world and receive the knowledge that I possess?” says the Hierophant to the still adolescent Fool.
The Fool is eager to learn and has a desire to please. The Hierophant offers him knowledge about the physical world that the Fool knows much of now but also reintroduces him to the mysterious world of the subconscious that the High Priestess revealed to him as a baby. The Hierophant acts as a catalyst for the Fool to share his knowledge with others, find his own beliefs, define his place in the world, and create a niche. In doing so, the Fool grows and then meets his partner. She is a fair beauty represented not as a person but as the sixth card in the major arcana… the Lovers.
Being a young adult now the Fool finds himself in love and has his first taste of having to share himself fully with someone else. He is pushed to his limits and retreats.
The Chariot is the breaking point in the major arcana in which the Fool’s journey now lends itself to more broad interpretation… the Chariot card is revealed as both the physical adventure that the Fool embarks on or an emotional one. At this time the Fool, young and in love is faced with a breaking of his own ideals because he has to allow them to stretch farther than they have before. Some will say that he is forced to travel as often young men do when they join the military or simply go their own way to make their fortune. It can also represent an inner battle of the ego at being forced to see beyond the care of themselves and understand their purpose is to also serve equally with a partner. The Chariot is the seventh card and is a call to freedom that young men often face either internally or externally.
The Fool finds himself once again on his path, usually alone and at this time without his partner. The journey, even when shared, is still focused on the growth of the self. There is a Strength or reserve that is found in facing the journey of life and understanding that while there are dangers that endurance is required and perseverance through fear and folly is imperative to avoid mistakes of losing oneself along the way.
The eighth card in the major arcana is Strength and with it the Fool learns patience and resolve to complete the tasks on his path that are difficult but those which he is also bound by duty to complete. The strength lasts only so long and the resolution of his path grows heavy. He learns more and more along his path and he slows down. He has soaked in so much information and while it seems that it has been going on for years, in the scheme of things he has taken in much very quickly and he needs to rest.
He wanders out, away from the path and allows himself time to think. “This isn’t so bad,” thinks the Fool to himself, “I kind of like the peace and quiet. I need time to gather my thoughts.”
And so the Fool becomes the Hermit, the ninth card in the deck and for a while focuses on what he has learned, disseminates the useful information from the chaff, and creates his own inner sanctum. He begins to understand all that he has learned and more importantly, knows that the path he is on is one that he has innately chosen.
Aside from realizing his own path, he also beings to understand his place as connected to everything else. The Wheel of Fortune appears before him and is represented as the tenth card in the major arcana. This amazing wheel of connected energies links us between everything that is and ever was. The Fool becomes motivated and excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. He is ready to shed the silence of the forest and come down from his mountain to rejoin humanity.
On his way back to humanity he is hit with another vision. This vision is one of Justice and the Hanged Man. Justice tells him that he must make amends for past mistakes and that a balance of his path needs to be found. He has spent so much time away from other people and intentionally taken himself off of his path that he has missed out on opportunities that he would have otherwise have had. He feels the need to make up for lost time.
He climbs into a tree and hangs upside down much like Odin hanging from the World Tree and becomes the Hanged Man. His coins fall from his pockets and he sees the world from a new view. He has given up everything for his new found knowledge but he also realizes that in this sacrifice that he has been given a chance to regain his understanding. From his sacrifice he realizes the mistakes that he has made… those of youth and innocence as well as those that were more ill intended. He is no longer at ease with his choices and so climbs down from the tree having gained a new perspective and he desires to make a fresh go of things only to immediately find Death staring him in the face.
“You think it’ll be that easy do you?” says the dark shadowy figure.
The Fool clams up and is terrified.
“You don’t think that you can simply give up everything and find peace from it, do you?”
