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Tarot Card Tattoo Design Ideas and Meanings: The Major Arcana

I am a Fire Horse in Chinese astrology, and my life symbol is the Lovers according to the tarot.

Tarot tattoo by Caige Baker in Calgary, Alberta (the Moon in the Rider-Waite Deck): Depicting the card with the hand that drew it is an interesting design choice.

Tarot tattoo by Caige Baker in Calgary, Alberta (the Moon in the Rider-Waite Deck): Depicting the card with the hand that drew it is an interesting design choice.

If you're into tarot, you know that the 78-card deck is actually two separate decks put together: The Major and Minor Arcanas. This article covers the Major Arcana, also known as the trump cards, a subset of 22 cards usually numbered from 0 to 21 that are often thought to represent the stages of personal evolution, starting the journey at 0 with the inexperienced Fool and ending at 21 with The World card, each card in between representing a stage or obstacle of the passage.

When you draw a Major Arcana card—or when you are drawn to one—it can give you insight into or a message regarding the big questions about your life path or current stage of life. (Court cards, on the other hand, generally tell us about people in our lives, and suit cards involve smaller, more specific life lessons.)

In this article, you will find...

  1. A list of all the cards in the Major Arcana with a brief description of each card's symbology and meaning.
  2. Tips to help you in the design phase to brainstorm ideas for a unique tarot tattoo.
  3. Photos and a list of links to photo galleries so you can browse the options.
Fool Tarot Card Tattoo (After the  Rider-Waite Deck) by Veller Ádám

Fool Tarot Card Tattoo (After the Rider-Waite Deck) by Veller Ádám

Major Arcana Tattoos

0 The Fool

Don't be fooled: Innocent and pure as a newborn, the Fool might be the wisest one in the deck since he knows he doesn't know. This card usually depicts a youthful traveler traipsing off into the unknown and represents new beginnings and that initial leap of faith that is required as a first step on the path of evolution. Don't misinterpret the name of this card: These Fools are not foolish but rather they're willing to dare the risk for a new life and a fresh creation.

1 The Magician

A storyteller makes something out of nothing like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Communication is a magical art. The Magician (also known as The Magus) is an adept communicator, one who is, according to Angeles Arrien (author of The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols) "inspired, resilient, and well-timed." The Magician reminds us how language shapes consciousness and how empowered communication, fully voiced and realized, is the kind that moves mountains. He often points up to the air and down towards the earth to indicate "as above, so below": He channels, combines, and manifests all forms of creative energy, making the immaterial material.

2 The High Priestess

The High Priestess sits still, inward-turned, in the process of seeing. All she needs to do to know the truth is to stop, close her eyes, and look for the answer inside herself. The Priestess is all about intuition, independence, and self-trust. All you need is you: You are all you need. You got this, girl.

3 The Empress

Love + Wisdom = the Empress, aka the Queen Mother of Hearts. Because she knows how to both give and receive love, she can just lay back and fully relax in that peaceful knowledge. The Empress is traditionally associated with maternal powers and can represent the manifestation of life, family, love, art, vision, or invention. She calmly gives birth to new ideas.

4 The Emperor

Actor, doer, leader, maker, founder, entrepreneur, builder, go-getter, rain maker: The Emperor is the one who gets the job done. This card often depicts a muscly, goat-headed Aries dude, but he also represents the idea that, as Ralph Nader said, "The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers."

5 The Hierophant

The Hierophant represents the dual and interdependent principles of learning and teaching, listening and speaking. Often depicted as a pope-like figure and as such, builds a bridge between humanity and divinity. This card represents a commitment to traditional institutions, family, relationships, church, and community.

The Lovers Tattoo

The Lovers Tattoo

6 The Lovers

This card is all about the art and craft of the relationship: between two selves or between two sides. This card represents the eternal tango between dual partners, face-to-face and hand-to-hand, and all the inner work each individual must do to keep it up. This card focuses on the idea of relationship with other as a transformative experience.

7 The Chariot

The Charioteer sits, relaxed, holding the reins effortlessly, nonchalantly, as the ever-spinning wheels of change turn below him. This card is about overcoming conflicts and continuing to move forward fearlessly, in a positive direction. He's got his eyes on the prize and it's only a matter of time.

