The Tarot is not your average deck of cards. Unlike regular playing cards, Tarot is grounded in enigmatic symbols endowed with special meanings that can be applied to our lives: The Magician, Death, The Star, and more. The deck’s uses have run the gamut from sacred practice to a structure for self-insight, but Tarot is often misunderstood because of its roots in the occult.
The precursor to the Tarot deck originated as gambling cards in the Middle East and Renaissance-era Italy. Over centuries and across many national borders, the cards evolved into a collection of symbols often used for prediction. Tarot gained popularity at the end of the 19th century, thanks to occultist Aleister Crowley and the creators of the now-standard Rider-Waite deck, Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite. While Tarot is still widely used by practicing diviners across many cultures, it has also proven to be a helpful framework for self-reflection used by everyone from therapists to CEOs to musicians.
Traditional Tarot decks are made up of a Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana, numbered 0–21, is composed of common archetypes often found in myths and stories, from the nurturing energy of The Empress to the introspection of The Hermit. Here, we’ve matched each card with a quote that embodies its motifs. From taking a leap of faith to accepting change, the themes of the Major Arcana can help ground us during major life shifts.
0. THE FOOL
Maybe the yes comes before the readiness. Maybe you say yes and then you become equipped to handle whatever is about to happen.
— Glennon Doyle, author
As the kickoff to the Major Arcana, the Fool asks us to pay attention to the things that call to us — and to follow them wholeheartedly. This card embodies the spark that gets us going on a journey. It might feel daunting, but all you have to do is say yes, and watch what unfolds.
I. THE MAGICIAN
We want to go down the paths our idols walked down, but the thing that we forget is that they didn’t walk down paths, because those paths weren’t there yet. They created them.
― Hank Green, author
The Magician brings what is hypothetical into the tangible world, and reminds us of our own autonomy. Whatever it is you want to do or be, you have the ability to create that path for yourself. It takes commitment and determination, but it’s far from impossible.
II. THE HIGH PRIESTESS
You must train your intuition — you must trust the small voice inside you which tells you exactly what to say, what to decide.
— Ingrid Bergman
Following the groundedness of the Magician, the High Priestess takes into account the most ethereal parts of ourselves. This card leans into the intuition that guides us, often without our realizing. It serves as a reminder that our inner knowing is just as reliable as our intellect, if not more so.
III. THE EMPRESS
When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.
— Jean Shinoda Bolen, psychiatrist
In the realm of the Empress, nurturing and abundance rule. This card reminds us that self-tending is crucial, and that pleasure is never something to feel guilty about. By making time for the things that fill us up, emotionally or otherwise, we allow ourselves more room to flourish.
IV. THE EMPEROR
[Believe] that you are allowed to be here, and that — merely by being here — you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.
― Elizabeth Gilbert, author
Acting as a foil to the Empress’ fluidity, the Emperor represents structure and leadership. This card emphasizes the clear vision we each have for our lives, and the importance of stepping up in order to get there. Stay organized and steady, and you’ll reach your goal.
V. THE HIEROPHANT
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.
— Eartha Kitt
Stemming from ancient Greek, the word “hierophant” often describes a priest, or an interpreter of mysteries. In Tarot, the Hierophant speaks to systems of learning — whether through formal education, religion, or experience. Choosing to remain a student opens us to new perspectives and a deeper understanding of life’s mysteries.
VI. THE LOVERS
In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Sometimes oversimplified as a card solely about romance, The Lovers deals more deeply with duality and choice. It asks us to consider a choice from all sides: Does it make sense for us? Does it align with our values? Not all decisions are easy, but grounding yourself in your principles will help guide you.
VII. THE CHARIOT
There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.
— Mary Oliver, poet
Often depicting some kind of vehicle, it’s no wonder The Chariot represents action and forward movement. Having made a choice, we are now equipped to move full steam ahead. While caution has its place, The Chariot encourages us to be confident and proactive.
When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision — then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
— Audre Lorde
One of the more self-explanatory cards of the Tarot, Strength emphasizes personal power in the face of fear. Traditionally bearing the image of a lion, this card asks us to use our voice when it feels most difficult to speak up, which is usually when we most need to do so.
IX. THE HERMIT
And you? When will you begin that Long journey into yourself?
