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What are the tarot cards

In occult practices, the Major Arcana are the trump cards of a tarot pack.[1] There are usually 22 such cards in a standard 78-card pack. They are typically numbered from 0 to 21.

Prior to the 17th century, the trumps were simply part of a special card deck used for gaming and gambling.[2] There may have been allegorical and cultural significance attached to them, but beyond that, the trumps originally had little mystical or magical import.[2] When decks are used for card games (Tarot card games), these cards serve as permanent trumps and are distinguished from the remaining cards, the suit cards, which are known by occultists as the Minor Arcana.[3]

The terms “Major” and “Minor Arcana” are used in the occult, and divinatory applications of the deck as in practising Esoteric Tarot and originate with Jean-Baptiste Pitois (1811-1877), writing under the name Paul Christian.[4]

Michael Dummett writes that the Major Arcana originally had simple allegorical or esoteric meaning, mostly originating in elite ideology in the Italian courts of the 15th century when it was invented.[2] The occult significance began to emerge in the 18th century when Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, published Le Monde Primitif. The construction of the occult and divinatory significance of the tarot, and the Major and Minor Arcana, continued on from there.[5] For example, Court de Gébelin argued for the Egyptian, kabbalistic, and divine significance of the tarot trumps; Etteilla created a method of divination using tarot; Éliphas Lévi worked to break away from the Egyptian nature of the divinatory tarot, bringing it back to the tarot de Marseilles, creating a “tortuous” kabbalastic correspondence, and even suggested that the Major Arcana represent stages of life.[4] The Marquis Stanislas de Guaita established the Major Arcana as an initiatory sequence to be used to establish a path of spiritual ascension and evolution.[2] Finally Sallie Nichols, a Jungian psychologist, wrote up the tarot as having deep psychological and archetypal significance, even encoding the entire process of Jungian individuation into the tarot trumps.[6] These various interpretations of the Major Arcana developed in stages, all of which continue to exert significant influence on practitioners’ explanations of the Major Arcana to this day.

List of the Major Arcana

Each Major Arcanum depicts a scene, mostly featuring a person or several people, with many symbolic elements. In many decks, each has a number (usually in Roman numerals) and a name, though not all decks have both, and some have only a picture. Every tarot deck is different and carries a different connotation with the art, however most symbolism remains the same. The earliest decks bore unnamed and unnumbered pictures on the Majors (probably because a great many of the people using them at the time were illiterate), and the order of cards was not standardized.[7] Strength is traditionally the eleventh card and Justice the eighth, but the influential Rider-Waite-Smith deck switched the position of these two cards in order to make them a better fit with the astrological correspondences worked out by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, under which the eighth card is associated with Leo and the eleventh with Libra.[citation needed] Today many decks use this numbering, particularly in the English-speaking world. Both placements are considered valid.

0The Fool
1The Magician
2The High Priestess
3The Empress
4The Emperor
5The Hierophant
6The Lovers
7The Chariot
8Justice † or Strength ‡
9The Hermit
10Wheel of Fortune
11Strength † or Justice ‡
12The Hanged Man
15The Devil
16The Tower
17The Star
18The Moon
19The Sun
21The World
In Rider-Waite tarot deck

The ninth Major Arcana card, The Hermit (“L’Hermite” in French, as it appears in the Tarot of Marseilles), is the great-grandfather of the Magician.  He already knows what life is about as well as the rhythm of cycles. He is the utmost representation of wisdom and patience. This character has lived all the experiences of life. His flashlight guides those people who move slowly but surely. He stands out from the other Major Arcana cards due to the fact that  he represents a step into the unknown. In this sense, the meaning of this tarot card suggests both a great wisdom and a state of serious crisis. He is about to discover the great truths of humanity.


When we encounter the Moon, we see a path that leads off into the distance. On either side of the path stand a wolf and a dog, representing our animalistic nature – one is civilized, and the other wild and feral. There is a crawfish that is crawling out of the pond from which the path stems from. In the distance, we can see two towers flanking the central path, once again alluding to the doubles visible in this card. Everything in this card seems to echo the other, as if to allude to two possibilities. When we walk down the path, we walk the fine line between conscious and unconscious, between the tamed side of civilization of the dog, and the forces of nature represented by the wolf. 

The towers on the opposing ends represent the forces of good and evil, and their similarity in appearance can allude to the difficulties that we face in distinguishing between them.


The tarot card depicts a dreadful scene, which shocks you at first: there are people falling from the tower, which is struck in half by a lightning bolt and the colours are not exactly cheerful. Besides, it seems mysterious because it is impregnable since it does not have a door! It is impossible to gain access to its knowledge. That is why it needs to be knocked down! However, this happens by chance, due to fate’s unknown paths. You must pay attention to the uncovering of its message. 


The Fool depicts a youth walking joyfully into the world. He is taking his first steps, and he is exuberant, joyful, excited. He carries nothing with him except a small sack, caring nothing for the possible dangers that lie in his path. Indeed, he is soon to encounter the first of these possible dangers, for if he takes just a step more, he he topple over the cliff that he is reaching. But this doesn’t seem to concern him – we are unsure whether he is just naive or simply unaware. The dog at his heels barks at him in warning, and if he does not become more aware of his surroundings soon, he may never see all the adventures that he dreams of encountering.


The Magician is one tarot card that is filled with symbolism. The central figure depicts someone with one hand pointed to the sky, while the other hand points to the ground, as if to say “as above, so below”. This is a rather complicated phrase, but its summarization is that earth reflects heaven, the outer world reflects within, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, earth reflects God. It can also be interpreted here that the magician symbolizes the ability to act as a go-between between the world above and the contemporary, human world. 


The Emperor can be depicted sitting or leaning on the throne, ready to act if he wishes to do so, since he is a symbol of the force at rest. The fourth Major Arcana does not need to get nervous, as his authority is consolidated. His crossed legs draw a white square that indicates his foothold in the matter. Everything about this tarot card suggests nobility.

He is the husband of the Empress and the father of the Magician.  His meaning implies security and stability. But what is his meaning in a love or money tarot spread? You can find all the different aspects of this tarot card here. 


The Sun card presents an feeling of optimism and fulfillment. This card represents the dawn which follows the darkest of nights. The Sun is the source of all the life on our planet, and it represents life energy itself. There is a child depicted in the card, playing joyfully in the foreground. A symbol of our innocence, it represents the happiness that occurs when you are in alignment with your true self. The child is naked, meaning that he has absolutely nothing to hide. The card also depicts the childhood innocence and absolute purity. This is particularly emphasized through the white horse upon which the child is riding. The horse here is also a symbol of strength and nobility.


When drawing tarot cards, usually they are put in a vertical setting, spread on a timeline of the past, present, and future. In this kind of drawing, Death may come up straight, as well as reversed. Some psychic readers like to read reversed tarot cards. Some don’t. Either way, the other tarot cards in the drawing will make up for the way the psychic reader conducts their readings, because a tarot card deck is connected to the energy of the psychic reader, so it ‘talks’ to them. This card represents new beginnings, which come along with a new perception, a new awareness, and even a new you. It signifies closing a chapter to start something anew. You may be longing and needing a scenario change, but you may also be entertaining old vices and negative patterns that keep you stuck in the past.