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Rider-Waite Deck's Major Arcana

Updated on June 29, 2014

The original cards of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck were drawn by Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of the Mystical A.E. Waite, and later published by the Rider Company. With this deck you need to keep in mind that even though they may seem rather dull at first glance each card holds a whole lot of symbolism in each one. Every image found on each card has a meaning, and can be looked at in great depth once you really start to learn the tarot, and the symbolism. This is really a magical deck that most people are surprised how much one card can actual tell you once you fully understand the symbolism in all the cards.

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Publication of the Rider-Waite Tarot

The original deck was published in 1910 by William Rider. In the next year the book “The Key to the Tarot” by A.E. Waite was published with the cards that tried to help explain them. In later years other books came out that included the pictures of each card. Then the pictures on the cards were altered slightly to add a bit more, and they added a little bit better coloring to the cards.

Now U.S. Games Systems, Inc. has a copyright claim on a newer version of the deck, but the original deck has been in the public domain since 2012. U.S. Games Systems, Inc. only has the copyright to altering the deck that is now thought of as the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. The original deck isn't owned by this company though because A.E. Waite was the sole owner of this publication, and it went into the public domain 70 years after his death.

Why I recommend using the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck to begin?

This deck is one that everything on there is really of use, and has major symbolism. Plus sometimes when you get into different kinds of decks the card meanings change; as the symbols in each one changes. You should find one that speaks to you, but I like this one because this is the traditional deck that most people talk about when they explain the Tarot. This is one that is pretty universal, and a lot of people have seen this deck. It has been used in a lot of movies, TV, and music over the ages so it is easily identified by a lot of people.

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The Set Up of a Tarot Deck

First, I am going to start off with a brief explanation of the Major Arcana of the deck because these are generally the most powerful cards of the readings. If there are a lot of Major Arcana cards in a readings then there is usually a lot of energy that is surrounding the question. It can also tell you that there are generally a lot of things that are going to happen TO the person that the reading is about. Be it you or someone else. Now, I will recommend that if you are not very skilled with Tarot cards it is probably best to do the first 100 readings on yourself first before you start trying to do other people, but some people find it hard to be objective to themselves. So some might find it easier to understand the true meaning of the cards once they start reading them on others. Whatever works the best for you is really what you should do.

The Major Arcana is broken up into 22 different cards. Starting with 0 The Fool and ending with 21 The World. Think of this as a basic journey that you can travel down. You start off as The Fool, and hopefully by the end of your journey you end at The World. Now everything has its own journey from your love life, career, social life, hobbies, and whatever you can think of. So just because you are at The World in your career doesn't mean that you still aren't The Fool in your love life.

In a different Hub I will go into a brief explanation of the Minor Arcana, or the suits of the deck. Right now I am just going to explain why they are different than the Major Arcana. These are usually more of the 2nd hand parts of the problem. A good example of this is the general issues most people have with money. The Major Arcana is going to warn, or give hope to major situations depending on the question. Like keeping your job during a recession, or getting very sick and losing your job. The Minor Arcana is going to tell you more about the things you can change. Like for example becoming stingy after losing your job; or starting a new hobby that brings joy after a time of unhappiness. Now, this doesn't make the suit cards any less important in a reading. These cards can be just as important because they are usually stuff that you can do something about. These are the cards that you could change if you changed your attitude, or went out to do something different in the situation.

Then, in the Minor there are also court cards that represent people that are involved in the situations. These are like your actors of the play. They can each represent someone different, or they could represent different aspects of the same person. I am a very child like person when I am at home, and like being a very playful lover. So I have been portrayed sometimes as the Page of Cups when reading about my home life, but then as the King of Pentacles when it comes to my career questions. As I can sometimes be very ridged, and want everything done right so I take on everything myself. Often times my emotions are pushed aside during my career; so I wouldn't show my Page of Cups side while at work.

The Major Arcana

The Fool 0

The Fool is a very interesting card indeed because really it is either numbered 0, 22, or noting at all. This is due to the fact that even though usually The Fool card shows up to mean the beginning of something new. It is seen as the transition between The World numbered 21 and The Magician numbered 1. Usually once you get mastery in something you move onto a different adventure. Signifying needing to move back into The Fool position so that you can achieve mastery on something else. Either it be similar to the previous journey, or it be something completely different. All you can be sure is that you are starting a new adventure. Usually you have some special luck when The Fool shows up. Just a little Fools Luck I guess. Very much like beginners luck.

