The Tarot: Major, Minor and Me

Over the past few months, as I’ve been working on the Tarot of Bones, I’ve had the opportunity to reassess my relationship with this particular divination system. Like many newbie pagans, back in the 1990s I was eager to jump into all sorts of exciting topics of study and practice. I found I had a halfway decent affinity for divination, and so between the Shapeshifter Tarot and a set of elder futhark runes I carved from natural chalk found in a Missouri creek, I began practicing this ancient art. Also like many new diviners, I found myself sticking pretty closely to my books as I parsed out meanings of card and layouts and queries. Then in 1999 I discovered Ted Andrews’ Animal-Wise deck, and thus began a love affair that lasts to this day. I left behind traditional tarot, and delved into a more organic, nature-based form of divination.

When I was preparing last year to start creating the Tarot of Bones, I took the opportunity to revisit my relationship with the more traditional aspects of the tarot. What I found surprised me: even though I hadn’t been actively reading tarot in over fifteen years, I found my personal interpretations of the cards to be deeper and richer, as well as more personal, than they had ever been. All those years doing totem readings with the Animal-Wise deck had vastly improved my pattern recognition and intuition skills, and so I could focus primarily on reacquainting myself with the tarot as a specific system.

Not surprisingly, the Major and Minor Arcana each have distinct personalities and bailiwicks. I think of the Major Arcana as a sort of pageant, with actors in specific archetypal roles, telling the Fool’s Journey through trial and triumph. Death and the Tower bring about massive, sometimes terrifying changes, but these are integral to moving the story along so that the Star and Judgement and others can even things out again. I don’t see the Majors (or the Court Cards) as representing individual people so much, though I know that’s a common way to interpret them in readings. Rather, I see them as the grand mythical forces that run through the lore and cultures of people worldwide. They are the experiences shared among a species, grand and poetic and given a stage through epic tales. They rock us to sleep every night as children, and they see us into our dreams–and our deaths.

The Minor Arcana, on the other hand, are the everyday people watching the pageant as it proceeds through its stages. Once the Fool has greeted the World and all the players bow for applause and roses, the audience goes back to lives as artisans and lawyers, retail workers and cooks, tech professionals and musicians and students. The Minor Arcana includes the cards of the individual and the intimate. We’ve all had sleepless nights full of worry, and we’ve all had joyous moments of celebration with others. We know the small, petty conflicts that can blow up into great drama, and the seemingly enormous accomplishments that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t make a lot of difference to anyone but ourselves (and that’s okay.) The Courts, in particular, refer to states of being I can aspire to (or avoid!), rather than telling me to look for a dark-haired man (I only have to go as far as the next room in my apartment to find one of those. Hi, honey!)

So what’s the difference between the Majors and Minors in my readings? The way they’ve been lining up lately is that when a Major comes up, I look outward, into the greater patterns and machinations of humanity. Turn over a Minor Arcana card, and I look inward, or very close to me. Rarely will the reading bring up an individual person; mine tend more toward patterns and situations, often involving other people, sometimes myself alone. Of course, these are generalizations. There are always exceptions. Sometimes a Major will want to get up close and personal, and sometimes a Court or Pip will remind me that those deep moments of isolation or bursts of inspiration speak to much larger social or species-wide currents.

Of course, this is just a discussion of the strictly tarot-flavored elements of my readings. As the Tarot of Bones develops, the animals themselves are speaking up, particularly in the Major and Court cards. But that set isn’t finished yet, and so our conversation is still ongoing.

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1 Comment.
  1. When I first studied the Tarot I did a modified Pamela Eakins version of meditation and journaling, and I didn’t read any traditional writing (her deck and book is rich in information) until after I had worked through an element. I was surprised at how well they communicate. I did that for about 6 years. I still have my journals.

    What I find for myself is that the imagery sort of impressed into the psyche. *keys* right?

    I’m happy to have a set of your runes, the runes, to work into readings now. Super happy to have a set of the Tarot of the Bones in the future. 🙂

    Oh and you pretty much nailed the difference between majors and minors, for me. Majors = the movements, minors (for the most part) the cast of players and the plots, pitfalls, and joys of the play.