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The Fool's journey explained - the significance of the tarot deck

The Fool

The Fool

The Empress

The Empress

The Devil

The Devil



The secret of the tarot

The tarot deck is a very useful tool not only for divination but also for meditation and self-discovery. It allows us, who begin our journey as the 'Fool', to travel through the different manifestations of the 78 cards until we come full circle and understand our life and destiny. In this hub I shall not go into the art of doing a tarot reading. Instead, I shall go into detail about the tarot deck itself.

Neither am I going to discuss here the different types of decks out there. I shall instead include a few images from the first deck I ever used and which I tend to go back to because it is the one I know the best and feel the most comfortable with. Of course, over the years I have acquired a number of decks, I use them for different readings, for different moods. But this one is my standard if you will. I always feel I've done an especially meaningful reading if I've used these cards. Sometimes the cards are so clear in their meaning that they make me laugh out loud. It is so obvious when the cards reveal their meaning to me. The tarot deck, therefore, becomes a vehicle through which we can learn more about ourselves and our purpose in life. It allows for us to see our life laid out so that we can clearly understand what is going on and make the best decision for us.

Meanings behind the cards emerge as they are laid out in specific patterns called spreads. There are many kinds of spreads out there, some are very simple three card spreads, while others are more complicated. However, if you are a very beginner, you can just take out a random card and read it's meaning. This will, for example, be a tool to help represent where you are or what you are feeling right now.

The Major Arcana depict the journey through life, while the four different suits of the Minor Arcana are the archetypal energies and are the echoes of our daily life. Thus, Wands represent Fire or Air, our careers, projects and inspirations. Cups represent Water, our emotions, relationships and creativity. Swords on the other hand stand for Air or Fire, representing challenges, intellect and ways of thinking. Finally, the suit of the Pentacles is Earth, representing the physical world we live in as well as money and resources. Thus by journeying through the tarot deck we begin through readings to discover what we need to do, to figure out what path is best for our contentment and peace of mind. It allows us to gain clarity which brings a fuller understanding of who we truly are and can be.

The Major Arcana are made up of 22 cards numbered from 0 through to 21.

0 - The Fool. He marks the beginning of the journey as an archetypal child. He is unformed and unlearned, innocent and eager. His message is one of unconventional choices. He lives in the moment, filled with wonder and curiosity. The Fool is not worried about where the journey will end. He knows that all possibilities and seeming contradictions exist in this moment.

1 - The Magician. This card represents the male principal or animus . He stands in for our active or outgoing energy, our skills and abilities in terms of the outer world. This is how we do things, how we learn. The Magician's message is one of discipline and responsibility. Unlike the Fool, the Magician is aware of the power of his will and the importance of his choices.

2 - The High Priestess. She embodies the female principal or anima . This is our passive or introspective energy, our skills as they relate to our inner world and self-reflection. This card, therefore, is about how we think or feel about things and what we know intuitively. This card also speaks of the unknown and contradictions. This card is about a kind of knowing beyond logic. It draws your attention to your intuition and makes you recognize the different ways of knowing. However, it is important to not become the slave to your muse. Take your inspiration and translate it into action.

3 - The Empress. This card represents the Mother archetype and our experience of and with mothering, nurturing, emotions and our creative impulses. Her actions are largely internal and nurturing, surrounded by feelings. She is the epitome of lobe and the birth of a life resulting from that love. The message she brings is of creation and passion. Tap into the energy of Mother Earth and celebrate her gifts. Recognise, honour and celebrate not only your senses but also the physical and natural world.

4 - The Emperor. He represents the Father archetype and our experience with authority, reason and logic. He is the mirror image of the Empress. He, while driven by love and a desire for what is best for everyone, is more concerned with the realistic functioning of everyday life. The Emperor seeks to create a stable society where everyone can reach its highest good. He wishes is children to have a strong foundation, to achieve their best. Thus, his message is of a healthy stability. Seek well-functioning order in your life in terms of your home, your work as well as your relationships. Appreciate the rules of society which allow you to have a peaceful life.

