In the language of the tarot, The Fool’s Journey refers to the metaphorical trip that The Fool takes through all the cards of the major arcana on his way to enlightenment. By addressing each card in sequence, the innocent Fool learns the lessons implicit in that card. By the time he reaches the last card, The Fool is no longer a fool.
The Fool in the tarot deck stands for each of us at the beginning of any new venture; his journey represents the challenges and opportunities we encounter and the qualities we acquire on the road to knowledge and understanding. The World card represents the fulfillment of The Fool’s quest, the cosmic consciousness to which all the other cards have led.
We begin each new life phase as The Fool, nothing, the un-manifest entity. We move through the lessons and trials of the initiate or seeker, until tempered by the trials of experience we emerge whole and complete as The World. Each of the trumps of the major arcana cards stands for specific qualities or situations that we meet along the way. The cards mirror our different stages of development, and offer insight into our patterns of growth. Together the cards of the major arcana form a cycle that represents birth, life, death, and rebirth.
It is useful to study the major arcana in order to determine how far along the path you have come. By using the cards for meditation, and in readings, you can learn a lot about yourself and your personal direction. Are you, like The Fool, just starting out on a new path? Have you reached the halfway point of some facet in your life? Are you just completing one phase and getting ready to begin another? In understanding the journey of The Fool through the major arcana, you begin to understand more about yourself and your reason for being. As you become a more complete person you are better able to discern your life purpose and fulfill your individual potential.
The descriptions that follow show how each of the majors is connected to The Fool’s Journey and to the cards that come before and after it in the sequence. The meanings of each card and its relationship to The Fool’s Journey are based on the keywords most often used to describe the trump cards.
The Fool (Key 0):
The Fool is a card of beginnings, and stands for each one of us at the beginning of life’s journey. Actually The Fool is no fool, but rather an inexperienced innocent. At the start of his trip, The Fool is fresh, open, spontaneous, and ready to embrace whatever comes his way. Seemingly oblivious to the cliff edge he stands upon, The Fool is unaware of the possible hardships and pitfalls that lay ahead as he ventures out to learn the lessons of the world.
The Magician (Key 1):
Analogous to the legendary sorcerer Merlin, The Magician is both teacher and wise man. As communicator and keeper of the ancient mysteries, The Magician is The Fool’s guide. He represents the force of the creative impulse. He is also the conscious awareness of the ego or outer self. The power of The Magician is his ability to employ a dynamic combination of concentration and creativity to manifest wishes and dreams. The Magician’s message to The Fool is that all the tools of life are at our fingertips, and we can manipulate them at will to create the desired outcome.
The High Priestess (Key 2):
As chief feminine elder, The High Priestess corresponds to all the virgin goddesses of the ancient world. Her primary association is with The Moon and the concept of reflected or borrowed light. Through her connection to occult, secret, and esoteric matters she symbolizes potential, untapped talent, and latent ability. She represents the nurturing and birth of spiritual, creative, and artistic ideas that cross the threshold from the unconscious to the conscious mind. The High Priestess is The Fool’s unrealized potential waiting passively for an active principle to bring it to expression.
The Empress (Key 3):
The Empress is the Great Mother Goddess, the biological and earthly mother of all living things. In her guise as Ceres/Demeter who created the seasons, The Empress is mother-nature herself. As the representative of fertility, art, and beauty she is nurturing and seductive; like nature she symbolizes the earth from which all life comes. For The Fool, The Empress represents the loving mother who nourishes and cares for him, but also Mother Earth, who nurtures and cares for us all.
The Emperor (Key 4):
Next, The Fool encounters the father in the figure of The Emperor. He is the representative of structure and authority. As he moves out from the safety of The Empress’ arms, The Fool begins to see that there are patterns to his world. Objects respond in predictable ways that can be explored and understood. He also learns that there are rules to follow, and that his will is not always paramount. These restrictions can be frustrating, but through the patient direction of his father The Emperor, The Fool begins to understand their purpose.
The Hierophant (Key 5):
As keeper of the sacred keys and the religious authority in society, The Hierophant is the other face of the paternal principle represented by The Emperor. Together they share responsibility for The Fool’s material and spiritual needs. When The Fool ventures out into the wider world, he is exposed to the beliefs and traditions of his culture. Since The Hierophant is the representative of society’s organized belief systems, he is the one who interprets arcane knowledge and sacred mysteries for The Fool.
