How Tarot Cards Work: The Fool’s Journey & Story of the Major Arcana
Tarot reading is an ancient divination practice imbued with arcane wisdom and astrological significance.
Only when you start reading the Tarot, do you realise the power of its messages to strike at the right time. Having done thousands of card readings over the last 14 years, I know that the cards have a voice and each one has a personality; its own vibration and story to tell.
The role of storytelling in Tarot is as important as the route on a map, it gets you from A to B: from question to answer for the person you’re reading for.
The most important story that you’ll need to learn if you want to read Tarot is The Fool’s Journey. This cyclical tale of expansion and contraction is what allows us to understand the point we’re at on our own journey, or where we’ll be arriving in the near future.
The Fool’s Journey is the chronological structure which has been woven through the 22 Major Arcana cards to represent –
- important stages of our life
- lessons which have a profound impact on us
- and junctures that have the potential to completely change our path
By understanding the 22 steps of The Fool’s Journey, you can understand your own past, present and future through any Major Arcana cards which show up for you.
It begins with The Fool (0) starting off on a new journey feeling excited, inspired and free. However, he has no experience yet, so he’s unaware of the fact that he could be about to walk off the edge of a cliff! He’s naive when it comes to this new pursuit, but his energy is high and he’s full of good intentions.
He feels like he has a new opportunity and he’s hopeful about his ability to create anything he wants. He steps into a new mindset of being The Magician (1) of his own life, using everything he has available to him (a cup, pentacle, sword, and wand) to create his dream reality. He believes in magic and knows that by co-creating with the Universe, anything is possible.
Through this exploration of his metaphysical ability, he meets The High Priestess (2) who shows up in our journey when we start to discover the physical and spiritual world on a deeper level. She is the gatekeeper of our intuition, and she welcomes The Fool into a world of esoteric knowledge and Divine wisdom. She teaches him that not everything which is real can be seen.
As he starts to question his path, his mother shows up as The Empress (3). She represents our connection with Mother Earth and embodies everything to do with our own fertility, nurturing ability and abundance. His father then appears as The Emperor (4) who sets rules and regulations to ensure that his path is safe and stable. He reminds The Fool of the importance of traditions and structures which can stand the test of time and help to keep him grounded while he navigates this new level of spiritual awakening.
The Fool looks for teachers who have gone before him to learn about spirituality in a more structured way, which is when he encounters The Hierophant (5). He starts being influenced by external cultures, societies and religions; and he is shaped by the teachers that he’s now learning from. After so long alone, he craves someone to go on this journey with and starts looking for a partnership. He discovers all of the joy that can come from a union as The Lovers (6), which is where he learns how to cooperate and find balance between his own masculine and feminine energies.
With everything The Fool has learned so far, he now understands how to be successful using willpower and discipline. He rides The Chariot (7) towards his goals and knows that he can achieve anything he wants with enough ambition and drive. He now possesses inner Strength (8) through the courage that he has developed over time on his journey. Through this strength he learns to tame the unfettered ambition that he had on The Chariot, knowing that sometimes battles are long; he grows more mature and starts to value self-control.
Having learned so much already, The Fool seeks solitude in order to go within and reflect on everything he has seen so far. He becomes The Hermit (9) and retreats to try and understand the meaning of why the world works this way. From his time away in isolation as The Hermit, he sees that everything connects and is divinely planned by the Universe.
He realises that the Wheel of Fortune (10) means things will happen exactly when they’re meant to and that we’re all subject to fate. This can be good or bad depending on which way the Wheel turns. However, he also knows that the Universe will bring balance to every action and that there will always be Justice (11). He learns to act with integrity because his actions will always have consequences. Justice brings balance into situations and resolution to legal matters; there is always the divine retribution of karma.
With this support system around him, he feels like he can surrender and pause. As The Hanged Man (12), he is safe to explore the world from different points of view because he knows that the Universe is always there to catch him. At this important stage, he experiences an ego Death (13) where the person that he thought he was falls away. His slate is wiped clean and he enters a whole new phase of his existence where new, more aligned opportunities have space to enter. After everything has been washed away, there is silence and peace. With Temperance (14), he learns to be patient and to find balance without constantly needing to pursue new things. There is not always a need for immediate action.
Following this pause, he tries to start moving forward again only to realise that he’s still shackled to his past — emotionally, physically or financially. This is limiting his expansion, so The Devil (15) forces him to look at where he’s holding himself back and resisting letting go of what no longer serves him. The Tower (16) assists The Fool by shaking him loose from these attachments, using external forces out of his control. This feels terrifying — like the rug is being pulled out from under him — but it’s in his best interest! It’s a favour from the Universe to help set him free.
The light that illuminates this for him is The Star (17) which provides hope and a sense of renewal; this is the light at the end of the tunnel. The Fool feels inspired to start shining as his true self. However, its opposite — The Moon (18) — represents any fears and subconscious programming that may prevent him from enjoying this new state of bliss. Light casts a shadow and the shadow, in this case, is the old anxiety and fears which may rise to the surface when attempting to shine brightly as The Star.
Once he has worked through this old fear energy, his light expands and he becomes The Sun (19). He is completely renewed and in touch with his original soul’s purpose. He has nothing to hide from the world and he is not hiding anything from himself. He’s in total alignment and illuminating the path forward for others as a result. As his old ego-self is now completely shed, he can see his purpose clearly and knows what he is meant to be doing on Earth. Like a final Judgement (20), there’s no room for illusions or false identities. At last, he is rising up and answering his soul’s calling.
This is the end of the road for The Fool. He has mastered The World (21) and completed his journey. So many lessons have been learned and this chapter is closing once and for all. This is an amazing chance to celebrate all of his victories and everything that he’s accomplished, but like any cycle which closes fully — a whole new one begins and a new journey starts!
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I hope this helps you to understand the role of the Major Arcana and how they can mirror back to us these lessons in our own life story.