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Introduction to the Major Arcana

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1 Introduction to the Major Arcana on Sun Nov 20, 2011 11:05 am

It is here, in these twenty-two picture cards, that the primary teachings of the Tarot are expressed. Each one of these illustrations of the Major Arcana is an allegorical representation of a different state of being, or stage of spiritual development. Taken as a unit, the cards show the progression from neophyte, to initiate, to adept, in the mysteries the Tarot teaches. Note that, in an ordinary reading, when a trump card comes up it describes how the querent feels, or is likely to react, in the situation being described. The Tarot is one of the paths to spiritual self-enlightenment. It teaches you not only how to reach this goal, but also warns you of the wrong turns you can take along the way. Every path to spiritual self-enlightenment has its own dangers, and its own opportunities for failure, and the path of the Tarot is no exception. There will be times when you despair, when you're certain you'll never understand or succeed, when you are tempted to quit. But if you persevere, you will have one very important advantage working in your favor. You will find, at each step, that you already possess the qualities you need to win through. The Tarot does not give them to you-- It doesn't need to. These qualities Exist within you, and always have. The teachings of the Tarot are intended only to help you bring them out, so that you can use them to achieve your own best destiny.

The Fool
This card represents unavoidable mistakes, due to one’s own (and often deliberate) ignorance. It also stands for complete folly. Starting the path of the Tarot requires a blind leap of faith. There is no guide at all for what lies beyond it. Rather than using his own intelligence or any other aid to light his way, he is deliberately refusing to watch where he is going. The fool does in fact belong at the beginning of the Major Arcana, and the message is that you are a fool because you have not yet your progress toward spiritual self-enlightenment. Without the understanding that such a study brings, you walk blindly through life, missing all the important signs and warnings, missing the point of life at all. If this card comes up, you are being told to watch your step, to use your head, to stop being a deliberate idiot.

The Magician
The magician represents human intelligence and worldly wisdom. It also represents the control of the forces that operate in this world. The symbolism here is “as above, so below”. This is the teaching of Hermes Trismegistus that the smaller world within each person contains all the elements of the larger universe, and the study of the self can lead to an understanding of all creation. In any case, the objects represent things which the adept has under control. That is the essence of this card: control— control of yourself and the world around you. This card is someone with the ability to control and manipulate people, things and events. In effect, the Magician is one who has the potential to be like a God.

The High Priestess
This card represents divine wisdom and enlightenment. It is an understanding of the reasons why things work the way they do. Holding an open book, she represents the divine law that rules and orders the universe. The pillars behind her resemble the fight between good and evil, light and darkness, truth and lies. Look at them as the portals of a doorway, and the figure between them as the Guardian of the gate. In order to pass through the “gate”, you do not have to defeat or placate the Guardian. You have to become whatever the Guardian is. She is at once Goddess, Mother, Protector and Teacher. The High Priestess exists to protect and teach rather than control. The essence of this card is wisdom and understanding of the laws that underlie the workings of the universe. She teaches that the knowledge and understanding you seek is within you in your subconscious mind. To tap into it, you must bypass your conscious mind, or avoid being deceived by your sensual and worldly nature. The High Priestess is the one who knows the way and is willing to lead you there, if you’re willing to go along.

The Empress
The Empress is represented by the Mother, procreation and domestic harmony—not in the individual’s home but in society as a whole. The Empress is a Mother figure, with all that that applies: She is both a creative force and the one who insures that the elements she brings into this world together, not in opposition. The essence of this card is the harmonious cooperation of otherwise opposing forces, working together toward a common goal—domestic harmony and personal fulfillment for all concerned. She is also the symbol of feminine instinct—intuitive flashes that enable you to make the fight decision when there is no time for conscious thought. The Empress is the ruling force that creates an environment in which each person is free to develop their own individual potential.

The Emperor
This card represents the Father. Also for worldly power, and protection of those for he is responsible. The essence of this card is protection— the willingness to fight for the domestic harmony that the Empress teaches. The Emperor is also a wise teacher. In this case, what he teaches is the meaning and use of worldly power. There are forces that no amount of good will or proper training can overcome: sometimes you have to be willing to pick up a sword. It is not enough to want peace and security, or even to teach it; sometimes you have to be willing— and able— to defend it.

