Major Arcana Only Reading For Extra Impact

Three Major Arcana from the Tarot of Prague 3rd Edition
Tarot of Prague 3rd Edition copyright Alex Ukolov and Karen Mahony

Tarot major arcana only readings can be especially powerful. I will look at using only the major arcana cards in a tarot reading; why you would want to do this; how to prepare for a major arcana only reading; and cover some major arcana only spreads.

What are the Major Arcana?

It was the 19th century French occultist Paul Christian who named the 22 trump cards as the ‘Major Arcana’, the word ‘arcana’ meaning ‘secrets.’ Christian believed that the trump cards contained secret spiritual knowledge in their centuries old images.

Tarot historians believe the 22 trump cards were added to a playing card deck to create the earliest known tarot decks. These decks were used for playing a trick taking game and the trump cards would of course ‘trump’ any lower rank cards.

The Visconti Sforza Tarot - one of the earliest known tarot decks.
The Visconti Tarot created by Bonifacio Bembo around 1450 is one of the earliest tarot decks

Since the late 18th century when tarot decks were beginning to be used for divination, the trumps/major arcana have held greater significance than the other cards of the deck. The major arcana now are usually regarded as representing important life and karmic lessons. Each of these lessons must be learnt for progression towards fulfilment of one’s path in life.

Why use only the Major Arcana in a reading?

Due to the extra significance normally given to the major arcana in a reading using the full 78 card deck, using just the major arcana can really give a tarot reading increased impact.

The major arcana, used by itself as a 22 card deck, will give you a very direct, clear and quite unambiguous reading. There are some tarot readers who argue that, by not using the full deck, a reading will not be as deep or detailed. But there are no rules when it comes to tarot reading. If you want a no nonsense reading that won’t have you scratching your head, a majors only reading is the way to go.

If there is a really important, potentially life changing issue, where you want to gain clarity and insight, a majors only reading could be the way to go. Or maybe you just want a really clear answer without needing to spent too much time deciphering the card’s meanings. Again, the major arcana by themselves can help you.

The Minor Arcana By Themselves?

Alternatively, if you are dealing with everyday issues and you don’t want to confuse things with major karmic influences, you could just take out the major arcana and use the 56 minor arcana which deal more with ‘normal’ life issues and behaviour. This isn’t sacrilege and there will not be any decrease in the effectiveness of your reading. Remember, there are no rules in tarot reading.

Preparing for a majors only reading

To complete a majors only reading all you have to do is take out the 22 major arcana cards from whatever deck you are using. Then simply shuffle the majors and use them as a 22 card deck. Simple.

There are some majors only decks available but you don’t really need to use these. I just like to use a 78 card deck and take out the majors if I want a majors only reading. Then, if I want to use the full 78 card deck, I just put the majors back in. A majors only deck will not give you that flexibility.

Major Arcana Only Spreads

There are some tarot spreads that are meant to be used only with the major arcana. Of course you could use the major arcana in any tarot spread you want (so long as it has 22 or fewer positions!) The following are some spreads that I have found particularly useful which are only for use with the majors.

Four Winds Major Arcana Spread

This spread can be found in the book ‘Genius of the Tarot‘ by Vincent Pitisci. This is a good spread for really helping you think about an issue in a rounded manner.

Four Winds Major Arcana Spread using the Balbi Tarot
Four Winds spread with the Balbi Tarot copyright Heraclio Fournier

Spread Positions

  1. North: What are your thoughts and ideas on this issue?
  2. South: What are your feelings on the issue?
  3. East: What inspires you or drives you regarding this issue?
  4. West: What practical steps do you need to think about/do regarding the issue?

The centre card is known as the Quintessence card, the overall message of the reading. It’s found by adding all the numerical values of the other four cards and continue adding until you reach 22 or less. I tend to treat the Fool as 22. In the above example that means adding 3+11+19+1=34. 3+4=7.

7 is the Chariot so the overall message of the above reading would be to focus your willpower and pull all your strengths and assets together to succeed.