The Lovers (Key 6):
The Lovers represent the duality in life, particularly that brought about by another person entering the individual’s personal sphere and awakening love and desire. Eventually, The Fool faces the challenge of his urge for union with another person. Up to this point, he was mainly self-centered. Now the balancing tendency pictured in The Lovers impels him to reach out and become half of a loving partnership. The Lovers duality can also indicate a time of choice between two lovers, or the need to decide whether or not to continue a relationship.
The Chariot (Key 7):
The Charioteer stands for ambition, action, change, and new experience. Like the great classical heroes of mythology, this trump represents victory, willpower, and the courage and heart of a warrior. The modern meaning of this card has less to do with war, battles, and victories, and more to do with work, aspiration, self-control, and success in the world. The encounter with The Chariot puts The Fool on notice that he is now an adult and ready to take charge of his own life.
Strength (Key 8):
Originally numbered 11, A. E. Waite shifted the Strength card to number 8. As a result, the card that relates to the energy and resilience of the unconscious succeeds the representative of the outer power of the ego’s will. While The Chariot refers to the male archetype of action in the world; Strength relates to the female archetype of internal power. From them The Fool learns that harmony is attained through the integration of inner and outer consciousness. Instead of fighting the beast within, you tame it and it becomes your source of strength.
The Hermit (Key 9):
The Hermit represents The Fool’s inner teacher, higher self, or spirit guide, that part of him that is continually searching for the meaning of life. Connected astrologically to the planet Saturn, The Hermit serves as the representative of Father Time. He teaches The Fool about the passage of time and the inevitability of change. As a result of this encounter, The Fool begins to look inward, trying to understand his feelings and motivations. He is now ready to seek out a teacher or guide who can provide advice and direction.
The Wheel of Fortune (Key 10):
In many early decks, the image of this card was that of a blindfolded woman representing the Goddess Fortuna in her guise as fate or destiny. She’s shown turning the wheel of life. When the wheel turns, everything changes. Periods of happiness and good fortune follow seasons and intervals of bad luck. From this trump, The Fool learns about life’s ups and downs. However, in today’s world many accept the idea that the fall of the wheel is not so much determined by destiny, as it is the result of individual thoughts, ideas, beliefs, feelings, and choices.
Justice (Key 11):
The astrological counterpart of Justice is Libra, the scales. The double-edged sword depicted in most versions of this card represents choice, and indicates that Justice is a two way street. Its influence is impartial, objective, detached, and nonjudgmental. The justice represented by this card is legal or karmic justice, not social justice, which is in the realm of The Emperor. The scales of justice refer to balance and harmony. From his encounter with this key, The Fool learns to weigh all factors in order to make informed choices and equitable decisions.
The Hanged Man (Key 12):
This card symbolizes the sacrifice of the god Odin, who hung upside down from a tree. He suspended himself between the forces of heaven and earth in order to learn the wisdom of the runes. The Hanged Man denotes the transformation from ordinary consciousness to spiritual consciousness. He introduces The Fool to the need for letting go control of the ego, in order to surrender to the intuitive knowledge of the inner self. This key corresponds to a time when, with his life in suspension, The Fool sees things from a new vantage point.
Death (Key 13):
Originally associated with the Grim Reaper, Cronos, and Kali, the initial meaning of this card was physical death. However, the modern meaning equates the Death card with Pluto, the astrological planet of death, rebirth, and renewal. As such, it does not signify physical death; but refers instead to metaphorical death; something that transforms and changes you at the deepest level of your being. At this point in the journey, The Fool experiences many endings as he eliminates old habits and tired approaches, putting the outgrown aspects of his life behind him.
Temperance (Key 14):
The Temperance card connotes balance through moderation, patience, and composure. Its task is to remind The Fool to always keep one foot firmly planted on the ground. The word temperance derives from the Latin temperare and means “to mix” or “to combine.” Symbolically this key represents the creativity and empowerment of Alchemy, and refers to the combination of opposites– male and female, light and dark, spirit and matter. By recombining and blending the many elements of life in new and different ways, The Fool learns how to create something unique.
