These are the archetypal and original storytelling cards of the tarot.
The oldest majors have people (or humanoid) forms, even if the rest of the deck – the minors – look like the playing cards they correlate to (a repetition of the number of items listed on the card).
These 22 cards, numbered 0-21, are among the most iconic images of the tarot, including the Fool, the Magician, the Devil, the Tower and the Moon.
The Major Arcana (majors) are to the Minor Arcana (minors) as a lion is to a lynx. They both hold power, but the former are bigger and have more (cultural, story-based) associations. particularly in the Western world (starting in Europe) where they were developed.
Side note (credit to The Queer Witch Podcast where this math was first pointed out for me): Our “modern” deck did not devolve from the tarot – losing a face card and the majors along the way. A couple easilyaccessible sources point out where playing cards entered the historical record, and it was long before the tarot.
It’s one useful reason to call the majors the 5th suit, because its a reminder of the order.
Also, considering the early tarot examples are all European, and cards were imported before that could happen… It was an example of my own short-sightedness that I rolled with the first stories I heard about tarot coming first.
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The majors, like the minors, are usually taught in a specific order: 0-21. Read more →
Here’s a bit of context for some of the terms you’ll see in a lot of discussions about individual cards: Minor Arcana, suits, and elements.
The Minor Arcana make up 56 of the 78 cards in a tarot deck.
In the tarot, once you get past the first 22 cards (these are called the Major Arcana and numbered 0 -21), you find a pattern of Ace – 10, + page, knight, queen, king, that repeats through four suits: wands, cups, swords, and pentacles.
If you know your standard poker deck you can see the family resemblance:
Wands correspond to clubs
Cups correspond to hearts
Swords correspond to spades
Pentacles correspond to diamonds
Together these four sets are called the Minor Arcana.
The cards of the Minor Arcana bring a tight focus down to a specific area (element) of life, and provide a context or mirror in that moment.
Each of the tarot suits also aligns with one of the four “original” elements, taking on and portraying variations on its characteristics.