The World is the final card of the major arcana in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck and other decks based on the Latin Tarot (sometimes called the Tarot de Marseilles). When it appears in a tarot spread, its symbolism, imagery, and numerology provides specific information for the querent's reading.
The World Symbolism
On the card, a nude woman wrapped in a red scarf hovers in the sky in the middle of a laurel wreath. In each of her hands, she holds a staff. Around her, four creatures (man, eagle, bull, lion) adorn the card's four corners.
Place in the Major Arcana
The World is the final card in the major arcana. The major arcana from 0 to XXI (21) depicts the awakening of a soul. This starts with the complete innocence depicted in The Fool and continues the growth arc through various realms, first in the material or physical realm, next in the mental and emotional realms, and finally in the spiritual realm.
In this progression, the soul must travel through tumultuous times depicted in some of the major arcana's darker cards, such as The Devil, Death, and The Tower in order to reach enlightenment first through the gentle awakening demonstrated in the celestial cards The Star, The Moon, and The Sun, arriving finally at the victory of full enlightenment that has been arduously earned in the major arcana's final card, The World. With The World, the darkness is past, the battle is won, and the soul can realize its full potential.
In numerology, two numbers are significant here: 21 and 3. Twenty-one is significant because it is the number of The World card, while three is significant because the number reduces to three (2+1=3). Twenty-one is the number of fulfillment, indicating a battle hard won, the completion of a major spiritual cycle, or reaching the end of a process of spiritual transformation. The number three is a number of creativity and pure creative potential. In this, you discover that while you have reached the end of one spiritual journey, the seeds of another are already present and waiting for you to embark.
Symbolism of the Images
The images on The World are those of victory. A laurel wreath, for example, has long symbolized victory and achievement. Each of the faces in the card's corners are the fixed zodiac signs, Taurus, Leo, Aquarius, and Scorpio. These exist on the card as symbols of achievement. The woman's posture is likewise one of victory, and the staffs, too, are signs of victory and authority. The fact the woman holds one in each hand shows that this victory and authority are balanced and whole.
Upright Meaning of The World
With all of its completion and victory symbolism, when The World appears upright in a tarot spread, it shows the end of a journey and the victorious attainment of maturity through a process of personal transformation. Often, this card arrives to tell you that some journey you've been traveling, although frequently a bumpy and difficult road, has paid off and you have reached the end of one cycle of spiritual growth and will soon embark on the next. It may also show up as a sign of encouragement, telling you to stay the path because ultimately your spiritual rewards will be great.
The World Reversed
When it is reversed in a reading, The World may be telling you that you haven't yet done what you need to reach completion on your path. It may also suggest you are too limited or narrow in your worldview, or that you are currently carrying a heavy burden.
A Victory Well-Earned
When The World shows up in a tarot reading, you are being congratulated for a well-earned victory. You have learned and grown along your path and made the most of the gifts the universe has offered for you. However, it also reminds you that in a journey's ends lie the seeds of a new one that will take you to even greater heights.