Tarot as a Counseling Language:
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(Section L of Western Mystery Tradition Links)
Core Meanings of the Cards
© Bradford Hatcher, 2015 (Rev 8-15)
This book is intended for a narrower range of readers than the much broader set of Tarot aficionados. As the title suggests, this will be an attempt to re-envision the study in a way that is specifically useful in counseling, and to better understand the core meanings of the cards in these terms. Since effective counseling assumes something like agency or self-directed behavior, the aspects of Tarot that concern fortune-telling or predicting the future will be dropped from this study. But the goal here is more ambitious than that. The Tarot, as a system of symbols or a symbolic language, has something to offer to an even more rigorous skeptical inquiry, almost in an anthropological sense, and certainly in a psychological one. It is a cognitive tool kit, and descriptive of an attitudinal skill set. There is little in print that is dedicated to such an approach. The intended reader here is an intelligent skeptic, with an unabridged set of critical thinking skills. This means that there will also be other casualties in this analysis, such as "new age" metaphysics and fanciful misinterpretations of Jungian psychology. Number symbolism will remain, in some detail, but numerology will be dismissed. Religious symbolism and iconography, where not completely gratuitous, might be treated as symbolic of psychological processes rather than analogs of metaphysical realities. Such a purging of the field, done for the sake of readers with more rigorous intellectual standards, may prove offensive to many true believers, but this book is not written for market, or to profit from these. A positive review in Skeptic Magazine might be too much to hope for, but who knows? Baby steps. However, it is sincerely hoped that enough valuable information about the cards will be presented here that even readers pursuing more conventional approaches, and especially those writing their own books on the subject, can still come away from this thinking that their time here was well spent. One should not, however, expect this to be an easy read, and one might suspect the author of taking some delight in sending the reader to the dictionary. This is for the education, not entertainment, barring the occasional bit of dark humor.
The Tarot presented here is simply a system of symbols that makes up an interesting language that is useful in talking about attitudes and mental states. The approach for our purposes here is narrower than usual in a couple of ways, and sets aside a number of associations and structural dimensions that might be thought peripheral, extraneous or irrelevant. This might be done with a dismissive attitude. Many of these set-asides will have allies and champions who regard them as absolutely essential. Among the offended may be strict adherents to the Golden Dawn approach, to which this work adheres with at least some degree of fidelity. This is because it is asserted here that this system contains errors: not a lot of errors, but a few in important places. It may well be asked where the qualifications are to make such corrections, or where the ancient authority lies. But this is merely a reluctance on the part of the author to continue such errors under the watchful eyes of skeptics, who are often armed with logic and even common sense. It is important to understand that actions taken here are for the purposes stated here, and there is no way to stop anybody who wants to add any deletions back into their personal system.
It is also important to note that there will be ideas presented here, and mentioned in matter-of-fact tones, that sound suspiciously like mystical or even religious experiences. But skeptics ought not concern themselves overmuch, as these experiences are simply part of the inherited human lebenswelt and even good scientists can be subject to having them. No theories of objective reality will be constructed thereon. Wherever the word psychic is used, it refers to the subjective mental world and not to the paranormal. No mention will been made of how or whether the cards work. This will be left to the readers or their querents. It would be nice to approach this subject with the same intellectual rigor that is at last being seen in studies of Tarot history, at least as far as historical evidence allows, but standards of scholarship must necessarily be different for history than for meanings. Rigorous standards are simply not as applicable when the exercise is primarily creative. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is the honest voice of the child who calls out in mid-parade: ‘Why is the Emperor naked?’
Mary Greer identifies 21 reading styles or ways to read Tarot cards (21 Ways, p. 271). Many of these are outside the purview of this book. Only a few of these approaches will fit the language model that is being explored here. Others remain important, however, as vehicles for subjective experience. In a reading, we want the cards to take us on journeys, to take us as far as necessary from any idea of consensual, central or core meanings to get the information that we are looking for. In cultural studies and depth psychology we want to explore the symbolisms and mythologies in all of the rich detail that can be uncovered or extrapolated. The images of the cards, particularly those of the much older images of the Trumps, offer us enriching travels through the imagination. In magick, we want to invoke these cards and their meanings as entities and explore them from the inside as experiences, out to the edges of where they can take us and even beyond the known and expected. In pathworking, or imagining ourselves transitioning between symbols on a diagram such as the Tree of Life, we can further enrich, detail and texture our metaphors. In meditation, we can use the cards as Tattwas or Kasinas. In spellworking, analogs of cards may be burned, immersed, altered or buried as charms. If superstitiously inclined, we can use them as talismans and amulets. We may bifurcate the methods by contrasting magickal and intuitive with rational and analytic. One of the primary distinctions in approaches concerns whether the meanings of the cards are expanding or contracting, diversifying or narrowing. When we are simply allowing the cards to take us places, by letting go of the mental reins, letting the symbols speak, freeing the imagination, and reading intuitively or pathworking, the potential meanings multiply. But even in the more expansive modes, consensually affirmed centers of meaning will offer us a known place from which to begin the wider journey.
Some approaches will require hyperbolic exaggeration, going over the top and getting carried away, all full of emotion and ecstasy. Magick seeks attainments, and mysticism, first-hand experiences. In spellworking, there is a role for hyperbole in raising magical energy through states of excitement. Meister Eckhart describes the invocation process simply: “When the Soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.’ Of course the common error subsequent to doing this is in reifying the experience, thinking that first-hand experience is identical with objective knowledge, that the discoveries made in experience are in fact dimensions of reality. We mistake our interpretations for facts. And as humans, we tend to find exactly what we are predisposed to find by our expectations and insecurities. But an idea common to both the therapeutic and the intuitive approaches is that we can invoke our way into different states of mind using different symbols, images or cards, and into a variety of attitudes, as though this array were some kind of cognitive tool kit or wardrobe. This aspect of the approach here is not entirely analytic or rational, although it does call for a rationally pragmatic notion of truth to assess the effect of the process. In counseling, this effect is often a change in maladaptive behavior. It's about what you do with the cards, not what they tell you to do, or what they do to you, or what they say will be done unto you.
We will assume that you are not a never-ever level of beginner to the Tarot and that you already know at least few basic things about the subject. If you are a novice, some introductory reading is recommended first. This need not be book length. It can even be something as basic as the main Wikipedia article. There are also a number of other links to be found at my Hermetica site. Try browsing the first section for introductory material. Before going too far beyond this Introduction, there is also a 35-page pdf Supplement to this work. This contains a lot of excerpted material that is specific to working with the symbolism of the Yijing or Book of Changes, but this symbolic system also has a lot in common with Tarot and most of what is laid out here is also very relevant to understanding the cards. You may, without great consequence, skip or fail to understand any of the portions that use the more technical Yijing terminology.
Prediction and Divination
One of the more radical changes in a counseling approach is the move away from fortune-telling or predicting the future, and avoiding attempts to explain how the future might be known, or what mysterious forces are translated into the mechanics of drawing the cards. The assumption is that if counseling is to be effective, present directions in life need to change. Free will, or agency, or self-directed behavior, is brought into play. This also throws up a challenge to conventional wisdom by suggesting that no card should be regarded as inherently good or bad. There aren't any necessarily 'positive' or 'negative' outcomes or predictions, unless these words are understood without attached value judgments. Each card represents a lesson to be learned, sometimes after we needed to learn it, sometimes before. It is a positive skill to be used well or poorly. Sometimes what we already know needs to be negated. The card becomes information to be employed, perhaps in avoiding the very trouble that it might be a warning about. This might be regarded as the difference between fortune-telling and divining. We might accept that such an approach is still a form of divination if we can strip out the mumbo jumbo and regard the process as penetrating and elucidating some of the hidden dynamics of situations, activities of perception accomplished with nothing more supernatural than your ordinary human mind.
Meanwhile, on the far side of the question of freedom, we might have the skeptics raising their eyebrows and asking who here is really free to choose different courses for their lives. It may be that, for most people most of the time, the exercise of real freedom only happens on rare or special occasions, while the norm is almost fully predictable. We might point to the effectiveness of human political propaganda, advertising, and religion in herding the obedient and predictable masses at will, and with some degree of precision. Simple manipulation of fears and insecurities is effective enough to bypass most people’s version of rational thought, and it seems an easy job to plant those fears and insecurities. This may be the challenge, in which case our divining here must concentrate on the rare and special occasions. It’s the important decisions, when we are undergoing some stress consequent to previous choices, when we are most likely to seek out better counsel and acknowledge a need for better options. And it may be that the exposure in counseling to alternative directions in life might lead to a person’s first true exercise of freedom of choice.
Rosengarten suggests Tarot cards offer the ‘benefits of psychological insight and depth, without the baggage of affiliation that invariably accompanies any single set of beliefs… . Tarot operates on many levels of profound meaning from a purely non-affiliated platform in the truest sense. Tarot makes accessible to awareness a full spectrum of psychological and spiritual possibilities with little preference for its user's qualification or beliefs.’(p. 5). Importantly, with all due respect, this is only a pack of cards. Querents might not get as defensive against a deck of cards as they might with a friend or counselor. This makes it easier to open up subjects for further inquiry. There is a sense of safety.
An Open Source Project
The lore of Tarot is full of mysteries and secrets. But we are at last permitted here to divulge the greatest of these: Tarot is the continuing effort of a bunch of men and women making stuff up, and then trying to find acceptance for the stuff they made up. Some stuff sticks in the culture, some doesn't, just like life in evolution. This confession was in no way authorized by the Secret Chiefs of the Brotherhood of Light. Tarot is simply an open source project, an ongoing effort that is several centuries old now. It has not descended to us in degraded form from some golden age of its original perfection. It is an evolving human endeavor. For some reason, this mystery often appears to necessitate telling lies about its origin, or its current redaction, particularly lies about its antiquity or authorship. It is generous to think that many of these lies began as hunches that turned into delusions. Perhaps Nietzsche explained this best: ‘At bottom, it has been an aesthetic taste that has hindered man the most: it believed in the picturesque effect of truth. It demanded of the man of knowledge that he should produce a powerful effect on the imagination.’
As we reach back through the known history of the cards, the designs get progressively more primitive and the commentators more foolish or deluded. It appears that assorted groups of noble families, enterprising artists, game makers and scholarly folk, versed in more than one of the many schools of learning that were reawakening in the Renaissance, decided to combine some ambient cultural symbols with resonant counterparts in Western Gnostic philosophies and the newfangled cards recently imported from the Middle East (which were themselves derived from Chinese cards), all in a book without a binding. This had promise as a game, and this helped insure longevity, diffusion across cultures and popularity. It is unknown how many cards were in the first decks, but over the years two discrete decks emerged, the original gaming pack of 52 cards and the later fortune-telling pack of 78 cards.
In a way, we are creating an artificial entity that is seemingly intelligent and moves through time gaining wisdom as it goes. It is an attempt to flesh out a skeletal pattern of organized meaning. It is not a static legacy. It crosses many cultural lines and integrates other disciplines into itself. It grows by accretion. It evolves spontaneously until cultural pressures are minimal to add something missing or eliminate something redundant, until it attracts less desire to change it, and arrives at a wieldy number of pieces for the mind to make use of. It will shed dead flesh now and then, and failed experiments. Sometimes a scribe will put the right eye where the left ear should be. Often a monk will leave off the genitals, or make them abnormally large. Given the ages involved, slips add up to slop and the work stands in need of some major revision, or even radical surgery. Growth by accretion has proven its value. Divergent thinking generates an excess of ideas until all of the needed ideas are present. Then it is time to re-converge and synthesize, cut out and leave behind the excess. Like evolution elsewhere, an experimental diversification is followed by selection for the fitness of forms to their niches. What works best tends to stay longest. This will be the spirit behind some of the negative thinking, the suggestions for corrections and emendations, seen here. And in a few places we might note a greater value in something that has at present been abandoned, such as an older version of one of the Trumps. But we will generally want to study the system as it has evolved, or in the same direction in which it has been evolving. And there is no reason to allow outmoded ideas in Tarot to conflict with more modern ideas, particularly those of science. An open source project is capable of learning.
We can look for core meanings in four places for each card. There remains a lot of work to be done here. The glosses of Tarot’s vocabulary are still very fluid, and not at all standardized, and the language still has multiple dialects, some of which are mutually incomprehensible.
1) Images. The first source is the dimension of the image or picture, what the sense of it is, how it has evolved over the centuries, and in some places, where it perhaps should not have changed so much. There is a danger in getting overly fussy here: the little stick in his right hand has two branches because this symbolizes x, there are three bells on her toes because this symbolizes y. We will not sweat these details. This stuff should be saved for when you are desperately fishing for peripheral meanings during a particular reading. The core will be in the overall impression, a picture that can be adequately described in the space of a couple of sentences. This approach is more useful with the Trumps because of their greater longevity and their evolutionary history. Depictions of the Court have some longer history as well.
It is problematic to rely primarily on the pictures on modern Pips. With the exception of a very old deck called the Sola-Busca Tarot, most Pip images began with Pamela Coleman-Smith sketching her impressions of what the Golden Dawn symbols might look like if translated into lifelike vignettes. Most decks since, and most books interpreting them, are derived from this effort, now just over a century old. Many authors do little else but free-associate with their impressions of Smith’s work, riffing endlessly on, and often in error, with no attention to or regard for the underlying symbolism of number and suit. Smith’s work is brilliant, but the pictures still do not, or cannot, fully surround the core meanings, and many are subject to serious misinterpretation. Payne-Towler has another useful take on this issue: ‘Instead of being shown the formula that represents a certain natural law operating at a certain stage of the cycle in a distinct elemental realm, the Tarot reader encounters a cartoon of people enacting specific behavior and undergoing a particular emotional experience. This overemphasizes the sense of self in the situation, narrowing the possibilities of meaning and interpretation for that card.’ At the same time, attempts to return to the former direction by eliminating the vignettes, as with Crowley’s deck, often become incomprehensibly abstract, or laden with inappropriate values from the attached narratives.
Only minimal attention will be paid here to any of the images. Card descriptions will generally not take more than a couple of sentences. In many cases these will be preceded by the note (modified) or (modified slightly) just to note that some new suggestions are about to be made. The intent is not to create a new deck or align with any particular deck. Suggested modifications are meant to live only in the mind or add to the mental gestalt more than the visual. The reader should simply be aware that most cards have several options. Core meanings should remain independent of the picture and useful with any deck. This particular attitude will have its detractors as it seems to assert a supremacy of conceptualization over imagery, and many would call Tarot essentially non-verbal and visual. Jorgensen asserts that it is ‘imaginative intensity which gives experiential content to otherwise content-less words.’ But who among us has not felt the heat of Mt. Doom on our face, just from reading a book without pictures? Once again, this approach is with specific respect to core meanings and linguistics.
2) Key Words. Each card represents an attempt to cover 1/78 of the human experience, a fairly broad field. We cannot expect single names and words to cover this much terrain. It requires a number of terms even to surround the center of the territory. Core meanings are still fairly broad compared to everyday words and their definitions. Key words will be used a lot in the present work, but even though their number may be expanded, their range of meanings will be narrowed somewhat. Narrowing may be seen as an attempt at defining the cards, but it is not that. Rosengarten (p. 17) offers a too-narrow-minded criticism of the process, calling such an attempt at standardization ‘abhorrent to the essential vitality and versatility of this intuitive art.’ This is view is taken to the extreme in Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass, ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master - that’s all.’ But Alice is right. Words and ideas without some core level of consensual meaning will only render a language useless for anything other than babbling to oneself or for having private experiences. Tarot is a discipline that is shared by many others, and as such it needs at least some discipline, some constraint and resolution, and an agreed upon place for two or more minds to meet.
A core meaning is not a collection of key words, but a gestalt that emerges as a synergy from such a collection, like a sense of the gravitational attraction that holds those key words together in their orbits and relationships. In turn, this gestalt becomes a well for the intuition to draw from. If the Tarot is going to have any value as a language, which we might use to communicate with each other, its vocabulary is going to need something to take the place of definition. Any useful language requires at least some consensus and standardization or it loses all use. Such a consensus, by definition, also needs to develop a following, which in turn suggests that we at least try to be traditional. The nature of the cards themselves suggests that definition is not what is called for. Their meanings cannot be circumscribed or delimited as the word definition implies. While each card covers a sort of territory within the greater realm of the experience of being human or alive, there is often considerable overlap, and often a card will have an implication that is right in the middle of another card’s home territory. For example, the Empress and the Queen of Pentacles have much in common. But you don’t want to start out interpreting the Queen as a goddess or the Anima Mundi without first looking at her simply as a set of human personality traits perhaps made manifest in a flesh-and-blood, squeezable Earth Mama. The narrowing that we do in no way means that we cannot go back out to the edges and margins of the meaning again. It merely starts us out on our quest somewhat closer to the center instead of in a foreign land. The core is an anchor in the midst of a general vicinity instead of the other side of the world. It also provide a more secure and reliable center for more personal accretions and extrapolations.
Old ideas of meaning and meaningful communication have fallen into disfavor of late, especially among the philosophers, academicians, deconstructionists and post-modernists. Sophists all. Of course this shows in the sense they fail to make, in the ugliness of their art and architecture, and in the nakedness of their emperors. We will just have to make bold to suggest that these fads won't last, and will never be regarded as classical ways of thinking. We will continue the discussion of key words as sources of core meanings when we get to the Language chapter and the section on Vocabulary.
3) A third source for core meanings will be referred to as the dimension of Component Ideas. They are the more elemental or ‘atomic’ ideas that combine into the ‘molecules’ of the 78 cards. These are more pronounced and obvious in the 56 Minor Arcana, the Court cards and the Pips, where each card is a product of either a Court Dignitary or a Number, and a Suit. There are eighteen of these component dimensions in the Minors. Even in the more straightforward Trumps there will be components that have been put together to produce compound meanings. We will refer to this process here as 'pormanteau' analysis and the this will be discussed at some length in the Language chapter in the Morphology section.
4) A fourth source for core meanings is Correspondence, an expression of correlative thought. Degraded versions are sometimes referred to as magical thinking or argument from analogy. In this process, one system or extended analogy is overlaid onto another in such a way that there is asserted a resonant connection between corresponding elements. To stay on the more rational side of the spectrum, where correspondence is more creative than troublesome, requires an understanding that correspondence means to resonate with, and not is equal or equivalent to. The subject of Correspondences has its own chapter, following Historical Notes and Timeline.
Symbols and Archetypes
It might surprise many Tarot aficionados to hear that the cards are NOT archetypes in any sense, and certainly not in the sense that Carl Jung used the term. In both the Tarot and the Yijing, the ideas of Jung are tossed around very casually, and with little to no comprehension. The main point, it seems, is in dropping a respected and famous name to try to secure some credibility. It has also led to some well-selling books being published. The collective unconscious might get the worst abuse, where 'new age' writers might start with these two honest words and have it transformed into 'universal consciousness' within a sentence or two. You can even encounter the phrase ‘the collective unconscious of Western culture’ in the new age canon. ‘The unconscious is not a second personality with organized and centralized functions, but in all probability a decentralized congeries of psychic processes’ (CW 9.1, p.278). Synchronicity gets its fair share of abuse as well, having been made into some kind of universal metaphysical law instead of a special class of coincidences. Here we are concerned with archetypes. Jung picked up an old word and redefined it. We can find the original idea and similar versions in Plato, Philo Judaeus, Irenaeus, the Corpus Hermetica, Dionysius the Areopagite and others. Earlier on, these rarified notions belonged to a purer world and transcended the world of flesh. They were thoughts in the mind of Deus or Zeus. Jung's definition of archetype found it's original roots in Platonic ideals, but he redeveloped the idea to mean something considerably different. Those who run with the idea in Tarot seem to be stuck back at Plato. Jung’s archetypes are cognitive processes, and not ideal precursors to things. They have a primitive role in re-cognition.
Jung tried to clarify what he meant: ‘The term "archetype" is often misunderstood as meaning a certain definite mythological image or motif ... . on the contrary, [it is] an inherited tendency [i.e., ability, potential] of the human mind to form representations of mythological motifs - representations that vary a great deal without losing their basic pattern... . This inherited tendency is instinctive, like the specific impulse of nest- building, migration, etc. in birds. One finds these representation collectives practically everywhere, characterized by the same or similar motifs. They cannot be assigned to any particular time or region or race. They are without known origin, and they can reproduce themselves even where transmission through migration must be ruled out.’ (CW 18: 523). In all of Jung’s collected works, we only find one sentence that he wrote about Tarot: ‘It also seems as if the set of pictures in the Tarot cards were distantly descended from the archetypes of transformation, a view that has been confirmed for me in a very enlightening lecture by Professor Bernoulli.’ (CW, 9.1, p.38). Distantly descended.
Jung did pretty well here, considering how many years it would be before neuroscience began to build some decent structure to support his ideas. A key word in Jung’s definition is inherited. This means genetic, and this in turn means neural structure and function, wetware cognitive processes, likely in combination with specific cocktails of endocrine secretions and neurotransmitters. Neither are archetypes a purely human phenomenon. They are also well-pronounced in primates and other social animals of high intelligence. We are probably looking at distinct processing modules in the brain giving us inherited neural predispositions to organize our memories of perceptions and behaviors around specific needs that we have as biological entities belonging to families and social groups.
It is perfectly logical that evolution would select and preserve our ability to recognize and catalog such characters as mothers, fathers, children, infants, siblings, alphas, allies, cowards, explorers, caregivers, elders, sages, rebels, thieves, spouses, lovers, bullies, heroes, sycophants, tricksters, challengers, fools, adoptees, cuckolds, and suckers; and such behavioral categories as praise, dominance, treachery, alliance, apology, seduction, flattery, deception, betrayal, obligation, gratitude, xenophobia, surrender, sacrifice, submission, commiseration, grooming, reconciliation, etc. Together these make up the apperceptive mass of our collective unconscious. As our lives progress, we will flesh out these predilections with our cumulative experience into coherent role models and behavioral protocols. Such archetyping is simple enough to encode genetically and also avoid confusing the great apes, elephants and dolphins that also seem to be born with them. Jung was pretty specific about these being universal across the species, and we might guess that this is due to their roots in earlier versions of hominidae. Cultural memes do not qualify. The Tower and the Devil cannot be archetypes if the San Bushmen of the Kalahari don’t have them. They also don’t have tens or swords. Jungian archetypes prepare or predispose us to perceive certain things, but ‘nihil est in intellectu quod non ante fuerit in sensu,’ there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses. Ideas and ideals themselves are not inherited and the archetypes are not determined with respect to their final content. Their development is as idiosyncratic as their origin is universal.
The cards, accordingly, are symbols and symbolic clusters. They point their users to a reality that is not known in full. Helpfully, Cirlot claims that the essence of a true symbol ‘is its ability to express simultaneously the various aspects of the idea it represents.’ They are multidimensional by this definition. Unlike a sign, a symbol never fully surrounds or defines the thing that it points to. Consequently, we are not going to be describing exactly what the symbols mean. We are simply taking numerous verbal snapshots from a number of different angles. The core meanings that we will be looking for are narrower than the full scope of implied meanings, but also much broader than linguistic definitions. And although the word may be difficult for the intuitive folk to use, they are conceptual as well. They attempt to organize the dimensions of human experience such that these will fit onto one page. Since new words cannot be added, the meanings must expand until every experience can be pointed to by at least one card. But they don’t want to expand so much that they do not locate specific territories or types of experience. Each card is a lesser infinity, but it still has a locatable core.
The Cutting Room Floor
This section takes a quick look at some of the traditional dimensions of Tarot study that will be left behind here, and why.
Apophenia and Pareidolia
One important key to understanding the Tarot is in remembering that the cards, and therefore their sequences, were meant to be shuffled, not kept in any fixed order, and that they were meant to be readable as a coherent story no matter which order they happened to fall into. We can make a story out of any sequence of images by filling in the blank spaces between them. This property exploits two ancient processes of human cognition, or heuristics, ways of interpreting, or distilling meaning from experience. Apophenia is the experience or process of seeing patterns and connections in random or meaningless data. Common examples include hearing voices in white noise or seeing our own images projected onto dimensionless fields (ganzveld). Pareidolia is the experience or process whereby a vague, essentially random, but potentially suggestive stimulus is perceived as significant. This is often an image or sound. It is a subset of apophenia wherein there is at least a hint of form or structure in the initial stimulus. Common examples include seeing images in clouds, and the Man in the Moon. Aberrations of both processes are common in such mental disorders as schizophrenia and religion. But they are also evolved cognitive heuristics. They helped us to jump quickly to conclusions and actions long before we had reason and language, and they are still very much with us. Sometimes they still help us even better than reason and language. We might get the tiniest bit of an edge when the movement we see in the grass is really the tiger we imagine and not just the wind. Some skeptics have been known to harumph at this, and claim that these two phenomena are what most undermines the Tarot's credibility. But there is no reason to take this scornful a point of view, or apologize for it. The Tarot might instead be celebrated as a way to make use of these ancient mental functions, which act much more closely to the surface of the sub-conscious than reason and language can ever go.
The images that we connect with pareidolia might be snapshots in a dream sequence, dates on a calendar, letters of the alphabet, or numbers on a list. We can always find a way to make meaning where none really existed beforehand. We also have the ability to make our little strings of freshly connected images sound plausible to others. If we have the social magnetism, we can get our fellows to take our connections quite seriously, so that these become adopted and built into the thinking processes of our followers. Still, we need something that is better anchored, in something perhaps that science can see, if we are going to call our fabricated stories fundamentally meaningful. There is also such a thing as making too much meaning, seeing too much as being meaningfully connected. One of the best known manifestations of this is in clinical paranoia, which is distinct from the suspiciousness you feel when you aren’t good friends with pot. Here, the universe gets all connected up in humanly meaningful ways, and there you are at the center of it, receiving special blessings from the Creator of the Universe, or some kind of persecution. All of those galaxies were placed up there in the sky just to light your way badly at night. We shouldn’t connect or make assumptions like this any more than we really need to. The astrologer might make a note here that there are no lines between the stars.
As with the Rorschach ink blots, we are able to begin and go quite a distance with just a hint of form. What we perceive are the projections that we make on this. Without any meanings, core or otherwise, the cards can at least serve us in this capacity. But we really want to start with less vagueness and ambiguity than this. We want the ink blots to better suggest your parents fighting, or trying to make you a new sister. The cards will stimulate our unconscious projections, but if the cards each have their own, somewhat narrower spectrum of meaning, they can then meet our projections halfway. Without some sort of inherent form, we have no information, only imagination, when we are supposed to be asking questions and getting at least a suggestion of answers. We therefore have reason to abandon the idea that the point of the cards is simply to start us off an any direction our hearts desire, unless of course we really are playing the Fool card.
Number Symbolism versus Numerology
It seems than many Tarot authors can see no difference between number symbolism and numerology. But number symbolism is an observable fact. All around the world, human cultures and sub-cultures have associations of meanings with certain numbers taken as symbols. Further, there are separate symbols for cardinal numbers, which show quantity, and ordinal numbers which order things in a set, showing their rank or position. Both cardinal and ordinal numbers lend themselves to geometrical arrangements as well, offering ways to view what they symbolize or signify in patterns. They can also divide spectra of experience into set numbers of segments, as with scales in music. Many such patterns and scales are also cross-correlated with other symbolic systems. The nominal numbers, which merely name things, or arrange things temporarily in an ad hoc fashion, do not show quantity or rank, or quality, nor do they carry any inherent meaning. The number that you take from the machine to number your place in line is not meaningful in itself unless you are excessively superstitious. When you lined up with your classmates in alphabetical order, this did not tell anybody anything at all about your characteristics as a student or your character as a person.
Numerology concerns nominal numbers. At the base of nearly every numerological observation is a random number sequence, or an accident of arrival or assignment. Many people suspect divine and profound meaning in the sequence of the letters of the alphabet. This idea has been pronounced and influential in the WMT (Western Mystery Tradition) with the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, and in Islam with the Arabic. The idea that the sequence is meaningful has some of its beginnings in the belief that religious texts were authored by none other than the Creator, who would have used the letters as tools in pronouncing His Word, and who would never have kept a sloppy workbench. Along with this, we can consider that some cultures, like the Jews, had no independent method of writing numbers. Instead, like the Romans with their numerals, they used the letters of their alphabet to cipher with until the Arabs brought us the ‘Arabic Numerals’ from India. They gave the value of One to the letter Aleph, Two to Beth, and so on in alphabetical order. Then Yod through Tzaddi were given numbers 10 through 90, Qoph through Tau, 100 through 400, and the Final forms 500 through 900. But if we assume instead that the alphabet came down to us in random order, haphazardly through history, via the Proto-Sinaitic and Phonecian alphabets, then it is not likely that the alphabet and these numbers somehow became mystically fused in their divine essence by this rather arbitrary later assignment. Meaning is an insertion after the fact into a random sequence.
A similar kind of original randomness also occurs in the basis of calendar dates. From a geocentric point of view, there are a few real and measurable points in time, that do not require any conceptual artifice or man-made geometry. These are the globe-encircling dawn and sunset shadow lines, the phases of Luna, the solstices and equinoxes and their midpoints in the annual solar cycle, and the great 25,868-year clock that is the precession of the equinoxes. There are also time measurements based on frequencies of vibration in matter and other physical laws. Beyond these we have the man-made calendars, which are wholly unrelated to any of these phenomena. Starting points of clocks and calendars are pinned instead to arbitrary moments in time. A date is just a day until a number is assigned to it, but the day assigned to day one is an arbitrary selection. This is just some human calendar maker's decision and it's almost certainly not of cosmic importance. We add to the confusion by having months of random length. And these months are measured in decimal days, which rely on the accident that humans evolved with ten fingers. So now we have people telling us that we can add up the numbers of the letters of our names and the numbers on our calendars, and then add these numbers together, and reduce this to a single digit, and the result is supposed to be meaningful. We may have Papus to scold for bringing this into the Tarot. But somebody else would have let it in by the time the new age dawned.
The sequence of letters in an alphabet is merely the product or the bricolage of millenia of people just making stuff up. There is no observable structural or phonetic basis to the arrangement that bears a direct relationship to something meaningful. The assignment of a day and month and year number to a particular day in history is an arbitrary act unless there is some secure, original tie to a meaningful phenomenon related to time itself, such as a solstice or equinox. Any numerology which uses alphabet sequences or calendar dates constructs its entire edifice on top of arbitrary numbers and random sequences. And it only compounds the silliness to then add these numbers together and reduce them to single digits. It is not likely that any honestly gathered empirical findings are going to discover a meaningful order in such a system. It is far more likely that we will find a combination of pareidolia and cognitive bias pervading the investigative process. The only place that we will find the numerology of the Hebrew alphabet (called Gematria) to be truly meaningful is in deciphering Hebrew tracts expounding on the properties of Hebrew words based on Gematria. The real meaning ends there. The rest is imagination and the tricks that this can play.
Number symbolism is a different matter entirely. No system of number symbolism can be called universal, and several distinct systems exist: the meaning-set of numerology, for example, or that of the Pythagoreans, or of Jewish Hebrew Kabbalah. The Tarot has been developing its own for some centuries, in close connection with the Western Mystery Tradition's (WMT's) Qabalah and its elaboration of Kabbalah's Sephiroth. This will be retained, while large portions of the remaining WMT material is numerological and will be dropped from this study. Using the numbers of the received Trump sequence to help derive their meanings is numerology rather than number symbolism. So is using the structurally meaningless sequence of the Hebrew alphabet to label or identify the 22 paths on the Tree of Life.
The Fool’s Journey
The numbered sequence of the 22 Trumps, which has generally stabilized now as Zero through Twenty-One, with Strength preceding (and so switched with) Justice, is often narrated as the journey of the Fool as a Hero on a quest for individuation and fulfillment, a journey from ignorance to enlightenment. This story assumes that the sequence has an overall, deep structural meaning. Others have seen meanings in a 0+7+7+7 arrangement, where each set of seven trumps, in their given or received sequence, enters into a higher order of development. Still others have been able to tell a plausible story from an 11+11 configuration. One of the great virtues of the Tarot, however, is that the cards can be shuffled, and fall into any sequence, and still be made to tell an apparently meaningful story by making use of basic human cognitive heuristics that date to our early evolution as hominids. Our brains are built to construct meaningful sequences out of even the most disconnected events, on the chance that what we hit upon might have survival value. This is also how we string together fairly random sequences of REM states into meaningful dreams sequences without any conscious effort. We will need to consider here that the development of the Trump sequence may simply have been based on the way the cards first fell.
There is one element to the structural Trump sequence that has developed meaning over the years, even though it may have started out as a half-arbitrary assignment. This is the part-sequential, part-geometrical division of the 22 Trumps into sets of 3, 7 and 12, based on the Kabbalistic ideas first set forth in the Sepher Yetzirah, circa 600 CE. This parsing is not fundamental to there being 22 Trumps in all, but it has provided some very useful contributions to the symbolism over the years by permitting the 22 Trumps to be closely associated with various Scales of Three, the Seven Planets of early Astrology, and the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac with their Twelve associated Houses. This is the only analysis of the sequence of Trumps that will be explored here in any detail. The historical influence that this has had in the ongoing development of Trump meanings is the only real reason to pursue this inquiry. There is not an original connection that ties these ideas together at their roots, except as we can find human universals in the scales of three, seven and twelve. It should be noted before leaving the subject that the division of the Hebrew alphabet into Mothers, Doubles and Simples, bears no relation or similarity at all to the more global disciplines of phonetics and phonosymbolism.
The numbers One or Ace through Ten are clearly an expression of number symbolism, and aren’t really used in this tradition in a numerological way. These will be explored at some length in the Components section. Outside of this and the 3+7+12 set of scales, numbers will not be used. A couple of items of accidental meaning have been stumbled upon in the course of applying numerological sequences to the Trumps. Some have taken root in the historical development of Trump meanings, or at least have significant insights to offer, even if they are accidental. Most of these are taken from symbols associated with the characters of the Hebrew alphabet (and its forerunners), as they appear when this sequence is aligned with that of the Trumps. For example, Ayin, or Eye, as correlated with the Devil card, has things to suggest about the limitations of our vision and the things that we may be blind to. This also resonates with the theme of nearsightedness in the resonant Yijing Gua. These will be explored as they appear for each card, but there is no point in doing this systematically, since the system itself has no underlying meaning. Pareidolia is sufficient to account for any insights discovered therein.
Over-Elaboration, Tautologies, and Mistaking Maps for Terrain
The human mind is a kind of terrain that as yet comes with no map that bears any geographical likeness to the terrain itself. The map is symbolic, so in ways it must be taken on its own terms, and because of this it can be a little too easy to get lost in the map without continually referring back to the reality it is supposed to represent. This will be repeated later: If a map of the psyche or symbolic language is to be useful in a real world, the orienting and interpretive grids that it superimposes onto reality will continue to hover pretty closely over that reality, instead of moving further away into multiple levels of abstraction on abstraction. As simple as these systems are, the permutations within the organizing system, which are separate from the individual symbols and ideas, can get extremely complex. These are the maps that our sojourners get lost in, believing there is more information there than in the contact with the world that the symbols are supposed to point to. The abstraction itself becomes a distraction, often a mindless one. Zhuangzi wrote: ‘To know when to stop is the highest attainment.’
Over-elaboration is a real problem in all of these symbolic languages. Newcomers and old-timers alike will get fascinated by all of the permutations and extrapolations of the structural system and wander away into ever-higher levels of remove, each thinking they might be onto something big, but almost always moving ever further from the point of having such a system in the first place. In logic, a tautology is a proposition that declares itself true by definition, in a format that isn’t refutable. It is independent of verification or refutation because it exists only in its own world. This is not a world you want to get lost in, since it’s only a hall of mirrors. The adventure becomes a maze rather than a journey. And where the map is in error, or is just an arbitrary depiction, all we really get is lost. The Kabbalah in particular has been made vastly more complicated and fussy than it needs to be. This is in part because adherents must keep going until they find all the meaning in the Tanakh and the Torah, which in fact contains mostly borrowed stories and myths, moralizings, vengeance fantasies and attempts to assert control over a froward and stiff-necked people who would rather worship Baal. They might have to keep wandering that desert forever.
It is especially easy to get lost in over-elaborated systems in Yijing studies because the superstructure is binary enumeration. People take off following the properties of binary systems themselves, thinking that this must in fact be an exploration of the Yijing. This is the source of the DNA nonsense. Actually, the Yijng was written at a time before there was anything like yin-yang theory, and binary mathematics simply became an interpretive overlay that Chinese culture would have no real grasp of for another two thousand years. There were in fact structural elements and dimensions that were on the minds of the first authors, but these were few in number and simple to understand. They can be understood a little better with a binary overlay, but this does not make the mathematics fundamental to the creation of the book or its interpretation. Nevertheless, since the Han Dynasty, many centuries after the Yi was written, tens of thousands of volumes and lifetimes have been dedicated to snipe hunts in the world of Xiangshu, or Image-and-Number, usually leaving Yili, Meaning-and-Principle, the study of the meaning of the text, far behind.
The compulsion to go too far in extrapolating deductively from a simple cognitive system has been as active in Astrology as anywhere else. The permutations of inventable ideas exceed the scope of the human mind, as the great mounds of books on the subject will attest. This mass of available conjecture presents an ominous challenge to the novice and threatens to preclude an understanding of the simplicity of the basic system. While the core of the system is rich enough in its symbolism to fill a long lifetime of study in depth, and only one level or two abstracted from the human psyche, impatience still rules, and students go wandering off into abstraction after abstraction, thinking there must be more to it. The answer must be in the decans, or in the asteroids, or in progressions. This approach may be called ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ Study time is far better spent in staying put and digging deeper into the mother lode. This requires patience, and humility.
All this is not to deny that we can't milk these expansions and digressions for ideas, but out in the farther fields of abstraction, this does rely more on pareidolia than any kind of fundamental or structural relevance. It becomes a question of a triage of sorts, of where best to spend our time. Someone who can give up the peripheral goose chases and snipe hunts can still follow the occasional lead that someone else has brought back in their otherwise empty sack.
Religion & Metaphysics
The ‘Devil’s Picture Book,’ as the Tarot was sometimes known, developed in an era where the church was starting to lose its icy grip on culture. The Trumps arose shortly before Martin Luther made his move. For a long time there was some give-and-take in the Trump names and depictions, if not entirely to appease the Church, then at least to escape its wrath. The Devil card and the lightning-struck House of God or Tower were the last to join the deck. Gradually, most of the Christian iconography wandered away. Today, in most decks, only one vestigial instance of pure Christian iconography survives, in the Last Judgment card, depicting the angel Gabriel sounding his trumpet, and the dead with their families arising from their coffins to greet their just rewards. It is time for this image to go away too, because, to be blunt, the whole idea is childish and embarrassing. Others have proposed worthwhile alternatives, Crowley with his Aeon card, depicting a new era of will and decisiveness, and Robin Wood, depicting a Phoenix, in flames, and a skyclad woman. Both are several steps more evolved, and are also in better resonance with the Qabalistic attribution to Shin, the Hebrew Mother letter of Fire, and to Uranus, the corrected Astrological attribution made later here. The title Judgment, dropping the word Last, remains appropriate enough. It is also time to let go of any residual idea that the Ace of Cups is the Holy Grail. Even vagina is a better fit than that.
Many structural elements that organize the vocabularies of Kabbalah and Qabalah are repeatedly likened to diagrams of the mind or body or garments of JHVH and Adam Kadmon, who was made in this holy image. In the Yijing, the runaway Xiangshu or numerological systems became anatomies in their own way, or metaphysical models of the world and the patterns of circulation of its Qi and Jing. But the metaphysical structures that we project onto the universe can often tell us a lot more about ourselves than they tell us about the universe. Xenophanes suggested, ‘If oxen or horses or lions had hands to draw with … they would make their gods’ bodies in the same shape as their own.’ We take up our own psychic contents and project them onto some imagined cosmic mirror. As above, so below. In Qabalah’s Tree of Life, this is the face of the Abyss, where Daath or Knowledge resides. Unknown to most, this is a reflective surface, and often all we see is our own egos, and its insecurities, turned upside down or inside out. But we still take these contents and set them on thrones in their assigned domains in the heavens and see them as Archons and Aeons, hypostases, deities and divine forces. With the right attitude, however, we can step back and take an anthropological approach and study these images as we would any myth for what they can tell us about their psyche of origin. Sometimes we may have to re-invert the images, so that first causes become final causes, or ideas become derivatives of sense, or essences derived from existences. But while they may be nothing but reflections of human character, they still have things to tell us about this character.
Some elements of Kabbalah, those which have contributed to the development of card meanings in the Occult Tarot's formative years, will be kept, while others which added primarily to the complexity and confusion will be set aside. Notions of deity, even those outlying the Judeo-Christian tradition, are unnecessary here, even though states of mind that might otherwise be called religious, such as sacredness, reverence, forgiveness and gratitude, are best kept as part of the core repertoire of human cognition and attitudes. These do not require a deity. Rather than construct this on a platform of atheism, let's merely assert that the Tarot can be understood in its core without reference or resort to metaphysical or theological speculation. Here we are going to leave out the metaphysical belief and conjecture as unnecessary, and not even imbued with all that much wisdom in the first place. It can probably be asserted by now that the original point of religious and metaphysical belief was always ethics, and that it has always failed pretty badly at this. But the Tarot, too, can be seen as an ethic, and one that can survive being stripped of metaphysics and religion. This leaves it free to advise, without dogma, on the finer points of living a more optimized and self-directed life.
Tarot as a Language
The Language as System
Calling the Tarot a language is not using an analogy or metaphor. But Tarot does differ from languages such as English in several respects. Together with its cousins, notably Astrology, Qabalah, and Yijing, the vocabularies are tightly constrained and finite. They are typically limited to a hundred essential words or less, distributed within just a handful of categories or parts of speech. New words are rarely added, except when several are admitted at once as part of a new dimension expressed within a pattern. The meanings of words grow and expand by accretion of connotations, glosses or key words. Unlike the English language, which proceeds from having a word for each thing, whose phonemics and morphology make little sense, whose logic is only dimly perceived through nearly subliminal grammar and syntax, these systematic mini-languages exhibit a crystalline patterning. All have superstructures that can be clearly diagrammed, with a clarity and economy such that both the superstructure and the elements of vocabulary will all fit nicely together on a single page or poster. Science develops the same sort of languages, like the ever-evolving standard model of subatomic entities, or the much better known periodic table of the elements. It is important that the whole system can be seen at a glance and held in the mind as a single image. This feature helps get us past linearity and permits a simultaneous access to the ideas involved, and this in turn is very important wherever a contrast or choice between elements is involved. The overall structure is a map to all of the parts at once.
These systems are abstract diagrams of the psychic or experiential world, attempts to map the mind’s terra incognita in the distribution of its faculties and in its many layers. They are attempts to increase the regions of the internal world that are available to both perception and discussion. The discipline of psychology attempts the same. For all of its pride about being the study of cognitive behavior, it has always seemed to forget that it was itself a form of cognitive behavior, and ultimately a languaging behavior, a parsing and a taxonomy of the human experience. Its results were inescapably entangled with how it parsed the world into ideas and organized those ideas into systems and sub-systems. It also built its main database on disappointing human behavior, but that's another subject. Despite its larger-scale incoherence, out of this we get useful little language subsystems, such as lists of defense mechanisms and cognitive biases. We also get classifications of psychological disorders that allow therapists to put the right pills into the right mouths, and fill out insurance forms consistently, although this contributes very little to long-term mental health solutions.
From the beginning, one of the primary functions of these languages was mnemonic. When a user looked at an idea, the language did not permit him to overlook the other members of its set. When a user forgot an idea, the other members of the set reminded him what it was. When a user’s experience was too limited with one member of a set, the rules that were implicit in the overall set allowed him to fill in some blanks and holes by a process of interpolation. This was explicitly a real part of Tarot’s early history, as it was associated with a mnemonic technique known as the art of memory, ars memoria or ars memorativa. This process also uses finite numbers of elements parsed into manageable sets, and spatially arranged to show interrelationships between sets and elements. The individual items are imagines agentes, or instrumental images. The overall structure of the Tarot is a just such a map to all of its parts, giving simultaneous access to multiple concepts for purposes of comparison or choice. The Trumps were also a sort of memory training in cultural literacy: they were some of the first literal flash cards.
A Catalogue of Attitudes
In a systematic way, the Tarot has evolved as an attempt to enumerate the dimensions of experience with a finite vocabulary of symbols, in much the same way as chemistry seeks to configure the world with its periodic table. It’s elements function as gravitational centers for orbiting meanings, or as organizational loci for sorting and filing experience and retrieving it with better ease. The Tarot is a sort of filing cabinet for the memory and open for the use of our imagination. And in therapy it can be used as a sort of ‘catalog of attitudes,’ an assortment of cognitive tools arrayed before us as optional accessories. In this context, freedom may be thought of as a function of the options that we are aware of, and this array makes it easier for us to make an informed selection.
These languages will be treated here in large part as working cognitive frameworks or models of the human psyche, attempts to lift this psyche out of its half-submerged state and hold it up for examination, to help us to point to this and that, or help us to choose between this and that optional state of mind. They both refer to and objectify subjective human experiences and feelings. Like the subsystems of psychology, they will be useful insofar as their insights can be applied to solving problems. This is frequently dependent on the aptitude and real-world savvy of the user. The deck can be thought of as 78 general types of experience, both states that we can feel ourselves occupying and states that we can occupy on purpose when faced with different kinds of situations. They might be objective lessons, some perhaps to be learned the hard way the first time around. If a person has a difficult time learning, then the next occurrence may be difficult as well, but if they are capable of learning, the experience or state can become a cognitive skill instead. An approach to Tarot that sees the cards as cognitive skills, or a technology of cognition, will make more sense for people who are able to learn from their experiences.
The Five of Cups suggests things that might be learned from experiences with loss and ingratitude, the Five of Swords, things that can be learned from betrayals of trust. Instead of thinking of the cards as predictions, we can try thinking of them as skill sets to keep close at hand. We have all opened big boxes of parts that say ‘assembly required.’ To assemble this product you will need a tube of glue, a hammer, a phillips screwdriver, a medium-sized bandaid and two glasses of wine. Our readings can be taken like this. These are the perceptual and cognitive tools that you will want to have close by. They are tools like psychological processes, attitudes, talents and cognitive skills. In the inner world they are learned stratagems, in the outer world they are experiences that are instructive of these stratagems. They are offered in a tidy array, like tools laid out on a good work bench. For those who can get past having their fortune told or future predicted, choices are offered that imply choices of outcome, and only failure to learn predicts bad luck. The positive and negative meanings and reactions to the cards need to be outgrown if the cards are to be useful aids to agency.
The 22 Trumps of the Occult Tarot are what the subcultures of the Western Mystery Tradition came up with when pressed to identify the 22 most important things to know on such a path. They are clusters of cultural ideas rather than archetypes, and flash-card reminders of important elements of this subculture’s notion of literacy. They shifted around quite a bit in the earlier years. Virtues came and went, or (like Prudence) simply got assimilated into other images (in this case, the Hermit). Where we find that something important is missing, it is up to us authors to find the best place to insert it, because it is now against the system's internal rules to keep adding new cards.
Vocabulary, Definition and Connotation
Some system vocabularies start out with a preset or fixed number of items. Scales are the common example: divide the human experience into eight parts and see when you get. Then check out what that other culture over there did with the same assignment, see if the two solutions have anything in common, and then determine if that is instructive or not, whether it speaks of cultural differences or human universals. Others vocabularies evolve with no initial goal or end in sight. They may grow spontaneously until cultural pressures to add a missing item, or delete a superfluous item, diminish and this results in at least a temporary stability. Then at some point they become fixed in number and even canonized there. Our calendars were developed like this. So were the different alphabets from our various cultures. The Trumps of the Tarot were yet another example, at least until the card games of Tarot found a fixed and established use for exactly 22 cards. It appears to have been a coincidence that this equaled the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Once the overall number found some stability, the meanings of the 22 individual Trumps, and some of their sequences, got shifted, tweaked and juggled around until they too found some stability. It is important to understand that the final ‘plan’ was not yet there at the beginning of the process. The Trumps found their way to their current order and number gradually, and even now things cannot be thought set in stone and proof against some new paradigm yet to be discovered or invented.
The term vocabulary will be used here to refer to the complete deck of 78 cards. The eighteen elements which constitute the component parts of the 56 Minor Arcana can be referred to as morphemes, discussed below. As stated, the vocabulary of this language is tightly constrained and finite. If there is to be any growth, barring the addition of a whole new subsystem to the language, this will need to occur by addition to the meanings of the individual words. Some of this accretion comes by way of associating, correlating or nesting other finite symbolic systems. Because these systems are used in divination, the universe of discourse for the languages we are discussing will be the full range of human experience, since this must embrace all sorts of questions ranging from matters of the heart to matters of leaky plumbing. While any gods out there might well disagree, from a human perspective this is practically infinite. As such, the individual items of vocabulary each have to do a whole lot of work or cover a very large territory of possible meanings, vastly more than any English words. These are like biomes in ecology rather than nations in political geography, in theory getting their organizing principles from characteristics that pre-exist in the human mind. Even jumping between more conventional languages like modern English and ancient Chinese produces interesting contrasts. The former has dozens of times the number of words, the latter has many times the number of possible meanings for each word. The former is more definitive and articulated, the latter more connotative and poetic. This is even more pronounced when the vocabulary drops to less than a hundred words. When a word or term carries many possible meanings it is called polysemous, and the phenomenon, polysemy.
Polysemy is much more apparent in these limited languages, and potential meanings for each of the cards can get pretty complicated. As with old Chinese, a word’s meanings must be narrowed by the context in which it appears. In the Tarot, this narrowing is not done until after we have a sense of the broader range of meanings of each card, and then it happens in three ways: 1) we narrow the meaning by the question we ask, eliminating associations that have no bearing on the problem at hand; 2) we narrow it further by the named position in which a card falls in a spread, a process discussed under grammar, below; and 3) we get tighter still within the context of the surrounding cards, which is also a part of the grammar discussed below. And we may add a 4) when we watch the reactions of a client for whom the cards are being read, reactions which guide the reader to a still more personalized meaning. Of course we are also looking at our own emotions in response or reaction to a card, sensing our own undercurrents. This is the intuitive part. While there are reasons to have core meanings for each of the cards to get us started somewhere close to the center of the mental or psychic territory that is the cards primary domain, we don’t want to start out with too narrow an idea. We don’t want a definition. But we also don’t want to begin our search three domains over or half a world away.
Word meanings develop over time a little like a tree, branching out and self-pruning. Systematizers often take up this job of pruning. As with trees, vitality and longevity may be strengthened, not weakened, by this process. The cards began with very general ideas. In the Minor Arcana, they began with somebody’s wild ass guess as to what it meant when component ideas like a number and a suit were put together. And many began only with notes from divination records. In the Trumps, they began with a nexus of cultural associations with the images and situations that were being represented. Whenever some contributer thought of a new key word which was remotely close to the area defined by a card's rough idea, the word attached itself to a growing body of associations. At some point there get to be sufficient accretions to sort them for some common themes, common denominators or clumping, and also to toss the more inane, extraneous or irrelevant assignments, the non sequiturs. This process is rather like studying the holes in a target made by a young archer to learn where he has been aiming; or like studying a bell curve to find a mean. Along another line of analogy, it is like pruning a fruit tree back to its most productive or fruitful branches. In this metaphor, note that it is fruitless to prune the tree down to one branch, much less down to the root. We want to maintain some of the learned diversity. Neither do we want to think we are defining a particular term. It has too much work to do to be limited like that. The words we attach are not meant to define a process any more than a person's name is meant to define the person. These names are meant to summon the character to help out with the chores. In this case the characters are psychological processes, attitudes, talents and cognitive skills.
A Tarot card may be likened to a meaning magnet, or a neural net of associations, or a heading in a thesaurus. They can function as mnemonic devices, or nets for fishing the subliminal seas. When functioning at their best, a reader has only to look at a card in a context to begin the flow of a steady stream of ideas, with a spontaneity and ease akin to that of ordinary conversation. In fact, once core meanings or their gestalts have been grasped, most of the work with the cards is preconscious or subconscious, down where a reader’s personal associations are interconnected. The development of associations with each card is of course a personalized process. Some writers will assert that it is perfectly appropriate for this to be entirely personal or idiosyncratic, and that the cards should mean whatever a reader needs or wants them to mean. Of course this means that a reader can no longer communicate with other readers in a common language and that all their subsequent conversations with them become little more than dueling monologues, and any ideas we have about meanings and meaningful communication get deconstructed. These people can think what they want, but unless they are extremely influential, they will eventually wind up speaking to themselves in a special language that nobody else understands. They do not become part of the Tarot tradition or history. There are uses and reasons for classical approaches, consensus, and traditions beyond simple pressures to conformity, and these should be respected.