8 Justice or Adjustment

True Justice requires objectivity, fairness, and wisdom. A Libran figure, often depicted with the scales of justice, sees more than just one side of the story, and this card is all about that balance, harmony, symbiosis, integration, synthesis, and bringing together of disparate points of view.

9 The Hermit

The Hermit has learned all that he can from the world and now turns to himself for answers. This card represents the act of introspection, meditation, looking within, and finding your inner Wise One. The Hermit is like a lantern lit up with wisdom, guiding others towards their own inner truths.

10 Wheel of Fortune

Cha-ching! This card is all about winning the jackpot in life and finding abundance, prosperity, gain, growth, expansion, and opportunity in the material world, about reaching for and manifesting a reality that is Bigger and Better. It's also about the circle of life or reincarnation, karma or samsara.

11 Strength or Lust

This card often depicts a person, usually a woman, riding or reining a large animal, usually a lion. It's all about taming the beasts within and overcoming your old fears and patterns. It's also about the luster and radiance of power and strength. Lust comes from the word luster and this card signifies the radiance that results when one's inner powers and desires are fully exercised and realized.

Hanged Man Tattoo by RightStuff.eu

Hanged Man Tattoo by RightStuff.eu

12 The Hanged Man

Angeles Arrien says that "in order to break limiting patterns, it is often necessary to take a distinctly different posture." The Hanged Man hangs upside down for a new perspective. He represents the transformational power of breaking free of old patterns by adopting a new state of consciousness, challenging self-imposed limitations, and un-sticking oneself from old points of view.

13 Death or Rebirth

This card often depicts a skeleton to illustrate the universal principle of detachment, release, and letting go. Instead of a literal death, this card represents the end of old forms to make room for new possibilities. This card is about expanded consciousness and becoming untethered to fleshly concerns. The skeleton has outgrown its skin and is ready to manifest something completely new.

14 Temperance or Art

This card often depicts someone pouring liquid from one vessel into another and represents the idea that, like alchemists, we might learn how to transform base materials into gold and turn something plain into something precious. It also represents the idea that temperance, care, diligence, and moderation must be taken to get the mixture just right.

15 The Devil

A Pagan interpretation of this card makes it much more meaningful than a Christian one. The Devil represents the ability to face your problems or "bedevilments" with humor and reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. Facing life's problems with a playful, sensuous, lighthearted attitude automatically reduces them to something more manageable.

The Rider-Waite Tower

The Rider-Waite Tower

16 The Tower

This card often depicts a Babel-like tower that's burning or crumbling before our eyes. It represents healing, restoration, and renovation, the decimation of old structures that is a necessary first step toward reconstruction. The person drawn to this card is a builder of new forms, an architect of new realities, one who's in the process of ousting old forms to make room for new constructs.

17 The Star

The Star radiates with self-esteem and confidence. She serves as a guiding light of self-love and self-awareness for anyone who sees her. She represents a ray of inspiration, a glimmer of hope, and a shining beacon of self-acceptance. She shows you the way.

The Moon by Liz Pavlicek @lizpavtattoos, Magic City Tattoo in Minot, ND

The Moon by Liz Pavlicek @lizpavtattoos, Magic City Tattoo in Minot, ND

18 The Moon

The Moon signifies your karma, all the work you need to do in this lifetime, your hidden inner journey. It's about looking at hidden truths and digging deep, facing the dark side, shining a light into those dark corners of your soul.

19 The Sun

The sun shines and illuminates the larger picture of interconnection. This card is about partnership, teamwork, collaboration, and being part of a team. Male and female energy team up to create an innovative, creative, and energetic dance. Positive collaborations are formed with the family, group, community, and society.

20 Judgement or The Aeon

This card is like a trumpet ringing from the clouds and represents an "aha!" moment. It also involves the ability to look at the whole, see from afar, and perceive the larger picture of both your personal and professional worlds, objectively and disinterestedly. This is the second-to-last card in the Major Arcana and so it also represents that final moment just before a major life transition.

21 The World or The Universe

The final card in the Major Arcana, The World represents wholeness and nature that is fully expressed. It is the end of a cycle, a pause before a completely new cycle begins (beginning at 0 with the Fool). This card represents a full and complete expression of selfhood, but also an imminent shift into unknown new worlds and universes. To infinity and beyond!

