The Major Arcana
The Fool sets out on his journey, carefree and with infinite possibilities before him. In his bag he carries all he needs and the future is full of promise. He can be seen as a new soul, ready to begin its journey and the Tarot is best learned through the motif of the Fool’s Journey, as a metaphor for the Journey of Life. Appropriately, therefore, he also holds a warning, in the form of his little dog – watch your step!
The Magician is associated with Mercury and communication. He is the Male Principle, the creative force. He commands the four Elements, represented by the suits of the Minor Arcana – Wands (Fire), Pentacles (Earth), Swords (Wind or Air) and Cups (Water). The Magician may appear as wise Merlin or as a smooth tongued trickster. He takes the raw, unfocused potential of the Fool and directs it into the potent power of male creative energy.
While the Magician’s power is concerned with the outer, physical world, the High Priestess’ power is hidden, mysterious and secret. The Magician controls the Elements, but the High Priestess combines them into something new. She takes the creative inspiration of the Magician and gives it form. She recalls Persephone, Queen of the Underworld who is also the Maiden of Spring. She reminds us of a deeper magic, of the very essence of life and death.
If the High Priestess is Persephone, the Spring Maiden, the Empress is Demeter, Goddess of Abundance. To the newborn Fool she represents the world of nature and sensation – she is Mother. From her the Fool learns if his needs will be met, his bruises kissed, his tears comforted. She is his first experience of the world. She is associated with Venus.
The Emperor is associated with Aries, first sign of the zodiac. As Father he guides the infant Fool in his first experiences in the outside world. From him the Fool learns the structures of the world and also its limits. He can be a wise and temperate leader or a tyrant.
The Hierophant is associated with earthy Taurus, which helps to explain his meaning. The Hierophant represents spirituality, but it is firmly grounded in the physical plane. That can mean the structures and rituals of religions and wise counsel, of a practical nature, from an authority figure. In my interpretation of the Fool’s Journey he represents the Fool’s first encounter with the wider customs and practices of his society and culture. They can be a safe haven or a restriction and the Hierophant can speak of the challenges of fitting in at school or knuckling down to a new discipline.
So far the Fool’s Journey has been mapped out for him but now, for the first time, he has a Choice. Something’s got a hold of his heart, tearing his soul and his senses apart. It is time to choose – will he follow his heart no matter the cost or will he take the other, safer path? The Lovers is associated with Gemini, the Twins, and signifies that unique moment when two souls connect. The Power of Love hits the Fool like an arrow and nothing will ever be the same again.
The Fool has taken up the reins of his own destiny and, following his chosen path, heads into the unknown. The Chariot is a perfect metaphor for Adolescence and, in my Fool’s Journey, that’s just what it signifies. During adolescence, as in love, our emotions are in overdrive and take us every which way. Part of growing up is learning to master our emotions and hold them in balance with our intellect. When the Chariot appears, things are in flux and we may feel they are out of our control. It signifies movement, upheaval, struggle and also excitement and risk, all the things associated with setting off on a new path or beginning a new passion.
At first the Chariot may seem impossible to control but as the Journey continues, the Fool grows in ability and confidence. At first he tried to control the Chariot through physical strength alone and suffered a few tumbles along the way. But he now understands that he also has an inner strength, to give direction and moderation to his power. The Strength card is associated with Leo and stands for courage and energy. The raw energy of the lion is at the service of the Maiden’s indomitable will.
The Fool now turns his attention inward. He finds himself measuring the progress of his Journey, asking himself if he made the ‘right’ choices along the way. The Hermit represents a time of introspection. It’s a time to withdraw and reflect and perhaps to heal. It can be lonely and frustrating, but use this time wisely and it can lead to a renewed clarity. If there’s a problem you’re struggling with, the Hermit suggests careful thought and perhaps the counsel of a trusted mentor.
The Wheel of Fortune reminds us that all things change, from seasons to circumstances to moods. In the Fool’s Journey, his time of withdrawal is ending. The Wheel has turned and he is renewed, ready for the next stage of his Journey. The Wheel of Fortune is associated with Jupiter and promises big changes and good luck.
Change means choices and every choice has a consequence. Here is a reminder to take responsibility for our actions because, one way or another, Justice will be served. The Fool may have set out on a new adventure, but his slate is not wiped clean. Which is why, in my Fool’s Journey, Justice can signify the need to resolve old issues. Justice is associated with Libra and is all about balance. It can carry a warning to look after your health or manage your work-life balance better. It can signify actual legal matters.
The Hanged Man hangs by his feet, not by his neck. He alludes to Odin, who hung for nine days from the World Tree in willing sacrifice to gain all knowledge. In my Fool’s Journey, he learns that, far from controlling his destiny, he is a victim of circumstance.