5 - The Hierophant. This card stands for our formal education within our society. He represents school, religious training and cultural traditions. He teaches us to respect the achievements of past generations. He reminds us to make use of the vast resources of knowledge that are available to us. He exhorts us to not disdain tradition out of hand, but to see what wonderful things the achievement of humankind has to offer.

6 - The Lovers. This card stands for our adolescence, our experiences with hormones, sex and our sense of self. However, the card tells us to make good and balanced choices. Do not let your emotions get the better of you. Consider all the facets before committing to any decision. Choose well and build a foundation that can help you achieve your best dreams. Passion is not enough if it is not grounded in reality.

7 - The Chariot. This card illustrates the ability to see both sides of an issue. It marks the end of the 'but that's not fair' stage. We are forced to reason, to see beyond our own point of view. The message of the Chariot is one of willpower and control. You must recognise your own strength and ability to maintain order in the midst of chaos. Know that you can achieve more than you think you can. Celebrate your achievements, but do not let achievement be at the expense of understanding.

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8 - Strength. This card forces us to learn to control our instincts and impulses, master ourselves and develop self-control. She reminds you that you have more strength, power and courage than you realise. Learn to live easily with these gifts and use them only when appropriate. Do not let your strength or baser desires control you, but do not also deny your power for fear of your own self.

9 - The Hermit. Here we see our need to find ourselves. He represents a turning inward, a questioning of all we have learned so that we may find a sense of inner peace. The message of the card is one of self-knowledge. You must make sure that your beliefs reflect the leanings of your own heart. You need to learn who you are and what you stand for. It is only then that you can trust yourself without depending on the opinions of other people.

10 - Wheel of Fortune. As soon as we find a sense of inner peace and balance, our resolve is tested by a spin of the Wheel of Fortune. Fate forces something to happen that is beyond our control or our abilities to foresee. Thus the message of this card is two-fold. On the one hand it tells us that life is full of ups and downs and that things that happen are often not personal but the result of the changes happening on the world around us. On the other hand, we are told that events are neither good nor bad, their perception changes based on how you choose to view them. Thus, the card teaches you to keep your centre and your focus. It exhorts you to not lose your direction when you meet challenges that you cannot control.

11 - Justice. This card tells us how we fared through the spin of the Wheel of Fortune. It teaches us that we reap the benefits of what we sow. Thus, the message of this card is simple, Justice is blindfolded, you have made your own karma and hence, what you have done in the past will determine your future. However, we must not forget that even as the past has created the future, so too, now, this every instance, will also shape and affect the future. Thus, we must learn from our mistakes. If we have learned our lessons in the Hermit, we will come out shaken through the spin of fate but fairly unhurt, however, if we have failed to understand the lessons we were meant to learn we might have to either go back to the Hermit to relearn the lessons or move on to the next card in the deck which is the Hanging Man.

12 - The Hanging Man. This card is very important for it teaches us the power and strength of letting go and enjoying seeing the world through a different perspective. This card also teaches us the importance of sacrifice. Sometimes things are worth sacrificing for. Thus, the Hanging Man represents most closely the Fool. By turning upside down, by behaving in a manner not consistent with society, the Hanging Man may be judged a fool by others. However, there is an important difference, for the Hanging Man has come to this point through a challenging experience that gives him a sense of understanding that only people who have been through great challenges can have. Thus we learn through this card when and what to sacrifice. Understand who you are and let your actions and choices result from that vision. Do not be untrue to yourself just because your vision for your life is different from that of those around you.

13 - Death. This card signifies a major change, positive or negative. It could be an unexpected promotion, the ending of a relationship, even moving to a new place. This card speaks of a psychological death, indicating that if you want to move beyond this point, you must pass death. Death of the ego and its long-held beliefs make way for new energy and life, it allows for the continuing of the spiritual journey one had undertaken. This card lets you know that spiritual growth brings pain, but that without it, we cannot get to the rewards that lie beyond.

14 - Temperance. Once we've negotiated the transformational forces of Death, we are taught graceful balance and tolerance in Temperance. This card tells us the importance of adapting to changes in circumstance while still maintaining our centre and our sense of self. The core message of this card is simple to comprehend but difficult to live by. She tells us to moderate our life in all things and all ways. We must take action or inaction based on its appropriateness to the situation. Be it physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual, all of our responses must be balanced. Thus she speaks of perfect balance, perfectly expressed.

