The Meaning of The World [Card 21]

The Meaning of The World Tarot

At a Glance

The World Card #21 stands for finding your rhythm, nonduality, transcendence, and a balance of independence and interdependence.

If You Drew This Card…

Tarot cards offer a range of meanings to draw insight from. Both negative and positive aspects of each card can resonate with various aspects of your life.

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  • What are the world’s rhythms? Try listening for a stretch of time - what do you hear, and what is the rhythm of your own thoughts? Do they make a harmony?
  • Make a list of your most prominent traits, both personal and physical. Now, try to get in touch with the part of yourself that exceeds any of those labels. What is most mysterious about you?
  • The figure in the card dances despite having no ground to stand on. What is stopping you from moving freely, from conducting rather than taking orders? Release it and be free.


  • Do you feel that you have been suspended in the air so long that you are overcome by a great feeling of emptiness and/or numbness?
  • Has it been a long time since you felt rooted, safe, secure, or at home?
  • Consider journeying back to earth, back to the familiar, even if it means relinquishing the thrill of transcendence. Is it possible that once you get past this feeling of discomfort, you are not who you think you are, and that you are actually more expanded and capable than before?

Interpreting the Symbols

  • Wands : Spiritual fluidity or self and other.
  • Wreath : A laurel crown on your existence – achieving holiness within your frame.
  • Shawl : Tokens of material existence do not burden you.
  • Elements : The elements, each represented by an animal, represent the interplay of earth’s forces to achieve transcendence.
  • Figure : Open yet modest; brave without being a thrill-seeker; egolessness; independence and selflessness.

Charmaine’s Take

The final card of the Major Arcana, The World depicts a woman dancing with two staffs. She is wrapped in a banner and her red hair blows in the wind behind her as she looks off to the side. In each corner of the card is a creature: a lion, ox, eagle, and a human head, representing the four elements of earth. The green banner or wreath encircling the naked woman resembles the ouroborous - snake biting its own tail - a symbol of infinity. There is no landscape in sight, so she seems to be floating over earth.

Some interpretations suggest the dancing figure is both man and woman. S/he is suspended between earth and sky. S/he is transcendent and beyond labeling, exceeding all expectations. In other decks the figure is holding a lemon and a staff, and the animals in each corner have red halos. In the center of everything, the figure holds the staff like a conductor. Despite all the contrasting forces in the world, the character has found a rhythm and a way to move freely amongst them.

The World card is similar to the eighth ox-herding stage in Zen Buddhism, stages characterizing the path to enlightenment. The image for the eighth stage is a simple circle drawn in ink, and it represents transcendence: “whip, rope, person, and bull - all merge.” Everything is connected in this stage, and there is no separation between self and other, opening the door toward endless transformation and possibilities. Generally one expects The World be depicted by a globe; it is surprising to see it represented by someone floating in the air. Nonetheless, it is by lifting off, transcending, that the whole view can be absorbed and the minute differences of everyday life merge into more global patterns.

Another aspect of this card, taking a cue from the ox-herding illustration, is emptiness. The figure is all alone, far from cities or villages, far from community. There is no one to offer encouragement or affirmation; s/he must be whole independently of these, despite having no material signs of her wholeness.

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