Tarot 101, My Way – Major Arcana: Judgement and the World

Although Judgement (the archaic spelling of judgment, as spell-check keeps reminding me) has a biblical origin, showing the Archangel Gabriel summoning souls to their final reckoning with his trumpet, it is fundamentally a card of individual renewal and regeneration. It is the final bend in the road on the Fool’s Journey, a “wake-up call” that presents an offer that can’t be refused, both an opportunity and a challenge. It implies a revelation that rejects all prior assumptions and ventures forth into uncharted territory, bringing the Fool to the doorstep of universal wisdom (or folly). Along with the Wheel of Fortune and Death, it is one of the pivotal transformative forces of the Major Arcana, the “verdict” to the “trial” symbolized by Justice that ideally opens the way to the final stage of self-discovery. Like a snake shedding its skin, it brooks no clinging to a past that has outlived its usefulness. It’s quite common to puzzle over whether this is a “good” card when it appears in a reading, but in fact it transcends all considerations of  moral probity, merely saying “time to move on, you can’t stay here.” Whether what awaits is elevating or deflating depends on the proven mettle of the individual; one’s habits define one’s character, which in turn invites the exacting scrutiny of the “gatekeeper” personified by Saturn in the next card, the World.  Aleister Crowley said it with admirable precision and (for him) economy: “Final decision in respect of the past, new current in respect of the future; always represents the taking of a definite step.” The implication is that the step is irreversible. Crowley expanded on this by observing:

“Nature is not just, according to any theological or ethical idea; but Nature is exact.”

This strikes me as a perfect analogy for Judgement; there is little or no “wiggle room” for avoiding the summons when its wake-up call is received. In other words, Justice is relative, while Judgement is absolute.

The World (or Universe in Thoth-based decks) is usually welcomed as a sign of successful completion when it shows up at the end of a spread. All elemental forces are now in harmony and the Fool, if he has mastered what he set out to learn, is rewarded for his diligence. There is a definite “resting on one’s laurels” feel to this card; the race has been run, the trophy won, and now it’s “Miller Time.” Drink up, cash out and head for the door. But I’m constantly nagged by the idea that Saturn as the astrological correspondence for the World demands his “pound of flesh” for the benefits delivered. The card isn’t about haphazard good fortune, it reflects the gratifying end of an orderly progression of conscious acts, more payment for services rendered than pure serendipity. That paycheck has to be earned since nothing comes for free (consider the “Law of the Conservation of Mass and Energy;” one must give something up to get something). In practical terms it may indicate the need for patience in positioning oneself to best advantage in a situation that appears to be playing out well. Success doesn’t come overnight, and the wisdom of Saturn favors the long view. In fact, since the tarot is cyclical in nature, it could be said that the Fool simply pauses and crouches for his next leap into the future; since I see it more as a spiral than a flat disk, that leap emerges onto a higher arc of personal evolution, aligning with Cosmic Consciousness rather than being unceremoniously dumped back at the beginning of mundane circumstances to start all over again (which would imply that the Fool learned nothing in his travels). In that sense, the World is more launch-pad than terminus.

I will end our meandering journey through the cards of the Major Arcana with the contemplative – and suitably saturnine – words of William Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

The Major Arcana: Trump 20 – Judgment


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Final Decision. Judgment. Sentence. Determination of a matter without appeal.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Change of position, renewal, outcome; total loss through lawsuit.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“Final decision in respect to the past, new current in respect of the future; always represents the taking of a definite step.”


Although the image depicts a resurrection of biblical proportions, the interpretation is one of liberation and self-renewal, with no regrets and no looking back. The past is dead and done, and it’s time to move on. Judgment is associated with elemental Fire and alludes to the purging conflagration of Revelations. There is a finality to this card that is yet unfinished, for the purifying flames must be banked for the work of forging the final link in the Fool’s chain of experience to commence. The card delivers a cosmic “wake-up call,” suggesting the need to get up and walk rapidly and decisively away from stultifying restrictions. This is the card of the “new you” emerging from its shell into the glorious light of a new day. It shows a “golden opportunity” and the purposeful momentum to make the most of it. There is no time to waste.

Here is a previous post on the subject:


The Major Arcana: Trump 21 – The World.


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“The matter itself. Synthesis. World. Kingdom. Usually denotes the actual subject of the question, and therefore depends entirely on the accompanying cards.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Assured success, recompense, voyage, route, emigration, flight, change of place.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“The matter of the question itself, synthesis, the end of the matter, may mean delay, opposition, obstinacy, inertia, patience, perseverance, persistent stubbornness in difficulty. The crystallization of the whole matter involved.”


Despite all of the largely impractical comments offered in the quoted references, the World is a card of satisfactory completion and ultimate (material) success in the matter inquired about. The ideas of delay and struggle against hardship arise from the card’s correspondence to the astrological planet Saturn, the Great Teacher and Taskmaster. “Crystallization” is also a Saturnian concept. The matter draws to a close, and there is a stillness about all aspects of this card except the Eternal Dancer at the center of the ellipse, who, as a symbol of cosmic consciousness, shows that the universal “beat goes on” even if the Fool/Seeker chooses to disengage from the quest at this point. This is a good card to see as the outcome of a situation since it brings the benefit of precise and timely completion, setting all accounts to rights and closing the books; elsewhere in a spread it suggests premature conclusion of effort without getting to the final answer.

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