Just the Tarot Posts

The Major Arcana of the Tarot

 

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!

The Minor Arcana Tarot Cards

 

So if you followed up on the suggestions in my first post – Can You Learn to Read Tarot Cards?  – then you’ve looked at the various Tarot decks, picked a deck that resonates with you, and you’re looking through the cards thinking profound thoughts like, “What in the hell does THAT card mean?”

We’ll get to that.

In the meantime, when you look at the Tarot deck you’ll find that it’s divided into 5 different parts:  the 4 suits of cards, known as the Minor Arcana, and the 22  very, very, very symbolic cards known as the Major Arcana.

For today let’s just talk about the Minor Arcana.  You’ll see that the 4 suits are designated Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.  That’s the way that the Tarot divides up and analyzes the things in our world.

Wands represent ideas, intellect, the thought process, what we like to conceive as the thinking mind.

Cups represent emotions, feelings, and relationships with emotional content like friendships, lovers, family.  And that means ALL of the emotions from love to hate and everything in between.

Swords represent aggression, physical force, and mental force like dominance issues and power struggles in the family or the workplace.

Pentacles represent physical possessions, money, our various toys, and both the material world and materialism.

They have other aspects, as I discuss in my ebook, “Just the Tarot.”  Wands are often associated with travel.  Swords, by way of their cutting edges, may be associated with needing surgery.  But for now let’s concentrate on the four basic characteristics of the Minor Arcana:  ideas, emotions,force,and possessions.

Of course, we know by now that the human world is far more holistic than a simple 4 point division.  Every idea has some sort of emotion tied to it and physical or mental force often hides fear or phobias.  And the spiritual flows into the physical world and the physical world often blossoms with great spirituality.  Still, it’s a useful way of looking at the world and the human predicament.

And that’s what the Minor Arcana are all about:  the human predicament. The Major Arcana are all about MAJOR forces in your life:  birth, death, transitions, good, evil. The Minor Arcana are about all of the crappy little things (and good little things) that we deal with in day to day life.  

Each card represents a particular human situation that we experience as we journey through life.  And each reading represents a snapshot of all of the things that the questioner is going through at that moment in time.

Think of it this way:  if you could step outside of yourself (your SELF) and sort of hover around the ceiling for a while and REALLY look at your life objectively, what would you see?  You might see your work-self who is dealing with a crappy, overbearing boss. Then there might be your home-self who loves to paint or write or knit or listen to music and pet the cat.  Then there might be your relationship-self who is deeply in love or maybe has been hurt in the past and is afraid of love or maybe is a hopeless romantic who is in love with love. And how about your physical-self who might be a weight lifter or might be chronically ill or might be a long distance runner or might be in a wheel chair?

All of those separate, “selves,” make up the greater self which is you.  When you look at the Minor Arcana in a reading you’re looking at what’s going on with all of those different selves at that moment.  Home, work, romance, physical state of being, ideas,emotions,power,and possessions. And the magic happens when you see the reading come together as a story of the questioners life.  Yep, even day to day life is HIGHLY magical!

Can You Learn to Read Tarot Cards?

Over the 50 + years that I’ve been reading Tarot cards I’ve had many people ask me if they could learn how to read the cards.  The answer, of course, is, “No.”

Just kidding.

The answer is an unreserved, “Oh, hell, yes.”

Anyone can learn to read Tarot cards.  There are really only three things you need:  a deck of Tarot cards, a good set of definitions and layouts, and a little time.

The deck you choose will probably depend on what sings to your subconscious.  You have a very wide choice already and it seems like some enterprising artists and writers are coming up with new designs almost every month.

If you’re a purist at heart you may want to consider a nicely done reproduction of The Marseille Deck.  This most closely resembles the original decks that were used in the 15th and 16th centuries. A word of caution:  the, ‘pips,” – cards ace through ten of the four major suits, AKA the Minor Arcana – do not have the intricate illustrations of themes and situations that we associate with modern Tarot cards.

A nice alternative is The Aquarian Tarot Deck.  These are beautifully illustrated with knock-your-socks off Art Deco pictures.  Not the deck I use, but absolutely elegant cards.

The most popular deck by far – and the one that I personally favor – is The Rider Waite Tarot Deck, Rider being the company that manufactures them and Waite being A.E. Waite, the person who authored them.  Thanks mainly to the amazing artist who did the illustrations – Pamela Coleman Smith – it’s definitely the most magical deck out there. There have been several variations in colors and inks through the years so you can find them in hues that range from fairly muted to near neon.

You can find nearly all of the decks that are available on Amazon.com if you want to browse through them and most decent occult shops or larger book stores will have a few on hand.  Something to be aware of when selecting cards is to be sure that they actually ARE Tarot cards. There are a ton of card decks that are used for fortune telling or intuition work that have nothing to do with the Tarot.  The Inner Child Cards and Medicine Cards come to mind – both lovely decks but not the Tarot.

Finally, it is highly NOT recommended that you ever, ever purchase a used deck of Tarot cards.  They do tend to retain the vibrations of the original owner and you don’t want that popping up in your readings.

As far as finding a good set of definitions and card layouts, I personally recommend

STAND BY FOR SHAMELESS ACT OF SELF-PROMOTION 

my book, “Just the Tarot,”  by Dan Adair available as an Amazon Kindle ebook for only 3 bucks.

END OF SHAMELESS ACT OF SELF-PROMOTION

There are, of course, a lot of alternatives.  The most popular of the free online definitions at this writing are at biddytarot.com and tarot.com.  Both of them have excellent definitions but tend to be a little New-Agey so be prepared to be inspired, uplifted and filled with positive thoughts whether you want to be or not.

You can also, of course, browse through the books on amazon.com and compare the various reviews that the readers have left.   A strong caveat: if you’re thinking of buying, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot,” by A.E. Waite, don’t bother. Ironically it’s one of the worst books on the subject that’s ever been written and it is MAJORLY boring to boot.

As far as the third element necessary for learning the Tarot – time – that’s up to you and your individual temperament.  Some people are really into taking classes and socializing and you can find online courses or, if you live in one of the hipper locations of the country, you can probably take personal classes.  If you’ve got a busy schedule like most of us do, try to do a reading or two a week. Write down the results and then go back to them at the end of the week and see how accurate the readings were.  As time passes you’ll start to get a personal feel for each card and begin to develop a talent for putting all of the cards in a layout into a story.

Have fun!