Major Arcana are a suit of twenty-two cards in the Tarot deck which are insulated from the four suits of the Minor Arcana. While the Minor Arcana correspond to aspects of everyday life, the Major Arcana takes from there and body forth the meaning, purpose and the position in the bigger picture. Hence, by its very nature, the Major Arcana stands for the fifth classical element, the quintessence. (1) Yet, it must be noted that; although each Major Arcanum corresponds to a Major Theme, “the bigger picture” is a body of art only when it accommodates the beautiful details as well; as such, the Major Arcana is inseparably connected to the Minor Arcana, without any prominence over that. Canvassing the Minor Arcana in the previous entry; I am going to construe the Major Arcana in this one.
Getting Smart with the Major Arcana begins with understanding the nature of Major Arcana: Unlike the cards of Minor Arcana, the Major Arcana does not provide building stones; each Major Arcanum is “a building” in itself. Henceforth, there is no tool to find out the basic meaning of a Major Arcanum. That being said, there are several blueprints or navigatory narratives that enables one to gain insight on the Major Arcana; such as The Fool’s Journey and the The Paths of the Tree of Life. Both of these narratives deal with the Major Arcana as a metaphor of the human journey through existence; through from different directions. In this post, I will focus on The Fool’s Journey narrative.
The Fool’s Journey
The Fool’s Journey, inspired by iconic scholar Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero with Thousand Faces” takes the Major Arcana as the journey through life. Joseph Campbell found out that myths that survived the test of time have a common structure; (The Hero’s Journey or The Monomyth) that he summarised as follows (2):
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Accordingly, the Monomyth is comprised of certain stages that are experienced by the Hero during his journey, and if successful the journey ends with a self-discovery or realization for the hero. Interestingly, the number of this stages is twenty-two. Being established on the similarities between the archetypal structure of the Major Arcana and the Hero’s Journey; the Fool’s Journey narrative hence takes each Major Arcanum to correspond a stage in journey; taking it as “an experience that a person must incorporate to realize his wholeness” (3) This journey starts with the Fool –who is ready to begin his life’s journey and and learn the life’s lessons, be them painful or pleasant with love and compassion– and ends with the World –where the Fool has learned and accomplished the life’s lessons and in this sense, realised his wholeness-. As such; each card is a lesson, objective, test, accomplishment we face during each of our life journeys: The Fool, in his way up to the World not only faces inspiration and support, but also suffering and endings (4) each corresponding to one of the Major Arcanum.
In this direction; the Fool’s Journey through Major Arcana can be broken down into three equal parts; as Rumi expressed the outcome of his life in three lines:
The outcome of my life is no more than three sentences: I was raw (and unripe); I was cooked (and matured); I was burned (in love and into nothingness)
- The Fool is raw and unripe: First seven cards of the Major Arcana, from the Magician to the Chariot; displays Fool’s discovery of the composition of the World. In the Magician and the High Priestess; he discovers the balancing forces of the existence; potential and power, mysterious unconscious and conscious. In the Empress and the Emperor; he discovers the nature of his surroundings; not only the supporting and nurturing nature of those, but also the structure and rules surrounding his existence. In the Hierophant and the Lovers, his horizons broaden through the education and traditions he is exposed to and physical and emotional relationships that he experiences, leading to his discovery of the likes of him. In the last Major Arcanum of the first part; the Chariot, fools discovers – at least yearns to discover– himself, his identity and his potential; and sets foot to the quests of life.
- The Fool is cooked and matured: Second seven cards of the Major Arcana; from the Strength to the Temperance; displays quests and challenges that the Fool faces in his life. In the Strength, he faces his first challanges that could not be overcome through willpower, and he develops softer power- compassion and patience. In the Hermit and the Wheel of Fortune; he questions the reasons and mechanisms behind the existence, both inner and outer, and through soul-searching and observation; he comes up with a mission and vision. In the Justice and the Hanged Man, the Fool endeavours to realise his mission and vision; first through assuming responsibility and making decisions, second through letting his world go upside down during this quest. In The Death and The Temperance, rebirth of the Fool is displayed; once unripened and raw; he has ended that stage of his existence, letting everything go; he is arising from his ashes to embrace balance.
- The Fool is burned (in love and into nothigness): Last seven cards of the Major Arcana; from the Devil to the World; corresponds to the deepest levels of Fool’s Journey. In these cards; Fool, step by step recognises himself as a reflection of the wholeness. In the Devil and the Tower, he breaks the illusions that confine him to his individuality; both the self-illusionments and those he got accustomed to during his “ripening”. In the Star and the Moon, he replaces those illusions with his hopes and imagination; letting his fears to arise as well. In the Sun and the Judgement, the Fool is starting to get enlightened and illuminated; to realise his “true calling” or “the meaning of life” – which, he realises in the World: achieving the wholeness.
Tarot, despite its relatively short history; came to comprise elements from many other teachings and disciplines, such as Astrology, Numerology or numerous mystical doctrines. Kabbalah, the Jewish Mysticism, is perhaps the most enthralling of those; as it yearns to provide a model of the universe and man’s soul – each of which does continuously deepen the understanding of Major Arcana. Getting Smart of Major Arcana; however, does not require the years-long study each of these disciplines and teachings demand – only fundamental skill needed here is to being able to look at the imagery and relate those intuitively to the reading, which could only be acquired through connecting with each Major Arcanum, by practice.