The Magician I

The Magician card comes next, usually signifying that you have found something that you have the tools to do. This being something that you are innately good at, or something that you have planned so well for that you are set up. The journey really hasn't began yet, but you are at least on the right footing to move forward. If you look at the Rider-Waite drawing of The Magician you see this in him having everything laid out, and ready for use. He looks happy, and ready to go if he needs. This card generally signifies that you are ready to take the next steps, and that you are well prepared for them. You also have some magic or strong energy behind you that will help you along your journey.

The High Priestess II

This is your inner woman (yes even men have an inner woman). She is like your psychic mother, and the one that knows your interior feminine side very well. This is a very emotional card, and really talks about your intuition. This is a card to trust your gut. You will know here if you are to move forward in your adventure. She is telling you to follow your feelings, or to become in tune with her so that you know if this is a good path to follow. The High Priestess shows us that we can take that time to meditate, and talk to her so that we can be sure that our path is blessed. You might see this in a negative aspect if you are not in touch with your psychic mother, and need to take more time in listening to her.

The Empress III

The Empress is your outer woman. This is your “mother” in the physical world. Now usually this doesn't mean your actual mother; the women who raised you. This is the feminine side that you show the world. She is good to be in-tune with, but she can also show a diva like side. This is one of those cards it really matters where it is to where it is to how it should be seen. Just remember it is good to have things for yourself, and things you like, but too much of a good things is sometimes the worst. So just remember to keep a balance between her and the High Priestess. She has a lot of things, but those things shouldn't be the only things that actually make her happy. These can also be things like beauty. It is good to see beauty in the things around you, but that doesn't mean that you should just go looking for beauty. Things that aren't beautiful, or of material value can still be of value.

The Emperor IV

This is like your outer man. This is your “father” in the physical world. Again this doesn't usually mean your actual father, but is the physical masculinity that you show outwardly. He is usually very strict to rules, and is usually an authority figure in your life. Either that be you, your dad, your boss, or even your significant other. This is just someone who wears the pants a lot, and or situations where pants need to be worn. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending how much control is taken. If it is control that needs to be taken then it is usually seen as a good thing, but if it is control that is being taken that isn't helping the situation then it is generally seen as a bad thing. When you get this card the question you need to ask yourself is who is controlling, and is it a good kind of control or a bad kind of control.

The Hierophant V

This is your inner man. He is like your psychic father, and the one that knows your interior male side very well. This is a guy who does a lot of guiding, but not in a forceful way. He usually represents your morals, values, and large groups that alter your thinking. This card shows up a lot if you are feeling like you have to conform to something, or when you find some philosophy that you would like to pursue. The Hierophant may be asking you to go find a group with the same views as you so that you can have the support of a system, and people to talk to. Then again The Hierophant may also be a warning that a group that you have gotten yourself into is changing you. This could be a good kinda change, but this might also be the kinda change like a new cult that will not bring you any peace. Really you need to look at all the cards that are associated, and the question at hand, and what he is telling you will become more clear.

The Lovers VI

This represents the union of two things. Either it be two parts of yourself combining to make somethings, or two people coming together. This doesn't always mean relationships even though this is a strong relationship indicator. You can sometimes get this card if you are going to conceive, or even if you are just going to have a basic sexual relationship with someone like a one night stand. This can also mean the combining of two things like merging two businesses together, or combining work and play. All you can really be certain of with this card is that two things will come together certainly. This is a card that has good connotations behind it most of the time, even though sometimes it is hard to see the blessing in such joint ventures at times.

The Chariot VII

This generally means travel, and is the first of our motion cards for this journey. This is associated with victory, and control. This means that you have either reached a new level of accomplishment, or that you will. This isn't complete mastery though because we are still only at number 7. The Chariot card is a good sign that you are moving in the right direction. One victory down... You have luckily won the battle, but that doesn't mean that you have won the war. So now it is time to make sure that you dot your i's and cross your t's so that you can keep this positive motion. You don't want to take one step forward to take two steps back do you? This is a great card on indicating if small victories are to be won. That doesn't mean that you will get everything you wanted, but it at least means that you are going to get a part.

Strength VIII

This is a card of maintaining your position. You have won the battle previously with The Chariot, and this is standing that ground, and holding firm to it. This is when you need to allow a higher level of consciousness to help you stay mentally strong as well. Not all strength is physical. A lot of the time it takes just as much mental strength to do things as it takes physical strength. In the drawing on this particular card the woman is taming the beast. So this can mean that you are finally becoming able to handle your inner self, and your inner strengths. You are able to calmly commune your articulate side with a more animalistic side of yourself. This card usually means to stand firm to what you believe. You have done the work, and have the strength to fight for what is needed. This isn't a crazy fight though. This is done with the utmost maturity, and most of the time people are not going to even try to fight you about it once they see your amount of inner strength.

