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Tarot Explained: The Major and Minor Arcana

Are you a potential client wanting to understand a typical tarot deck? Do you want to learn the basics and start reading for yourself and others?

The best place to start is to learn the difference between the Major and Minor Arcana, and how they work together.

‘Arcana’ traditionally means secrets or mysteries (sounds magical, right?), but it’s basically the fancy word for the two groups of cards that make up the full deck of 78 tarot cards.

Read on to find out more…

What is the Major Arcana?

The Major Arcana is made up of 22 cards numbered one to 21. These cards are often referred to as trump cards as they were originally used to play card games such as Tarocchini from the fifteenth century in Europe.

When used in a tarot reading, the Major Arcana tends to represent big issues or changes in your life. These cards are often referred to as archetypes because each contains a figure or scene that is universally symbolic and understood by humans, which is why the cards are so timeless and relatable.

You may have heard of the archetype of the Hero or of the Hero’s Journey. Each card in the Major Arcana represents a phase of the Hero’s Journey, and therefore a major phase or theme of yours/the client’s life.

Starting with The Fool card, the Hero encounters experiences and challenges along the way that shape him until he eventually makes it to the 21st phase and card, The World.

For some context, if you got The Fool in a reading, this would tell me you have just started a huge new and exciting chapter of your life. This could signal a new job, major lifestyle change or even a physical journey involving travel.

However, they don’t call it The Fool for nothing! On the positive side, you have the daring of a young and innocent person. But on the negative, you have the naivety and inexperience that could make this journey a risky one.

By the time The Fool/Hero reaches card 21, he is far more experienced and levels up to The World. So, if you receive The World, you are at the end of this particular phase or project. The world is now your oyster, because you have gained the insight and skills you need.

I won’t go into the themes of each card here, but just know that they are ordered and numbered the way they are for a reason. I’ll talk a bit about the meanings of numbers in the next part.

Just know that if a lot of major cards appear in a reading, there are a lot of big themes or major influences effecting your life right now.

What is the Minor Arcana?

If the Major Arcana is about bigger issues and phases in your life then the Minor is about – you guessed it – the smaller issues and influences on your life. These cards are by no means less important though.

Made up of 56 cards broken down into four suits, you may see similarities between these and a modern deck of playing cards. But instead of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, the suits in tarot are swords, cups, wands and pentacles.

The suits go from Ace to King, as you might expect, but instead of Jacks there are Knights. There are also Pages so you have 14 cards in each suit.

Not to get too deep but each suit represents a different aspect of life. For example, if you draw a lot of pentacle cards (sometimes called coins), then the reading is most likely about money or material possessions.

Cups are about emotional issues including love and relationships, while swords are about thoughts, including big ideas and anxieties.

Wands (sometimes called staffs) are about actions and creative energy. More often than not, wands are about your career or exciting projects, including travel.

A bit of basic numerology is also helpful, though most modern decks have images other than of the suits, that give you a clue as to what each card is about. But here’s a quick overview:

  • Aces are about new beginnings

  • Twos are about balance, decisions or partnerships

  • Threes are about creativity and collaborations

  • Fours are about stability and the home

  • Fives are about competition and conflict

  • Sixes are about harmony and balance

  • Sevens are about challenges and obstacles

  • Eights are about physical or mental strength

  • Nines are about nearing the end of a situation

  • Tens are about completion and also the beginning

Kings tend to represent older men or people of higher professional status, Queens tends to be older women or of fairly high status, Knights tend to me young men aged 18-25 or slightly older men who are young at heart, and Pages tend to be either male or female teens or adults who are starting off a new venture on the lowest professional rung of the ladder.

I hope this has provided a good starting point to better understanding a typical tarot deck. I’ll be back with another Tarot Explained blog post soon!

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