Major Arcana Meanings Part 3: Hermit to Hanged Man

Major Arcana Meanings Hermit through Hanged Man
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

We continue through the mental part of our journey with the major arcana meanings of The Hermit through to The Hanged Man. This section of the major arcana contains some of the most mysterious cards of the entire deck. But all will be revealed!

Major arcana meanings for The Fool to The Emperor, plus links to the other meanings, can be found here.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Hermit

Major Arcana Meanings The Hermit
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Voice of Light
Zodiac Attribution: Virgo
Keywords: Introspection, Self-reliance, Inspiration, Knowledge

The Hermit made an appearance on the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV album (ask your parents) but what else can we say about this slightly mysterious card?

This card represents seeking knowledge, the truth, divine inspiration. As one of the major arcana, the Hermit represents those times in your life where you want or need to understand where you are going or what is happening/will happen next. Want to really know what to do with the rest of your life? That’s Hermit energy. Trying to understand deep philosophical or spiritual meaning? Hermit again. Trying to understand the implications of a major event in your life? Yep, Hermit energy.

In the here and now plane of existence you may find yourself as the Hermit when you are engaging in something creative such as painting, writing a novel, inventing. This is when you search and feel for that inspirational spark. Which usually hits you when you are alone. And at night.

As well as a seeker of inspiration and knowledge, the Hermit can suggest those times in your life when there is nobody to help you and you need to be truly self-sufficient. During the recent pandemic lock downs here in the UK, many people needed to become self-reliant in order to get by due to isolation. This requires mental fortitude as prolonged isolation is extremely bad for your mental health.

The TdM Hermit is very similar to the RWS version. In early TdM decks, the Hermit is sometimes shown with an hourglass instead of a lamp which changes the meanings of the card. Perhaps the hourglass represents the fact that acquiring knowledge takes time. Or that we can only remain isolated in thought for a certain period before excessive introspection becomes harmful.

And if The Hermit was slightly mysterious, it’s perfectly mundane compared to the next card in our journey.

Major Arcana Meanings: Wheel of Fortune

Major Arcana Meanings Wheel of Fortune
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Forces of Life
Planetary Attribution: Jupiter
Keywords: Good Fortune, Unexpected Change, Fate

The Wheel of Fortune is truly one of the more mysterious cards of the major arcana, if not the entire tarot deck. It represents good fortune or upcoming good fortune as well as unknowable fate. If you use reversals, it could indicate bad luck. The dog headed humanoid figure moving up the wheel is Hermanubis, a combination of the Greek trickster Hermes and the Egyptian god Anubis, both gods are conductors of souls to the afterlife. The descending snake is Evil (as also seen in the Lovers card).

Whenever I have received this card in a reading asking ‘What can I expect today?’ or similar, the Wheel of Fortune has always come to represent some unexpected event which turns everything upside down (pun intended). Literally, some unexpected event which comes out of nowhere to make my day more ‘interesting.’ Usually, interesting in an unpleasant manner. Think of this card as message to ‘Expect the Unexpected.’

However, when I receive the Wheel of Fortune in a position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take,’ the card suggests the need to focus on improving your fortunes in a major way through various means. Which means it’s also the ‘kick up the backside’ card!

The message of the Wheel of Fortune then is to keep on your toes and stay alert as well as making positive changes in your life. Not something to be afraid of.

The TdM Wheel of Fortune is very similar except we have a handle protruding from the side. This implies that the Wheel can be controlled to a greater extent than the RWS version. This is true. Remember that we all have free will and can act to change our futures.

Major Arcana Meanings: Justice

Major Arcana Meanings Justice
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Lord of Truth
Zodiac Attribution: Libra
Keywords: Balance, Judging, Truth, Critique

I personally find Justice of the most fascinating cards of the major arcana. The card means fairness but whenever I draw it in a reading it usually suggests being critical of self and finding out what really matters – getting to the truth of things.

This is a card that can be quite hard to understand because it can mean so many things. On a mundane level it can suggest fairness in legal issues as well as weighing up arguments to make a decision. On a higher metaphysical level it can suggest the effect of karma – receiving what you give out. I have also found it can mean that someone is critiquing and judging you – not a comfortable position to be in.

When you receive Justice in an ‘Advice’ position, it is telling you to weigh up what is most important to you and/or the need to act in a fair and balanced manner in the situation.

