Tarot Basics: The Difference Between the Major and Minor Arcana

July 17, 2020

What's the Difference Between the Major & Minor Arcana Cards in Tarot? | Happy As Annie

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What’s the difference between the Major and Minor Arcana cards in tarot? If you’re new to tarot, you may be wondering about this.

In this post, learn more about the difference between the Major and Minor Arcana cards to deepen and enrich your tarot readings.

How do tarot cards work exactly?

Tarot cards are a tool of self-discovery. They act as a mirror to your true self and inner wisdom so you can live a life that is more aligned with your true and authentic self. So, working with tarot is a great way to practice using your intuition, feelings, and inner “knowing” to make decisions rather than relying solely on intellect and ego.

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The way the tarot mirrors our intuition is by depicting archetypes and symbols that reflect the collective consciousness that affects all of us both individually and as a society. Archetypes are familiar character types (like the Emperor, the Empress, or the Devil) that most of us are familiar with whether we consciously realize it or not. We learn these archetypes through human psychology, mythology, literature, culture, and even our unconscious, inherited knowledge.

We are similarly already familiar with a lot of the symbols in tarot cards as well. These range from bright red to indicate passion to stormy skies or seas to indicate trouble or suffering.

Which cards are the Major Arcana and which are the Minor?

The tarot deck is made up of 78 cards, which are organized in a very methodical way based on various concepts and systems. These include numerology, astrology, and more. For this post though, we will focus on the difference between the Major Arcana tarot cards and the Minor Arcana cards.

The first 22 cards of the tarot deck make up the Major Arcana. The remaining 56 cards comprise the Minor Arcana.

Let’s look at each Arcana in more detail.

The Major Arcana

Each deck of tarot cards includes 22 Major Arcana cards. The Major Arcana cards represent the major themes and lessons of life, which range from Strength and Temperance to Death and Judgement.

(Like this deck? It’s the Modern-Witch Tarot Deck, which you can purchase here. For more tips on finding a great tarot deck for beginners, check out this post.)

When a Major Arcana card shows up in a tarot reading, it indicates that an important, overarching energy is present, as opposed to a more minor or mundane circumstance of life. A tarot reading that is full of Major Arcana cards means an important lesson or shift is happening. It means potentially life-changing energy is present.

Major Arcana Life Lessons

Here is a list of the Major Arcana cards, in order, with their basic (but not only) meanings and themes.

0. The Fool – Leap of faith; trust in the universe

1. The Magician – Manifesting and taking action

2. The High Priestess – Intuitive knowledge and wisdom

3. The Empress – Natural flow and creativity; the Divine Feminine

4. The Emperor – Structure and discipline; the Divine Masculine

5. The Hierophant – Esoteric knowledge and wisdom; spiritual leadership

6. The Lovers – Embracing our complete selves; balance

7. The Chariot – Transitions and journeys

8. Strength – Inner strength and grace under fire

9. The Hermit – Inner wisdom from age and experience

10. Wheel of Fortune – Mindfulness; the ups and downs of life

11. Justice – Fairness; facing consequences

12. The Hanged Man – New perspectives

13. Death – Release and letting go

14. Temperance – Balance and moderation

15. The Devil – Addictions or limiting habits and beliefs

16. The Tower – Starting from scratch, major shifts

17. The Star – Authenticity

18. The Moon – Inner shadows and fears

19. The Sun – Childlike innocence and positivity

20. Judgment – Connection and understanding

21. The World – Success or recognition

The Minor Arcana

If the Major Arcana deal with overarching themes and lessons of life, the Minor Arcana work with the more short-term or momentary circumstances of life. Things like deception, collaboration, introspection, rest, or gratitude.

While each Major Arcana card is unique, the 56 Minor Arcana cards are part of a repeating system. Like a regular deck of playing cards, the Minor Arcana are made up of 4 suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles.

Each suit contains 14 cards: ten cards in numeric order from the Ace (one) to Ten, followed by the Page, Knight, Queen, and King of each suit.

Understanding basic numerology helps make the Minor Arcana cards easier to interpret. For instance, in numerology, the number five represents instability or conflict. The fives in all four suits reflect this, as you can see below.

Want another example? Let’s look at the number nine. Being just one away from ten, which is completion or resolution, nine represents the home stretch or endurance in numerology. Below are the nines in all four suits of the Modern Witch Tarot Deck.

Here’s a four-card tarot spread to try.

The following Four-Card Check-In is the very first tarot spread I ever tried. It’s a great starter spread because it’s simple yet comprehensive. But more importantly for our purposes here, it helps you see the difference between the Major and Minor Arcana in the tarot.

Separate the Major and Minor Arcana cards in your deck.

For this spread, you need to separate your Major and Minor Arcana cards.

First, draw one Major Arcana card as your signifier card. The signifier card represents a major theme in your life right now, or a life lesson you are in the middle of learning. Since the Major Arcana deal with these lofty, overarching energies ( as we just learned), it makes sense to draw the signifier card frm the Major Arcana only.

Then, draw three Minor Arcana cards, each to represent one of the three realms of your life: the physical, mental, and spiritual. Like I said above, the Minor Arcana deal with more day-to-day energies and issues. That’s why to check in on your physical, mental, and spiritual realms for the day or the week, it makes sense to pull from the Minor Arcana cards.

What the spread looks like

Simple Four-Card Check-In Tarot Spread. Happy As Annie | How to Read Tarot Cards for Yourself

The signifier card (Card 1) drawn from the Major Arcana, tells you who you are in this moment. What’s weighing on your mind, what head and heart space you’re in, or a major theme in your life currently.

As for the other cards, drawn from the Minor Arcana:

  • 2 tells you what you need to know about your physical realm right now;
  • 3 tells you what you need to know about your mental or emotional realm right now; and
  • 4 tells you what you need to know about your spiritual realm right now. This card could also be a message or special guidance from the Spirit or Universe.

Of course, in general, you don’t have to separate your Major and Minor Arcana cards. But it’s interesting and fun to try it every now and then!

(Click here for some easy three-card tarot spreads to try.)

Let me know if you try this spread or if you have any other questions about the Major or Minor Arcana in the comments below!

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