15 - The Devil. Once we have learned not to blame the universe for things that go wrong, or to complain about the unfairness of it all when it was never meant personally, we are through the Devil asked to confront our shadow selves, for the Devil we fear most is our own dark aspects that control us in subtle ways. We may have suppressed them with Strength, but we had only gained victory and control there, not understanding. Now we are taught to learn from them, to turn the negative qualities we have repressed into positive qualities that can bring richness into our lives. Thus the Devil represents what can happen if we let our lives go out of balance. He is thus a caution, for if Temperance is perfect balance, perfectly expressed, he is imperfect balance, recklessly pursued. Anything taken to extremes, be it work, sex, food, leads to an imbalanced life.

16 - The Tower. Once we feel we have regained some kind of balance, the universe reminds us that we are not in control of everything. So the Tower on which we have built our belief system, our world view, tumbles and falls. Unlike Death and the Wheel of Fortune, however, this disruption is not external but internal. The bolt that hits the Tower brings with it a moment of illumination, realisation and experience. This card has a difficult message, it stands for destruction, but the destruction brings with it truth for it is realising truth that causes the Tower on which we had placed all our hopes and dreams to crumble. Sometimes this might mean a change from our religious belief system or political ideology. It might mean leaving behind outmoded ways of viewing the world and the environment. Whatever the truth that is revealed to you and however difficult it may be, it is for your ultimate good.

17 - The Star. When we are at the very bottom, having lost it all in the destruction of the Tower, the Star provides us guidance, hope and optimism. She provides us with the strength we need to carry on and rebuild. Thus, she stands for perfect faith that comes with realising the truth. She is the sister of Temperance, but she is more natural in her nakedness, more grounded in her humble position in the water. Rather and controlling and conserving, she unreservedly empties her pitchers, having faith that they will be filled once more. Thus her message is of replenishment and keeping faith with the cycles of nature and time. After hardship, a better time will follow.

18 - The Moon. Just as the Star guides us, the Moon teaches us to question everything and to realise that everything is not as it seems. The light of the Moon can distract us and make us lose our way, but we can also by her light have inspiring dreams. The lesson she provides, therefore, is to learn to tell the difference.

19 - The Sun. Once we've wandering in the light of the Moon we come out into the Sun with its increased strength and self-awareness. In the light of the Sun, we have a certainty that we know ourselves, what we believe in and what is real. This card's message is peaceful contentment with the world and its workings. You understand what you can and cannot and do not worry about what still eludes you. You understand your role and yourself within the universe. You realise you cannot know everything, but you are at peace with that knowledge. Life is good at this stage of the cycle.

20 - Judgement. Because we have finally learned who we are, the card of Judgement calls us to come to an even deeper spiritual realisation. Often this card is a call to action, to share ones knowledge or experience with others. You might not want to heed the message of this card, you might be actively drowning out the sound of the universe with the noise of your daily life, but it is important to listen to it and face the call and the challenges it brings with courage and action. It promises a more fulfilling life. Do not, however, be compelled to dance to anyone's tune. Listen to the music of your own heart, do not ignore it through fear or obstinacy.

21 - The World. This card represents the end of the cycle. We have learned all of our lessons and have achieved integration, balance and spiritual awareness. Thus the message of the World is that of completion and accomplishment. You feel a sense of unity with the universe and mastery over self that is natural and effortless. You move to the rhythm of nature and your heart. They are one. However, you must be mindful that in our human lives total completion is never really achieved. It is all temporary or partial, but these temporary or partial experiences encourage us to keep growing and moving forward so that we may experience that exquisite moment of freedom and understanding once again.


Marthrach on December 30, 2015:

Hello, I recently got the same dec of cards as you got on your article. They are beautiful. I am learning tarot as I go and your article really helped me. Thank you

Kari on June 04, 2014:

This is a great explanation of the Major Arcana. I have a different deck made by Doreen Virtue, but even though some of the names are different, the meanings are all the same. Your hub is bookmarked for future readings!

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