How to Read Tarot Cards

Of The Major Arcana - by Richi Who

This is your introduction on how to read tarot cards. This page covers the meanings of each of the cards making up the Major Arcana. The interpretations are based on the Rider Waite Tarot but also include relevant comments from other packs and commentators.

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Each card tells a story.

It is for you to build up your own story lines using these explanations as a guide. After all it is your own story line that really matters.

The figure represented on each major arcana card during a reading can either be representing your subject themselves or someone influencing your subject.

This will of course depend upon the context in which the card has been drawn.

how to read tarot cards of the major arcana

How To Read Tarot Cards Of The Major Arcana


0 The Fool

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the first of the Major Arcana.

O The Fool:

Symbols - Colourful clothing and carrying all his possessions and accompanied by a dog and carrying a flower, the fool or Jester is a traveller who is free to make his own choices.

On his shoulder he carries a staff to which is tied a bundle of previous experiences.

He is off to see the world, but knows not where.

Meaning - The Fool is seen to express innocence and optimism with scant regard for the present or for consequences.

Denotes positive inner forces which may influence an individual in their choices.

Reverse - Warns that the choice made is likely to be foolish.

If seen to be significant, the flower can be a reminder to stop and smell the flowers along the journey, and to be aware of the ramifications of his decisions, i.e. look before you leap.


I The Magician

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the second of the Major Arcana

I The Magician:

Symbols - Male figure, the the infinity symbol over the figures head, a small wand, a table on which are a chalice, a pentacle, a staff (wand) and a sword, that is, all the suites (elements) of the tarot.

Meaning - The Magician represents the ability to translate ideas into action, to use skills, both practical, interpersonal and psychic to advantage.

In short, it is a card of self-confidence.

Reverse - Warns that the use of power or skills for destructive ends will attract bad luck.

Often I see this card as a reminder to the subject that they have the skills and abilities they need, so the time has come to put plans into action.


II The High Priestess

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the third of the Major Arcana

II The High Priestess:

Symbols - Wise woman enthroned, the moon, two pillars, two flowers, thoughtful contemplation.

Meaning - The High Priestess represents the spiritual feminine principles of knowingness, love and relationships. Wisdom, sound judgment, serenity, common sense and intuition.

Reverse - Indicates superficial qualities, ignorance, shortsightedness and selfishness. Poor judgment.

The High Priestess is the wise woman of long ago in whom insight and understanding of the world resided. In ancient times she was embodied as Isis - the universal mother.


III The Empress

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the fourth of the Major Arcana

III The Empress:

Symbols - A gown decorated with pomegranates, a crown of stars, a rod, (the scepter of authority), a heart-shaped shield with the symbol for Venus, a field of ripe grain or fruit.

Meaning - The Empress represents fertility of both, body and mind. She can signify a bountiful harvest and good luck.

Reverse -  Indicates lack of interest, inaction, indecision, possessiveness, jealousy, disruption.

The Empress is a creator, whether it is creation of life, of romance, of art or business. This card can represent the gestation of an idea or the bringing to reality of a project by fostering and nurturing it.


IV The Emperor

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the fifth of the Major Arcana

IV The Emperor:

Symbols - Throne, ram's heads, orb and sceptre.

Meaning - Authority, control, confidence, accomplishment. One who is master of his emotions, who is able to realize his ideas.

Reverse - Immaturity, tendency to be gullible, weakness of character.

This is the guy in charge! The emperor represents the authority to make things happen. Take control of your affairs.



V The Hierophant

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the sixth of the Major Arcana

V The Hierophant:

Symbols - Triple crown, Twin pillars, 3 tiered staff, throne, hand raised in blessing, two acolytes, two crossed keys).

Meaning - Papal figure who holds the keys to the kingdom. The hierophant counsels rising above worldly concerns to release creative powers through the divine.

Reverse - Foolish over-generosity, vulnerability, openness to new ideas.

In order to move forward one must overcome or put aside fears or stubbornness and see the larger picture. Stop putting things off!



