A Quick Guide to Reading Tarot’s Most Iconic Cards

The Strength tarot card depicting a woman petting a lion laying face up on top of other cards facing down on a white...Getty Images

The World, The Lovers, The Devil, and The High Priestess — just to name a few — are some of the most recognizable parts of tarot card decks. You can even find them on nails these days. Known as the Major Arcana, these archetypes are the anchors of every tarot reading. 

The Major Arcana are the first 22 cards in most tarot decks, while the Minor Arcana consists of the wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Although all the cards carry a special meaning, the Major Arcana, in particular, represents universal human experiences, like challenging authority, falling in love, and even unexpected bad news. 

Understanding what each of the 22 Major Arcana cards means is important to navigating readings, such as knowing why the Wheel of Fortune card is a good omen or the Devil isn't so scary after all. As Allure's resident astrologer, I'll break down the basics of the entire Major Arcana, so you'll know exactly what you're dealing with.

The Fool

the fool tarot card from the major arcana with a jokerlike figure drawingGetty Images

Those new to tarot could mistake The Fool as a card of silly, uninformed actions on the horizon. This Major Arcana holds a much more positive meaning, though. The Fool represents fresh starts and new beginnings. You may be about to embark on a journey with a child-like wonder. Take this card as an indication to stay in the present and have a hopeful attitude in your endeavors. 

The Magician

The Magician is the card of manifestation. Most decks show a man with one hand to the ground and the other to the sky, representing his abilities to turn dreams into reality. Pulling The Magician is a sign you'll be able to create what you desire with hard work and a bit of imagination. 

The High Priestess

The High Priestess is all about divine female intuition, which every one of us possesses, regardless of our gender. She rules emotions, mystery, and psychic ability. This card is an omen that it's best to step back, meditate, and get in touch with your intuition before making any major decisions. 

The Empress

The Empress is a card of sex, fertility, and beauty. She also represents beauty and self-care, reminding you of the importance of making time for yourself. She wants you to get more sleep and even pamper yourself with a spa visit. 

The Emperor

Rules and regulations drive The Emperor, but — don't worry — he governs fairly. Drawing The Emperor could indicate the advantage of adding more structure to your life. He wants you to keep in mind that if you're embarking on a new project or relationship, you should take your time, and focus on getting all of the details right. 

The Hierophant

The Hierophant is the masculine counterpart to the High Priestess, but remember, we all contain masculine and feminine energy. Consider The Hierophant as the card of institutions and collectivism. Pulling it may indicate it's time to organize your workplace or become more politically involved.

The Lovers

the lovers tarot card with drawing of man and woman holding hands in a field of trees with an angel above themGetty Images

The Lovers card is pretty self-explanatory. Although it depicts two people happily in love, The Lovers also emphasizes the importance of honesty and communication in your relationships. Finding a partner is one thing, but having the emotional maturity to keep the spark alive requires dedication and hard work. 

The Chariot

The Chariot is an emblem of willpower. When this card appears in a reading, take The Chariot as a sign that you can accomplish your dreams — but only if you keep going and take action. You may feel frustrated and tired, but success is just within reach. Be brave, keep your head up, and keep fighting. 

Strength 

the strength major arcana tarot card with drawing of a woman riding a lionGetty Images

The Strength card typically depicts a woman taming a lion, which represents animal instincts. Rather than let fears or passion control us, she reminds us that we are in control, and can use these powers for good and to our advantage. Drawing this card might make you more aware of your personal power and how you can use it to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

The Hermit

Sometimes, The Hermit represents a teacher or a healer who we can learn from. Most times, it symbolizes the importance of retreat. We live in a world that demands constant work and action, but the reality is rest and taking social media breaks can make us healthier, happier, and more productive in the long run. 

Wheel of Fortune

What goes up must come down. The Wheel of Fortune reminds us that the only constant in our lives is change. When things are going well — perhaps if you're making money or madly in love — make sure to enjoy every moment because, at some point, something bad is going to happen again. Sorry to sound like a downer, but this is just the reality of life. On the other hand, if you're having a hard time and struggling, the Wheel of Fortune promises life will not always be this way, and before you know it, you'll be on top again. 

Justice

justice major arcana tarot card with a drawing of a blindfolded woman holding a oldfashioned scaleGetty Images

Justice is the card of karmic balance, reminding us that cutting corners, taking advantage of people, and lying rarely work out in the long run. If you've been duplicitous, your actions will catch up with you. Don't expect to get away with them. If you've been dedicated and caring to your work, though, don't think Justice doesn't notice. You'll receive love and acknowledgment for your honorable nature. 

The Hanged Man

The connotation of The Hanged Man card isn't as sinister as it may sound; the figure on the card is actually upside down in a state of meditation. You may be under a lot of stress right now, but the best thing you can do is surrender. Pulling this card can be a reminder to take a break, let the universe do its thing, and trust you'll end up where you need to be. 

Death

Speaking of things that sound terrifying but aren't, this is one of my favorite cards. Death is a harbinger of transformation. Just got broken up with? Well, this card knows you're hurting, but it also knows it was for the best. Now, you get to build yourself back up with the help of your friends, dye your hair a fun new color, and come out happier than you were before. 

Temperance

Temperance usually appears during a stressful time to tell you to take it easy. Maybe it's not a good idea to take on extra work just for the sake of distracting yourself from how you're really feeling. If you're going through a hard time, this card encourages you to be patient. Just as the Wheel of Fortune promises, change is coming. 

The Devil

Some interpretations of The Devil point to unhealthy vices, such as problematic drinking, but it generally focuses on indulging in pleasurable things that make you feel good, like consensual kinky fun, a night out dancing, or downing a pint of ice cream. For instance, in the original Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, the card is illustrated with a man and a woman, much like The Lovers, standing by the Devil with a chain around their necks. Upon closer inspection, you'll notice the chain is very loose, and the couple can remove it anytime they please; they just don't want to because they're having a good time. 

The Tower

the tower major arcana tarot card with a tower on fireGetty Images

Destruction and sudden endings are The Tower's cornerstones, and there's no way around that. In most decks, a lightning bolt hits a skyscraper, sending people flying out of the windows. It's terrifying but will appear in a reading when a doomed relationship is on the rocks or you're this close to quitting a job in a toxic workplace. The ending will hurt, but the card assures it's for the best. 

The Star

the star major arcana tarot card with a woman pouring a cup into a pond with a large star over herGetty Images

It's no mistake that The Star comes after The Tower in the Major Arcana lineup. After stress and destruction, The Star asks you to take time for self-reflection, to heal your wounds, get back in touch with yourself, and then, get back out there. 

The Moon

As pretty as The Moon card may be, it can call out unresolved trauma and past pain that's still causing problems for you today. For instance, if you had an absent, unfaithful father, dating can understandably stir up trust issues for you. You deserve healthy love, so this card encourages you to work with a therapist to work through what's ailing you on an emotional level. 

The Sun

the sun major arcana tarot card depicting a girl riding a horse with a sun shining over herGetty Images

The Sun carries warm, fulfilling rays of sunshine. Take account of its optimism and joy. If you pull this card or simply feel the happiness radiating from you, embrace it with everything you have. 

Judgment 

After a time of spiritual growth and renewal, The Judgement card can appear. You've probably been working hard to grow, heal, and become a better version of yourself. Now, you're ready to start dating again or go after your dream job. Treat yourself for making such important progress. 

The World

As the final card of the Major Arcana, The World focuses on completion. Seeing it in your spread should bring you a feeling of wholeness, perhaps in a healthy relationship, or satisfaction after finishing a creative project. Take time to celebrate, and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. You've earned it. 

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