One of the first steps toward understanding the Tarot lies in appreciating the meaning of its two Arcana – the Major and the Minor. But even before that, the novice does well by committing to memory the meaning of “Arcana” – defined as “mysterious knowledge, language, or information accessible only by the initiate.”
By its very definition, the word “Arcana” exudes secrecy and a certain esoteric eeriness – making it the perfect word for the two branches of the Tarot so important to believers, including new “initiates.” To learn about Tarot is one thing; to truly learn the meaning of the Tarot’s Arcana is quite another.
Because the Arcana are secret, and because their deeper meanings are closed to many, learning them takes time, determination, and perhaps even a gift. This gift belongs to those with a desire to learn the mysteries and knowledge of the Ancients, the special few, the Chosen. The Arcana, though seemingly somewhat simplistic at first glance, are in actuality the great secret to reading Tarot.
The first of the Arcana, termed the “Major Arcana,” symbolically relate to our physical, as well as intellectual, emotional, and spiritual states of being. These 22 powerful cards illuminate our strengths, weaknesses, fears, wishes, and the light and dark portions of our souls. The Major Arcana in a commonly used Tarot deck include the fool, the magician, the high priestess, the empress, the emperor, the hierophant (wise man or teacher), the lovers, the chariot, strength, the hermit, the wheel of fortune, justice, the hanged man, death, temperance, the devil, the tower, the star, the sun, the moon, judgment, and the world.
A number of the Major Arcana cards serve as archetypal representatives of real people in our lives, either as a whole or in symbolic parts. Some archetypes, for instance, would be authority figures, mysterious or mystical people, or parental, sibling, or other familial figures.
The Major Arcana cards each represent, through their images, positive and negative forces. The interpretation of the meanings of the cards, however, relies on many factors. Some of these factors include how the cards are laid, which cards surround others, the information sought, the reader, and the person for whom the reading is being performed. So even though each individual Major Arcana symbol or card holds its own unique meanings, it must be taken as only one part of a whole with the above critical dynamics taken into account.
When dealing with the Major Arcana, one deals with some of the ancient, mystical, and hidden secrets of the universe – and should do so with the caution attributed to the wisest among us. But be cautious, not afraid! Some may say, “Curiosity killed the cat!” But we also know: “Satisfaction brought it back!” And even though cats do purportedly have nine lives, you’ll have to consult the Major Arcana to even hazard a guess as to which life the cat in question is now living – once you’ve learned the Major Arcana’s secrets, that is!