VI The Lovers

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the seventh of the Major Arcana

VI The Lovers:

Symbols - Male and Female figures, in the deck shown it is the classic Adam and Eve.

Meaning - This card can refer to marriage and friendship, but has a wider meaning of the necessity of choice, which means responsibility. When all is in balance it reflects beauty and inner harmony.

Reverse - Quarrels, separation, frustration,

Trust your instincts, to choose this challenge, person, or career path. Decide and go for it!



VII The Chariot

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the eighth of the Major Arcana

VII The Chariot:

Symbols - A crowned conqueror rides in a chariot drawn by two sphinxes/lions/horses representing positive and negative forces.

Meaning - Control over tension of opposites. The Chariot can point to a struggle and an eventual hard-won victory. It can mean a union of opposites.

Reverse - Failure in carrying out a project, defeat. Not facing reality.

This is a difficult card to interpret but in simple terms shows eventual triumph over all difficulties through perseverance. Movement forward is indicated. Hang in there!


VIII Strength

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the ninth of the Major Arcana

VIII Strength:

Symbols - A woman dominant over a lion’s head, holding its jowls with her hands as it rests in her control.

Meaning - Strength, courage, determination. Mind over matter. Confidence.

Reverse - Weakness, impotency, sickness. Lack of faith.

The important message of the strength card is not to give up. To have the courage to keep at it till you succeed and to have the faith and optimism that you will succeed. This card is able to offset any negatives in surrounding cards.



IX The Hermit

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the tenth of the Major Arcana

IX The Hermit:

Symbols - An elderly bearded man wearing a habit holds a lantern in his right hand. The lantern represents occult knowledge.

Meaning - Withdrawal, meditation on the meaning of life. tendency to withhold emotion. Fear of discovery.

Reverse - Denotes an inability to mature and deepen ones wisdom.

Predicts a meeting with one who will counsel the seeker or inspire them and show the way. be willing to take good advice when it is given. Don't be stubborn.



X The Wheel of Fortune

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the eleventh of the Major Arcana

X The Wheel of Fortune:

Symbols - A wheel turning clockwise with rising/falling figures or beasts on or by it. Waite also includes Hebrew letters I H V H (Jehovah) and alchemical symbols. There is a sphinx perched atop the wheel.

Meaning - Destiny. Fortune, fate. Approaching the end of a problem. Movement, advancement.

Reverse - The quality of your involvement will be your reward.

This card can mean movement, change/evolution. Change will seem to come out of the blue, a stroke of good, unexpected luck. One must find the still centre for tranquility. A card of Karma.


XI Justice

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the twelfth of the Major Arcana

XI Justice:

Symbols - A crowned woman holds the scales of justice and a heavy double edged sword. In some decks she is blindfolded.

Meaning - Fairness, balance, justice. Sense of proportion in one's self and life.

Reversed - Bias. False accusations, injustice, lack of balance.

This card means we are held accountable for our actions. This applies to the material/physical/ethical world. Its spiritual equivalent is the (XX) Judgment card.


XII The Hanged Man

How to read tarot cards focusing upon the thirteenth of the Major Arcana

XII The Hanged Man:

Symbols - A man hanging by one foot from a Tau cross. His free leg is always bent to form a "4," his face is always peaceful, never suffering. His hands are secured behind his back.

Meaning -This is a time of trial or meditation, selflessness, sacrifice, prophecy.

Reverse - Failure to give of one's self. Egotistical approach.

This card can also imply a time when everything just stands still, a time of rest and reflection before moving on.


XIII The Death Card

How to read tarot focusing upon the fourteenth card of the Major Arcana

XIII Death:

Symbols -Skeletal Death, black robes or armour, sometimes with a scythe or a flag featuring a white rose on a desolate black field. There is often a rising sun.

Meaning - Transformation. Clearing away the old to make way for the new.

Reverse - Stagnation, immobility, lethargy. Narrowly avoiding a serious accident.

The Death Card can indicate great change in one’s life. New beginnings.