Death tells the Fool that everything must change in order for him to balance the force of Justice in his life. Small apologies will not do, and neither will small steps forward. He must entirely recreate himself now should he ever attempt to grow in life. The Fool at first tries to resist the changes before him but Death only laughs. He tries more and more and eventually it does become easier and The Fool finds a balance in giving up the old but retaining the new. There is Temperance in his actions and he continues to move on his path moving Death aside. He comes to understand that Death challenges him to change but he is not there to take everything. Death in itself can be conquered through Temperance that peace and balance can be found as this angelic card is a representation of the peaceful acceptance of these changes.
The Fool is not perfect though and at times he takes the easy path. Death will come to meet him again and tell him, “Hey Fool! You’re doing it again! You know change like death itself is inevitable, why do you fight it so?” The Fool, being foolish in his very nature no matter what lessons he learns will ignore Death and think he can one up him. Usually these are the times when another friend from the road meets him and entices the Fool to give in to the easier path and to enjoy the finer things of life just a bit too much.
“Care for a drink?” says the Devil to the Fool, “How about one or five?”
The Fool, relishing in the distraction of the fun of the moment soon finds himself trapped in addiction, servitude and hopelessness. Too many bad actions leading to an imbalance and yet still oh so tempting. In reality all he has to say is: “No thank you, not today.” But, addiction is a tricky mistress. She is easy to remember but extremely difficult to forget. The Fool follows the fun loving devil into trouble which inevitably leads to failure of some kind as getting away from the Devil is about as easy as getting any Devil off of your back.
The Tower card represents the failure that the Fool experiences as a result of feeding into unhealthy habits and creating a tower that is build on unstable foundations. The Fools struggle as he builds himself up and eventually crumbles. Usually he only sees the happenings on the Tower in his life when he has grown too big for his britches. The Divine looks down and says, “Fool, Fool, Fool… won’t you ever learn? This is going to hurt you a lot more than it is me” as it winks and destroys the current path and situation that the Fool has created.
The Fool doesn’t seem to learn and this happens a number of times before he finally gives in to the situation and realizes that there is nothing he can do. The world around him crumbles and he is but a Fool on a journey with no real power to stop the forces of nature of the universe.
The Fool, saddened by his fate but ready to finally move on from the past actions that led to the Tower card silences his screaming mind and remembers what he still has. He is grateful that he is still alive and that he has somehow managed to escape the wreckage of the burning tower unscathed.
He leaves the Devil and Death behind and tries his best to never ever have to see them again, having (hopefully) learned his dire lessons of life about what will or won’t be tolerated and comes across a beautiful naked woman pouring water from a lake into the ground. She performs a tedious but necessary task for the ground around her seems to be thriving with life from the water she bestows upon it. This is the representation of the Star in the tarot and in seeing her before him the Fool is filled with love, inspiration and acceptance for what is and what will be. “Things must be going right if the universe has let me see the Star in her true form,” the Fool thinks to himself.
He allows himself to feel the beauty and the love before him and sits along the lake basking in the radiance of the Star as she does her duty. Her energy allows him to calm his mind in a way in which he hasn’t done in ages and all is well until his thoughts drift beyond his realm of recognition and into slumber dreamtime. He finds his mind in the presence of the dark and mysterious Moon. The energy is similar to that of what he felt as a baby when the High Priestess revealed herself but there is something darker or more suspicious than the reverberation he felt then. From the corner of his mind he sees images of his fantasies that he knows to be untrue and feels afraid as they seem to be real. They are not good images and he is not comfortable. He has become lost in his own subconscious and the illusions of the Moon and knows that he should not be in this place. He has wandered too far from the light as he is not ready for these images and seeks to find an escape from the darkness.
As night turns to day the lucid dreaming of the evening spell is broken as the sun rises. The Star and the Moon set and complete reality is restored! The Sun shines bright bringing the Fool from his state and once again he can see where he is and he sees a familiar land. The lake is still present as is the thriving garden but now the flowers are grown in full and he sees that he must have been here a very long time indeed.
“How long did I spend in between the lands?” The Fool ponders to himself.
There are sunflowers around him and he looks around to where he is at. He looks to his hands and sees a smaller pair before him. He smells the fresh sunlight and the fur of an animal. A horse! There is a horse beneath him!