Caige Baker is an expert tattooist who often works with tarot imagery. Her tattoos are worth traveling to Calgary, Alberta for. Find her on instagram.com/caigebaker/

Caige Baker is an expert tattooist who often works with tarot imagery. Her tattoos are worth traveling to Calgary, Alberta for. Find her on instagram.com/caigebaker/

Tips and Ideas for Designing a Tarot Tattoo

  • Reshape. You don't need to have the tattoo shaped exactly like a card. In fact, it can be challenging to get a rectangular shape to sit well on the body, so consider busting out of that rectangular frame.
  • Simplify. Instead of doing the whole card, consider focusing on just one symbol or element.
  • Compare. As you imagine and plan your design, it helps to look at different artists' interpretations of that card. There are so many different ways to depict an idea, and viewing a wide array of interpretations will help you develop your own vision.
  • Re-Imagine. You don't have to let the card dictate your tattoo: Either you or your tattoo artist can re-interpret the deck however you want, however it's most meaningful to you.
  • Reversed? When pulling from a tarot deck, how you place the card affects its interpretation. So, before you tattoo, consider the placement of the image on your body—if it will look "upside down" to you or to others, this might affect interpretation.

Imagery and Symbolism of the Major Arcana Tarot Cards

cardimagery associated with the card

0: The Fool

Spring, an innocent and fresh white flower, Dionysus, a youthful figure, the color green, sprouting growth, traveling satchel, the edge of a cliff, anything that represents new birth or new beginnings

1: The Magician (or Magus)

Mercury, tools or magical paraphernalia, anything that represents talk or communication

2: The Priestess

The Moon and its phases, eyes, a mirror, anything that represents seeing, omniscience, the occult, religious or spiritual knowledge, Judaic symbolism

3: The Empress

A woman, Venus (or Aphrodite), symbols of fertility or the divine feminine, fruit, anything that represents femaleness or motherhood

4: The Emperor

A man, Aries, a throne, anything that represents fatherhood or authority

5: The Hierophant

Taurus, keys, infinity symbol, anything that represents religion, spirituality, or awakening

6: The Lovers

Love and all its symbols, a couple, Adam and Eve, a snake, Gemini

7: The Chariot

A vehicle, wheels, a Wheel of Fortune, sphynxes or chimaeras, anything that represents movement or change

8: Adjustment or Justice

Scales (or things that represent justice, balance, or symmetry), Libra, an infinity symbol

9: The Hermit

A mountaintop, a light or lantern, Virgo, a turtle, a small house or shell, anything that represents an inner or hermetic life

10: Fortune (or Wheel of Fortune)

A wheel, Jupiter, anything that represents karma, fate, gambling, or material wealth

11: Strength or Lust

Nudity, a woman riding a large cat or beast, Leo

12: The Hanged Man

A figure dangling upside down; ropes and nails, anything that represents bondage or martyrdom

13: Death

Scorpio, a scythe, a skeleton or anything else that represents death (sometime riding a horse)

14: Temperance or Art

Sagittarius, two cups (one pouring into the other), the tools associated with alchemy and science

15: The Devil

Capricorn, goats, devils, horns, phallic symbols

16: The Tower

Mars, an eye in the sky, a crumbling or burning tower, fire, lightning

17: The Star

Aquarius, a star, light, a pool of water, a pouring cup

18: The Moon

Pisces, the moon, darkness, a crab, dogs howling at the moon

19: The Sun

The sun, rays of light, sunflowers, winged children

20: Judgment or The Aeon

A nested figure, a trumpet blaring, the appearance of an angel or astral being; a final judgement or judgment day

21: The World or The Universe

A circle (like a 0, to represent a full circle or return to the start), Saturn, ouroboros, anything that represents heaven or outer space

Swords and Wands: The Wild Unknown Wildlings has a library of fabulous tarot card tattoos and stories.

Swords and Wands: The Wild Unknown Wildlings has a library of fabulous tarot card tattoos and stories.

Helpful Links for Tarot Tattoo Design

The Wild Unknown Wildlings is a Tumbler dedicated to the specific tarot deck designed by Kim Krass. The blog is full of great ideas and inspiration: Follow the link to check out their page of amazing tarot tattoos and stories.

On Instagram, #tarottattoo has a wonderful collection of different styles of tarot tattoos.