The Hermit IX

This is a card that represent solitude. You have achieved a lot, and sometimes just need to a break to look into ourselves to find the answers we didn't get in the physical world. This is a card about sometimes actually physically detaching yourself from others, but sometimes it is just detaching our thoughts from others. A good example of this is a time when you have been fighting for someone else's cause, and you need to look into yourself to see why it is YOU are doing it. It will be something that you need to do alone so that you know it is your own true feelings, and wants. Sometimes this can mean actually physically being in solitude though. Like deep meditation away from other people, or going on a vacation alone to get to know yourself again. This card isn't usually a very bad omen, unless you are asking about relationships. This doesn't always means that the relationship itself will end, but it does mean that one or the other needs to do something alone. It will be something that the other partner will not be apart of.

Wheel of Fortune X

This is a card of ups and downs of life. This is a card of change. Now this is life changing kind of change. This isn't just simple little things like changing your room color, or favorite pair of shoes. This is things that will really shake things up for good, or bad. One thing that you can be sure though is that the change has the ability to show you what you are here for. These are changes that will really let you know who you are, and what it is you want to take from this life. If everything seems to be a mess usually this is a sign that it is going to go up from here, but it can mean that if things are great that might change. Not always though, because if this is in a past or present positions that it has already happened. If it is in a future position though it means that it is still about to happen. Now, if this card is in a wish spot that might just mean that the reader would like things to change, but is not an indicator that they will. Again, you sometimes get what you are wishing for, but sometimes you will not.

Justice XI

This is a card for making permanent decisions. These are going to be things that you will eventually set into stone. You will take responsibility for you past actions, and be ready to move on with your life. This can also represent seeing a judge, or being judged by others. This can represent someone else making a judgment for you. These decisions are always made fairly, and all the options have been weighed in. This judgment is rarely unfair to anyone, but just because you get this card doesn't mean that everyone will see it as fair. It just means that whoever does the judging will feel that they made an informed decision, and they won't feel regret for it. If this is you making the decision remember to weight everything so that you can feel like you won't regret your decision. This is really a good omen if you are the judge of the situation. This is based more on a physical realm though.

The Hanged Man XII

Now this is another interesting card. This card shows a man that is hanging by his leg upside down. This card shows you that the option of surrender is there for you. You can put up the white flag whenever you would like, and cut yourself down. This is a card of being in the position of a lose lose situation. That doesn't mean that it is all bad for The Hanged Man though. With his different perspective on the world he might just win something after all. Just not what he originally thought he was setting out for. A good example of this is is fighting for something that you think you want, and then later realizing once you have lost that it really wasn't something that was of any help to you. If you get this in a future position remember to look at all situations from different perspectives to avoid hanging yourself for some time. If it is in a present position you are already hanging yourself, and need to start looking at a way to surrender so that you can continue your journey.

Death XIII

Death is one of the most feared cards in all of the Tarot deck, and a lot of people when they see this card get very scared. This doesn't mean literal death very often. Usually this card means that you have to give something up to continue on your journey. This is like leaving your job that you don't enjoy so that you can have the time to make your own business, or to start a job that you actually enjoy. Just remember when one door closes a window opens. This is the kinda loss that you can't change though. This is something that you are going to lose no matter what, but more often then not the loss is something the person is willing to give up, or at least something that they already knew that they would have to give up. This card isn't as bad as it seems. If you allow the death to happen then usually you will be back on the right path. So don't fear this card, but do understand that you should try to get over the loss as quickly as you can to move on.

Temperance XIV

This is a card that is telling you that you already have the internal peace. This is a time to heal, and to fix everything that has been ended. You are ready to start looking for your window, and to start moving forward with your new found peace. This also comes up when you will see both sides of the argument or that both sides of the argument need to be acknowledged. When one door closes; sometimes two or more windows open, and you need to figure out which way you want to head. It reminds us to be balanced, and have equality. This can also represent healing. If someone is sick this is usually a good sign that they will get better, but that doesn't always mean it. If someone is sick this might also mean that they person has come to terms with it, and are done being upset by it. Life is a little give, and a little take, and this card is a great example of this.