“What trickery is this?” He is young again and no longer tired from his journey. He no longer feels the weight of his life’s lessons on his body and his soul. He realizes through the Judgment of his situation that he has been reborn. He has been given a chance again to fulfill his destiny and a new looking to a new path. The World is now before him at his feet. He has a calling and he has a duty to not only his life but his world. He has a new understanding of the possibilities of this life as well as it’s limitations having lived it and grown through every stage. In starting over he is renewed and able to begin again with a new perspective and new lessons to be learned with a deeper clarity and understanding with each turn.
The Minor (or lesser) Arcana consist of the 56 cards total which, when combined with the 22 cards of the Major Arcana makes 78 cards total in the standard tarot deck. The Minor Arcana are generally the cards that are similar to the 52 playing cards used in modern games, except the purpose of these cards is to assist the reader in providing divinely inspired counsel and perspective for the querant (or person requesting the reading.) Unlike the Major Arcana, whose energies are similar to chapters in a book, the Minor Arcana are like the pages in the chapters. These cards come in four suits: Wands (Staves or Batons), Pentacles (Coins), Cups (chalices), and Swords. Each suit consists of 14 cards, starting with the Ace and then moving up in chronological order. The last four cards in each suit are the Page, Knight, Queen and King and these are called court cards. Each suit is symbolic of different aspects of life, or different phases that we all have to go through from birth to death. These cards are the situations that happen in each chapter of our life that brings us to the next. They are the details in the fabric of life.
Some people confuse wands in their reading for brash or irresponsible actions. Sometimes this can be the case. However, the wands are usually something more primitive and innate. The wands are the true heart song of desire within the human heart and the cards reflect the aspects of your life in which are innocent of malicious indication. Any card, given the context, can have negative connotations. Seeing fire all around a reading can even be concerning because as humans we have an innate fear of the element. Why wouldn’t we? It is a destructive one that can cause pain. However, when you see the wands in your reading you need to remember that primal purpose. Fire is responsible for the initial combustion of life. Fire also brought the cave man to present day by providing heat and warmth. Fire is a creative, passionate, and a cleansing source of power in the universe.
The journey of the wands begins like all minor arcana journeys and starts with the Ace. The ace is the beginning of fire, passions, and wills that represent the immutable source; the unchanging will of humanity much akin to the volcanic heat that created life itself. Most people are not aware of now this will moves in their life but it’s always the subconscious trying to get it’s way to get what it wants. Whether it’s marriage or a certain type of lifestyle, the wands are the power in the tarot that are creating and manifesting these aspects of your life.
The wands come from the stories of mankind that pertain to battles of wills. Think of Romeo and Juliet coming together in a passionate love or the fiery conquests of Constantine. Like the call of the wands, both require sacrifice. When you see a wand card, no matter the number, in your reading you are being moved by an absolute conscious will or manifestation of what you want to have happen in your life. Seeing a plethora of wands in a reading can indicate a deep power struggle game changer in your present, past or future. Also, with too much fire in your reading it can show an unbalance in your life revolving around pushing too hard, aggressive tendencies, unrequited love caused by lack of grounding or communication, and irresponsibility of actions. They key to remember is that these negative consequences again are not because the fiery aspect in your life is bad. Just the opposite, when you have too much fire you run the risk of not being able to contain it. It’s sort of like using a forest fire when a simple lantern flame would do.
It’s always important to place the cards that you see in perspective of where they come up in your reading. For example, the four of wands is a marriage card usually, when it’s in a place in family. However, when it’s in a place of hopes and dreams for the querants it can often represent unrealized relationships, obsession about a person, or wanting this aspect in your life with a burning desire. Avoid worrying about intensity of the representation that comes with the Wands card. Hone your focus on these cards and keep in mind, like touching a flame, there are consequences for the choices pertaining the wands. With the wands in your reading, you are likely to have the force behind your will to achieve your goals, create actions, and manifest desires… but they are going to come with a price.