We get our card meanings first from written sources and contemporaries, and then from our working notes and journals. Initially, we collect more ideas that we keep. Much of the initial collection will be in the form of key words, hopefully gathered from a number of sources instead of just one favorite book. We build on these, which makes it important for a beginner who aspires to ever be more than a beginner to look for higher quality sources. Typically when a reader looks at a page of key words for a card, their meanings will be all over the place, and will often contradict each other. The intent in the present work was to narrow this range of meanings into a smaller, tighter and relatively coherent whole, and then fill in some of the remaining blanks, interpolating between these narrower meanings. We wind up using both extrapolation and interpolation. In extrapolation we estimate what things are like beyond the original range of cases, based upon what we think the original range has taught us. We have to guess at what the rules are that lie beyond the known. Interpolation produces estimates between two known observations, as in finding word meanings between two known values. Two-point-six is an interpolation between two and three. Extrapolation is subject to much more uncertainty and a higher risk of producing meaningless results. Some key words will be repeated in collections for a number of different cards. Sometimes it is wise to eliminate the ideas that are just too general, but often these repeated words will have narrower applications that are very specific to the core meaning of a card, meaning they should be left in place with a note-to-self to look at a narrower gloss in a narrower context. In these languages, when used in counseling, you might find frequent use of ideas like deferred gratification, acceptance, adaptability, noble obligation, etc, all implied by several different cards.
An effort was made here to find some consensus on the things that have long been said about each particular card. Collecting the key words for use here, and this from a very large number of sources, was a little like looking for an archery bullseye in a wall from which the target had been removed, leaving only the holes to go by. There were clusters of hits to be found, and within those clusters were holes never made but ones that might have made sense. I tried to guess at what might have been the two innermost rings of the targets and use these to locate core meanings. But I also confess to having cherry-picked many of these hits according to some preconceived notions based on the constituent elements of the cards like number and suit, or preferred correspondence attributions. This was necessarily a creative process and not simply a statistical survey.
The Key Words sections here, a feature used throughout this work, will be a grab bag of these collected ideas. The only order is alphabetical. It is not recommended that these be memorized. Rather, the intent is to give the reader first a feel for the general meaning of the larger idea, and then a gestalt that ties the cluster together and also implies further meanings that infill the cluster or expand it only to round things out. The scope or breadth of these ideas is considerably narrower than those found elsewhere, in order to develop the gestalt more tightly around the core meaning. But within this narrower range there is a denser collection of information than found elsewhere. If you are taking a day to study each card (a highly recommended program) it might be a useful exercise to go through this section slowly, out loud, and try to stretch your mind to make a connection between each key word and the card or symbol in question. It is recommended to use more than one source for this exercise, and hopefully three or more, and all of these should come well-recommended. It is critical for someone who wants to go anywhere useful with Tarot to start with best sources available and not build on a foundation that will soon need rebuilding. There is a lot of nonsense out there in print because there is money to be made by writing for credulous and gullible people. It is advised to avoid books with beginner in the title. Also, the word 'master' is not used by masters.
Grammar is organized in two main dimensions: morphology and syntax. Morphology, the first half, is the study of the inflected forms of words. The Fifty-Six Minor Arcana are each a product of two factors, akin to molecular combinations of two atomic conceptions. Depending on how they are grouped, they fall into two or four general classes. The two classes are the Court cards and the Pip cards. The four are the Four Suits, each of which is represented by the four members of the Court and the ten Numbers. Few authors have truly analyzed the Minor Arcana from this perspective and many have simply abandoned their study to focus on the more straightforward Trumps. The bulk of ideas on the subject is the parroting of earlier writers' guesswork, or else making wild guesses at why Pamela Coleman-Smith drew the pictures that she did. To really understand the Minors, some assembly is required. A grasp of the four Court, ten Numbers and four Suits is a must, but so is a grasp of their role in combination. Marc Edmond Jones, an astrologer, made use of the term pormanteau analysis, after Lewis Carroll’s use of the term and its subsequent adoption in linguistics: ‘'You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.'
In general, the Court and Numbers refer to the subjective aspects of experience, and the Suits to the means or the approaches by which the subjects interact with the objective world. In other words, the Court and Number portion of the cards tend to act as subject and the suits as predicate. However, the entire event depicted by a card can occur in either the inner or the outer world. Invocations and personal insights may stand as examples of the inner world events, evocations and predicted situations of the outer world events. In other words, and for example, on drawing the Seven of Swords, a reader may find himself feeling like a seven wielding swords, or feeling like a seven encountering a stimulating intellectual challenge, or faced with a Seven of Swords situation in a purely objective encounter. It should be clear that a familiarity with the first of these will help the reader with the second and third. Ultimately, each card is learned in its inner, interactive and outer world meanings. Those who simply use the cards to predict their futures tend to see these cards as solely objective encounters. This misses the opportunity to examine the card as a subjective dynamic in order to get a better understanding of the energies at play, to get a sense or feel of a situation as a first step in mastering it. At its core, the Five of Wands suggests an assertive force with some of the characteristics of Mars and Geburah acting through the element of Fire. Crowley explains, ‘The Five of Wands is therefore a personality; the nature of this is summed up in the Tarot by calling it Strife. This means that, if used passively in divination, one says, when it turns up, "There is going to be a fight." If used actively, it means that the proper course of conduct is to contend’ (BOT 43). When viewing a card’s vignette, then, one might ask, ‘do you identify with the character shown or see this objectively as a lesson?’ The therapeutic approach to a card will often require taking command of the subjective view first. Looking at the Eight of Swords, for example, may require taking the point of view of the men who tied that poor seductress up and left her alone to meditate while they went about their more pressing tasks.
The Court cards are personae. At bottom, they delineate sixteen general personality types that are compounds of the four elements each with four aspects representing both stages of maturity and characteristics akin to further elemental expression. The Pip cards delineate forty classes of more objective situations and suggest personal strategies for greeting them effectively. These will be explained in more detail in the Component Ideas chapter below.
Even the relatively simpler or more elemental Trumps have pormanteau elements in their construction. The 12 Trumps that are specifically associated with the signs of the zodiac and their associated Houses are also compounds of the tenses and genders of quality and element. The Trumps associated with the Planets also carry implications of the signs of the zodiac where those planets have their dignities and their weaknesses. Furthermore, the contributions of those correspondences from other systems that have contributed significantly to the evolution of core meanings of each card may now be considered as meanings embedded in the card in a pormanteau fashion. For example, the Magician card now carries portmanteau implications from both the astrological planet Mercury and the Qabalistic Sephira of Hod.
Syntax is the other half of grammar and concerns the way words are put together into sentences, paragraphs and other larger structures that generate compound meanings. In general, the sentence in the Tarot begins with an individual card and the largest array of meanings that it carries from all of the symbolic implications of its image, its key word associations and the combination of its portmanteau elements. Next, this broad range of meanings is narrowed by the question that is being asked of the system. Then we narrow the meaning further by the constraints of the position that a card falls in within a larger spread. Then we glean information from the context of the surrounding cards. Finally, we track the reader’s and/or querent’s subjective reactions as clues and cues to where this inquiry is going.
We should look for meta-structural patterns in a reading. Cards can have more meaning when interconnected with other cards in their context, especially when they deal with similar or related themes. Imbalances in component dimensions are often a useful clue to the meaning of a reading. A strong predominance of a particular suit or the complete absence of a suit might be taken as significant. There may be a dominance or absence of Trumps that may be taken to indicate whether major forces are at play here or just lots of little details. One of the ten numbers might show up three or four times. A predominance or absence of a particular court persona may suggest levels of maturity or characteristics of investigation, such as whether to approach a situation with humility or with a sense of authority. A predominance of court cards might also suggest a lot of social activity.
Methods of drawing the cards from the deck can very widely between readers. This is personal preference. The biggest factor in selecting a method is determining whether or not the cards will be read differently if they happen to come up reversed or upside down in a spread. This is a significant component in many books and approaches. There are a number of problematic issues with this aspect of interpretation that have led to reversals and their interpretations being omitted in this present work. Reversed meanings will not be outlined here. Rather, they can be subsumed under the understanding of core meanings as broader spectra. In the first place, the method calls for a card to be viewed from two opposite sides, frequently either a positive or a negative side. The position here is that we should always be doing this anyway: we cannot really comprehend a card until we see it simultaneously from multiple angles. This does, however, remove a lot of the certainty that people want if they are predicting their future. The approach taken here is not that we are telling our fortunes, but rather, we are examining our choices or options. Secondly, among those who advocate the importance of reading reversals, very few will suggest a method of beginning a shuffling of the deck with all of the cards upright, such that the method of shuffling allows some of the cards to become reversed as if in response to the question being asked. If this is going to be meaningful, the reader should find a way to begin with all cards in the deck upright and somehow jumble them in the process of shuffling them. They should also be restored between readings instead of accumulating randomness from previous readings. Authors who do not think to discuss this issue have not thought things through very well.
Mary Greer, in the Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, suggests that card meanings can be modified in reverse aspect by being: blocked, resisted; projected; delayed, difficult, unavailable; inner, unconscious, private; breaking through, overturning, refusing; be no or not; excessive, over- or under-compensating; misused or misdirected; retried, retracted, reviewed, reconsidered; or also understood in perspectives that are unconventional, shamanic, or humorous. Bunning adds that a card might still be in the early stages of its manifestation, or else past its prime and losing force and power, or blocked, restricted, incomplete, inappropriate, being denied, or only present in appearance.
Reversals may also be understood as analogous to Retrogradation in Astrology. This is an apparent backwards motion of planets through the zodiac from the geocentric point of view. Sol and Luna are never retrograde, Venus and Mars only rarely. This might be said to turn a portion of a Planet's ‘output’ self-consciously inward, like a governor on an engine, intensifying the experience, but proportionately diminishing efficiency unless the information is put to effective use. Stationary planets are more reliably focused faculties. It is also said that a planetary force may be weakened, delayed, or reversed. People who are not comfortable with thinking often get very confused when Mercury goes retrograde. This can be a major problem for people who believe in Astrology, but has little effect on those who do not.
While Astrology has a strict and unvarying paragraph structure in the natal horoscope, which is sometimes seen with an overlay of currently transiting planets, the paragraph structure in Tarot is extremely variable and is known as the Spread (sometimes called the Layout). This is the particular pattern in which the cards are laid out in response to a question or inquiry. There is no set or established pattern, although a few are commonly used. There are hundreds in print to choose from, and you can just make up your own. The only real rule is that you ought to know both the overall pattern and the meaning of each of its positions before you ask a question and fill the spread with cards. The question that is asked before laying out the cards might be likened to the Rising Sign or Ascendant in Astrology. It sets the general theme or lens through which the reading is viewed, such as whether we are looking at matters of the heart or plumbing repairs.
The Tarot cards have gathered most of their cultural and philosophical momentum as a fortune-telling game or device, rather than as a vocabulary of psychological states. The general method used in fortune-telling is to draw a number of cards from a deck, placing each in a designated position within a preselected pattern. The meaning of each card is then combined with the designated meaning of the position, in much the same way as a Planet-in-a-Sign is combined with the meaning of a House in Astrology. In fact, the circle of the twelve Houses is one of the patterns commonly used in Tarot. But the fortune-telling and linguistic uses of the cards are not readily combined without doing some serious surgery on the notion of fortune. The way one looks at the spread patterns must change to accommodate an introduction of agency, creativity, choice and responsibility into the picture. The positions denoting ‘the past’ become convergent influences, and this includes what someone wants to make of their personal history. Those places denoting ‘the future’ become emerging opportunities subject to the consequences of our choices or decisions. Readings are done for the moment (although according to the Yijing, this moment can be six days wide, even if not very long). The other difference is that the readings become diagnostic of one's strengths and weak points in the various ‘parts’ of the psyche. They no longer predict the future: they predicate the predicaments of present potential. They show where things are getting knotted up or where opportunities lie hid.
The process of doing a Tarot reading might go something like this: a) Choose a pattern for the spread. Four are given below. Virtually any of the patterns and scales found in the Western Mystery Tradition can be good ones to use (like the 5-pointed Solomon’s Seal, the six-pointed Shield of David, etc), including the scale of one for a simple answer to a simple question; b) Hold the deck quietly for several minutes while you are formulating a specific question or simply meditating on the moment. Towards the end of this period, flip through the deck, spending about a second looking at the face of each card. Straighten the deck and place it face down. c) Cut once, shuffle once, cut once shuffle once. d) Then, while holding the deck face down, draw out one card at a time. Wait until the fingers themselves seem to be drawn unequivocally to a specific card. Before drawing each card, recite the names or key words for the sequential position or part of the pattern into which the card will be placed. Place each card in its position, still face down. e) Turn all of the cards face up and read, or learn to read. It takes time to learn. Eventually a stream of consciousness will make its presence known and start to make sense. It will be of little use to try and identify or name this stream. These are four of the more commonly used spreads:
The Tree of Life Spread can be a recommended pattern for a psychological or diagnostic reading. It is not temporal. It looks at a querent's life synchronically and holistically. It portrays only a single moment of time, so a question should specify whether this omen is wrapping up a past situation, or diagramming a current state or event, or looking forward to a specified time ahead.1. The Crown, Saturn, Duration, Point of Destiny
2. Wisdom, Uranus, Path of Power, Direction in Life
3. Understanding, Neptune, Field of Options, Opening Up
4. Mercy, Jupiter, Self-Image, Identity, Individuation
5. Strength, Mar, Drive, Motivation, Personal Power
6. Harmony, Sol, Attention, Health, Brio
7. Victory, Venus, Affection, Acquisitiveness, Want
8. Splendor, Mercury, Cognition, Organization, Strategies
9. The Foundation, Luna, Mnemonics, Basis, Adaptability
10. The Kingdom, Pluto, Sensation, Material Situation
11. Daath, The Ego, Knowledge, Cognitive Bias
The Horoscope Spread is based on the 12 Houses of Astrology. This too depicts a single moment in time, so, as above, specify whether this omen is wrapping up a past situation or diagramming a current state or event, or looking forward to a specified time ahead.1. Self and its constitution
2. Wealth and valuation
3. Education and familiarity
4. Home and security
5. Vitality and expressiveness
6. Usefulness and aptitude
7. Encounter and relationship
8. Resources and access
9. Extrapolation and reaching
10. Objective awareness of self
11. Goals and implementation
12. Finitude and coping
The Celtic Cross Spread
Although this is an old and classic spread, and the pattern or shape is fairly consistent, there is a lot of variety in which position has which name. There are always ten positions, which generally cover the following. It is suggested to Google this and pick a version that seems to make sense.1. General environment, the atmosphere
2. Obstacles or contrary influences
3. Specific goals and highest ideals
4. Raw materials, momentum, tools
5. The current past, events resolved
6. The current future, coming attractions
7. Self's current posture or attitude
8. Resources within the home or family
9. Hopes and fears
10. What will come
The Magick Seven Spread
The shape of this diagram is the Magen David, the Shield of David, the six-pointed star with the center occupied by the seventh or outcome card. The first three items form the upright triangle. It doesn’t really matter which card goes where as long as the reader knows which position has which name before the cards are pulled.1. The Past
2. The Present
3. The Future
4. Energy Needed
5. Energy In The Air
6. Energy Opposed
7. The Outcome
Historical Notes and Timeline
A. E. Waite suggested that Tarot history is 'largely of a negative kind … the issues are cleared by the dissipation of reveries and gratuitous speculations expressed in terms of certitude.' (p.7). We can now, of course, dissipate some of Mr. Waite’s own reveries and speculations as well. To be perfectly honest, the first couple of centuries of conjecture on Tarot history are largely either lies or delusions, or a fuzzy combination of the two. Many lies and delusions became sincerely held beliefs. The several founders of the Occult Tarot were largely interested in ceremonial magick, so their extreme exaltation of the medium must have seemed quite appropriate to them, in order that this might carry them to the heights of ecstasy that they sought. But the whole history of religious and metaphysical soothsaying (meaning truth-telling) has always been fraught with hyperbole and blatant untruths asserted without evidence. It was not just the Jews and Chinese who lied about who wrote their holy books (the nice word is pseudepigrapha). P. Case makes a typical assertion when he uses words like 'others … should remember that we have very ancient authority for these attributions.' (Oracle 45). Ancient authority is just stuff that somebody made up a couple of centuries earlier. Thankfully, we now have had a sincere and fairly reliable tradition of scholarship tracking the history of the playing cards, beginning well back into the 19th century. In the last several decades, some of this more rigorous spirit has rubbed off on Tarot historians and a much better picture of real Tarot history is now emerging. The annotated bibliography linked below has some praise for a few of these studies.
The Tarot was a child conceived at an orgy at the end of the dark ages. We are not sure who its real parents are. It seems to have developed as a spin-off of card games that used the older 52-card deck, with a fifth suit added, called Trumps, and four Queens added to an original royal court of twelve. This happened around 1440, although the deck didn’t approach it’s present content until around 1550 for the Minor Arcana and 1600 for the Trumps. The Tower and the Devil were late arrivals. The origins of the Tarot cards are lost in the obscurity of the dark ages. The earliest western references to playing cards (not Tarot) date from the 14th century. They first appeared in Spain, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and the Balkans by way of North Africa and the Middle East, carried by the Arabs. Credit or blame for the cards has been variously attrributed to Hebrew Kabbalists, Renaissance Qabalists, Sufis, Gypsies, ancient Egyptians, ancient Chinese, space aliens, ancient Atlanteans, Dervishes from Fez, Knights Templar, Albigensian Heretics, Priests of Serapis, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Neoplatonists, Gnostics, Alchemists, Hermeticists, Neopythagoreans, and others. Its mysterious origins are also associated with medieval ars memorativa, the grail legend, lot books, and the early 15th century costume parades by Italian nobles playing out themes in Petrarch’s I Trionfi (penned from 1356-1374). All of the above schools (excepting the Atlanteans and space aliens) could have some claim to being the locus of a root of Tarot. And rightly so. The Tarot has sent roots into the mulch and compost of several ancient traditions, some more influential than others.
It is only in the most indirect sense that we can say Tarot evolved out of Egyptian or Alexandrian thought. The occult Tarot came late to the Western Mystery Tradition, but the game of Tarot as a spin-off from the 52 card deck antedated the arrival of Kabbalah and Hermeticism in Europe. Their influences were developed retroactively, as though roots were put down into this older material. This is not the same as saying that the Tarot is their direct descendant, evolution, or continuation. There is no doubt that Tarot picked up and incorporated some ancient streams of esoteric vocabulary and the systems that organized them, but this cannot honestly be called Tarot history unless the Tarot already existed in some form. The Tarot is a growing event and an open-source project, with many participants, all of whom are allowed to create. It is an original product of medieval syncretism. Folks seem to want or need to believe that the Tarot started out finished and perfected, way back in the past, then got broken and dusty, and now we're on the verge of discovering the means to restore it to the original purity of its conception. They keep looking for the original keys, designs and meanings. When they fail to find these in history, they turn to misguided ideas of archetypes and Platonic forms that somehow pre-exist the material. There is no evidence whatsoever to support these points of view. The Tarot started out clumsily and awkwardly.
The Minor Arcana came first. The Mamluk cards, and perhaps other decks used in the games of Naibs, came to Spain in the 14th century from the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. They carried three members of the court: Malik, Na'ib Malik, and Thani Na'ib (King, Viceroy, and Deputy Viceroy). These became the King, Knight and Page. Being Arabic, under Islamic law, they had no human images. The Europeans added the four Queens and the depictions of the four noble personages. Arabs also brought the four suits: Jawkan, Tuman, Suyat (or Sujuf) and Darahim (polo-sticks, cups, swords and coins). Elsewhere, a Hindu deity, Ardhanarisvara, is depicted holding magical objects identical to the four Tarot suits, but we have no such depictions going back to more ancient dates. The Four Treasures of Ireland, being the Spear of Lug, the Cauldron of the Dagda, the Sword of Light of Nuada, and the Stone of Fal also closely replicate the symbols of the suits, but with no known historical connection. Can we now add Vikings to connect the British Isles to the Mid-East? The evolving Trumps were added in Italy, beginning, we think, with several decks originally prepared by Bonifacio Bembo's art studio for the noble house of Visconti. According to Dummett, their used was first documented in 1442 at the Court of Ferrara.
The superstructure of the Tarot was developed first. Once the fifth suit of trumps was added to the 40 Pips and the Court expanded from 12 to 16 cards, not much change was made to the metastructure. The meanings of the individual cards have taken a lot longer to evolve than the skeletal form. In fact, this part of the process may still be in its early stages. As mentioned in the Language section, the structure itself contributed much to the evolution of the meanings of both the individual cards and the more elemental symbols (Suit, Court and Number) out of which many meanings are made. It was not until the occult revival of the late nineteenth century that this began to occur in earnest. Although other streams of thought were involved, the central nexus of this revival was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an eclectic, quasi-Rosicrucian network. Developing a system of study and correspondences with the help of an earlier work, The Dogma and Ritual of Transcendental Magic (1856) by Eliphas Levi, the Golden Dawn gave rise to such noted commentators as Samuel Liddel Mathers, Arthur Edward Waite, Aleister Crowley and Paul Foster Case, an American. Outside of this network, only a few authors have made truly significant contributions to the field. Three early versions of this seminal Golden Dawn system are found as Book T in the Equinox, Vol 1-8, Book T as published by Israel Regardie, and in Introduction to the Golden Dawn Tarot by Robert Wang. This is online.
For practical purposes, and so excluding the most prescient Sola-Busca Tarocchi, the tradition of depicting the 40 Pip cards with vignettes from life and imagination, instead of symbols arranged in geometric patterns, began in 1909 with Pamela Coleman-Smith’s artwork, developed to accompany the work of A. E. Waite. In a fairly short time, these images have become almost canon, taken nearly as seriously as the images of the much older Trumps, and the majority of the several decks emerging each year are variations on the themes developed by Smith. The meanings associated with the Pip cards didn’t really begin to develop in any coherent fashion until authors began trying to account for their meanings in terms of Smith's images. Now, in fact, a majority of mass market writers seem to look no farther than these images and riff endlessly on about them in developing their associations. This is an error. While the Smith images are impressively insightful, they still cannot carry the full implications of a card with its component dimensions of number and suit, and they are also subject to incorrect interpretations. Crowley and his minions are the most notable exceptions here, but these often involve the very opposite challenge of being either too abstract or having too limited real-life associations to the elemental symbols. They are also often overburdened with value judgments based on extracurricular associations.
(the Chinese and Kabbalistic entries are discussed later in this work).
105 CE, Han Dynasty China, Cai Lun invents paper.
6th Century, actual dates unknown. Sepher Yetzirah, the Book of Formation, foundational document of Kabbalah, introduces the Ten Sephiroth and the scale of 22 as 3+7+12.
618-907, Tang Dynasty China introduces paper currency, after which playing cards are thought to be modeled. Cards with no clear resemblance to modern decks may have been known in Korea and China perhaps as early as the 10th Century. Per Chatto, cards of some kind were invented in China around 1120 CE, in the reign of Seun-Ho, for one of the emperors concubines. Douglas questions this. Evolutions of this concept were introduced into Europe through the Islamic world during the last quarter of the 14th century. This may or may not have had important stops or branchings in India and Persia.
906-989, Five Dynasties, Chen Tuan produces the Wujitu.
1017-1073, Northern Song Dynasty, Zhou Dunyi produces the Taijitu.
1174, The Sepher Bahir or Book of Brightness, discusses the Sephiroth and speaks of a tree, but without any clear description.
1248-1323, Joseph Gikatilla’s Sha’arei Ora or Portae Lucis (Gates of Light), refers to a tree, describing three triads on central pillar. Translated later by Riccius into Latin (1516).
1332-1367, some references suggest that playing cards were in use in Spain and beyond during these years. The 1332 reference (Taylor) asserts that King Alphonse of Leon and Castille prohibited their use. This is questionable. 1367 is a better-attested prohibition in Bern, Switzerland.
1360’s-1370’s, Mamluk Egyptian playing cards, with Islamic roots, introduced into Italy through North Africa and perhaps Moorish Spain, a 52-card deck, with three court folk (King, Emir, Wazir), but no human figures.
1370’s, playing cards are mentioned as being prohibited in Spain, France, and Italy.
1377, a Dominican friar named Johannes von Rheinfelden, writes “Tractatus de moribus et disciplina humane conversationis.” Describes cards in a sermon. The date is suspect and may be 1372 (Kaplan V.1).
1379, Covelluzo, a chronicler, describes a game of cards introduced into Viterbo, “which came from the Saracens and was called Naibs” in Arabic.
15th Century, era of Triumph processions, of allegorical figures of virtues, costumes and floats. Gertrude Moakley advances the theory that this underpins at least many of the Trumps.
1419, Cristoforo Buondelmonti wrote of Egyptian hieroglyphica, sparking the European interest in the mysteries of Egypt.
1430’s-1470’s, Bonifacio Bembo's art studio produced the earliest known Tarot decks.
1438, the Greeks come to Italy to patch up Christianity at the Council of Ferrara, bringing some Kabbalistic materials.
1442, account books of D'Este court of Ferrara show a painter Sagramoro receiving money for the production of four Trionfi (Triumph or Trump) playing card decks. Trumps are created as 5th suit added to playing cards. Many writers assert incorrectly that the 52-card deck evolved from the 78. Rather, four court cards and 22 trumps were added to the 52.
1440’s, Trionfi Tarot cards are created for the Italian Visconti family by Bonifacio Bembo's art studio. The Visconti-Sforza tarot decks c.1450 may be the best known and most influential on later card designs.
1440, a Platonic academy forms in Florence, dedicated to Neoplatonism, and also magia, a Christianized magic.
1453 Constantinople is invaded by Turks, trapping Eastern Orthodox delegates in Italy, and bringing the Corpus Hermeticum to Europe.
1460, Leonardo of Pistola, an Italian monk is exposed to the Corpus Hermeticum in Macedonia, and brought a Greek manuscript to Italy, translated by Ficino in 1463.
1463-1494, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, brought Kabbalah into the Western Mystery Tradition, but too late to be considered a Trump source.
1465-1470 Mantegna Arcana cards appear in Italy, a 50-card deck depicting essential cultural memes. It’s structured in five ranks, designated by letters, expressed in ten steps, expressed in numbers, ascribed to Botticelli and Baldini. May show an influence from Lull and his 'ars combintoria.'
1487, the Mainz Fortune Telling Book uses the playing card deck, with no trumps.
1490, the first versions of the Marseilles stream of Tarot decks.
Late 15th Century, the Sola-Busca Tarocchi, shows the first full scenes on the Pip cards, not done again until Smith in 1909, except that Giacomo Recchi, 1820, has figures that appear on the Fours.
1500, The earliest list of the Major Arcana as we know it today is given in the Latin Manuscript Sermones de Ludo Cumalis. (See Kaplan).
1510-1581, Guillaume Postel translates the Sepher Yetzirah, Bahir and Zohar (1552) into Latin.
1516, the first known graphic illustration of the Tree of Life appears on the cover of Paul Ricci's translation of Joseph Gikatilla’s Gates of Light, around the beginning of the Safed school of Kabbalah.
1522–1570, Moses Cordovero (Remak) published a graphic version of the Tree of Life.
1527, First recorded use of cards in divination, 'when in Merlini Cocai's verse drama Chaos del Triperuno, several noblepeople had their fortunes told with the cards.' (Kaplan V3Pxiv).
1534-1572, Isaac Luria, the Ari, published a graphic version of the Tree of Life. Ari's Tree of Life had paths that differed from Kircher’s, published later. Luria revived Gnostic imagery in Kabbalistic terms.
1550, Minor Arcana are fairly standard (Dummett) except for the titles of Court nobility.
1600, The first sets of the Trumps with which we are now familiar. The Tower and the Devil, the last to join, were not in any Bembo collection, while Faith, Hope and Charity appeared in in earlier decks.
1602-1680, Athanasius Kircher, per Moshe Idel, makes a linear assignment of letters to paths on the Tree of Life, in accord with a known Jewish tradition, but differing from that of the Ari and the Safed school of Kabbalah. Kircher published a depiction of the Tree of Life for the Europeans in 1652, based upon a 1625 version by Philippe d'Aquin.
1636-1689, Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, wrote Kabbalah Denudata.
1660-1665, the Marseilles stream of Tarot decks, achieved more standard form after Vivelle and Noblet Tarots are published. The most influential decks in the earlier days, and the cards known to de Geblin.
1725-1784, Court de Geblin, 1781 Le Monde Primitif, V 8, section Le Jeu des Tarots, first notes what he thinks is a strong Egyptian tone in Tarot. He is the first to attribute Hebrew letters to the Trumps and first to use the term Book of Thoth.
1738-1791, Etellia, or Jean-Baptiste Alliette, in 1883, took the Egyptian Tarot association over the top and popularized it.
1781, Comte de Mellet's essay “Study on the Tarots,” often included with de Geblin’s work, is significant for his explicit linking of the individual trumps with the individual Hebrew letters.
1767-1825, Antoine Fabre d'Olivet spearheaded a revival of Hebrew language studies, influencing Levi and Papus. Also led a revival of Neo-Pythagoreanism.
1771-1839, Eusebe Salverte, 1829, wrote Des Sciences Occultes. Occult Sciences: The Philosophy of Magic, Prodigies and Apparent Miracles, tr. into English 1846 by Anthony Todd Thomson.
1783-1858, Samuel Weller Singer, an historian of card games, introduced the Arabic origin theory.
1804-1886, Jean Alexandre Vaillant, in 1857, contributed convincingly to the erroneous association of the Tarot to the Gypsies, who were thought to be Egyptians.
1810-1875, Eliphas Levi, supported the Kabbalistic origin, popularized the Alef-Beth to Trump connection first noticed by Court de Geblin, and established Tarot as a part of Renaissance Hermeticism. He placed the Fool with Shin and the Magician with Aleph.
1811-1877, Paul Christian, associated the 22 Trumps with an ancient Egyptian wall of initiation.
1848-1925, Willian Wynn Westcott, founded the Golden Dawn, obtained the 'Cypher Manuscript' in 1886, which correlated letters to paths and formed a major cornerstone for the Golden Dawn system.
1854-1918, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. 1888 Golden Dawn booklet The Tarot: Its Occult Signification. Tied the Pips to the Decans and the Hebrew letter Aleph to the Fool. Suggested that the 22 Trumps could be constructed, following their numerical order, into what he called a "connected sentence,” leading eventually to the idea of the Fool's Journey once the Fool was placed at the beginning of the sequence. Mathers and the Golden Dawn popularized working from multiple magical or conceptual systems (nested analogies) instead of single grimoires. Rituals were interdisciplinary and crossed cultures.
1857-1942, Arthur E. Waite, published The Pictorial Key to the Tarot in 1910.
1860-1943, Oswald Wirth, 1927 The Tarot of the Magicians. Deck description, Egyptian slant, trumps only, with original designs.
1860, the Fool joins the older 52-card deck as the Joker.
1861-1899, Marquis Stanislas de Guaita, in Le Serpent de la Genese (2 vols, 1891 & 1897). A French school, with a more mystical interpretation of the Tarot cards.
1865-1916, Papus (Gérard Encausse), 1892 The Tarot of the Bohemians, tries to develop meanings for the Pips. Included numerology & reduction to single digits.
1875-1948, Aleister Crowley, writes extensively on Tarot from 1912, and throughout his career, but doesn’t publish The Book of Thoth until 1944.
1878-1951, Pamela Colman Smith, the commissioned artist for Waite's Tarot deck, first published by Rider in 1909. The Rider-Waite deck is referred to here as the Smith deck to give credit where due.
1884-1954, Paul Foster Case, 1975 The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. Case is the first Taroist to cite Jung's collective unconscious.
1888, Golden Dawn founded.
1909. Pamela Coleman-Smith introduces vignettes for the Pips, original except for the 3 of Swords and the Ten of Wands (now Swords) from the Sola-Busca Tarocchi.
Correspondences, or the drawing of extended connections and correlations between separate systems of ideas, are the second foundation in the way that systems of occult linguistics and correlative thought are developed, following the initial cornerstones that are found within an original system’s culture of origin. While they seldom demonstrate exact equivalences, these systems inform each other and in this way co-evolve. This is particularly relevant to the relationship between the Tarot and Hermetic Qabalah, which evolved roughly concurrently but had no historical connection at their beginning. Both, however, had put down roots into related cultural sources and therefore found it relatively easy to develop some common ground. The co-evolutionary relationship between Tarot and Astrology is also significant in an historical sense, although the best of this has come to Tarot by way of Hermetic Qabalah. More recently, fabricated connections between the Tarot and the Yijing or Book of Changes are now beginning to make contributions to our understanding of Tarot, but it is too soon to declare any significant historical influence.
Correspondences might best be thought of as nested analogies, wherein one extended system of ideas, or a symbolic language, is overlaid onto another, so that the individual parts seem to line up and can then be compared. This is frequently a stretch fit since most systems come with their own unique infrastructures, requiring a translation of the super-structure as well as the component elements. And some will try to stretch the fit even further, for example, by trying to compare five items from one set to eight from another. The most useful point, hope and purpose in doing such an exercise is to get two formerly separate systems to communicate, to mutually inform each other with an interdisciplinary cross-fertilization. We ask whether two particular symbols are each referring in their own way to the same phenomenon, and if so, what can this different perspective show us. So far in this description we are simply manipulating cognitive models to obtain a desired effect in the enhancement, enrichment and deepening of ideas. Most practitioners in the mystic arts are not content to stop here and accept that this is all we are doing. Central to much of the 'magical' thinking about correspondences is that hidden connections underlie diverse phenomena that impress the mind with similar qualities and associations. Or, to take things a step further, things with similar forms are informed by same divine idea. In other words, they are suggesting something like fractal self-similarity, or asserting an instance of the Hermetic maxim 'as above, so below.'
It is often assumed that these underlying connections exist in a layer of reality that lies beneath the apparent, and that the discoveries we are making were there all along. This is not always the case. Certainly, if I can correlate the number Five with the planet Mars, the Sephiroth of Geburah or severity, and the Yijing Bagua of Thunder, it is easy to see that there is a common thread here in their kinetic energy or force, and, in the anatomy of the psyche, with motive forces like muscle, emotions and drives. It is also significant that so many analogies and systems of symbols include a representative from this dimension of human experience. But there remains the question of the tangible reality of the formerly hidden connection. It is often a little too easy to lock systems together by assuming an underlying reality located in a Platonic world of ideas, instead of just noting comparisons for what they can contribute to our experience without making elaborate metaphysical assumptions. Still, we can hope that meaningful co-incidences can lead us to discoveries of human psychological universals which express themselves in similar ways in different cultures.
Perhaps the single most important thing to remember about correspondence is that the word means to co-respond, to respond together or to resonate with. It does not mean that one thing is equal to or equivalent to another. We want to avoid conflating and confusing Five with Mars, and Geburah and Thunder. Here in the Tarot we should bear in mind that Tzaddi is not the Star. These are simply ideas on loan from other systems. They are not appropriations into a single mega-system. Like our library books, we take what we need before we return them. Correspondences should never be equated. They are a call to look for properties held in common, and this is for the sake of a mutual enrichment. There is a big difference between correspondence, resonance, or yìng in Chinese, and the sameness, identity or equality that is too often assumed. There is a big difference between Tipareth and Sol, and between Yesod and Luna, and there was no historical connection during the early years of Tarot. But if you take to studying the assignments, you are sure to expand your understanding of both sides. And of course there are common meanings: Sol and Tipareth each refer in their own way to the sentient center of our being, the synergy that comes from the harmonies of life, and Luna's Priestess and Yesod to the plasticity, or the fluid and sensitive chaos that allows us to emerge in the first place.
Eliphas Levi wrote that 'Analogy was the sole dogma of the ancient magi. This dogma may indeed be called "mediator," for it is half scientific, half hypothetical; half reason, and half poetry.' (Key, p. 13). To him, there were three laws: the law of will, a subtler but still material force; the law of astral light, a field or medium of energy that could carry information; and the law of correspondence, being a natural or inherent connectivity that allowed the nesting of analogies, not merely in mutually informative ways, but also in ways that could be called upon. Ring one bell and any resonant partner would also start to vibrate. The Golden Dawn later added the law of imagination, that mental imagery could be impressed upon the astral if it was produced, sustained and directed by the will. This fourth law completes the basic model of spellcraft. The function of the correspondences or nested analogies in this process allows a practitioner to gather psychic energy from a number of sources and stimuli. In ceremonial magick, for example, the practitioner draws excitement from several sensory sources, bells and chants for auditory, dance and gesture for kinesthetic, lights and diagrams for visual, incense and perfumes for olfactory, and so on. By intention or design, these sources are all attuned to the same 'vibration.' This is the basis of sympathetic magick, where sympathy means much the same as resonance or correspondence. For Cornelius Agrippa, this was a principle in all three forms of magic: natural, celestial (talismans bearing efficacious images), and ceremonial or high magic (rising on the planes, pathworking, like shamanic magic but with more articulated maps).
There are four large problems that we encounter in translational systems of correlative thought. The first stems from a failure to understand this simple principle: if we are going to draw complex lines of interconnection between two individual systems of symbols, the effort is going to be a lot more successful if we first understand a little of both systems individually. Then we can start knitting concepts together with some initial sense of the meanings they might share. In researching this book I encountered half a dozen recent attempts to correlate the Tarot with the Book of Changes. But none were put together by authors with a working knowledge of the Yijing, in any language, much less in Chinese. There were a couple of scattered but useful insights that I was able to make some use of here, most notably a handful of Crowley’s, but for the most part the connections range from spurious to laughable. Hot little sister Dui might be connected to Mars instead of the far more obvious connection to Venus. The Mountain might be somehow be associated with the Sun, yet the authors of these systems just can’t see the meaninglessness of their links. The same thing has happened throughout the development of the Tarot, particularly in connections made to Kabbalah, Qabalah and Astrology. And some of these errors even follow upon confusions latent within their original systems. What I consider to be the major missteps will be catalogued below.
The second problem with correspondences concerns our cognitive skill sets (heuristics) known as pareidolia and apophenia, discussed briefly above. The Tarot is unique in that the elements of its vocabulary, the individual cards, are normally shuffled before they are used. They can appear in any of a practically infinite number of possible arrangements Importantly, a good reader can string together a coherent and meaningful story from any of these sequences. For now, let’s just go ahead and call them random sequences because this phenomenon will work when no question is asked of the oracle. Our minds evolved this cognitive skill over millions of years as primates. We can connect just about any given set of dots, though not always effortlessly, and sometimes with elaborate mental contortions. The thing is, we cannot assume that, because we have just told an interesting story, the random sequence of inspirational stimuli was inherently meaningful. And yet, the stories we tell about the sequence of letters in our randomly evolved alphabets are imagined to discoveries about the inscrutable minds of our deities. In this we are far too clever for our own good. We can fail to distinguish meanings which pre-exist from those of our own ad hoc design.
The third problem is closely related to the over-elaboration and tautology discussed earlier. If a symbolic language is to be useful in the real world, the interpretive grid that it superimposes onto reality will continue to hover pretty closely over that reality, instead of moving further away with multiple levels of abstraction on abstraction. And as simple as these systems are, the permutations within the organizing system, that are separate from the individual symbols and ideas, can get extremely complex. These are the maps that sojourners get lost in, believing there is more information there than in the contact with the world that the symbols are supposed to point to. The abstraction itself will become a distraction, and often just a mindless one. Now, when two systems are put together for comparison and correlation, it is often done by people caught up in the layers of both abstract superstructures. Symbols are connected together without referring them each and both back to the reality they are supposed to point to. Errors are easily compounded when the reality check is abandoned for coincidence in loftier realms.
The fourth problem concerns the momentum that cumulative error develops in cultural transmission. Take, for example, some popular author who has committed a particularly egregious error in correlating a Trump card featuring a Lion with any other sign but Leo, or one with a Scales with any other sign but Libra. Individual students build their base of knowledge from the ground up like buildings, usually on a first-come, first-used basis, using the known materials currently available. This is called bricolage, and this process is often blameless because they are novices and cannot be assumed competent to avoid such errors by using good judgment from experience. It will take a level of maturity to begin a study with high standards. When the author of an erroneous system becomes influential, students following such a system will innocently incorporate errors into their curriculum, errors which are then almost permanently protected against unlearning by cognitive bias. These students would need to almost go back and start over, sometimes having to replace the very cornerstones of their structures. Over the centuries, identifiable streams of such transmitted errors can be identified almost like genetic mutations. Cognitive bias accounts for their persistence, and the most we can hope for is that awareness of such processes will give us incentive to make the needed efforts at correction. There is a surprisingly, even shockingly, wide range of variation in such simple and foundational assignments of Suits to elements and Planets to the double letters. And not all of us have the benefits of an obsessive-compulsive disorder that finds both embarrassment and discomfort in this disgusting untidiness.
Kabbalah and Qabalah (gratuitous note: accent the last syllable, 'lah)
Tarot has adopted ideas from the Kabbalah since Mathers and Levi, both directly and by way of the Western Mystery Tradition's transformation of Kabbalah into the Western European version that we refer to as Qabalah. Both the Kabbalah and the Qabalah came late to Tarot. This does not mean that it had little impact on the Tarot as it has evolved. But only portions of this contribution make adequate sense for our purposes here. The Jewish Kabbalists don't much care for this WMT development, being inclined to keeping the tradition ancient and pure throughout, as a long historical lineage that began with Abraham. They will be the last to acknowledge Kabbalah's relatively recent emergence in medieval Europe, excepting the c. 6th century pamphlet known as the Sepher Yetzirah.
The original Kabbalah was fairly restricted to the Jewish community and guarded as such. Despite having drawn heavily from global sources like Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, and possibly even Song Dynasty Neo-confuciansm, it tries to insist of the purity of its Jewish roots, and of course it lies a lot about its antiquity and authorship. Internally it might be best understood as both a mystical side of Judaism, which accepts evolution and reincarnation, and also an attempt to uncover every last bit of information hidden in the Tanakh, the Jewish redaction of the Old Testament as written in Hebrew. Externally it might be seen as an attempt to get this information whether it exists in source texts or not, using unconstrained interpretive techniques. Besides interpreting the Tanakh and the two Talmuds, the Kabbalah has several texts of its own, most notably the Sepher Yetzirah (c. 6th cent, Book of Formation), the Sepher Bahir (1174, the Book of Brightness), the Sha’arei Ora (13th cent, Gates of Light, by Rabbi Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla) and the Sepher Zohar (13th cent, the Book of Splendor, by Moses de Leon). In the 1500s, after the Jews were expelled from Spain, a major center of Kabbalistic learning arose in Safed and produced such notable lights as Moses Cordovero (Remak, 1522–1570) and Isaac Luria (the Ari, 1534-1572).
The Sepher Yetzirah initiated the structural metaphysics of the Kabbalah, introducing the Ten Sephiroth, successive ciphers of the creation similar to the emanations of Plotinus and the Archons and Aeons of the Gnosics. They remain unnamed and uncharacterized in this work, which runs for only a few pages. Then the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are discussed as instruments of the creation and divided into three groups, Mother, Double and Single letters. This threefold division is not based on any kind of rational phonetic analysis or phonosymbolism. Aleph, Mem and Shin are the Mothers and are universally correlated with Air, Water and Fire respectively. The Seven Double letters are referred among other things to the Seven Planets of Jewish and Chaldean astrology. These are not correlated one-on-one here, although many redactions attempted this in later centuries, with almost no agreement as to which paired with what (See Kaplan, SY 178). Nobody seems to have tried to adopt the only accepted planetary sequence in circulation at the time, the Ptolemaic order based on apparent duration of orbit. The Golden Dawn adopted their own set of assignments, which also disagrees with all of the others, including the Ptolemaic, but this has become too standardized in Tarot’s evolution and has made far too many lasting contributions to Trump meanings and associations to ever disentangle the two. There is more agreement with the Twelve Simple Letters, particularly as they are correlated with the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, in the straightforward, ‘found’ sequence of the alphabet, from He as Aries to Qoph as Pisces.
The twenty-two letters of the alphabet have been assigned one-to-one correlations to the twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot. Variations exist, but the dominant one by far is the Golden Dawn’s. This is a straightforward assignment of Aleph to the Fool through Tau to the World or Universe, with one switcheroo made so that Teth relates to Strength and Leo, and Lamed to Justice and Libra. Each of the 22 letters has primary and associated traditional symbols: Aleph is an Ox, Beth a house, Gimel a camel, etc. A lot of effort has been expended trying to assert an inherent relevance between these ancient symbols and the meanings of the Tarot Trumps, but for the most part this has only been an exercise in pareidolia, imagining connections between randomly paired objects. This exercise has, however, produced a handful of happy accidents that have made good contributions to the developing Trump meanings. He as a window, for example, suggests that the self of Aries and the First House is a unique point of view on the world.
If we wanted to assume that it was in fact the mind of JHVH that created the Hebrew alphabet and then with it authored both the Tanakh and the world, then it might be more plausible to assume that the sequence of the Hebrew letters was something more than random. But most thinking folk are not equipped with this presumption, and might be convinced of both the alphabet’s randomness and even of its inferiority as an alphabet compared to a work of art like Sanskrit or the IPA. However, when we are asking why the alphabet became a full blown numerology, we need to understand that before the Jews adopted the Arabic numerals, all they had for numbers was an alphabetic notation. This was closer to decimal and considerably more elaborate than Roman numerals. But it did not lend, in a retroactive fashion, an inherent numerical meaning to the 22 letters of this alphabet. If the sequence of the Proto-Sinaitic-Phonecian-Hebrew alphabets developed at random, or as a simple bricolage, then all conceptual systems that rely on an assumption that this sequence is inherently meaningful must be viewed with suspicion. In short, the Hebrew alphabet’s numerical sequence is merely numerology, not number symbolism. Its sequence remains random with regard to inherent meanings, and therefore all subsequent systems of correspondences that are based on the numerical values of Hebrew letters have no real semiotic or meaningful content. It is as though we assigned a letter of the alphabet to 22 attendees of a class based on their order of arrival, and later had the intuition that this alphabetical order of arrival told us things about the qualities of these attendees as human beings. It just doesn’t work. We can still make up stories, however.
Twenty-two paths are said to connect the Sephiroth on the Tree of Life diagram. The routes of these appeared along with the diagram itself, and after only a few attempts at variation, settled into two alternatives, the Jewish and Hermetic. The Hermetic pattern, credited to Kircher, is the better established and regarded as canon in the West, but it’s the more problematic of the two. The assignment of the twenty-two letters of the alphabet tried to follow the dictum 'and all are linked together' in SY Vi-6, but this attempt completely ignored the very explicit description given in that same paragraph. It focused instead on the linear, numerical sequence of the alphabet, so important in Gematria, but sequentially random with respect to the alphabet's supposedly higher 3-7-12 arrangement, which is supposed to be geometrical and not linear. The European Qabalists have used this numerical sequence to assign the 22 Trumps to these 22 Paths, with no regard for whether the meanings of the Paths had any meaningful connection with the meanings of the Sephiroth that they connected. Because of this, the Golden Dawn ‘pathworking’ associations will be dismissed in this present work as nothing more than exercises in pareidolia, with no more inherent meaning than any random reshuffling would produce. This does not suggest that pathworking will offer up no valuable experience, only that it is a bunch of hooey for pathworkers to suggest that you will blow fuses by exploring the wrong or unauthorized connections and violating some ancient authority. That one has an expected experience is not surprising. But this does not make the assignment correct. The Jewish Kabbalists, notably Cordovero and Luria, arrived at entirely different assignments of letters to the Tree, as well as a slightly different structure for the 22 connecting paths. It is important to understand in this context that the system of paths that was adopted by the Golden Dawn, together with its sequential assignment of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is not the primary system developed and preferred by the Jewish Kabbalists. The Kabbalists insisted on holding somewhat truer to the Sepher Yetzirah's organization of the 22 into scales of three, seven and twelve. and made use of the fact that the paths as they drew them had 3 horizontal paths, seven vertical and twelve diagonal. So does the somewhat different path arrangement of Western Qabalah. These show more respect for geometries based on the 3-7-12 division of the alphabet, but still show little regard for path meanings as being relevant to the connected individual Sephira meanings.
To put this in slightly different terms (because it is important to the present study): we can imagine ourselves traveling from any one Sephira to any other and having, on that journey, the experience of any one of the Trumps. If this experience has been described to us beforehand, or even just named, our experience will likely have something in common with that of the person who described or named it. But this does not mean that the content of that experience is inherent in the path between those Sephiroth. It has been imposed. In order for meaning to inhere in that path, the experience would begin with an experience of the meaning of the Sephira of origin, and conclude with an experience of the Sephira that is our destination. The 22 pathways of the Golden Dawn system fail to do this. They are simply, and rather mindlessly, based on an application of the numerological sequence of the Hebrew alphabet, no more than an arbitrary system of nominal enumeration, with an accidental sequence of letter order for its origin.
In short, with regard to the Hebrew alphabet and its relationship to the 22 Trumps, the real essence of the Kabbalah’s contribution boils down to there being useable scales of three, seven and twelve to be explored within the set of 22 trumps. A Trump study will allow us to also examine related triads, heptads, duodecads. There may also be something to explore in the ratio of 22/7, which has been associated with the mysterious number Pi since Archimedes, who also knew that this was only an imperfect approximation.
The Tree of Life or Otz Chayyim is a diagram that consists fundamentally of the Ten Sephiroth, Spheres or Ciphers, arranged in a geometrical pattern in the 16th century. This pattern was first seen in 10th and 11th century China in the form of Chen Tuan’s Wujiu and Zhou Dunti’s Taijitu. Unless this was a remarkable evolutionary convergence or coincidence, the pattern would have come to Europe most likely by an Islamic route of transmission, perhaps following some Mongolian dissemination. There was certainly enough global communication by this time to permit such transmission. The Tree became the primary vehicle for describing the sequential ontological process by which the Divine created the World, a unique Jewish adaptation of Neoplatonic emanationism and Gnostic creation theory. This purports to describe how the infinite unmanifest might have become the finite manifest in ten stages of emanation. But it is not at all necessary to accept this metaphysical theory to find this arrangement and its sequence interesting and useful. The same sequence can also be seen in other fields, perhaps most strikingly describing the self-organization of energy systems of increasing complexity at entropic energy gradients. Furthermore, the sequence can be reversed to chart the ascent of the created being 'back' into higher and simpler expressions of the divine. A strikingly precise example of this can be found in the Ten Ox Herding Pictures of Zen lore, which parallel and contribute to the Sephira meanings point by point.
The meanings of the Ten Sephiroth are absolutely indispensable to understanding the number symbolism that was developed in the WMT and Qabalah, which coevolved with our understanding of the forty Pip cards of the Tarot. These will be discussed at some necessary length in a section below on the Ten Numbers.
If the Otz Chayyim was adapted from the Wujitu-Taijitu tradition, little modidication would have been required. The second sphere down in the Chinese version, a forerunner of the Yin-Yang symbol, would have been teased apart to show Chokmah and Binah as being separate. The Jews would have little use for the five central spheres being assigned to the Chinese Wu Xing or Five Phases, so these would have been re-tagged with the names of the Sephiroth Chesed through Hod. Beyond that, no imagination is required. The Chinese diagrams even had a circle for Daath.
Daath, Knowledge, the false Sephira, warrants a mention here. It signifies the problems of gnosis, point of view and individual existence. It is located on the threshold of the Abyss between Binah and Chesed, where the Gnostic Sophia hung her veil. It is more apt to reflect what we want to see back to us than show us what the other side is like. It’s the reason Buddha was an atheist: we see what our finitude will allow us to see, or what our suffering wants for relief. At the same time it represents the ability to cross the Abyss with our hearts still beating, if we can only get rid of most of our narcissism, delusion, and egotism, and accept our limitations and finitude.
The Kabbalistic idea of the Four Worlds or Olamot (Olam singular) have made a small contribution to our understanding of the Suits of the small cards. These are successive layers of condensation of the divine light during creation, which parallel the movement of the creative force moving down through the Sephiroth. Some believe that there are four interconnected Trees, with the Ten Sephiroth expressed in each world prior to descent into the next world down, making creation a forty-step process, rather than ten. While this is a classic case of overelaboration in a tautological reality, or getting lost in the map, it still offers a useful suggestion to look at each Sephira as it is expressed in each of four Worlds, and therefore a Qabalistic perspective on each Number as expressed in each Suit. The four Worlds are Atziluth (Emanation, Divine Will), Briah (Creation, Prima Materia), Yetzirah (Formation, Law) and Assiah (Material and its Activities). These parallel the Suits of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, respectively, except for the fact that the Olamot are regarded as significantly more hierarchical, with the world of Atziluth being closer to Ein Sof, or the Unlimited, whereas the four Suits are closer to being regarded as coequals.
In case it isn’t obvious by now, the approach taken here to Astrology is also linguistic and does not assume that this discipline has or needs to have anything whatsoever to do with the stars, or with any influence of the physical planets. As a language, however, it is plenty interesting. It is not our purpose here to praise, study or belittle the efforts of astrologers to justify this old tapestry of symbols as a respectable science. Neither is whether or how Astrology 'works' of any concern. The question of its metaphysical validity is irrelevant here. This much we know: at least since history began, some form of Astrology more complex than the simple measurement of times and seasons has accompanied every major civilization. Sidereal observation is even at the root of the words disaster and consider.
During these past few millennia, human beings have subjected themselves to complex, confusing and unnatural forms of psychological stress, leaving themselves in need of a way of looking at themselves (a psychology) which did not yet exist. The prototypical psychologist, perhaps a wizard or priest, needed three things in order to deliver on his society's need for counseling: a) a science of his own to understand the machinery of the mind and its interface with its ecosystem, b) a simple language to use as a vehicle for delivering his observations, and 3) a powerful mystique to instill some credulity (a more pressing need than credibility) in the minds of those in need of advice. Clearly the most powerful and mysterious thing in the universe was the universe. And he had ready-made divisions of the grand scheme in any systems developed for timekeeping and agriculture. All he had to do was embed a notion like ‘as above, so below,’ or suggest that things were interconnected in meaningful ways. These needs constituted and still describe the context of Astrology's youth. The significant point is that Astrology has had thousands of years to adjust or attune itself to human needs, regardless of its metaphysical accuracy. It has learned what people like to hear. It is foremost a language constructed for the purpose of guidance through times of doubt and stress. The credulous, however, continue to invest it with a much grander mystique.
