Most people don’t realize the Tarot presents a map of your life, a 21-step journey from novice or child to mastery and enlightenment. It is filled with ancient stories that have lasted because of their truth. If you understand the journey and the wisdom hidden in the stories, you’ll see the big picture of your own life. It’s like one of those trail maps that shows you the whole forest and then points to a spot on the map that says, “YOU ARE HERE.”
Life as the Fool’s Journey. Everyone’s journey, whether it is their whole life or some aspect of it, such as beginning to read the Tarot, begins as a child or novice. In the Tarot, the novice is called the Fool whose number is 0 because he is a blank slate.
Ask a question and pull a card: The best answers come from learning to ask questions that illicit insight. You could ask, “Where am I right now on my journey?” Or, “where am I right now in my career, relationship, or anything?” Or “what is there for me to know about (insert the issue of your query)? If you have a deck, pull out the 22 Major Arcana (cards with Roman numerals) and draw from them. If you don’t have a deck, no worries. You can write down numbers 1 through 21 on slips of paper, then with eyes closed, choose one. Or you can also just scroll up and down the cards on this page, not looking directly at them, until you feel it’s time to stop. Now note what card has turned up. You’ll have your answer by reading below about the card that corresponds to that number. If you read about all of the 21 steps, you will see your life in greater perspective.
The Major Arcana of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot
0. The Fool.The Fool is about to take off. He”s got his bags packed hobo style, he”s got a silly grin, and he”s going to lunge forward unaware of what hazards are there. He is full of energy, innocent, devilish, foolish, fun-loving, and utterly clueless ”“ like a five-year-old child or Freshman college boy. He is you when you eagerly begin some new endeavor, whether it is a relationship, a job, or parenthood. He might be some guy who”s coming onto you, but is not serious beyond physical attraction. He has the freshness and clarity of a beginner mind, a naive boldness, and the potential to rule the world. If you pull this card: You”re at the beginning, whether it”s a new relationship or a new job or anything in which you are at that heady, early stage. Go for it! The Fool might also be someone you”re thinking about who is Fool-like, appears sincere but maybe immature. Have fun with him, as long as you understand his Fool nature (read above). Keywords: child, novice, beginner.
I. The Magus or Magician: The Fool begins his journey with two gifts. The first is the gift of communication as symbolized by Mercury, the messenger god. Also known as the Magician, this card represents the power of the spoken word. Mercury is everything that language can create ”“ a healer, conjurer, trickster, a presenter, and a teacher. If you pull this card: teaching and/or presenting may be one of your strengths, and it may be time to embrace that role in your life. Notice that Mercury is happy and uses many tools of the trade to be a messenger of spirit. Keywords: Gifted teacher, conjurer, presenter, joy of communication
II. Priestess: The second gift our Fool (and you) are born with is intuition, symbolized by the priestess. Ruled by the moon with the light blue colors of spirit, this card represents the pure unadulterated intuition that is wired into every human being. If you pulled this card: You are using your intuition. It comes from universal consciousness and you”ll find it by learning to get in touch with your body”s senses, as in mindfulness.
Keyword: Intuition. Message: trust your intuition.
III. Empress. Equipped with language and intuition, the Fool now meets the first and most important “other” in his world: his mother
. This fourth trump corresponds to the fourth Hebrew letter, daleth, which means door, since the mother is the door to all of life. Like the swan at her side, she is earthy, creative, commanding, loyal, nurturing, and fiercely
protective of her young. She is counterbalanced by her consort, the Emperor, who her head is turned towards. If you pull this card: you will draw upon the strength of your inner mother to guide you and/or a strong mother figure is operating in your life. Keywords: mother, matriarch.
IV. Emperor. After mother, the Fool then meets the father. If the Empress is the archetypal matriarch, the Emperor is the symbol of the patriarch. Like all symbols, these two characters are multifaceted, existing on all levels ”” from strong, solid, leader, job creator, protector, and entrepreneur; to negative, petty, controlling, and cruel. In his most exalted form he is as strong and tough as he is kind. His fiery colors indicate action, solidity, and the sign of the ram, Aries, cardinal fire energy of the innovator. If you pull this card: you are dealing with patriarchy, the father figure in your life, both inside and outside of you. It could be in your partner, your boss, your real father, or yourself. Your best bet is to be like the emperor in his best form -strong, creative, commanding, protective,while also kind. Also, don”t forget to have his very excellent boundaries. Keywords: Father, patriarch.