XIV Temperance

How to read tarot focusing upon the fifteenth card of the Major Arcana

XIV Temperance:

Symbols - An angel, a pool or river of water. Two cups or beakers, a fluid flowing between them.

Meaning - Moderation, temperance, frugality, harmony. Accomplishment through self-control. Fortunate omen. Successful combination of elements (or people).

Reverse - Discord, disunion, conflict of interest.

Finding balance as an individual. Sovereignty in one’s life.



XV The Devil

How to read tarot focusing upon the sixteenth card of the Major Arcana

XV The Devil:

Symbols - A winged, horned devil, a black pedestal, a naked male and female figure, chains, inverted pentagram.

Meaning - Subordination, subservience, downfall. Lack of success. Bad outside influence of advice. Self-destruction.

Reverse - Possibility of spiritual understanding. Throwing off the shackles. Release.

Material emphasis to the detriment of others. Lack of essential humanity. Beware of a destructive force.



XVI The Tower

How to read tarot focusing upon the seventeenth card  of the Major Arcana

XVI The Tower:

Symbols - A tower on a rocky outcropping, a powerful bolt of lightning, one or two figures falling from the tower, sometimes waves crashing below.

Meaning - Complete and sudden change. Severing of a friendship. Changing of beliefs, opinions. Disruption, unexpected events.

Reverse - Entrapment in an unhappy situation. Following old ways.

This is not a tarot readers favourite card to get in a reading. The subject is going to have their style of life and way of thinking disrupted, which they will see as a catastrophe. The disruption may be followed by enlightenment. Clearing away the old to make way for the new.


XVII The Star

How to read tarot focusing upon the eighteenth card of the Major Arcana

XVII The Star:

Symbols - Seven or eight stars, a kneeling woman, a pool of water, two urns.

Meaning - Hope, faith, inspiration. Mixing the past and present. Promising opportunity. Good health.

Reverse - Illness, unfulfilled hopes, bad luck.

In contrast to the previous card, this is a card of inspiration. The subject should be able to see their way forward past old obstacles.



XVIII The Moon

How to read tarot focusing upon the nineteenth card of the Major Arcana

XVIII The Moon:

Symbols - A full moon (with a crescent within), twin pillars, two dogs/wolves howling, a stream that runs to the ocean, a crayfish emerging out of the water.

Meaning - Deception, obscurity, disillusionment, caution. Bad influence.

Reverse - Peace will come after a difficult period.

A yearning for fulfilment, but unforseen perils, threatening situations. Psychic forces may be at work. This very much a cautionary card for the subject to take great care during the period represented by this card.


XIX The Sun

How to read tarot focusing upon the twentieth card of the Major Arcana

XIX The Sun:

Symbols - The Sun, one or two naked children (a naked little boy, sometimes riding a white pony or a boy and a girl), sunflowers, often a wall, sometimes a banner.

Meaning - Satisfaction, accomplishment, contentment, success, achievement.

Reverse - Uncertainty of future plans, loss of something of value.

A very positive card. Contentment, attainment of personal goals. Happy marriage.


XX Judgment

How to read tarot focusing upon the twenty-first card of the Major Arcana

XX Judgment:

Symbols - Angel, trumpets, graves with people rising from them, often water or an ocean.

Meaning - The need to repent and forgive. Atonement, rebirth, development, promotion.

Reverse - Delay, disappointment. Health warnings.

Growing awarenesses. I often see this as a card of spiritual growth - shift in personal consciousness, a growing of personal awareness. Its material/ethical equivalent is the (XI) Justice card.


XXI The World

How to read tarot focusing upon the twenty-second and final card of the Major Arcana

XXI The World:

Symbols - A clothed woman stands within an oval wreath. She holds a thin wand. The four corners have symbols of the apocalypse - an angel, an eagle, a bull and a lion - guardians of the truth.

Meaning - Attachment, completion, perfection. The end result of all efforts - success.

Reverse - Fear of change, failure to complete venture. Lack of vision.

Reward, completion. I often 'see' travel associated with this card.


› Major Arcana Tarot Cards


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