The compulsion to go too far in overelaborating a simple cognitive system has been as active in Astrology as anywhere else. The permutations of inventible ideas exceed the scope of the human mind, as the great mounds of books on the subject will attest. This mass of available conjecture presents an ominous challenge to the novice and threatens to preclude an understanding of the simplicity of the basic system. We will attempt at least a partial remedy here by presenting, as concisely as possible, definitions of Astrology's most fundamental concepts and operations.
Astrology is a language. The chart is a paragraph. A Planet in a Sign and a House is a complete sentence, which is connected to other sentences in a paragraph by the Aspects. Unlike English paragraphs, the sentences or clauses do not follow one another in a linear sequence but relate to each other reciprocally and simultaneously as a gestalt. A second difference between Astrology and English is that its limited vocabulary of less than a hundred words is defined connotatively instead of denotatively: the concepts evoke and accrue meanings and key words around a core or key meaning which cannot be described in a single word. The four major parts of speech here (Planet, Sign, House and Aspect), together with a few more atomic components (such as tense and gender) that help define both vocabulary elements and the rules for combining them, constitute the language's grammar. This is not analogy or metaphor. Some may argue that such a purely linguistic approach divorces the science of Astrology from the sky and places the responsibility and the purview of the science purely within the human psyche. It perhaps even suggests that the science is an invention and not a discovery. But there are no lines between the stars and the sky is not divided. There are no two's, three's, four's or twelve's up there. They are not needed or useful above - only below. The mesh of the net we have cast across the deep of the cosmos can only be drawn around make-believe fish. But what we can make ourselves believe can tell us many things about ourselves.
The Planets are the subjects of the sentences and clauses. It may help to view them as verbs or gerunds instead of nouns. Ultimately, they are huge, complicated rocks in orbit around our star, upon which we projected our gods. Even in the beginning, these gods were part of ourselves, our 'I' diffracted into its multiple aspects. The Planets in Astrology symbolically divide our entity into functional parts, parts of the psyche or soul, kinds of personal identity, dimensions of experience, potentials for action or modes of personal being (e.g. desiring, empowering, incorporating, etc.).
The Signs of the zodiac are most similar to adverbs (specifically, intransitive adverbial predicates). The twelve Signs divide life's ways of behaving into twelve types or qualities of behaving, much as matter may be said to burn, ooze, blow, blow up, be boring, etc. As adverbs, they describe a Planet-subject's propensities or preferences for ways to come into play (affectively, cognitively, behaviorally, etc), or its modus operandi. This is the Planet's how, its most comfortable means of expression, recurrent character or favorite way of feeling.
The Houses are similar to prepositional phrases (specifically, transitive prepositional predicates). These twelve divide life's more objective realms into where's, twelve typical classes of contexts, such as selfhood, home, vocation, relationship, etc. As prepositional predicates they describe a Planet-subject's wont, propensity or preference for certain situations, contexts, issues or places to manifest. They tend to be its favorite outlet or channel of expression. This does not mean that the Planet will be successful in or adapt to these realms, only that the issues will tend to recur.
Three tenses are embedded in the meanings of both the twelve Signs and the twelve Houses. These are the three 'qualities.' Through the Signs they are called cardinal, fixed and mutable, and through the Houses, angular, succedent and cadent. These do not equate with our more familiar tenses of past, present and future except by a stretch fit. They are compounds of both synchronic (same time) and diachronic (through time) elements and are defined by a conglomerate of notions. The first tense tends to concentrate on origins, the second on presence and maintenance, and the third on changes and adaptability. This forems a parallel to the divine forces of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Vedanta.
Four genders are also embedded in the meanings of both the Signs and Houses. There are the four classical Elements of fire, earth, air and water (in their zodiacal order) and the four 'Quadruplicities,' unnamed, through the Houses. Among other things, these can be related to Jung's four personality types, intuiting, sensing, thinking and feeling, taken in the order above.
The Planets, or parts of the self, operating through the energy of a Sign, in the realm of a House, form the complete but dependent clause of the paragraph. It still remains for us to weave these together into a whole paragraph.
The Aspects are akin to conjunctions (specifically, hypotactic interdependent modes) which work in both directions at once. They relate the dependent clauses one to the other, simultaneously and reciprocally in specific ways (e.g. cooperates with, at cross purposes to, etc). Unaspected clauses can be viewed as paratactically conjoined (as by semicolons), not really independent, since self is not really split into parts. The Aspects thus describe the integration of experience within and among the various dimensions of selfhood. They may refer, for instance, to the way the mind relates to the heart. If the Planets represent our personal energies, then the Aspects represent the biomechanics operative prior to their personal output.
The Ascendant, or rising Sign, ties the entire grid of Houses and points to a separately rotating wheel of the zodiac based on the horizons. This is Astrology's equivalent of the theme sentence introducing a paragraph. It sets an interpretive tone for the entire gestalt. It is the equivalent of selecting and establishing a reference coordinate system in the language of analytic geometry. Lastly, the paragraph is peppered with assorted forms of punctuation, planet-like constructs, modifiers, interjections and complex logical loops. There are also meta-structural features, unusual coincidences, such as groupings of Planets in a quadrant, House, element or Sign, or the lack or dominance of a particular element. In such cases, some specific term or structural component of the language can assume as much importance as a clause.
The action of the seven classical Planets are first represented in the Tarot by the seven Trumps associated with the double letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the more recently discovered Uranus and Neptune with two of the Mother letters. Uranus is often associated with Air, Aleph and the Fool, but I wish to take a corrective action here and say this is a silly attribution and fails to understand the more serious character of Uranus. It conflates two very different kinds of unpredictability. This awakening, radical and revolutionary character is better represented by Fire, Shin and Judgment, despite the fact that Uranus was later given to Aquarius, an air sign. In making this change, we have bumped poor Pluto out of the picture (the poor, pitiful, moon-sized thing returns in symbolic form later). This leaves the Fool without an Astrological attribution, which might just suit him and his lack of specificity.
Secondarily, the Planets are correlated to the ten Numbers of the Pip cards. This comes by way of their association with the ten Sephiroth as overlain onto the Tree of Life. This overlay was made by the Golden Dawn, and follows the Ptolemaic sequence up the Tree: Terra, Luna, Mercury, Venus, Sol, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. This works extremely well for Malkuth, Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tipareth, Geburah and Chesed. However, contrary to Golden Dawn and Crowleyan assertions, it falls apart utterly when we try to associate Saturn with Binah, the Great Mother. It just doesn’t work, despite the mental gymnastics they do about darkness. It just isn't right to darken the meaning of Binah so far in order to accommodate an incorrect assignment to Saturn. I would submit that the resonance is much stronger between Saturn and either Daath or Kether, depending on whether self is viewed from within self or sub specie aeternitatis. Bear in mind that Saturn was, until recently, the last of the Planets and so took on most of its meanings in relation to finitude, the ultimate limits that the mortal being is subject to. Binah as Understanding and the Great Mother is more liberating than that. There is a Saturn that is a reflection of our fears projected onto the Abyss, which became Satan for some, and then there is the Saturn who is the Great One of the Night of Time, Kronos, father of the Olympian gods. This bold reassignment is further supported by the graphic hexagram used by the WMT, the six pointed star, Magen David or of Shield of David, fit onto the Tree of Life, with the center being Sol and Tiparerth and the bottom being Luna and Yesod. Saturn then falls squarely on the sphere of Daath. This is shown graphically in the Numbers section below.
Moving Saturn away from Binah leaves us able to accommodate a much more rational assignment of the outer planet pair of Neptune and Uranus to the complementary spheres Binah and Chokmah, Understanding and Wisdom, Infinity Complexity and Infinite Order, Chaos and Cosmos, Field and Vector. This also accommodates a rational development of Bagua correspondences with Kun and Qian, Accepting and Creating, as discussed in the next section.
It should be noted here that the Planets, when viewed as agents or operatives in the activities represented by the Pips, are not really the subjective experiences they are when they appear as Trumps. The Pips are said to depict forces and circumstances, and are not said to depict subjective states. They are more objectified forces, having the character of the Planets, and they are narrowed even further in their scope by limitation to one of the four Suits or Elements. This does, however, point out a way to better understand each of the Pips by trying to subjectivize the experience. For example, one imagines being the force that overturns three of the five cups, or being the owners of the eight swords who tie that poor woman up.
The association of the Trumps to seven specific Planets in Astrology had limiting or narrowing effects on the meaning of the Trumps as well. In the most obvious of these, Jupiter was no longer the go-to association for the Emperor, Mars no longer for the Chariot, Luna no longer for the Moon. These cards began to take on fresher meanings that were more compatible with Aries, Cancer and Pisces respectively. At the same time, the planetary assignments bring a subjectivity to some of the Trumps that otherwise would only depict objective situations: Mars now adds a first person sense to the Tower, Jupiter to the Wheel, Saturn to the Universe, and Uranus to Judgment.
If we were coming into this subject cold, it might seem reasonable to assume that if there were a set of associations between the Trumps and the Signs of the Zodiac that one would start looking for Leo in a card depicting a Lion, for Libra in a card depicting the Scales, for Capricorn in a card depicting something Goatish, and for Aquarius in a card depicting a Water Bearer. Were we to make this assumption, we could start looking for systems of correspondences that concurred here, and begin dismissing authors who failed to make such obvious connections as 'not playing with a full deck.' There is a shocking amount of disagreement here, but there are systems which have hit upon all four of the above, which give us a place to begin. The Golden Dawn sect took the insight and forced the Trumps into a much better alignment with Astrological and Kabbalistic sequence by reversing Strength and Justice in their earlier sequence.
There is an additional discovery here that isn’t often observed. As most may know, the Signs of the Zodiac have a natural affinity with specific houses, in a sequence from Aries and the First House through Pisces and the Twelfth House. Now if you look closely at the traditional key words that accompany descriptions of the twelve Trumps that are assigned to the Zodiac, you will find that these words are actually encountered more frequently in the descriptions of the Houses to which these Signs have their most natural affinity. The Trumps that are now traditionally assigned to the Signs of the zodiac actually feel more like animated versions of the natural Houses of those Signs. Compare, for example, key words for the Moon card with those for Pisces and for the Twelfth House. But the Trumps are not prepositional phrases in the language of the Tarot, like they are in Astrology. If we are going to make use of this, we need to look at the Trumps as subjects. Consequently, we might shift the association of these Trumps to the full expression of their dignity. So rather than simply use Aries for the Emperor, we can use Mars dignified in Aries in the First House.
The Signs also find much resonance in twelve of the sixteen Court cards, and these are sufficient to carry the personalities of the astrological Signs. There are two ways to go about this. The simplest and most straightforward uses the notion that both the Signs and the Court are pormanteaus of tense and gender, or a quality and an element. If we assign the tenses of cardinal, fixed and mutable to King, Prince and Queen and let the elements and suits be, then we have the King of Wands as Cardinal Fire or Aries, the Prince of Pentacles as Fixed Earth or Taurus, etc.
The second method of assigning the Court to the zodiac will be dismissed here as more systemic overelaboration. In order to bolster claims of great antiquity for the Tarot, early developers of the occult versions reached for an ancient and then-abandoned system of parsing the ecliptic into 36 slices called Decans or Decantes, three for each Sign of the zodiac. See also. This was an Egyptian system and antedated the Chaldean (Babylonian) simplification of 12 Signs. The Golden Dawn then assigned each of the Court to the third Decan of one sign and the first two of the next. This system is available elsewhere, both in books and online. It complicates and compromises the purity of the core conception of the Court. It's doubtful whether these complicated assignments have really been analyzed in any serious detail by someone competent in astrological interpretation. They seem to have merely been accepted on the authority of earlier authors.
The same overelaboration was done with 36 of the Pips cards. Each Decan was given a systematically, but otherwise arbitrarily, assigned Pip and planetary ruler. This provided an association of a Planet acting through a Sign, through which to elaborate divinatory meanings. Working backwards through this development, however, it is hard to see how this could possibly have been fundamental to the meanings of the cards in question. We can easily see how a connection might be drawn between Mars in a Fire Sign and the Five of Wands, since Mars is known to be appropriate to Geburah, the Fifth Sephira, and Wands represent Fire. But the Golden Dawn assignment to Saturn in Leo is lot more confusing. Similarly, the Queen of Cups, as the Watery or Mutable part of Water, would seem a natural fit to the zodiac Sign of Pisces or Mutable Water. Assignment to the last Decan of Gemini and the first two of Cancer makes no sense at all, at least to someone who knows the more straightforward language of Astrology. This was another needless and not very useful complication, and a feeble attempt to forge an antique patina for the cards.
Finally, the four Princesses or Pages were given by the Golden Dawn to four quadrants around the North pole. Crowley thought this made sense, but it never really did, and never had any practical use. In searching for an alternative, I happened to notice that the key words used consistently for the Princesses or Pages actually lined up pretty well with those used by astrologers for the Lunar North Node. This substitution has been made here, so that the Princess of Wands might get some meaningful contribution from observations of the North Node in Fire signs.
Yijing (I Ching)
Various attempts have been made in the last century to tie the Yijing into the Western Mystery Tradition's systems. Aleister Crowley took the early lead here. Significantly, he was able to tie the 16 Court cards to 16 of the Gua (Hexagrams) by analyzing them as portmanteaus of the Yijing's representations of the four elements as four of the Bagua (Eight Trigrams) permuted amongst themselves. Elemental Fire was represented by Zhen or Thunder, Water by Dui or Wetland, Air by Xun or Penetrating Wind, and Earth by Gen or Mountain. So, for example, the watery expression of fire (Queen of Wands) would resonate with Wetland (Water) over Thunder (Fire), which is the Gua of Following, or Thunder in the Lake, suggesting responsiveness to a pulse, getting into the rhythm of things, going with the flow. Interestingly, when these 16 assignments are plotted onto the 8x8 graphic presentation of the Gua as a sequence of binary numbers (called the Xian Tian or Primal Heaven arrangement) the plot shows bilateral symmetry, a property which is characteristic of all of the Yijing's own structural dimensions. It remained to also tie the other four Bagua to the Elements. This works by also assigning Li or Flame to Fire, Kan or Water to Water, Tian or Heaven to Air and Kun or Earth to Earth. Karen Witter (source not known) agrees with this reiteration of the four elements in the eight Bagua. The first set of four, which Crowley identified, she called the attributional elements, and the latter set of four the archetypal elements. Her terminology is adopted here. These two sets are something like local and generalized versions of each of the elements. Gen or Mountain, for example, is local earth, while Kun or Earth is the broader conception of earthliness.
A Westerner might want to see Tian or Heaven as Fire, but the Chinese conception of Heaven is much different than the West's: Heaven is more of an intelligibility than an intelligence. In China the parents of the family of four are not Fire and Water, as they are in the West, but Heaven and Earth, or Air and Earth. Heaven is not a creator god who drives existence with his inscrutable purposes, but the intelligible clockworks of a natural order of being, or natural law. In China, the symbols of the Earth assumed most of the oceanic associations that were attributed in the West to Water, perhaps in part because the center of ancient Chinese civilization was found far inland and the great seas were a more remote experience. What we in the West call ‘oceanic’ experiences and symbolize with big water are taken up by the Zhouyi conception of a wide and fertile Earth. Interestingly, the Mawangdui text of the Zhouyi calls the Kun hexagram ‘Chuan,’ Stream, Water or Flow. Curious, too, is that the mare (depicted in this hexagram) is sacred to Neptune, her creator in Greek mythology. Remember that in these symbolic languages, the symbol is not what is being referred to: the symbol is only meant to evoke a state of mind. Not the finger, but the Moon.
Crowley also took a good run at associating the Bagua to eight of the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, particularly as they are correlated to the seven Planets of Astrology. He succeeded well with six of them, but bungled two by relating Gen to Netzach or Venus, and Dui to Chesed or Jupiter. Anybody who knows Venus will correlate her instead with our flirty and saucy little sister Dui, leaving Gen to be represented by either Jupiter or Saturn. Actually, Gen is problematic because it has both of these aspects. As a force of equilibrium, equanimity, stability and a higher, less-needy kind of love, this is Jupiterian or Jovian. As a force that stops us or brings us up short, it is Saturnian. Here we are using Gen as it resonates with Jupiter and giving Saturn a higher purpose. Such a system then makes possible a portmanteau analysis of the 40 Pip cards, if we take the upper Bagua or Trigram to represent the Suit (as a Predicate) and the lower to represent the Number (as a Subject).
Crowley's remaining Yijing assignments were sporadic, disordered, and weak, as were the efforts of several of the new age writers who have attempted the task by intuiting or channeling their assignments without any use of structure, or a good grasp of the core meanings of the Gua and the Bagua. Others, who have relied wholly on structure, have followed Crowley's lead and attempted to go further. Whitcomb does not overreach, staying comfortably within Chinese tradition. Hulse makes an effort, but is hampered by Crowley's errors and missing information. Skinner has attempted a fuller interconnection, but has relied for his sources on apocryphal Han Dynasty numerology (Han Yiweishu), religious Daoist (Daojiao) metaphysical speculation and Feng Shui, most of which have completely abandoned the basic meanings of the Bagua in favor of endless structural speculation, all of which lie outside of the Yijing as its own tradition (called Yixue or Yi Studies). In this way, Skinner winds up doing too many silly things like assigning Water to Mercury, Mountain to the Sun and Wind to Jupiter. Without the attention due to inherent meanings of correlated elements there can be no resonance or correspondence, unless you are running on pure pareidolia, in which case you can connect anything.
What nobody else has seemed to have noticed with regard to a possible resonant (but still non-historical) connection between the Tarot and the Yijing is that if you add up the number of all of the Yijing's recognized diagrams you get 64 + 8 + 4 + 2 = 78. The key is in understanding that 64 of these would have to be developed as portmanteaus of the Bagua in their inner (Zhen) and outer (Hui) positions, as we saw in Crowley's Court, and the remaining 14 would have to remain as simpler constructions, which lend themselves to Trumps. There is, of course, an inherent problem here in that the Trumps, Court and Pips (as well as the Gua, Ba Gua, Xiang and Yao) would then lose any sense of their organizational hierarchy and all be set on a level field. Within such a system the Tarot’s own hierarchy would be held in abeyance, so that the Trumps, Court and Pips are at least temporarily peers. But, once again, we are not looking for exact equivalencies for two historically independent systems. We are simply looking for resonance, and for whatever information this can provide. When we superimpose more complex systems like Tarot, Astrology, Qabalah and Yijing over each other, the very different meta-structural systems get bent or stretched a little. Elements of each language might have to change part of speech or some other property. Sentence structures will get altered. The most critical thing is that the individual or component elements resonate with each other, and in doing so, communicate some meanings back and forth. This is a lot easier when we get into smaller scales and simpler patterns, like four-armed mandalas, or the ten-sphere Tree of Life.
The Pips-to-Yijing correspondences were pretty straightforward for the Two’s through the Nine’s. The Bagua ties to the Sephiroth and the Planets were important keys to this arrangement, even more so after Crowley’s two errors had been corrected. That is said with all due respect for what he did manage to accomplish. The four archetypal Bagua in the upper Hexagram position determined the Suit and the lower Bagua, eight of the ten Numbers. The Aces and Tens were more of a challenge. There were eight Gua left to assign to eight Pips. Eventually a rational explanation presented itself. The four Suits were given to the ‘attributional’ Bagua in the upper position, leaving the lower Bagua to determine whether this was an Ace or a Ten. Since the Aces are of a somewhat neonatal character, just getting started in life, without much momentum, these were left to rest supported but not powered, on Kun. The Tens, which are being driven to the limits of the element and beyond, were taken to be pushed to their extremes by sitting on top of Qian. This was the combination where the meanings seemed to resonate best, and they actually helped when translating the Chinese text.
Thankfully, one thing that these systems have in common is a portmanteau morphology and two-part symbols tend to predominate in the larger vocabulary. Even the signs of the zodiac are in part portmanteaus, of tense and gender, or quality and element. Following Crowley’s lead, this formed a reliable system to work with. The system presented here is of recent invention, only in use since 1976. It might present a challenge to someone who has already taken seriously one of the other systems in circulation, and it might even prove too much of a challenge for someone to unlearn the few Crowleyan assignments that have been altered here. The only claim to validity here is rational analysis and some decades of testing to justify this system. It was emphatically not given to anybody by the Ascended Masters of some White Light Brotherhood or any other ancient authority. This is, however, the first time that Tarot-to-Yijing assignments have been made by someone who has the studied the Yijing in this kind of depth and translated it from the Chinese.
There is a lot more supplementary material available that pertains to both the Yijing and Tarot as symbol systems capable of correlation. This has been edited and assembled as a 35-page pdf document available here as a Supplement.
Component Ideas in the Minor Arcana
The Four Suits
Dividing the world by four, as a conceptual exercise that yields what is called a Scale of Four, was probably done before the Greek Empedocles (c. 490-430 BCE), but his is our first surviving account. This quadruplicity is nearly universal in human cultures. It is best known in the west as the four Greek elements: fire, water, air and earth; in the realm of human experience as father, mother, son and daughter; in our need to grow food as summer, winter, spring and autumn; and in our need to remain oriented as south, north, east and west. As our cultures began to communicate, a lasting cross-fertilization began, with long lists of attributes accruing to these four groups of meanings. But often, due to cultural differences and to differing sets of shared associations, there is not a similar universality in what goes into each of the four categories. As such, there is no perfect system of translation between all of these culturally-based systems. Often there is at least one set that can be truly annoying. To make matters worse, people who originate new systems of conceptualization using Scales of Four are frequently less than careful, not fully informed, or not in full possession of reasoning skills. There is a surprising amount of disagreement among early writers on the Tarot as to what corresponds with what. And much of this can even be called embarrassing. That said, the set of associations to the Four that is presented below is what I believe to be the best we can do. It is largely derived from the Golden Dawn system of attributions. In the Tarot, Fire-Wands-Kings, Water-Cups-Queens, Air-Swords-Princes and Earth-Pentacles-Princesses are correlated together.
There are a few different ways to arrange the four, both linearly and geometrically. The first is as a family, the sequence in which more books than not are arranged (including this one). These are Father, Mother, Son and Daughter:
The second is the original Empedoclean order, by the increasing weight or density, as we move downward:
The third is the X-shaped geometry patterned on the fixed signs of the Zodiac. This is the arrangement of the Four Kerubs, as seen in the Wheel of Fortune and World Trumps of the Tarot, and also the appointments to the four lower points of the Pentagram:
The Four Suits divide our transactions between the inner and outer worlds, or the more objectively experienced inner world events, into four general classes or categories. Before going into each individually, here is an overall review:
1 The Four Worlds or Olamot are considerably more hierarchical in concept.
2 Karen Witter, from source unknown, has independently arrived at the same elemental correspondences and has named the upper row “archetypal elements” and the bottom row “attributional elements.” While I adopt little of her system beyond this, I will be adopting these two terms.
3 The Wu Xing or Five Phases of Chinese philosophy is a scale of Five and does not correlate well with the Four. It also does not correlate with the Bagua, or eight trigrams, although people insist on trying.
4 P.F. Case mistakenly reverses dare and know. Technically, scire means something closer to knowing how. The Latin word scire is the root of the word science.
5 For associative purposes only, not a metaphysical model
6 Terms used by Marc Edmond Jones, an astrologer
7 Even though the Trump named Temperance is given to the Fire sign, Sagittarius.
Wands and Fire
(a.k.a. clubs, staves, rods, batons, scepters, etc)
The association of the suit of wands to the element of fire is probably the least intuitive of the four assignments. Part of the confusion comes from an old linking of the suits to medieval European social classes, wands to farmers (as earthy as they come), cups to clergy, swords to nobility and pentacles to merchants. Had the suits evolved in Europe this might have been more plausible. But they came from (or through) the Middle East, with the rest of the 52-card deck, where the original wands were polo sticks (jawkan), and polo was known as the sport of kings, and thus of the nobility. Some have tried to close the gap between wooden wands and fire by giving them green leaves and thus implying life force and even intent, and telos as innate direction. Yet it is not the green wood that burns well. We can also make wands into torches, or raise them to kindling temperature, where, given a little oxygen, they actually turn into fire. Fuel is just slowed-down light, trapped by photosynthesis, awaiting liberation. As a handle, the rod transfers kinetic thrust to the point of the spear. And, of course, there is the magic wand, the spirit gun, which directs the energy or force of will. As a symbol of stature or authority, the wand is a means to both author and authorize activity. And, obviously, Freud would be right here in suggesting that this wand is just an eager, erect phallus, representing the libido. But he might even see a lit cigar.
Persons and events signified by wands represent the entity as a metabolic process, a heat-generating being, an exothermic reaction, but in the process also generating the light of consciousness. This is driven from within by an excess, an impulse, a challenge, a heat demanding to be spent or dissipated. Wands evoke the challenge to will, to be more, to expand self. Wands are proactive and power is their issue. Both addiction to power and insensitive force represent its failure. In physics, power’s measure is the rate of transformation of energy from one form into another. Ineffectiveness, no matter how forceful, is not power. Friction and resistance are not power. Note also that the lambent flame in the right place does more than searing heat in a wrong one. This suggests the need for a sensitivity or intelligence that is not inherent in flame but must be learned. A second cluster of lessons awaits in learning self-control and self-limitation. Done properly, the fiery metabolic process can miraculously transform even cheeseburgers into experience and wisdom.
This is more about spiritedness than spirit as a ghostly thing, like the spirit seen in a spirited horse. But it does carry the sensation of an autonomous entity existing prior to perception, feeling, thought and sensation, leading some to see a fundamental spirit. Others might sense an emergent process arising out of multiple sub-conscious activities. Intuition arises thus as well, out of simplifying cognitive modules deep in the brain, a pre-verbal intelligence that summarizes our experience and guesses proactively at our futures, without much conscious or linguistic involvement.
Note: the following section is a grab bag of key words, and a feature that will be used throughout this book. The only order is alphabetical. It is not recommended that these be memorized. Rather, the intent is to give you first a feel for the general meaning of the larger idea, and then a gestalt that ties the cluster together and implies further meanings that infill the cluster. The scope or breadth of these ideas is considerably narrower than those found elsewhere, in order to develop the gestalt more tightly around the core meaning. If you are taking a day to study each card (a highly recommended program) it might be a useful exercise to go through this section slowly, and out loud, and try to stretch your mind to make a connection between each key word and the card or symbol in question. This is good practice for reading the cards as well.
Key Words, Concepts and Phrases:
aggression, ambition, anger, animation, ardor, assertion, autonomy, career, compelling force, competition, confidence, consumption, courage, creative spirit, determination, distinction, drive, dynamics, effect, efferent or active side of emotion, emergence, energy, enterprise, expression, feedforward, fight, fire in the belly, glory, growth, heat, honor, identity, illumination, impatience, impulse, independence, individuality, individuation, initiation, initiative, innovation, intention, irrepressibility, jeito, knack, light, meaning, motivation, motive force, originality, opportunism, optimism, passion, personal track or direction, pique, play, pluck, point of view, power to transform, pressure outward, presumption, pride, protection, purpose and divergence of purposes, pushing beyond the known, rashness, relevance, restlessness, self-actualization, self-direction, sense of self, sensing opportunities as fuel, spark, spontaneity, sport, striving, struggle, talent, temper, uniqueness, urgency, value, venturing, vigor, vitality, warmth, willing, winning, zest.
The Astrological correspondence to the Fire signs (Aries, Leo and Sagittarius) is obvious and self-explanatory.
The Kabbalistic correspondence is to Atziluth (the Archetypal World). To a Platonist, this suggests a world of ideal forms which all of lesser existence must strive and fail to fulfill. For the existentialist it is the world of compelling possibilities, especially the ones too exciting to be left untried. For the Nietzschean it is the many-centered perspective on the world as Will to Power. It is more fundamental and powerful than ideas empty of content, which it creates to identify and manipulate its outlets and opportunities. It also suffers from confinement within (and enslavement to) these very ideas.
The Yijing Bagua-to-Suit correspondences have Li, Flame, in the upper position in eight places; and Zhen, Thunder, in the upper position for Aces and Tens (underpowered by Kun or overpowered by Qian). The Court Wands have Zhen, Thunder, in the lower position, with this energy expressing itself outwardly as one of the four “attributional” elements. The Court assignments were developed by Aleister Crowley.
Cups and Water
(a.k.a. hearts, chalices, coupes, etc)
This suit concerns our various juices, our tastes and our tears. Even the loftiest of our mental states are brewed up in stews, blended in cocktails of blood-borne endocrine secretions, pheromones and neurotransmitters. This is the real aqua permanens, the holy water, and the soul. Persons and events signified by Cups represent the being as an endocrine system, a complex of chemical interactions and communications, glandular activity, endothermic reactions, desiring both balance and fresh stimulation. Even the altruism attributed to Cups and Water, the empathy, nurturing and love, relates back to our internal chemical status, and is ultimately hedonic. The heart is still moved towards feeling well or good, or simply much. Love is a trick life plays on us with dopamine, oxytocin and such. But it’s a really good trick.
The symbol of the Cup, the holy receptacle, is overtly vulvar or vaginal, ready for seed, pleasuring, or both. It is worth pondering here that the cup is not the water. It is the form or shape, the vessel of feeling. It gives the water place and specificity, it individualizes our feeling, makes life our story, our soul, our heart, and the sum of our states of mind. The cup also receives and carries our sustenance. It's a repository for experience, a way to remember and then a way to imagine or dream. It is also a cauldron of regeneration. Cups and water evoke the challenge to dare, to receive, to open up, to be fulfilled. This is easier to do when the being learns to remain on loving, reciprocal terms with the world. Because relationships are usually the driver of our most intense feelings, this is one of the main concerns of the suit of Cups. Fertility and creativity both mean the dissolving of our boundaries and forming successful combinations with the world, with others and with our own parts.
Affect is a fuzzier way of thinking but still a way of thinking. Feelings make decisions, but often with terms like always and never, unsullied by logic and reason. Sentiments and resentments, reward and aversion circuits and structures, are more ancient than human thought and language. Our states are sourced from beneath the thresholds of awareness, especially in our temperaments and moods, so the thought is rarely critical. It is by our responses to new stimuli, referred to our memories for likenesses and precedents, that our past functions on our present, overcoming our inhibitions and painful memories, adapting to stressors, and defending boundaries, when we need to get life lived or things done. The Chinese word for heart (xin) also means mind, but it’s in the sense of “do you mind?” Do you care? This is a Cup function, the Cup’s form of sentience, the way our feelings think. They can make bad choices, but they also take us places that reason cannot. We live and learn much by these choices.
Key Words, Concepts and Phrases:
absorption, aesthetics, affect, affection, afferent or inward side of emotion, appreciation, attachment, beauty, bliss, brooding, care, changeableness, channeling, cleansing, comfort levels, compassion, concavity, confluence, conjoining, connection to life, convergence, depression, desires, dissolving, disturbance, dreams, ebbs, elation, emotional security, emptiness, eros, escapism, fantasy, fears, feeling, flooding, flow, fluidity, fulfillment, happiness, heart, hope, imagination, incompleteness, inconstancy, insecurities, intensity, interconnection, irritability, kindness, likes and dislikes, liquidity, medium, memories, merging, mingling, mirroring, moodiness, narcissism, nurture, pleasure, premonitions, privateness, reaction, receptivity, reflection, refreshment, regret, relatedness, relaxation, resentment, responsiveness, romance, satisfaction or its absence, saturation, secrecy, self-containment, self-indulgence, sense of connection or lack, sense of depth, sensitivity, sentience, sentiment, serenity, shapelessness, social relationships, softening, solution, sorrow, steeping, subjectivity, surface tension, surge, susceptibility, sympathy, touchiness, turbulence, union, vulnerability, yearnings.
The Astrological correspondence to the Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces) is obvious and self-explanatory.
The Kabbalistic correspondence is to Briah (the Creative World). This is a world of flux and change, the world which shapes itself in eddies and waves and along lines of least resistance, or "sensitive chaos." It isn’t form or law until we name it so. Sometimes called Akashic fluid, this hypostasis or substratum of ultimate stuff is analogously seen as akin to electromagnetic or gravitational fields, or as a plenum, or an ecosystem. It is always changing shape. And it is big, inexhaustibly big. It is pure possibility, within its own order and limits, and the mother of the world. Its power is to respond to what is, as it is, and become or help it become what it is not. It is creation, change, and the round river.
The Yijing Bagua-to-Suit correspondences have Kan, Water, in the upper position in eight places; and Dui, Wetland, in the upper position for Aces and Tens (underpowered by Kun or overpowered by Qian). The Court Cups have Dui, Wetland, in the lower position, with this energy expressing itself outwardly as one of the four “attributional” elements.
Swords and Air
(a.k.a. spades, epees, blades, etc)
The Sword is several things: a weapon, a tool, an object of art, a shaving razor, an unflattering mirror, a warning, or a word to the wise. Its very nature is negation: it disconnects, it selects, it declares no, it ends things. It puts space between what used to be one thing. It pokes holes in stuff. It frequently points to problems and trouble. It is the critical mind. There are many in this present field who judge this a bad thing, and might in fact like to do away with thinking altogether, and all judgments but their own. Their intellects have not been kind or responsive to them. This is why Swords are given such dire auspice in books on Tarot. But we will be taking a more positive approach to negativity here. The Sword can only disillusion in proportion to one’s illusions. If we don’t have correct thoughts we will have illusions in their stead. Problems are one thing to whiners, quite another to mathematicians: it’s a question of attitude, of leaning into the problem instead of backing away. And while so many enjoy the benefits of diversification and subsequent evolution, this process would not have pleasant results at all without the little unpleasantness of natural selection. But a negative evaluation does not require ill will. A simple no, or a turning aside, will often suffice.
The Sword creates or identifies entities and identities with new words and edges. The air that enters the newly created space can even be likened to breath, the first breath of new beings. Air is the familiar medium for the vibratory phenomenon of communication (even if common to all states) and so has come to symbolize media itself, particularly language. The Sword is a symbol of the powers of abstraction, a distancing from the phenomenal world, dividing, if not to conquer, at least to utilize or to study. It means both stepping back and penetrating. It seeks out useful information and gathers intelligence, sometimes impersonally, and sometimes coldly. Persons and events signified by Swords represent the entity as a nervous system, an intelligence-gathering activity, a neuro-electrical network of what, how, when and where (but ofttimes stuck on why). Swords evoke the challenge to know how, to make life intelligible and live usefully. The violence attributed to Swords only occurs when thought grows rigid, as with religion and politics, or when life runs out of balance. Beyond this, the Swords are swordplay, mental and perceptual exercise, instrumentality, decisions and the details of their implementation, problem-solving behavior. Like Swords, words and ideas can be tools or weapons. Words and ideas, put into play before deeds, can mean less violence too, since ethics emerge from thoughtfulness.
A Sword has no force of its own: it’s an instrument of enaction. While intellect is often associated with power used in problematic ways, we still need the critical mind to live well in the world, to use good judgment. Our body of knowledge is loaded with error, and the evolved human mind carries a formidable toolkit of anti-cognitive, self-deceptive processes. We need good, sharp minds to grasp natural law, either to better obey it or to violate it with more promising, long-term impunity. With or without a creator, the world explored by science is scripture, and the patterns underlying material form deserve a respect that borders on reverence. We need our challenging mindsets. Swords have points and are edgy. This is how we get through error.
We have a need to learn and convey the meaning of things not just to the culture at large, but to cultures yet to evolve as well. Our culture has made grave errors, in part because our direction has not been adequately questioned and criticized. We have many things we need to sever from our thinking and from our lifestyles. We need cognizance of alternatives, knowledge of options, in the degree of detail that a reliable prediction of outcomes requires. Knowing our options permits changing our minds. If we do not evaluate some things as unworthy of existence, their unworthiness eventually saturates us. We need to set conditions and limits. There are dangers, problems and puzzles ahead.
Key Words, Concepts and Phrases:
abstraction, affliction, aloofness, amputation, analysis, artfulness, articulation, artifact, belief, boundaries, calculation, choice, clarification, cleverness, cognition & recognition, coldness, communication, comparison, conceptualizing, conflict, contention, criticism, cutting through, debate, decision, definition, delimitation, detachment, differentiation, disagreement, discernment, discrimination, dissection, distance, distancing, disruption, disunity, division, edges, error, evaluation, exactness, focus, formulating, heuristics, ideation, ideology, illusion, incisiveness, information, insensitivity, instrumentality, intellect, intelligence, invention, judgment, knowledge, language, learning, limiting, logic, negation, objectivity, observation, order, organization, pattern, pattern recognition, patterning, penetration, plans, polish, prediction, principle, problem solving, projection, propaganda, rationality, rationalizing, reason, reasons, referents and references, reflection, replication, ruthlessness, science, selection, separation, seriousness, severing and severity, sharpness, skill, speech, standards, stepping back, strategy, strife, structure, tactics, taxonomies, techne and technique, thinking, thoughtful attention, tool use, transmission, troubles, vivisection, voice, wit.
The Astrological correspondence to the Air signs (Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) is obvious and self-explanatory.
The Kabbalistic correspondence is to Yetzirah (the Formative World). This is the world of order and structure, the Vedantin adhyasa and nama rupa, imposed and impressed upon Briah by Atziluth. In space, it is boundary, pattern, form, figure-ground relations, dimension, number, etc. In time, it is continuity, repetition, maintenance, learning, self-organization, sequence, the diachronic evolution of form. It is thus, given limited wisdom or lack of perspective (which all finite beings have) the prelude to thing-hood. Yetzirah is divisive and articulated by nature - it must have or make contrast. Both imply abstraction, distancing, reflection, choice, versatility and options.
The Yijing Bagua-to-Suit correspondences have Qian, Heaven, in the upper position in eight places; and Xun, Wind-Wood, in the upper position for Aces and Tens (under-powered by Kun or overpowered by Qian). The Court Swords have Xun, Wind-Wood, in the lower position, with this energy expressing itself outwardly as one of the four “attributional” elements.
Side note: air (as vapor) and tempered metal are both symbolic children of fire and water.
Pentacles and Earth
(a.k.a. diamonds, coins, discs, deniers, stones, etc)
The Pentacles and Earth stand in for the sensible world, for sensible folk, the material world, the world of slow, frozen, or viscous energy. These are the things with boundaries, perhaps carved by Swords, the nouns, processes changing so slowly that they look like entities. The Pentacle is also many different things: the atom, the chief component in all larger structures, the cell, whether seed or egg, the crystal, be it tool or gem, a talisman to attract good things, or an amulet to repel bad things, and money to buy just about any things. Pentacles represent the entity as embodying a set of learned and embedded skills and behavior patterns, hierarchies of cells and selves, and any methods of acquiring, manipulating, and valuing that are needed to further the needs of this embodiment. Pentacles evoke a challenge to keep silence, to find what is needed and come to rest, to equilibrate, to acquire homeostasis, and invest any surplus in futures.
The otherworldly loathing of the things of this world does not belong to the Pentacles. There are good and useful senses of the word "materialism" that are lost in knee-jerk reactions to the word. Matter is only what you make of it. A doctrine of materialism does not automatically preclude an acknowledgement of consciousness or spirit as important dimensions of the world. It is not always a denial of the immaterial. It merely suggests that these are emergent processes and qualia, rather than fundamental properties and substances. That they might not be fundamental or original does not make them any less sacred to those who appreciate or revere them. To go otherworldly in this matter is to forsake what sustains us, what feeds us and brings us to life. The prima materia is not dead weight, it’s a fertile place for roots and seeds, the ground of being.
This suit began its career as diamonds and coins, then as coins worn as charms. It was the early occult Tarot authors who imbued them with more magic, de Geblin as talismans and Levi as Pentacles, objects charged with the five-pointed star, the seal of Solomon, with which to impress the great web that makes magic happen. Crowley made them into whirling discs, charged with angular momentum. As a metaphorical truth it works: we start by making the first piece of the future we want, and the world around us starts to get the hint. The Pentacles call for realism, facts as givens or challenges. They are storage for potential energy, fungible substitutes for the energy needed to do things, to be spent now or later, to meet our needs. They are not just the things that own us.
It is of course a naive realism to see hard facts only. The hardest and stillest stone we now know to be mostly space, charge and movement. We don’t want to reduce too much. Surfaces hide much mystery: just look at what others who claim to know us know of our inner lives. We learn to look closer. The energy in money, like the spark in the shell in Kabbalah, is redeemable tender for all debts public and private. Resources, as the word implies, can be sourced again and again. If not, they are really capital that is lost if not invested with wisdom.
Key Words, Concepts and Phrases:
ability, acquisition, actualization, applicability, assiduousness, attachments, base, bones, brick and mortar, capital, cautiousness, comfort, concern, concreteness, consolidation, construction, convention, corporeality, creation, density, dependability, diligence, dirt and soil, domesticity, economy, effects, embodiment, employment, enduring, establishment, evidence, facts, farming, foundation, frugality, fruition, fruits of labor, fungibles, gravity, grounding, grounds for, harvest, indulgences, inertia, influence, inheritances, instinct, invested energy, involvement, labor, lasting impressions, lasting itself, making sense, management, manifestation, materialism, materiality, matter, merchandise, method, naive realism, needs, nouns, objective reality, obligation, occupation, opacity, ordinariness, ossification, outcomes, ownership, palpability, parsimony, particulars, patience, patterns of behavior, phenomenal world, place, possession, possessiveness, practicalities, practice, pragmatism, productivity, profitability, proof, property, prudence, raw material, realism, realization, resources, results, rewards, routine, ruts, safety, seasons, security, seed, sensation, sense, stability, stabilization, steadiness, stewardship, stubbornness, support, tangibles, tenure, things with boundaries, thoroughness, touch, tradition, training, valuables, values, wherewithal, work, worth.
The Astrological correspondence to the Earth signs (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn) is obvious and self-explanatory.
The Kabbalistic correspondence is to Assiah (the Material World). This is the world of sensation and concern, the sensible world of making and doing, that which our perception perceives as hard facts, here or not here, and things bumping into each other, unable to occupy the same space. In this world even the lightning may be seen as a thing, as “it” flashes. The forms of Yetzirah are stuffed with Briah at the promptings of Atziluth. Assiah is only degraded insofar as perception conceives of slow-moving changes as independent or static. This world is concretion, being in and for itself, identity in a more stable sense, and inertial resistance to change.
The Yijing Bagua-to-Suit correspondences have Kun, Earth, in the upper position in eight places; and Gen, Mountain, in the upper position for Aces and Tens (underpowered by Kun or overpowered by Qian). The Court Pentacles have Gen, Mountain, in the lower position, with this energy expressing itself outwardly as one of the four “attributional” elements.
The Court, or Four Dignitaries
Since the Court figures go by a number of names, depending on the decks and their narrators, we will have to adopt a single system here and leave it to you to translate. The Kings here appear in Crowley’s deck as Knights. The Queens have always been Queens (at least since playing cards got to Europe). The Princes here are Waite’s Knights. The Princesses here are Waite’s Pages.
The four Court Dignitaries, Figura or Persona (King, Queen, Prince and Princess), also known as face or figure cards, are the subjective interpretations of the Scale of Four, assigned human personality traits and temperaments that are correlated with four of our social, political and familial functions. Like the Suits, the Court also correspond to fire, water, air and earth, as well as Jung's four psychological functions: intuiting, feeling, thinking and sensing (both sets in the order above).
The Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley have made a 4x4 interpretive matrix out of these two scales, Court and Suit, which gives sixteen possible combinations, and they have derived an abundance of systematic and coherent meanings for the Court Cards using this matrix. One of their more successful devices has been to consider that there is an aspect of each element that behaves a little like each of the other elements in its outer expression. The inner character is the Suit, the outer expression (their term is ‘part of’) is the Dignitary. For example, there is a Watery ‘part of’ Fire: there are times when fire seems to behave like water, in its fluidity of motion and responsiveness to the currents around it, or simply the flow of heat and light. This part is associated with the Queen of Wands. The Fiery ‘part of’ Water, on the other hand, is seen when water releases its potential energy, as when the bottom drops out of the river and the water falls. This is water’s readiness. This is associated with the King of Cups. And of course there is an Earthy ‘part of’ Earth, where the Earth is behaving exactly like it’s supposed to behave, in the authenticity and stillness of the Princess of Pentacles.
When these cards appear in a reading, they are said to foreshadow social activity or influences, or to recommend preparation for this. Among various references to the Court, they are said to represent:social interactions, meetings, encounters and challenges
specific people with these traits encountered in our lives
character or psychological types, personalities or temperaments
events impacting, influencing or triggering a particular trait
a stance, position, outlook, point of view or attitude
qualities or traits to recognize, nurture, or beware of
levels of development, maturity, mastery or attainment
parts or facets of our personality or parts of ourselves
a particular or unique approach to life
roles to be modeled or played
Astrological: The first three Dignitaries (King, Queen and Prince) also relate to the three Qualities or the triplicities of Astrology’s Zodiac: Cardinal, Mutable and Fixed respectively. As they combine with the corresponding Elements of the Tarot Suits, we get the portmanteaus for the twelve Signs. For example, the King of Wands would resonate with Cardinal Fire or Aries, the Queen of Cups with Mutable Water or Pisces. These are best understood as Ascendants or Rising Signs, since they color our outlook on life. This is one of two systems used by the Golden Dawn. The other, assigning the Court Cards to the 36 Decans of the Zodiac, has been abandoned in the present work as peripheral and perhaps totally irrelevant to the core meanings. The fourth Dignitary, the Princess, has historically been assigned to the four directional quadrants around the north pole. This never made any sense. But if you compare the keywords that have accumulated around the Princess cards to other concepts in Astrology, they look very much like those of the North Node or Dragon's Head, as this is expressed through the four Elements. And so, for example, the Princess of Wands may be examined here for any relationship she might have with the North Node in Fire Signs.
Kabbalah and Qabalah never did and don’t really have much of a part to play in the development of Court meanings. Attempts have been made to cross reference the four Olamot or worlds with themselves, but this doesn't yield much of value.
Yijing: Aleister Crowley developed a system of correlations between sixteen of the Gua (Hexagrams) based upon the 4x4 matrix system, a portmanteau analysis using Bagua (Trigrams) in the lower (Zhen) and upper (Hui) positions of the Gua. The lower position or inner character was given to the Suit and the upper to the Court. Crowley only used half of the eight Bagua, the four “attributional elements” Zhen-Thunder-Fire-Kings, Dui-Wetland-Water-Queens, Xun-Wind-Wood-Air-Princes and Gen-Mountain-Earth-Princesses. There is a structural perfection to this arrangement as well a a resonance in meaning: see Fig. 33 in the Dimensions chapter of my Book of Changes. See also the “Hui Gua” section for these four Bagua in the Xiao Gua chapter.
Other: There are other scales of Sixteen in systems outside of the Tarot. Best known is the MTBI or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is an exploitation of the combinatory possibilities of four binary pairs of human traits, to wit:Attitudes: extraversion/introversion (E/I)
Functions: sensing/intuition (S/N) and thinking/feeling (T/F)
Lifestyle: judging/perception (J/P)
An INTJ, for example, would be an Introverted Intuitive with a Thinking and Judging inclination. Conflicting attempts have been made to correlate these sixteen possibilities with the Court Cards. These are binary, not quaternary functions, so any correlations would need to be based upon the binary axes of the Court cards. That would be either king-queen vs prince-princess (parents vs children) or king-prince vs queen-princess (m vs f); and wand-cups vs swords-pentacles, or wands-swords vs cups-pentacles among the Suits. We could make an attempt here for what it might have to offer, but it would not be central or a part of the development of core meanings.
The same is true for a similar scale from psychology, known as 16PF, or the Sixteen Personality Factors, specifically: Warmth, Reasoning, Emotional Stability, Dominance, Liveliness, Rule-Consciousness, Social Boldness, Sensitivity, Vigilance, Abstractedness, Privateness, Apprehension, Openness to Change, Self-Reliance, Perfectionism and Tension. While many of these ‘pop’ with individual Court Cards, any correlation is an exercise for another place and time.
Finally, there is an indigenous African divination system known as IFA, and in Western Hermeticism as Geomancy, using 16 four-line figures with some similarities to the Yijing. These too have undergone attempts at correlation with the Court Cards, but they remain outside the development of core meanings of the cards.
The Kings, or Crowley's Knights
Images: the Kings are traditionally pictured seated on thrones, holding the symbol of their element. Crowley mounted his on horseback, leading many to be confused about the Kings’ association with Fire. Thrones are probably still the best, since the powers to command and delegate are best represented here.
The four Kings illustrate the power of the element in leading or initiating activity, to motivate or drive us. Although the King's is a power vested by the cumulative experience of a lifetime or a lineage, he doesn't always arrive by way of his ambition. He may inherit, succeed or be called. Kings are quick to act or decide, but normally delegate the follow-through. Commanders can't be expected to do a lot of the labor. Actions may be swift and transient, but they are not always explosive or violent, as is often described. They are shown in command and generally in control of themselves. Each King has a major life lesson to master, one that is not guaranteed to him. For Wands it’s impulse control, Cups, deferred gratification, Swords, adaptive thought, and Pentacles, the courage to risk in the right amount. All need to learn that true authority is the duty of authors, and this comes along with accountability for one’s creations, or responsibility for one’s domain and people. Given the mastery of their element, the wisdom of experience, and the knowledge that ultimately the throne is a place of service, their rule will be worthy. However, it must be remembered that to master their suit or element is not to transcend it. The King of Cups is no swordsman, the King of Wands no counselor. Since Kings don’t have people around to critique or contradict them, they will need to learn to self-regulate, to find or provide their own feedback. When truly grown up in attitude, they know that force of character and compelling example get more work done than force and compulsion.
achievement, arrogance, authority, autocracy, capability, chief, cogency, command, competence, confidence, control, decisiveness, direction, discrimination, dominion, driving force, edict, education, effectiveness, elder, example, experience, expertise, father figure, greatness, head man, honor, impetus, imposition, influence, initiative, judgment, last word, leader, learnedness, management, mandate, mastery, maturation, maturity, noblesse oblige, paternity and patronage, presence, prowess, respectability, right of rule, self-directedness, specifying, taking charge.
Astrology: The Cardinal Signs of their Elements, Aries, Cancer, Libra and Capricorn, understood as the Ascendant or Rising Sign.
Kabbalah and Qabalah: Not really applicable. But one might try looking around in the World of Atziluth for inspiration.
Yijing: Zhen, the Bagua or Trigram of Thunder in the upper (Hui) position, situated above the “attributional” Bagua associated with the Suits.
Images: the Queens are traditionally pictured seated on thrones, in the manner of the Kings, holding the symbol of their element.
The four Queens illustrate the power of the element to receive, to welcome or accept new or external influences or changes. This is not the same thing as passivity, and that it might appear as passivity makes it dangerously easy to underestimate the Queen. By sanctioning change, by being willing to undergo transformation, by being ready to absorb or learn, she positions herself as supervisor and guide, while the whole world does the work. She conducts, and adds her style. She can influence without having to command. The Queen is more likely than the King or the Prince to experiment successfully with the applications, possibilities, permutations and ramifications of her element, going beyond its familiar scope. She discovers potentials that may not be so obvious. Her versatility or flexibility adapts her powers to new contexts and applications, extending her reach into broader fields. She is broader than the King and more experienced than the Prince. Her emphasis is on how the suit can interact with the world or be applied in different and unexpected ways. She may seem less results-oriented than the King, but she is able to consider new information or experience as result enough. What seems like generosity or altruism in lending her wealth, sharing good will and spreading her resources around is really a function of her understanding that this is how to multiply her wealth, good will and resources. Generally, she is nurturing, although the commonly misunderstood Queen of Swords is a special case, q.v. Her effects in the real world are more situational than absolute: she sets examples here and there, rather than making general decrees.
adaptability, alliances, applicabilities, applications, assistance, development, circulation, coalition, collaboration, confederation, contribution, cooperation, draw, encouragement, exchange, extrapolation, flexibility, fostering, fulfillment, helpfulness, incubation, influence, interaction, interconnection, interpersonal management, joining, lure, nurture, participation, partnership, permutation, persuasion, provision, ramifications, relating, relationships, responsiveness, shared experience, sharing resources, support, synching, transformation, transmission, understanding, unexpected applications, utility, variations on the theme, versatility.
Astrology: The Mutible Signs of their Elements, Sagittarius, Pisces, Gemini and Virgo, understood as the Ascendant or Rising Sign.
Kabbalah and Qabalah: Not really applicable. But one might try looking around in the World of Briah for inspiration.
Yijing: Dui, the Bagua or Trigram of Wetlands in the upper (Hui) position, situated above the “attributional” Bagua associated with the Suits.
The Princes, or Waite's Knights
Images: the Princes or Waite's Knights are traditionally pictured on horseback, holding the symbol of their element. Crowley placed his in chariots. Both suggest that there are distances to be traveled, although the Prince of Pentacles might only be riding out to fix the fence or bring in strays.