The RWS and TdM versions of the card are very similar except for the numbering. A.E. Waite swapped the positions of Strength and Justice in the RWS to fit the esoteric pattern he wanted. The TdM retains the original positions. It doesn’t really make much of a difference in actual readings unless you want to do a deep dive into tarot esotericism.

And up next, we have the most mysterious card in the entire major arcana..

The Enigma of The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man
Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. Tarot de Marseille copyright Heraclio Fournier

Golden Dawn Title: Spirit of the Mighty Waters
Elemental Attribution: Water
Keywords: Meaningful Sacrifice, Suspension, Punishment, Inaction

The Hanged Man is one of the true enigmas of the tarot deck. Being hanged upside down was a punishment for traitors which gives us one possible meaning for the card. Another common meaning for this major arcana is being able to understand something from a different perspective. However, the RWS version of the Hanged Man goes a little deeper. Notice the golden aura of enlightenment around the figure’s head; this tells us that the suspension is a willing sacrifice in the here and now in order to gain intellectual and/or spiritual insight.

In my every day readings, the Hanged Man has come to mean something less meaningful and more mundane. The card usually signifies an enforced period of inaction – letting time pass by. Sometimes this inaction is due to external forces that can’t be controlled, other times it is necessary and self imposed. Here in the UK, the pandemic lock downs in 2020 and 2021 have had that enforced Hanged Man energy. Way too much of it.

If you’ve ever made sacrifices in order to achieve important life changing gains then that’s the Hanged Man energy. Such as doing night classes to gain important qualifications. Or going to the gym to improve your fitness. Receiving this card in a spread position of ‘Advice’ or ‘Action to take’ is a message that you should make personal sacrifices to gain some benefit in the longer term.

The TdM version of the card has an interesting feature given that the TdM is not an esoteric deck. The ground disappears where the head is giving the impression that the figure is hanging in some sort of hole or abyss. This could be interpreted to mean that the material world has given way to the world of the intellect through the experience of suspension. Well, criminals hanged upside down will certainly have time to reflect on their sins!


We move from the mental realm into that of the spiritual as we move from Death through to The Tower..

Major Arcana Meanings Part 2: Hierophant To Strength

Major Arcana Meanings Hierophant to Strength
The Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Continuing the major arcana meanings with a look at the Hierophant to Strength. You can find Part 1: Fool to Emperor here as well as links to other major arcana meanings. As before, I am not including reversed meanings as I demonstrate a technique for reading any reversed card in the post ‘Read Reversed Tarot Cards With W.I.N.D.’

In this section, when we move from the Chariot to Strength, we move from the physical aspects of our life journey to the mental realm.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Hierophant

Major Arcana Meanings The Hierophant
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Magus of the Eternal Gods
Zodiac Attribution: Taurus
Keywords: Teacher, Learning, Institution, Dogma

The Hierophant represents learning the lessons and morals necessary to live a worthy life. These lessons were originally safeguarded by the Church so the Hierophant can represent secret knowledge (different from the hidden inner knowledge of the High Priestess). In the more secular world we live in today, the Hierophant can signify any teacher or teaching.

This card also represents the Church so can indicate rigid dogma. I have found the Hierophant could also mean any large institution you need to deal with.

In my personal experience as a therapist, I have embodied the energy of the Hierophant as I often have to provide education, training and information as part of my role. Any teacher or educator uses this same energy. If you are learning a new skill or acquiring knowledge you are also feeling the energy of the Hierophant as the pupil receiving the knowledge.

Both the RWS and Tarot de Marseille (TdM) images of the card are very similar. The TdM version, Le Pape, is the Pope so represents the entire Church (he has the Cross on both hands) and is the source, and gatekeeper, of all the knowledge needed to live a moral and worthwhile life.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Lovers

Major Arcana Meanings The Lovers
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Children of the Voice Divine
Zodiac Attribution: Gemini
Keywords: Choice, Lasting Consequences, Motivation, Love, Action

The iconic RWS image of The Lovers represents the Christian view of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is making the choice between eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and giving some of the fruit to Adam or remaining in bliss in the Garden. This card is all about being motivated to make life altering decisions with major long term consequences.

We all make these choices. Any time you have made a decision with major implications (choosing a career, going to university, getting married, buying a house for example) you are employing the energy of the Lovers.

