The Major Arcana are composed of 22 cards and are the original heart of the Tarot deck. They can be dated back to the 15th century where they emerged in Europe as the basis for card games. The symbolism of the cards is so complex that it’s difficult to believe that they were conceived merely as a game but any further clues as to their origin have been lost in time.
Theories about the Major Arcana abound and the occultists of the late Victorian era, such as A.E. Waite and Aleister Crowley, spun some whoppers. Based upon who you listen to the cards may have originated in ancient Egypt or perhaps Atlantis and Plato himself may or may not have been familiar with them.
There are also those who claim that the Major Arcana conceal a secret doctrine, a path to higher realms and knowledge that only a few can decipher. My personal experience with the cards is that those claims are nonsense. If there’s a path hidden in the Major Arcana it’s so overgrown that it would take a bulldozer to find it. Emphasis on the, “bull.”
So what are the cards of the Major Arcana? Modern psychologists, particularly Jungians, like to compare them to archetypal images, primordial representations buried in the unconscious of all humans. And they may be right but that leaves unanswered the questions of who composed them and for what purpose.
There are a few things about them that we can say with certainty. The Major Arcana represent . . . well, MAJOR forces in our lives. When we encounter the Major Arcana in a reading we know that some significant, life changing events are happening to the questioner. We’re talking about births, deaths, disasters, major karma coming home to roost, and profound spiritual renewal.
In some cases the questioner herself may be causing the appearance of the major force. In the card The Devil, for instance, we have a willful embrace of ignorance, cruelty, and mindless sexuality. The Hanged Man may show up when we choose to take a break from life and reassess our spirituality.
In other cases, the cards may appear because of events which are external to the questioner and over which he has no control. The Death card may appear frequently after the loss of a loved one. The Tower may pop up after a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood.
The best way that I can conceptualize the presence of a card from the Major Arcana in a reading is as a powerful wind blowing through your life. You can’t stop the wind. You can fight against it, you can give into it and let it blow you where it will, or you can hunker down and wait for it to pass. The one thing you can’t do is ignore it. When you see a card from the Major Arcana PAY ATTENTION!