The four Princes illustrate the power of the element to explore and extend its reach, all while maintaining its original nature. This is the expanding life of the element. He is a hybrid of what he has been and what he will be, carrying out the element's development. Living and learning, developing real-world experience is imperative, as his future throne is not guaranteed. He prepares for maturity by collecting plenty of specific experiences and generalizing from them. His efforts at this are determined and concerted, committed to the processes of the suit, acting it out, finding its limits, finding where the element no longer works. He is ready to seize upon any opportunities consistent with his suit, gaining competence, skill and, hopefully, self-confidence through trial and error. Like typical young men, job one is to find his boundaries, edges and margins, and then push a little past them, just to be sure. He may seem to be in the business of excess. His approach asks questions like: how fast will it go? what am I capable of? what can I get away with? who says? He can seem an agent of the element rather than its master, just as teenage boys can seem like agents of testosterone. He is certainly the one of the Court most often in trouble or error, getting warned, and sometimes thumbing his nose at natural selection. Yet he may be the truest to his suit’s extended nature. Where the boundary is as distant as the farthest sources of fuel (Wands) or a virtually unlimited intellectual world (Swords), one might expect to see a lot of movement. The Prince of Pentacles is again a special case: all the movement described here is more circumscribed for him, and much of his exploration may be a reexamination of the known. While the Princess seeks the core of the Suit, the Prince will seek the circumference.
adventure, ambit, ambition, amplification, beta testing, broadening, crossing boundaries, daring, dedication, determination, development, eagerness, education, errands, expansion, expedition, experiment, exploitation, exploration, expression, extension, extrapolation, extremity, feedforward for feedback, field work, goals, intensity, journeyman, missions, movement, opportunism, practice, precipitousness, prematurity, preoccupied, pushing envelopes, quarry, quest, reach, recklessness, reconnaissance, searching, spreading out, testing, testosterone, training, trial and error, unfinished business, zeal.
Astrology: The Fixed Signs of their Elements, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius and Taurus, understood as the Ascendant or Rising Sign.
Kabbalah and Qabalah: Not really applicable. But one might try looking around in the World of Yetzirah for inspiration.
Yijing: Xun, the Bagua or Trigram of Wind-Wood in the upper (Hui) position, situated above the “attributional” Bagua associated with the Suits.
The Princesses, or Waite's Pages
Images: the Princesses or Waite's Pages are traditionally pictured standing on open ground, proudly holding the symbol of their element. I like them best in bare feet, but that might just be my sickness talking. The Princess is sometimes said to suggest messages in readings, rather than people, or perhaps people simply bearing a message or news, and whose character or personality may be irrelevant.
The four Princesses illustrate the power of the element in latent form, as potential to be developed or set free. She is far from mature, and she lacks the abilities which go with maturity, but she embodies the inherited gifts of her noble lineage. She is an amateur, in a place of learning, but the word amateur means she is loving her work, practicing for the future, cultivating her element-specific character, attending to developing her worth. Lacking arrogance and preconception, she brings a fresh perspective that might bring to light what the more sophisticated views have missed. She has nothing to prove yet, no need to defend a constructed self-image. It is job one to examine and learn the core of who she is, the heart of the suit, the deeper meanings of her element, her authentic and original nature, prior to the more complicated interactions with the real world, prior to entanglements with context. She will know what most and what best to stay true to. In developing the basic ideas, the essence or essentials of her suit, she also learns which of the things that normally attach themselves might be unnecessary, the things that a more exhaustive study picks up with fewer questions. For example, the Princess of Cups might learn that wanting more of a feeling might not be that closely related to having or getting more of a feeling: it might be more effective simply to be grateful for what she has. The Princess is laying her foundation, and getting the right cornerstones set in their proper positions will be key to a lasting structure. This is why someone beginning a study ought to take the most care in choosing the first rounds of their input, the most germane and respectable data, and not the cheap thing that is hawked to the novice. The beginner who starts with high standards will find the extra effort well spent.
appreciation, apprenticeship, attentiveness, basics, beginner's mind, caring, catalysts, core curricula and experiences, crystallization, curiosity, dependence, discovery, distillation, elementary education, essence, essentials, formative development, fresh look, freshness, fundamentals, grounding, handmaiden, hidden talents, honesty, ingraining, innocence, innocents, input, interest, internal exploration, internalization, investigation, inwardness, learners, learning, loyalty, mindfulness, new ideas or news, novices, original nature, parsimony, premises, prerequisites, probation, probing, raw material, reflection, respect, self-cultivation, simplicity, sincerity, student, study.
Astrology: The North Node or Dragon’s Head through the Elements. This is sometimes associated with lessons to be learned, a faculty to be developed, and called ‘a point of intake and integration.’
Kabbalah and Qabalah: Not really applicable. But one might try looking around in the World of Assiah for inspiration, and particularly the associated idea of the Shekinah or indwelling presence.
Yijing: Gen, the Bagua or Trigram of Mountain, in the upper (Hui) position, situated above the “attributional” Bagua associated with the Suits.
The Ten Numbers
Even though the Ten Numbers are involved in the developed meanings of more than half of the Tarot deck, few authors have tried to delineate their separate interpretations, or their roles in forming the card meanings. And of those who do, many forget the lessons learned the moment they go on to describe the individual cards. For example, an author might say that the Ace represents only the very tenderest beginnings of the element’s expression, and then turn right around and say that the Ace of Wands is a very powerful card, bringing lots of force with it. This makes no sense. The Ace of Cups is not love, it’s the readiness or worthiness for love. This section explores the symbolism and the core meanings of the Ten Numbers, specifically as they have developed in the Tarot. I have already tried to draw a clear distinction between Number Symbolism and Numerology, and explain why Numerology is not being considered here in any way.
The Numbers are subjective or personalized interpretations of the Scale of Ten, which have derived their meanings from a combination of sources. We spoke earlier about the morphology of portmanteau symbols, how subject and predicate, or upper and lower, or inner and outer had different parts to play in the overall card. Here the numbers are the more subjective component, the subject’s or operator’s side (like the lower or Zhen Bagua position in the Yijing’s Gua), while the suit indicates the more objective side of things, the field of operation, the type of circumstances and the tools to be used (like the upper or Hui Bagua position in the Yijing’s Gua). However, this can still be read two different ways:
If a Pip card is thought to portray an objective occurrence, a worldly predicament, or something that is happening to or around the querent, the card will have a completely different meaning than times when the card is considered as be an attitude to be adopted. In the latter case, the reader will want to subjectively invoke or adopt the character indicated by the number and pick up the tools indicated by the suit. But in the former case, this might also be the most useful approach, since it offers a more personal and sympathetic understanding of the forces involved. Pamela Smith’s Seven of Swords offers a good example of the difference. Most writers, it would seem, have a knee-jerk, moralistic overreaction to the image: 'Oh my, this is dishonesty and betrayal. Shame on this person.' But what Smith was in fact portraying was the simpler idea of stratagem, planning, in an amoral or a relativistic context, the Seven (out for Victory) employing Design (Swords). To internalize the card gives a much clearer picture of its meaning.
There is another useful approach to understanding the ten Pip cards in each suit as progressions in both sequential directions. We can see, for example, a restabilization process in moving from the Five to the Six of Pentacles. We can see a partial remedy for the nightmares of the Nine of Swords in developing the restraint called for in the Eight of Swords (another much-misunderstood Smith image).
Throughout the early centuries of both playing cards and Tarot cards, there is not much evidence that the Ten Numbers used in the forty Pip cards were accorded any special significance or symbolism. These cards in both decks show similarities in geometrical arrangements of the suit symbols, but this is as likely a function of geometry itself and not some deeper archetypal structure. If there were any systematic assignment of numbers to meanings, some hidden lore passed slyly among the fortune tellers, this should show hints in a greater coherence in any early interpretive meanings. But it does not.
The earliest attempts to arrange meanings together with the Pip Numbers appear to belong to the Golden Dawn. And the first real hard evidence that somebody was working with an interpretive algorithm was also the first systematic attempt to portray the Pips with realistic (if cartoon) vignettes, in the popular deck of Pamela Coleman-Smith. It’s a mystery to me where she got this, because I don’t think that Waite fully understood her symbolism or its sophistication. It's important to try to get to her understanding because her deck is now canon, and the basis for well over half of the other new decks. Over the early decades of this Golden Dawn endeavor, a system of number symbolism that is unique to the Tarot (even distinct from the WMT or Western Hermeticism) began to take shape, with perhaps the most useful of the contributors being Aleister Crowley, and most particularly, in a short essay that he termed 'The Naples Arrangement.' This document is so seminal to the Tarot's evolved number symbolism that it is included here in its entirety following the table of correspondences below.
Pre-existing systems of numerical symbolism were clearly tapped, and fragments were incorporated here and there when convenient. We can see bits of the Pythagorean system, and also occasional flashes of the Archons and Aeons of the Gnostics and the Emanations of the Neoplatonists. The Jews followed the Gnostics and Neoplatonists in the early centuries of the current era with their own attempt at a Hermetic-type system: the very brief Book of Formation, the Sefer Yetzirah, somewhere around the 6th Century CE. This could be connected culturally to their mystical Shiur Komah tradition, and to both Hekhalot and Merkavah mysticism, but there is little of relevance in these to the Tarot, or even to Kabbalah. In the Sefer Yetzirah we are introduced to the Ten Sephiroth, Spheres that are Ciphers.
The Sefer Yetzirah does not go far in defining what the Sephiroth are. It simply calls them the Voices of Belimah (Not-Anything) and assigns them to Spirit, Air, Water, Fire, Above, Below, Forward, Back, Right and Left. It stresses that there are 'Ten and not Nine, Ten and not Eleven' (SY 1:4), even though a bonus, eleventh Sephira (the singular form) called Daath, or Knowledge, would make its insistent appearance almost immediately and become fairly standard fare by the end of the 13th Century. This was never called a true Sephira, but more like the 'external aspect of Kether' (Scholem, p. 107). Subsequent writers have described the Ten as: divine emanations or hypostases, attributes or principles, steps or stages in the manifestation of divinity, crowns or potencies, planes or dimensions, energy transformers and energy transformations.
It is important not to confuse the ten Numbers that appear in the Pip cards with the Sephiroth themselves. In Crowley’s terms, 'Although (the Pips) are sympathetic with their Sephirotic origin, they are not identical, nor are they divine persons.' (p.189). They describe the behavior characteristic of a Sephira without involving the deification or imputing a subjectivity other than the reader's own. At best, the limitation of a Sephiratic influence to one of the four elements diminishes it considerably. It loses not only the other three elements but the synergy between them as well. Crowley, however, tends to go too far in diminishing their character as he descends down the Tree, particularly below Tipareth (i.e. 7’s through 10’s). He is unnecessarily negative about the descent of spirit into the sensual world, an uncharacteristic stance for such a naughty boy.
The Jewish mystical system appears to have gone underground until the 12th Century, reemerging with the work of Isaac the Blind (1160-1236) and the publication of the Book of Brightness or Sefer Bahir (1174). Here the Ten Sephiroth (and the 11th) began to get individual names. Most of the names which adhered best to the ideas were drawn from two passages in the Tanakh, where several characteristics of the deity are named. The passages, taken together, also suggest what would become the final numerical sequence of the ten. From the King James translation (my parentheses):
Exodus 31:3. And I have filled him with the spirit (1) of God, in wisdom (2), and in understanding (3), and in knowledge (Daath), and in all manner of workmanship (4-10)The Bahir, and subsequent texts of what would become Kabbalah, begin to speak of a Tree whereon these Sephiroth might be configured, but none of the descriptions match the one to emerge graphically in the early 16th century. The first of these appears in a 1516 frontispiece of Paul Ricci's translation of Gikatilla’s Gates of Light, around the beginning of the Safed school of Kabbalah. The primary authors of the Safed school, especially Moses Cordovero (Remak) (1522–1570), Isaac Luria (Ari) (1534–1572), and Chayyim Vital (1543-1620) were born shortly after this and published their own informative versions of the graphic, which was named the Otz Chayyim or Tree of Life. Scholem (Kabbalah, p. 106) suggests that the Tree of Life diagram dates from the 14th Century, but gives no citation. This may be a typo, as he is not inclined to the same exaggeration and pseudepigraphy as the 'true-believer' Kabbalists. Athanasius Kircher published a depiction of the Tree of Life for the Europeans in 1652, based upon a 1625 version by Philippe d'Aquin.
1 Chronicles 29:11. Thine, O Lord is the greatness (4), and the power (5), and the glory (6), and the victory (7), and the majesty (8): for all (9) that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom (10), O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.
I have my own unproven hypothesis about the origin of the graphic Tree of Life: it derives directly from China, from a diagram offered by Chen Tuan (906-989), a Chinese Daoist, called the Wujitu, and then from an adaptation of this called the Taijitu by Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073), a Chinese Neoconfucian. Their transmission to the West would not have been difficult, as this was also the route that paper, printing, and even the idea of playing cards also took, through India, the Middle East and into Europe. Wujitu means Diagram of the Ultimate Nothing and Taijitu means Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate. Both portray, in the second sphere down, a prototype of the Taijitu that we now associate with this term: the familiar Yin-Yang diagram. Aside from the renaming of some of the spheres related to the Wu Xing or Five Movements, all that needed to be done was to tease the second sphere into back its two separate, component spheres (as Chokmah and Binah, or Wisdom and Understanding). Martin Zwick, in “Symbolic Structures as Systems: On the Near Isomorphism of Two Religious Systems” is the only other scholar I have seen to arrive at this. But see for yourself: Wujitu and Taijitu.
This Tree of Life, like the Yi's Primal arrangement, permits analysis of the ciphers or spheres geometrically, in interrelationship or dimensional pattern, as well as in various sequences, two of them major. The first sequence is ontological. From ideas numbered Zero through Ten, we track the evolution of being from no-thing-ness. Many think that this tracks the gradual degradation of spirit into matter. But a more interesting view foreshadows the development of systems theory, as simpler processes create functional and increasingly negentropic complexity. The second sequence is existential. From ideas numbered Ten through Zero, we track the evolution of a particular being as it blunders its way up a scaffolding or ladder of its own making, to explore the higher, simpler, and less egocentric realms of awareness. This is also the Kabbalistic process of redemptive repair or Tikkun. In this direction, Daath, Knowledge, plays a more important role as it becomes either a vehicle of transcendence or an agent of self-destruction as we cross the abyss of the ego, beneath which all we see are reflections of ourselves. In a fascinating cross-cultural convergence, the meaning of the Numbers as an upward progression from ten to one are almost perfectly captured in the ten Oxherding Pictures of Zen Buddhism.
Once the Tree of Life was established, the resulting geometry and sequence enabled an assignment of the Planets of Astrology to the Sephiroth. There existed at the time only one widely-accepted geometric arrangement for the Planets, this being the Western Hexagram, the Magen David or Shield of David, and only one sequence, the Ptolemaic sequence of apparent periodic cycles, to wit:
Plotted onto the Tree of Life, the organization is obvious
The addition of the Planets to the Tree system allowed an immense cross-fertlization, out of which many peculiar creatures were spawned, as well as some very useful insights from added depth of field. We are not going to be enumerating angels or demons here, since for our purposes they don’t exist. The Golden Dawn and Crowley both screwed up by placing Saturn with Binah. Saturn is just a lousy fit with both the ‘Great Mother’ and the ‘Great Sea.’ Further, the dichotomy between Wisdom and Understanding really needs to be captured by a pair of symmetrically contrasting Planets, a function which I think falls to the more recently understood Uranus and Neptune, representing Cosmos or Elegance and Chaos or Complexity. Finally, Saturn should be remembered as being the final planet, or the planet of finitude, for most of Astrology’s long existence, and there are two points of view with regard to our finitude. One is from inside the skin (the organ ‘ruled’ by Saturn), the boundaries that we have learned not to cross, or the spankings we have received, and the other is the big picture, the infinitesimal hominid, seen sub specie aeternitatis, at the feet of the Great One of the Night of Time. Saturn in relation to Daath would be the former perspective, in relation to Kether, the latter. This relates nicely to Scholem’s comment above: Daath can be seen as an external aspect of Kether.
I had to make some corrections to Crowley’s work in correlating the Yi’s Bagua to the Sephiroth. Crowley had Dui bound to Chesed and Jupiter, but really, to place Dui with anybody but Venus is just ludicrous. Little Sister’s just gonna pout and break things. This leaves the only difficult assignment, Gen, to Chesed and Jupiter. The best way to make sense of this is to view Gen from two sides. The first is the spirit of equanimity and composure, and the higher love that this permits: having met our needs, we can move on to higher things. This is clearly Chesed and Jupiter. But Gen has a Saturnian aspect as well, as a force that stops us or turns us aside. Gen does not relate well to Chesed in this particular sense and this should be kept in mind. A little more on this shortly.
Table of Correspondences* Indicates a departure from, or addition to, the Golden Dawn and Crowley systems
Note that there are also alternative names for the ten Sephirot, among them: 1) Rum Maalah, Inscrutible Height; 3) Marah, the Great Sea; 4) Gedulah, Greatness; 5) Pechad, Fear; Din, Judgment; 6) Kavod, Glory; Rahamim, Compassion; 7) Netzach is also Endurance; 9) Yesod Olam, Foundation of the World; Zaddik, Righteous One; Kol, All; and 10) Mamlakhah, Kingship; Atarah, Diadem; Shekinah, Indwelling Presence
The Naples Arrangement
From Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, pp. 13-16
The Qabalists expanded [the] idea of Nothing [Ain], and got a second kind of Nothing which they called 'Ain Soph', 'Without Limit.' They then decided that in order to interpret this mere absence of any means of definition, it was necessary to postulate the Ain Soph Aur, 'Limitless Light.' By this they seem to have meant very much what the late Victorian men of science meant, or thought that they meant, by the Luminiferous Ether.
All this is evidently without form and void; these are abstract conditions, not positive ideas. The next step must be the idea of Position. One must formulate this thesis: If there is anything except Nothing, it must exist within this Boundless Light; within this Space; within this inconceivable Nothingness, which cannot exist as Nothing-ness, but has to be conceived of as a Nothingness composed of the annihilation of two imaginary opposites. Thus appears The Point, which has 'neither parts nor magnitude, but only position.' But position does not mean anything at all unless there is something else, some other position with which it can be compared. One has to describe it. The only way to do this is to have another Point, and that means that one must invent the number Two, making possible The Line. But this Line does not really mean very much, because there is yet no measure of length. The limit of knowledge at this stage is that there are two things, in order to be able to talk about them at all. But one cannot say that they are near each other, or that they are far apart; one can only say that they are distant. In order to discriminate between them at all, there must be a third thing. We must have another point. One must invent The Surface; one must invent The Triangle. In doing this, incidentally, appears the whole of Plane Geometry. One can now say, 'A is nearer to B than A is to C.'
But, so far, there is no substance in any of these ideas. In fact there are no ideas at all except the idea of Distance and perhaps the idea of Between-ness, and of Angular Measurement; so that plane Geometry, which now exists in theory, is after all completely inchoate and incoherent. There has been no approach at all to the conception of a really existing thing. No more has been done than to make definitions, all in a purely ideal and imaginary world.
Now then comes The Abyss. One cannot go any further into the ideal. The next step must be the Actual- at least, an approach to the Actual. There are three points, but there is no idea of where any one of them is. A fourth point is essential, and this formulates the idea of matter.
The Point, the Line, the Plane. The fourth point, unless it should happen to lie in the plane, gives The Solid. If one wants to know the position of any point, one must define it by the use of three co-ordinate axes. It is so many feet from the North wall, and so many feet from the East wall, and so many feet from the floor.
Thus there has been developed from Nothingness a Something which can be said to exist. One has arrived at the idea of Matter. But this existence is exceedingly tenuous, for the only property of any given point is its position in relation to certain other points; no change is possible; nothing can happen. One is therefore compelled, in the analysis of known Reality, to postulate a fifth positive idea, which is that of Motion.
This implies the idea of Time, for only through Motion, and in Time, can any event happen. Without this change and sequence, nothing can be the object of sense.
There is now possible a concrete idea of the Point; and, at last it is a point which can be self-conscious, because it can have a Past, Present and Future. It is able to define itself in terms of the previous ideas. Here is the number Six, the centre of the system: self- conscious, capable of experience.
At this stage it is convenient to turn away for a moment from the strictly Qabalistic symbolism. The doctrine of the next three numbers (to some minds at least) is not very clearly expressed. One must look to the Vedanta system for a more lucid interpretation of the numbers 7, 8 and 9 although they correspond very closely with the Qabalistic ideas. In the Hindu analysis of existence the Rishis (sages) postulate three qualities: Sat, the Essence of Being itself; Chit, Thought, or Intellection; and Ananda (usually translated Bliss), the pleasure experienced by Being in the course of events. This ecstasy is evidently the exciting cause of the mobility of existence. It explains the assumption of imperfection on the part of Perfection. The Absolute would be Nothing, would remain in the condition of Nothingness; therefore, in order to be conscious of its possibilities and to enjoy them, it must explore these possibilities … .
These ideas of Being, Thought and Bliss constitute the minimum possible qualities which a Point must possess if it is to have a real sensible experience of itself. These correspond to the numbers 9, 8 and 7. The first idea of reality, as known by the mind, is therefore to conceive of the Point as built up of these previous nine successive developments from Zero. Here then at last is the number Ten.
In other words, to describe Reality in the form of Knowledge, one must postulate these ten successive ideas. In the Qabalah, they are called 'Sephiroth', which means 'Numbers.' As will be seen later, each number has a significance of its own; each corresponds with all phenomena in such a way that their arrangement in the Tree of Life … is a map of the Universe. These ten numbers are represented in the Tarot by the forty small cards.
Crowley also offered a summarized version a later in his Book of Thoth:
61 +146=0 as Undefined (Space).
61 +146+207=0 as basis of Possible Vibration.
1. The Point: Positive yet indefinable,
2. The Point: Distinguishable from I other.
3. The Point: Defined by relation to 2 others.
The Abyss-between Ideal and Actual.
4. The Point: Defined by 3 co-ordinates: Matter.
5. Motion (time) He', the Womb; for only through Motion and in Time can events occur.
6. The Point: now self-conscious, because able to define itself in terms of above.
7. The Point's Idea of Bliss (Ananda).
8. The Point's Idea of Thought (Chit).
9. The Point's Idea of Being (Sat).
10. The Point's Idea of Itself fulfilled in its complement, as determined by 7, 8 and 9.
The four Aces postulate a pure conception of each element and suit, but not their full manifestation, not the elements themselves but their seeds or their DNA analogues. They are more of an implication of the suit's possibilities. Only the necessary and sufficient conditions have been met, but now that there is this opportunity, the opportunity itself may act as a cause. Capacity or emptiness can be a kind of power of its own. Aces can represent the awakening or rebirth of an elemental faculty in a person, or the positing of this faculty as an aim, focus, or center of reference. They become the root force of the element, and the narrowing of the plenum of all possibility to something specific and real. They suggest attending to beginnings, the consolidation of an initial position, and the setting of preliminary goals, to be modified by further developments. It is by no means certain that this new thing has any future, or any purpose in being. It may be too soon to say where it might want to go. It might be pluripotent, like an undifferentiated stem cell, still full of possibility. It might just be a raw stimulus, drawing our momentary attention, to develop as we see fit. In many systems of mystical thought, the point of a being’s emergence remains throughout the evolution of the being as its point of contact or unity with the divine, an idea that is close to the Hindu Atman. It is not a perfect unity but an emergence from a unity that might point the way back, like water emerging from a fountainhead. It is thus a being’s highest ideal or goal when it wants to get its divinity back. Another way to get a sense of the Ace is to cast your memory way back into early childhood and recall the first time you consciously noticed: Whoa, I’m alive! This is how I feel! This is My thought! I’m touching My thing! This dawning of our awareness, this emerging property or faculty, is the Ace.
The Number One connotes both beginnings and unity. A single point is not sufficient to create dimension, but it is dimension's prerequisite. A point posited forms the center of a reference or coordinate system, the sine qua non of position in space and time. With no external reference it only be grasped from within, in outward motion or emanation: its only direction is outward. In Kabbalah, the emergence of Kether may be likened to a rupture in nothingness, a pneumatic phenomenon, a hole in the void, as if torn open by a spark or an utterance, through which the potential for being emerges. It is analogous to telophase in mitosis, but is close to parthenogenesis as well. Old Egypt knew this creation out of ‘nothing’ as as the god Ptah, the opener.
Scales, models or analogs of the One are telophasic in character (the One sprouting a bud) or in some other way they identify, idealize or even deify the interface between self and other as a conjunctive process.
aperture, arising, aspiration, availability, basic quality, birth, center, conception, creation, discovery, emanation, emergence, epiphany, essence, eureka moment, false starts, focal point, focus, formative period, fountainhead, fresh take, germination, gift, herald, highest ideals, incentive, inception, initiation, integrity, lead, new challenge, newness, news, nucleus, opening, opportunity, origin, originality, point of contact, point of entry, positing, potential, presence, promise, prototype, readiness, revelation, root cause, source, spark, starting, stimulus, stirring, suggestion, threshold, trial, trial run, undertaking, wholeness.
Kabbalah: Depending on one's perspective, the One can be represented either by Daath, Knowledge, or Kether, the Crown; the Hidden Intelligence, the inscrutable light, the first motion, the breath of that which is not. The point in space and time allowing a thing to begin, a positing, Ehye (I Will Be), coming into being.
The Soul: Yechidah, spirit. Color: White; Commandment: No other gods
Astrology: Saturn (Shabbathai), Cronus, Saturn and Kronos, Time. The first functional limitation. Self as a difference or remainder, the universe minus the not-self, self defined in terms of the other, in terms of what it isn’t. Life at the boundary.
Yijing: Yang as the first spark of light or life. Bagua Kun, in the lower or Zhen position, providing only the most basic support for the four attributional Bagua. “Work on the basis, one’s foundation and premises, broadening, getting context correct, being in the right place.” From my Book of Changes, Xiao Xiang chapter, V1-464.
Oxherding Pictures: Back in the world with gift-giving hands
Quality: Kronos, Time’s window of opportunity for an entity; Atman
The four Twos speak to a recognition, creation, union or reconciliation of contrasting elements. Where two opposites are mutually exclusive, such as at one of life's crossroads, they advise a commitment to the path chosen. Twos avow and affirm one or both halves. Many Tarot authors start with the idea of opposition as antagonism and go no further, but the duality here is not that black-and-white, and the Smith cards they are attempting to account for do not portray a conflict either. There are many kinds of dichotomy besides conflicted opposition, some preferable even to the kind seen in the Yin-Yang diagram. The twos in the Tarot are inclined to either a directional vector model, points earlier and later in space and time, or to a model portraying the dynamic interplay of opposites that creates something more than the sum of the parts, a symbiotic relationship leading into synergy. There are moving parts to mesh or integrate.
Simplistic dualisms often ignore a wealth of grey area and involve the logical fallacy of the excluded middle, or tertium non datur (no third given). There are many types, and simple minds conflate them: us is to them as good is to evil as man is to woman as self is to other as superior is to inferior as white is to colored: this doesn’t work and it causes a lot of trouble. These dichotomies, and others, like figure-ground relationships, absence-presence spectra, syzygies, non-synergetic complements, and inimical win-lose battles may root their meanings here in two-ness, but these meanings are not generally the rule in Tarot unless one is locked into an overly simplistic mindset.
What the Twos do not do is look around, to see themselves objectively from outside. The two’s Wisdom may know precisely where to go and what to do there, but to know other points of view, or to know the value to be found in the more crooked paths, wants the Understanding of the threes. The Twos are more linear than that.
The Number Two is an elongation of the point in space or time, stretching the point, connecting the dots. Two connotes both linearity and choice. Two points define a line, the first dimension. A vector is formed in the track or movement of the point, like an arrow. Such movement also allows for a simple comparison of before and after. The notion of competing with ourselves for a personal best is an example. When encountering the ‘same’ self elsewhere on a continuum, we can start to measure our development. We can objectify a little, attach names and values, and make our choices accordingly. While two points don’t have an external reference point, they can at least reflect each other. Such reflection and comparison can still indicate or suggest a value judgment, such as when good opposes evil, or wisdom, stupidity.
Scales, models or analogs of the Two are classified above in a number of forms. Once again, in Tarot we are primarily looking at directional vectors, such as competing with yesterday’s self instead of an enemy, or else the productive integration of component parts.
admixture, affirmation, agreement, alternation, alternative, ambivalence, balance, bias, binaries, choice, counterclaim, coexistence, combination, complements, compromise, confirmation, continuance, continuation, continuity, continuum, contrast, cooperation, coordination, coupling, crossroads, decision, determination, developing, difference, direction, divergence, division, duet, duplicity, duration, dyadics, extension, integration, intention, interaction, interdependence, joining, negotiating, opposition, pairing, polarity, prospect, purpose, purposefulness, radius, reach, reciprocation, reconciliation, reflection, reinforcement, relationship, repetition, resolve, spectrum, symbiosis, teamwork, telos, unfolding, vector.
Kabbalah: Chokmah, Wisdom, the Radiant Intelligence, the Great Stimulator, the Second Glory, locus of the primordial idea, Abba (the great father), the first power of conscious intellect within Creation, uncovering the deeper truth.
The Soul: Chia, the life force or will; Color: Commandment: No name in vain
Astrology: Uranus, the Heavens, Inspiration, Originality. Self as a path through Cosmos, the intelligible universe, a place where powers meet for a time, as a knot or nexus. Large- scale transformation from a simple action in the right place and time. Suddenness or discontinuity in life as a function of the distance of self from its path of power, its lack of attunement.
Yijing: Bagua Qian, Creating (Tian, Heaven) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. “A powerful driving force, or meaning, in need of expression. This can overwhelm inadequate tools of expression.” V1-485.
Oxherding Pictures: Reaching the source
Quality: Cosmos, Elegance, simple expressions or formulations of natural law
The four Threes present a drive to branch outward, explore and expand. Their theme is growth and extension. The three is the child of two, the offspring or spinoff, expanding into family, joining something larger than itself. At times the Threes suggest joining with others, widening the circle and multiplying connections. We can rise above opposition this way: left wing and right wing are all the same chicken, or dragon. Threes can help us jump to the higher levels of integration.
A third point gets us outside of the line, to view things from different angles, to adopt alternative points of view. The plane or field lets us explore sideways, to go places where linear thinking cannot. We can see more interaction. We see alternatives to what the linear view tells us is true. It is not as effective as the two in getting specific things done, unless better ways are found that make up for the time and energy spent. Three is associated with expanded understanding, seeing more than one side, knowing things from different angles, and with the compassion that comes from borrowing another's perspective. This give us other options, and thus the freedom to choose among them that we lacked before we widened our view. It is thus related to liberty.
While three points define a plane or field, they may also be seen as the smallest number of points able to enclose a figure. The three also symbolizes support, as three legs make a stable stool, and as triangles are used to make structural trusses.
Threes have a mystical aspect: we are heaven or the cosmos seeking to know itself, or life itself seeking to reconnect with itself. Even some real and skeptical scientists think this. This broadening into the world implies an underlying sanction, since diversification is the way of evolution itself. If we see nature as sacred, then movement into the bigger picture is already consecrated or blessed.
The Number Three connotes both breadth and option. Three points define a plane, the second dimension. Potential direction expands infinitely when moving from line to plane: the path becomes a field. When the third point is interposed between the first two, we can add an interface between opposing entities, or a fulcrum to balance them. Or we can add past to present and future, or future to past and present. With the third point elsewhere we have alternate points of view, points of reference, or new perspectives. The higher human adaptations to the sphere of this number will tend to be mystics more than avatars, less prone to vector-driven purposes in life, more apt to acknowledge relativity: to know that yes, this is true, but so is that.
Scales, models or analogs of the Three tend to divide into two groups: synchronic (happening at the same time) and diachronic (happening over time). The first places a mediating influence or fulcrum between two opposites, as the Hindu or Vedic Guna Sattwas, between Rajas and Tamas, or as Laozi placed Qi between Yin and Yang in his only mention of those two words. The second places some version of presence between past and future, the Vedantin Brahma, between Vishnu and Shiva, for example, or fixed, between cardinal and mutable in the tenses Astrology.
addition, affiliation, alternative, balance, branching, breadth, broadening, complexity, complication, confusion, cooperation, context, dendritic forms, differentiating, diffusion, divergence, diversification, elaboration, evolution, expansion, expression, extension, fertilization, flanking, fulcrum, group activity, growth, interaction, latitude, liberty, matrix, mediation, multiplication, multiplicity, new factors, offspring, options, outreach, overextension, overview, perspective, progression, prospect, ramifications, reconciliation, reference, side effects, spinoffs, spreading out, synthesis, tolerance, understanding, unfolding, variation, versatility, widening.
Kabbalah: Binah, Understanding, the Sanctifying Intelligence, Ima (the Great Mother), matrix of nurture. Understanding as standing under, as supporting of the world, relating to beings from within, with compassion or sympathy.
The Soul: Neshamah; Color: Black; Commandment: Remember the Sabbath
Astrology: Neptune, the Sea, the Deep, Compassion, Confusion. Reference feeling within greater environments, life, region, world. Self as a wake through Chaos, the mysterious universe, a place where impressions are left writ in water. Processes of universalization, dissolution and embrace. The edge of measurability, failure of definition and fact. Ocean and Gaia in the blood. The doors of perception, the mystic’s reality.
Yijing: Bagua Kun, Accepting (Tu, Earth) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. The Bagua of Earth in early China takes on many of the West’s oceanic associations. Ancient China was an inland culture and these feelings, such as embrace or unity, adopted the more familiar symbolism of the good Earth. “Work on the basis, one’s foundation and premises, broadening, getting context correct, being in the right place.” V1-464.
Oxherding Pictures: Both Ox and self transcended
Quality: Chaos, Complexity, natural laws apply but outcomes are indeterminate
The four Fours suggest stabilization, equilibrium, stillness, and a time to rest or re- evaluate. Priorities are sorted during this pause, the superfluous is shed and personal domain is reorganized into a coherent, realizable and perhaps more portable whole. The fours are resistant to change, whether bodies are at rest or in motion. This gives them a temporary reliability to counterbalance the trouble caused by their inertia.
Jung’s four personality functions fit this model, as do the four elements of the Greeks. The elements make up the constituent parts of all manifest entities. To be fair to the Greeks, the conception of element was a little broader than that of our present day. The four were also dynamic processes and states of both matter (plasma, gas, liquid, solid) and change.
In the Qabalah the fourth Sephira down has crossed what is called the Abyss, between idea and actuality, though it is still abstracted from time. Getting "it" together and keeping "it" from wandering off (or succumbing to entropy) is the task of this sphere. It is the mound-builder on top of his mound, the demiurge, king of the hill, on terra firma at last, or on his last terra firma if he's planning on going beyond. He's feeling expansive, good and generous. The mountain's payments of debt are its scree and talus slopes, its homage to a long-term equilibrium and stability, in the broadening of its base. This is Nietzsche's Bestowing Virtue, to overflow is not to lose: giving is part of the process of having, and even its point. Abraham Maslow’s idea of ‘being motivation’ fits here too: this follows ‘deficiency motivation’ after needs have been met.
The Fours can be a little full of themselves, being self-contained and self-sustaining. But because the universe operates on principles other than negative entropy, the status of all things is temporary. We simply use what we can before it all comes apart.
The Number Four connotes both substance and stability. Four points will define the simplest solid, the tetrahedron. This is the first we see of existence in three-dimensional space. Note here that the cross-section of a line is a point; that of a plane, a line; that of a solid, a plane. By extension, a solid would be a cross-section taken through a still higher dimension: space-time. An object, a solid, entity, thing, or noun, is still an abstraction, a thing taken out of time and time’s processes of creation and destruction. The appearances of endurance, permanence, perfection, or even stability, are an illusion created by our limitation in time. And yet these appearances are the cornerstones of our reality, of which there are usually four. In construction, square often means true.
Scales, models or analogs of the Four can follow a 2x2 matrix formula (a+b)2 = a2 + b2 + ab + ba, where ‘a’ is a father or yang principle and ‘b’ a mother or yin principle, ‘ab’ the male offspring and ‘ba’ the female. But there is a hierarchy in this model that doesn’t exist in all scales of four. There is also the compass or four-directions model, the four seasons or the medicine wheel, where there is no mother and father or higher and lower: each of the four has its own intrinsic sovereignty. The wheel orients in space and time.
accumulation, achievement, actuality, arrangement, assumptions, boundaries, cohesion, completeness, comprehension, confirmation, consistency, consolidation, construction, delimitation, embodiment, enclosure, endurance, equilibrium, establishment, extension, fixation, foothold, formation, foundations, holding, honesty, immobility, incorporation, inertia, limits, manifestation, materiality, measurement, models, optimization, outcome, plateau, poise, practicality, predictability, prototype, realism, realization, reification, rest stop, restoration, scaffolding, security, settlement, solidification, stabilization, stagnation, standstill, stasis, stationary period, steadfastness, steadiness, stillness, stop, structure, substance, tangibility, tenacity, validation.
Kabbalah: Chesed, Mercy, or Gedulah, Greatness; the Settled, Measuring, Arresting, or Cohesive Intelligence; magnanimity, equanimity, beneficence
The Soul: Ruach (Part); Color: Blue. Commandment: Honor father and mother
Astrology: Jupiter (Tzedek), the Greater Benefic, magnanimity, equanimity, the higher powers of grace, majesty and command, being on top, self defined from within in positive terms, as the sum of one's identities.
Yijing: Bagua Gen, Stillness (Shan, Mountain) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. Associations of Gen to Chesed are generally limited to the more positive or upbeat aspects of Gen, the security to be generous; stillness, centeredness, or embodiment, and less applicable to its function as resistance, stubbornness, etc., although these more negative functions do apply well to the fours as mass, inertia, and resistance to change. “Finding security and stability at this point in time, patience, equilibrium, self- possession and restraint with matters at hand.” V1-467.
Oxherding Pictures: The Ox Transcended
Quality: Agape, the Higher Love; Eudaimonia, Flourishing
The four Fives are challenges to stability. Emphatic, destabilizing, and cogent, the Fives are often seen as violent, upsetting, disturbing or stressful when change is not a conscious choice, or the most attractive option. They demand adaptation and adjustment. The feedback we get here might even be none of our doing or karma: only some things truly happen for a reason. But any information we get from forces that do not support our present direction can still be adopted as lessons in life. Our own resistance to change is often the biggest part of the problem. Sometimes our challenges are best taken up as challenges to our understanding, because this new information might just be the negative entropy that restores order and stability, until next time.
Theologians came up with the idea that their god was absolutely perfect. This meant that he couldn’t change. He was already in the perfect place, therefore he couldn’t move. He already knew everything, and therefore he couldn’t learn. This shows in his writing. Perfection has nothing to do with this world or the next. Anything that wants to stand still gets abused. Adaptation is the name of the game. With the Fives, motion catches up. The rough edges get knocked off. The stable thing gets tested, gets taken sideways and aback, gets bent out of shape, gets selected out and substituted, replaced by something better adapted to the movement around it. Someone testing a new product should not whine when it breaks: they should learn and make the needed changes. Survival of the fittest refers to the creature best fit, not to the mightiest bully.
Vigorous, vital, kinetic and assertive describe the feelings of the Fives from within. More than any other number, the Fives change meaning depending upon whether the subject identifies subjectively with the character or force of the number, or regards himself as on the receiving end of an external power or agency, getting pushed or knocked around. The optimum approach to the Fives is therefore to side with the powers in play, or at least to make use of their momentum or inertia. This is not the place to play victim.
The Number Five connotes motion, momentum and power. The next dimension is time, change, and the forces of evolution that include selection and extinction. Fives are kindest as a feedforward process, like the first fetal kick at the uterine wall or the urgency driving the sprout into the daylight. Matter in motion through time undergoes change. This contains information and often re-formation. The logistical uses of feedback are functions of numbers or spheres more complex, but the process of adaptation starts here. Fives possessed of kinetic energy or fearlessness can be blind to both advantage and danger. Thus, Fives are normally strength, and not power, until they learn to become more sensitive to the world around them.
Scales, models or analogs of the Five fall into two general categories: the first models dynamic balance: this is the mandala or medicine wheel, the four directions joined by a center. In the East, the center is the ever-imperturbable Buddha at the motionless center of the wheel. The second models a dynamic imbalance, deliberate change. Its form is the pentagram, or the Seal of Solomon, the four elements topped by quintessence (the Fifth Essence) or spirit. This is the point of the star that gets aimed up or down. In China we have the dynamic Wu Xing or Five Phases.
activity, adaptation, adjustments, adversity, agitation, alteration, breakout, challenge, change, conflict, confrontation, coping, corrective force, crisis, critique, deconstruction, destabilization, discomfort, dislocation, disruption, disturbance, doing, drive, dynamics, excitement, fear, friction, imbalance, impact, improvisation, inconsistency, inconstancy, instability, justice, karma, kinetics, loss, mobilization, movement, novelty, pain, process, reaction, regrouping, release, restlessness, rigor, robustness, setback, severity, shakeout, shakeup, strength, stress, struggle, surprise, test, transition, trial, troubles, uncertainty, unexpectedness, unpredictability, upset, variation, versatility, violation, vitality.
Kabbalah: Geburah or Din, Judgment, or Pechad, Fear; the Radical Intelligence, Rigor, Strength, Severity, Justice, the warrior king, eliminator of the useless.
The Soul: Ruach (Part); Color: Red; Commandment: Do not kill
Astrology: Mars (Madim), War, drive, rushing force, kinetic energy, movement, power, heat, dominance, upset, force of character, the struggle for survival.
Yijing: Bagua Zhen, Arousal (Lei, Thunder; Dong, Movement) in the lower or Zhen position, with the four archetypal Bagua above. Moving things along, shaking things up. "Being driven from within by motives, appetites, natural inclinations: the will to live and advance the intentions.” V1-476.
Oxherding Pictures: Riding the Ox home
Quality: Andreia, Courage; Thelema, Will; character and tests thereof
The four Sixes depict self or entity as interconnected with a larger context, interacting with a greater whole with special reference to the state of things right now. Sixes are a dynamic arrangement, integrating experience into the structures of being. While full self-awareness comes a little later, attention and awareness are here. The deeper self is an energy system, not a static thing, with basic drives for wholeness, maintenance, health and identity. What it imagines itself to be is usually extraneous to this. Energy learns, when given a suitable place, so light learns. Life is what light has learned to do over billions of years. Life is a system that develops negative entropy, the noble fight against the heat death, and homeostasis, feeding and growing on otherwise-wasted starlight. Our awareness is not metaphorically light: it’s the same sunlight trapped photosynthetically by the food we just ate, getting metabolically burned, except that the energy is organized a bit better now. Now it’s on its way again, back into the night, but if we pay attention, we can make it do some useful stuff before it goes too far out.
Six, particularly as informed by the Sephira Tipareth, is said to mediate between the physical and the divine. Metaphorically, this is to live in two worlds at once: the darker world of causes and sources of fuel, out of which we emerged, and the brighter world of our emergent experience, called qualia, the things that didn’t exist before life learned to make them, like blue, happiness, purpose and consciousness. We are the flame that does this, the center of the spirit, and its witness. Spirit is not some transparent thing that came from elsewhere to cloak itself in meat. As a verb, it isn’t some thing that you have: it’s something you do, something you use or lose. It’s also not something that you can do yesterday or tomorrow, so the four Sixes will speak to what is at hand, the context of our development, the work we can do right now. That’s where the light is shining.
The number Six connotes both illumination and harmony. Being, or each being, comes to sense itself here as itself, and embedded in a context. As a sequel to the Five, Six is the self-organization subsequent to a dynamic interaction with context. Feedback was the consequence of motion. Beings learn to attend to this by developing sentience, awakening or lighting up. Then feedforward done for the sake of feedback becomes an intelligence-gathering activity: life lives to learn. Interaction with the other, harmonizing with the world, becomes the process by which the being illuminates what it means to say 'I am.' We fuel first, then feel the kind fires of sunlight transformed. We are not yet binding time: abstraction comes later. We are cutting across it in one vast, moving moment, perhaps one of our making, perhaps one which blinds us to the birth and death of our sun. Ah, but the glory for now. Fiat lux: it’s a thing of beauty.
Scales, models or analogs of the Six fall into a few classes: The Hexagram, Magen David, or Shield of David, depicts the harmonious interaction of faculties as intersecting triangles. Integrating fire and water, ups and downs, this is the closest image the West has to the Eastern Taijitu. It is used in the mystic arts to invoke (not to evoke or conjure) intense subjective experience. There are also six directions to point, six sides to a cube and ‘flower of life’ geometries, but these are not used in Tarot. Neither is the six-line Gua of the Yi, which describes a moving moment, with each line being in part a place in time or a phase in a longer process of change.
appreciation, arising, attention, awareness, balance, centrality, character, completeness, comprehension, context, continuity, coordination, culmination, cycling, emergence, equilibration, equilibrium, exchange, exposure, harmonizing, heartiness, illumination, individuality, integration, interaction, interconnection, interfacing, mediation, meshing, moment, momentousness, organism, presence, radiance and radiation, rebalancing, reconciliation, recovery, reintegration, reorganization, resonance, restabilization, righting, self-consciousness, self-correction, self-organization, sentience, spiritedness, symmetry, systemization, wholeness.
Kabbalah: Tipareth, Beauty, or Kavod, Glory, or Rahamim, Compassion; the Mediating Intelligence, harmony, balance, integration, agreement, resonance
The Soul: Ruach (Center); Color: Yellow; Commandment: No graven image
Astrology: Sol (Shemesh) the Sun, life, sentience, the inner light, the sense of being alive, the spark within or elan vital, health, awareness, consciousness.
Yijing: Bagua Li, Arising (Huo, Flame) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. Li is both the convergence of factors that bring us to the present and the divergent radiation of evolutionary progress from here. “Organizing the light within, the identity, according to clarity, values and visions, to perform the next transformation.” V1-479.
Oxherding Pictures: Taming the Ox
Quality: Genius, brilliance, the living, self-organized flame.
The four Sevens portray a lack of content and lack of contentment which drives beings onward: appetite and appetitive behavior, desire and its fulfillment, and the being's quest for personal success or victory. Survival is only the beginning of these goals. The Sevens want much more and this involves the learning of more effective stratagems, often by way of failed experiment, attempts to succeed driven more by affect than reason. What works and what doesn't are there to be learned, perhaps the hard way, until easier ways can be found. Sevens can exploit the environment, or adapt to it, or do both and still do no damage.
The Sevens are largely about Self and how it gets what it wants. Self-ishness only gets its bad name from when it gets done poorly. Self-interest, they say, is often enlightened. With self-assertion we explore the envelope of the possible. With self-directed activity we can follow our adopted purposes. Self-defense is an unquestioned right. But figuring out who we are to begin with is more than sometimes a challenge, since most of us are little more than a shifting coalition and vote of an unstable cluster of alternative selves. And amidst this confusion, our needs and our wants, and the ‘needs’ that we are told we must have, get conflated. Both pleasure and happiness follow us, or fail us, depending on how well we learn the meaning of enough. And enough, in its turn, is a function of both our tastes and our capacity for gratitude.
The ability to satisfy desire, or locate reliable sources of emotional value, is having a good attitude. This is conquest, and victory. This doesn’t require acceptance as it’s often understood. It’s fine to imagine things being different and wanting them to be different: we just need to accept what we have to begin with. The movement of self to actualize or win, the struggle to improve ourselves, and even having the incorrectly-maligned sense that self-esteem and self-love should be earned, suggest that we take life personally.
The number Seven connotes our desires and their fulfillment. With the number Six we evolved a conscious being. The first consequence of this awareness is the being’s drive to remain in existence- it likes being, despite any unpleasantness. It’s a pro-creative urge, even an urgency. It’s difficult to stop at homeostasis: it asks that its lot keep improving. It wants to stimulate itself by rubbing against good stuff. It wants both struggle and peace. Only the human is hell-bent on the former: he tells himself to seek things he cannot have, or things painful to get, or even that pain is worth seeking. Some worship their martyrs, the ultimate masochists. Buddha pinned much of our misery on craving, aversion and ignorance, three of the Seven’s more notorious traits. But there is a place for wanting more, and really, to extinguish desire when a little control and a few adjustments could make life just wonderful, seems a bit extreme. So we challenge the harmony of the Six with the Seven, and just hope for a more satisfied version some day.
Scales, models or analogs of the Seven are largely mythological, and deal with gain and loss, and magical thinking: a lucky god for each day of the week, lucky sevens, seven angels for seven ills, seven hells for them, seven heavens for us. The hexagram used for invocation has six points plus Sol at its center, rounding out the seven classical Planets (and Archons) that are really just the seven human parts of our psyche.
accretion, acquisitiveness, affection, appetite, approval, attachment, attraction, attractive force, bait, challenge, choice, conquest, consent, craving, desire, drive, eagerness, effort, embracing, experiment, exploitation, exploration, fitness, gaining, grasping, growth, hedonics, hedonism, hunger, importance, inclination, incompleteness, individuality, ingenuity, initiative, intensity and intention, kama, longing, love, lust, motivation, need, overreaching, passion, permission, pleasure, pluck, possession, preference, ravening, risk, satisfaction, seduction, self-interest, self-serving, sensuality, separateness, subjectivity, success, taste, temptation, testing, trying, valuation, victory, volition, want, wanting.
Kabbalah: Netzach, Victory or Endurance, the Hidden or Occult Intelligence; Triumph, desire fulfilled, enduring the turbulence, conquest with feeling
The Soul: Ruach (Part); Color: Green; Commandment: Do not not covet
Astrology: Venus (Nogah), Love, external splendor, in the beholder's eyes, attraction, hedonics, aesthetics, desire, motivated love, acquisitiveness.
Yijing: Bagua Dui, Satisfaction (Ze, Wetland) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. “Sustaining joy by meeting the present wants with present resources, taking care of real needs before moving on.” V1-482.
Oxherding Pictures: Catching the ox
Quality: Eros, Ananda (Bliss)
The four Eights show problem-solving behavior, employing intelligence, foresight, logistics and knowledge brought and carried forth from both first-hand experience and the culture at large. We learn the rules of survival, self-maintenance and self-repair, and then we learn how to get more. The organism moves through its environment exploiting this for what it needs and wants. It learns to understand boundaries, or what can and cannot be done. Having its wits about it frequently helps, having a plan, on occasion. With luck it learns to autocorrect before other forces of correction have to come from outside to bring or restore order.
Familiarity with similar situations can be a help or a hindrance: the mind does not always jump to the right conclusions. The cognitive skill sets we use don’t always have the full set of tools. More often than not, unlearning is missing, the acknowledgement of error that leads to corrections in thinking. Also, without proper care, one’s methods of reading the world can be at least as consuming as the problem to be solved. Evaluation is ongoing, and one can seldom seldom predict when a higher order of thinking might pop up and answer all questions at hand.
Like their patron deity, Mercury, the Eights like to move between levels or planes of existence, carrying information back and forth, playing messenger between mind and practicalities, and when it’s not too confusing, between cognition and affect. This last one is often the hardest, but head and heart do not need to fight. Communication assumes common ground and shared meaning, even between the levels and planes, so metaphors and analogies, symbols and signs are often the language to translate.
The Eights show a functioning system, adapting and stabilizing over time, processing the feedback from self-directed activity, healing when damaged or hurt, discovering the characteristic rhythms of life, and learning to foretell the future a little. Sevens learn to live, then live and learn; Eights live in order to learn to live without getting in trouble.
The number Eight connotes both information and order. With the Sevens, the being developed a will to survive, and then some, and set out, with lots of feeling, to get what it needed and then what it wanted. Reason was not always its companion. Mistakes were made. With the Eights, what has been learned is applied. Cooler heads seek to prevail, now that they have it all figured out. The mind tries to make life a bit of a science, to predict a behavior’s outcomes, that the same mistakes might not be made twice. It shares its information and draws from culture’s precedents. It invented human language in order to do this. The stuff that knowhow is made of takes little space and is easily accumulated and stored. Retrieval is somewhat harder: one needs the magic words. But when this is done correctly we have plenty of tools for making good decisions, solving puzzles and predicting the future. The greatest trouble here comes from learning the wrong thing, then taking hints that this is the case, and then admitting and correcting the error. Unlearning is very much harder than learning.
Scales, models or analogs of the Eight fall into two categories. The first, of seasons, cycles and circles, uses the Eight to orient us both in space (compass points) and in time (seasons, beginnings and midpoints), helping us to predict where we are. The second ogdoad, the first cube or two cubed, uses eight concepts to map the dimensions of mind, the Yi’s Bagua, for example, which also correlate with time of day and seasons. Both categories imply a sense of roundedness, completeness and symmetry.
abstraction, acumen, adaptation, adjustment, advice, ambivalence, analysis, applicability, appraisal, aptitude, aptness, articulation, assessment, attunement, bits, calculation, classification, cleverness, clues, communication, consideration, craft, Darwinian or Spencerian fitness, data, decision, design, discernment, divination, facts, formulation, information, intelligence, knack, knowhow, learning and unlearning, making connections, media, mediation, negotiation, optimization, ordering, organization, patterning, plasticity, prediction, priorities, problem solving, rationality, reading, readjustment, reasoning, rebalancing, reciprocation, recognition, reevaluation, regulation, regularity, remedies, repeatability, repertoire, rhythm, savvy, schema, structure, study, systemization.
Kabbalah: Hod, Splendor, Glory or Elegance, the Perfect or Clear Intelligence, the order in the world, the network of the masters, the mechanics of perception.