The Devil (Key 15):
This card personifies temptation, restriction, and misdirection. It reflects belief in the surface rather than in the inner truth of a situation. The Devil represents the individual’s own fears. When you believe you can’t do anything, you’re powerless to exert control over your life. The Devil’s purpose is to teach The Fool to recognize and accept all sides of human nature. Because he corresponds to our shadow part, The Devil knows all our shameful secrets, forbidden desires, and taboo fantasies. Once The Fool stops repressing his true feelings, he can start dealing with them effectively.
The Tower (Key 16):
Because it denotes the breaking apart of old routines and patterns that restrict growth and development, this key puts The Fool on notice that changes are required. Although the sudden catastrophes associated with The Tower generally appear as external events that seem to come out of nowhere, they’re actually a wake up call that tells us everything is not as it should be. Resist necessary change and events slam into your life, forcing change upon you. However, with the smoke cleared and the rubble removed you find that you’re free to rebuild your life along more personally satisfying lines.
The Star (Key 17):
Beyond the violence of The Tower’s blinding flash of lightning, The Fool encounters the peace and calm of The Star. Having passed through the dark trials of The Tower, he now moves toward The Star’s gentle light. Bathed in its soft radiance, he is renewed and restored to harmony and balance. Symbolic of faith, hope, and inspiration, this trump reminds The Fool to trust to intuition and his own inner voice. It prompts him to draw on all levels of mind in an attempt to fulfill his highest potential. At last The Fool is ready to follow his star, wherever it leads.
The Moon (Key 18):
Beneath The Moon’s shimmering glow the familiar realities of daytime and the conscious mind give way to the netherworld of sleep, dreams, and the unconscious. Under The Moon’s spell, The Fool enters a labyrinth of illusion and mystery. The Moon’s task is to teach The Fool about the mysteries of the female spirit, and the nurturing qualities of emotion and intuition. The Moon stimulates the creative imagination, but she also introduces The Fool to the seduction and paranoia implicit in the unknown. The weird thoughts that bubble up from The Fool’s unconscious may provoke a sense of loss and bewilderment.
The Sun (Key 19):
With the coming of dawn The Sun is reborn, and the reawakened ego consciousness emerges from the dark of night into the light of day. This key’s mythological correspondence is to ancient Sun gods, like the Greek Apollo, who was born of Leto goddess of the night. The Sun equates to wisdom and enlightenment, because in its travels across the planet it sees everything. The Sun’s purpose is to teach The Fool to blend unconscious and conscious material. Empowered by his passage through the trials of the night, The Fool now feels strong, confident, and ready to confront any challenge.
Judgement (Key 20):
The Fool is nearing the end of his journey. By the time he reaches this point, he has learned how to integrate his everyday awareness with higher consciousness. Moreover, he has changed completely. The Fool now possesses all the qualities that he has been seeking on his pilgrimage: enlightenment, truth, hidden knowledge, and a sense of harmony and contentment. He feels cleansed and refreshed, ready to start anew. He may regret past mistakes, but he knows they were due to his ignorance of his true nature.
The World (Key 21):
At last The Fool has come to the final card in the journey. The World card signals the end of his tour of the major arcana. Having attained the goal, he arrives at his destination totally transformed. He is now ready to reenter the world, but this time with a more complete understanding. His former naiveté has combined with the wisdom he acquired along the way. He has mastered the three planes of mind, body, and emotion, and all elements of his existence blend together to form a synthesized whole.
About Phyllis Vega
Phyllis Vega is a professional tarot reader and astrologer. She has been a New Age counselor and teacher for more than three decades. Phyllis is the author of 10 books, including Romancing the Tarot, Power Tarot (with Trish MacGregor), What Your Birthday Reveals About You, Your Magickal Name (with Debra Vega), and Celtic Astrology. Her new book, Erotic Astrology, will be in the stores on July 17, 2009.
Phyllis also does tarot readings and teaches workshops on a variety of topics including, SpellCraft, Crystal Power, Candle Magic, and Past Life Regressions at Five Sisters on South Dixie Highway in Pinecrest, Florida. Phyllis works out of her office in Miami, Florida where she is currently writing a new tarot book and giving private tarot and astrology readings in person and over the telephone. She can be contacted through her website.