By far the most famous and used Tarot card deck today is the one called Rider-Waite. It was published in 1909 and has been reprinted countless times since.
The Rider-Waite Tarot card deck was designed by the occult writer Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) and the artist Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Rider was the name of the original publisher.
It’s a charming work with great attention to detail. Waite was a learned occultist and Freemason, so he made sure that all possible symbols and archetypical settings were included. Colman Smith made her illustrations according to his instructions, but also with a sweet artistic spirit, as if making pictures for a wonderful fairytale.
Contrary to most other decks, especially the old ones, the Rider-Waite Tarot deck has pictures on every card, each image representing a sentiment or a situation. That makes divination with them so much easier and a lot more fun. It makes a reading based on images and our impressions of them, which is something almost unique to Tarot.
Tarot Major Arcana
The Tarot card deck consists of two parts – the Major Arcana (also called Trumps) with 22 cards, and the Minor Arcana with the remaining 56 cards in four suits. Here are all the Tarot’s Major Arcana cards and what they mean in divination.
The Major Arcana are the unsuited cards of the Tarot deck. The 22 Major Arcana cards don’t belong to any of the four suits of the Tarot: Wands, Pentacles, Cups, and Swords. Instead, each Major Arcana card represents a dignity all of its own: a character of great significance, a mythical component, or an event of crucial importance.
Each Major Arcana card of the Tarot can be described as an archetype, a symbolic figure or situation of great significance and meaning in human thought and culture. The Major Arcana figures are larger than life, representing different basic aspects of what it is to be human and to live in this world.
Some of the Tarot Major Arcana cards are easily recognizable and their meanings are intuitively clear to just about anyone familiar with Western culture and tradition. The Devil, the Lovers, the Hermit, the Emperor, and so on – these are Major Arcana characters we can relate to because they are well-established symbols in our culture, and have been so for thousands of years.
Other Major Arcana cards of the Tarot may be slightly less familiar to modern minds, such as the Chariot, the Wheel of Fortune, and the Hanged Man. But you only have to glance at the descriptions of those Major Arcana cards to recognize what they represent and relate to it. All the 22 Major Arcana cards are archetypes, their meanings obvious to us all, once we’re introduced to them.
In Tarot divination you should pay particular attention to Major Arcana cards appearing in your spread. Not only does each Major Arcana card carry its archetypical meaning, but it also points out the gravity of it. Someone very important enters, or some very significant event is afoot. I can’t stress this enough.
The Tarot’s Major Arcana cards don’t bother with everyday events and people you meet daily. They appear when something extraordinary happens, something that you’d remember to put in your autobiography. So, pay attention when a Major Arcana card pops up in your Tarot spread.