The High Priest
The High Priest is a representation of Divine Will: an interpretation of the Law of God in terms of personal and social codes of behavior. The essence of this card is religious authority. This is the personage who has the power— given him by his followers or believers— to decide what you must do to be “saved”. The High Priest in the Tarot specifically represents religious authority, the search for truth, the interpreter of secret mysteries, the one who points the way to salvation (or whatever your spiritual goal may be). At this particular stage of your spiritual development, you are given the opportunity to uncover the ultimate mystery. The High Priest sues its power to increase his own authority over others. This card presents you with the choice of exploring your own soul’s needs, or adapting yourself to the requirements of others.

The Lovers
This is a union of opposites or a commitment. The necessity of making a choice is as much a part of the allegory behind this card as is the union of two young lovers. It can refer to romantic love, or an ideal friendship, or some other close bond between two people, especially when there has been some kind of barrier or opposition which the two souls involved must or will overcome in order to join. The Lovers can depict the union of opposites within oneself: there are those which we accept and others which we would prefer to eliminate; some in fact, which we don’t even want to admit we have. By understanding and utilizing both sides of your own nature, you become a coherent whole, no longer in conflict with yourself. The opposite traits within yourself— or within the other person with whom you are trying to bond— are mirrors of each other, which complement and support each other. Integrate them into yourself and then you can use them to further your own control of situations and events.

The Chariot
This represents victory and a mastery of opposing forces by decision and strength of will. The Chariot symbolizes aspects of your own nature which may work in opposition to each other, but are driving toward the same goal, as in your spiritual and physical natures. Because you have drawn strength from the opposites within yourselves by making them work together, you can now recognize your true enemies and use their own weaknesses— and your strength— against them. This is the victory The Chariot pictures. All of your enemies have been confounded; all of your aims have been fulfilled; nothing can stand in the way of your success.

Justice
Impartial and unbiased Justice and strict fairness is represented by Justice. The important imagery in this card is that Justice in the tarot, unlike the Lady Justice in modern imagery, is not blindfolded. Divine Justice is not blinded by human limitations. True Justice, Divine Justice, cannot be swayed by the simple limitations of human ability to judge between right and wrong. The sword in one hand and the other symbolizes the dual nature of Justice: accuracy and severity.

The Hermit
The Hermit is the representation of self-examination and a vision quest. The imagery here is of a search, done alone, and requiring light (the lantern representing understanding or knowledge) to discover its goal. He has only the need to complete his search— and the means within himself to accomplish that goal. The Hermit teaches that there comes a point in your spiritual self-development when you must withdraw from temptations and demands of civilization and go out into the desert to search your soul for the meaning of your own existence— and find your God. The Deity cannot speak clearly to you when you’re distracted by the demands of day-to-day existence. The search for truth must be pursued alone. The lantern represents your knowledge and understanding, which you must use to light your way in your search. The staff may be understood to represent God, a strength you can lean on to keep you steady throughout your search, and protection against enemies you may meet on the way.

Wheel of Fortune
The Wheel of Fortune is simply a chance for a blind fate; a situation over which you have no control. We are all bound to the Wheel of Fortune. Some of us fall by the wayside. Some sit on top of the heap, apparently unaffected by the vagaries of fortune.   But the wheel is turning for everyone, whether or not we are aware of it. What results for everyone is pure chance, and has nothing to do with individual worth, or lack of it. The Wheel of Fortune teaches that there are things in life that just happen, and over which not you, and not even blind fate herself, have any real control. The secret of good fortune is to learn to use your psychic, or inner, powers to control your fate, rather than allowing yourself to be shifted around by any wind that blows. Blind fortune has no interest in who wins or loses; she simply turns the wheel at random. If you want to come out on top, you have to learn to care enough about what happens to you to take control of the Wheel of Fortune.