The Soul: Ruach (Part); Color: Orange; Commandment: Bear no false witness
Astrology: Mercury (Kokhab), Intelligence, perception and communication, information and networking, discernment, assessment, repertoire, familiarity, analysis, method of inquiry, logistics, problem solving, nimbleness, subtlety
Yijing: Bagua Xun, Adaptation (Feng, Wind and Mu, Wood) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. “Using one’s wits in self-organization to cope with the external, rethinking and altering the postulates as needed.” V1-473.
Oxherding Pictures: Perceiving the ox
Quality: Logos, Chit (Cognition)
The four Nines show the etiquette with which we greet the world's reluctance to match the Eights in intelligibility. This world just won’t stand still, although things may seem resolved and complete. Nines include all that might one day be known about the world that isn’t known yet, the magic that isn’t distinguishable from science. Mutability and flexibility are required of the faculties, if life isn’t to be just blind manipulation of the unintelligible. The possibilities seem an endless plenum and sentient beings are best off ready with many contingencies. Here are the formative powers which continue to form when no one is watching. Here is most mystery. Here is the solid oak chair made of the vast spaces in atoms, moving slowly toward the junk yard or bonfire. It’s the world where shamans pull hidden strings to make things change on the other side of the island, like the moon tugs at our animal souls. And of self in this world of flux and change, we're tangles in the web, eddies in the undercurrents. We are not separate, we have never been, we are rooted in this fertile and unknown stuff. It is our bottomless foundation, and it isn't terra firma. It’s clouds of gas forming planets, and fish crawling out of the sea, and us turning back to sign our names in this liquid, on behalf of its author. We are confused. Most run to the known and predicted. Some try to keep learning.
This huge unknown we're in is what upholds and sustains us. We can choose to blunder ignorantly through it, seeing no further than the opaque pages of scripture, or we can get humble and keep on adapting to a fluid existence. Every being that ever went extinct was once a stable organization within a changing niche. The learning that will continue to learn builds on a moving, dynamic foundation. The smugness and the complacency of knowledge and answers are for the short-lived beings. Where completion is thought a lasting conclusion, it tends to become ironically so. The Nines must maintain resilience to maintain their viability, and keep changing to maintain their completeness.
The number Nine connotes both subliminal and semi-conscious aspects of existence, the primordial roots from which the psyche emerges, and the rest of nature as well. This is all that we do not know of the world, supporting us from below. Subsequent to the Eight, the being has become a fully-developed living system, acting like nature itself, with little conscious effort or thought, newly equipped to survive and self-regulate as it negotiates its way through the known world. The being evolved, learned to adapt to its niche. The challenge now with the Nines is with the word “known.” If change were not the rule, we could wrap it all up here and at least call things complete, if not concluded. But now the niche itself is known to be always changing, demanding our resilience. Perfection is delusion. Even the rules and natural laws that tend to form with the Eights also have to adapt.
Scales, models or analogs of the Nine, the end of the digits, are fairly difficult to find, but the recipe for one is obvious: the scale of three, inbred to form a matrix. It might model aspects of the human mind, as the Enneagram typology models personality. The Nine Muses, the daughters of Memory, enumerate our creative gifts. There are now only nine astrological planets, rounding out the parts of our Psyche.
adaptation, adjustment, alteration, amenability, assimilation, attainment, basis, buffering, change, compatibility, completion, compliance, conformance, consequences, contingency, correction, culmination, evolution, feasibility, flow, fluctuation, fluidity, flux, fulfillment, homeostasis, impression, integration, maintenance, maturation, modification, necessity, ongoingness, permutation, plenum, pliancy, progression, reconciliation, reconsideration, regeneration, relearning, renewal, resilience, resourcefulness, responsiveness, restoration, revision, substratum, sufficiency, summation, sustainability, underpinning, unlearning, variation, versatility, viability, vulnerability.
Kabbalah: Yesod, Foundation, the Pure or Purified Intelligence, the web of necessity, the vision of the machinery of the universe, the energy of integration, the plenum beyond the obvious.
The Soul: Nefesh, astral mind; Color: Purple; Commandment: No adultery
Astrology: Luna (Levanah), the subliminal, responsiveness, assimilation, sensitivity to impression, apperceptive mass and perceptual inertia
Yijing: Bagua Kan, Exposure (Shui, Water and Xian, Risk) in the lower or Zhen position with the four archetypal Bagua above. “Changing ones’s shape in confronting exigencies of a situation, especially emotionally, responding with fluidity.” V1-470.
Oxherding Pictures: Discovering the hoofprints
Quality: Psyche, Sat (Being)
The four Tens depict ways to encounter, respond to, or otherwise cope with a super-abundance of the element in question. This excess might be cumulative over time or encountered suddenly. An over-fullness of development, a culmination or a completion, now begs for change, a refocusing of attention and effort, out of the broader perspective which comes from satiety or exhausted effort.
The Western traditions have their weird fascination with completion as perfection, and an unchanging eternity as a thing to be desired. The prospects of senescence are often countered with talk of ideal realms and afterlives. But completion is an impermanent state and only mocks the pretentiousness of perfect and eternal. Perfection is already past the tipping point for long-term stability. To seek the final arrangement is not the way to find meaning in a world where everything changes and dies. This is rather a question of what to do with the momentum of change and the breakdown of the newly outmoded: what have we learned and what can we do with that? To attempt preservation is to lose that.
The Tens of Wands and Swords, the more ‘masculine’ suits, are generally depicted as more aggressively excessive than the Cups and Pentacles. Collapse of the effort is more immanent, discontinuous and dire, and recovery more radical. Cups and Pentacles come to a gentler conclusion and often imply a handoff of the effort to a new generation to carry it forward. But all four suits transition to something new and different.
The Tens suggest a pause for looking around, a rethinking of continued progress on this particular path, a way to carry the lessons learned forward, and apply them to other pursuits in other directions, especially beyond the present moment. This is a refreshing of purpose, not necessarily a great loss, a restart in the next dimension, a new chapter, perhaps with a big plot twist.
The number Ten connotes both completion and the full materialization of the element. This is the endpoint of creation, where is is often assumed that the divine is finished with its work. Throughout the Piscean Age it has been the fashion to malign the world while praising the beyond. To lowlanders, rocks are nouns or things: they don't move or change much. Highlanders see more verbs, rocks moving, if slowly, changing and multiplying. The material world is a process, as spirit is a process. The point is, matter has wrongly been made a scapegoat for our ills. The Qabalists say that even deity regrets going this far, that our earth and mother are now too far from heaven. We can at least say, as existentialists, that our notion of heaven is too far from our earth: the two are joined at our feet. But going too far (or needing to stop in time) is the Tarot meaning, so that the process and progress of the Suit must either end now, or begin with something new, or else be passed to the next generation.
Scales, models or analogs of the Ten rely heavily on the accident that humans evolved with ten fingers. But because that was all we got, it became the symbol for having a full set of something. The ten Sephiroth of both Kabbalah and Qabalah have had much to do with the evolution of the Pip meanings, along with bits of Astrology, Yijing and less elaborate systems that have been brought in as correlates. The venerated Pythagorean Tetractys (1+2+3+4) has had some indirect effects. The Ten Stems of Chinese lore have had no influence.
accumulation, anticlimax, attrition, climax, closure, collapse, completion, conclusion, consequence, consummation, critical mass, culmination, decline, denouement, departure, descent, ephemerality, exaggeration, exhaustion, extremity, finale, finality, follow through, force majeure, fulfillment, institution, intemperance, legacy, limit, maximum, metamorphosis, metanoia, mortality, obsolescence, outcome, overabundance, overdoing, overextension, overkill, overload, overplay, overshoot, overreach, realignment, rebirth, results, metamorphosis, peak, refocussing, responsibilities, rethinking, reversal, satiety, senescence, surcharge, surfeit, past perfect, tipping point, transition.
Kabbalah: Malkuth, the Kingdom; Mamalkhah, Kingship; Atarah, Diadem; or Shekinah, the Indwelling Presence, the Cohabiting Glory, or Kallah, the Bride; the Resplendent Intelligence; the world as altar, earth as heaven's bride
The Soul: Guph, animal soul; Color: Earth tones; Commandment: No stealing
Astrology: Terra, Gaia, Home. Ironically, it’s the materialists who tend to think its alive. Pluto, were it still a planet, as lord of the underworld, would be lord of the Kabbalistic sparks within the shells, the Kelipot Nogah.
Yijing: Yin as accepting or responsive. Bagua Qian, Creating (Tian, Heaven) in the lower or Zhen position with the four attributional Bagua above, each overwhelmed by their own excessive development or progress. “A powerful driving force, or meaning, in need of expression. This can overwhelm inadequate tools of expression.” V1-485.
Oxherding Pictures: Search for the Ox
Quality: Soma, embodiment, of the body. “You did not come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave comes out of the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Alan watts. (A little plug for emergence in a world of hungry ghosts)
Ace of Wands
Root of the Powers of Fire
Readiness, Enthusiasm, Willingness, Quickening
Image: A roughly phallus-shaped torch is held forth by a hand emerging from the bottom of the card. This need not be an angelic hand issuing from heaven or another dimension, but consider that a magic wand requires consecration or dedication to a higher purpose, or else it’s just a stick or any old penis.
This is our primordial energy, our life force or elan vital, the drivenness of individual beings, ‘natural as opposed to invoked force,’ the awareness and other things that life can make from metabolic heat. By analogy with the fire triangle, heat, fuel and oxygen must all be supplied to create or sustain a flame: fill in the parts of the analogy. Oxygen, for instance, might be exposure. The buildup to this moment might be regarded as fuel. And note that a new flame will need tending, unless it emerges in a flammable or explosive context, or else it might die out. Learning how to light up is a task the Ace shares with the Princess, but she is a little further along in the learning process. The force may feel like a creative pressure or urge, pressure wanting ex-pression, a pioneer spirit, a challenge that calls to action, empowerment, and carping the diem. Note that it’s pressure in the blood that holds the phallus erect. This is either a call for or a source of courage and self- encouragement, a new source or energy or motivation, a getting fired up, an excitement, or an enthusiasm. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 16, Readiness or Enthusiasm.
This signals a starting point or new beginning, a personal enkindling or quickening; a new personal project, such as living life more vividly, or raising mindfulness, or fulfilling a drive. It might be a new identity or role, a new or renewed sense of purpose, a new interest or stimulus, a new passion ignited or kindled, or a new torch to carry, or just something worth getting excited about. We may be discovering a personal potential or undeveloped gift still to be realized, still more promise than actual, perhaps not yet a source of dynamic energy but needing more input or nurture. This may still be a general drive that needs to be narrowed or specified to get real. It may be that the raw energy is already there but its use or outlet is still undefined. A new state of mind has received a majority vote of the selves that one is made up of. There is nothing quite like novelty for piquing our interest or awareness and bringing our selves together. This is called will, but it’s not yet will until it’s in motion, so it’s actually more would now than will, more like a willingness.
This could also be an unblocking, or a opportunity at last to act, starting with finding the right place and time, a moving forward for which one has been ready for some time. There may also be a rhythm that one first needs to synch up with, or some other way to overcome inertia and capture momentum. Or it could refer to the renewal of a source gone dormant, the fanning of old embers and sparks, the revitalization or reinvigoration of a state that we have known and learned we could lose.
arising, arousal, assent, attunement, avidity, awakening, beginning, birth, boner, brio, cause, confidence, consonance, creation, drama, drive, eagerness, encouragement, enkindling, enlivening, enthusiasm, excitement, exhilaration, exuberance, fire starter, ignition, illumination, impulse, initiation, initiative, innovation, inspiration, intention, interest, invigoration, forwardness, kindling, libido, liveliness, love of life, origin, originality, potency and potential, preparedness, principle, promise, quickening, readiness, rousing, rush, source, spark, starting, stimulation, stimulus, stirring, surprise, urge and urgency, virility, vitality, willingness.
Warnings and Reversals:
apathy, boredom, complacency, delay, depression, doubt, embarrassment, enterprise is cancelled, erectile dysfunction’s attitudinal equivalent, impatience, impotence, inertia, false start, flash in the pan, frustration, self-indulgence, timidity.
Ace plus Wands. The beginning of a dynamic process, an opportunity for energy to do work, which is the definition of power once work is being done. Capacity, a measure of emptiness, is also the capacity or power to do work.
Astrology: Saturn in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 0° Aries). Issues of dignity, identity, individuation, initiative, managing the inhibitions, reserve, self-esteem, self-expression, urgency, willingness.
Qabalah: Kether in Atziluth. Opening up a new point of view, positing a new sense of identity.
Yijing: Gua 16, Yu, Readiness, Enthusiasm, Willingness. Da Xiang: Kun (Ace) below, Zhen (Wands) above; “Thunder comes from the earth with energy. Readiness. The early sovereigns composed music to celebrate merit, enthusiastically offering this to the highest divinity.” The joyful noise. Preparedness to move. The Tuan Zhuan glosses Yu as shun dong, responsive movement. Dance is even implied in Yu’s etymology, specifically the inclination of elephants to move to human music. "Worthwhile to establish delegates and mobilize the reserves." Response in the direction the world already seems to want to go.
Two of Wands
Dominion, Domain, Nobility, Valuing
Image: A man of strong economic or social presence stands at a battlement or parapet surveying his world and its boundaries from a commanding vantage, holding a longstaff and an orbed scepter. A more gnarled staff stands alone.
Human is as human does. Poets will say something different, philosophers too, but they largely describe their own fantasies. We adapt or fail to adapt by our actions, and this is how we become what we are. Such a definition denies us our greatest human hypocrisy. The Two of Wands is about knowing who we are, what we want and how we enact our choices. It’s the development of our identity and purpose, and then about how we take responsibility or ownership of the world around us, however big or small that world is. Given the clarity of direction that the wisdom of the Two can develop, a deeply personal path or calling, we can claim the right to create the world we live in, sometimes on a grand scale, but easily on our own. This takes the courage to change the things we can. Of course the platitude says we should try to change only ourselves. But this is our choice: 'If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.' It is knowing who we are that tells us what to do. The rules are simple then: be true.
Dominion is probably the best single word for this card, and it is commonly used. It comes from the Latin domus, meaning home. It refers to our own domain, what we claim as our own turf and purview, what we are ultimately responsible for, what we are lord or domine of, what we are able to dominate, and what is within our rights to domesticate. We are not required to take charge of anything, not even ourselves. This helps to explain why the world is run by a hive mind. Some of us would change this. And some of us who would will only make things worse. But the character of this card is to apply directed energy to further the good, to make the world a more habitable place, and perhaps to give something back to the world. The counterpart in the Yijing is Gua 14, Big Domain or Possession in Great Measure, which needs little explanation.
The Chinese speak of wu wei, not doing or inaction, as a value for living, but the kind of doing (wei) that is not being done means ‘acting’ in the sense of playing a specified role that is far too frequently sideways to our original nature. And this in its turn tends to emerge from inferior wisdom about what we need and want, and what it means to have. The truly noble can ‘have’ as much just holding a pilgrim's staff: the greatest power is in the power to assign a value to things. It's the appreciative and the grateful who are rich.
As we search for our identity, the empowerment of knowing ourselves, we look first for a continuity in time. We prioritize around this identity. We try for a binding alliance of the many parts of ourselves, a unity that is our integrity, or an undivided wholeness. We compile a self out of the sum of our values, starting with likes and dislikes. We seek to own ourselves, and to own up to our errors, then responsibly alter who made them. So continuity is one thing and discontinuing error another. We are not just the line we like to draw between only our shiniest moments. Delegating tasks and influencing others will do little outside of the world we can manage, and what we cannot demonstrate or exemplify will not be adopted. We can manage this only by walking the talk. In short: be excellent.
affirmation, affluence, ambition, appropriation, areté, assets, assumption, attainment, authority, avowal, being lord, boldness, calling, cause, choice, claiming, command, confidence, confirmation, convergence, conviction, counting of blessings, dedication, determination, direction, elective, emboldenment, endowment, enrichment, entitlement, excellence, futurity, gratitude, higher purpose, identity and identification, intention, license, nobility, overseeing, ownership, owning up, pride, principles, privilege, purpose, resolve, responsibility, right, rule, sovereignty, summoning, taking control, taking title, taking responsibility, validation, valuation, value, wealth, wherewithal, will, worth.
Warnings and Reversals:
arrogance in arrogation, blind ambition, conflicted sense of identity, a disappointing success, linearity of purpose, loss of will, obstinacy, opposition from others, overweening ambition and pride, recklessness, shamelessness.
Two plus Wands. The directing of energy towards an aim, or the focusing of a dynamic force according to a chosen purpose or want. There is not a lot of circumspection or reviewing of options here: it's closer to knowing than knowledge.
Astrology: Uranus in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Aries, Patron: Mars). Issues of autonomy and autocracy in decisions to change the world, the courage to change the things we can, taking responsibility outside of ourselves, sense of purpose or higher purpose.
Qabalah: Chokmah in Atziluth. Wisdom in action, setting forth principles and establish- ing precedents.
Yijing: Gua 14, Da You, Big Domain, Possession in Great Measure, Great Havings. Da Xiang: Qian (2) below, Li (Wands) above; “Flame in heaven above. Big domain. The young noble suppresses the bad and promotes the good, accepting heaven’s terms and higher laws.” Endowments, dominion, enrichment, laying claim, wealth of experience, owning one’s power to assign, rearrange and revise values. "Supreme fulfillment." Where we learn to make our own values we command our own enrichment.
Three of Wands
Enterprise, Expansion, Liberty, Character
Image: A merchant stands on a promontory overlooking a harbor, leaning on one of three staffs, watching the boats of one of his ventures set sail toward horizons that lie beyond his domain. He may have two absent partners.
The energetics of the Three of Wands is the launching of a new venture, the opening up of a young system to multiple new inputs, enriching stimulation, where adding seems more like multiplication. The circulation of energy scrubs, clarifies and organizes the system (or the self) through which it flows. As it does, so it becomes new and applied information. Things working themselves out tend to learn and follow their natural inclinations. As input is broadened, so is effect. While positive feedback is not always to be desired, motion builds on motion here, and enrichment on enrichment. We learn best by doing.
A new or growing enterprise may under way. Business and commerce can be understood both literally and metaphorically here. What is suggested and even recommended (also in the corresponding Yijing Gua) is free market economics, free trade, open-door policy, classical liberalism, loosened external constraints and the invisible hand. But lest there be confusion, this is absolutely distinct from modern corporate capitalism, where the laws, trade agreements, subsidies, and governments are purchased on the cheap and enacted to serve a top heavy and stratified economy. This is a far less corrupt, more dignified approach to business: expanding horizons, exploring possibilities, exploiting opportunities, growing in vision and influence, and simply responding to demand with supply. There is no reason that this cannot be accompanied by conscience, which is normally a casualty of unfair interference and the artificial manipulation of market signals relating to supply and demand.
Free minds are the close analogs of free markets. They capitalize on the free speech and inquiry in the marketplace of ideas. They thrive on sunshine and openness. The free exercise of liberty is by far best teacher we have. As we work out our chosen destinies, we learn to be accountable for our actions, and we unlearn the worth of blaming others. You can learn not to touch the stove or the fan in theory, but the freedom to touch might lead you to learn it indelibly. Legal prohibition only drives behavior underground and into the shadows, to organize crime. The censorship and distortion of information diminishes our understanding of reality. Sunshine, fresh air, and transparency are, for the most part, only unfriendly to pathogens. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 35, Advance or Progress, and uses the rising sun, or daylighting for its central metaphor.
The analogies and their benefits extend to the commerce in interpersonal energy, to social activity, and to the learning of moral and ethical behavior. This is the card’s common association with character and virtue as a fiery or Wands force. With tolerance, we live and learn to let live. Right is the reciprocal and the complement of duty: my right to speak my mind is also my duty to let you speak yours. We learn this by interacting and exercising our freedoms, not by being told by a leader, preacher or book. Full accountability means that we are responsible for how this world runs and that people get the government they deserve. Our world is not the sum of all of our actions: it’s the sum of each of our actions. The fire and the sovereignty is in the individual. The expansive or extensive thrust of the Three helps to make this contagious. Victims must learn to unite and take down their own bullies all by themselves, and until that day, the bully rules. But permission sometimes must be taken, not merely begged for. Energy needs to risk itself to learn and understand, as either the air or the wings must be moving before a bird can change its course, or as a boat must be in motion before its rudder will work.
adventure, assent, assistance, branching out, broadening, character, circulation, collaboration, commerce, connections, cooperative endeavor, development, disclosure, discovery, diversification, emergence, energy, enterprise, evolution, expansion, expedition, experimentation, exploration, extension, extrapolation, generosity, glasnost, growth, interaction, largesse, liberality, liberty, license, networking, open-mindedness, openness, opportunities, outgrowth, outreach, overture, progress, progression, projection, promotion, prospect, speculation, thriving, tolerance, trade, transparency, undertaking, unfolding, venture, virtue, virtus, vision.
Warnings and Reversals:
bringing something to light proves disgusting, clinging to old ways and darker times, failure of nerve, fear of risk, fear of being first, grandiosity, hyperbole, overconfidence, parasitism, refusal to pardon the past, trouble with partners.
Three plus Wands. Exposure to broader choices or alternatives of behavior and their consequences. Allowing a greater flow of energy to teach or instruct, in the sense of growing structure for understanding. Exploring and experimenting.
Astrology: Neptune in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Aries, Patron: Sol). Opening up into energy, learning by doing, venturing, reaching out, generosity that earns rewards, speculation, experiment, collaborating in efforts.
Qabalah: Binah in Atziluth. Growing understanding by reaching into a broader world of involvement and experience.
Yijing: Gua 35, Jin, Expansion, Progress, Advance. Da Xiang: Kun (3) below, Li (Wands) above; Sunrise. “The light rises over the earth. Expansion. The young noble naturally radiates clarity of character.” De, as character or virtue, offers a good understanding for both the Gua and the Card. “The prosperous lord uses grants of horses to breed a multitude and by the light of a day three times grants audience.” Enterprise, free markets, circulation, disclosure, liberty, improvement, thawing, opening up, generosity, permission.
Four of Wands
Nichemanship, Accommodation, Caravansarai, Integrity
Image: (Modified) A wayfarer arrives at a place where the wayward can rest, an open-air canopy, already containing a fire and three other nomads who all seem to hail from different cultures. The mood seems celebratory, even with fungible celebrants. The day's last task is to enter and make himself at home.
There is an inherent tension between the organizing, constructive and consolidating processes of the Fours and the disorganizing, restless and dynamic energy of the fiery Wands. This is resolvable, however, in the idea that stability and structure here are only temporary, dynamic, and ad hoc or ad interim. This is stability in motion, security on the move, dynamic equilibrium. There is only one provision here: the stability of fire is in its sources of fuel. A self-sustaining system needs only to feed. But if all it does is consume then it cannot maintain its place or its welcome. It takes care to stay longer than this.
Who we genuinely are can be altered by experience, and we want that, if we are living well. Continuity is more important in life than consistency. Stability exists, but in an ever-changing form, and a tolerable continuity is conditional and contingent upon getting along with our context. If we enter this present context correctly we at least have a place to rest for a while and things might hold fairly still for a night. Identity is constrained for now by place. The Wands that form the gate in Smith’s deck signify something more like a party or a weekend event. I would use the term caravansarai, a stable place for the travelers who are constantly streaming through it. Feeling at home here becomes a simple matter of tact and good manners, but better still if you can tell a good story. While we adapt ourselves to our niche here, we still want a niche in which we can be ourselves. Self-management is advised. The sacred fire, the eternal flame, the controlled burn: all of these want to have some maintenance included in their budgets.
The idea of 'completion' is frequently mentioned along with this card, but a functional arrangement or working configuration captures the notion much better. This includes having a functional personality and a working identity. We are meeting the conditions of our place, but not assuming that we will remain the same when the context changes. We are only completing what needs to be done for now. We are able to know and respect the place we are in, to know the place on its own terms, to fit in and still be ourselves, to remain self-reliant but tactful, politic, polite and thankful enough to obtain any help that we need. Nothing is really done or complete here, except that we have put more days and milestones behind us.
Also relevant to the card is the stability that we carry with us through the fire and the changes, how we stay recognizable to ourselves while we are evolving and adapting to our circumstances, how well we hold ourselves up and hold ourselves together. This is our integrity. To remain both consistent enough and adaptable we will want to travel lightly, as it’s easier to hold it together when we have less baggage to manage: a little luggage maybe, or a small carry on, or maybe a bug-out bag. Perhaps a tent instead of a building. The corresponding Gua in the Yijing is The Wanderer.. One prepares with a few well-chosen and highly portable tools, such as one's wits, tact, credit, self-rule, a likable attitude, or a useful one, and working notions of what is necessary and sufficient: just the essentials, a simple standard or formula for living. It’s also easier to get out of tight spots this way. The ease and comfort with which we move through the world, our sense of at-home-ness, is a function of our adaptability, or our nichemanship, our tactics of intrusion and our capacity for diplomacy. The goal is to not be a stranger. For the sake of avoiding unpleasant surprises, we want to be trusted for the reliability of our character. It helps when a good repute or reference precedes us. The presumption of innocence and benefit of the doubt help preserve us. These will make negotiating mutually acceptable arrangements easier, even with strangers. As Bob Dylan put it, 'to live outside the law you must be honest.' This preserves us a more reliable freedom.
accessibility, accommodation, ad hoc, ad interim, amenability, approach, arrangements, arrival, availing oneself, chameleon, comfort zone, completion, conditions, context dependence, diplomacy, encampment, entering, fitting in, functionality, gateway, halfway home, harvest home, haven, holiday, improvisation, inn, integrity, interlude, intermission, meeting place, meetness, milestones, nichemanship, passages, portability, protection, provision, recharge, refueling, refuge, repast, repose, respite, resting place, reward, safe house, settlement, shelter, sponsorship, stable period, steadiness, stopover, suitability, tact, welcome.
Warnings and Reversals:
arrogance as ‘not asking’ (rogare), baggage, botched entry, estrangement, freedom is not independence, inconsideration, ineffectiveness, insecurity, insensitivity, intrusiveness, quarrels, rudeness, tactlessness, thoughtlessness.
Four plus Wands. The packaging of a fire can only be accomplished with a modest and well-controlled burn, as this is done in a lantern. We want to combine a stable identity with an intensity of experience that can change our identity in fundamental ways. It’s a compromise: more movement than Fours want, and less than what Wands would stir up.
Astrology: Jupiter in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 20°-30° Aries, Patron: Venus). A self- image or identity that seeks the genuine thing, first-hand and up close. This can mean getting one’s precious self out of the way, adapting, and playing a different part to meet the experience on its own terms and turf. This is the Jupiter who turned himself into a bull or a swan to get his needs met. More especially, it’s the Unknown God, the Jupiter who went door-to-door with his pal Mercury, disguised as vagabonds, to see the true nature and character of his people.
Qabalah: Chesed in Atziluth. 'Establishment of the work with tact and gentleness.' (here Crowley attributes this to the influence of Venus, but a higher love is an attribute of Jupiter as well, particularly agape, and certainly of Chesed as beneficence)
Yijing: Gua 56, The Wanderer. Da Xiang: Gen (4) below, Li (Wands) above; “Atop the mountain is a flame. The wanderer. The young noble is lucid and prudent about the function of sanctions and thus avoids prolonged legal process.” Making oneself at home, but only on a temporary basis, the tactics of intrusion, diplomacy. “With modest fulfillment, the wanderer persists. Promising.” Unencumbered by wealth, the ad hoc life, living without a net, traveling light.
Five of Wands
Strife, Struggle, Competition, Assertiveness
Image: A slightly older gentleman defends himself with his staff against four similarly armed assailants. He has already disarmed one, and is stepping towards the second while watching a third.
Darwin began: 'We will now discuss in a little more detail the Struggle for Existence.' The core meaning of the Five of Wands is as straightforward as the Four was complex, although the Five will tend to make more of a mess of things on the back end. The force for change, or kinetic energy of the Five is expressed here through the element of Fire. Something is likely to get moved around or altered. The basic idea is that change is the rule. It can be temporarily resisted, but often this will makes the needed adjustments more abrupt, and even violent, the longer that a change is resisted or stresses allowed to build up. It’s like plate tectonics: better ten little quakes than a major disaster. But the notion of pent-up emotions or hostilities can also offer a false, self-fulfilling, 'hydraulic' model of things, demanding a catharsis or venting before more useful solutions are tried. While the Tarot images show interpersonal competitions and conflicts being worked out more violently or aggressively, this will not always be the case. Our worthy opponent could as easily be a disobedient part of ourselves, or anything else that might get us piqued, heated up, riled up, vexed, annoyed or enraged. Sometimes it’s just an excuse to blow off some steam. It’s a good idea simply to let the images of interpersonal conflict here stand in as a metaphor for energetic divergence in general.
There are usually alternatives to violence, even in self-defense. Raging against the rock that jumped out and stubbed your toe is almost always a bad idea. The martial arts can provide a pretty good model for non-violence. The best defensive move might be using your feet to walk away. An Aikido approach might move directly into the center of the situation’s gravity and take control from there, simply helping the opponent to fall down. Often aggression is just a substitute for confidence. If clarity and cooler heads can prevail at all, someone might think to ask if there really is a right and wrong here. We can often put cards on table and tell the truth and work it out, or we can resort to law and legal force, and even save ourselves some jail time thereby. Sometimes the exercise of this right to legal recourse is even a duty, even when the police power or system of justice is known to be corrupt. Rashness can be even blinder than this.
Authors will often suggest that this is only play, or a friendly competition, and this is sometimes the case. Both of these, of course, go way back, beyond even our life in the African trees. Thought is a latecomer here. And it isn’t always just preparation to battle for mates or territory, or for driving the intolerable and the insufferable out of our tribe and our niche. The Five of Wands is also vigorous effort for its own sake, for the simple pleasure in exercising power or force, for flexing some muscle, for the dopamine, for good health, and for learning more about life. Whether in sport or in earnest, our mock combat teaches agility, decisiveness, ingenuity, focus and fair play. These games are analogs of real world affairs that go far beyond the more heated engagements. They even have something to add to quiet walks in the woods.
And, naturally, this can can mean what it seems like it means: a true test and rite of passage, one played for keeps and even for survival, an incident calling for extreme self- assertiveness and exertion, an emphatic contradiction of things as they are. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 21, Biting Through, which describes the use of emphatic, corrective action. Violations of due order, forces at odds and cross-purposes to what we know is a better way, unjust and illegal challenges to our sovereignty or our safety, being put or set upon: all of these might demand emphatic action or force. We know in ourselves that forward motion often has repercussions, especially if we fail to process the feedback we get. But sometimes it falls to us to be the repercussion or be the feedback for others. We may have an opportunity here to offer some good information to bad actors and actions and answer a challenge with appropriate force. But where it’s information we offer, there are good arguments for starting with clarity, instead of wrath or rage.
affront, aggressiveness, assertiveness, burning need, censure, challenge, check, clash, cogency, combativeness, competition, competitiveness, conflict, confrontation, confusion, contradiction, crime, crisis, criticism, destabilization, disagreement, disarray, discord, disobedience, disorder, disorganization, dispute, dissent, divergence, dysfunction, effort, emphasis, enforcement, excitement, execution, ferocity, fight, friction, hassles, heated tempers, hotheadedness, intolerance, irritation, judgment, nuisance, obstacle, offense, opponents, punishment, purgation, quarrel, retaliation, retribution, rivalry, roughhousing, self-assertion, self-defense, sparring, sport, strain, strength, stress, strife, struggle, taking action, tests, trials, trouble, uncertainty, unrest, upheaval, violation, violence.
Warnings and Reversals:
acrimony, complexity, confusion, contradiction, exertion, frustration, indecisiveness, legal problems, lex talionis, litigation, panic, rage, rashness, recklessness, training is overly structured, violence, wrath.
Five plus Wands. Static builds pressure and releases suddenly, force out of proportion to that of steady change, backlog of change catching up quickly, structures challenged and defended, change tests the status quo,
Astrology: Mars in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Leo, Patron: Saturn). Mars is good with fire, maybe too good. It’s an inclination to act dynamically, with assurance and vigor. Self-assertion does not need to be offensive, aggressive or violent, and the absence of these is often a measure of real assurance and strength, even in a warrior.
Qabalah: Geburah in Atziluth. Breaking out of the stability and confines of the Four and Chesed, the balance swings from peace towards force, from love towards judgment. Stability has led to a backlog of change, now being remedied at a pace faster than gradual change would have moved.
Yijing: Gua 21, Shi He, Biting Through, Decisive Action. Da Xiang: Zhen (5) below, Li (Wands) above; “Thunder and lightning bite through. The early sovereigns clarified penalties when declaring the laws.” Emphatic judgment, teeth, consequences that bite, culpability, incisiveness, enforcement, eradication, execution, criminal law, termination, trenchancy. “Satisfaction. Worthwhile to execute justice.”
Six of Wands
Individuation, Distinction, Achievement, Moment
Image: (Modified) Five recently retired militiamen have built a bonfire out of their fighting staves while a sixth and final member of their party has just arrived to add his own fuel, end all doubts and celebrate. The last to arrive appears to be welcomed with high praise. The Smith deck depicts a mounted hero in a triumphal parade, a moment of celebration for a victory.
The Six of Wands is an identity centered on the moment, on how things stand right now, and its potential for transformation, The moment being savored is a summation of everything that brought us here. Recall that the light that now burns in the brain was sunlight not long ago, captured by our food and prey. We are right in between where it has been and where it is going. Contrary to what most want to believe, consciousness is conditioned, a dependent arising from earlier versions of fuel, a continuum of different forms of expression that has learned to become self-aware. The Yijing conterpart is Gua 30, Arising or the Clinging, the flame reflecting on itself, between the fuel it has been and the light it is re-becoming.
Understanding the progression beyond the Five of Wands is essential to grasping the development of the Six. The Five upset the stability of the Four. The Six is the response to the lessons learned from this disequilibrium. Things move back into balance with a new and stronger sense of identity, continuity and stability. A crisis or a struggle has now been overcome. Time has shown us things, informed us about ourselves. This is the basis for a number of the card’s associations, such as victory after strife, gain after uncertainty, resolution of difficulties, conquest over troubles, and the triumph or triumphal parade portrayed in the Smith deck. We emerge both victorious and better informed. It is like a graduation or commencement, a valediction. We are distinguished by our recent past and the special role we played there. We dress ourselves up in our finest true colors.
This is a culmination of the past, before resuming our journey. The moment carries the momentum forward into a different context or present. It imports the past into the future. Everything leads up to what we know now. It’s a good time for review and assessment, to sum or wrap things up. We know ourselves better after these trials and tests, with a better sense of which senses of self to keep and which to let go. Competence has been tested and credit where due is now given. Externally, we are what we’ve accomplished or done. There is no hypocrisy in this form of self-definition. There are lessons in care and respect for what brought us here, the ingredients of our current moment. On top of all that’s past, we 'stand on the shoulders of giants.' We may have earned our triumphal parade here, the momentousness of it all, and the enhanced reputation that may help us to move things along. But where we abandon our sources, we lose our momentum as well.
The moment becomes self-aware, unburdened now by an incomplete past with its doubts about the future. These questions are answered now. Now it’s understanding how we got here that informs us of where to go next. The past is prologue, mere preparation, and food for the flames. It’s a moment where much can be changed. We are able to use lessons from the past and apply them to a future. We are so good at this that it all seems part of a great and mysterious plan. One of the most vapid and meretricious platitudes out says that 'everything happens for a reason.' Nietzsche counters this with 'a loss rarely remains a loss for an hour.' Life is opportunistic and will find ways to turn the past to its advantage, making random events and accidents seem purposed. Decisions made now can be based on current predictions of what has already happened, on what has been tried and found true. Goals are resolved and reset with new and better data.
Sometimes the books will suggest that unwanted things have also been learned, and this is more central to the meaning of the card than it’s given credit for. The recognition here is deserved, but not all of it is good. It may be that we have proven ourselves to be useless, inferior, inadequate or incompetent. We may have achieved only failure. We may be in need of correction. It’s the downside of honest acknowledgement, but it’s what has been proven here, what we’ve learned of how we got here, that can tell us how best to move on. If at first you don't succeed, try doing it right next time.
acclaim, achievement, acknowledgments due, actualization, after-the-facts, appearances, apperception, appreciation, arising, arrival, articulation, attainment, attention, climax, coherence, conditioned arising, consequence, consummation, culmination, departure, distinction, diversification, emanation, emergence, emphasis, glory, identity, illumination, import, indebtedness, individuation, instance, moment, momentousness, momentum, outcome, past perfect tense, pinnacle, precedent, presence, procession, promotion, proof, qualification, radiation, realization, recognition, resolution, respect, revelation, review, reward, sentience, significance, triumph, unfolding, victory, vindication, zenith.
Warnings and Reversals:
comeuppance, the culmination could be of failure, disconnectedness, inconclusive gain, indefinite delay, insolence, looking back moaning or gloating, losing touch with one's sources and opportunities, missing out on the transformation.
Six plus Wands. Energy interacting with context develops new information that helps to organize and stabilize the system. Order emerges from the chaos with the processing of feedback, and sentience emerges from order.
Astrology: Sol in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Leo, Patron: Jupiter). An identity centered on self as awareness of self, the continuity that remains as thoughts and feelings come and go. The 'I am' experiences, with emphasis on the moment or context in time, the stream of the moving moment.
Qabalah: Tipareth in Atziluth. Following Geburah, an energized Tipareth becomes the reassembly or restabilization of self with new information or lessons learned. The entity is tested, tried and gradually trued.
Yijing: Gua 30, Li, Arising, The Clinging, Radiance. Da Xiang: Li (6) below, Li (Wands) above; “The light appears twice. Arising. The mature human being is continuous in clarifying and illuminating into the four directions.” There is a dual focus in this Gua: on the conditions which bring us up to the present, what we depend on or adhere to, such as our sources of fuel and the past we are working out, and on where we are going next, our next departure, how we will differ henceforth. This is conditioned or dependent arising. "Meriting persistence. Fulfillment. Attend to the cow. Promising." The advice to 'attend to the cow' means to honor our sources if we want to remain continuous. Line six is especially apt.
Seven of Wands
Valor, Individuality, Disparity, Diversity
Image: A lone man, with longstaff in hand, defends himself against six assailants. He occupies the higher ground in the skirmish and so has a small, initial advantage.
The evolution from the Six to the Seven of Wands is from sentient entity to the newly self-conscious self, from individuation to individuality and from being tested to doing the testing. Now more importance is attached to the difference between the inner and outer, and the needs and wants of the inner begin to take greater precedence. Drives for self- actualization, to be more, to win or succeed, kick in. Self-ishness get its bad name from people doing it poorly, so others lose in the process, but this need not be the case. When effective, this helps to move evolution along. When we are separate we each have our own points of view, relative to the others. This diversity is analogous to each of our eyes seeing a different picture. It’s because of this difference that we perceive depth so well. Linguistic coincidence or not, the biodiversity in an ecosystem contributes heavily to the depth of its resilience. It is worthwhile all around to maintain individual differences and to celebrate the outstanding.
Pride has the same PR problem. It’s often a big error, but it isn’t really a sin. When it comes to feeling proud of being what we are, keeping this in context is best. It’s fine to enjoy your blue ribbon on the weightlifting team, but it’s not an Olympic gold medal. And even the gold medalist can’t compete with a dumb, half-crippled ox when pulling a loaded cart. Sometimes it takes pride, or at least a strong sense of honor, to resist the social pressures that work against articulating our own special version of character. To maintain our personal growth we sometimes need to build on little successes and be extra wary of what failure can do to our spirit. We may need to pick our battles more carefully, to be more tactful and tactical, and to compromise against the best we can be, just to hang onto some self esteem and respect. This is stress, and sometimes we need to emphasize ourselves just to stress our urgency. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 38, Estrangement or Opposition, which examines personal divergence from others and from the norms as a necessary component of needed diversity. We see the world in greater depth because our eyes give our brains two different pictures. To all be the same is not a good thing.
Standing out from our background, distinguishing ourselves from our context, is the root of the word existence. When we look at the life evolving around us, we note that diversity is the norm, not the exception. Convergence and conformity are more common within separate species, as they seem to try to hold themselves together: the mating dance is done in a very particular way or you don’t get to breed. Some humans require the right wristwatch or shoes before mating. Nevertheless, even within the species, diversity is the measure of depth and resilience, the ability to adapt to changes. This requires more than the fashions of watch and shoes changing yearly. We do owe an allegiance and loyalty to ourselves, but it’s a biological imperative that is seen in varying strengths. We do have plenty of cattle among us. Daring to differ, even begging to differ, wants some sense of purpose and a fighting spirit. This does not require having or making enemies. A pursuit and succession of personal bests can be enough of a target or goal. And regardless of how very special we are, there are always a few companions worth choosing for their ability to confront us and challenge the way we see things.
The majority can be as much of a tyrant as any individual despot. It’s against this mob rule and peer pressure that we claim our sovereign rights as persons. The herd that is more than half of our numbers will vote these rights away at the first opportunity. It takes every bit of our feistiness and vigilance to resist. As the Smith card depicts, we take a stand, stand our ground, stand up for ourselves, holding our own, or we fall. And we need a vantage position, like a home-field advantage, a little moral high ground, some sense of inviolable and inalienable rights, from rights of self-defense to rights of self-expression.
If it harm none, we also include the right to be wrong. Being wrong is nothing to be proud of. Being true to yourself might be a mistake if your true self happens to be an asshole. Firmness of purpose, conviction and fighting spirit are not in themselves the virtue here. We might recall Nietzsche's words: 'but what convinces us is not necessarily true: it is merely convincing. A note for asses.' Lest we be absolute, a little flexibility is sometimes in order. Even admitting some pressure from peers might help to validate their own rights to self-expression.
aloneness, articulation, battle, boldness, bravery, challenge, conviction, courage, daring, defiance, determination, discord, disparity, dissent, dissociation, dissonance, divergence, diversity, emphasis, fearlessness, feistiness, fighting spirit, heroics, honor, idiosyncrasy, incongruity, independence, individualism, individuality, intrepidness, non-conformity, oddness, odds, overcoming, persistence, personhood, perspectivism, pluck, polarization, pride, resistance, self-assertion, self-defense, self-determination, sovereignty, specialness, standing out, staying true, steadfastness, stereopsis or retinal disparity, sticking out, stress, stubbornness, surmounting, taking a stand, tension, uniqueness, valor.
Warnings and Reversals:
alienation, anxiety, being wrong, convictions that can’t learn, embarrassment, giving up, hesitation, intimidation, isolation, lack of objectivity, overconfidence, overreach, peer pressure, self-doubt, selling out, unearned self-esteem, vainglory.
Seven plus Wands. The sense of personal identity seeking enhancement and vivification. Wanting to shine on our own terms, whether for inner confidence and courage or for outward honor and praise that can be taken personally.
Astrology: Venus in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 20° 30° Leo, Patron: Mars). Desires to develop a strong sense of identity, to stand out, to be self-assured, or self-loving, whether deserving or not. Ardent and inclined to take things personally, seeking beauty, glory, drama and honor. Actualizing the sense of self.
Qabalah: Netzach in Atziluth. The will to be victorious as an entity, to feel success, to will success into existence, to be pleased with personal attainments, to meet needs and wants well.
Yijing: Gua 38, Kui, Estrangement, Opposition, Disparity. Da Xiang: Dui (7) below, Li (Wands) above; “The flame rises, the lake descends. Estrangement. The young noble associates, and yet is unique.” Polarization, diversity, distinctiveness, oddness, individual nature as divergent; unique points of view, to squint disbelievingly. “In ordinary matters, promising.” To maintain self-esteem, we pick our battles and don’t overreach. Crowley suggests the card means 'victory in small and unimportant things.'
Eight of Wands
Direction, Trajectory, Projection, Objectives
Image: Eight javelins are seen in flight, now on the downward end of a ballistic arc, maintaining an alignment that suggests there must have been a coordinated aim and an unseen but common target in a previous time.
Most books will speak most of this card in terms of swiftness and speed. The Smith deck set a standard for portrayals of javelins, spears or arrows, all traveling at what seems to be great velocity. Both the association with the planet Mercury and the energy of the fiery Wands would seem to support this meaning. But this is only one of several attributes of more central meanings. Closer to the core, the idea behind the picture is that all eight items seem to share a common aim in their trajectory. The action of launching them had direction, method, purpose or design behind it. Because of this they are going towards the same destination. Choices have already been made and the decisions enacted. The projectiles have gone ballistic, but this word is poorly understood. An object that has gone ballistic is no longer under any force of acceleration: it is coasting, acted on now only by gravity and drag. What set the projectile in motion has already done its job. This was according to an aim or a plan, something that is now working itself out. It’s now up to the idea or the design to prove its own viability. In the Hermetic view of magick, an imaginary version of what needs doing is done in advance, signaling the intention, sending a message to the future, and if the plan belongs there, the world will get the idea. But thus is just another way of saying that design precedes implementation.
This card implies a developed mental ability that is applied to living in the world, and knowing something of our own capabilities, so that we can predict our effects. With the Seven of Wands we learned some things about who we are and what we are capable of. With the Eight can now apply that knowledge to improving our context, niche, or world, so that life can be more predictably trouble-free or pleasant. We have creative designs on the world. We are looking ahead and trying to solve our problems in advance. From our present position in what is going to be the past, it’s difficult to micromanage these affairs. We can only try cover our contingencies, and allow for range and windage. Expertise can only take us so far here. While events may not be entirely out of our hands now, the best laid plans might still need to adapt to unseen realities. Fussing and meddling might only interfere. We will need some patience: the arc is also a learning curve.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 50, The Cauldron, which also speaks of change by design, with a focus on the alchemy of creating or nourishing a better and nobler society. Results are not seen immediately here either. Once the spell is cast, one has to let it go or fly. The ceremonial food offering is a kind of social engineering, nourishing our culture in specific ways to optimize cultural outcomes. We have an instrumentality mentality, and the recipe is our formula. This is explicitly an analogy: wind and wood below, symbols of adaptive intelligence, feed the creative flames above. We nourish and inspire others by doing what we do best and thus setting a good example. We honor the potential in our raw materials. We manifest our best visions. We set our standards high. In looking this far ahead, we also seek to become better ancestors, worthier founding fathers and mothers. What is cooking in the pot is a consecrated or dedicated offering. In the Western Mystery Tradition, this giving our best, this excellence by design, is the alchemy termed 'the Great Work of the Transformation of Mankind.' It’s doing what we can for our evolution.
The point is ensuring that we are better prepared for tomorrow than we have been in the past, that we continue to develop our life skills. There is the implication in the Smith card, in the association with Mercury, and in the Cauldron, that this is a joint or concerted effort, an alignment of aim and purpose, a cultural endeavor that necessitates networking, communication and cooperation. Forces are drawn into alignment, priorities are adopted by prior agreement, goals and objectives are shared. The root of the word communication means to make common, to spread the idea around.
activation, administration, aims, alignment, ambition, analogy, application, arrangement, aspiration, coordinated effort, dedicated effort, demonstration, design, directed activity, direction, discharge, dispatch, dream, efficiency, expediency, experiment, formulation, forward thinking, game plan, goals and objectives, guidance, implementation, initiatives, instrumentality, intention, master plan, means, missiles, missions, missives, planning, positive action, projections and projects, proposition, purpose, purposeful action, reach, refinement, scope, study, sublimation, sudden progress, swiftness, targets, trajectory, vectors, visionaries.
Warnings and Reversals:
discord, dispute, dissipation, haste, impetuousness, loss of control, magical thinking in the pejorative sense, without regard for the science, micromanagement, misalignment, overextension, too-rapid advancement, visions based on wishful thinking.
Eight plus Wands. Thought is not abstract here: it has energy. It’s design with a purpose, design that has no reality until it’s implemented. Even hypotheses can’t stand until they are tested. Networking is energetic here.
Astrology: Mercury in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Sagittarius, Patron: Mercury). Knowledge is communicated by example and application, not by abstraction. Ideas and idealisms are acted out, demonstrated, implemented.
Qabalah: Hod in Atziluth. Order moves towards implementation, and good order will implement itself, without micromanagement. The world is seeded with the idea and the viable idea grows.
Yijing: Gua 50, The Cauldron, Alchemy. Da Xiang: Xun (8) below, Li (Wands) above; “Over the wood is a flame. The cauldron. The young noble applies principles of positioning to manifest higher purpose.” Applied heat, consecrated or dedicated offerings. Dedicated change, science as art, alchemy, the great work of transformation. “The most promising offering.” The nourishment of ability, excellence by design, instrumentality, social engineering, creation of a higher culture.
Nine of Wands
Suspense, Vigilance, Alertness, Unfinished Business
Image: (Modified) A wanderer with his staff greets eight similarly armed guards at a pass gate, seeking permission to pass. Permission does not appear to be a foregone conclusion. He has come a long way, evidenced by a bandaged head and foreign attire. There are suggestions of more trials to come. The Smith deck shows an already embattled guardian, standing stalwart and resolute in front of a cache of spare staves as if expecting more of the unexpected.
This card depicts an ongoing, dynamic interaction with the environment, at a point midway through what appears to be a series of challenges. In other words, life on earth. But what is portrayed here is not one of our more relaxing or boring moments. There is an air of unsettledness here: things are not in a stable state or in their proper place and the tension is dynamic. There is an energy in this displacement that's analogous to potential energy in physics. When we are at a distance from where we need or want to be, we can use this as a sort of motive or driving force. A tension between what is and what must be will move things along towards a more equilibrated state, as though driven from behind by what lies ahead. We are drawn or pulled along. Necessity can be used as a drive as well as an excuse. That things are not right yet need not be a bad thing.
The Nine of Wands will demand a greater perspective and warn against shortsighted or precipitous action. We are likely to have long-term goals that short-term demands and pressures just won’t respect, but we need to combine the two, reconciling our distant aims with our current necessities, and this is best done in ways wherein one will help the other. Of course there is great wisdom in attending to present circumstances, especially when failure can threaten our further progress. Details of the longer course may be in doubt and distractions may need to be dealt with. There will be obstacles to our progress that were not in our plan. To remember the longer-term goals and objectives will help us to measure or optimize our response. As we make our mid-course maneuvers and corrections, we try to make even accidents and setbacks serve our longer ends.
In the systems model of our Tarot number symbolism, the Eights, combined with the learning that we have done, give us an ability to predict the future a little, at least in an environment that isn’t hostile to our theories, or too much changed from the one we are familiar with. But Nines show one of the problems we have with adaptation: that niches change as well, especially when we are on the move, with miles to go before we sleep. The system we have developed needs to learn resilience for this, and self-repair. As Alan Watts suggested, there is wisdom in insecurity. It’s a good time to stay alert and alive, living as we do in interesting times. And if we are to stay alert we will need to hold some strength in reserve, grab some second winds, and pace ourselves for the long run. We don’t all need to live right on the edge or in danger. But at least when things are dynamic, we can draw strength from outside or within and do our responding with some of the fire we carry. We don’t need our fortunes told to us.
The narrowness of our behavioral options is a function of the size of our world. The specialists’ options are narrowed. Fitness is how and where we fit in, and tiny niches need a less generalized fitness. Our contexts can be made larger, both in space and in time. We increase our behavioral options by remembering more of the length of our journey and the distances yet to be traveled. We keep our minds stretched out in this way, giving us room to sort our options. We think on the fly, ex temp and ad hoc. Our expectations of difficulty cannot be allowed to be overwhelming: they must be seen as a challenge. The problem is seen as a thing to be solved, something like an intelligence test, if we want the cheese at the end of all this amazement. Problems are for solving.
We are a bit like Odysseus here, making his long journey home, meeting the needs of the moment, losing sight on occasion, getting past the Siren songs. But we have to get through the journey and kill us some suitors, or the epic will never get written or sung. P.F. Case saw this in this card, where he suggested a 'danger of violence in foreign places' in the course of our long journeys. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 64, Not Yet Across or Before Completion, the ironically named final chapter of the book. It has the same advice to stay on your toes and alert as long as you're this far from home.
adaptability, adventure, alertness, anticipation, apprehension, attentiveness, carrying on, cautiousness, circumspection, dauntlessness, determination, discernment, discipline, displacement, dynamic tension, endurance, fitness, going the distance, guardedness, heedfulness, insecurity, intermediate stage, involvement, mid-course corrections, outpost, perseverance, persistence, presence of mind, readiness, renewed commitment, resilience, resolve, resourcefulness, responsiveness, self-reliance, separation, stamina, suspense, suspicion, tenacity, tension, transition, uncertainty, unfinished business, vigil, vigilance, wariness, watchfulness.
Warnings and Reversals:
adversity, barriers, carelessness, complacency, defensiveness, delays, fatigue, forgetting where you are, ignorance, linearity, obstinacy, overconfidence, presumption, problems, rigidity, shortsightedness, stress,
Nine plus Wands. Every moment we live through is a wrapping up of all things past and an opening up to potential for changes. With respect to ideas of completion, this is the most we can expect from this world. If we want to maintain a sense of accomplishment, we need to keep on adapting, to be ready to hold or defend our gains.
Astrology: Luna in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Sagittarius, Patron: Luna). A readiness to respond to circumstances actively or energetically, proactive responsiveness. Alertness and self-reliance in exigent situations, being present to experience, adaptability that will seize what advantages it can.