The TdM version of the card is very different. Le Amoureux (the Lover), along with Cupid overhead, is a more direct representation of love. Here, the Lover is choosing between his (possibly pregnant) partner, who represents a new path, and his mother which represents the past. Love and motivation are the key aspects here with each decision creating lasting consequences.

When the Lovers, or Lover, card appears it is a message that you must carefully decide where you go from here because each option will have a major, lasting impact on your life.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Chariot

Major Arcana Meanings The Chariot
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Lord of the Triumph of Light
Zodiac Attribution: Cancer
Keywords: Victory, Willpower, Determination, Focus

The Chariot is the last step of the physical aspect of life’s journey and represents accomplishment through willpower. When you are working towards something and there are many things you need to pull together and rein in to achieve success, that’s the energy of the Chariot. Unlike the Emperor, who represents conquering through a combination of physical effort and sheer energy, the Chariot represents the sustained willpower you need to achieve victory.

Organising a large event with many aspects requiring your attention? That’s the Chariot (combined with the Emperor). Trying to meet a work deadline but there are a variety of distractions? Call on the willpower and focus of the Chariot.

This focus and sustained effort is something we frequently have to accomplish in the physical world.

The RWS Chariot is a superb representation of this concept. The Charioteer is embedded in a solid block of stone with no physical control over the two sphinx except for his sceptre. And the two sphinx are opposites; the white (Yin) energy and black (Yang) energy. How does the Charioteer move his chariot? He can only use the strength of his sustained willpower and personal charisma to cajole both the stone to lift up and the Sphinx to use their supernatural powers to work together and pull the chariot.

The TdM Chariot is similar and only differs in that it lacks the occult symbolism of the RWS version.

If you practice Magick – the changing of reality in accordance with your Will – then you are using the energy of The Chariot as much or even more than that of The Magician.

From the Chariot we then move into the mental realm of life’s journey

Strength: The Beginning of the Mental Journey

Strength card. The suppression of the Ego.
Centennial Smith Waite Tarot copyright US Games Systems. CBD Tarot de Marseille copyright US Games Systems

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Flaming Sword
Zodiac Attribution: Leo
Keywords: Self-Control, The ID, The Will

With Strength we enter the mental phase of life’s journey. This stage represents the challenges we face in the mind as we move towards our eventual destination. With Strength we have the suppression of our primal instincts and appetites to meet the needs of our higher self. ID suppressing ego.

Exerting self control over our basic instincts and desires is a vital aspect of living in our modern society. Without this control we give into temptations that distract us from our purpose (procrastination is a good example of what happens here). Worse, failing to control our basic instincts and giving into ego could cause serious harm to ourselves and to others.

I’m sure you can mentally picture any number of situations where failing to exert self control over your ego has led you to distraction in order to satisfy basic appetites. That craving for chocolate? Wanting to do anything except get down to work? Distraction due to sexual energy?

The RWS image of Strength shows a rather loving suppression of our energetic, primitive, ego. After all, we try to suppress our ego to achieve higher purpose and prevent harm but our ego is part of us.

The TdM Strength is very similar and demonstrates the same concept.

Why is the RWS Strength numbered 8 (VIII) and the TdM version numbered 11 (XI)? This is because A.E. Waite wanted the RWS Strength to fit in with his esoteric model of how the major arcana should be arranged. So he moved the card from 11 to 8. At position 11, the TdM Strength is still in the mental aspect of the major arcana. In practice, the change in numbering has absolutely no effect on tarot readings.

Next Time…

In part 3 i’ll look at The Hermit through to The Hanged Man

Major Arcana Meanings Part 1: Fool To Emperor

Major Arcana Card Meanings: Fool to Emperor
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions

This post will cover the major arcana meanings for the Fool through to the Emperor. Throughout this blog I have stated that learning to read the tarot intuitively is more important than learning the card meanings. But card meanings do have a place and add richness to the process of conceptual blending (the process that explains how tarot actually works.) I go into tarot and conceptual blending in depth here.

So this post is the first in a series where I detail the card meanings I have learned and discovered over the years. These meanings include those provided by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (the basis for the RWS and Thoth tarot decks) as well as meanings I use with historical and pip decks.

  • Major Arcana Meanings Part 2: Hierophant to Strength is here.

