Saturday, May 26, 2012

Numerical Themes in the Minor Arcana

One of my favorite books is, Rachel Pollock's, "78 Degrees of Wisdom."  I know, I probably quote it every other blog.  Rachel Pollack is a woman who understands tarot cards on a cellular level.  I've never met her or seen her, but I'm pretty sure that in the right light she has Major Arcana pictures flowing over her skin sort of like in Ray Bradbury's, "The Illustrated Man."  Only less scary.  Maybe.  I admire her affinity with tarot cards as well as her knowledge of them on all their levels.

When you start working with your first deck of tarot cards its like being handed 78 flash cards.  Everything is a perpetual lightening round - sans the game show host.  "I must learn!"  We all have our own technique for cramming those initial keywords into our head.  And it's not until we have the denoted meanings down that we're free to continue our tarot exploration on a deeper level.  One way to help cement card meanings into your brain is to take a look at the the numerical meanings of the Minor Arcana (pips), as well as the roles played by the court cards.  Suits change, but essentially numerical themes don't.

Pollock breaks down the numerical themes like this:

Ace - the basic quality or root meaning of the suit          The Court
2     - a union                                                                   King   -  Social responsibility, power success 
3     - full expression of the element                                 Queen -  essence of the suit, creativity   
4     - structure                                                                 Knight -  action, responsibility to others  
5     - loss and conflict                                                     Page    -  exploration and study
6     - communication
7     - victory
8     - movement
9     - compromises, struggle
10   - completion, the need to go beyond

Let's do a quick refresher of the suits as well.

Wands - element of fire, action
Cups   -  element of water, emotion
Swords - element of air, mind
Pentacles - element of earth, the material

Remember, I said quick, not complete.  Each suit has additional areas but for our purposes here, we won't get into them.

Aces start the show.  In Rider Waite (RWCS), Aces are offered to us much like a present.  We see the wand held forth with fiery determination.  It's the very image of action, of cause without the effect.  The effect  will show up later. The Ace of Cups is clearly a loving cup - over-flowing, spilling onto everyone and everything around it.

2s represent union, but how do we define the meaning of union in all four elements of tarot?  In Wands the union represented is the union between confidence and action, or self and desire.  Here is someone coming to grips with their personal power and making the decision to act upon it.  2 of Pentacles shows us the balancing act required by the union of the pragmatic, material world with our emotional and spiritual selves.  In Cups, the 2 is about relationships and the give and take involved with them.  The seated figure in the 2 of Swords is blindfolded.  She holds crossed swords in front of her heart, refusing to engage with people and ultimately, refusing a union on any level.  In 2s, Wands and Pentacles portray unions of the inner self where Swords and Cups reveal the truth about unions we form in the world around us.

5s are all about loss and conflict.  The 5 of Wands presents multiple action lacking focus or restraint - a free for all resulting in confusion and conflict.  Swords depicts conflicts with winners and losers to teach us about self-interest.  When is self-interest appropriate and when is it merely selfishness? Also, how we handle winning and losing says a lot about us as people.  Emotional Cups uses the 5 to show loss and regret. Three cups are spilled and the grief-stricken figure is so overcome that he can't see the two remaining cups leading the way out of despair.  In Pentacles, the 5 is about want, or feeling less than.  Are you feeling pinched in finances?  Do believe that you don't cut the muster at work or in the social arena?  Loss and lack.

I love 8s.  They're all about movement.  Something is happening and there is a change in the status quo.  In Cups, we say goodbye.  The traveler turns his back on the stack of 8 cups and leaves the completed situation for something better.  In Pentacles, the apprentice works steadily, drawing satisfaction from his work and knowing his attention to detail will eventually move him forward in his career.  The 8 of Wands delivers a message about picking your moment and acting upon it.  And good, old, gloomy Swords shows us a woman loosely bound, who believes herself  to be imprisoned inside a circle of swords.  The prison and therefore the restriction is within her own mind.

Use the table above to cue yourself when you get stuck on a card meaning.  What's victorious about the 7 of Pentacles?  What is the compromise or struggle in the 9 of  Wands?  And above all, connect with your deck and learn the connotations each card holds for you.  If you have questions, I'm just an email away.


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