By A.E. Waite (1911), tarot card illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith (1911)
Assured success, recompense, voyage, route, emigration, flight, change of place.
Divinatory Meanings – Reversed
Inertia, fixity, stagnation, permanence.
As this final message of the Major Trumps is unchanged–and indeed unchangeable–in respect of its design, it has been partly described already regarding its deeper sense. It represents also 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. But these meanings are without prejudice to that which I have said concerning it on the material side.
It has more than one message on the macrocosmic side and is, for example, the state of the restored world when the law of manifestation shall have been carried to the highest degree of natural perfection. But it is perhaps more especially a story of the past, referring to that day when all was declared to be good, when the morning stars sang together and all the Sons of God shouted for joy. 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.
22. The World, the Universe, or Time. The four living creatures of the Apocalypse and Ezekiel’s vision, attributed to the evangelists in Christian symbolism, are grouped about an elliptic garland, as if it were a chain of flowers intended to symbolize all sensible things; within this garland there is the figure of a woman, whom the wind has girt about the loins with a light scarf, and this is all her vesture. She is in the act of dancing, and has a wand in either hand. It is eloquent as an image of the swirl of the sensitive life, of joy attained in the body, of the soul’s intoxication in the earthly paradise, but still guarded by the Divine Watchers, as if by the powers and the graces of the Holy Name, Tetragammaton, JVHV–those four ineffable letters which are sometimes attributed to the mystical beasts. Éliphas Lévi calls the garland a crown, and reports that the figure represents Truth. Dr. Papus connects it with the Absolute and the realization of the Great Work; for yet others it is a symbol of humanity and the eternal reward of a life that has been spent well. It should be noted that in the four quarters of the garland there are four flowers distinctively marked. According to P. Christian, the garland should be formed of roses, and this is the kind of chain which Éliphas Lévi says is less easily broken than a chain of iron. Perhaps by antithesis, but for the same reason, the iron crown of Peter may he more lightly on the heads of sovereign pontiffs than the crown of gold on kings.
By S. L. MacGregor Mathers, c 1888
The Universe – Completion, Good Reward.
Divinatory Meanings – Reversed
Evil Reward, or Recompense.
Symbolism of the Keys
The Universe – Within a flowery wreath is a female figure nude save for a light scarf. She represents Nature and the Divine Presence therein. In each hand she should bear a wand. At the four angles of the card are the four cherubic animals of the Apocalypse. Above, the Eagle and the Man; below, the Lion and the Bull. It represents Completion, Reward.
General Book of the Tarot
By A. E. Thierens, 
Description and Meaning
As in the case of Uranus we want to point out that originally the planet cannot have been appointed, astronomically, but the principle of cosmic magetism, of which it is the organ, and the universal magnetised, field, the field of the world in which we live, must have been well known to the initiates, who worshipped Poseidon and Varuna, gods of the world-ocean. The symbols of the four fixed signs are presented at the corners of the cards, and where these fixed signs are seen as the foundation stones of our physical world by such visionaries as Ezechiel and St. John of Patmos, we cannot be far wrong in assuming that originally the meaning was that of the physical world coming forth out of the magnetised etheric ocean of the universe, which itself has been represented by the oval form, be it a laurel wreath or something else. The World must have had a larger meaning, originally, than that of the world of beings moving on the surface of our Earth, and the oval figure may well have stood for the form of the solar system at large, with its planets moving in oval orbs.
Appropriated to the world of men, it must mean 1 that which falls outside our will-power, cosmic conditions to which we are subject, but which at the f same time provide us with all that is wanted for our physical conditions. The latter of course became the reason for attaching to this card a generally benefic influence, especially in the domain of the senses. “It is eloquent as an image of the swirl of the sensitive life, of joy attained in the body, of the soul’s intoxication–(can any word remind us more strongly of Neptune’s workings than precisely this one: ‘intoxication’?–Th.)–in the earthly paradise, but still guarded by the Divine Watchers . . .” (Waite) Let us put it this way: it means that if we row with the cosmic tide, we shall enjoy happiness and everything we want, but on the other hand we must not neglect the implicit possibility, that when rowing against the tidal current of the world, we shall experience trouble and no end of it, or if we ‘cross the stream’ we shall have to stand firm on our legs. So besides the joy of the senses, this card means also the cosmic origin of life, to which the candidate for initiation returns, and which now and then appears in dreams. In fact this card has much to do with dream-life. The relations of Neptune with the Moon and the lunar body are not unknown to astrologers nowadays.
The Hebrew letter Tau is related to this card and “has the same hieroglyphic meaning as the Daleth (fourth card)–that is the womb;–(which confirms the relationship to the Moon–Th.)–but it is chiefly the sign of reciprocity, the image of all that is mutual, reciprocal.” It is further added that abundance and perfection lie in the card. (Papus) Reciprocal certainly: from that we come and to that we shall return, be it the world’s dust or the ether of the cosmic ocean.
Very striking is Papus‘s saying that “This symbol represents macrocosm and microcosm . . .” and even more so that “the empire of the world belongs to the empire of Light, and the empire of Light is the throne of God . . .” Scientifically expressed: the ethereal world, being the bearer of light, is the universal womb of the material or physical world. The nude female figure may certainly contain indications with regard to the life of the senses, but is also a symbol of the angelic state to which man will one day come after being delivered from the bonds of the lower world. It may have to do with nature spirits. It is Aphrodite rising from the sea, daughter of Neptune. Beauty and love and happiness arising from the communion of souls.
By Paul Foster Case (1933)
21, Le Monde
Corresponds, through the letter Tau, to the planet Saturn. Its meaning in a divinatory layout depends much on the position of the cards which surround it and their general meaning. Usually it refers to the matter concerning which the question is made.
Well-dignified it signifies success, a favorable issue to the circumstances. Sometimes change of place.
More information on The World Tarot card.