Strength
Overcoming obstacles is represented here. Spiritual Strength and force of will as well as victory over overwhelming odds. Strength can also be seen to represent the Strength shown on this card. In either case, the imagery is of a single individual winning over a much powerful opponent with no weapons except her own fortitude and determination on which to rely. This card symbolizes the inner Strength required to overcome obstacles placed in your path. Brute force is not conquered by brute force; rather it is spiritual strength that overcomes physical Strength. The beast in this case may represent external obstacles to your spiritual progress. It also represents the beast within, however, your own fears and passions, and other qualities within yourself which may seem to be stronger than you are, but which can be changed and tamed if you persist in the belief that it is you who are the stronger. To achieve your ends, you must overcome or tame your base passions and force them to surrender to your Higher Self.

The Hanged Man
Sacrifice, with the object of attaining wisdom, special insights, or personal growth is represented here. It is evident that this particular ordeal is his own choice, and that he is getting from it whatever goal he is suffering it for. In Norse myth, for example, Odin, ruler of the Gods, hung for nine days and nights from the sacred tree, Yggdrasil, to attain wisdom of the runes. In The Hanged Man, the message is that personal sacrifice is required of you to in order to attain it. The point is that that choice must be yours, and the sacrifice must be a willing one, because the goal is worth it to you. Both sacrifice and goal may be on any level; physical, intellectual, or spiritual. You must re-create yourself in the image of the man or woman you choose to be. The only person you are entitled to sacrifice to attain your goals is yourself.

Death
Death represents abrupt change and an end to things as they are or were. The imagery here is that no one is spared, from the highest to the lowest. Death symbolizes a complete severance with the past, the ending of your life as it was. It can be interpreted as giving up old ideas, and old ways of acting. It can also be interpreted as a complete change in your life or lifestyle, a crossing over from one mode of existence to another. The Death card allegorizes the end of the person you were, but this is not something to fear. It’s something you’ve earned; in fact, it is something you’ve worked for. The end of who and what you were comes because of the sacrifices you’ve made and all you’ve learned until now. The number thirteen is neither lucky nor unlucky in itself. It represents transformations— on the material plane, usually a change for the better— and rebirth: a boundary between what was and what will be.

Temperance
This card represents patience and self-control. It also stands for a willingness to learn understanding. The use of an angel as the primary figure in this card symbolizes the idea that we have the ability to raise ourselves to the angelic level, if we can learn the lesson Temperance teaches. This is not a matter of someone or something deliberately holing you up. It is a necessary waiting period. And though it may seem like a delay, things are happening. Temperance also teaches that you can make constructive use of those times when all you can do is wait. You use them to consider what you’ve done and what you will do, to explore your own needs and motives, to let learning become understanding. It is important to learn that there are times when there is simply nothing— or at least nothing more— you can or need to do.

The Devil
This card represents the struggle between the supreme good and the supreme evil and a choice or conflict between order and chaos. It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether to two smaller figures are his prisoners, his servants, or his pets; in any case, they are unquestionably bound to his will. The devil represents the antithesis of good, the forces that strive to upset the harmonious order of existence. It is not simply being an individual, or wanting his own way, that makes this being evil. The ancients taught that there is an order to the universe, within which all living beings could find their own best destiny. Divine Law seeks to establish and maintain that order; the Devil works to upset and undermine it. He may operate as a tempter, or he may command by fear, but either way his purpose is to offer irresistible inducements to stray from the true path. You are not being offered an easier way. The significance of the chained figures teaches that what you must surrender to take power of the Devil offers is your own free will.

The Tower
This card is the representation of a setback or the ruin of all your plans; it’s a disaster resulting from your own misuse of power or Divine Gifts. The Tower is being struck by lightning from the Heavens, which represents Divine Wrath. The allegory here is of a construction representing human power and vanity being destroyed by Divine Wrath. If you are tempted by the possibilities in controlling this world instead of striving for wisdom and spiritual growth, you will lose all you gained. The reason for the disaster is not because you developed great powers, but because you misused them. The Falling Tower can represent actual material loss, as in finances, relationships, prestige or personal influence. It can also be understood as a warning that your powers are not as great, or your understanding of them as complete, as you believe. You must learn to see beyond the obvious to a higher level of Attainment. If you surrender your spiritual progress for material power, you will lose everything you’ve gained.