— Jalaluddin Rumi, 13th-century poet
While real-life hermits often shun the rest of society, The Hermit card is more about deep introspection. Looking inward can tell us what parts of us are shaped by others’ expectations, which are truly ours, and why we are the way we are. Equipped with that knowledge, we can better decide who we want to be.
X. WHEEL OF FORTUNE
You don’t exactly know what lies around the bend. But you are free to trust you will keep growing, over and over again. The sun will still rise. Light will still pour in.
— Morgan Harper Nichols, musician
Much like its namesake game show, the Wheel Of Fortune evokes luck and chance. but even more so, it symbolizes the cyclical nature of life. In moments of uncertainty or difficulty, this card is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. We have more chances than we think to get things right.
We make choices. No one else can live our lives for us. And we must confront and accept the consequences of our actions.
― Neil Gaiman
Justice can be a weighty concept, and its card deals with themes of fairness and accountability. Whether we seek justice or have it handed down to us, this card invites us to remember that no choice is made in a vacuum: We are each ultimately responsible for our lives.
XII. THE HANGED MAN / THE TETHERED ONE
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
— Maya Angelou
The Hanged Man (or The Tethered One), often showing a person hanging upside down, is the ultimate symbol of surrender. This card speaks to those moments when clinging to control actually does more harm than good. In letting go, we can change our perspective, and move forward more easily as a result.
Birth is painful and delightful. Death is painful and delightful. Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else.
— Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher and nun
While many fear the Death card, it actually has to do very little with mortality and much more with endings and beginnings. This card asks what we are ready to shed from our lives, from a stale relationship to a damaging belief. When we accept change, it makes space for growth in our lives.
It is better to rise from life as from a banquet — neither thirsty nor drunken.
As its name suggests, Temperance deals with the balance of life — pain and pleasure, work and rest, emotion and intellect. It’s easy to get caught up on one end of the spectrum and neglect another part of ourselves. This card asks us to find a middle ground so we can maintain balance.
XV. THE DEVIL
It’s hard if you can’t change it. It’s worse if you don’t try.
— Laura Marling, musician
The Devil card often speaks to the traps and cycles we can find ourselves in: a destructive habit, attachment, or thought pattern. While The Devil may appear frightening, the card reminds us that we have more power than we think. If we work at it, we can change our patterns.
XVI. THE TOWER
When disaster strikes, it tears the curtain away from the festering problems that we have beneath.
— Barack Obama
The Tower signals upheaval and change, coming as quickly as the lightning bolt often shown on the card. Crisis often comes with a sort of clarity: The Tower reveals that some part of our lives needs rebuilding from the ground up. While the process is rarely easy, it does give us a stronger foundation for growth and peace.
XVII. THE STAR
Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.
— Anaïs Nin, writer
There’s a reason for the superstition of wishing on a shooting star: The star symbol often represents our hopes, wishes, and dreams. The Star asks us to imagine our deepest desires and biggest goals. This card invites us to believe that anything is possible, if we truly commit to it.
XVIII. THE MOON
Uncertainty is a very good thing: it’s the beginning of an investigation, and the investigation should never end.
—Tim Crouch, actor
The Moon speaks to the unconscious, the hidden, and the unknown. Our recurring dreams, repressed emotions, or uncertainty about a situation are all examples of how The Moon moves in our lives. It tells us that not knowing is not a bad thing; rather, it’s a starting point for understanding more about ourselves.
XIX. THE SUN
Step into the light, so bright sometimes — I’m not ever going back.
— Harry Styles
Where the Moon rules what’s hidden, the Sun leads in plain sight. This card invites us to step into the radiance and abundance that comes when we choose to be truly ourselves. That confident energy (and sharing it with people you care about) is where the Sun shines, as it were.
The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.
— Nadine Gordimer, writer and activist
While it shares the themes of truth and choice with the Justice card, Judgement is about the moment before we make a life-changing decision — a moment that often requires more than just intellect. This card asks us to consider what’s truly right for us, based on our values and instincts.
XXI. THE WORLD
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Summing up the Major Arcana, The World appropriately celebrates our points of completion and achievement. It invites us to look back at how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned in the process — and it asks us to be open to whatever might come next.