Path & Goal Major Arcana Spread

I found this spread in the book ‘Complete Book of Tarot Spreads‘ by Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig. It’s unusual in that you don’t randomly choose the cards from the deck. Instead, you choose the card that represents where you are now and the card that represents where you want to be. The third card, The Path, is then found by counting the steps to go from card 1 to card 2.

Follow the Path Major Arcana Spread using the Alchemical Tarot Renewed 5th Edition
Path & Goal spread with the Alchemical Tarot Renewed 5th Edition copyright Robert M. Place

Spread Positions (from left to right)

  1. Where you stand now
  2. Where you want to be
  3. Your Path

In the above example, we count from Strength, Card 11 of the major arcana in this deck, to The Sun, Card 19. That’s 8 steps. That gives us Justice, Card 8 in the Alchemical Tarot.

The Witches’ Pentagram

Witches Pentagram Major Arcana Spread
Witches’ Pentagram spread with the Tarot of A.E. Waite (Premium Edition) copyright AGM Urania

This major arcana only tarot spread goes by several different names but I first learnt it as the Witches’ Pentagram. It serves as a good general overview spread to look at different aspects of your situation. As an option you can find the Quintessence card in the same manner as in the Four Winds spread to give you the overall message of the reading.

Spread Positions (anti clockwise from top)

  1. Top: Spirit – what is your goal?
  2. Left: What do you think about the situation?
  3. Bottom Left: What practical steps do you need to take?
  4. Bottom Right: Where do you need to focus your energy?
  5. Right: How do you feel about the situation?

The Tarot de Marseille Cross

The Tarot de Marseille (TdM) is a centuries old historical tarot deck that predates the Rider Waite Smith tarot. It is a non-esoteric deck meaning that it does not include occult symbolism. The deck was originally intended for playing card games but is now more commonly used for divination. I talk about the TdM in the post ‘Choosing And Buying A Beginner Tarot Deck‘ which is here.

The TdM is most commonly used in France and, traditionally, only the major arcana are used in a reading. The following spread is the Cross which is a good 4 card overview spread that can help with problem solving.

Tarot de Marseille Cross Spread using the Playing Marseille Tarot
The Cross Spread using the Playing Marseille Tarot copyright US Games Systems

Spread Positions (Starting left to right then top to bottom)

  1. Left: What is in your favour?
  2. Right: What is not in your favour/what opposes you?
  3. Top: Overall synthesis/analysis of the situation described in cards 1 & 2.
  4. Bottom: Outcome/Advice (choose ‘advice’ if you want to think about practical steps to take)

The Open Reading

This last major arcana only spread actually isn’t really a spread at all. The Open Reading is a method of reading the TdM which uses 3 cards but the spread positions are not determined in advance. This reading style is similar to the ‘The Awake Dream’ method I discussed in the post ‘How To Do An Intuitive Tarot Reading‘ which is here. The Open Reading is discussed in the book ‘The Marseille Tarot Revealed‘ by Yoav Ben-Dov.

In the Open Reading, you place the 3 cards down (reversals are not used) and then determine if there are any positions that seem likely such as Passive Thought, Situation, Action. There may not be any spread positions at all and, instead, you look at the direction of gazes, hand gestures, and the direction people are facing as in the Awake Dream method. Card meanings can be used in the reading.

Tarot de Marseille Open Reading using the Hadar Tarot de Marseille
An Open Reading using the Hadar TdM copyright Editions De Mortagne

If you want to use the TdM then I highly recommend the Open Reading technique; it takes a bit of getting used to but it is a powerful tarot major arcana only reading style.

Other Spreads

The spreads above are all ones i’ve used quite often but i’m certain there are many more. And remember, you don’t need to use a specific spread – just use any spread you like. The type of spread that would work best with just the major arcana would be ones that have general positions rather than narrowly defined positions. The next time you want to do a tarot reading, try using only the major arcana and see what impact this has on the message you receive from the cards.

Happy tarot reading!