The Pentacles or Coins as they are otherwise known, take us through the journey in which our ability to connect to a stable life, or to our physical (health) and financial security and freedom are laid out for us. This is specific to the security of all things connected with the Element of Earth. Whenever we have matters regarding money or job security, we ask the Pentacles to tell us what to do because they are closely tied into our deep and integral connection with the Earth and the unending cycle of abundance we have available to us. The story of the Pentacles begins with the Ace reaching down from heaven expressing to us that we all have the divine power to have whatever we want financially and in life but it is only through our specific journey with our own man-made limitations which inhibit us from willingly receiving what the Universe has set aside for us.
The Suit of the Pentacles make up a formula for causing desires to become a reality, the manifestations of ideals and what we go through in order to get to that point. Some of the cards show imbalance or uncertainty such as with the 2 of Pentacles where a person is juggling two coins at once showing the balance and skill that the material world requires. To gain abundance, we must find balance in all things.
The Pentacles take us through the journey of our lives within this specific aspect of ourselves; depicted in a seasonal cycle as we attempt to identify and fulfill our life’s goals. In the winter of life when the world is sleeping and our garden is at rest; we go inward and begin to plan as well as contemplate what it is that we want to grow in the coming year. The first five cards of the suit (starting with the Ace) illustrate the pages in our story as we walk through this phase or season. Then the spring comes, depicted in the 6, 7 and 8 of pentacles and we busy ourselves with the planting of these seeds so that we can have a strong harvest. We begin to save, to make investments, to give to charity in order to safely secure our abundance in the Universe; and we begin to put physical changes into action for the safety of our shelter, our health and our land. In the summer we take responsibility over the life or death of what we have begun to grow. We must take care of what has grown and get rid of what has died to make room for new life. We must nourish our goals, give them water, keep them safe from harm, and monitor them. If we have completed the cycle appropriately enough, we will gain much as is depicted with the comforting images of the nine and ten of Pentacles where the rewards that we will receive for our efforts shine throughout our life in the fall with a comfortable and bountiful harvest.
The Suit of Cups is often associated with matters of the heart, relationships and emotions. These cards will show up in our readings when we are being affected by heartache, confusion or we need help in choices and decisions regarding family situations as well as anything else that may connect us to how we interact with others. We may also ask the Suit of Cups to assist us with these matters should we feel as though we are at a loss about something important to us on an emotional or spiritual level. Some decks have been known to refer to chalices or even cauldrons in their deck. But mainly the Suit of the Cups refers to any vessel that holds water because it is indicative of the womb of the Mother as well as the Element of Water.
The human body is made up of a significant portion of water, therefore it only makes sense that emotions tend to take us over now and again. We are highly intuitive creatures and we are influenced by the moon, the tides, as well as our own individual life and hormonal cycles. We are fluid, mutable creatures and in that, we tend to depend on our emotions to be our guide in finding direction in this life. Thus the mastery of one’s emotions can be an extremely challenging endeavor, but one which must be mastered nonetheless. The Suit of Cups in the Tarot exists for this purpose: to be our guides in determining what to do at the difficult twists and turns in the road of life. For example, if one receives the 8 of cups in a reading regarding feeling lonely and being without love then the 8 of Cups explains to them directly that they are experiencing a certain level of shutting others out, of emotionally cloistering and hiding themselves and believing that they have no one that they can depend on. But this card provides guidance, because it shows that there are more cups (and thus, more emotional assistance, friends, etc.) then the querant is currently willing to see. The 8 of Cups then counsels the querant that to find happiness they must let go of the people that do not wish them well and then direct any and all attention and energy to those that do in order to find joy and emotional stability.
