Byzant MysticalTarotSymbolsKabbalahBiographyAstrologyScriptorium

The Major Arcana of the Tarot

Marseilles Major Arcana The standard structure of the Tarot divides the deck into two groups, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The 22 cards of the Major Arcana ("Greater Secrets") are also known as the Trumps or Triumphs, and are sometimes referred to by the French atouts or the Italian atutti or trionfi. These are the cards containing strong prototypal symbols and meanings. In earlier decks, these were often the only cards specifically illustrated according to meaning, the cards of the Minor Arcana being illustrated in a rather literal way with, for example, the Four of Swords shown simply as four swords.

The figures, forces and qualities depicted in the Major Arcana are highly archetypal. Even those with no previous knowledge of Tarot tradition can get an immediate sense of what each card conveys, though the full richness of meaning will only be gained through study and application. This resonance of the cards with the human psyche can be viewed in many ways, from Carl Gustav Jung's theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious to the all-encompassing spiritual archive of the occultists' anima mundi ("world soul") or akashic records. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962), Jung wrote: "The collective unconscious is common to us all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called 'the sympathy of all things'." The Major Arcana of the Tarot is one of the great doorways to this archetypal realm.

The Trumps are not merely a collection of 22 individual images: they follow an ordered sequence from I to XXI, with the Fool unnumbered or assigned 0. The Fool is sometimes placed in order before the rest of the Trumps, after them, between XX and XXI, or even no place at all. The sequence is important and can be considered in numerous ways; for example, as an allegory of the evolution of the soul. The most usual ordering and attribution of the Trumps is as follows (illustrations from the Marseilles Tarot):

0
Fool
Fool
I
Magus
Magus
Magician
Juggler
II
High Priestess
High Priestess
Popess
Female Pope
III
Empress
Empress
IV
Emperor
Emperor
V
Hierophant
Hierophant
Pope
VI
Lovers
Lovers
VII
Chariot
Chariot
VIII
Justice
Justice
IX
Hermit
Hermit
X
Fortune
Fortune
Wheel of Fortune
XI
Strength
Strength
Fortitude
XII
Hanged Man
Hanged Man
XIII
Death
Death
XIV
Temperance
Temperance
XV
Devil
Devil
XVI
Tower
Tower
House of God
XVII
Star
Star
XVIII
Moon
Moon
XIX
Sun
Sun
XX
Judgment
Judgment
XXI
World
World
   

This order is fairly standard, though certain decks do tinker with it: Arthur Edward Waite transposed Strength and Justice in the Rider-Waite deck, for example. In keeping with his Thelemic system on which his Thoth deck is based, Aleister Crowley changed the names of some of the cards: Justice becoming Adjustment, Strength becoming Lust, Temperance becoming Art, Judgment becoming the Aeon, and the World becoming the Universe.