The World is the twenty-first major arcana of the Tarot and usually the final card of the 22 Major Arcana. Some authors used sometimes different names for this card. For example, for Aleister Crowley, the name of this trump is „The Universe“.
Let’s see what four major masters of the tarot tell us about this major arcana: A. E. Waite, (author of „The Pictorial Key to the Tarot“, in 1911, and creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck), P. D. Ouspensky (author of „The Symbolism of the Tarot“, 1913), Aleister Crowley (author of „The Book of Thoth“ and creator of the „Thoth Tarot Deck“, 1944) and Papus (author of „ The Tarot of the Bohemians “, 1892).
Waite about the World: the State of the Soul in the Consciousness of Divine Vision
Reversed, the World can signify, according to the same author: „inertia, fixity, stagnation, permanence“.
In the chapter „The Doctrine behind the Veil“, Waite offers these meanings for „The World“: „the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it, the rapture of the universe when it understands itself in God. It is further the state of the soul in the consciousness of Divine Vision, reflected from the self-knowing spirit “.
He also refers to other significations associated with this trump: „One of the worst explanations concerning it is that the figure symbolizes the Magus when he has reached the highest degree of initiation; another account says that it represents the absolute, which is ridiculous. The figure has been said to stand for Truth, which is, however, more properly allocated to the seventeenth card. Lastly, it has been called the Crown of the Magi“.
Ouspensky about the World: the World Which Thou Knowest Is Only One of the Aspects of the Infinite World
After experimenting the vision of the World (which, for him, is far from being the last vision, during his initiatic journey – it is the fourth encounter he has, after those with The Magician, The Fool and The High Priestess), Ouspensky asks „in wonder“: „What does it mean?“. He receives this answer:
„It is the image of the world,“ the voice said, „but it can be understood only after the Temple has been entered. This is a vision of the world in the circle of Time, amidst the four principles. But thou seest differently because thou seest the world outside thyself. Learn to see it in thyself and thou wilt understand the infinite essence, hidden in all illusory forms. Understand that the world which thou knowest is only one of the aspects of the infinite world, and things and phenomena are merely hierolgyphics of deeper ideas“.
Crowley about the World: Nothing in Its Complete Expansion
In „The Book of Thoth“, Crowley connects this last arcana with the first one – The Fool: „ The first and most obvious characteristic of this card is that it comes at the end of all, and is therefore the complement of the Fool. […]This beginning was Nothing; the end must there fore be also Nothing, but Nothing in its complete expansion, as previously explained“.
„ The Fool is the negative issuing into manifestation; the Universe is that manifestation, its purpose accomplished, ready to return. The twenty cards that lie between these two exhibit the Great Work and its agents in various stages. The image of the Universe in this sense is accordingly that of a maiden, the final letter of Tetragrammaton“.
Finally, Crowley speaks about the traditional colour of The World and about the brightness of this card in the New Aeon:
„All these symbols swim and dance in a complex but continuous ambience of loops and whorls. The general colour of the traditional card is subfusc; it represents the confusion and darkness of the material world. But the New Aeon has brought fullness of Light; in the Minutum Mundum, Earth is no longer black, or of mixed colours, but is pure bright green. Similarly, the indigo of Saturn is derived from the blue velvet of the midnight sky, and the maiden of the dance represents the issue from this, yet through this, to the Eternal. This card is to-day as bright and glowing as any in the Pack“.
Papus about the World: a Recapitulation of All Our Work
„The four corners therefore reproduce the four great symbols of the Tarot. The centre represents the action of these symbols between themselves, represented by the ten numbers of the minor arcana, and the twenty-two letters of the major arcana. Lastly, the centre reproduces the septenary law of the major arcana themselves. As this septenary is in the centre of three circles, representing the three worlds, we see that the sense of the twenty-one arcana is once more determined (3 x 7 = 21)“.
And his final conclusion is an enthusiastic one: „We shall also see that this card of the Tarot gives the key of all our applications of the pack to the Year, to Philosophy, to the Kabbalah, etc., etc.“.