Qabalah: Yesod in Atziluth. The dynamic energy of a universe in flux can be tapped as an energy source even where it seems to be problematic. This is the world we are given, what we have to live in. With the right approach we can sail upwind.
Yijing: Gua 64, Wei Ji, Not Yet Across, Before Completion. Da Xiang: Kan (9) below, Li (Wands) above; “The flame is positioned on top of the water. Not yet complete. The young noble is heedful and discerning so that things remain straightforward.” State of transition, unfinished business. “Fulfillment. The little fox is almost across the half-frozen stream. To soak one’s tail is not a direction with merit.” Determination, concentration and energy. Not being in the right place yet is a source of incentive and potential energy.
Ten of Wands
Efficacy, Perseverance, Demands, Overcommitment
Image: A man staggers forward, bent over by the weight of ten unbundled, heavy staves, which also obstruct his view. Even in his slow progress, he stumbles past a rope and a travois. Smith took her idea for this card directly from the Ten of Swords in the late-15th-century Sola-Busca deck, the only deck before hers to use vignettes to portray the Pips.
This card depicts the burden of ill-regulated force, force that is in need of something a little extra. We have come to the limits of what we can do with raw energy, or with what we can do with our individual identity, or with ourselves as currently estimated. Our project, which might be perfectly noble and worthy, might have become an obsession. The word per-severance means making it through severity, but this is not a virtue in itself. Making it through to success has more value, and getting things of value done is the virtue. In a headstrong, headlong way, we might be compromising the effort itself, with the threat of hitting a wall, or of burnout, or at least of wasting a great deal of energy on ineffective, inept or outmoded methods. If we are stiff-necked, locked-on and obstinate enough, it might still be possible to push through to the end here, but as costs go up, the benefit ratio plummets. Diminishing returns compromise success. Expenditures should help, not be a burden.
Power is measured in terms of efficacy. It’s a rate, not a quantity of force spent: the rate at which work gets accomplished. It’s defined by effect or outcome, not by the stress and strain. Might needs right. It’s not the amount of effort expended but the elegance of the outcome. The reward is not proportionate to the struggle but to the intelligent application of energy. Doing things the hard way, taking on challenges without thinking things through, might get things done, but it isn’t power. Efficacy or efficiency is not a complete substitute for vigor or force, but they make a good team. Power incorporates both energy and wisdom. It learns to do more with less. Laziness, they say, is the father of invention. A little more discovery is needed here.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 34, Big and Strong or Power of the Great, shows a billy or ram butting a hedge, and recommends a pause to rest and look around, in case there might be a better way through or around. This is like moving towards the axle of the wheel, where the motion is least. The most effective pace might include pausing to rest and reconnoiter, to look at the problem as being more like a puzzle, to use one’s head in loftier ways than as a bludgeon. There is an adage in Zen that suggests: 'You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.' This is a good one to use here. A better way is likely unseen due to current effort and a narrowness of focus. Meta-solutions require an overview of the problem. Too linear a direction can even find us blocked or thwarted by inanimate objects that should not be expected to cooperate.
The Ten of Wands may suggest finding a different mode now, one that uses elements other than fire, a need to start using other faculties, rethinking the elemental components of the effort. The need for this sort of transition is typical for the Tens. We’ve run out of things that energy alone can do. In particular, new inputs might be sensory or informative, ways to find a more optimum path from this place: feeling in Cups, thought in Swords, and practicalities in Pentacles. Insight is sometimes defined as a dynamic reorganization of the perceptual field, getting a new perspective or scale. Looking can hinder seeing. In permaculture there is a principle about spending information before spending energy. Intense focus misses the peripheral view which may hold better options.
Lastly, there may be issues of personal achievement here, and a sense that to delegate any parts of the task deprives us of satisfactions. We might not be assuming too much, or laboring under some delusions. This might not be self-sacrifice or martyrdom. But perhaps these questions should at least be asked, to help us explain why we turn down offers of help.
action, assertion, challenge, circumspection, compulsion, constancy, cost-benefit analysis, demands, determination, diminishing returns, doggedness, drivenness, effectiveness, efficacy, efficiency, effort, endurance, exertion, forging ahead, heroic effort, impatience, implementation, ineffectiveness, inefficiency, inflexibility, insistence, linearity, obsession, oppressiveness, optimization, overbearing, overburden, over-commitment, overdoing, over-extension, overload, overshoot, overwhelm, performance, perseverance, power, predicament, preoccupation, pressure, purposefulness, single-mindedness, stamina, strain, stress, striving, stubbornness, surcharge, tenacity, thoroughness, vigor, wanting out right now, willfulness.
Warnings and Reversals:
blind force, blinders, burnout, butt-headedness, counterproductive behavior, exhaustion, failure of imagination, fixation, importunity, ineffectiveness, inefficiency, numbskull, obsession, obstinacy, overestimation, stress, stubbornness, traps, tunnel vision, tyranny.
Ten plus Wands. Inertia as resistance to change, but the inertia here is in both the subject and the object, and something has to give. We have reached the limit of what fire can do for us. Force might need to turn to finesse.
Astrology: Pluto in Fire Signs and Houses (GD: 20°-30° Sagittarius, Patron: Saturn). We know that Pluto is not a planet, but it is a symbol. Concern for taking individual identity, personal development and expressions of power as far as we can, to leave our mark on the world that survives us.
Qabalah: Malkuth in Atziluth. The maximum expression of the original idea and spirit, where it ends and becomes something else, having seen how far it can go and unable to go any further, at least in original form.
Yijing: Gua 34, Da Zhuang, Big and Strong, Power of the Great. Da Xiang: Qian (10) below, Zhen (Wands) above; “Thunder in the sky above. Big and strong. The young noble will not take a step without respect.” The need for force to pause and understand what it is doing if it seeks to be effective. “Worthwhile to persist.” Line 3 and others: “The billy goat butts the hedge, entangling his horns.” The head-on approach fails to see the options.
Princess of Wands
Princess of the Shining Flame, Rose of the Palace of Fire
Endowment, Identity, Appetite, Purposefulness
Image: (Modified) A young princess tends a burnt offering at a sacrificial altar, turning the beast with her wand so that its tip has caught fire. She samples the meat to get it right, not sacrilegiously, for hers are a people of fire: divinity is within, but wanting out. The Knapp-Hall deck has an insightful image of the Princess (as Page) planting a wand in the ground, as a tree cutting, looking ahead to later in her life. She is sometimes portrayed delivering news or messages, as announcements or proclamations.
Each Princess has a fundamental project in personal development. For the Princess of Wands, it’s the discovery of who she is and what she seems born to do best. We create our purpose out of our inclinations. The search is for her gifts, her passions or her calling, and she finds them in the things that ignite her or bring her most fully to life. As the earthy part of fire, she is fuel and the search for fuel. It is only an illusion that fuel is something other than energy awaiting liberation. Fuel is locked-up light, and not less light. And it is moving slowly enough now that we can think about what to do with it. Fuel can also be helpful information, just waiting to be discovered in the things that interest us, or things that help us to flourish or thrive.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 27, Hungry Mouth, develops the same fuel metaphor as a question of diet and nutrition, explicitly including our cultural sustenance and care for the words that we use and expose ourselves to. We build ourselves out of these resources, and the light we give back comes from here. We learn a right dependence on these. The food metaphor also means learning how to hunger effectively, to feed real hungers instead of becoming all appetite and hungering after things we are told to need. Back when it was legal to experiment on human babies, one batch was given a free choice of diet, twenty little bowls to pick from, with no praise or scolding for choices. It wasn’t long until their little baby bodies told them what they needed. We just need to learn to heed our original natures and hungers. We can then ask something like this of public education: what could take something as insatiably hungry as a young human mind and make it lose its appetite for learning? Being told to stop playing around? Serious learning will follow from a perception of personal relevance. The value of deferred gratification will become clear enough in time.
The Princess of Wands is on the lookout for sources of nourishment and inspiration that come the closest to what she discovers of her nature. She is a bit of a huntress here, wanting direction or prey, to feed what she wants to be or become. She might try on extra identities, or mistake valid experiences for valid realities. While she may seem endlessly curious and experimental in search of experiences that light her up, she is not looking to digress or wander too far from who she is at heart. Given a choice she would likely prefer to burn steadily, with reliable enthusiasms, rather than flicker and sputter as excitements come and go. Nonetheless, burning is still about liberation from the solid state of things. She wants a charge, motive power, and arousal and that could even mean wanting some drama in her life.
Sometimes the flame will take on the nature of the fuel that it consumes, so that it pays to learn the right appetites. Hence the phrase from cybernetics: garbage in, garbage out. The noble character wants real substance to burn, consistent resources to feed a reliable flame. This suggests developing some care early on for higher quality sources, which might be inconsistent with a still-underdeveloped sense of identity or purpose. Without knowing what is relevant to what, it might be hard to choose an interest other than by how this lights us up, or even a more superficial appeal. It’s by trial and error that we discovers what empowers us. For this reason we need to be free to make errors. This is a search for personal purpose, something rewarding to do with our lives. Higher purpose, a life serving forces greater than ourselves, comes later than this, if it even comes at all.
anticipation, appetite, ardor, arousal, avidity, challenge, character, core, curiosity, diet, encouragement, endowment, essence, excitement, experiment, exploration, food, fuel, gifts, heart, heartiness, hungers, huntress, identity, individuality, inspiration, interest, intrinsic nature, kindling, meaning, metabolism, motivations, novelty, nutrition, palate, passion, personal growth, procurement, purpose, potential energy, predilection, prospect, provision, recourse, relevance, resource, resourcefulness, self-betterment, self-discovery, source, specialness, specialty, standards, stimulation, subsistence, substance, sustenance, talent, temper, temperament, wonder, yearning, zeal.
Warnings and Reversals:
adopting weak values, bad information or intelligence, embellishment, false premises, fickleness, impatience, inconsistency, indecision, omnivorousness, randomness in diet, reluctance, restlessness, rumor, subverted appetite, trust betrayed.
The Earthy part of Fire. Sources of metabolic nourishment and heat. Fuel, food, kindling, raw material. Wants grounded, consistent or reliable sources of energy. The 'chemical attraction of the combustible substance.' (Crowley)
Astrology: Caput Draconis in Fire Signs and Houses. A basic drive to learn who we are, what we want and what sets us on fire. Seeking our core identity, lessons that are not extraneous to our original nature.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 27, Yi, Hungry Mouth, Corners of the Mouth. Da Xiang: Zhen (Wands) below, Gen (Princess) above; “Beneath the mountain is thunder. Hungry mouth. The young noble is careful with words and expressions and moderate in drinking and eating.” Meeting needs, self-reliance, diet, selecting input for output. “Persistence is promising. Study the hungers, from searching to feeding.” Fostering health and strength of character. Choices of menus, not just choices from the menu. Good taste. Starving the false and nourishing the true.
Prince of Wands
Prince of the Chariot of Fire
Adventure, Exploration, Circulation, Mission
Image: A young prince sets out from home on horseback, bearing his staff high. With clothes still fresh and his horse still prancing, he crosses the stream bounding his familiar turf. His haste is of youthful exuberance. He is not on a warlike mission, but he could unhorse you with his staff if you stood in his way.
The Prince of Wands is the quintessential man on fire. He is normally depicted as on a mission or journey, and moving quickly, as though having much ground yet to cover. Our knight errant is on multiple adventures, more of a treasure hunt than a specific quest. As a prince, he is an emissary. He is exploring realms over which he may one day be lord or statesman. These are lands far afield from the palace. He needs to import knowledge of the unfamiliar, since information is also access to the energy he will one day be using to rule his domain. His gain here can be had in two ways: the first is in what he brings home, even if only wisdom or experience. A second kind of gain increases his alertness to the signals. Exposure to the distant and strange will alert him to signs that others don’t notice.
As discussed for the princes in general, his task is to explore out to the boundaries of his home realm, and a little beyond, just to be sure. This can mean going too far, which is perhaps what youth is for as well. He might learn that when fire grabs indiscriminately at fuel, it tends to draw the firefighters. But the elsewhere and the beyond cannot and should not be resisted. Such boundless energy is often out of bounds just by definition. For the element of fire, we need to go where the fuel is, to the fresh and novel experience. While the exploration may express an abundance of energy, this is not really activity for its own sake. The point is personal growth, recognized or not. Castaneda might call him a hunter of power, and power must move around to meet its opportunities. He may act quickly to seize chances and press others into his service, sometimes seeming thoughtless. He may need lots of refueling. And he may have trouble resting until he is halfway burned out.
The Prince is exploring his options and choices by first-hand expedition, instead of by letters or schooling. This is not to say that hearing a good story cannot be a first-hand experience. But this is a matriculation into the school of hard knocks. He is learning the reins with actual horses, not his hobby horses. Multiple points of view are learned from multiple points of vantage, by going there and doing that. His options, when grown, will be many, like the wardrobe of a theater, because he will have to play many parts, even while being himself. And lots of the costumes he finds may not get used but once.
The Prince gets lots of lively adjectives, starting with ardent and energetic. Hurried is often the case, impulsive and excitable too. Hasty and impetuous might be too often true. Although these are different words, peremptory and preemptive might both apply here. There are also words like upbeat, outgoing and exuberant, for when he is doing it right. He is seen as ready to go or to act right now, like a rescue worker or a first responder on call. Thus moving quickly is not always hasty: it's merely responsive. He may seem to be led by opportunities rather than led from within, and this can sometimes look like being misguided. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 42, Increasing, reaching out to take what we can of what the world is offering.
He may be inclined to not think things through, and therefore be subjected to risk and surprise. Going to where the action is often means acting on incomplete information, in order to get there at all. If he knew all about what he was exploring, it would not be the unknown and it might not keep him excited. This does not mean he needs to reinvent fire, however: he can still watch for cues and clues left by other young princes before him. Of course it is true that a clearly marked mission might make his success more probable, but those are for those he will one day assign missions to.
abandon, advance, adventure, alertness, alternatives, ambition, amplification, augmenting, challenge, circulation, clues and cues, curiosity, daring, departure, drama, eagerness, emigration, energetics, envoy, exaggeration, expansion, expedition, exploitation, exploits, exploration, extension, exteriorization, exuberance, fervor, frontiers, going far afield, hazarding, hurry, impulse, impulsiveness, insistence, intensity, invitations, journey, leverage, on a mission, opportunism, options, the path perilous, Phaeton, promptings, promptness, prospects, quest, responsiveness, restlessness, seeking novelty, suddenness, taking advantage, the unknown, unending journey, urgency and urges, transit, variation, venturing, wanderlust, wildfire, windfall.
Warnings and Reversals:
attention deficit, crossing a line, discontinuity, distractedness, distraction, doubtlessness, excesses, going nowhere fast, going too far, impatience, impetuousness, interruption, overextension, precipitate action, rashness, scatteredness, trespass, unexpected changes.
The Airy part of Fire. The gaseous fluidity of fire, as seen in the flame dancing across the log, hunting up the flammable gases. Movement to where the fuel or ignition is. More of a wildfire than a controlled burn, changing quickly, but the heat output is still steady.
Astrology: Leo Ascending, as the Fixed Fire sign, Ruler: Sol. Abundant energy, the relentless Sun, sport and play. Exteriorization, release from self-containment, internal pressure to be more in order to burn more or give more. Exuberance, drama, enthusiasm, excessiveness, exaggeration.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 42, Yi, Increasing, Increase. Da Xiang: Zhen (Wands) below, Xun (Prince) above; “The wind and the thunder. Increasing. The young noble, when seeing the good, as a rule, makes improvements; when having transgressed, as a rule, makes corrections.” Extension, diversification, broadening, enrichment, enhancements, windfalls, gifts. Receiving generously, taking well, using the gifts, blessings to count. “Worthwhile to have somewhere to go. Worthwhile to cross the great stream.” A world of information and experience is out there for the taking.
Queen of Wands
Queen of the Thrones of Flame
Concert, Empowerment, Versatility, Tracking
Image: An attractive queen, seated on a throne and holding a staff, leans forward with a look composed of curiosity, enthusiasm and skepticism, as if wanting to be persuaded to support a good business or art proposal. A sunflower suggests tropism, and a black cat, familiarity.
The Queen of Wands might sense a meaningfulness inherent in her experiences that transcends that of the individual actors and favors interrelationship. Consequently, her interest is in circulating the fire, in sharing experience and projects, and in developing a sense of a greater identity with multiple living parts. She may wait a short while to give her consent to these experiences and projects, to have some assurance of their meaning or worth. She is noble and has her standards. She is an independent or liberated sort, but she has a peculiar form of self-directedness that takes direction from the world around her. Her identity is inextricable from her participation in life. She will take guidance, but in an opportunistic way. She will take the lead, but in a way that obeys natural law, follows the movements of the world around her, and takes direction from an ethical compass. Being human, she may be deceived on occasion or subject to charisma. Too little pre-selection for the worth of an endeavor might lead to overextension, or dabbling. If a habit is made of this, the wrong kind of cynicism accumulates.
She is attractive, magnetic and approachable when her standards can be met. She can be a good sponsor or underwriter if the pitch for the cause is persuasive enough. She needs to be both drawn and invited to participate in a project, then in turn, she can draw upon and invite some considerable resources into the work. Once excited into motion she can move with some authority, but what may appear to be an intuitive decisiveness and spontaneity is in actuality an alert sense of adaptive responsiveness. She is not reticent or shy. The Yijing counterpart, Gua 17, Following, develops the contrast between following willingly or willfully and following blindly or passively. The image is thunder in the lake, the pulse in the blood, the rhythm of things, to be sensed and moved along with. This Queen follows like a huntress, a tracker, even a bounty hunter. She tracks what is going on in her world. Ultimately she is more of a finder than a seeker. She is aware of where she is going and her pursuits are purposeful. It takes courage to be like this. She is not the type of lady to stay down, or in the kitchen. As a companion, she is hetaera, self-assured and self-possessed. Nobility follows her loyally, wherever she might choose to go. Her sympathies are a resonance with the world.
The Queen of Wands is proactively adaptive, practicing fitness by intent, taking fitness in the Spencerian or Darwinian sense of a skillful versatility. She can change who she is without pretending, and what she wants has no need to be constant. That’s just a regular, feminine thing, but it helps her to move with the energy that's in circulation. She can best maintain concentration if the object of her focus is moving. While the Prince wanted to explore the extents of his realm of experience, the Queen wants the permutations of its applicability, to try the wisdom out and spread the experience around, to experiment and permute, to hybridize the elements of her culture. She is an artist herself in some way, and she supports the arts. To persuade her, one gets her enthused instead of convinced. She is genuinely interested in others, passionate when inspired, and generous for a good cause. But she is not selfless, and she might require much persuasion in terms of enlightened self interest, even if hers is a larger idea of self that includes her whole realm. It’s those noble standards again. Her love and respect might be somewhat conditioned on worth, but the genuine thing is requited.
She likes to be involved, whether this be down deep in the work, in the rhythms and the composition, or above it like a conductor, coordinating the parts of the effort. Whether as active ingredient or catalyst, she likes being close to the heart and the pulse of things, ever ambitious to maximize throughput, so that benefits are shared or spread around.
accessibility, accord, adapting, advocate, alliance, approval, assent, assistance, attending, attraction, attunement, cahoots, channel, charity, charm, clues, coalition, collaboration, colorfulness, compassion, concert, concord, conduit, confidence, connectedness, consent, consideration, contribution, daring, discovery, empowerment, endowment, enthusiasm, experiment, facilitator, huntress, incentive, interest, interrelation, involvement, liveliness, magnetism, participation, passion, patroness, permutation, persuasion, pulse, pursuit, responsiveness, sharing, sincerity, sponsorship, sympathy, synchronization, taking part, tracking, transmission, tropism, underwriter, versatility, vibrancy, warmth, willingness.
Warnings and Reversals:
cynicism overgrown, distrustful, too easily deceived, fickle, golden opportunity slips by, impatience with the opposition, mistrust based on experience, recklessness, shallowness, stubbornness in error, instability, volatility.
The Watery part of Fire. The fluidity and the dance of fire’s movement and circulation, apparently spontaneous and chaotic, but in obedience to natural law. The colorfulness of experience. The spreading out or contagion of flame.
Astrology: Sagittarius Ascending, as the Mutable Fire sign, Ruler: Jupiter. Curious and exploratory, outgoing, broadening horizons of action and experimentation. Generous and charitable with higher good in mind. Enjoys being influential and inspirational, moving and colorful.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 17, Sui, Following, Adapting. Da Xiang: Zhen (Wands) below, Dui (Queen) above; “Within the pool there is thunder. Following. The young noble, approaching nightfall, goes indoors for refreshment and relaxation.” Thunder in the lake is a pulse to be taken up or be moved with. “Following. Most fulfilling. Worthwhile to be dedicated, not a mistake.” Distinctions are drawn between willfully or willingly following, tracking for example, and blindly following, without a sense of self-direction.
King of Wands
Lord of the Flame and the Lightning, King of the Spirits of Fire
Independence, Maturity, Self-Possession, Sovereignty
Image: A fiery-eyed king is seated on his throne with his power staff in hand, granting the reader audience. He seems intensely calm, attentive and self-assured, and at the same time, animated and passionate. He is just as eager to support a worthy cause as to put an end to a bad one. He will hear you out, if you can stay succinct and on point.
The King of Wands is the Prince all grown up and seasoned now, and come home to stay more put. His time as a prince on the move has served him well, as he built a broad understanding out of narrow, specific lessons. He likes having his lessons already learned, and might even know he’s not done with this yet. He now sees several sides of an issue, which helps when serving as judge. What wisdom this life has taught him has begun to look like intuitive wisdom, but despite all that life itself has learned and passed through the genes, one is not born a sage or an elder. The identity that we evolve is confirmed, or scaled back, and polished by experience until it seems second nature. Sometimes we are even made stronger by what has failed to destroy us. The King should know his mind fairly well by now, and that his own best interest is the same as his domain’s. One of his more challenging lessons is learning to learn second-hand. The simple fact that none are allowed by right to tell him what to do doesn't obscure the fact that it's most embarrassing to make public mistakes that could have been avoided. It’s not always right to read the instructions or ask for directions, but reading the signs that say when we ought to is often a useful skill. So the King has lived and learned, with much beneath and behind him now, and this is what has become of him, with his choices based on his precedents.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 51, Arousal, emphasizes the development of maturity and self-possession. These give us a mastery over our impulses, and particularly, our tendency to react to a stimulus instead of respond. We learn what starts and startles us. This is a King we have here, or a natural aristocrat, an alpha male, born to lead, a hunter of power who can turn nearly any situation to his advantage. He knows when and how to act when others only cower. Taking charge is what he does. When provoked, he is swift to respond, without the predictability of a reflex. High energy is his element, and this is his version of grace. As such, it serves him well to know the difference between action and reaction, between response and reflex, between impetus and impetuousness, between impulse and impulsiveness. If he needs just a moment for this, he can take it: this is the wiser side of deliberate. And if he seems composed and dispassionate, just be aware that control is not the end of his passion.
Having viable visions are best, and this means keeping one's eyes on the road ahead. Being headstrong works best when the head in question holds senses and reason. Being independent works best when we can independently seek out the help that we need, or delegate those tasks that it makes little sense for us to do by ourselves. Self-starters will function best when they know the right place to start from. A great leader will want to be surrounded by talent, even by those with more skill than his own. To be proactive and autonomous is not about not seeking feedback. Conviction and firmness are traits to be much admired, except when we are deluded or wrong. The flexibility we need in this case is our lifelong education, not vacillating, flip-flopping or waffling. And it takes a lot of nobility and dignity to do this, to back up and think twice. When you can’t still learn it’s maladaptive. This is when pride makes us fools.
It takes a lot to learn competence, more than most people have. Another of the great alpha challenges is how to bring out the best in the betas, something good in the gammas, and anything at all in the deltas. But frustration must be seen as reaction for an alpha who would be a good leader. He cannot be impatient with the slow-moving folk or bothered by the slow-witted. And there is really only one great way to compel them: to lead by compelling example. And with regard to authority, that is a thing for authors, not readers.
adept, ambition, aplomb, arousal, assertion, assurance, authority, autocracy, autonomy, clout, cogency, command, competence, composure, confidence, conviction, decisiveness, demands, dignity, dominance, drive, effectiveness, empowerment, executive, experience, fierceness, firmness, grasp, grip, immediacy, impetus, impulse control, independence, initiative, integrity, invigoration, leadership, mandate, mastery, maturity, motivation, nobility, patriarchy, poise, principle, quickening, resolve, response ability, responsibility, sangfroid, self-directedness, self-discipline, self-possession, self-starting, sovereignty, spiritedness, starting, suddenness, taking charge, virility, willfulness.
Warnings and Reversals:
aggression, arrogance, arrogation, blind impulse, bravado, despotism, domineering, egomania, excessive principle, exaggeration, false start, harsh criticism, imposition, impatience, insensitivity, intolerance, overreaction, rashness, ruthlessness, stubbornness, tactlessness, tunnel vision, weak follow through.
The Fiery part of Fire. Lightning and thunder, the fiery expression of fire, a short-lived burst of powerful energy. The Golden Dawn stressed the action in the short term, or the fleetingness of this character's influence, but simple and single acts can have ongoing and lasting effects and repercussions.
Astrology: Aries Ascending, as the Cardinal Fire sign, Ruler: Mars. Characterized by independence, ambition, assertion, aggression, decisiveness. Self-motivated, headstrong, competitive. Short attention span, so not great with follow-through, but also not inlined to hold resentments.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 51, Zhen, Arousal, the Arousing, Shock. Da Xiang: Zhen (Wands) below, Zhen (King) above; “Resounding thunder. Arousal. The young noble uses fear and alarm to adjust and examine.” Learning from repercussions. “Shock brings fear and alarm, and mirthful words and echoing laughter. The thunder startles for a hundred li around. But do not let drop the ladle of sacred wine.” Life experience brings increasing self-mastery. We live and learn. Impulse control and the development of response over reaction.
Ace of Cups
Root of the Powers of Water
Openness, Worthiness, Availability, Security
Image: A chalice, in a man's hand, is tipped slightly towards the viewer, exposing a cup half filled with what might be water, wine or blood. There is a suggestion in this shape of the human female pudenda. Many cards and authors imply that the cup is the holy grail and would depict it as ornate. If you wish to use this image of a sacrament here, see 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' and choose wisely. But we don't need this magic, pretend blood to commune with the sacred. We merely need to be open and worthy.
As discussed in the introduction to the Suits, the Cup is not the water. The Ace of Cups is not affect, feeling or emotion. It is our readiness for these, and our worthiness, or our sense of worthiness, as well. The card speaks to the process of opening up, to how we make room within ourselves for authentic and heartfelt experiences with others, or even opening to our own inner lives. This is what starts the flow. It is our readiness to both give and receive, to respond to gifts, to meet someone new, to acknowledge a muse, to let ourselves be stirred.
Muju wrote: “An inquisitive professor once visited Nan-In to pay his respects, but he could hardly bring himself to stop talking. Nan-In served him tea, pouring the cup full and not stopping. ‘It is overfull,’ cried the professor, ‘no more will go in!’ ‘Like this cup,’ said Nan-In, ‘you are full of your opinions and speculations. I cannot show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.’”
Just like at home in the kitchen, we want to put our fresh beverage into a clean, empty cup. Cleanliness here is emotional clarity, a freedom from any of the undesirable residue from our past experience, from our residual sentiments or resentments. Just about any sentiment is legitimate once: it’s when we pummel ourselves with the same emotions over and over again that we jam up our opportunities for fresh experience that respects what we are facing. Several authors list fulfillment as a meaning for this card, but it isn’t, yet. The meaning is closer to full-empty-ment, not being so full of ourselves that we cannot make room for the fullness we want from the world. This emptiness is capacity: a capacity for enjoyment, for love, for rewarding experience, for receiving new gifts and blessings, for feeling and emotion in general. The Ace of Cups represents a new new sensitivity, or a sensitization, a readiness to feel. The analog in the plant kingdom, of course, is the open flower, ready for pollination.
The astrological correlation of this card to Saturn in Water signs underscores the big challenges we have in relaxing our inhibitions and opening ourselves up. While someone with this configuration might be said to define themselves in terms of their sensitivity or their capacity to feel, this same sensitivity can also lead to damage, overexposure and subsequent desensitization. Our capacity for openness is a function of our wounds as well as our wants. The fear of our being hurt again, mistrust from having our trust betrayed, self-doubts that are often deserved because of our bonehead mistakes, all of these can shut down our willingness to receive the new. Saturn 'rules' the skin, the metaphorical boundary where we receive our wounds. But there is nothing in the rules that says that the part of our identity that is symbolically represented by Saturn needs to play the victim or martyr. If we are to succeed in life, this part of us needs to learn mastery of these fears and doubts, to learn the worth of vulnerability and to keep coming back for more. We are not, however, avoiding that old definition of insanity here: we make different mistakes next time.
Security and insecurity are also the primary theme of the Yijing counterpart, Gua 45, Collectedness or Gathering Together. The vessel here is the reservoir or pond, raised above the earth, requiring that its banks be maintained so that the water doesn’t leak out. There is also an emphasis in the text of the social aspects of security, how we congregate wanting connection, and attain comfort levels in our safe environments and sanctuaries, allowing us to open up. There is much crying and sighing depicted in the Yijing's text. We prepare the place for our water and fulfillment follows when we are ready. We seem to like a little insurance beforehand.
The Ace of Cup can be related to four exalted states of sentient awareness described in Buddhism as the Brahmaviharas or Abodes of Brahma. These largely concern our better social relationships, which tend to dominate our affective states. Metta is loving-kindness or good will; karuna is compassion or sympathy, but not fellow-suffering; mudita is a sympathetic gladness in the well-being or success of another; and upekkha is equilibrium or equanimity. At least four more pertinent states can be added here: khama, forgiveness; katannuta, gratitude or thankfulness; garava, reverence, deep respect or a sense of the sacred; and khanti, patience. All eight of theses states show an openness of heart, and a readiness to accept, that characterizes this card.
acceptance, appreciation, assurance, attunement, availability, care, caution, cheerfulness, cleansing, collectedness, communion, confidence, connecting, consecration, contentment, convocation, disponsibilité, enjoyment, esteem, faith, fertility, gift, gratitude, emotional healing, invitation, longing, open heart, opening up, openness, permission, preparation, preparedness, purification, readiness, receiving, receptacle, receptivity, renewal, reservoir, responsiveness, risk, sacrament, sanction, sanctity, securing, security, seeking fulfillment, sensitivity, sensitization, sincerity, softening, surrounding, susceptibility, tenderness, threshold, trust, upwelling, vulnerability, welcoming, wellness, willingness, worthiness.
Warnings and Reversals:
anhedonia, anxiety, blocked emotion, closed off, false heart, fearfulness, forced joy, guilt, half-heartedness, insecurity, mistrust, negative self-image, numbness, rancor, repression, resentment, self-abasement, self-doubt, shame, sterility, unearned sense of self-worth.
Ace plus Cups. Readiness to open up within and into the world of affect, to give reign to the feelings and emotions, and the comfort level needed to do this. Work on precursors to feeling, finding the source or wellspring of love.
Astrology: Saturn in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 0° Cancer). Issues related to opening up the feelings, sensitivity and sensitization. We can define ourselves as a feeling being if wounds and traumas don’t lead to emotional shut down.
Qabalah: Kether in Briah. The fountainhead or source of sentience, opening up the heart, readiness to feel and for expression of feeling.
Yijing: Gua 45, Cui, Collectedness, Gathering Together. Da Xiang: Kun (Ace) below, Dui (Cups) above; “The pond is raised above the earth. Collectedness. The young noble puts aside weapons and instruments, guarding against unreadiness.” An elevated pond requires embankments, shoring up, and maintenance to hold the water. Security, freedom from insecurities, preparedness, readiness, sanctuary. “Fulfillment. The sovereign approaches his temple. Rewarding to encounter a mature human being making an offering. Worthwhile to be dedicated. To offer great sacrifices is promising. Worthwhile to have somewhere to go.” There is much weeping and emotion in some of line texts. Pulling and holding yourself together. Composure, dignity. Congregating with others for comfort.
Two of Cups
Avowal, Promise, Intention, Affirmation
Image: A young couple, facing each other with intense-but-loving eye contact, toast to a chosen future together. The scene is one of promise, avowal and depth of commitment, out of a foresighted present into a chosen future. Its persistence is in large part a function of the original sincerity of avowals.
While nearly everybody who writes about this card speaks first of the love between two people (or an avowal of continued love), we need to remember that this card can as easily pop up in questions about business or broken plumbing. The vignette in the Smith deck obscures a far more general meaning, much as it does in the Trump of the Lovers. Recall that the Two is a stretching of the point, giving it a direction, a line or a vector, or a contrast between earlier and later states, and that Cups represent affective states, feelings or emotions. This card, then, is about making feelings last and go somewhere on purpose, an emotional connection either with a person or with a hoped-for result, changing, if possible, only for the better. The couple exchanging vows is one very good exemplar of this core meaning, but it’s not the only one, and even here, Crowley’s phrase 'love under will' is more to the point than simply love. This is honest and conscious love, something chosen, not fallen into.
It’s water’s nature to fluctuate, often making the maintenance or even continuity of an affective state something of a challenge. While many will argue that since ups and downs are necessary, each to contrast the other, then they must be experienced in equal intensity and duration. But this is platitude, and suffering is not necessary to happiness. Neither does happiness require an attachment to something more stable. It’s often simply a matter of setting aside our complaints and deciding what we want, combined with a sense of gratitude for whatever we have at the moment, and patience with the pace of the rest of the parade. To make a feeling or emotion last in an unchanging way is perhaps a little deluded, but we might think of this as a stream that we can make more steady and reliable with better intentions and attitudes. Any extended feelings will have to come to terms with the changes that time has to offer.
Besides duration and intensity, we also have choices of quality. We want worthy and meaningful states, hearts full of respect and appreciation, love and trust, comfort and enthusiasm. We want to grow into a future where such states come more often and stay longer. And we want to have the times that lie between these to show some improvement as well. We tend to think of our feelings and emotions as things that happen to us. Many somehow think it’s inauthentic to show some self-control here. Comes love, nothing can be done? That’s largely a way of fooling ourselves, particularly into proceeding with extramarital affairs affairs.
The vector that should be our greatest concern here is between our present and future selves. How much quality and worth do we wish to prepare for, and are we ready to work on the values we need to attract ourselves in the better directions. The Yijing counterpart, Gua 05, Anticipation or Waiting, concentrates on the things we might do while waiting for our real lives to begin, on maximizing the meanwhile, which will eventually include all of our moments. It will take more work than wishing to have the fullest life, and the work needs something to want. We could make better use of our emptiness here by not filling up on random experience. We may want to guard some gates and even lock some doors. Being reconciled or resigned to host any strange thing that comes our way is a big part of our emotional confusion, and the main reason we get knocked so far sideways when we at last cross the path that we should have been on.
And lastly, there is the great challenge of doing all of this work with someone else as a partner. Life has evolved some useful tricks to help get us started here, like oxytocin and dopamine, to blind us to each other's flaws and faults for a sufficient amount of time. We have until these begin to wear off to have built a more lasting foundation, not just with promises and vows but with meaning and sincerity, common ground and purpose, trust and support, sacrifice and conciliation. These must be enough to challenge and defy all reason. This is in hope of something more than sum of the parts, why two or more are gathered.
affection, affinity, affirmation, agreement, anticipation, aspiration, assumption, attraction, avowal, balance, bond, commitment, confidence, confirmation, consecration, constancy, cooperation, covenant, declaration, dedication, determination, devotedness, devotion, earnestness, elective affinity, encounter, endurance, engagement, exchange, expectancy, hope, intention, love, love under will, loyalty, mutuality, oath, pact, patience, pledge, predetermination, presentiment, promise, prospect, purpose, reciprocity, reconciliation, reflection, relationship, resolve, respect, right intention, sincerity, steadfastness, steady stream, support, sympathy, tests of time, troth, trust, validation, vow.
Warnings and Reversals:
betrayal, breach of promise, denial, distraction, doubt, estrangement, falseness, fickleness, impatience, infidelity, intolerance, misdirection, misunderstanding, seduction, troubled relationship, unenlightened self-interest,
Two plus Cups. Giving a focus or direction to affect. Giving an aim or a higher purpose to feeling and emotion. Taking responsibility for feeling and intending a higher quality.
Astrology: Uranus in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Cancer, Patron: Venus). Uranus, as a path of power and higher purpose, has its reputation for radical discontinuity because most people come at theirs sideways instead of in alignment. Uranus in Water elevates feeling and emotion as guides worthy of persistence and consistency, an avowal to hold true.
Qabalah: Chokmah in Briah. Wisdom applied to the world that always flows and changes. Staying a course. Seeking direction from what sensitivity tells us and and reinforcing that with assent.
Yijing: Gua 05, Xu, Anticipation, Waiting. Da Xiang: Qian (2) below, Kan (Cups) above; “The clouds rise into the sky. Anticipation. The young noble takes refreshment and sustenance with peace of mind and cheer.” The clouds rise into the sky. The satisfactions of needs and wants are delayed, pushed back to some future time, leaving the challenge of maximizing the meanwhile, maintaining a useful attitude or worthwhile, though temporary, substitutes. “Be true. Honor fulfillment. Persistence is timely. Worthwhile to cross the great stream.” Crossing a stream is best done before the floods come.
Three of Cups
Affiliation, Community, Commonality, Confluence
Image: Three women, in festive attire and mood, celebrate their friendship in the midst of a garden, toasting with cups held high. Smith’s image appears borrowed from Sandro Botticelli's Three Graces, but these Charities are given cups. A modification might show three races here: black, white and Asian.
The Three of Cups is first of all the sharing of fellow feeling, and particularly between related individuals (however distantly) on common ground. This is our extended family, which only for the wisest and most understanding among us includes all of life on Earth. It is our fraternity, or sorority, our in-group, of whatever size. Thought and judgment, planning and artifice, rules and regulations are all still relatively absent here. Effective spontaneity is the only conditionality. Holding is done with the open hand. When we do impose order on top of this, it seems diminished. Clearly, the larger the group, the more the intimate social affections are challenged and the more trust gives way to precaution. As such, most of our human clubs and conventions are limited or parochial in scale, and define themselves at least in part by the kind of folk they are not. We cut ourselves off in this way from the fuller effects of this card, but at least within the circles we draw we get to know a liberality of feeling and get a taste of what we could be in a better world.
The Yijing’s counterpart, Gua 08, Belonging or Holding Together, depicts water spread out over the earth, with the water being naturally or spontaneously drawn to the lowest or humblest place. This anticipates the Daojia image of confluence: the hundred tributary streams paying tribute or making con-tributions to the humblest state. There is neither structure nor force involved here in all of this movement. This is simply gravity and water's surface tension, and might be likened to the cohesive tendencies of familial and familiar relationships. And it might also be applied to holding social institutions together without need of excessive artifice. We emphasize what the Lakota Sioux call in prayer: mitakuye oyasin, all our relations.
The standards of quality we have here are organic and spontaneous. We are following our bliss and our hearts, guided by attraction, and there is a real hazard here in being too unconditional with our affections and falling in with the wrong crowd, of adopting and being adopted by what might be called inferior people. Commonness and commonality, even averageness, can drag us down to our lowest common denominators. Common ground, origin, interest or cause is a low standard, not a high one, an inclusive principle, not a noble cause. There is more to the big picture than what like minds can agree on. This should be remembered when we want to turn it into a god or political leader. It flies in the face of the painful half of evolution on earth, the half that makes it all work: selection. Our interrelatedness has a big place in the life of enlightened and sentient beings, but ultimately the highest and best use of our humility is still to elevate ourselves.
Transcending the person, getting beyond the person, getting over the person, may be regarded as one of the main goals here. Transpersonal psychology is concerned with expanding the sense of identity beyond the individual and embracing greater realities, the human family, the web of life, the starry cosmos evolving to study itself, and exploring our more distant horizons, from the depths of experienced time up to the higher orders of trans-human awareness. But having the experience that proves to you once and for all that 'we are all one and interconnected' is not a spiritual attainment, nor is it seeing the whole of reality. It is merely a little piece of firm ground to stand on and another experience to explore. It’s a place to get started, and not the final goal of understanding. We gather with our kin and kindred to learn a little kind-ness. And cease for a while from struggle.
So this is a place to begin, not an end to our journey. The benefits of community are sweeping: sharing a sense of belonging with others, supportive friends and environments, a sense of fitness to our place and acceptance, without critique, a sense of life proceeding as it should, thankfulness, welcome, comfort, enjoyment, home and celebration. Few experiences are more damaging to us than having our trust betrayed and this spares us much of that and offers the healing force of an overflow of affection. We just need to remember the hazards as well: the loss of the outside that is being excluded, forgetting that the mind of a group is a fiction, and the loss of the personal center that’s the ultimate source of all mind and all sovereignty.
abundance, affinity, affiliation, alliance, assemblage, assimilation, association, belonging, bounty, brotherhood, camaraderie, caring, celebration, circulation, coherence, cohesion, comfort, commonality, communion, community, compassion, compatibility, concord, concourse, confluence, congress, consolation, convergence, conviviality, cooperation, embrace, enjoyment, familiarity, family, fraternity and sorority, friendship, fulfillment, gathering, graciousness, home, hospitality, idealism, identification, joining, merging, mutuality, naturalness, nurture, openness, overflow, pleasure, the Rainbow Gathering, reassurance, reconciliation, relatedness, sharing, solace, spontaneity, sympathy, union, welcome, wholeness.
Warnings and Reversals:
betrayal, codependency, compromise, cultural pollution from poor selection, dilution, escapism, extenuation, forced affiliation, lack of appreciation, loss of center within the group, misidentification, misplaced belonging, overindulgence, peer pressure, selflessness abused, superficial relations, wrong crowd.
Three plus Cups. Understanding as opening up and feeling interconnected, sharing and communing with others.
Astrology: Neptune in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Cancer, Patron: Mercury). Trends towards organic society, issues of belonging, family, commonality, merging and identification. Transpersonal psychology and consciousness.
Qabalah: Binah in Briah. Understanding, interconnectedness and matriarchal values in a fluid and transpersonal world, creative interaction with others beyond selfish interests.
Yijing: Gua 08, Bi, Belonging, Holding Together, Union. Da Xiang: Kun (3) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Across the earth there is water. Belonging. The early sovereigns established the numerous realms to make kinsmen of all of the leaders.” Gathering on common ground. Confluence, union, affiliation, association, mutuality. “Promising. For a first consultation, supreme and enduring commitment. Not a mistake. Wanting peace, approach directly. The late are the unfortunate ones.” Affinities are spontaneous and natural. A failure to come together suggests that the potential connection might not have been there after all if it took so much time to think it through or wait for invitations.
Four of Cups
Impasse, Distraction, Processing, Reevaluation
Image: A young man sits by a tree, his posture a little defensive, seeming to dream of being elsewhere, and perhaps regretting being here. With three drained, upside-down cups by his side he stares vacantly into a fourth, full cup, offering fresher refreshments, but he shows no inclination to reach for it. The new cup resembles the Ace. The offer seems better than his attitude towards it.
The Four of Cups shares a difficulty with the Four of Wands: the nature of the Four is to seek composure or composition, to develop structure and stable identity, but operating through a fluid element keeps changing all of that. A sort of dynamic equilibrium needs to be found, but without the complex skill sets and tools that come with the lessons of the higher numbers. We think we know where we’re going, then realize halfway there that we really want something different, or that ‘there’ is not what we thought it might be, or even that ‘there’ was all in our head all along. We discover that feelings and emotions are fluid and compromise our stability, or else they keep on going with some kind of inertia when we need to change our directions. They are not always responsive to the equally dynamic realities of living. Simple adaptability simply isn’t enough. Just when we get our attitude readjusted, the thing we’ve just adjusted to changes.
The subject in the Smith deck is pausing to reassess, reevaluate, or reexamine what has brought him to this pass. It’s easy to imagine that the cups were full of wine and that our subject is rethinking everything and abstaining for now. And then we might continue the analogy and imagine that he is moving towards recovery and working his fourth (!) step, 'making a searching and fearless moral inventory.' In any event, this sort of personal reassessment is a core meaning of this card. The counterpart in the Yijing, Gua 39, is Impasse or Obstruction, and depicts coming to a place where further progress is blocked and some sort of detour, bypass or emotional resilience will be required. The text speaks speaks specifically to a temporary halt to one’s progress in order to work on one’s character, a revision of either one’s identity or one’s purpose. Sherlock Holmes might call these 'three-pipe problems.' But you know he would make the most of it, and that is the real key here: we make new contacts and see new possibilities when we pause to look around us, to ponder or reexamine where we are going. We might be complaining of a detour which could turn out to be a much richer experience than meeting our original goals. Plan B stands for Better plan, at least when Plan A has failed.
One of the common subtitles for this card is blended pleasure, an obscure joining of words that might mean pleasure mixed with confusion, doubt, perplexity, discomfort, or anxiety. Or it could mean ambivalence, or vacillation. The astrological correlate of Jupiter in Water signs means a sense of self that wants to identify with feeling and emotion. This can be good when affect agrees with a pleasant reality or even if it simply remains fairly stable. But when feelings are challenged or challenging, so is this sense of self. One gets confused, rather than simply sensing confusion. Such an unpleasantness can be taken too seriously, or too personally. To feel like a success, one might need to reestablish the goals in terms of attainability: baby steps, taken one day at a time.
The worst approach here is to sulk and pout, to fester inside, to get stuck in emotional feedback loops, to be self-absorbed in a self-limiting self, to take the pity pot for a throne, to see change as upset, to be unresponsive, all in order to have some constancy to the feelings. Such spells take time to break, while the world moves even further on. And time in such moods is always always and never, never just for a moment. So what if this is the end of a path or of one chapter of life? It’s the plot twists that keep it interesting. A good mystery should take a convoluted route. Routines become ruts and entrenchments. Habits turn into addictions. Things arise, things pass away.
On the positive side of things, this card can be used as an emotional skill set. Variety of experience expands and extends the range of what we can identify with, of who and what we can be, provided that we learn to not cling to favorite states. We can keep the attitude going while plans, goals and directions are changing or even reversing. Our fearless and searching inventory becomes a catalog of attitudes, from which to pick and choose. We are detoured but not deterred. We can look for new opportunities that are sideways from where we were going. We rediscover our broader selves and find the paths not yet seen. The best of our feelings need refreshing: from time to time is good, but continuously is better.
ambivalence, bewilderment, blind alley, brooding, complications, composure, confusion, contrarieties, dead end, dead stop, deadlock, dealing, delay, detour, dilemma, discomfort, discontent, dissatisfaction, distraction, diversion, doldrums, doubt, drawback, emotional inertia, equivocation, hanging on, hindrance, impediment, inconvenience, inventory, misgivings, pause, perplexity, pondering, predicament, preoccupation, presence of mind, processing, quandary, reassessment, reconsideration, re-contextualizing, re-envisioning, reevaluation, reformulation, regrouping, reorientation, reset, rest stop, restlessness, review, revision, rumination, satiety, scruples, self-reflection, soul searching, stasis, stationary period, surfeit, stalemate, staleness, uncertainty, unmade mind, withdrawal.
Warnings and Reversals:
annoyance, apathy, aversion, bitterness, boredom, complaint, disconsolation, discontent, discouragement, disgust, disillusionment, ennui, frustration, inflexible moods, ingratitude, jadedness, lethargy, petulance, pity pot, re-sentiment, self-indulgence, stagnation, sulking, sullenness, weariness.
Four plus Wands. Seeking composure or composition, to develop a structure and a stable identity, but operating through a fluid element that undermines stability. Feelings need to keep moving and changing. Identifying with these creates problems with a stable sense of identity. Wave forms and eddies permit stable shapes in an ever-changing medium, but they cannot hold onto the media and must let this pass through.
Astrology: Jupiter in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 20°-30° Cancer, Patron: Luna). An inclination to identify self with what self is feeling, and to try to hold faith and confidence there. Good to expand and explore when the feelings go many places, but one must learn resilience, to choose between states, or else to avoid the unpleasant feelings.
Qabalah: Chesed in Briah. Mercy and equanimity in the vast wealth of a changing world, developing and securing the ability to embrace the richness of it all.
Yijing: Gua 39, Jian, Impasse, Obstruction; Da Xiang: Gen (4) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Over the mountain is water. Impasse. The young noble turns bodily around to work on character.” Water over the mountain means storms in the highlands. The pass is closed, the journey is literally at an impasse. At least a day to kill, or maybe to live. “Worthwhile west to south. not worthwhile east to north. Rewarding to encounter a mature human being. Persistence is opportune.” The character Jian also means having trouble with the feet in going forward, which suggests a parallel with the English word scruples, derived from the Latin for a pebble in one’s sandal or shoe. The meaning of both is pausing to correct things.
Five of Cups
Disappointment, Retrenchment, Rallying, Salvage
Image: A disconsolate man in a black cape stands with head bowed amidst five wine goblets, three of which have been overturned. That’s more than half-emptied. Crying over spilt wine, he pays no attention to the two full goblets remaining. His ingratitude with what remains risks the loss of this as well.
As the word emotion implies, we draw energy for motion from affective states. We use them as a motive or motivating force. We also have inherited an evolved inclination to feel loss more acutely than we feel gain: loss hurts us more than gain pleases us. Along with this, we have a disinclination to feel content with an emotionally neutral status quo. This is why crisis mode, upset and stress are such normal states, and a part of why people like to play the victim. We suffer because it drives us, no matter that it drives us insane. We mistake intensity for meaning or power and fuel up on our resentments and losses. The force can be dramatic, but it isn’t power. As naive, irrational and unintelligent as our feelings and emotions can be, there is still good guidance to be had here. But we cannot mistake them for who we are. We are born to dissatisfaction. When we have enough to eat, then we still don’t have enough friends. When we have enough friends, then the color of paint on the house is all wrong. These are sometimes referred to as low, high and meta-grumbles. We behave as though we have a right and entitlement to everything going our way. Ingratitude often becomes our normal state of mind.
Emotions and perspective are almost opposites. They pull us out of both moment and context and into themselves. It always takes some time to process and sort them, but meanwhile our reason and judgment are hijacked and gone. They can leave us naive and destabilized, overwhelmed and maladapted, and still we regard them as sacred somehow. We can even lose such priorities as living preferred over dying, or longevity over quick burnout. The multi-stage process of grieving a loss is fairly well understood, and we can expedite this, as long as this is not rushed, pushed or forced. Feelings are somewhat more present than emotions, but these are not as much of a Five of Cups problem as they are a way to point the way out. We need to feel like there remains something more, beyond the setbacks, troubles and clouds of our judgment. We need to find some reason to pull ourselves out of our pits. Beyond some early point to all this, our suffering is voluntary.
There is much information to process here. When we are disappointed, we can ask ourselves what went wrong in making those appointments. When we are disillusioned, we can reexamine our illusions. When we find ourselves disenchanted, we can look at who cast those enchantments. Things did not work out as promised, planned or predicted, but we can’t use our failed expectations to judge or measure the world. The world is change, and powers beyond our own. It’s our job to find our own way to survive. Unlike disillusionment, maybe our discouragement still wants to discover some new source of courage, just not in an inflated sense of the power we wield or the luck we deserve. We still look to external circumstance, but we take Castaneda’s advice by 'using all the event.' Naturally, here, we look to the two cups remaining. The three were nothing more than the high costs of living in the real world, like cutting a check for the rent or the mortgage. Or dues. Or tuition. Or an offering. Or the rainy day write off. It doesn’t hurt us to feel a little dissatisfied, though it still helps to remember that needs are more secure than desires. Hunger is good: it feeds us. In the end, it’s ingratitude that kills us. We are lucky to have the two cups remaining.
What we have lost is a number of unhatched chickens, all painstakingly counted. We have to reclaim what remains. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 03, Rallying or Difficult Beginnings, we rally with and around what remains, despite our initial difficulties, and fight for the higher priorities, with all of the energy that the Fives and the Thunder can offer. Since these are Cups, we might have some challenging issues with appeals made strictly to reason. We need to sense or find our most urgent needs, outside of this narrow context and inside the bigger picture. We have to see this greater perspective as relevant here and now, and turn the urgency into an urge. We can draw off some force for this project from where it is currently being wasted: letting go can be an empowerment. We might not even need to calm down, which is not a good fit for the fives anyway. We just want to get redirected and make ourselves more effective and less maladapted. We say bygones, suck it up, snap out of it, rub some dirt on it, grunt and move on. Nor do we need to play the victim before we can ask for some help.
alliances needed, bottoming out, brooding, bygones, comeback, concentration, coping, crisis, crisis management, crisis mode, cutting losses, destabilization, disappointment, dissatisfaction, distress, disturbance, facing the facts, facing the music, fallback position, focus, frustration, getting a grip, grieving process, hypersensitivity, inflammation, letting go, loss in pleasure, mishap, muster, partial loss, plan B, prioritizing, pulling it together, rallying, readjustment, realignment, rebounding, recalculation, reclaiming, recovering, re-empowerment, regrouping, reinstatement, rescue, retrenchment, salvaging, settling, snapping back, snapping out of it, sorting it out, sucking it up, taking stock, triage, upset.
Warnings and Reversals:
attachment, bereavement, bitterness, clinging, despair, dwelling, emotional hijacking, fretting, gloom, grief, ingratitude, lament, moping, overreaction, paralysis, resentment, self-fulfilling pessimism, the slough of despond, sulking, vain regret, victim mentality, wallowing.
