Using the Tarot for Creativity and Empowerment

Tarot 101: Structure of a Deck Part 1- The Major Arcana

This is a post in my Tarot 101 Series

Majors

Today, we are going to look at the structure of a tarot deck. A standard tarot deck consists of 78 cards (although some decks will throw in an extra card or two). The deck is divided into two main sections: The Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The word arcana is the plural of the Latin word arcanum which means mystery of a profound nature or a secret often only available to a few. Thus, it can be said that the tarot is a deck of 78 secrets written in the language of symbols.

The Major Arcana

The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards representing a universal archetypal journey. Each of the Major Arcana cards (also referred to as “Trumps”) refer to a specific archetype. The term “archetype” was popularized by Carl Jung and is defined as “a symbol that is universally recognized by everyone, regardless of culture, race, gender or time in history and which occurs often in literature, myth, history, folklore and religion.” For example The Hermit has been and still is recognized as the wise old man (think Yoda in Star Wars), the voice of wisdom or someone spending time alone in contemplation. There most likely is not a culture out there that cannot relate to this symbol, at least on some level.

The Major Arcana section, consisting of the card numbered 0 to 21, is often referred to as “The Fool’s Journey.” The Fools Journey is a metaphor for our journey through life and the lessons learned along the way. It is a journey through the archetypal energies and leads us through the process of individuation. In real life however, we don’t always learn our lessons in order. For example, we might experience the loss of a loved one (13 – Death) before we experience falling in love (6 – The Lovers). But for the most part, the Fool’s Journey represents the major life lessons we will learn and the experiences that we will encounter on the road to life.

The names and numbers of the cards of the Major Arcana vary from different decks. As we will be using the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for this series, we will work with the numbering and labeling system of that deck.

The cards are as follows:

Card 0: The Fool
Card 1: The Magician
Card 2: The High Priestess
Card 3: The Empress
4: The Emperor
5: The Hierophant
6: The Lovers
7: The Chariot
8: Strength
9: The Hermit
10: The Wheel of Fortune
11: Justice
12: The Hanged Man
13: Death
14: Temperance
15: The Devil
16: The Tower
17: The Star
18: The Moon
19: The Sun
20: Judgement Day
21: The World

Next time, we’ll take a brief look at the Minor Arcana.

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