V. Hierophant or Pope. After the father, the Fool child has come of age to meet a higher authority than his parents. In the 15th century, this was the Pope. Today it can mean the law, government, a schoolteacher, a spiritual teacher, or really any higher authority. He is grounded by the powerful forces of tradition as symbolized by the great land beasts”“ the bull and the elephant. He can represent wisdom in his highest form, as well as the more petty and controlling religious leaders some people follow. If you pull this card: you are going to be drawing from the guidance of a higher authority. Remember to use this energy to support you, take what resonates and leave what does not feel right. Keywords: higher authority, teacher.
VI. Lovers. After teacher or higher authority, the Fool child now meets his peers and may move into partnership, find love, and eventually enter into marriage. The union is blessed and even ushered by angels, and is ruled by Gemini, the twins.
Keywords: marriage, lovers, siblings, family. If you pull this card: marriage, family, and/or partnership is on your plate, is your lesson or your strength, and plays
a huge role in your life. Keywords: lovers, marriage, partnership, siblings, twins.
VII. Chariot. Finally the child now strikes out on his own to find his independence, perhaps this means career, perhaps just being his own person. He wears protective armors and sits lotus style on a chariot that will take him on the next leg of his journey. If you pull this card: independence is yours at this time or you may be dealing with someone who is behaving independently of you. Whether the figure is you or
someone important to you, the behavior is self sufficiency. This phase of maturity is essential to thrive, and thrive you will! Keywords: Independence, career.
Trumps VIII and above: The Fool has now grown up, passed the milestones of relationship, family, and career. Contrary to what Disney fairytales led us to believe as children,
life does not stop at this point with happily ever after. This is the point when you want to find out who you really are beneath the expectations. This is when the journey gets interesting. It begins with the next card which a sensitivity to how karma is working in your life.
VIII. Adjustment or Justice. The Adjustment card depicts the scales of Libra, and shows us that karma is weighing in every moment. Since the movement of all energy in life is as exact as the laws of physics, each action we make creates a shift in the balance of things, both within us and outside of us. These waves of energy then travel throughout the universe and return to effect us. Like the blindfolded figure, we cannot see the effects of our actions, unless we are acutely sensitive to how we effect others. Like the Libra figure standing on tip toe, karma is exact and even the slightest wave of energy will upset the equilibrium. As Lao Tso said, we should proceed as carefully “as if crossing an iced over stream.” If you pull this card: you are feeling the effect of your actions on others and of others on you, or you might simply be waiting and listening for karma to unfold. Keywords: karma, balance, justice.
IX. Hermit. After the Fool has grown up, had his own relationship or family (Lovers), achieved independence with a career (Chariot), he may for the first time pull away from others and turn within. Everyone needs to go through this period of introspection. The monk-like figure sits in the darkness turning inward for inner light, grasping the lamp of enlightenment. Occasionally he achieves a glimpse of insight when the grains of life part to reveal the orphic egg ”“ symbol of light from which everything emanates. If you pull this card, trust your need for solitude right now even if you didn”t seek it on purpose. Keyword: solitude, turning within, meditation, loneliness.
X. Fortune or Wheel. This represents the halfway point of the Fool”s journey and shows how all life pivots on chance. Life is a game of chutes and ladders, and we know how easy it is to be boosted up or knocked down. The lesson is that it matters less whether our fortunes are up or down, but how we ride the wheel. Like all the great Trumps, this card is neither good nor bad, but the way it feels in a reading depends on
how you feel when you see it come up. It simply refers to the choppy waves of life rocking your boat. If you want to know how you”re faring, ask yourself how the riders look to you on that wheel? Are you drawn to the one who is hanging off the sides for dear life, or are you noticing the sphinx sitting confidently on top? If you pull thiscard: You are operating in themidst of upheaval. Notice how you ride the wheel. Keywords: luck (good and bad), chance, hazard.
