Major Arcana cards depict life events and lessons as a journey from birth to enlightenment. These do not happen only once in life with Major Arcana, so the cards do not point to your physical years. Instead, they talk about what you are experiencing in your current life cycle or phase.
Also, even though the cards are numbered from 0 (the step before first step) to 21 (completion), in practice the cards don't come up in a number order. Sometimes we learn lessons faster, sometimes slower, and life lessons don't have a premeditated order they come up. We keep learning same or similar things over and over again and hence, the Major Arcana cards can and do serve throughout life - no card becomes "obsolete".
However, it's also possible to get stuck in a certain thinking pattern and that's when the same cards keep repeating until the issue is solved or released. And conversely, it's possible that some cards show themselves very rarely, if you are not experiencing that particular energy (emotions, situations etc.) the card portrays.
Enlightenment can be understood as spiritual, or just "gaining full understanding" about life.
Each card means a major life lesson that has potential to help you grow as a person - to progress in your own evolution. Major Arcana cards often point to outside forces. How we behave when pressured, hindered, blocked or prompted by outside forces, is what helps (or forces) us to grow: it's polishing a diamond out of a chunk of coal.
When you do or receive a reading, pay attention to how many Major Arcana cards come up. They point to the big lessons and major forces in play, and give you a hint about what you need to take into account long-term, or what will have the greatest impact on your life during this period of life.
My nutshell guide for the meanings of the 22 Major Arcana cards
0 Fool - beginning. I read this as a step before step, the first inclination that something new is beginning. It's still mostly in one's mind, not reality yet, but it's the feeling or urge to start anew or go to a new direction in life, even if it feels scary and unclear. It's the wish to do what you want.
1 Magician - from intention to action. Magician brings the idea into reality; this is a card of successful manifestation. Nothing can be achieved without thinking about it first and the Magician comes up when you have the power to succeed in your undertaking, if you set your mind to it.
2 High Priestess - trust your intuition. This card reminds that this physical reality of ours can only be navigated with the help of intuition; the gut feeling about what is right and wrong for you. Rational mind, will and intention are not enough, we also need to listen to the inner self, our soul.
3 Empress - creation and life force, blessings. The Empress is often read as the feminine ideal; but to me she portrays the divine in the universe, the life force (chi), growth, creativity, nature, and feeling blessed and protected. To me this card most often means: enjoy life and it's blessings, including love, creativity, nature and everything that brings you joy.
4 Emperor - structure, permanence and rational logic. If the Empress is about the organic positive forces in life, the Emperor is about structure, logic, stability and authority. It can mean your rational mind being in charge instead of intuition, or it can mean the need to take better control of one's life.
5 Hierophant - sharing structured traditions and teachings. All human societies are built on shared traditions, rules and teachings, such as the law, religion, customs, traditional celebrations - the expectations about how to behave and what to believe. Hierophant can mean living by the rules or according to the traditions, or the need or want to study and/or teach.
6 Lovers - commitment, choosing what feels right in the heart. This card is about soul mates and romantic love, but not only about it. It's about any choice you need to make; the prompt is to choose what feels right in your mind, body, heart and soul. The choice is right when all of the elements align and make you feel good, 'this is the right way'.
7 Chariot - success with opposing forces. This card is most often read as the triumph of willpower, but to me the core meaning is: being able to handle a difficult situation where opposing forces are not letting you to do what you want. It can mean applying force (mental, emotional or physical), or it can mean acknowledging that force alone is not working, another approach is needed.
8 Strength - stay zen, keep calm. This card often shows a young maiden petting a lion. The message is that you can control your own or someone else's animal instincts, fears and urges with staying calm and collected. Frustration, panicking and succumbing to fears won't help, so keep your cool.
9 Hermit - search for your own truth, alone. The hermit is someone who dedicates his or her life to examining, observing and pondering life or a certain question in solitude. It doesn't mean "move to a cave for the rest of your life", but it does mean that the situation at hand is best handled by searching for your own truth through philosophy, thinking, taking time for yourself, reading, whatever works for you to build your knowledge base.
