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Major Arcana Symbolism
The first of 22 cards in a character that are known collectively as the major arcana. They represent our journey from life to death and the lessons we learn along the way.
The major arcana comprises the first 22 cards of a character deck. These cards are all richly illustrated, and are the "extra" hard that, unlike the minor Arcana, do not have any similarities to a deck of ordinary playing cards.
Major arcana cards are loaded with secret symbolism. The information in this mini-course will help you to understand the different elements that make up these cards and what kind of things they are telling you.
We will give you more detailed information on the symbolism behind each card as you continue to read the blog posts included in this mini-course.
History of the Major Arcana
The first known decks date back to Italy in the 14th century. Artist Bonifacio Bembo designed a game called Tarocchi by adding extra cards to a playing card deck. The 22 additional cards called trionfi, or trumps, depicted images of medieval social types or qualities – which we now call the major arcana. He also designed for a set of 14 "pip" or numbered cards. We now know as the minor Arcana. The cards, known as Tarot in France, were first linked to mysticism in the 18th century. At this time occultists believe that Tarot originated in ancient Egypt. In the 18th and 19th centuries, occultists claimed to have traced the roots of Tarot symbolism to Egyptian and Jewish mysticism.
Each card in the Major Arcana has its own number. On most decks, this is displayed on the card itself. On the cards. It is usually shown in a separate band above the main image.
The Rider Waite deck uses Roman numerals. Some more modern decks may use 1, 2, 3, etc. instead. There is no right or wrong way to depict the numbers.
The cards are numbered from I through XXI; the 22nd card is the full, which isn't numbered in the Rider Waite deck.
if you pick up any card, but the full without a number at the top, it's probably a minor Arcana card – perhaps an Ace, King or Queen.
The full isn't given a number or has the number "0" because it can be used at the beginning or the end of the sequence (zero or XXII) – just as the major arcana as a whole represents the cycle of life. We are created from nothing and return to nothing after our death.
as well as helping you to put the cards into order, the numbers also have magical meanings of their own through their associations with the mystical art of numerology. Numerology will be explained through out the blog posts of this mini-course.
The central section of each major arcana card is a highly decorative image that is packed with magical symbolism. As we will explain throughout this many quarters, this image contains a host of visual clues. Some you will be able to guess immediately, others may need to be explained to you. The labels below will give you a quick overview of the kind of symbols that you will find.
The main image depicts a person, such as the Magician or the Hermit, and offers clues as to the meaning of the card. For example, the Hermit suggests isolation, which you may need in order to take a step back from your current problems.
The main image may also represent an idea or concept, such as Justice or Strength. This suggests that such concepts are needed to resolve your current situation, or that they are the areas to which you need to give the most attention. For instance, is justice being done?
Many of the cards contain all manner of small symbols which would have meant much more to the people who drew the first Tarot cards centuries ago then they do to us today. This is because our view of the world has changed over time. For instance, a 14th century artist may have used a town bell to represent news from far away – as we no longer associate a bell with news in our minds, we may miss this symbol at first glance.
Just a note: The actual symbols on Tarot cards doesn't matter – only your ability to interpret them does. Some modern decks replaced outdated imagery with symbols we can recognize more easily, but they are no less "real" than the old, traditional decks.
Major arcana cards usually have their names written on them to remind us at a glance which card we are looking at. On the cards, there is a white band underneath the main image. In some beginners decks, this band may also contain reminders as to the cards meaning.
The names of the cards differ slightly from one deck to another, but their true meaning remains the same. Jupiter will be the Heirophant, or the Pope and some decks, but always represents a male authority/father figure.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The name only affects what the court is called, not what it means – just as a teacher, mentor, instructor or tutor are all people who fulfill broadly the same role in society. The image is more important than the words.
How the cards are named tends to identify the deck with one particular culture or belief system. For instance, some decks, use the ancient Roman and Greek gods to depict characters in the major arcana; a Celtic themed deck would use Celtic gods instead. Whatever image is used, the cards have the same meaning.
In the next Tarot Card Blog Post, We Will Learn about The Symbolism of the Minor Arcana.
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