The Devil XV

This card is a strange one. Yes generally it isn't good to see this card, but it can be a very helpful one when it comes to fixing something. This card means that you have a negative relationship with someone or something. This could be your partner, boss, or parent, or this could be something more like drugs, alcohol, sex, money, ext. This is a very codependent card. You have become far to codependent to whatever it may be, and it is causing toxic things in your life. This card usually shows you to abandon this way, so that you can continue moving forward on your journey. Whatever it is that has a hold of you it is time to let it go, and allow yourself to be independent of it once more. Often times people who are struggling with a drug problem this will come as a cross, or opposition to something they want to achieve. In the future position this is often a warning of something that you are doing is soon going to become very toxic to you in your life.

The Tower XVI

This is another card for change, but unlike The Wheel of Fortune this card is a change that will come suddenly, and most likely with little warning. If you get this card in a future position then you might want to check all the details to find any cracks in your foundation so that you won't become totally destroyed. If you look at the Rider-Waite version of The Tower card it shows that only the top half was destroyed. So anything that you have that is a firm base will be left standing, but things that aren't quite as set might go flying. So be prepared to rebuild, and when you are rebuilding start being as honest as possible so that you don't create new cracks. You can get this card if someone is lying, and the truth changes everything. Another thing that this card represents are sudden changes in peoples ideas. This card could mean that you have figured out something in your philosophy that doesn't match anymore, or needs to be removed. The Tower can be something that is inside of you, and doesn't have to be anything in our physical world.

The Star XVII

This is a card of being hopeful. It usually shows itself when hope is about to shine into your life. This is slightly an impractical card though. This isn't always solid hope, but does mean that you at least are holding on to hope. A little sliver of hope doesn't always give you something real to stand on to. It is good news that it means you will be generally in a calmer state of mind, but that doesn't mean that you really will get what you want in this reality. This is a card that has other worldly concerns, and usually that means that our reality isn't of its first priority. This doesn't mean that it isn't a great sign though. A lot of times we forget that other aspects of metaphysics are just as important to you life, as the physical world. Sometimes just changing to a higher thinking pattern will help you realize all that this card can, or has brought the reader.

The Moon XVIII

The Moon generally represents illusion, or the intuitive side of things. It often means that things are being hidden from us, and those things could be either good or bad. You can only see half the moon on even the best nights, and sometimes even less then that. So what is hidden is always a mystery. This isn't saying that all that is being hidden is a bad thing. This can also represent using your intuition to uncover what is being hidden. Even if it is pitch black outside you can usually tell if there is danger stalking you, or know that you will find your way if you concentrate hard enough. This card can mean figuring it all out, or it could mean being in total confusion. All it can guarantee is that you better get ready to read between the lines, and you might not be as surprised.

The Sun XIV

This card is usually the light at the end of the long dark tunnel. This is when all of the things that were hidden in The Moon card come to the light of the day. The sun will always rise in the morning, and this is showing you that it has finally risen in the aspect in question of your life. This shows that the illusion is over, and that that things are going well. You can breath a little, and celebrate. You are most likely feeling great in a lot of ways, and you want to tell the world all that you have learned to get you here. This card can mean a celebrate or a birth that will bring happiness to people. The child on the back of the white horse is to symbolize either birth, or rebirth. It is time to attune to a more child like version of yourself, and let loose to have fun.

Judgment XV

This is a card that shows that you are now to your final judgment. Did you do enough to feel like you deserve to move on, or do you feel like you might get judged harshly because of all the things you left undone? This card is usually a good omen though. The Judgment card can assure you though that absolutes are about to take place. That once the judgment is made; then it is set. This usually is talking about a decision that you either don't want to make, or are decisions that you are regretful about. So keep in might that sometimes you need to make hard decisions to move onto your life. Often times if someone is in a lot of trouble with the law this card will come up. This means large courts, and many more people making a decision then just you. It can also represent karma, and judgment from someone even higher than our reality like a God.

The World XVI

This is usually a card of complete fulfillment. This means that the highest achievements in this aspect are being met. Now, if this is in the future position on any of the readings then usually that means that they will achieve it, but if this card is placed in a wish section then usually it means that it is something that the person asking the question would like to see happen. That doesn't meant that it can't happen though. Sometimes if you wish for something hard enough it becomes reality. And this isn't a bad thing to wish. This is the card of the end, and ready to retire, or relax on this venture. After you have relaxed you can always start over with The Fool on a different adventure. This card is always the best omen of all the Major Arcana cards, and you are really lucky if you get it. So smile when you see this card, because that means everything will be better than okay.

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