Major Arcana

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The Major Arcana from the Rider-Waite Tarot

The Major Arcana are the trump cards of the Tarot. There are usually 22 such cards in a standard 78-card pack. They are typically numbered from 0 to 21.

The terms "Major" and "Minor Arcana" are used in the occult, and divinatory applications of the deck and originate with Jean-Baptiste Pitois (1811–1877), writing under the name Paul Christian.

Italian trump cards

Prior to the 17th century, the Major Arcana trumps were simply part of a special card deck used for gaming and gambling. There may have been allegorical and cultural significance attached to them, but beyond that, the trumps originally had little mystical or magical import. When decks are used for card games (Tarot card games), these cards serve as permanent trumps and are distinguished from the remaining cards, the suit cards, which are known by occultists as the Minor Arcana.

The Major Arcana originally had simple allegorical or esoteric meaning, mostly originating in elite ideology in the Italian courts of the 15th century when it was invented.

Esoteric meanings

The occult significance of the trump cards began to emerge in the 18th century when Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, published Le Monde Primitif. The construction of the occult and divinatory significance of the tarot, and the Major and Minor Arcana, continued on from there. For example, Court de Gébelin argued for the Egyptian, kabbalistic, and divine significance of the tarot trumps; Etteilla created a method of divination using tarot; Éliphas Lévi worked to break away from the Egyptian nature of the divinatory tarot by focusing on the Tarot de Marseilles, creating an extensive Kabbalastic correspondence, and even suggested that the Major Arcana represent stages of life.

By the 19th century, the tarot came to be regarded as a "bible of bibles", an esoteric repository of all the significant truths of creation. The trend was started by prominent freemason and Protestant cleric Antoine Court de Gébelin. A contemporary of his, the Comte de Mellet, added to Court de Gébelin's claims by suggesting (attacked as being erroneous) that the tarot was associated with Romani people and was in fact the imprinted book of Hermes Trismegistus. These claims were continued by Etteilla.

Etteilla is primarily recognized as the founder and propagator of the divinatory tarot, but he also participated in the propagation of the occult tarot by claiming the tarot had an ancient Egyptian origin and was an account of the creation of the world and a book of eternal medicine. Éliphas Lévi revitalized the occult tarot by associating it with the mystical Kabbalah and making it a prime ingredient in magical lore.

Tarot Topics
Major Arcana The FoolThe MagicianThe High PriestessThe EmpressThe EmperorThe HierophantThe LoversThe ChariotStrengthThe HermitWheel of FortuneJusticeThe Hanged ManDeathTemperanceThe DevilThe TowerThe StarThe MoonThe SunJudgementThe World
Minor Arcana Pentacles AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Wands AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Cups AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Swords AceTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEightNineTenPageKnightQueenKing
Decks Visconti-Sforza TarotTarot of MarseillesRider-Waite TarotThoth TarotOccult TarotAngel TarotVlad Dracula TarotHieronymus Bosch Tarot