The Tarot is primarily a numerological divination system that has overlaid upon it the ‘equal handed cross’ (more commonly known as the medicine wheel), so that the numerological qualities can be seen into different aspects or directions.
The deck it self is split into two sections or arcana’s, the Major and Minor. The “major arcana” depict almost directly the numerological meaning, while the “minor arcana” is a synthesis between the meaning of the number and its direction in the medicine wheel.
Numbers have been studied for thousands of years and, although it is not known when this practice first began, what we do know is that spirals that occur in nature can be predicted mathematically through the use of gnomic growth patterns such as the Fibonacci series. These have been used and verified by science in explaining the formation of a flower’s seeds and the courses of a river. From the point of view of our ancestors this is to say that such things were predetermined to happen.
Numbers or numerology is also the study of the meaning of the number beyond its numerical quality. This study is related to the path of spiritual evolution and the processes that are involved, it is in this way that the tarot uses numbers.
Numbers run from one to infinity in a progressive sequence. The tarot deck only uses numbers from one to twenty one however; for the purposes of this article, I will be restricting our exploration to the numbers one to eleven – a complete study is not practical as this would be a separate writing in its own right.
Also I feel that each person would benefit from taking their time to reflect on numbers and learn to feel them as a living organism, rather than have a superficial intellectual understanding.
The Numbers from One to Eleven
One is the beginning of the journey and as its name presents itself. One ness of all things, this is the light & the dark, the hidden and revealed, male and female. This is the duality of all things together in oneness.
Two is the duality, the first or second step upon the road. For the one to understand it self further it first divides, like the difference between the light and its shadow where both make each other apparent, but are born in the same event.
Three represents great movement, energy or fire. Though it is no longer stable as a duality this is the only way to move to another place, for the duality to move beyond its bounds it creates one more to bring into the equation. This extra sum is almost theoretical in its sudden appearance and so three can be said to represent what is essence.
Four is the first number of formation. As our physical world has four directions and is fixed, then four is of worldly or physical being. In its geometry four is connected to the right angle, a basis of the building block.
Five is the first step beyond the material form and holds the keys to higher thought. Five could be understood as the form (four) plus the essential (one) and is like the spirit with the form as this is the first of such movements then its nature is of thought.
Six is the first resting place from the struggle from materialism and so sits again at the first great throne, that is the harmony between the duality, but the key to six is that it is two times three, or the two fires that rest together, creating a new form. If we were to put this into a geometrical form we would have the six pointed star or the Star of David. Each of these triangles represents the movement of Masculine and Feminine. This coming together of two movements is of great importance. I say again this represents the return to the first of the great thrones.
Seven is again (being one of the numbers with the additional one added) coming into movement. This movement from the first golden throne (six) desires to move heavenward. The visual key is in the icon we use for the number seven where a line travels upward to a higher plane. This being the second golden key, where five is ‘of thought’ then seven is ‘of dynamism’.
Eight takes form from the previous experiences (numbers) and takes its role as the second throne. Eight is made from two times four, and is therefore the two forms or worlds we live in, the seen and unseen (material / spirit). As a visual key we can look either at the eight pointed star of the two squares overlaid, or the icon for the number eight which depicts the cyclic nature of these two existences, feeding each others being.
Nine is the step towards realisation of self again. Where the numbers previously have included diversity, nine is the return of awakening back into the One and so takes its place as the last of the golden keys.
Ten is the completion of the first wheel of events and stands as the infinite self. Zero being the number of infinity alongside the One, there by completing the first cycle.
Ten is also the first in progressive cycles of measuring one value of a number against that of another.
Eleven is a very interesting number and this script has run this far in order to talk about harmonics. Here we have two or more numbers alongside each other that are of the same value i.e. harmonising. So what do we look at to determine its meaning? First we look to its displayed or primary number, which in this case is “one”, then compare it to its shadowy or secondary state, in this case it is “two” – there being two ones. This results in the realisation of “one” in a balanced harmony (two). There fore “Eleven” contains strength by being very in tune with itself. This is often called the psychic number.
Further harmonics of this number would be “one hundred and eleven” (111), where one ‘ness would be taking a very dynamic aspect and seeking a great deal of change in its own order. These harmonic relations would continue as far as their need or understanding, as a further note – continuing zeros such as one hundred (100) or one thousand (1000) denote expanding or different aspects of infinity.
An Equal Armed Cross
The medicine wheel is a symbol and philosophical system that has been used across the globe by many if not all of humanities peoples. Some have worked this more closely into their social structure than others; the Indians of the Americas for instance seemed to be almost totally involved. Though by no small means was this applied else where. Churches and holy buildings of England & Europe are aligned East to West, as are the pyramids of Egypt, all working on the same principles as the medicine wheel when bringing in the light or spiritual essence.
The central aspect to the medicine wheel is the equal armed cross, two lines or directions of equal length; one vertical and the other horizontal, crossing at their central points, these two lines have very different energy’s though they do have some similarities in that each line contains masculine and feminine aspects.
In the Tarot system the two worlds of existence, that in form and that which is not; are interpreted as inner – or non-physical, as in the vertical line that follows the suns path, and the worldly or earthy nature represented by the horizontal line. This cross has four points, which relate to the four suits of a deck of cards; for both Tarot and normal playing cards. Each of these suits has a role to play in the circle of the whole, each being an aspect from the whole.
Let us now look at how each of these directions takes effect and the nature they represent.
The vertical line represents the essence or that without form.
The sun rises in the East and so this is where we start our journey; at the top of the vertical line. As the East is where the spiritual essence comes into the world, it is then known as the doorway and has the duty of directional or moving energy. In the suits of cards this is represented as a wand, a conductor of energy, or in the conventional pack as a club.
On the same vertical line we have West at the opposite end, in the West the sun sets into the waters of the Earth and finds rest. In Tarot this is interpreted into the meaning of the inner or emotional direction, and for a suit this becomes cups or hearts in the playing pack.
The horizontal line or horizon line represents the world of form and nature.
The duality mentioned before is no different here; this line has a left and right hand side. Our right hand way is external and rational, the active side of our psyche. The left is traditionally our feminine side, dealing with the subconscious and internal; natures. The tarot has interpreted these into its typified meanings of masculine and feminine.
If our face was towards the East then in our right hand would be the South. As this is also where the sun reaches its zenith it’s the hottest quarter and is interpreted in the Tarot system for matters of will. The suit applied here is appropriately swords; a conventional pack of cards uses spades.
In our left hand we have the North and as this is the feminine side, and femininity is related to creation of form and the practicalities concerned, the Tarots interpretation is one of wealth and material asset. In the Tarot deck this suit is pentagons, diamonds for regular cards.
A quick chart for easy summary:[ws_table id=”4″]
by Stuart Waldron
© Stuart Waldron, 2004