Major Arcana for Tarot Beginners
Though it’s not the best way for a new Tarot student to learn, one popular way of teaching new tarot students how to read the tarot is by the keyword method. This process involves the student of Tarot memorizing or learning various keywords to a tarot card and then applying those meanings to reading.
Today I’m going to share with you some of the most popular keywords that are used with the Major Arcana cards. These are the 22 cards which depict the journey of the Fool, or the soul’s journey. They are typically labeled with roman numerals and are among the cards with the most symbolism woven into them.
What are the Bare Basics You Need to Know about the Major Arcana
The Major Arcana of the tarot represents the most important events in life from a soul perspective. These are the events that are not only life changing, but ultimately help shape and develop the personality and character of a person.
When you do a reading and notice that the majority of the cards are from the Majors, you know that you are dealing with a person who probably feels like they have little to no control in life. In truth, at that moment they probably don’t, as a large number of Major cards usually, indicate that the Universe is in control. We obviously get to choose how we feel and respond to the events that are happening, but those events in and of themselves are typically outside of our regular control. They are, in essence, the major life lessons we are learning to deal with in this lifetime – and that’s for good or bad.
It’s also important to realize that a person is capable of doing an effective tarot reading, albeit a bit more limited, by using just the Major Arcana cards. Thus, by learning at least one keyword for both the reversed and upright position of each Major Arcana card, you have given yourself the tools to do an excellent basic tarot session.
If you do choose to read with just the Majors, then short readings are better than long ones. One, two, and three card spreads, as well as answering yes/no questions all, lend themselves to being possible with just the Major Cards being known.
How to Learn the Major Arcana Using the Keyword Method
Get yourself some note cards. Take the corresponding tarot card and glue it to the front of the note card. On the back of the card write the keywords for both the upright and reversed position of the card. Do this for the entire Major Arcana. You now have a very powerful tool for studying the tarot.
These tarot flash cards can be used to learn various meanings to the cards by repetition. Again, this is not the best nor an ideal way to learn the cards, but for those wanting to get started quickly, it’s one of the fastest ways, especially if you have a good memory.
The Major Arcana Keywords
Fool: New beginnings, correct decisions
Reversed Fool: New beginnings delayed, incorrect decision
Magician: Ability to create, a young man, sexuality
Magician Reversed: Creativity blocked, manipulative/controlling young man, sexual problems
High Priestess: Secrets, a perfect and good woman
High Priestess Reversed: Secrets used against you, an evil woman
Empress: Mother figure, abundance, pregnancy or adoption
Empress Reversed: Difficulties with a mother figure, poverty, pregnancy or adoption problems
Emperor: Father figure, in control
Emperor Reversed: Difficulties with authority, out of control
Hierophant: Teaching, traditional, marriage, grand ceremony
Hierophant Reversed: Unusual teachings, nontraditional, living together, celebration delayed or not fun
Lovers: Correct choice, true love
Lover Reversed: Incorrect choice, false love
Chariot: Trip by car, car okay, helpful person in uniform, control
Chariot Reversed: Trip delayed, a car needs a checkup, corrupt person in uniform, no control
Strength: Good self-esteem, a strong female friend, a Leo
Strength Reversed: Lack of self-esteem, a female friend to watch or cautious of, a bad Leo
Hermit: Lesson learned, a teacher, school, knowledge to give
Hermit Reversed: Lesson is not learned, a bad teacher, lack of knowledge
Wheel of Fortune: Moving according to plan, randomness
Wheel of Fortune Reversed: Plan is developing slowly, randomness
Justice: Matter settled fairly, a legal issue usually getting better, balance, a Libra
Justice Reversed: Unfairness, lack of balance, a bad Libra, legal matter getting worse
Hanged Man: Spiritual enlightenment, able to see all sides clearly, need to refrain from action
Hanged Man Reversed: Not spiritual, not able to see all sides clearly, need to take action
Death Reversed: Change is completed
Temperance: Balanced, healing, good health, health getting better
Temperance Reversed: Not balanced, sickness or illness, health issue getting worse
Devil: Bondage, black magick, falling into temptation
Devil Reversed: Freedom from bondage, resisting temptation, white magick
Tower: Great loss, destruction, everything falling apart,
Tower Reversed: Losses are over, destruction is in the past, starting to rebuild
Star: Working toward goals, love given and received, accomplishment
Star Reversed: Depression, significant loss, lack of ambition
Moon: Strong emotions, psychic awareness, initiation, a Cancer, a female
Moon Reversed: Emotional illness, difficulty with women, an evil Cancer, hormonal imbalance
Sun: Marriage or reunion, birth, great happiness
Sun Reversed: Divorce or separation, bad attitude, birth delayed
Judgment: Being judged correctly, rebirth
Judgment Reversed: Being judged incorrectly, stagnation
World: All blocks removed, major trip or move, many opportunities, and options
World Reversed: Some blocks still remain, trip or move delayed, lack of possibilities and options
Practice the Reading With the Major Arcana
As a final note to beginning tarot students, it’s always wise to practice/practice/practice!
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The tarot cards teach you something new about them each time you use them.
It is okay, as a beginner, to use cheat sheets. It’s okay as a new Tarot student to have the meaning of the cards next to you and to look them up. In fact, you’ll note that most people who allow you to practice on them are actually okay with this. So don’t be shy. It’s better to use a cheat sheet and learn the correct meanings as opposed to memorizing incorrect definitions.
What you don’t want to do as a beginner is use more than one source to learn the cards.
You are better studying one source at a time and getting an excellent grasp of the information it provides as opposed to trying to cram many sources all at once. This can cause confusion. Every reader eventually develops their own interpretations of the cards – interpretations which they have learned through the process of giving tarot reading after tarot reading.
John Culbertson is a highly sought-after tarot card reader, spiritual advisor, and spiritual counselor with over 25 years of experience in metaphysical fields. Known for his accuracy, honesty, and deep spirituality, John has conducted thousands of readings that provide trusted guidance and growth for his clients.
John’s specialty is leveraging tarot and intuitive insights to offer clarity, direction, and next steps to those feeling uncertain on life’s path. His compassionate, non-judgemental approach creates a safe space for people to navigate challenging transitions, find inner wisdom, and transform their lives through self-discovery.
Having trained extensively in areas from eastern spirituality to mystical Christian traditions, John synthesizes spiritual principles across faiths. He believes spiritual growth should empower and enhance our human experience.
John offers confidential tarot readings and spiritual mentoring remotely by phone. He is a published author and holds a Doctorate in Ministry with a specialization in pastoral counseling and Certified Metaphysical Practitioner designation. His goal is illuminating the unique gifts within each person through tarot divination and metaphysical healing arts.