The major arcana card meanings here work for me but do not treat them as ‘gospel.’ Many readers develop their own meanings and you should not be afraid to do the same if that works for you. I include esoteric elementary, planetary, and zodiac attributions but do not cover them in detail. They are included so you can explore them in depth if you want. I occasionally use the esoteric attributions (especially the elemental attributions) in reading but they are not necessary. In all honesty, consider them optional extras – the icing on the cake – but not needed to read tarot well.

Take what resonates for you and leave the rest.

I illustrate the cards using various editions of the RWS tarot along with the same card in the Tarot de Marseille (TdM). This helps show the origin of the RWS card and how I sometimes use different meanings with the TdM and other historical decks.

I do not discuss reversed meanings. I cover a method of reading reversed meanings here which you can apply to any card. I also do not cover the symbology in depth as different decks use different symbology. But they all work. I explore the relative unimportance of symbology in the conceptual blending post linked to above.

The Three Sections of the Major Arcana

Major arcana cards represent the path through life and each card represents major forces and influences we must deal with on our journey. It helps to think of the major arcana in three sections. The first seven cards, Fool to Chariot, represent the challenges we face in the physical, material realm. The next seven, Strength (or Justice) to Temperance, relate to the mental hurdles on life’s journey. The final seven, The Devil to The World, are the spiritual lessons we need to learn.

This post covers the major arcana meanings for the first five cards in the physical realm.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Fool

Major Arcana Meanings: The Fool
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: The Spirit of Ether
Elemental Attribution: Air
Planetary Attribution: Pluto
Keywords: Beginning, Naivety, Recklessness, Optimism

The Fool is a strange card. It is both the beginning of the journey through life and the end which is why it can be both numbered 0 and 22. The Fool represents the beginning of all endeavours and our passage through life. After card 21 The World, which represents ultimate completion and culmination of the present cycle, we start again at the beginning of a new cycle which is why the Fool can follow the World.

He or she is the hopeless, naive, but enthusiastic optimist who doesn’t know what they are letting themselves in for. This is represented in the RWS tarot by the Fool with his mind in the clouds happily walking along about to step off a cliff. The dog can represent commonsense which the Fool completely ignores.

The TdM version of the Fool is a court jester who blindly continues on his way ignoring risk. This Fool is more obviously an idiot who ignores danger even when it is blatantly harming them.

The major arcana meanings of this card are that you are setting off on a new journey (literal, metaphorical, spiritual) and that the way ahead is completely unknown. When you draw this card you should be alert to possible pitfalls and dangers ahead.

A typical Fool situation would be starting a brand new career, something many people are getting used to in the current pandemic. Retraining and starting a completely new role to what you did before is a Fool situation. In fact, the attitude of several countries entering the pandemic in 2020 is another example of a Fool attitude (reckless, ignorant).

The Fool is one of only three cards in the major arcana with an elemental attribution. I cover how to use elemental correspondences in a reading here.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Magician

Major Arcana Card Meanings: The Magician
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: The Magus of Power
Planetary Attribution: Mercury
Keywords: Awareness, Self-confidence, Skill, Communication, Mastery, Trickery,

The Magician represents conscious awareness of their abilities, knowledge and skill. He/She has the confidence, skill, and the tools to manifest their ideas and thoughts into reality. The RWS Magician has one arm raised to the cosmos and the other pointing to the earth representing the axiom ‘As above, so below.’ This refers to the idea that what applies in one dimension can apply to another. Your thoughts and ideas exist in one realm, the Magician can manifest them in the physical realm.

If you are starting a new project or need to get something done well then this is the card you hope to see in a reading. Working as a therapist, I often feel I must embody the qualities of the Magician in my role. When you have an idea of how something is supposed to go and consciously work to make that happen, overcoming all the resulting obstacles, you are being the Magician

The TdM Basteleur is more of a street performer than a magick wielding magician. The TdM version embodies the qualities of being a great communicator, having amazing social skills and the knowledge to apply them well. He/She is also a bit of a trickster so if the Magician appears in a reading and you interpret the card as representing someone else, beware of mischief and misdirection as a possible negative issue. Or, perhaps you need to apply a little trickery yourself!