The Star
The Star is the symbol to wisdom, immortality, accomplishment of your goals, generosity and understanding. The allegory here is not of simple patience, but of putting back something of yourself. The significant symbolism is that the woman is pouring water back into the stream. She is returning to its source a portion of what she has or was given. The Stars represent the universe in all its mystery and potential for growth, learning, and power. They symbolize what is out there, still on the material plane, but yet beyond the confines of this world. In many ways, not just in astrology, the Stars direct our lives. In this Arcanum, the seeker is given the opportunity to assume control of that direction. At this point in your quest, you become a teacher as well as a seeker. The stars arrange themselves at your direction, giving you the power that the magician only attempts to employ: to be at the center of the universe, to change the heavens at your will. But to gain and keep this power, you must put something back. It is the beginning of a transformation: The Stars above her do what she does, because she is beginning to become what you are, the young woman represents eternal youth and true beauty. The stars above her symbolize the potential to achieve your goals— and, more importantly, true understanding of what those goals should be. You must consider not only where you are going, but those who will come after you.

The Moon
The Moon is the epitome of mystery, intuition, psychic ability, deception and danger. Where there are rays around the Moon, there are usually also water drop shapes falling from the Moon onto the Earth below, symbolizing the descent of spirit into matter. Two animals, usually a dog and a wolf, are positioned between to towers, howling up at the Moon. They represent our animal nature, both fascinated by and fearful of the effected by it rather than controlling it. The illustration shows that while there is power to be derived from the Moon, stronger than that is the pull of the Moon, its control over the Earth and ourselves. Water is the life force, but in this case, what is emphasized is it fluidity: its ability to take on the shape of whatever container it is in. this is the danger you must avoid: you want to learn to shape events, not be shaped by them. There is tremendous power to be gained here, but there is also a danger the seeker must always be aware; the Moon represents the lure of the unknown, hidden knowledge, and truth obscured. A lack of complete information causes misunderstanding and conflicts, and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at correct conclusions. You may not surrender to your emotions; if you dare not give in to your emotions. You are learning, in the paths of the tarot, to draw on your subconscious and develop your psychic abilities, but this is the point at which you must put those abilities under your conscious control. You can no longer operate solely on your instincts.

The Sun
The Sun represents happiness, content and success; also for fulfillment and gifts received. The general feel of the illustration is of contentment, peace and safety, even joy. The illustration symbolizes a childlike happiness; the ability to enjoy life’s gifts as they are given. You can simply bask in the rays of a warm summer Sun and enjoy the results of your accomplishments and what you are being freely given. The Sun is the source of light, bringing brightness and warmth, illuminating understanding, giving comprehension, clarity and happiness. The Sun card symbolizes the transition of the visible light of this world and the spiritual light of the world for which you are striving. If you can approach the gifts it offers with the heart of a child— which has its own wisdom in innocence, simplicity and simple enjoyment of life— you take your next step toward the Divine. You are being given a great gift. What you have learned up until now allows you to simply enjoy it without the need to analyze it. The Sun allegorizes the identification of life in the here and now, as well as the hope and possibility of lives to come in a higher state of being.

Judgement
This card represents final decisions made and a new life beginning. It is also results, outcomes and conclusions. It is the end of your doubts and answers to your questions. The symbolism this card represents is that of the raising of the dead, or the Last Judgement. This is the time when all souls will be called to account for their actions during their life’s journeys, and when they can finally be told what they can expect as a result. The allegory is that of an awakening. And what they find upon waking is that beliefs they held that brought them to this point were based on fact. There is indeed something beyond this life worth striving for. Judgement symbolizes the end of your old life and the beginning of a new one. But in this case, whatever change is about to happen will be for the better. Your questions will be answered; your doubts resolved. You will know the truth at last. Now will be shown that it does in fact exist, and that nothing could be more worth striving for. Judgement promises the reward for your faith and your striving: proof that there is a reason and a purpose for both your existence and that of the Universe from which you sprang, and through which you moved to reach this goal. Judgement is a positive card, symbolizing regeneration, rebirth and understanding.

The World
This card symbolizes perfection and attainment. Your goals have been reached, your development or learning is completed. In this representation, you are the adept you have tried to become throughout your journey. Your transmutation is complete, and you achieved the perfect synthesis of body, mind, soul and spirit. Here you attain an even greater goal than anything you could have wished for, or even imagined, at that earlier level.


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