10 Wheel of Fortune - the "full" number 10 is a circle closed and also a change. The wheel of fortune, the destiny or fate, is ever-changing and nothing will stay the same forever. There can be a turn to better (or occasionally worse) coming - and eventually, that too will change. Whatever is going on now, is a major life lesson you can learn from, even if it feels you're not in charge.
11 Justice - karma and deliberated decisions. Justice comes up when there is a need to make a decision about something that (knowingly or unknowingly) has great importance for your life in the future. It can also mean that a decision concerning you is being made (such as a decision on a job or study application, or a legal decision) and it will have major impact on your life's course one way or another.
12 Hanged Man - let go of the need for action and find a new perspective. I always think of this card as a painful or difficult yoga pose you must stay in to become more flexible, balanced, and better at it. This suspended, inactive period in life feels uncomfortable or unwanted, but it's needed to learn something - see things from a new angle.
13 Death - ending and transformation. When a caterpillar has been hanging in its uncomfortable cocoon for long enough, it breaks free and emerges as something different and new: as a butterfly able to fly, reach new levels in life. The ending can be painful and scary, but it's also always a beginning of something different; the emerging of a new you, ready for a different phase in life.
14 Temperance - creating a compromise with patience. This card pops up when you are trying to balance or combine competing elements - such as work life balance, or people in a new relationship. Mixing or connecting them takes time, effort, skills and patience. Sometimes the mix works eventually, sometimes it doesn't, but a decision about wanting to compromise needs to be made before it can happen.
15 Devil - unhealthy attachments and desires. Something is dictating how you think, feel or live. It can be an obsession or addiction (anything from food to sex to alcohol to work) or letting a negative feeling, such as fear, grudge, jealousy or selfishness drive your life. Some people think this card means a bond between people and can mean marriage, but for me this card is about negative bonds.
16 Tower - collapse of beliefs or structures in life. Tower comes up, when a sudden shock is on its way or ongoing. It can be something major like separation, or something smaller like having your beliefs or expectations blown up by something/someone. The suddenness of the Tower often makes the event itself feel negative, but the outcome is that the truth is revealed, whatever it is.
17 Star - hope, healing and guidance. After the shock and crumble comes healing and finding a new direction with hope and optimism. The Star is about learning to trust life again, and finding solace, hope and guidance from within or from people around you.
18 Moon - confusion, letting instincts rule over head and heart. Moon can mean intuition and paying attention to the "otherworldy", metaphysical and spiritual, but because High Priestess already means that, to me the Moon means "oi, you're looking to the wrong direction or seeing everything in an unnecessary bad light". Step out to the clarity of the sun and leave the confusion and stirred-up emotions behind.
19 Sun - happiness, clarity, joy of life. This card in my opinion feels like "there's no worry in the world". It's like being a child again in a sunny summer day, simply enjoying existence. No agendas, no hidden influences, everything just is as you see it and it's beautiful and enjoyable.
20 Judgement - leaving the past behind for a new stage in life. Judgement is about taking stock in life, either consciously or subconsciously. You're ready to move on to something new and different, this life phase or situation is over. It's time to look back, decide what lessons and memories you want to keep, and then close the gate and move on.
21 World - completion, success, life lesson learned. The World comes up when something's successfully completed: studies, a difficult project, a life phase or stage in general, or just a period in life where you learnt something to become a better version of yourself. This chapter is closed now, it was educational and enlightening, now it's time to enjoy the elated feeling of success - and then move on to the Fool again!
|Major Arcana (Rider Waite Smith deck) card pictures can be found in Wikipedia. The numbers 0 and 21, Fool and the World, are on the top row, then from number 1 to 5, 6 to 10, 11 to 15 and 16 to 20 from top left corner to bottom right corner.|