In the Major Arcana of the Tarot, the Fool goes on a journey. This is similar to the Hero's Journey in mythology, and some view the ups and downs of the Major Arcana as the pathway the Fool takes to wisdom. Most people take the "Fool's Journey" several times during their life. If we hold the journey up as a template against our own life, it can help us figure out what to do next. Where to look for strength, or when we need to sit down and take a breath.
While the Minor Arcana cards are adjustments (think of them as street and stop signs on the road of life) the Major Arcana come across as streetlights (sometimes as gigantic, flashing "Danger" signs). The Minor Arcana tell you where you are and the Majors tell you where to go. In each of the Major cards, you can find instructions about which way to go next.
The Fool card asks us to take a chance. The first time I submitted my book, Kitchen Table Tarot, for publication, I got turned down by one publisher and ignored by another, and was even told by an agent that I wasn't famous enough to represent. The publisher who turned me down, however, gave me advice about how to improve my book.
Now, I'm quite good at pouting. I'm the Queen of the Bottom Lip. Usually when I get rejected, I eat cereal by the box and watch entire seasons of Broad City while sitting on my couch and pretending I didn't want what I clearly wanted. I knew, however, that I was a good writer, and that I'd written a good book, so I got determined. I turned into the Magician card and pulled a rabbit out of my hat. I spent one week making all of the corrections that were suggested to me and turned the book back in. It is now being published.
If you can identify where you are in the Fool's Journey, you can pull strength from the cards to help you move past it—or to snuggle up with it for a while. The Empress asks you to lean into self-care and comfort. She can be a mother, but is always a strong woman in her own right. My kids were born seventeen months apart, and I nearly died having both of them. During the pregnancies and recovery time, I lived in the Empress. First by bringing my little monkeys into the world without leaving it (neat trick, that), but then by healing. Realizing that there is no strength to be found in wearing myself out trying to do all things at once. That the house can be messy and the laundry can be piled up. It's ok and doesn't define me. What defined me was that I was alive, and that my kids were ok. The Empress is difficult to come to terms with, because we are filled with judgments about and around us of what a woman is or should be. That we should be mothers at all, that we should work full time or stay home with our kid full time or only eat organic or whatever. The Empress tells us that who we are is enough. That we are worthy of love and respect. Sometimes we need to look at that sentence every day, you know? We are worthy of love and respect. This is the gift of the Empress.
Even the Devil card, which is not the Judeo-Christian boogieman you might think, can guide you. The Devil card talks about being chained to those things that no longer serve us. I see this card in readings with people who have substance abuse problems, who are in bad relationships, or who keep finding their personal demons and holding hands with them. The thing about the Devil card that we miss, though, is that the chains that bind us are weak, and we are strong.
If we can realize where we are with the Devil—if we can see that those chains are on us, not of us—then we can begin the transition to breaking those chains. We might bear the scars for a while, but we will be free.
We can find solace in the Tower—knowing that what we built was on a bad foundation and that after everything comes falling down, we will be able to start anew on firm ground. The Tower is not fun to live through; it usually comes up during divorce or death of a loved one or loss of a job or home. The Tower actually sucks quite a bit. But knowing that we got through it—to the light of the Star on the other side? That's power. That's Strength.
One of the Major Arcana cards is the Wheel of Fortune. Even a tarot reader is going to shake their head when this comes up. The Wheel of Fortune tells you that every beginning is an ending. That sometimes you're riding high on the Wheel and sometimes it's grinding you into powder beneath it. The important thing to take away from this card is that the Wheel is always turning, and that if you're underneath it, pretty soon you'll be on your way back up.
The Death card is another that people are loathe to get, but it's one of the most transformative in the deck. Death is about change, and it invites you to welcome change into your life instead of fearing the shifts that are coming. Death/change has this way of rearranging your life whether you like it or not, and if you roll with it you tend to end up on top instead of getting walked over. Even the "negative" cards push you to move on. To look for your strengths, take a deep breath, and continue.
When I feel that I have reached a crossroads in my life, when I can't see far enough down the road to make out the signs that were left to me, I know that the most self-destructive thing to do is to sit down. So, of course, I sit down anyway. I eat my Cinnamon Life and watch Girls and bemoan my present. But I don't live there. After a few days or a week or so I will phone a friend and ask for a reading, and those cards will give me enough motivation to get off of my ass and figure out what to do next. If we sit for too long, our sorrows become like furniture and we become comfortable in them. The World card is the last in the Major Arcana. It tells us that every beginning is also an ending. That we need to break up with the past to move on to the future.
The Fool's journey is our journey. It takes courage and honesty, and a good sense of humor helps, too. The alternate choice is really no choice—it's when we stand still for too long that all of our choices disappear. The Fool sits on the edge of the cliff and puts down his stick. He looks into the future and sees nothing.
Better to follow the Fool off of the cliff. The fall won't kill us, and the landing might be bumpy, but hey—at least we're moving, right?
Melissa Cynova (she/her) has been slinging tarot cards for thirty years. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, won the Independent Publishing Award for Best First Book and COVR Visionary awards. Her second book, Tarot ...