This is one of those moments when you have no control over your situation. When the only way to win is not to play. When the Fool stops struggling against the inevitable, he learns the lesson of The Hanged Man. He is associated with Neptune and reminds us that, like water, all situations are in flux and this too shall pass.
Something ends. And if the lesson of the Hanged Man has been absorbed, it will be accepted as inevitable. The Fool has learned how the past has shackled him since what he thought was a new beginning at the Wheel of Fortune. He is now ready to set it free. Death is associated with Scorpio, which in turn stands for both Sex and Death. Both of these mysteries involve transformation and change and are the key to this card. Both are an inevitable and natural part of life and yet they are so difficult to come to terms with. Perhaps because of this ending, not necessarily a fatal one, the Fool hears for the first time Lady Death whispering in his ear… “I am coming, so Live.”
Temperance is associated with Sagittarius, the seemingly impossible combination of horse and man and everything about this card is about combining the irreconcilable. After the shattering encounter with Death, the Fool realizes that all Endings are counter-balanced by Beginnings. He feels a sense of balance, of attunement with the innate order of things. Temperance teaches us that balance is not static or easily achievable, but it is possible.
Old habits die hard and the Fool soon learns that balance is a difficult thing to maintain. The Devil, associated with earthy Capricorn, stands for wild behavior and physical gratification. The harder we try to break free of our cravings for sex, food or drugs for example, the more we feel bound by them. In this card we are reminded of the Lovers, who also represented Choice. This couple feel trapped but in fact they are not. Whether their chains represent denial or excess, they are not chained. The Devil, in the shape of our earthly desires, must be given his due. But he does not demand all. The Choice of how much it is right to give him is the hardest choice of all, but it is one we each must make.
Because if we don’t, the choice will be made for us. At every step of his Journey, The Fool has been adding, brick by metaphorical brick, to the Tower that represents his Ego and the structures of his world. The Tower can stand for established beliefs, a marriage, job or anything that we rely on for our sense of identity. Like the Fool, we have built our Towers on sand, papering over any cracks with creative defence mechanisms, the best known of which is denial. And the stronger and stouter the Tower, the greater the blow of its shattering. The Tower is associated with Mars and represents war and upheaval. But it is also about Truth and the Fool is now forced to confront it. It is painful and as the Fool surveys the wreckage of what he thought was impregnable, it seems impossible that anything can be built anew.
The delicate light of the Star offers hope in the darkest of places. The Fool, trapped in his long dark night of the soul, may at first not notice the guiding light of the Star but when he does he will see a promise of healing and better times ahead. The Star is associated with Aquarius and represents insight and clarity of vision. The way ahead is not yet clear, but there is a Star to steer by. In my Fool’s Journey the Star represents the Higher Self. Now that the self-deceptions of the Tower have been stripped away, the Fool’s Heart’s Path is once again illuminated, if not yet totally clear.
The Fool’s trial is not over. Armed only with Hope, he must now confront his own truth. The Moon is associated with Pisces and represents in my Journey the dark pools of the unconscious. It is time to explore them, with honesty and courage. This is the Counsellors’ card, the work of going through the issues and identifying the layers of patterns and defences in our behaviour. It’s not easy, for the Moon’s pale light both illuminates and conceals. Here lies the gateway to both genius and madness and the Fool has only his intuition to guide him. And there is the Moon’s lesson for the Fool – to trust the intuition of his Higher Self that has guided all his choices so far and now has brought him here.
After his long dark night of the soul comes the promise of a new day. The Sun brings clarity and energy, a renewed optimism and enthusiasm. Confusion and doubt vanish in the clear morning light and the Fool steps out of the shadows with confidence and an assured sense of purpose. The Sun is a card of promise and resolution, of achievement, recognition and good times to be celebrated and enjoyed. There is darkness in this Journey, but there is also light and now is a time to embrace the light.
Now the Fool looks back on his Journey and realizes that every step was necessary to bring him to this point – all the hurts, all the mistakes, all the seemingly wrong turns. And he sees that every misfortune carried within it a kernel of sweetness that is only soured by his own regrets. Judgment is associated with Pluto and signifies Rebirth and Transformation. It is Judgment Day and sins are forgiven not, in this Journey, by an external power but by the Fool himself. The Fool has been through the Fire of his Journey and emerged renewed, healed, transformed.
And so the Fool steps out again into the World, but this time he dances. The World signifies Completion, Wholeness and Perfection. In my Fool’s Journey the World is the integrated consciousness, perfectly attuned from the darkest depths of the unconscious to the highest vibrations of our Universe. The power of the Tarot’s symbology enables us to see across the full spectrum of our Consciousness, from the lowest expressions of our humanity to the very highest. In the World card, for a moment, we may glimpse Infinity.