The Ace of Cups begins by again, relinquishing tidal forces of emotional and spiritual energy to or around the querants. It is up to us to take this energy and focus the energy. The force of water is an easy one to be swept away by or abused because it often has not immediate consequences. You do not always know that you have killed a plant from overwatering until the next day when it has mold growing on it and it’s beyond repair. The energy of the Cups is also often seen as positive when it is not as is the case when a person finds love but the love is unhealthy. It feels good to be in love and therefore other negatives are accepted. It is good to be suspicious of Cups cards, especially when there are many in a reading because of the possibility of drowning in uncharted or too deep emotional waters.
Each card in the suit illustrates a different time in our lives as we progress and learn how to love and how to make connections. From friendship, to group endeavors, to romantic partnerships and onward. Often we find that many of us go through the experiences of the first 8 cards in the suit at varying levels repeatedly before we are finally able to develop the healthy, happy relationship skills provided to us in the 9th and 10th card of the suit –(That of pure happiness and comfort, stability of an emotional nature.) In life we must go through periods of joy as well as periods of sadness because both helps to mold us into the people we are meant to be.
The Suit of Swords represents the relationship to the world and is the voice of fairness and reason within the tarot. Often the swords will represent words either spoken aloud or thoughts and true to their nature they can be double edged. They are about movement as well as struggle and last ditch efforts before the end of a situation has come to be. Unlike the Wands which are specific to drive, the Pentacles specific to earthly matters and abundance; and the Cups which work with emotion; the Swords are symbolic of the element of Air in the Rider Waite deck and tend to be representative of the cutting influences of all of the suits combined. For example, you might get a sword card in a reading regarding a relationship issue and the sword will emphasize the communication and the power struggle between the individuals in the relationship. What this means is that the swords, though they are indicative of the element of air and intuition, they also serve the double duty of being the Highlighters of the issue that you are attempting to work through. They are the cutting edge that slices through your heartache, or the deceit that influences your job. They can be symbolic of love, of hate, of right and wrong as well as fear and bravery depending on which card you get and within what context they show themselves. Many people have a hard time with the swords because they are not gentle. They are cold and metal and there is no getting away from or misinterpreting their meanings. When a sword card appears in your reading, there is no ignoring it and whenever you try to ignore a sword card, matters usually only get worse. Case in point: Say for example you have pulled the 8 of Swords regarding a matter about love where you are in an abusive relationship and you want to figure out how to make your lover stop beating you. The 8 of Swords says immediately that you can get yourself out of the situation, and should, and that the solution is not about trying to change that person, but removing yourself from the equation so that you can be safe. (The cards are always going to tell you what is best for you in that moment.) The image of the 8 of swords is a woman who is tied up in loose bonds. She thinks that she cannot move but this is not true because it is only her fear of loss that binds her. She could get herself out of the situation if only she allowed herself to loosen the binds and remove the blindfold. This card is very influential and extremely vivid as well as explanatory. It is often misunderstood because it appears that she is bound and has nowhere to go and can help to make one feel even more trapped. The key to the Swords suit is looking for the suggestions within symbolism of the card itself.
Should you choose to ignore that card, the next in the sequence that you can expect to receive would be the 9 of Swords, which is a card of complete reserve and misery. The person in this card is having nightmares about their life, they are getting worse, and nothing is getting better for them. Should you choose to still ignore the advice of the swords then and continue in an abusive relationship, you will move yourself forward to the 10 of swords, the final sequence in a cutting and miserable situation: that of utter devastation. If you were in an abusive relationship you might have then allowed things to get so far gone that at this point your life you have experienced all of the terrible repercussions and you might as well just start over and rebuild somewhere else entirely.
Had you listened to the advice of the 8 of Swords in the first place and made changes to improve your life circumstances, you would never have had to be stabbed in the back metaphorically by ten swords. Keep this in mind when you are working with this suit. It is not always this dramatic, but they do not leave much room for error. “Make your decisions and make them wisely”, say the Swords… “Or I will cut you”. You are responsible for your actions and choices at all times when the swords card are present. This is because the suit deals with those internal thoughts as well as the voice of others. At all times you must remember your own voice in the situation and listen to your instincts, but especially so when the swords are present.