XI. Lust or Strength. This is about the time on your journey that you may find your passion or feel the power of desire. We need the strength that comes from having a passion, and the desire to move it forward in life. The woman on the back of the lion is fire energy personified; she is passion, creativity, that eat-your-heart-out power of going for what she loves. The world is at your command when you are passionate and have a message to share. If you pull this card, you”ve got a message to share that flows through you like fire, and you will influence the world. Keywords: strength, will, passion, charisma.
XII. Hanged Man. Having experienced the heady power of passion (Lust or Strength card), the Fool now hits the limit of his abilities to control his situation. He feels like he is hanging upside down by his toes, with no way out. He has lost all control over his situation and can only turn it over to the Universe, otherwise he will become exhausted.
The wisdom is to relax, and know that this too shall pass. The background shows a promise land awaiting him if he can just breathe and be patient. This card comes up when you can”t do anything to change a situation. This is the card of our age”“ watching world violence, suffering of so many, and a planet heating up with no way to get the polluters to stop.If you pull this card, you are powerless to effect your situation. You can, however, surrender to it, relax into it, and turn it over to the universe. When you”ve learned surrender, you can handle anything. Keyword: Surrender.
XIII. Death. Once the Fool surrenders, he can fully let go. This card does not usually mean death of a person”s body, although it can. Usually it refers to a letting go, with all the lessons and insights that accompany that situation. Death is not only a painful ending, a cutting of all ties by the grim reaper who wields his scythe, but it is transformation, as shown by the spirits rising up as the threads are cut. If you pull this card, you’re letting go of something. The sooner you allow this ending, the sooner will be your transformation to new beginnings. Keywords: death, letting go, transformation.
XIV. Art or Temperance. It is around this time of your journey that you need the wisdom of this card to get you through. We see a woman divided into opposite parts working together as she performs a task. When we are in balance, our many parts fit together into one congruent whole person. But often we tuck away our shadow selves, only to have them operating at cross purposes under the surface, draining our energy and our health. The Art card, called Temperance in other decks, shows us the importance balancing all our many parts. If you pull this card, there is inner conflict. You try to show a happy face, but deep within you are holding something untenable. It’s time to get in touch with all your parts and allow even the most painful to be felt and processed. Eventually you achieve a lovely integration when all the parts are in balance. In this event, you have a work of art, where ordinary parts come together to form something divine. Watch where your eye takes you and how you feel when you see it, and you”ll get the message. Keywords: balance, integration.
XV. Devil. Before Christianity, the pagans saw the horned goat god Pan as the god of nature. He was sardonic, matter-of-fact, sexual like the goat, and he does not kowtow to humans because Nature always has the last word. Christians didn”t like the unrepressed sexuality of paganism and they rebranded Pan as evil. If you look closely, you may see his wry smile. You may also see life force or libido. Or you may see someone confrontational, nasty, and domineering. It”s your call whether you choose a pagan or Judeo-Christian interpretation. Either way, he”s in your face, telling you that nature is in charge, whether it”s sexual desire, someone”s ego, or the climate, so get used to it. If you pull this card: You are facing opposition. Try to step out of the way, don”t engage. Keywords: Dominance, sexual power, unyielding confrontation.
XVI The Tower. Everyone is afraid of the Tower, the scariest card in the deck. It is the point in our lives when major structures to which we have clung are now collapsing. It”s the shedding of a skin that happens when someone loses a job or a marriage, fails at something, or experiences a breakdown of their world order. Watch where your eye goes when you are reading this card. Your eye will fixate on the part of the card that fits the situation. Perhaps it”s the large third eye that sees what is happening and understands it”s a rite of passage. Perhaps it”s the dove that escapes from the burning building like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Your eye will provide the insight you need. No matter how cruel the Tower may feel, as long as you face the loss and allow old structures to fall away, you will move onto the Star ”“ the card of hope and redemption. If you pull this card you are looking at your worst fears. Remember that your pain comes from holding tightly to old structures you have outgrown. Time to remember the lessons of surrender (Hanged Man), disengaging from opposition (Devil), letting go (Death), and turning inward (Hermit). Allow the waves of emotion to crash over you, and they will recede. Transformation and hope are next. Keywords: collapse of structures, deep fears.