Major Arcana Meanings: The High Priestess

RWS tarot and Tarot de Marseille High Priestess and Papesse cards
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: The Priestess of the Silver Star
Planetary Attribution: The Moon
Keywords: Subconscious, Hidden Knowledge, Psychic, Wisdom, Intuition

The High Priestess is the partner and opposite to the Magician. She represents the subconscious wisdom hidden from conscious awareness. When you rely on intuition and gut instinct in a situation, you are embodying the qualities of the High Priestess. Intuition is a combination of knowledge and experience; something we are not always consciously aware of but it is there, hidden away but accessible.

The B and J on the pillars behind the High Priestess represent Boaz and Jachin, the copper or bronze pillars that stood at the main entrance to the Temple of Solomon. They support the veil that hides away the knowledge from view. Thus, you have to reach into the subconscious to access that knowledge. The Moon represents psychic ability as well, another way of representing those intuitive flashes we sometimes get.

The High Priestess is sometimes thought of as representing spiritual wisdom. However, as one of the seven cards in the physical realm I usually consider her to represent intuition and wisdom in the everyday world we live in.

The TdM Papesse represents the mythical female pope and can represent a mature woman full of wisdom. A grandmother telling her grandchildren stories from her past would be a perfect example.

When you draw the High Priestess it can be an indicator to either follow your intuition, draw on acquired wisdom in a situation or seek out wisdom and knowledge from someone else. Essentially, if you don’t know what to do in a situation and your experience doesn’t help, go get help from someone else. A mentor is a good example of someone who is represented by the High Priestess.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Empress

Major Arcana Meanings: The Empress
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: Daughter of the Mighty Ones
Planetary Attribution: Venus
Keywords: Abundance, Nurture, Creation, Protection

Just as the Magician and High Priestess form a partnership, so does the Empress and the Emperor. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. She is fertility, nurture, abundance and creation. And, of course, love. The Empress also represents the natural world with all the wildness and chaos that implies.

When you draw the Empress you know that what is required are those nurturing, supportive, loving qualities needed to make anything grow. Whether that is an actual child, your academic progress, a relationship with a partner, or even a business or career. All of which require love and devotion as well as ambition and drive (that’s where the Emperor comes in).

As an actual person, the RWS Empress can represent a mother or other maternal relative. And of course, the Empress is very much the pregnancy card.

The TdM Empress suggests different qualities. Here she is a woman with authority and power but she uses this power to protect and defend the Emperor (holding the shield). The positioning of the sceptre is suggestive of fertility. So, the TdM Empress can represent the need to be authoritative yet also protective, nurturing, and encouraging of growth – the ideal boss actually! As a person, the TdM Empress also suggests a mother, perhaps even the matriarch of a family.

Major Arcana Meanings: The Emperor

The RWS and Tarot de Marseille Emperor cards
Original Albano Waite Tarot copyright Tarot Productions. Le Veritable Tarot de Marseille copyright Editions De Mortagne

Golden Dawn Title: Son of the Morning
Zodiac Attribution: Ares
Keywords: Builder, Authority, Conqueror, Control

The Emperor forms the Yang to the Yin of the Empress. Embodying authority, the Emperor establishes order from chaos, builds foundations, and squashes opposition. Where the Empress represents nurture and nature, the Emperor represents conquering and civilisation. This is really clear in the RWS Emperor who has imposed his huge sculpted stone throne on the natural landscape.

The Emperor is an interesting card. Many people view the Emperor in a negative light as representing patriarchy. While this is certainly true, we wouldn’t have civilisation and our modern society without being able to conquer strife and adversity. We need the energy of the Emperor to build institutions, society and have effective government. The Empress keeps the power of the Emperor in check and the Emperor prevents The Empress’ wild natural tendencies from running out of control.

In an everyday sense, you can feel the energy of the Emperor every time you need to deal with government institutions. Or dealing with senior management in a large organisation. An entrepreneur starting a business has to employ the energy of the Emperor, as well as the Empress, to overcome obstacles and create the foundation of the new business. Do you have problems you need to get on top of? Time to call on the qualities of the Emperor (impose order, tackle problems methodically in order of priority, deal with obstacles as they appear rather than let them fester.)

The TdM Emperor demonstrates power even more clearly, wielding his sceptre in an aggressive manner. He looks like he’s about to hit someone!

As a person, the Emperor represents anyone in a position of authority. He also clearly can represent a father or father figure with an aura of authority.

Up Next

In part 2 I will look at the major arcana meanings for The Hierophant through to The Hermit, moving from the physical realm of life’s journey to the mental realm.