Many of the meanings attributed to the Tarot cards derive from numerology. In the West, numerology goes back to the philosophy of the Greek thinker Pythagoras who believed that reality can ultimately be expressed in numerical terms. We have already seen the importance of the number four in the four suits of the Tarot which are derived from the four elements of classic Greek philosophy. The fact that there are 10 pip cards is related to the fact that humans have 10 fingers and therefore use the decimal number system. Odd numbers are usually regarded as forceful, yang, or "masculine" and even numbers as stabilizing, yin, or "feminine".
Below of some of the common meanings attributed to the basic numbers that comprise our system of numbering things:
- 0: Zero is the number of pure potential, of absolute beginnings and endings (return to nothingness). Only the Fool Trump carries the number 0 in the Tarot.
- 1: "One is the loneliest number..." the popular song goes. One is the first card of the pip sequence. One is the number of beginnings, of individuality, of the child emerging from the womb, of the prime force of creation. The Washington Monument is an architectural tribute to the number one.
- 2: Two is the number of duality, of coupling, of self and other, of opposing and complementing aspects of reality, of the union of two individuals (1s).
- 3: Three is the number of the triad, of the unit formed by duality (2) and its offspring (1), of the three faces of the goddess (virgin, mother, and crone), of the creation that is made possible by joining forces with another, the tripartite genitalia of the male and the genital triangle of the female.
- 4: Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.
- 5: Five is a number related to the five human senses and to the pentagram representing the human form (the head plus the four limbs). Five is the midpoint or turning point of the cycle that runs from 0 to 10. As such, five can represent a crisis point or a state of instability.
- 6: Six represents the harmony that returns when we resolve the disruption and instability seen in the five. Being a combination of 2 and 3 (6 = 2 x 3), six carries with it the connotations of both 2 and 3, that is harmony, cooperation, creation, new equilibrium.
- 7: Seven is regarded as a spiritual and introspective number. Being an odd number, it carries an active, forceful, and sometimes disruptive connotation.
- 8: Eight is made up of 2 x 4, or 2 x 2 x 2. Like the four, it is a number of power, manifestation, and material accomplishment.
- 9: Nine is the last single digit in the series. It carries a connotation of completion or the ending of a cycle. It can signify the wisdom that is achieved toward the end of a cycle.
- 10: In the number 10 we see the final ending --- the sequence of pips is over. The cycle has ended and a new one is beginning. Being one more than nine, 10 often means "one too many".
The Minor Arcana
The very number of cards in a Tarot deck reflects this numerological scheme. The 10 pip cards represent a series of everyday feelings, events, and situations associated with each of the 4 suits. The four court cards represent the four members of the prototypical family: father/king, mother/queen, son/knight, daughter/page. Hence each suit consists of 14 cards (10 pips plus 4 court cards).
Mundane and family matters are thus represented by the 10 pips and 4 court cards of the four suits. This makes a total of 4 x 14 = 56 Minor Arcana cards.
The Major Arcana
The remaining 22 cards of the deck are the Major Arcana (major secrets) cards. These have a different numerological basis. Representing timeless spiritual truths, these cards are based on the numbers 3 and 7. The Fool, numbered 0, stands at the center of a triangle (3 sides), and each side of the triangle consists of 7 cards (connected with 7 days of the week that are named for the 7 visible planets). The Fool (numbered 0) plus the 21 lessons the Fool must learn (the other 21 Trumps) make up the total of 22 Trump cards. In numerology, 22 can be broken down into 2 + 2 = 4, the number of manifestation in the "real" world. Furthermore, 21 (the number of spiritual lessons awaiting the Fool) is the sum of the first 6 digits, that is, 21 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6, a fact that was not lost on the original creators of the Tarot deck.
By playing with these numerical relationships and their connections to the cards of the Tarot deck, one can come to a deeper understanding of the origin, structure, and meaning of the cards.
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