TRUMPS 17 THROUGH 21
Having endured the descent into the dark night of the soul, last nine steps (Adjustment/Justice through Tower), you have hit bottom and are now rising to the light. In the next few steps, you are connecting to heavenly bodies ”“ the stars, moon, and sun – – for it is in raising your own consciousness to the vastness of the whole universe that you will find enlightenment and grace.
XVII. Star. The Star is hope, redemption, new beginnings after loss, a fresh new morning after a devastating storm. You have passed through the worst, and now energy from the heavens is sending you into a state of grace. The figure is Nuith, the sky goddess of the heavens, who nurtures us all. Ruled by Aquarius, the consciousness of higher mind, this card is about the idea of hope, the understanding of redemption that comes when we see life from the perspective of the whole universe, that there is a plan, a cyclical path that nurtures us all. If you pull this card, you have new hope and an understanding that there is a star out there working in your favor. You have emerged from the dark night of the soul and are now ascending towards the light. Keywords: Hope, redemption, grace, trust.
XVIII. Moon. Everyone knows the moon, that mysterious heavenly body that we gaze at with wonder as it never ceases to change. It refers to the unconscious, the ultimate mysteries, the unknown, the female principle, moods, cycles, and our own inner journey into the unseen. We pass through the mystery of the moon on our way to the light because now have inner light to carry us through the darkness. We see mystery as beautiful, and when the moon disappears every month, we know it will reemerge whole, just as we will. If you pulled this card, you are dealing with the unknown, with unsolvable mysteries. You simply cannot know what will happen. You are, however, equipped to venture into this situation without knowing. You will then emerge from the other side into the light. Keywords: mystery, unconscious, unknown.
XIX. Sun. Having accepted our fears and the darkness, we can finally step out into the sun and dance in the light. The 19th Trump card finds us free and invulnerable as naked children playing in the sun. The sun is everyone”s deity, the god of gods. If you pull this card, expect to experience a child”s exuberance. If this card appears when you ask about a relationship, you are sensing someone with whom you can laugh and play. Nearing the end of our final ascent, we are close to achieving mastery. We have experienced life”s woes and uncertainties, understood and surrendered to things we cannot change, and suffered heartbreaking loss. Through all this, we have learned to hope, to live comfortably with the unknown, to brave the darkness, let go of the past, and play like children. Keywords: joy, light, gratitude.
XX. Aeon or Judgment. This card represents the step before mastery or final decision, the moment in which we ask that last ditch question before making a final plunge. It shows our inner child wondering what to make of the world or some part or person in it. It”s about a final evaluation of ourselves at the end of life; about questioning the project we”re doing just as we approach mastery, or the career we”ve worked so hard to master, the marriage we”ve made, the people we”ve invested in. It”s a final evaluation that questions our underlying motives, or the motives of someone we thought we knew. If you pull this card, you are trying to evaluate a decision, person, or group. Keywords: evaluation, new beginning, open minded wondering.
XXI. Universe or World. Finally it all comes together for our Fool. We all want to achieve mastery, and when we do, this card shows how it feels and what it means. Like the dancing figure in the center, you can groove with the complex swirling forces of the whole universe. You now live your life in a state of flow, fed by a powerful intuition (see the eye of Horus), relaxed, and fully integrated in body, mind, and spirit. The world is your oyster! If you pull this card, you are fully equipped for whatever endeavor you undertake. You are a master. Keywords: mastery, enlightenment.
The Journey Continues. Although we are never back where we started, the journey starts again with the Fool, only we are more evolved. That”s because the trajectory is a spiral, not a circle, so we seem to come full circle, but we are further along in our path.
Further reading: For a brilliantly written analysis of the Tarot as a life journey, read Theodore Roszak’s pamphlet Fool’s Cycle/Full Cycle: Reflections on the Great Trumps of the Tarot (listed here) where the late Stanford scholar analyzed the cards as a life cycle in the tradition of Western thought from Dante to Freud.