Five plus Cups. A forceful energy is applied to or through an element that’s at its best when it’s at peace. This can lead to much splashing and spilling, be this milk, water, wine or tears. Some time must be taken to settle down and recover, to gather wits and helpers.
Astrology: Mars in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Scorpio, Patron: Mars). Inclined to use feeling and emotion as a source of motivation and fuel. Can regard emotion for its own sake, or for the sake of motion. Less fulfillment might be perceived as less drive, so the intensity of dissatisfaction might be drawn upon instead.
Qabalah: Geburah in Briah. A disequilibrating force is introduced to calm seas, resulting in storminess and stress. But storms only bring climate back into balance by dissipating accumulated energy. They would not exist without a built-up gradient or differential, a backlog of change.
Yijing: Gua 03, Zhun, Rallying, Difficulty at the Beginning. Da Xiang: Zhen (5) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Clouds and thunder. Rallying. The young noble sorts warp from weft.” Clouds and thunder: a heavy storm descends on a tender plant that’s trying to establish itself. There is a sense of urgency to be tapped here, offering more promise than self-indulgence can. A rite of passage. “Supreme fulfillment. Worthwhile to be persistent. Not at all useful to have somewhere to go. Worthwhile to enlist delegates.” A need to forget expectations and focus on present realities. The rainy day write-off. Get help by enlisting others and other points of view. No use or need to play the victim.
Six of Cups
Culmination, Eudaimonia, Presence, Persistence of Memory
Image: (Modified) A family of six, two grandparents, two parents and two children, join in a toast around a happy family table. The focus is on the children, who are giggling to each other while toasting. The Smith deck shows two children playing in an idyllic, old-country setting, and six cups with a flower in each. These may also be inner children, perhaps drawn from memory. Barbara Walker suggests that our archetypal primordial golden age of giants was grownups all around us as kids.
The Six of Cups brings us up to the present day, where, ready or not, all of the past is completed. The core meaning is This Moment, one of appreciation and deep reflection on what has brought us here. We are cumulative beings, a culmination of prior influences. Now we are in a moment well-earned, where nothing more needs be done for a while. Humanly good and decent days are portrayed here. The terms and conditions for our happiness are satisfied. There is well-being and feeling well. It’s good to look back and review, as long as we aren’t desperate to be where we’re not. Kierkegaard said that “life can only be understood backwards, although it must be lived forwards.” This is a time for that understanding.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 63, Already Across, speaks of a present which is now just about perfect, where all of the parts have found their proper place and it’s time for some final or finishing touches, and tying off of loose ends. This is the culmination of a long project or past, but time neither stops nor slows down, and any relative permanence to this pleasant tableau might as well be forgotten. But incompleteness is what drives us, and calls in the energy needed. So with the dynamic just about spent, it’s time to prepare to do maintenance, against no less a foe than the heat death of the universe. There are diminishing returns here. Seeing forward is facing decay. Even temporary permanence will only be won by an anticlimactic, uphill fight against unrelenting entropy. Still, our duty is to enjoy things while they last, and if we can be wise, to be grateful even as our favorite things are slipping away.
It is fashionable among the 'spiritual' folk to advise living this life in the present, but there is a point to having our memories, as well as our predictions. We can’t really be here now for long, and it takes a bit of conceit to think we can be here now at all. At the very least we can add some breadth and depth to even our shortest moments. We bring the inertia of our pasts to all of our perceptions. This is called apperception, our wealth of experience brought to bear on the present, together with our cognitive errors and Bly’s 'long bag we drag behind us.' We face our current problems with the way we remember our pasts. It helps to have some awareness of what we are doing. If we want to move forward, we won’t be over-idealizing the past or longing to recreate it. We still want life to keep getting better than what we’ve had before.
In a way, we live to collect good recollections, stockpiling emotional snapshots, special moments to take along with us through time. It’s the job of storyteller and poet to turn the world into memories, and those back into tales. The goddess of Memory was the mother of the Muses. Goethe’s Faust both risks and does it all for a single moment of happiness worth freezing in time. We can often count the best of our moments, and the ones that are close to perfection are usually not all that numerous. We keep these in special places in ourselves. We can keep our lost loved ones alive in this way as well. There is much to be praised in bringing the past along. There are problems when we measure our current moments against our most-shining ones, and when we think the person at the center of those is the only one who we truly are. And there are problems in being so fond of 'back there' that we cannot face today. But we need to bring the things that we’ve learned along with us if we want any worthwhile kind of tomorrow. And good memories show they are worth making more of, even for older folks.
The past is not really finished or perfect. Of course the degree of our memory informs our present awareness and actions. We use what we learn and bring with us in order to better ourselves. The past brought to present helps to choose better futures, and we have all our various pasts to choose from. But even memories can keep on growing. The neural structures of memory are plastic. Each time we bring something up, we add the present to it. If we bring a thing up as resentment, we make our bad feelings just a little bit worse before we put them back. If we bring a thing up in an atmosphere of fondness, kindness, understanding, or forgiveness, we can file it back away with a little less of an unpleasant charge. There is no rule that forbids our rewriting of personal history, in non-delusional ways, updating ourselves, upgrading ourselves in the process.
afterthought, anticlimax, appendix, attainment, awareness, between times, childhood past, climax, completion, continuity, culmination, emotional snapshots, enjoyment, epilogue, eudaimonia, felt perfection, hindsight, home environment, innocence, joy, maintenance, memento, memories, mindfulness, mnemonics, moment, momentousness, momentum, nostalgia, persistence of memory, presence of mind, realization, reawakening, recall, recognition, recollection, reconsideration, rediscovery, re-enchantment, remembrance, reminders, reminding, reminiscence, renewal, residuum, retrospective, resurrection, reunion, reverie, review, revising, revisiting, simpler times, time-binding, well-being.
Warnings and Reversals:
backing up into the future, chasing the dragon, coming events, getting stuck in memory, grieving, living in or for the past, pining, regression, regret, remorse, sentimentality, unacceptable present, unrealistic desires, vanity.
Six plus Cups. Out of developing organization sentience arises, the ability to be present and aware, although not yet in a self-conscious way. We are ongoing culminations. This has a feeling of being brought here by all we have been through, and of having arrived.
Astrology: Sol in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Scorpio, Patron: Sol). Wanting to identify ourselves by our feelings and emotions, or by what we are capable of feeling and emoting. We are the taking of things personally. Our identity reflects our subjective responses, our desires, enjoyments, passions.
Qabalah: Tipareth in Briah. The integration and harmonization of the system of self is experienced subjectively and personally, as a responsiveness or felt interaction. Emphasis on identity as a sensitivity. Feeling present, being here.
Yijing: Gua 63, Ji Ji, Already Across, After Completion. Da Xiang: Li (6) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Water positioned over the flame. Already complete. The young noble contemplates sorrows and thus prepares to maintain against them.” Achieving order or perfection, follow up and follow through. Anticlimax, denouement, finish, winding down, maintenance. “Fulfillment is minor. But rewarding to persist. At the beginning, promise. By the end, disorder.” Issues of issues of past and perfection. Final steps of the crossing, preparing to look back.
Seven of Cups
Taste, Choice, Gratification, Allocation
Image: (Modified) A young, well-dressed man sits alone at a table, on which are set seven goblets of wine, some red and some white. He has finished one goblet and happily signals goodbye to the rest. The Smith deck portrays a man full of wonderment, looking enchanted by a gallery of delights spread out before him, displayed in cups as icons of varying forms of pleasure. It’s a version of the kid in the candy store.
The Seven of Cups is about the learning of our limits in the pursuit of what we desire, but since this learning is so often done so poorly, the card is often said to foreshadow excessiveness and subsequent regret. The excess and regret are the consequence of poor choices, but not the core meaning of the card, which is wanting to feel good, or better, or well in the sense of healthy, or well in the sense of skillfully. This is the self-interest of the Seven pursued with the feeling and emotion of the Cups. We want to explore our possibilities, see what the options are, see what we can get away with, or see how far we can go. How full or fulfilled can we feel? Of course we want it all, and right now too, if we can have that. We want to feel alive, so we do things for the sake of feeling itself. At bottom we are experimenting with our own neurochemistry, with go-to ingredients like dopamine and oxytocin.
Since feelings are so little inclined to listen to reason, the learning process here will require some experience. Except for the sense of satiety, limits and self-restraint are not an inherent or inherited part of our seeking. They must be learned. The suit of Cups lacks judgment, so the cost of our unrestrained desire needs to be felt and processed. It’s not logical to think that we are born ready to say no to something pleasant that’s free for the asking or taking. But there is often too much that we can want successfully, and wanting gets out of control. We have no native immunity to promises and temptations. And then the advertisers get to have their say and have their way and people to start to want useless and frivolous things, and want them right now. Many people will even do crimes so they don’t have to wait. It’s just not good selfishness to destroy, dissipate or profane the self. The degeneration of our wanting into wantonness is selling ourselves into slavery, the original meaning of addiction. Even when we don’t go this far, we risk getting lost in the options, approach this or approach that, an ambivalence that threatens to spread us 'a mile wide and an inch deep.' We give up the magic for empty mystique, and deeper study for sound bites, so we don’t need to linger and miss out on the next distraction. In Arabic they call this ghafla, soul-emptying distraction. We become emotional gluttons starving for real nourishment.
Emotions aren’t a way of thinking critically, and feeling is only a kind of discernment, that sometimes could use some rational help. We hope that we will have the sense, in the literal sense, to learn to pick and choose wisely, to develop good taste and high standards, without resorting to rules or authority figures. We hope to learn priorities and boundaries. Among the great variety of feelings and experiences set out on this table of life, the better choices do not preclude sensuality, eroticism, intoxication, gusto or zest. It’s only a matter of getting things experienced in the right proportion, a middle path and a golden mean. So we simply look at our options with an eye to narrowing these down, selecting personal desires according to what we value the most, and maybe even to what we have carefully chosen to value, to what is relevant to our own evolution. Perhaps we can even order their pursuit according to our own hierarchy of needs.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 60, Jie, Boundaries or Limitation, begins by depicting a broad flood of affect in need of viable channels. We need the water, the feeling, but we want it where it will do us some good. We gradually learn to pace and limit ourselves, to defer gratification, to know our measure. Pleasures might be transient and successes not retained, but they are as necessary to mental health as food, which isn’t retained either. As long as we need this we might as well be gourmets about it. There is much clucking and tsk-ing and wagging of fingers around this issue of pleasure, usually by those you would not want for role models. The whole subject of pleasure-seeking behavior stirs up almost as much cultural, social and religious nonsense and neurotic activity as the subject of death. So many of us fear both living and dying.
The word hedonics ought to be a real word, for the study of pleasure-seeking behavior. Hedonism, the philosophy that states that pleasure can be a good guide to right living, is actually a broad spectrum, and its higher-frequency end can make a lot of good sense. Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius all spoke up for good taste in pleasure, with caution, selection, discernment and values. It was the also the first philosophy rooted in natural history. They also wrote about atoms. Lucretius wrote of evolution and natural selection. But they remain best known for saying that our joys and sorrows are our most reliable guides to the beneficial and the harmful, for suggesting great care care in selecting for worthwhile pleasures. We refine our desires and defer the shortsighted self-gratification. Their highest value, happiness or eudaimonia, was not a neutral, anhedonic or apathetic state, but a positive form of pleasure. Yet happiness itself is not the best pursuit: it’s an indication of living rightly, of pursuing the best in life, and it’s only favored by chance, and not guaranteed to good behavior.
abridgment, allocation, allowance, apportionment, appraisal, boundaries, brio, budgeting, choice, constraint, delight, desire, determination, discernment, discretion, distinction, enjoyment, epicureanism, eros, ethical measure, evaluation, fulfillment, gratification, gusto, happiness, hedonism, hunger, indulgence, intelligent choice, limitation, liveliness, measure, measured steps, middle way or path, moderation, pacing, passion, pleasure, preference, priorities, profusion, proportion, prudence, quota, ratio, rationality, rationing, relish, resolution, restraint, satisfaction, savor, selectivity, self-control, self-discipline, self-interest, self-limitation, self-regulation, self-respect, specificity, surfeit, taste, terms, transient success, verve, zest.
Warnings and Reversals:
addiction, cravenness, debauchery, delusion, dissipation, false hopes, foolish whims, glut, gluttony, greed, immoderation, imprudence, incontinence, intemperance, licentiousness, lust, overextension, overindulgence, self-delusion, self-indulgence, temptation, wishful thinking,
Seven plus Cups. Self-seeking in the world of feeling and emotion, hedonism in its full spectrum from debauchery to Epicureanism. Learning our limits and boundaries by way of satisfying our desires and experiencing the consequences.
Astrology: Venus in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 20° 30° Scorpio, Patron: Venus). Life is about exploring to the end of sensitivity and desire, maintaining a sense of sensation, and feeling good or well. Sentience is the draw and the guide. Will be limited by personal capacity as well as the environment.
Qabalah: Netzach in Briah. Personal conquest and victory, or simply success, assessed in terms of its sense of rightness or feeling that movement is responding as it should.
Yijing: Gua 60, Jie, Boundaries, Limitation. Da Xiang: Dui (7) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Over the pond there is water. Boundaries. The young noble regulates numbers and measures and weighs the merits of action.” Too much water to fully contain, requiring a channel. The necessity for boundaries and limits. “Fulfillment. Bitter limitations do not invite commitment.” An emphasis on proceeding with growth, but in a well-paced and self-regulated way, as bamboo grows one section at a time.
Eight of Cups
Provision, Accessibility, Resource, Refreshment
Image: A solitary, robed figure has turned his back on an old well and now crosses a footbridge to begin or continue a journey under a waning moon. On the rim of the well sit eight full cups. The cups will not chase the wanderer, nor will the well, but he knows where to find them. Maybe the job is simply done, maybe done well, and things are set up now for later.
The Eight of Cups hones in on the complicated relationship between head and heart, thinking and feeling, reason and emotion, or cognition and affect. The point of view is mental. We learn a lot from the things the heart gets us into. And even the head knows that too much restraint on the feelings will keep us from the experiences that allow us to learn so much. Ultimately the head is more interested in feeling’s past tense, on getting it all sorted out afterwards, although it knows at least dimly that this may require having a deeply authentic experience in the first place. The mind wants the ability to call on past experiences when needed, from a safe and unobtrusive distance away, so there is a focus on getting the experience behind us, where it can be better understood. Nietzsche wrote in his last notebook: 'One does not get over a passion by representing it. Rather, it is over when one is able to represent it.' We have what we need from this experience for now. The Smith card is a depiction of leaving some feelings behind us and preparing to move on. While this may be an abandonment, it is not a disavowal or repudiation. It’s neutrality instead of negation. We haven’t scorched any earth, burned any bridges or poisoned any wells. The previous effort was simply a preparation for a greater freedom. With a new perspective we now have freedom towards, not just freedom from.
There is a side of this that has some big drawbacks. With having it all figured out, with the problem now solved, we may think that our abstract summarization was all that we needed to learn. Where the mind has been and what it has done becomes 'been there, done that.' Experience has now been encoded and emptied of its emotional content. We spoke with someone for a couple of minutes a couple of years ago and now claim to 'know' this person. The mystic experience? Oh, I've had one of those. The past loses feeling, texture and depth. Transience is the rule, of course, and we cannot take everything with us. We have to mine the whole time for a handful of moments, and this is all we can carry unless we want to end the journey now and dwell right here. We sometimes have to take things for granted to make any progress at all. The place served us well for a time. And we leave a little a cache behind, for when we want to come back.
A mind that enjoys feelings and is articulate in its understanding might appear to be overthinking, or have already overthought. It may converse knowledgeably about affect and speak well of passion, even if not presently having the experience, and in all of this it might seem abstract and detached, emptied of subjective meaning, having lost the sense of refreshment. Mental understanding of feeling and emotion works on a different time scale, one that is not in the moment. The point of having things sorted is in large part building an infrastructure for access to our feelings. We may have left a place in the past, but we also now know the way back. In waxing philosophical over prior emotional states, it’s possible to call up or conjure those feelings again. We can go too far of course. With our feelings all named, counted, sorted and weighed, we have done little to secure our routes to back to happiness.
Another force pushes us onwards as well: hedonic adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill. We are genetically predisposed to not even like the good things to stay the same. Our hopes and expectations adapt ever upwards. If we can't have constant improvement, or at least some gradual intensification, then we will go after variety for its own sake instead. It takes a lot of gratitude for what we already have to keep this process under some control. Familiarity would rather breed contempt. It’s novelty that keeps the mind awake, just like it’s acceleration, and not steady movement, that lets us know we are moving. We have a need to renew the familiar if we want to keep it around. A resource is a source that we can keep coming back to. Refreshment is just that, a freshening up again, just as respect means looking again, which offers a clue to a lasting enjoyment of steadier states.
The Yijing counterpart is Gus 48, the Well. This is something, literally, that we really dug at one time. We have a resource that we can come back to whenever we are driven by thirst. We retain the ability to go deep again, to access our depths. But most of the time we have left it behind us. The structure that makes the magic is out of sight and out of mind. We know the way back, and can even tell others how to get there as well. The texts of the lines in this chapter discuss the periodic checkup and maintenance issues, how we ought not to take this completely for granted, how we ought to keep the water accessible, to keep refreshing our outlooks and browsers. By analogy, we have tapped, perhaps with forethought, a source of feeling, refreshment or nourishment and conceptually set things in order for the sake of securing future access. Although this source lives largely outside of our awareness, it is nevertheless a resource. The Yijing also emphasizes the social aspects, as either the well was dug at the center of things, or things developed around the well as a center. Feelings and emotions are an older and more common ground for humans than our cultures, languages, thoughts and ideas.
abandoned or forsaken success, acceptability, accessibility, acclimatization, adequacy, anticlimax, assets, back burner, bygones, cache, conclusions, contrivance, convenience, decline of interest, departure, desertion, discontinued effort, enough for now, equanimity, familiarity, final insights, follow-through, habituation, inurement, hedonic treadmills, impermanence, liquidating assets, moving on, nominal access, non-attachment, novelty, obsolescence, outgrowing pains, presupposition, provision, refreshment, reservation, reserve, reservoir, resource, resourcefulness, restlessness, routine, satisfactions, set-aside, stock in trade, sufficiency, summations, thoroughness, wrapping up.
Warnings and Reversals:
apathy, boredom, complacency, desensitization, detachment, discounting, emptiness, feelings destroyed by analysis, indolence, jadedness, neglect, numbness, over-familiarity, taking for granted, presumption, staleness, tuning out, weariness,
Eight plus Cups. Cognitive processes and communications can be involved deeply in feelings and emotions, but the objective is understanding, useful organization of memory and facilitation of recall. Feelings are evaluated and sorted but one hopes they are left alive.
Astrology: Mercury in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Pisces, Patron: Saturn). A mind that is interested in experiencing and communicating feeling and emotion, but not likely to linger on these once they are understood and put in their places.
Qabalah: Hod in Briah. A cognitive grasp of the fluid dynamics of the world of feeling and emotion, proceeding in an orderly way through what is chaos to others, and an appreciation of the responsive sensitivity of nature.
Yijing: Gua 48, The Well. Da Xiang: Xun (8) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Above the wood there is water. The well. The young noble labors for the people to encourage cooperation.” Commonality and common ground in understanding our shared experience, in ways that can be communicated. “Rearranging the town does not change the well. Neither losing nor gaining, whether leaving or arriving, the well is the well. To nearly reach, but then to fall short with the well rope, or to damage its bucket, is disappointing.” Provision of resource ahead of time, resourcefulness gained by having lived through something, locating and naming it, and having it available. Dangers in taking the well for granted, being unmindful, letting it go.
Nine of Cups
Flow, Responsiveness, Feeling, Contentment
Image: A portly, benevolent djinn beams at the reader as he floats cross legged just above and behind nine cups, arrayed like trophies, indicating the reader's choice with a sweeping hand.
Commonly called the 'wish card,' the more superficial interpretations suggest that we will have a bit of luck in attaining our happiness. This is the wish of the silly people, who only use Tarot to have their fortunes and futures told. If you have a wish out there it is going to come true. It’s your fate: you don’t have to do any work or anything. What is not often mentioned in the books is that this is almost always a temporary state, a little shot of dopamine that soon wears off. The deeper question this card poses is only hinted at by the frequent cautions against smugness and complacency. That is, if we want to have a more durable sense of happiness or satisfaction, we will probably have to trade wishing for working, and dreaming for diligence, and feel our way into a way of living that has happiness as a symptom, or a sign that we are on the right path, and even then with no real guarantee of satisfaction. We give up the chasing of wishes and fantasies for the pursuit of higher activities, engagements and purposes that secondarily bring us more lasting emotional rewards. These provide a more resilient foundation (Nines and Yesod) for the continued ups and downs that are sure to follow this moment's up-ness. The Nine of Cups, regarded as a skill set, will develop the emotional intelligence needed to either make satisfaction last longer or to be more accepting of its comings and goings.
Time or duration is the big question here. Most people have a squinty-eyed view of shallower time, like the sensationalist newspapers looking at wildly fluctuating curves instead of long-term trends and reporting 'crime rate soars' one day and then 'crime rate plummets' the next. We want a less ephemeral view here. Many books imply that the satisfaction or happiness predicted by this card will last. It almost certainly will not. And affect itself is too naive to have longer time horizons or a more mature relationship to change. Ongoing satisfaction is a more dynamic process that stays a course only by dynamic efforts at navigation.
The pursuit of happiness is an unfortunate phrase when we pick this for something to follow. The degree of our happiness is just a reading on a dial that may or may not tell us how well we are doing. We don’t live for this readout, we live for doing well and the dial says what it says. Our best chance for sustaining happiness is simply doing what we love doing, or what we do best or well, finding a rewarding groove, and earning ourselves some self-esteem. There is nothing inherently wrong or inferior with having wishes and wants, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to believe in magic. Of course we want to be careful what we wish for and want. But these are just eddies and waves in the longer flow of the stream. Confidence wants repeated successes more than future assurances. Deep and lasting satisfaction actually requires impermanence: it needs to move and adapt.
Both moving water and moving through water are fundamental to the symbolism of both the Nines and the Cups. Heraclitus phrased this as panta rhei, everything flows and nothing abides, and asserted the impossibility of stepping into the same river twice. Laozi had much to say about the way that water moves and what this has to teach us. The Yijing counterpart, Gua 29, Exposure, picks up the same double-water images and concentrates on the dynamic qualities of such a combination, activities that get the blood pumping, like traversing or running a river that’s running through a gorge. The hazardousness of the image is often mistakenly interpreted as a prediction of danger, when in fact it's a good incentive to use such exigency to come more fully alive, to awaken more completely to the realities we are moving through, to be more fully present in the flow of things. Deep water over our heads is not a bad place to be if we have either learned to how swim or learned how to learn. The trick is to keep ourselves centered and on our true path. Feeling here is a verb, and by feeling our way we learn what true means. The real happiness is in the difficulties and challenges that life can meet meet authentically and surmount. It has nothing to do with being given good luck or good fortune. We might have some plain old luck, but we really must be present to win.
adaptation, alertness, aptness, assurance, attunement, availability, centering, challenge, commitment, concentration, concord, content in both its senses, contentment, continuity, currents, depth, emotional wealth, enjoyment, exigency, exposure, feeling, flow, fluidity, fulfillment, gratitude, health, heart, heart's content, immersion, impressions, intensity, involvement, happiness, overcoming, panta rhei, path of least resistance, plunging in, presence, reassurance, replenishment, responding, responsiveness, reward, satisfaction, savoring, security, sensitivity, sincerity, spontaneity, subtlety, sure things, the way out is through, throughput, transitory suffering, trial, undergoing, well-being, white water, ziran.
Warnings and Reversals:
absence, blind faith, complacency, dispute, fear, feeling entitled, feeling shaped to attract failure, fear, heedlessness, imperfections, indulgence, insecurity, insincerity, misplaced reliance, self-indulgence, self-praise, smugness, superficiality, vicissitudes, vulnerability.
Nine plus Cups. The foundational possibilities of our feeling and emotion. Questions of where more reliability might be found. Getting past the ups and downs to a more lasting or durable happiness and satisfaction.
Astrology: Luna in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Pisces, Patron: Jupiter). We can’t get any wetter than the moon in water. This is immersion in a world of fluctuation and change, the rising and falling tides of feeling and emotion, across the full range from sensitivity to intensity to dreaminess.
Qabalah: Yesod in Briah. A fluid foundation for a fluid world, liquidity and flow as the basis of whatever stability and reliability we might find. Perhaps pontoons, ballast, deep leaden keels and sheet anchors.
Yijing: Gua 29, Kan, Exposure, The Abysmal. Da Xiang: Kan (9) below, Kan (Cups) above; “Water is ever arriving. Repeated exposure. The young noble continues in character and conduct, practicing teaching and serving.” Heartfelt commitment, staying true to a middle path, concentration. “Be true. To keep the heart secure is fulfillment.” Exploring the participatory aspects of moving like water through challenging terrain, maintaining presence of mind through a dynamic and even risky environment.
Ten of Cups
Satiety, Satisfaction, Fulfillment, Transition
Image: (Modified) Two children play with nine cups in an idyllic garden, perhaps making mud pies with the family silver, while behind them their young parents dance off to pursue a cup at the end of a rainbow. The Smith deck shows a family of four in a rural setting, celebrating a rainbow of ten cups.
The core meaning of the Ten of Cups is satiety, or how we feel about having or having had enough. There are several directions to take the interpretation of this, including some darker ones. The Smith card, unless it is intended to be ironic, is a little misleading here, and encourages the writers of Tarot books to speak about perfected, permanent, perpetual or lasting happiness and success. One might think these people had never been humans living on earth, but then many humans on earth believe they are going to just such a place after their death. Feelings don't stay still or last. The subject is indeed about finding or preparing to find some continuity after our needs get satisfied, or after we've had enough, but most of the time this concerns moving on, or returning to earth and reality. This is not a fairytale fantasy of happily ever after.
Abraham Maslow has a good handle on this process. We progress from one satisfaction to another, meeting our most basic or fundamental needs first, and then moving on to our more optional ones, our electives. If managed with some care we could satisfy ourselves upwards instead of in circles. We can get the preliminaries and priorities behind us and get to work on such lofty pursuits as working out our chosen destinies. This implies not getting carried away with shortsighted illusions of permanence and perfection. Perhaps it sounds a little on the rational side for the suit of cups, but our feelings can learn lessons as well, and the formula is simple enough: meet needs, move on.
The state of affairs depicted here could be more happiness than you ever thought was possible, something too good to be true or to last. With satiety, we have already reached a climax or culmination. We still have some happiness to spend before it falls away or slips from our grasp. We can make it last a little longer, or invest it something more durable. We often move ourselves forward with exaggeration and hyperbole, but beyond a point, this just doesn’t serve us well, if it ever really served us at all. An excess of wine leads to a hangover, an excess of speed to a crash. Two-thirds complete might be the most perfect state for us all.
The word sustainability is horribly overused by our parasitic species and its pro-growth economy. As Edward Abbey remarked, 'growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.' At bottom the word sustain means to hold something up from below, to provide or take care of the preconditions needed for something to exist. The focus is not on the thing by itself. With this understanding, a sustainability of affect or attitude is what we are looking for with this card. The happiness here will need to move on soon. What we want to maintain or improve are the conditions of its arising. De-growth to sustainable levels is often proposed as the best solution for humanity’s global woes. We can develop an analog for our internal world and calm ourselves down, redefine what 'enough' means, cultivate better gratitude, and maybe take some deep breaths instead of racing onward for more than we need.
We want to look at how things are shaping up down the road before us. There is some implication of this in the depiction of the two children at play in this card: there is a new generation coming up now. The blessed state may yet keep regenerating. Impermanence of feeling and attitude will not be defeated, but a maturing attitude may still look to adjusting the meaning we have for contentment and remaining thankful for the chance to witness this grand parade as it moves on by. We can cultivate what is more likely to last for a little longer. If this time is used to re-choose, to redefine what is important and not, then losses can be selected.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 43, Decisiveness, concentrates on satiety, or having had enough, more in the sense of having 'had it up to here.' The subjects of the lines are busy getting carried away or going obsessively over the top. They are advised to unload some of the feeling or emotion that is driving them before they go too far: to back it down, or dial it back, or dial it down. Their hyperbole and exaggeration are to be supplanted by straightforward disclosure and exposé. It’s a time to put the feeling in its proper place, to discharge it, to deflate it. No matter how exciting this has all been, we prepare to wrap or sum it up now.
abounding, abundance, anticlimax, apogee, arrival, attainment, breakthrough, climax, completion, consummation, contentment, cresting, culmination, decisiveness, deflation, detumescence, discharge, disclosure, emotional stability, enjoyment, extravagance, finale, fulfillment, gratification, having had enough, having our fill, home, family life, finality, imperfection, impermanence, indulgence, lavishness, longer terms, over-development, overflowing, passage, perpetuating success, pinnacle, plateau, progression, realization, regeneration, relish, repute, resolve, reward, satiety, satisfaction, saturation, sufficiency, superabundance, superfluity, surfeit, surplus, sustainable states, transition, wrap-up.
Warnings and Reversals:
affluenza, disruption, exaggerated life, excessive emotion, glut, hyperbole, diminishing returns, imprudence, indignation, indignity, mania, obsession, overkill, over-stimulation, surfeit, superfluousness, wantonness.
Ten plus Cups. Reaching the limits of where feeling and emotion can take us, raising the question of where to go from here.
Astrology: Pluto in Water Signs and Houses (GD: 20°-30° Pisces, Patron: Mars). An overabundance of affect to remind us of our finitude. Refocusing on what might last or what is larger or more durable than ourselves.
Qabalah: Malkuth in Briah. The fullest manifestation of the fluid universe. Containment is only possible on a temporary basis and needs refreshing.
Yijing: Gua 43, Guai, Decisiveness, Breakthrough, Resoluteness. Da Xiang: Qian (10) below, Dui (Cups) above; “The lake rises into the sky. Decisiveness. The young noble dispenses favor to reach those below, so that resting on virtue is avoided.” The water level is sky high, or over the top. “A disclosure at the royal court, a truthful appeal. This will be serious. Inform the home town. Nothing worthwhile in resorting to hostilities. Worthwhile to have somewhere to go.” Depicts satiety like the Tarot, but more in the sense of having had it up to here. To continue the old mode of excitement is to get carried away or take things too far. One needs to become less extreme, more sustainable.
Princess of Cups
Princess of the Water, Lotus of the Palace of the Floods
Economy, Service, Sincerity, Simplicity
Image: A captivating young princess, clad in a white Grecian tunic, is practicing her humility and charm by playing the role of Hebe, the Olympian cup bearer, offering the refreshments to unseen laborers. The cup bears a turtle insignia. She is self-contained and full of potential, like a rosebud. She is intent and reflective, willing to serve or to help, enthusiastic about sharing, a loyal and trustworthy worker.
The fundamental lesson for the Princess of Cups is to maintain as much as she can of her original sensitivity and cultivate her own subjective truths in a world that's not always friendly to opening up. This usually means limiting her exposure to the larger world, but it even requires strength and courage in the smaller worlds. She will be looking for the heart of the matter, her core feelings, the most important ones, closest to home, the most true to who she is. By original sensitivity is meant not cluttering her heart with a lot of extraneous emotional distractions, boiling things down to essences and essentials, valuing or treasuring the things that mean the most. It’s an heroic effort and no small matter to stay kind-hearted and true, compassionate and affectionate, tender and thoughtful.
The cup-bearer image suggests humility and service. The cup is meant to move the wine, not to hold it. But the art of giving is also good training for learning to receive with grace. The substratum of relationship is symbiotic, give and take, sharing and taking with gratitude. The value of a sacrifice is more than its price or worth, but this aspect is much misunderstood. To sincerely offer something up is not to ask for more: it’s an expression of gratitude for things already received. Those who get this backwards are just begging to be unsatisfied. We learn a lot more from our humbler perspectives, our places of learning and service. But this, too, recommends against doing this for results. We can’t feed on the gratitude others might show us, we can’t live for the happiness that others might choose not to feel. This is just codependence. We find our rewards in the experiences we own.
There is a bit of the Japanese tea ceremony in this card, a simplicity that distills the experience to its essence and draws more mindfulness than shallower minds might think it deserves. The word re-spect means to look again or look closer. This is cultivating the ability to find value in the ordinary and the everyday, which opens up the way to a deeper and more reliable sort of enrichment. There is parsimony here, and economy, taken in its original but nearly forgotten sense. Developing an appreciation for what we have is key to the most satisfying next step we can take: learning to want what we have. There is another great key here as well: if we hold on to something of negative value, then losing it is a win. We lighten our burdens considerably by dumping the things that are not worth carrying with us. We also help ourselves to fill up by plugging our leaks. When we can enrich ourselves with what is already available to us, then we can save ourselves a lot of trouble, suffering and running around.
We are often caught between being true and being hurt, between being authentic and being accepted, and between being impressionable and being a fool. We learn to place fuses that dim or cut off our sensations and feelings before they blow larger circuits. We get scars through which we can’t feel. There are good arguments for cultivating finely tuned sensibilities, for staying more simple, innocent and pure, but these also argue for choosing to live in a world that might be a little too small for our larger purposes. There is no magic solution that avoids getting twisted up or numb inside, other than waxing more philosophical about our emotional pain and learning to let it run or pass through us, and giving it no place to dwell.
The Princess is said to be artistically inclined, a little dreamy and romantic. Her fertile imagination is the power to give meaning and substance to contemplation and fantasy. This would be a function of her enhanced aesthetic sense, her ability to appreciate even a relatively impoverished environment. She should have a good sense of her gifts, and a sense of gratitude that would not want to waste them. This is also a way of creating new wealth, even if it only adds to the richness of her experience. Her art would tend to be artless, a simple expression of her natural sensitivities.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 41, Decreasing, shows a lake (big cup) half full or empty, reflecting a mountain. It’s not a time of abundance or overflow, but the things we learn in this state, such as appreciating what we have, and learning to do more with less, are a great make-up sort of wealth that also serves in times of plenty. On the cup half full or half empty question, you might say the Yi weighs in with the cup being twice as large as necessary. Decreasing is about paring life down to the real essentials and finding wealth there. The turtle shown in several Tarot decks, also figures in one of the lines. The turtle’s shells were used in divination, but while they represented wealth, they served no purpose if they were not used up.
acceptance, accommodation, acquiescence, admiration, aesthetics, agreeableness, aid, appreciation, approval, artlessness, assent, caring, carefulness, cherishing, compliance, concentration, consent, core, courtesy, creativity, crystallization, deference, discretion, distillation, economy, enrichment, essentials, esteem, frugality, good faith, gratitude, guilelessness, hallmark cards, the happy medium, heart, honesty, humility, imagination, innocence, interest, kindness, modesty, occupation, offerings, openness, parsimony, plainness, Polyanna, respect, sacrifice, satisfaction, sensitivity, service, settling for less, simplicity, sincerity, sufficiency, thankfulness, thrift, treasuring, valuing, vulnerability.
Warnings and Reversals:
codependency, depreciation, deviance, distraction, extenuation, flattery, disappointing reciprocity, guile, ingratitude, insincerity, neediness, seduction, superficiality, ulterior motive, wear and tear.
The Earthy part of Water. Various forms of a loss of fluidity, movement into a denser state, making less dilute: crystallization, formation, ice, dew, distillation, condensation, precipitation, pooling, boiling things down, concentration, enrichment, getting essentials out of suspension, keeping the best stuff.
Astrology: Caput Draconis in Water Signs and Houses. Cultivating true and fundamental sensitivities within a potentially hostile environment can mean wanting a more limited environment, or an appreciation of what it means to settle for less, settling for what is most important, or working with the most natural or essential feelings and emotions.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 41, Sun, Decreasing, Reduction. Da Xiang: Dui (Cups) below, Gen (Princess) above; “At the foot of the mountain is a marsh. Decreasing. The young noble rules out resentments and restrains desires.” Trimming excess, plugging leaks, lowering one's expectations, doing more with less. “Be true. Outstanding opportunity. Nothing is wrong, but it calls for persistence. Worthwhile having somewhere to go. How is this applied? A pair of simple rice baskets may be used for the offering.” This is close to Schumacher’s idea of small is beautiful. Appreciating the subtle instead of needing to get blown away or loaded up. Economy in its best and original sense. In liquids, concentration and enrichment imply a smaller volume.
Prince of Cups
Prince of the Chariot of the Waters
Intensity, Romanticism, Relativity, Point of View
Image: A handsome young prince, dressed for diplomacy or courtship, rides slowly towards the reader on horseback, bearing a full cup as a gift. He has intentions, perhaps in layers, but has not yet made them known. He may be bringing a proposition, an invitation or an opportunity. He seems important. If he is not a knight in shining armor, he either thinks he is or is trying to look like one for reasons that he is not sharing.
The Prince of Cups has the costume and bearing of the alternatively named Knight of Cups. He seems to be a man on a mission or quest, a knight errant in search of chivalrous adventures, or a marital suitor of the sort that the Book of Changes calls indistinguishable from a robber. And he probably would have a winged horse, if he could. His mission may be known only to himself, but whatever it is, he appears committed and convinced, and would like to appear convincing. He could be romantically principled, or he could be a lady’s man in the garb of prince charming, just trying to get some desires satisfied. In all likelihood, he is sincere in his quest. But in the books this card raises a lot of questions as to the Prince’s true character and motives. You get the idea that you might want to check his references, or even check the cup for roofies. If this is some sort of pon farr, he might not even hear a loud No. It’s likely true that if he is seeking relationship, it’s for what it can do to enhance his own feelings or emotional states, and that he wants something that the one he approaches has probably not been planning to give him. But there is nothing inherently wrong or disingenuous about this. He may yet have much to offer in return. And even if this approach is a deception, it may be from self-deception, not wickedness. With all the trappings and mystery, it might not do any good to announce his intentions, since a con artist would do the same anyway. One looks for other tests.
As one of the four Princes, he is out to explore the extents of feelings and emotions, to see how far these go. There is a hunger for experiences that bring up feeling and emotion, an interest first in how things affect him. Intensity and passion are often the first measures of this, getting wound up, or getting up a head of steam, or some personal hydrodynamic. These feelings are felt down in his personal pool, and this is a private resource. He would like them to be deep, important, significant, and at least a little bit profound. They get amplified and exaggerated so that he gets a full measure. Of course he is full of himself. This is all a private and personal experience, however much he may want to share it. Of course he is following his desires more than real-world feedback, and while reaching for deeper personal truths he may yet be unable to understand others. This is not, after all, an especially discriminating intelligence that he is cultivating. He may be moved in wrong directions by his feelings, or driven into error by his emotions. He may, for the sake of intensity or intoxication, seek out pain and suffering, if it only feel potent and true.
The Prince is a romantic, who likely believes in himself and his mission, a dreamer within his visions, or a poet in love with love itself, who believes his poems non-fictional. Few experiences will enter his world unaltered by the romantic view. He may be driven to live for images just to add to his poems, or to be impressed for the sake of making impressions. Feelings lead, themselves in pursuit of the dream or romance. Here is a paradoxical tension, between inner senses and romantic involvement with others. He wants to not be so private, but has to live deep inside, with only his own perspective and little overview. At least the search for a romance or a purpose beyond himself suggests being more honest about his lack of completeness if he is living in isolation. Even the self-absorbed must absorb some of the other, must search for external references or sounding boards, but something more than projections and their reflections, a world that is more than their mirror.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 61, The Truth Within, begins with the subject as a private pool of personal resource, with wind and wood above to bring us news of the other. It speaks of relativity. Piglets and fishes, sons and daughters, must be expected to act like themselves, encouraged to be true to themselves, not be reflections of us. The new agers jump to conclusions from reading only the title, thinking that inner truth must be the universal truth. The message is the opposite. Yes, we have a resonance with things akin to us. But we need to outgrow our perceptual limits, to see more than our own little picture, if we want a less limited version of truth. This is not to dismiss our personal relevance, our libidinal worlds, our sub-surface selves, our undercurrents, our hidden communities of subliminal motives, our big secrets and mysteries. These are resources that we have for survival, our guts, our intentions and urgencies, our rage against the dying of the light. We simply want to learn what goes where, and know more about the big picture.
appeal, approach, ardor, attachment, attraction, charm, chivalry, conviction, courtesy, dedication, depth, desire, determination, devotion, eagerness, earnestness, emphasis, enticements, fancy, fervor, gallantry, hypnosis, import, importance, inducement, inner nature, insight, intensity, intoxication, inviolability, invitation, involvement, meaning, mindset, mystery, outlook, partiality, passion, pathos, persistence, personal perspective, persuasion, poetry, point of view, privacy, profundity, proposals, propositions, prospect, relativity, relevance, resonance, resourcefulness, romanticism, secrecy, self-interest, sentiment, shrewdness, stress, subjectivity, subtlety, suitor, tenacity, tension, tidal forces, undercurrents, zeal.
Warnings and Reversals:
artifice, bait, confidence game, cunning, deception, flattery, fraud, guile, jealousy, lack of overview, libidinal worlds, narcissism, pretentiousness, seduction, self-absorption, self- delusion, self-importance, solipsism, torment, toxic emotion, trappings, venom.
The Airy part of Water. Water obeys its own set of laws, which we learn from within by experience. We have the hydraulic transfer of pressure through liquid or steam, surface tension and elasticity, latent heat and volatility, and wave forms. The airy part of water is in exploring what shapes the waters can assume.
Astrology: Scorpio Ascending, as the Fixed Water sign, Ruler: Mars. Outlook from deep within. Characterized by depth and intensity. Persistent, tenacious, determined, driven, willful, passionate. Secretive or mysterious. Shrewd, devious, resourceful.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 61, Zhong Fu, The Truth Within, Inner Truth or Sincerity. Da Xiang: Dui (Cups) below, Xun (Prince) above; “Over the pond there is wind. The truth within. The young noble considers legal process while delaying execution.” Truth Within is a limited view, like a private pool, personal and intense, but narrow. We still need the overview and other perspectives before making important decisions. “Piglets and fishes. Promising. Worthwhile to cross the great stream. Worthwhile to persist.” Relativity and alternative points of view are learned by getting beyond or outside of ourselves.
Queen of Cups
Queen of the Thrones of the Waters
Empathy, Openness, Accessibility, Responsiveness
Image: A mature and lovable queen sits on a throne on the far side of a small pond, gazing with a deep, trance-like expression into a cup held with both hands. She is being filled with the experience she seeks, a vision, an answer, a divination, or a feeling. More commonly, the images show a closed or covered cup.
The Queen of Cups is traditionally described as a warmhearted woman, well-loved as a friend, wife or mother. She is somewhat dreamy, gifted with vision, empathy, sympathy and imagination. Since the greater part of human affect concerns social interactions, inter-personality and interpersonal relationships are near to the core of her world. She will want to be connected, interested and beloved, and excited to circulate stories. But she will thrive or suffer according to the quality of her social atmosphere. Without other skills, characteristics to give her confidence, a strong will and force of character, she may prove too passive to be sufficiently selective about the society she keeps, and indeed may overly treasure such values as unconditional friendship and love, even if these people hurt her. She will tend to be trusting, kind, affectionate and approachable, with a capacity for forgiveness proportionate to her empathy, but betrayals of her trust and credulity could take their toll and lead to resentment and shutting down. A sense of helplessness and a victim mentality could rob her of her gifts. Her eagerness to belong socially could also lead into smothering behavior, excessive self-sacrifice, codependence or enabling the dysfunction of others. In the right environment, however, she is what feeling and emotion are all about.
Compassion, sympathy and empathy would define her if you could stretch to call these definition. They change with what they adopt or reflect. The name of the Asian goddess of these, Guanyin, means 'attending the cries.' However, there is a danger here that this goddess does not succumb to: fellow suffering. There are open feelings and hearts here, without much interposition of preconception and judgment, but there remains enough good sense to stay above the suffering that does nobody any good. Soft-hearted does not need to mean soft-minded, although these are often fused. A small bit of hardening can be quite useful. Sensitivity need not be susceptibility to random impacts and impressions. Mistakes will be made without judgment, although frequently being open to the new will make up for being open to the wrong. The Queen simply needs to learn from all of her sampling and tasting, and lesson one is to live in a wholesome place that encourages the aesthetic sensibilities to remain open. As a Queen, or a homemaker, she can do much to make this happen.
Like a mimic, chameleon or mollusk, she might take the shape and color of what she touches or what touches her, adopting more than adapting, and might be imaginative enough to become anyone, and lose herself in the mirrored hall. Her versatility could come to be seen as frivolity, her ambivalence as confusion, and her unpredictability as unreliability. But maybe it her true nature to truly be all of these things she becomes, to not have a hardened or solid core.
An unconditionality of the mind brings its own set of challenges. The Queen is neither understood nor understands rationally. Critical thinking is not her strongest suit. She will tend to be unquestioning, and so can be faithful to things that are not true. She will likely be honest as far as she understands things. Hers is a protean reality, one of shifting shapes and images, and uncertainty, as the nature of the perceived reflects that of the changing observer. Belief without question, gullibility and credulity, and subsequent delusion, could be ongoing problems.
This Queen’s mystic and mediumistic side is often referred to. She lives close to the threshold of subconsciousness, where dreams and visions emerge. Self-hypnotic loops and experiential engulfment can make whole otherworldly worlds, but she may not be the best judge of their reality or depth, ever at risk of becoming a bliss ninny or frivolous flibbertigibbet if she doesn’t have friends who can help her stay anchored and oriented. There is a danger of spreading out too thinly. With trust in experience for its own sake, the subjective can tend to be reified, or made prematurely real. Inner musings, fantasy and trance can go may places that reality wouldn’t dare, but this sometimes exposes reality’s failure of nerve and imagination, even leading to wondrous invention.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 58, Satisfaction or The Joyous. In addition to the above characteristics, the doubling of the trigram of the rich and sensuous wetlands also stresses the cultivation of pleasure and happiness as intrinsically benign and instructive. With self-interest and its gratification, we negotiate our own progress and personal evolution. It’s an attractive rather than a driving force, but it moves us right along.
absorption, acceptance, accessibility, adoption, affinity, allure, ambivalence, ananda, appeal, attending, attraction, attunement, breadth, broad-mindedness, captivation, caring, chameleon, channeling, charm, cheer, communion, compassion, connection, contagion, devotion, empathy, enchantment, encouragement, eros, exposure, fascination, fluctuation, fluidity, fulfillment, fusion, immersion, impartiality, impression, imprint, magic, melting, merging, mimicry, mirroring, mystic, mysticism, open-mindedness, openness, pliancy, projections, rapport, rapture, receptivity, reflection, resonance, responsiveness, reverie, satisfaction, saturation, sensitivity, shape-shifting, subjectivity, sympathy, taste, tolerance, union, vision, vulnerability, welcome.
Warnings and Reversals:
bewitchment, confusion, credulity, distortion, distraction, fickleness, hallucination, haze, glamor, gullibility, illusion, inconsistency, inconstancy, indolence, irresolution, meekness, melodrama, misguidedness, naiveté, sentimentality, susceptibility, unreliability, vanity.
The Watery part of Water. The fluidity and immediate responsiveness of water, capable of taking any form that natural law allows. Saturation, immersion. An ability to merge with context. Tranquil receptivity and powers of reflection.
Astrology: Pisces Ascending, as the Mutable Water sign, Ruler: Jupiter. Characterized by sensitivity and openness. Impressionable, sympathetic, sensitive, receptive. Plastic, malleable, adaptable. Affectionate, hospitable, trusting. Ethereal, mystical, mediumistic, nebulous.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 58, Dui, Satisfaction, The Joyous. Da Xiang: Dui (Cups) below, Dui (Queen) above; “Interconnecting pools. Satisfaction. The young noble joins with friends for discussion and practice.” It isn’t water’s nature to separate itself from other water. Opening up, sharing, enjoyment, gratification. “Fulfillment. Rewarding to persist.” This is not the same as persisting to be rewarded. We follow our bliss by allowing ourselves to do so, but don’t chase it out of desperation. Harvest, reaping rewards, fruits.
King of Cups
Lord of the Waves and the Waters, King of the Hosts of the Sea
Maturity, Patience, Ephemerality, Deferred Gratification
Image: A mature but still bright-eyed king on his throne offers a cup to the reader in the attitude of a toast. One cannot be sure it is wine. A bemused but mischievous glint in his eyes gives him the air of a old Bedouin chieftain. He is somehow both dignified and approachable.
The King of Cups is usually described as a decent and mature man, with a calm exterior and good humor, experienced, deliberative, considerate and approachable. He is likely to be likable and charming, and perhaps even charismatic. He might not appear to be a sensitive or emotional fellow, since he has developed some reserve or reticence in his maturity, but he is not at all cold, nor especially judgmental. He has a big heart, but also an understanding that does not submit to the frivolous and ephemeral. Once consenting, he can be touched. He is responsibly responsive, or careful about his arousal, and steady in his enthusiasms. He could be both sensuous and sensible at the same time. He may or may not be deep, but he has collected some life experience. We spoke earlier of the four Kings’ maturity and sovereignty each relying on one most-important life lesson. This king must learn about time in a related pair of aspects: ephemerality and deferred gratification, summed up as patience.
The King may seem reserved, even reticent. This is emotional self-control or self- management that is not at all unemotional. It is a kind of discriminating intelligence that is best learned by one who has been open to his feelings and emotions and learned some good lessons from this. His emotional intelligence has become emotional wisdom, even sagacity. He is the leader of his feelings now, not their obedient follower. Experience has given him a stock of alternative ways to feel and emote, including the skill he needs in order to hold them in abeyance until some more of his options have been weighed, and compared in the light of their longer-term outcomes. He knows some things now about promises and bait, some of them learned at some cost. He can estimate what is important before choosing to get involved, when his criteria for a more promising experience have been met. This is done by slowly learning his nature and developing his personal values.
You will find this king responding just about right in between repression on the numb side of things and catharsis on the overblown side. But when you witness him emoting you are apt to see some enthusiasm and earnestness, or caring and compassion. Feelings and emotions are not things that wise elders outgrow. The Buddha had much to say about emotional self-management, particularly when he spoke of right intention. But he trained his wisdom on our more problematic emotions, craving and greed, ill-will and aversion, harmfulness and cruelty. The superior states, while not to be hunted down, were not to be dismissed. Both the Stoics and Epicureans shared similar values. The Stoics were a bit more extreme in seeking apatheia, life without passionate suffering, although this was not as numb as what we now call apathy. Both sought eudaimonia, human flourishing and well-being. The final word on the matter might be that our feelings can choose, not just our thoughts. With a little experience and practice, these too can have standards, good tastes and values.
As a king, of course, he has his subjects. He needs to know what his subjects need and want, and even what they could be helped to want. As a counselor, he has clients. As a therapist, he has patients. As a dad he has kids, as a grandpa, grandkids. He will want to be a good listener, concerned and sympathetic, attentive and understanding, tolerant and comforting, but not a chump or a sap. Understanding doesn't mean agreement, support doesn’t mean indulgence, empowering doesn’t mean permissiveness. He may not be at all sympathetic with impatience or shortsightedness. As these are his duties, all he might want in return for this guidance and perspective is a little respect and gratitude, and these because these two help others to learn.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 54, Little Sister’s Marriage. Much of the text looks at the problems of haste and impatience that resolve with our maturity later, but a couple of the lines depict the patience and self-control that this card is trying to develop. An ideal King of Cups is depicted as the king Diyi in Line 5. The lessons of immaturity, impulsiveness, or jumping to conclusions, will eventually lead us to longer time horizons and better perspectives. This is the one who says 'no thank you' to the Marrying Maiden.
agreeableness, allowance, appeal, calm, care, caregiving, caretaking, caution, charm, cohesion, comfort, compassion, composure, comprehension, consideration, counsel, deferred or delayed gratification, dignity, diplomacy, discernment, emotional freedom, equanimity, experience, familiarity, grandpappy, grasp, guidance, helpfulness, maturity, nearness, patience, patronage, reserve, resourcefulness, reticence, sagacity, sanctuary, security, self-assurance, self-management, self-possession, self-restraint, sensitivity, sincerity, solicitousness, stewardship, subordination, support, sympathy, tact, tenacity, tolerance, tribal elder, warmth, wisdom.
Warnings and Reversals:
blinders, compromising position, double dealing, ephemera, haste, hypocrisy, impatience, impulsiveness, indecision, ineffectuality, precipitate action, prematurity, seduction, settling early for less, shiftiness, shortsightedness, transience, unenduring enthusiasm, volatility.
The Fiery part of Water. Potential energy or hydropower. Energy crosses the ocean as gentle swells, but these can turn into great waves when coming ashore. Water will hug the lowest place in the river bed until the bottom drops out and the water falls or cascades. Water’s enthalpy powers hurricanes. Water has tremendous energy when the time and place are right for its release.
Astrology: Cancer Ascending, as the Cardinal Water sign, Ruler: Luna. Characterized by care, sensitivity, sympathy and nurture, but also some not-so-passive, proactive energy, provided that a sense of comfort, familiarity, or security are in place. Expanding the feelings as much as bruises and armor allow. Diplomatic, conscientious, careful. Helpful, caring, fatherly or motherly. Traditional, domestic. Can be volatile, impatient, erratic, easily upset, and irrational if insecure.
Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 54, Gui Mei, Little Sister’s Marriage, the Marrying Maiden. Da Xiang: Dui (Cups) below, Zhen (King) above; “Over the pond there is thunder. Little sister’s marriage. The young noble uses enduring ends to understand the ephemeral.” Requires an understanding of how things play out over time, one that comes with maturity. “To go boldly has pitfalls. Not a direction with merit.” Impatience, haste, or rushing into things is one way to learn about life. This can mature in the end to a calmer and more appreciative way of being that can look at options even for feeling and emotion, and defer gratification as needed.
Ace of Swords
Root of the Powers of Air
Ideation, Perspective, Epiphany, Comprehension
Image: A beautiful, but dangerous-looking broadsword is held triumphantly aloft from below the card by a hand which could belong to either a man or a woman. In many decks this sword is shown piercing a crown, which could symbolize both sovereignty and Kether, and with palm and olive branches, perhaps to keep the Christians happy.
The Ace of Swords carries the connotations of the Swords in general: one-pointedness (the Buddhist cittekeggata) and penetration at the pointy end; the two edges, for cutting, dividing, and shaping, and a warning about unintended consequences; and also the hilt, wanting a firm grasp of matters at hand, the practicalities of thought. It’s not a power but a tool to do the work that’s the measure of power. It’s a strong signal to others, a sign of authority, or a suggestion of competence. It symbolizes the cutting edge of discrimination or the making of distinctions. It’s the power of having just the right word in both magic and science. The Vorpal blade goes snickersnack and takes off the Bandersnatch head.
This Ace can speak of the formation of a good idea, of the process of ideation or conceptualization, of a figure emerging from its ground, getting resolution or sharpness, the process of getting a definition or a name wrapped around an experience, the cognition that precedes re-cognition, the reduction of the flow of experience to a form, order or principle. It is in-formation, both a specific insight or special piece of information and a summary or generalization of many such insights and pieces of the puzzle that in turn becomes a component in a still-larger comprehension. It’s a way to pack up a lesson so we can carry it with us, a distillation of experience or new piece of knowhow, a likeness or model that we can use as a tool. It’s the name or word the wizard needs to make the demon run errands. The word concept means ‘to capture with.’ This is an organizing or central principle, a specific affirmation, command or emphasis, which may become the central nexus of a new order or organization. It’s a good question, or a good answer, but as an Ace it ought not be both: it's not both beginning and end.
One of our more vapid and erroneous platitudes declares that there are no new ideas. It’s spread by those who have none. The word discovery suggest that we are uncovering something that is already there, but this is only sometimes the case, and even then the perception, cognition, concept or name are often new. The Ace of Swords can be the birth of a new idea. It could be an invention or a patent, a new meme, a seed idea, a new key, a key piece to a puzzle, a new category, a new algorithm, a new thought or application for an old thought. On a personal and even unspoken level, it might be a lucid vision, an epiphany, a mental breakthrough, a getting of the right idea, a new perspective or focus of awareness, a eureka moment, the formation of a gestalt, or even a whole new paradigm that starts a scientific revolution. One of the more symbolically literal examples was the formulation of Occam’s Razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, the principle that entities in a theory are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. This is a way to slice fat from our theories and a mighty fine Ace of Swords.
With this Ace we might be working on our first premises and postulates, or forming new questions or hypotheses, still at our cognitive starting point, or getting to the bottom of knowledge, questioning the ideas that we build our mental lives around. Perhaps we are integrating a new idea into an old framework. We have a lot of work to do here, since by birth and culture of origin, we are the heirs to a vast array of what might be called anti-cognitive processes, ways to not know or to keep ourselves from learning more: cognitive biases, defense mechanisms, coping strategies and logical fallacies. And when these things have taken over our cultures, we take up our literal swords as a sterner and more serious instrument of correction, righting wrongs outside of our own heads as well. As such, our sword can stand for our purpose, or our Excalibur, if we have a higher purpose, our noble cause or conviction, our highest priority and point of focus, our oath or word of honor.
Truth changes with point of view, although it is often merely enriched by adding new points of view. The Ace of Swords suggests that we look at our perspective, the starting points of our observations. The Buddha saw what our suffering did to our perceptions and asked how clear our vision could be if it had fear and pain at its base. For this reason, he dismissed our gods and religions, and looked instead to the suffering clouding our minds. Perhaps if this could be cleared up, if we developed a more comprehensive collection of points of view, we might see things more as they truly are. This is the theme of the Yi’s counterpart, Gua 20, Guan (as in the name of the Chinese goddess Guanyin) Perspective or Contemplation. This is the issue of being both subject and object and seeing from multiple sides, a true comprehension that combines both specification and generalization. It’s about getting our minds wrapped around things. It advises the missionary to read the signs and the natives first, to understand other perspectives before imposing new ideas.
abstraction, aim, analysis, assumption, belief, breakthrough, clarification, comprehension, concept, conception, conceptualization, conquest, criterion, criticism, critique, decision, definition, determination, discernment, discovery, epiphany, eureka, examination, exposé, formulation, frame of mind, generalization, gestalt, hypothesis, identification, initiative, insight, integrity, invention, inventory, investigation, invoked force, logos, model, object, objectification, objectivity, outlook, overview, paradigm, patent, perspective, point of view, postulate, principle, priority, purpose, resolution, review, right idea, rule, scrutiny, simplification, specification, specificity, starting point, summation, vantage.
Warnings and Reversals:
anti-cognitives, arrogance, bad idea, coldness, deception, delusion, denial, error, fallacy, fetish, idée fixe, imprudence, one track mind, preconception, prejudice, procrustean concepts, remoteness, toxic belief, unexamined life.
Ace plus Swords. The Ace of Mind. The origin of mental functionality and the beginning of the work to develop good and useful mental functioning. How the idea or the word comes into being as we get edges carved around an experience.
Astrology: Saturn in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 0° Libra). A character wanting reliable cognition or perception must examine the basis or formation of these. Wants a structural approach to cognition. Constraining the mind and setting its boundaries in order to meet the mind's objectives. Systematic, disciplined, organized, strict, critical. May see it almost a duty to perceive the world correctly.
Qabalah: Kether in Yetzirah. In the beginning was the Logos or Word, at least as it goes in the myth, but this is at the basis of cognitive or conceptual worlds.
Yijing: Gua 20, Guan, Perspective, Contemplation. Da Xiang: Kun (Ace) below, Xun (Swords) above; “The wind moves over the earth. Perspective. The early sovereigns examined the regions and comprehended their societies to establish their doctrines.” We want our understanding to fit the real world first, and do this by sincerely attending and trying to understand the reality first, rather than simply imposing our views and seeing what we are predisposed to see. “A cleansing but not a sacrifice. Being true is as good as majestic.” Comprehensive observation or examination will involve multiple frames of reference. Our experience is enriched by our optional and alternative views.
Two of Swords
Synthesis, Synergy, Reintegration, Creativity
Image: (Modified) A sorceress with cowl thrown back holds two different swords high above her head in clashing contact, liberating a spirit fire against an unstable sky and a rough sea that she faces. The Smith deck shows a woman seated with her back to the sea, blindfolded, holding two crossed swords, and appearing to be in a deep deliberation or meditation, cultivating inspiration, possibly trying to Feel the Force.
Smith’s Ace of Swords character seems to be working out or through a problem of perception, perhaps having blindfolded herself to wake up her other senses, to see other possibilities, even alternate realities, as though the solution has not been available to ordinary states. She want to be blind to the obvious or the expected. Her back to the sea is said to be emotion held in abeyance, dispassion, a search for equanimity and equilibration rather than submitting to vacillation, ambivalence or indecisiveness. She is deferring a decision or judgment, perhaps suspending both belief and disbelief, avoiding distraction while her analysis is in progress. Since we all have at least two brains, it often makes sense to think twice. We all contain contradictory natures, we all contain multitudes. The world has its tricky duplicities too: wave and particle, electricity and magnetism, space and time, mass and gravity, and so on. The mind wants some rising above. We pause here to rearrange our data, and even our methods of arranging the data, and perhaps we can ask some different questions.
At the lowest level of interpretation, we see most readers and writers concerned with the cognitive problems of dualism: two swords, dueling, en garde and touché, the fight to see which side is better, or who has the better argument. Those trapped in dualistic or either-or modes of thinking, which might be most of us, tend to see this card as some kind of conflict or conflictedness, clash, indecision, stalemate, or at best a détente, truce, or compromise, as a conventional title 'lord of restored peace’ suggests. Even the mystics get trapped by Yin vs Yang. It’s our fault when we oversimplify things, reify or harden our thoughts, and take our ways of simple-minded thinking and talking as basic rules for the universe. While binary systems exist in plenty of places, simplistic distinctions are often too sharp for a higher or more complex reality. There is nearly always a middle excluded. Sometimes this is a problem of perception, between us and what we think is the world, and the cognitive dissonance undoes us. Sometimes it’s an analog of our retinal disparity or stereopsis: each eye gets a different picture. We argue about which point of view is correct, when we need them both to see depth. Polemics do not often serve us. The sum of these kinds of two-alisms is less than the sum of the parts. We need to do some work to get the rest of the data and perhaps even change our minds.
On a level above our right-and left-handed options is a reconciliation of opposites, a resolution of paradox, a finding of common ground, a harnessing of opponent ideas into a working team. This does not always mean win-lose compromise: as with a good market transaction, both sides can get what they want and come away winners. This might take finessing and haggling. As Fitzgerald noted: ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.’ We might call this trans-partiality. Here we have arbitration, the finding of harmony, perhaps even making use of the tension, disparity or stress between different ideas and points of view, and development of the skill, deftness and dynamic control that this requires. Or else we have syncretism, putting two halves back together, a unified perspective doing double the duties, the power of synthesis leading to synergy, a whole that's made greater than the sum of the parts. This is the vision of depth that we get from combining perspectives. It’s only increasingly complex until it all comes together: then we often get elegance.
The next level up is just that: rising to a level above. Here we find Einstein’s advice: ‘The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.’ This is also known as de Bono’s lateral thinking. Here we find Solomon’s baby, and Alexander’s Gordion Knot. We are the masters of our ideas, not servants. Here we ask new questions. Problems are good things here. We break up old patterns to suit our objectives. We think outside the box. We posit a tertium quid, a third thing unlike the two. We take liberties with the order, especially how we perceive things. Arthur Koestler suggested that creativity emerged from the juxtaposition or joining of two separate matrices, or separate fields of structure, thought or perception, or movement between two mental disciplines. He called this bisociation. The theory also accounts for the success of hybrid vigor, the successful evolution of sexual reproduction, and even the nature of humor. Koestler's Act of Creation is well-represented by the Two of Swords.
We can get outside and above ourselves here, and ask ‘what would the universe do?’ We have a lot of momentum and power if we can get onto this ride. We can look to higher and natural law, and possibly even find loopholes. Here is vocation, calling, true purpose, living up to our fullest potential, and higher purpose as well, living for something greater and longer-lived than we are. It means several lifetimes of study, and a long, tough road to any real or earned success. Here we find Buddha’s last words: Compound beings are ephemeral, strive with heedful diligence. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 01, Creating, symbolized by the growth of the dragon. This is the slow maturation or ripening of genius, precociousness not withstanding. This is a look forward to persistence or duration in time, a perspective beyond the human, towards the being who comes next to replace us. A dragon is above the dualities, above yin and yang: why would he favor his left or right wing when a sky full of stars is what he wants?
advaita, arbitration, artistry, autonomy, betrayal, bilateral agreement, bisociation, cause, choice, clarification, cognitive challenge, complements, compromise, concertedness, coordination, creativity, decision, decisiveness, dedication, determination, dualism, duplicity, dyadics, elegance, equanimity, equilibration, equipoise, falsehood, genius, higher law, higher order, higher purpose, hybridization, ingenuity, initiative, intention, inventiveness, reintegration, mastery, metasolution, misrepresentation, non-dualism, originality, quandary, rapprochment, reconciliation of opposites, resolve, resoluteness, resolving paradox, simplification, suspended judgment, syncretism, synergy, synthesis, thinking twice.
Warnings and Reversals:
adversarialism, cognitive dissonance, contradiction, denial, discord, disparity, dissension, duplicity, excluded middle, falsehood, incongruity, inconsistency, indecision, irresolution, paralysis, polemics, provocation, stalemate, vacillation.
Two plus Swords. Mental direction or directing the mind. The need to look at the right form of dualism, such as outmoded vs improved. Linear thinking is limiting, particularly when it limits to right vs left. Uses of higher order thought, getting above the problem.
Astrology: Uranus in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Libra, Patron: Luna). Uranus, as the higher octave of Mercury, is metalevel thinking, creation of the message that Mercury delivers, transcendent thought. Quick study. Individual, original, questioning, visionary, innovative, experimental, outside the box.
Qabalah: Chokmah in Yetzirah. Vector and direction in the world of form. Adaptation of form to serve the ends of the will: creativity. Applied logos.
Yijing: Gua 01, Qian, Creating, Heaven. Da Xiang: Qian (2) below, Qian (Swords) above; “Heaven moves inexhaustibly. The young noble is naturally energetic, without rest” Sovereignty, command, self-mastery, authority, cogency, will, dynamic life. “The greatest fulfillment rewards persistence.” Genius, in the original sense of beget or create, still carries the more modern attribution of 90% perspiration. We work for it.
Three of Swords
Sorrow, Separation, Grieving, Moving On
Image: (Modified) A robed penitent kneels before an altar in which three swords are imbedded, point down, resembling crosses. On the robe is an emblem, a bleeding heart pierced by three swords. The Smith image was taken directly from the late 15th century Sola-Busca deck, making this by far the oldest of the pictorial pips.
The Three of Swords is almost universally correlated with sorrow. This is another card with head (Swords) and heart (Threes) in a fragile partnership. In this case, the world has grown too big, or the options too many, or the better choices too few. Head and heart need to come to terms and agree on how to handle this. Our disobedient feelings are not following the rules of reason, or else our rational choices are leaving us in emotional quandaries. There are cognitive components to the suffering, and sufferings bewildering the wits. The meanings can be as simple as triage, trivialities, triangles and third parties, all threes, of course. Sometimes they take or tear us apart. It may be not so much about getting our feelings hurt as what alienation, abandonment, existential angst or betrayal can do to us, and not so much our emotional pain itself but the pain of understanding things we might rather not face or see, which calls up the question of whether we are truly understanding things at all. The head must allow for feelings, and feelings, the need for good choices.
What we thought was true, or wanted to be true, was not. We might even know this already, and this is just a friendly reminder. In the end, disappointment, disillusionment and disenchantment have to be good and instructive things, don’t they? The finitude of intellect is one of the truths to be found on the quest. There is too much data awaiting collection. When a hungry mind wants it all, it winds up with noise and much with no value, plus a neocortical overload. Those with a want to believe will stuff up their minds with guests best left uninvited. Soon the mind can take no more, including its cure. More critical skills are best instilled at the start. If we sort our data on the way in we can have much less to toss out. So we say goodbye here to some things that we liked.
Helplessness and finitude can be our big problems here. We want to live in the largest world we can manage, but this world isn’t made for our feelings, or limited brains, and it’s easy to feel or perceive too much. Somehow we must come to grips with the news of the world, and crucial decisions made by lowest common denominators. We can’t have it all our way, much can’t be helped at all, and much of it is out of our hands. We still have reasons to try, instead of just praying, but try telling that to your woe. And this immense frustration drives much of the bad philosophy that tells us why to just let it be. Sebastien Chamfort suggested: ‘Whoever is not a misanthrope at forty years can never have loved mankind.’ The idealism of this card can be individualistic or cultural, but even the rugged individual needs some inspiring peers. The world’s suffering won’t diminish any time soon, but for us it's still largely optional when we know we are doing all that we can. And we can always not cooperate, not participate, disobey bad laws in civil ways, and vote by how we live and spend our wealth.
We have to move on and divest ourselves of the things that hold us back. We have to see the bad for what it is, if we’re honest. We have to make choices and these will negate some options. Each decision means opportunities forgone. It’s the cost of living, and it’s still a bargain. Nietzsche said: ‘let my sole negation be turning aside.’ Angry negation and denial do more damage than this. Therefore, we simply part ways at the crossroads, acknowledge our incompatibilities, and lose the friends we are better off losing. We find that even love must have conditions, and sometimes it must be tough. It’s this or dwell in our suffering. We need to grieve our losses as part of our nature, but grief does not need to own us for life. There are plenty of other fish in this tree.
We should also not forget there are sacred forms of sorrow and sadness, and reasons for having tragedies as well as comedies up on the marquee. We are finite and mortal, or for some, all that we’ve loved and learned will be lost to the next incarnation. We can do existential nausea over this for a while, and wallow in our weltschmerz. We can explore where our meaninglessness and senselessness take us. We can have our crises of faith, our dark nights of the soul and our sloughs of despond. How long is art, how short is life? But there is nothing wrong with the longing of the Portuguese saudade. Or the Japanese mono no aware: the pathos of things, awareness of impermanence, or wabi-sabi, the acceptance of transience or imperfection, or yugen, the mysterious grace of a world beyond our ken. The fact is, we are lucky to be alive and prone to be ingrates about it. We are Vonnegut’s Bokonon’s lucky mud that got to sit up.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 12, Separating or Standstill, imagined as Heaven and Earth moving in different directions, and the wise and the foolish moving in different directions, and the problems of saying goodbye to good things gone bad and the good things we cannot have. What we thought was true or wanted to be true was not. Next?
abandonment, absence, abstraction, alienation, baffled hopes, bereavement, the blues, decay, delay, departure, deprivation, detachment, disappointment, disapproval, disarray, disengagement, disharmony, disintegration, disjunction, disorder, disruption, dissension, dissonance, distances, divergence, division, estrangement, goodbyes, farewell, finitude, grieving lossses, heartache, helplessness, incompatibility, intervention, isolation, lament, letting go, longing, loss, melancholy, mourning, moving on, negation, numbness, painful truths, powerlessness, pulling apart, rejection, removal, rift, rupture, sadness, saudade, shism, segregation, separation, severance, sorrow, splitting up, stagnation, standstill, tragic drama, wabi-sabi, weltschmerz, yugen.
Warnings and Reversals:
aloofness, angst, apathy, aversion, bleeding heart, confusion, decadence, denial, despair, disintegrity, disloyalty, distraction, divorce, error, failed dreams, heartbreak, indifference, mental anxiety, misunderstanding, pettiness, quarreling, small-mindedness, unhappiness, world suffering.
Three plus Swords. Expansive thought, visionary about the possibilities. The possibilities are far greater than the reality could ever be, and so opportunities are foregone. We need to set higher or narrower standards, leave some things behind, perhaps even suffering. Reason and emotions conflict. Conditional and tough love.
Astrology: Neptune in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Libra, Patron: Saturn). Wants affiliation with other minds, or hive mind, Moving through mental and therefore cultural relationships. Too much identification with the human cultural experiment might lead to understanding how few are really contributing, and a sense of isolation or smallness.
Qabalah: Binah in Briah. An ocean of pure possibilities, as seen from a tiny little boat. This is too much for us, but we lose some jetsam and sail on. We can’t do nor learn to do this in safe harbors.
Yijing: Gua 12, Bi, Separating, Standstill, Stagnation. Da Xiang: Kun (3) below, Qian (Swords) above; “Heaven and earth do not interact. Separating. The young noble conserves virtue and avoids trouble, not allowing himself the luxury of compensation.” Heaven and earth are moving in different directions. This is often mistranslated as 'Obstruction,' but it's closer to abandonment. “Separating oneself from inferior people, those not worth the young noble’s loyalty. Greatness departs, smallness arrives.” Mind necessarily moving away from portions of reality for reasons of self-protection. Sensing a necessary conditionality to our loves, our likes and our wants.
Four of Swords
Retreat, Distancing, Reframing, Perspective
Image: (Modified) A warrior, perhaps only recently turned anchorite as evidenced by torn robes and bandages, recuperates near the mouth of a mountain cave, sitting Zazen. His four swords are still within reach. The Smith deck shows an embattled knight out of armor, in horizontal repose in a religious sanctuary, seemingly recuperating or otherwise recomposing himself.
The Four of Swords is sometimes subtitled Rest from Strife, but there is a larger dimension to it, specifically, larger dimension itself. It is an adjusting of the boundaries with which we frame our worlds to optimize our perceptions. This is frequently called reframing. In psychology, cognitive reframing is the process of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts, or rethinking a problem in other terms and from other views or perspectives. It is a type of reflection used to transcend points of view that are proving to be less than optimized. For the person taking this rest or retreat, it's the ability to step back or out of what they have been doing to find some new or different approaches. For the embattled, it might be a furlough, or strategic retreat, or rest from strife, or even a rethinking of the need for battle itself. For others it might be a sabbatical, or sabbath, or other form of time out.
The Four combined with Swords suggests composing or recomposing the mind, the cultivation of poise, equanimity, or equilibrium. The word strategic in strategic retreat is important here. This is not about finding an artificial mental stability that is too delicate to admit disturbance. It’s also not about escaping or fugue, or going to one’s happy place. It might mean getting out of a trap, or finding refuge or sanctuary. It’s a refreshing of our browser. It’s a re-scaling of our frame of reference, usually in order to see a little bit more of the ground or context surrounding a figure, to try to see what might be missing in the current view by looking at the bigger picture. Sometimes we back up far enough to see that what we have been obsessed with was never important at all.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 33, Distancing or Retreat. It depicts a mountain standing tall under heaven, making it also not so very tall. This might suggest our own mountain-and-molehill image. One of the metaphors used in the lines is military, but this and others apply to any situation that we might be advised to back or move away from. It is common for people to leave a situation by making themselves and everyone around them unhappy in order to get pushed out, often leaving only resentments behind. The optimum retreat is a simple disengagement that will leave no such mess for others to clean up. Freedom-to is better than freedom-from, but both can usually be achieved. We have a choice of point of view or perspective. We are permitted to choose among options for the path that best serves our longer ends and objectives. In battle, of course, we call call this slippery or crafty, but here it’s whether you win or lose that counts.
Reframing is recontextualizing. It’s like looking through a zoom lens and having the freedom to change composition. It’s the paradox of finding stable mental formations by liberating ourselves from fixed ideas, dogma and toxic beliefs. The Fours want some form of stability, but they still permit changing the scale at which we look at things. This especially includes changing our time horizons. Today we have politicians with two years or less worth of vision, making hundred-thousand year promises about storage of nuclear waste. Much human endeavor looks quite different under the aspect of evolutionary or geologic time, and our failure to see from this angle might help put us out of that picture. Patriotism is another example, since mighty nations come and go like the seasons. And conscience requires a better vision of what a higher law might say. A frame with more ground and less figure lets us see our problems from more or multiple sides. And fractal self-similarity gives us analogs at multiple scales. Il faut reculer pour mieux sauter: we take steps back to make better leaps. Or to make better choices in life.
There are different measures to use in sizing something up. Zhuangzi wrote: ‘Men of great wisdom, looking at things far off or near at hand, do not think them insignificant for being small, nor unwieldy for being great.’ Tiny little molecules are some of our hugest discoveries, while some of our greatest achievements will be nothing in ten-thousand years. Love only lasts forever for the span of a handful of decades at most. We change the universe of discourse the better to master the space around an idea. We don’t want the space too big either, or else we dismiss real problems. Like Goldilocks, we manage our perspective to find the thing that’s just right. We look for optimums here: problems don’t fill the whole screen, but they don’t vanish into the background.
abandonment, abstention, acquiescence, alternatives, ark, asylum, backtrack, backup, big picture, breadth, broad-mindedness, circumspection, composure, contemplation, context, convalescence, departure, discretion, disengagement, disentrapment, distance, distancing, economy, equanimity, equilibrium, escape, evacuation, exit, expansiveness, fallback, frame of reference, harbor, haven, inaccessibility, neutralizing, optimization, perspective, pragmatism, proportion, reassessment, reconsideration, recontextualizing, reformulation, reframing, refuge, regrouping, rejuvenation, relief, replenishment, reservation, reserve, resort, retreat, retirement, revisioning, sabbatical, safe distance, safe space, sanctuary, scale, scaling, self-preservation, solitude, stepping back, strategic withdrawal, time out, truce, universe of discourse.
Warnings and Reversals:
cognitive inflexibility, denial, dismissiveness, dogma, escapism, evasiveness, fear, fugue, guarded advance, flight to happy places, pedantry, precaution, rigidity, shortsightedness, stubbornness, running away, toxic beliefs.
Four plus Swords. Composing and balancing the mind. Four boundaries make a frame of reference with an inside and an outside. Thought can be put in order, but it wants to be an order that works, so the boundaries are for reference, not for protection. Rigid beliefs will need too much defending when negative feedback suggests error. The mind needs both firmness and flexibility.
Astrology: Jupiter in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 20°-30° Libra, Patron: Jupiter). A sense of personal identity that is founded on perceptual and cognitive experience, on how we see things, over which we can learn some control by expanding our perceptions and mastering our perspectives. For Jupiter, this includes the including the Olympian view, equanimity, patience and equilibration. We can reconsider what we do mentally in order to optimize our worlds. Higher-order thinking.
Qabalah: Chesed in Yetzirah. Self-stabilization in the world of form will want form that keeps learning. An objectification of form in multiple dimensions allows it to be studied from different angles and at different scales. Figure implies ground.
Yijing: Gua 33, Dun, Distancing, Retreat; Da Xiang: Gen (4) below, Qian (Swords) above; “Beneath the sky is a mountain. Distancing. The young noble is distant from the common people, not with ill will, but with reserve.” The mountain stands high against the horizon, but heaven is not diminished by this. Choice of distance and scale. “Success. Little reward in persistence.” If what we are doing isn’t working as it should, we should be doing something differently. We are missing information that might be available from a larger picture and more complete context.
Five of Swords
Surprise, Trust, Shenanigans, Learning Curves
Image: Four young boys have just lost their swords in a game played with an older boy. Marked, sharked and dejected, they slink away while the older boy gathers up his spoils. It is left undeclared which figure represents the querent, one of those who has just learned a lesson the hard way, or the one who has offered this instructive, if expensive, experience.
The pictorial Five of Swords depicts a pop quiz here at the School of Hard Knocks, education the hard way, with winners and losers, but potentially losers all around in the long term. The teaching is like: I’ll teach you a thing or two, or I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget. In the Smith deck, we see the outcome of a confidence game, which, as the name suggests, requires somebody’s confidence to fail them. The winner triumphs at the moment the loser expects to claim his victory. He does this by counting on his mark’s naive assumptions to lead him across that line where exceptions start proving the rule. The card is not about this defeat or failure, but the process that led to this, and what we do afterwards with our fresh, raw, real-world lessons. Ultimately, this is about the confidence we have in our mental constructs of reality, that allows us to move through life more courageously, without being paralyzed by doubt, fear and mistrust, and how this sometimes will fail us in rude encounters with reality. The energetic force of the Five disturbs the clarity and certainty of the Swords, and the reality of the rocks dulls those razor-sharp edges. The mind sometimes needs to learn to unlearn and to steer well clear of having things all figured out.
We have to believe that the world is not out to do us harm if we want to get anything positive done. We need to believe in things like natural justice, and a basic goodness in humankind. Trust is a precious currency. But we need these beliefs to bend and bounce a little. Many of us start out with some patently ridiculous assumptions that get passed around universally as vapid platitudes: god works in mysterious ways, everything happens for a reason, there are no accidents, this is the best of all possible worlds, you karma’s gonna get you, love is all powerful. With illusions like this, it’s no wonder we get disillusioned. The real world is way beyond morals and ethics: bad guys win, good guys lose, lousy things happen to good people and cosmic justice is a fantasy. Ten million Native Americans did nothing to deserve their genocide. There is no god with special plans for me and you. If we happen to succeed, it’s not because we were too good, pure or important for failure or injustice. We just managed to do something right and had a little luck. Mischief and misbehavior, treachery and betrayal, force us to adapt, or more often, maladapt. We reassess our picture of the world, but too often we only tack on random amendments to the larger illusions we start with. We sometimes need to revamp the whole thing.
Mohammed is said to have said: ‘Trust in Allah, but tie your camel first.’ This is the right formula to optimize the Five of Swords. We cover more of the bases. The Yijing counterpart is Gua 25, Without Pretense, Innocence, The Unexpected. The natural history of nature, life, mammals and primates has given us a natural ethic and crude intelligence. Without an excess of painful conditioning, this gives us original mind and an instinctive goodness, what we fall back on when we are artless and guileless. We already know how to be true without looking it up in a book. When things are going well, we can proceed as if the world was good. The savage might not always be so noble, but he’s born with the same nature you have, so you know a little of what he might be up to. We reinforce this naturalness culturally with the presumption of innocence and the benefit of the doubt. We give special license and privilege to people of proven goodness, and special stigmas to our degenerates. To let us move still further forward, our reputations precede us. Then we do what we can with the dark side when this is encountered. No matter how kind and sincere we may be, life comes with no guarantee. We have only this from Louis Pasteur: ‘Chance favors the prepared mind,’ and a correlate: probability favors the good and the kind. It’s at least enough to tip the odds a little in favor of goodness and kindness.
Oliver’s Law asserts: 'Experience is something you do not get until just after you need it.' We likely do not need to worry about running out of surprises, or humbling blows to our egos, or violations of our many mental defenses. We have new lessons in store, even when we can learn from others’ mistakes. We will have big and shocking plot twists, involuntary new insights, lessons we may not understand for decades to come, and some that will never make sense. It may be all but impossible to maintain any innocence, but we might yet find ways to stay open, and just the right measure of vulnerable.
accessibility, adaptive learning, adjustment, assumptions, artlessness, being corrected, being edited, being tested, caught unawares, codes of ethics, codes of honor, cognitive adaptation, confidence, credence, credulity, deception, disappointment, disillusionment, dissimulation, element of surprise, embarrassment, failed expectation, faith, good faith, guilelessness, imperfection, inadequacy, innocence, insecurity, integrity, learning curves, lost innocence, mischief, morale, naiveté, openness, plot twist, presumptions, relearning, reorientation, rethinking, revelation, revising conceits, revocation, school of hard knocks, shenanigans, slings and arrows, surprise, trust, uncertain outlook, uncertainty, undeserved lessons, unpredictability, vulnerability.
Warnings and Reversals:
ambush, betrayal, coercion, con game, credulity, deceit, defeat, false accusation, gossip, gullibility, humiliation, hurt feelings, injustice, lies, malice, pop quiz failed, rudeness, rude awakening, shock, slander, treachery, trickery, unfairness, wounded pride.
Five plus Swords. Kinetic energy is applied to structured thought. Things move forward well when all is as predicted and presumed. But surprise may bring blunt force trauma to the delicate or unrealistic idea, cracking one’s beliefs and assumptions. The need to adapt, process new data, or adjust mental pictures when experience suggests change.
Astrology: Mars in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Aquarius, Patron: Venus). An appetite and naive enthusiasm for the mental world. Piqued by lessons and stimulated by learning but confused by the need to unlearn. The will trusts thoughts and perceptions for a guide, but might be overly confident or ‘know too much that ain’t so.’
Qabalah: Geburah in Yetzirah. Force and severity applied to the world of form will lead either to adaptive resilience or to failure. This is 'just' in the sense that you 'just' have to get it right.
Yijing: Gua 25, Wu Wang, Without Pretense, Innocence, The Unexpected. Da Xiang: Zhen (5) below, Qian (Swords) above; “Beneath the sky moves thunder. The creatures interact without pretensions. The early sovereigns flourished according to season and nurtured the myriad beings.” Life beneath the sky. Probability for success has been folded into the genes. But there are no guarantees. We simply live and learn. “Most fulfilling. Worthwhile to persist. For the one without integrity there will be suffering, and not much reward in having somewhere to go.” We play the odds and probabilities here, which favor the ethics and intelligence that we are born with, a natural and original mind that somehow stays able to learn.
Six of Swords
Comprehensiveness, Exploration, Reintegration, Organization
Image: (Modified) Six warriors, with their swords behind them, having a parley in a circle around a fire. The mood is engaged and peaceful, while their hair, skin color and dress suggest different, even hitherto warring tribes. There is a parity here, and some tension. The Smith deck depicts a woman and child being ferried across water, whether by a husband or ferryman, with six swords in the boat.
In the Smith deck, the Six of Swords begins a series of easily misunderstood images, culminating with the Ten. These cards all imply at least a slice of the meaning pie, but the meanings suggested by number and suit are in each case quite a bit broader. Here, the woman and child, or family, if the ferryman is father, might be leaving troubles behind them, or otherwise making a passage from difficulties or unsatisfying conditions. It could be flight, or a seeking of refuge. They could also be reestablishing their social, cognitive and perceptual worlds following a challenge they got from the fives, and broadening their understanding of the world. This could be what recovery groups call a geographic cure: thinking that past patterns can be escaped by moving someplace else. But these are lesser implications. More broadly, these characters are enlarging their world, extending their horizons, expanding their context, transcending an outgrown niche, or simply exploring a larger one. The ready swords imply they are bringing their wits along with them. This is more of a case of 'freedom to' than 'freedom from,' even though some dissatisfaction or unpleasantness might still drive the move. As child leaves crib, and young adults leave home, the sage leaves nations behind him. We expand and then reintegrate.
Since we are dealing with the Swords, the mental world, the culture in which we are immersed might be our biggest factor and context here. We may be expanding, or perhaps upgrading, the society around us, or the company we keep. We burst out of the bubble of local or parochial culture. We may even make it all the way to global culture and find some collective common ground on those far and foreign shores. This is a good card for anthropology and sociology, or comparative cultural studies. If we really want to look for who we are, we can look into primatology, and even zoology. Mark Twain wrote, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.’ Human is as human does, and we have to go see what we do. Books will only take us so far in showing us the way we actually live. Thus do the academics, in towers behind the high walls, know so little about us. The tourists also learn little, who bring their high walls along, as a sort of a shell. The maintenance of this shell, and the insecurity that requires it, is an industry unto itself. We speak here of going more native. We want to fill in the lacunae on our maps. If the maps say ‘here be dragons,’ we need to go there and see that.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 13, Fellowship With Others, depicts a fire under the stars, where we have gathered for hundreds of thousands of years, inventing our language and telling stories. This is one of several places where the Yi suggests the benefits of crossing the great water. The phrase means different things in different contexts, but here it means to leave the familiar behind and seek out the larger family. We get beyond ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism and xenophobia, to find our common ground. We get beyond our belief systems, collective associations, and mass follies to find etiquettes and ethics that we might all be able to share. We get beyond mutual endorsement and admiration societies to discover cultural diversity and creative cultural hybridization. Our more usual search for like-mindedness can preempt a chance for expansion by way of variety. If there is a superior race, it is still yet to come, and will mix the best of our separate, present-day traits.
Krishnamurti sums this card up with: ‘you must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it.’ Beyond the socio-cultural elements to this card, we have also the personal cognitive world. This is still a departure from the familiar for greater familiarity, and an infilling of the mind with things it is missing. It’s a rounding out of the big picture, that we cannot get by staying in one place, at least metaphorically, or by minds remaining at smaller sizes. We need the larger world even to grasp our own private psyches. And perhaps we suspend judgment and belief until more facts are in. Crowley called this card Science. We can add some more depth to this term now by adding the implications of interdisciplinarity and consilience: that is, the card represents a more comprehensive view of the world, not scattered and cut up into countless smaller disciplines, but integrated into a whole. Holistic thought or thinking is not as simple-minded as one might imagine from reading the new age material. It is only simple in that when it all comes together or integrates, things might reappear as elegance or a simple-seeming gestalt.
accord, alloy, assimilation, alliance, breadth, broadened perspective, change of scenery, coalition, common ground, commonality, comprehension, comprehensiveness, consensus, consilience, consensus, context, cultural broadening, cultural diversity, cultural exchange, discovery, embrace, excursion, expansion, expedition, exploration, exposure, extended family, extension, familiarity, fraternity, globalization, higher order, horizons, human association, inclusion, incorporation, integration, interdisciplinarity, internationality, mental infill, multiculturalism, new channels, new horizons, organization, perspective, reconnaissance, rite of passage, rounding out life, science, scope, social organization, systemization, universalization.
Warnings and Reversals:
broken negotiation, clan war, cultural limitation, dislocation, displacement, divisiveness, ethnocentrism, exile, fragmentary understanding, fragmentation, intolerance, misoneism, parochial belief, patriotism, stalemate, unacceptable proposal, xenophobia.
Six plus Swords. The assembly and integration of a more expansive and comprehensive world view. The word science works here only if the various disciplines are working together. Thinking in wholes and systems, putting a larger picture together, rounding out the curriculum. The search for holistic patterns and elegance.
Astrology: Sol in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Aquarius, Patron: Sol). Identifying ourselves by the sense we have of awareness and recognition. The mental stimulation of experience as the ignition of the self. Working with and integrating information, gaining perspective. Attention to novelty with a will to understand. The social aspects of life, particularly education and communication.
Qabalah: Tipareth in Yetzirah. Balance, harmony and beauty in the world of forms. Ideas, formation, patterns and natural laws. Integrating and organizing the various formulae into working models of the world.
Yijing: Gua 13, Tong Ren, Fellowship With Others, Fellowship With Men. Da Xiang: Li (6) below, Qian (Swords) above; “Heaven accompanies flame. Fellowship with Others. The young noble, according to kind and family, distinguishes the beings.” Fire under the stars, where our fellowships gather. “Fellowship with others on the frontier. Fulfillment. Worthwhile to cross the great stream, and worth the young noble’s persistence.” The search for broader fraternity and coalition. Crossing cultural boundaries and networking. Thinking globally, acting locally.
Seven of Swords
Strategy, Ingenuity, Problem Solving, Self-Interest
Image: (Modified slightly) A shadow warrior has entered a crusader encampment by stealth and is making off with five enemy swords. He spots two guards in conversation and contemplates taking their too.
It seems to be up to the readers to decide if they are to identify with the character in the picture or with those on the other end of his sneaky plan. Seeing common interpretations like deception, trickery, theft, dishonesty, etc., it seems that most tarot writers identify with the victims here, overreact to the Smith design, moralize on this image and jump to self-righteous value judgments. With the preconceived notion that anything tricky is bad, they get busy shaming the subject for committing a stealthy act. This misses the point of the card entirely. This scene is about situational ethics, and amorality, not good or bad karma. What the subject is doing is no more immoral than the swordsman Kyuzo stealing guns from the bandits in the Seven Samurai. Would anyone have thought it wrong to steal Nazi guns? Besides, this is bing fa, the art of war here, and you’re supposed to use crafty surprises, avoid confrontation, and win without combat.
The Seven of Swords is about our self-ish thoughts. The Seven wants its victory, or Netzach, it wants to survive first and then thrive all it can. The mind, as Swords, is set to the task of figuring out how to do this, doing problem-solving behavior, vicarious trial-and-error, running mental scenarios, choosing the best of the ones which might work and projecting their outcomes. We start with what we need, and then work on what we want. There is nothing inherently wrong with selfishness, or acting out of self-interest, except for when it’s done badly and people and other life forms get hurt. Even the Buddha said we are selves for now, and that these need our attention. That doesn’t mean we aren’t also one with everything else and interconnected and such. But if we want to survive and to interconnect, we need strategies for survival. If we want to have our needs met, we have to negotiate a world that can kill us in a heartbeat and keep right on going as if it didn’t care. We just figure out how to get what we want without getting hurt. This plan is being tested against a harder reality, but more is at stake than the plan.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 10, Respectful Conduct or Treading. It uses the amusing image of someone about to tread on the tail of a tiger. The measure of his success is in whether or not he gets bitten. He wants his accomplishment to be without consequences or disastrous en-tail-ments. If there is to be any divine guardianship here, it will be on terms not his own. This is only accomplished with a great deal of respect for where he is and how he comports himself. Steps may be taken in accord with projections of success, but correctness is situational and the real element of risk is largely proportionate to deviation from natural law, not from the plan. The steps are bold and sometimes heroic ones. It is not a place for glib appraisal, or fascination with the mystique of taking bold and heroic steps. We want to set aside anything that leaves us with an inadequate quantum of attention, effort, focus or perseverance. The world standing between us and success has powers to be respected and weak points to exploit. We do not want to confuse these two.
To per-form means to move through a form. This form, or Yetzirah, can be any of a number of things: a plan, a plan B, a protocol, a scheme, a strategy, a ruse, a trial, a game, a myth, and the list goes on. We make these to guide us in our adventures. What a form is not, however, is the reality it proposes to model. In the distance between the two lies our possibility for error. We use our mental flexibility and resourcefulness, our ingenuity and subtlety, to get the two to line up or coincide, to find the right track that follows them both. Ultimately, however, the facts of the matter are more important than our vision and ideas. Not many people truly perceive this. We cannot count the men who have marched to their deaths behind lies that they have told themselves or let themselves believe. Thoughts and beliefs are bad masters and leaders. Being true to ourselves wants a better selfishness, to let us abandon the ideas, rules, peer pressures and expectations as soon as they no longer serve us. We experiment with variable attitudes and convictions and think what needs to be thought. This, too, can be a bold step to take, especially when there are witnesses, but according to Stuart's law of retroaction, ‘It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.’
action’s meetness, actualizing, artfulness, bing fa, boldness, canniness, circuitous means, cleverness, conscientiousness, contrivance, counting coup, craftiness, cunning, design, difficult success, ends and means, exploit, exploitation, foresight, forethought, game plan, gamesmanship, hazarding, ingenuity, intrigue, inventiveness, maneuvers, opportunism, performance, plan of action, practice, prediction, problem-solving, procedure, program, protocol, reality check, risk, ruse, scenario, scheme, self-preservation, situational ethics, speculation, stratagem, strategy, stealth, subtlety, tact, tactics, tempting fate, testing faith, testing karma, tests, trials, vicarious trial and error, wiliness.
Warnings and Reversals:
betrayed confidence, cheating, chicanery, deceit, deception, deviousness, dishonesty, double dealing, futility, guile, insolence, lost cause, plan may fail, pettiness, questionable advice, scheming, suspicious activity, unrealistic designs.
Seven plus Swords. Wanting victory, success or thriving means making the mental forms or ideas serve our ends. Executing a plan or scheme in order to come out victorious or on top. Situational ethics are relative to which side you may be on. The how of getting what we want.
Astrology: Venus in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 20° 30° Aquarius, Patron: Luna). Wants and their emotions are reviewed mentally. Behavior is understood first in terms of its likelihood of success. Versatile, investigative, innovative approaches to solving problems. May understand ethics well, but not for the sake of obedience. Knows the way around, especially around obstacles.
Qabalah: Netzach in Yetzirah. Victory or success attained through use of forms, such as ideas models and plans. Problem-solving behavior, strategies for self-preservation and the fulfillment of needs and wants.
Yijing: Gua 10, Lu, Respectful Conduct, Treading, Conduct. Da Xiang: Dui (7) below, Qian (Swords) above; “The sky above, the lake below. Respectful conduct. The young noble distinguishes high and low to steady the human purpose.” We modify what we think and believe according to human purpose. “Treading on the tiger’s tail. When it does not bite one, success.” Treading carefully, with circumspect behavior, we measure the correctness of our actions by their outcomes.
Eight of Swords
Restraint, Interference, Entropy, Distraction
Image: (Modified slightly) An attractive, seductively dressed, and barefooted young woman stands fairly loosely bound to a small tree. Eight swords stand stuck in the ground before and around her. She is being kept from both adventure and meddling. The owners of the swords are absent, off doing who-knows-what.
Here again the Smith card gives the reader a choice of which character to identify with. But none of the writers I have seen on the tarot have made any significant comment on what appears to be the eight men who tied this poor woman up before setting off to take care of other business. Consequently, the suggested interpretations tend to cluster around censure, restriction, restraint, temporary durance or domination. Clearly she seems to be some sort of victim and could not have tied herself up like this. Levi comments, ‘Woman enchains you by your desires; master your desires and you will enchain her.’ (Vol. 1, p. 4). Restraint, in fact, is one of the most central or core meanings of this card, but this really centers around self-restraint, or self-control in the face of seductions, diversions or distractions. In particular, given that the Eights concern mental organization, structure, systemization, intelligence and predictability, and that the Swords concern the tools of the mental world and the utility of thought, these distractions would pull us away from our higher mental pursuits. More than a little interestingly, the Yijing counterpart, Gua 44, Dissipation or Coming to Meet, also depicts a seductive woman as a primary threat to our more cerebral pursuits. It should not be forgotten that this woman is a metaphor for anything which might leave our clearest and tidiest thoughts in shambles and maybe ourselves in pitiful ruin. I submit that the subject of this card can also be the one who has tied this metaphor up, for his own protection, exercising self-restraint, to get on with other pursuits.
The mind, which is well-represented by the Eight of Swords, is able to dwell in a world entirely of its own imagining. There are no theoretical limits to theory itself, or to our flights of fantasy, but various forms of self-limitation are available. The card is sometimes called ’shortened force’ perhaps because cutbacks are to be made here before unlimited permutation, attenuation, extenuation, entropy and randomization turn the whole mental system into incoherent and useless white noise. We need to leave or put some things out of the mind if it is to hold itself together. Just as vampires must be invited into our homes, we learn to do this with the thoughts and information that we allow into our heads, and show our uninvited guests the door. Pieces of information arrive with equal weight and we must assign them value or they don’t get sorted for relevance or priority. This is the point of looking for core meanings. These are reference points, standards, and measures of value and relevance. Without them we are mentally promiscuous, dissipated, scattered, not knowing when to stop. There is much talk and ado about nothing, as nothing is true, everything is permitted, and anything goes. The high noise-to-signal ratio leaves us with little more than apophenia and pareidolia with which to make meaning from nonsense. People will then believe anything they read or anything they are told. We are also inclined to get lost in our maps, having long ago left and lost the real terrain to which they were made to refer. These become tautological realities, true in their own right, by their own definition, with no need to refer to anything else. We see a lot of this in occult studies, particularly with the over-elaboration of structural elements. Ideas are not all of equal value, and most are ghafla, mindless distraction. We always have many options, but the best ones, by definition, are limited. Not all ideas are equal in value.
Selection works in a mind’s evolution as well as it works in nature. We learn to rule our thoughts and learn critical thinking skills. We budget our attention to enrich our minds with higher quality stuff and more effective cognitive tools. Constraints are not just good things in systems theory. We bind ourselves to our better purposes, like Odysseus passing the Sirens, staying focused, resisting distraction. We wait for the right time and occasion to ripen. We draw lines and hold them. We use Occam’s razor, or our eight razor sharp swords, to slice away the superfluous. Restraint is not imprisonment. Editing is not an insult. Criticism is not a bad attitude. Simple systems and algorithms can give a complex mind what it needs. All of this having been said, however, there is still great wisdom in making or saving some extra room in the mind, for wild ideas to run and play in.
accident, avoidance, beguilement, carefulness, caution, censure, chance, complication, composure, constraint, criteria, critical thinking skills, culling, curtailment, deviation, dissipation, distractions, diversions, drawing and holding a line, economy of thought, enticement, entropy, exclusion, extenuation, forbearance, gleaning, hazard, inhibition, insinuation, interference, intervention, intrusion, luck, negative entropy, Occam’s Razor, parsimony, patience, persuasion, preference, prioritizing, randomization, randomness, resisting distraction, resisting seduction, restraint, selection, self-censorship, self-control, self-discipline, self-possession, simplification, tangent, tautology, undermining influence, winnowing, won't power.
Warnings and Reversals:
accidents, arbitrary censure, betrayal, disquiet, drastic measures, entrapment, ghafla or mindless distraction, ill-directed action, indecision, insinuation, overreaction to the bait, pettiness, randomization, slamming the doors, paranoia, temptation.
Eight plus Swords. The mind minding mind is runaway mind, able go anywhere and do anything, with not much to ground it. Enthusiastic investigation opens too many doors and questions, We need to limit our minds with patterns of preference and critical skills. We learn how to stop or say no.
Astrology: Mercury in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Gemini, Patron: Jupiter). Thoughts here are relatively free and unfettered by emotional and practical needs. Not so much feedback-oriented as cognitively proactive, leaving the subject able to live in a rationalized, cognitive world all its own. Can usually use some grounding experience or practical limits to thought.
Qabalah: Hod in Yetzirah. Complex organizational systems still need forms that allow an adaptive response to reality. They are useless when they occupy only themselves.
Yijing: Gua 44, Gou, Dissipation, Coming to Meet. Da Xiang: Xun (8) below, Qian (Swords) above; “Beneath the sky is the wind. Dissipation. Rulers issue commands and decrees in all four directions.” The winds will undo the commands. Reiteration, repetition and redundancy are a hedge against entropy here. “The woman is powerful. Not at all useful to court this woman.” If this referred to an empowered or liberated woman, the Chinese words nu and zhuang would be reversed in the text. Instead, this refers to someone to whom one surrenders power. Restraint awaits the right time and occasion. This is an error of interpretation made frequently, and is most ironic given the subject. Any purely mental experience can justify itself without reference to self-preservation,
Nine of Swords
Conflictedness, Fixed Ideas, Adaptive Cognition, Unlearning
Image: A dreamer sits bolt-upright in bed, as if awakening from a nightmare in a cold sweat, both hands to the face and wearing a look of horror. Nine daggers point inward towards him, forming an aura.
Traditionally, this card can refer to a number of unpleasant emotional states of mind: despair, anxiety, suffering, cruelty, tribulations, angst, shame, resentment, helplessness, guilt, regrets, desolation, doubt, crises of faith or confidence, or demons in general. It suggests unresolved troubles, complications, conflicts, quarrels and miscarriages. One might well ask what all of these wet emotions are doing in a card in the suit of Swords. The answer must eventually come back to cognitive structures and the psychological problems that errors in thinking or perception might lead to. This also suggests that these problems have either been buried or else have gone unnoticed, allowing them time to fester, to awaken us later with bad dreams. Mind runs amok and life makes no sense. While emotions are not some hydraulic fluid that is somehow conserved in its quantity, requiring catharsis to vent or release, it is still the case that repression, suppression, or stuffed emotions do not solve problems, but drag them along, beneath the threshold of awareness, where awareness gets its power and problems do the most damage. To correct this problem, the unpleasant emotions must be seen as information leading back to the problem, as friendly signs or reminders that we have gone off track. What is it that we have ignored for too long?
Careless or sloppy learning is one usual suspect. As discussed, the Nines symbolize states that have come into their fullness, with little room remaining for more, other than maintenance and adaptation to ongoing changes. This implies that the mind is full, or processing as fully as it it is able. This in turn implies that when the mind is troubled and confused, we might think to switch tactics and start preferring quality over quantity of information and its processing. In theory, this will enrich us. Some claim to not care, openly disliking critical thought as being 'too negative,' citing a preference for emotional happiness or popularity instead, but then they show puzzlement when their happiness turns inevitably into trouble and confusion. Their reasoning is now automatic and out of their control. Questioning everything on the way into the mind should have been ongoing. Now there is much catching up and unlearning to do. The big problem here is that our views of the world are interconnected, and built up on a foundation that includes early experience, basic assumptions and core beliefs. We build with what is at hand, often before we have seen or learned better ways. The mind is a bricolage, with outdated stuff embedded in important places. Errors accumulate and compound each other. It’s hard work rebuilding foundations, but it’s never too late to start being more choosy about letting our minds fill up with unexamined data and unquestioned beliefs.
We want a better criterion of truth than the simple convincingness of ideas. Beliefs that cannot be questioned, or faiths and convictions, are how we get viruses in our minds, toxic memes that spread out to the horizons of our perceptual worlds, where we ought to be learning new things instead of twisting what we see there to suit our mental diseases and pathologies. Fixed ideas may promise comfort and security, but the deception catches up. Beliefs are self-serving, self-maintaining cognitive loops. Sometimes we know them by bad names: presumptuousness, prejudice, dogma, propaganda and fanaticism. But more often we take pride in having them: we have the answers. Well, how is that working out? Getting into lots of fights? Nightmares? While absolute relativism, where all ideas are equal, is the sloppiness just discussed, the other wrong-headed extreme here is advocacy, adversarialism, partiality, partisanship, or polemicism, all from the fixed idea that admits no second opinion. This is the theme of the Yijing counterpart, Gua 06, Contention or Conflict. Strife and resistance, or unpleasantness in general, is information, not something to die for. We navigate better when we can use this simply as data.
Suffering is information that can lead us to its own cessation. For this we need adaptive cognition, with continuous questioning, revision and unlearning, even of some of our most basic assumptions. This is a basic teaching of the Buddha. With life comes a great capacity for self-deception and a host of mechanisms to assist in its practice. It isn’t easy to live life counter to this. Generally speaking, our choice is suffering or diligence. Most, it seems, choose to suffer, rather than admit and shed error, because this is a lot of hard work. Even those claiming to be on a path to the light will scornfully scold those who discriminate and select the superior things to learn. But this aversion to judgment only leads to bad judgment. We don’t need the teacher within if we know the learner within. We don’t need answers if we have the right questions.
adaptive cognition, accommodation, antagonism, antipathy, assertion, competitiveness, compromise, concern, conciliation, conflict, conflictedness, contention, contradiction, disagreement, discrepancy, disparity, dissent, dissonance, doubt, editing, facing facts, friction, inappropriateness, incongruity, inconsistency, internal contradiction, judgment, reconsideration, mid-course correction, modification, negativity, philosophical overhaul, pragmatism, presumption, questioning, reasonable fear, reconsideration, rectification, reexamination, reformulation, relativity, resistance, revision, rigorous honesty, selection, self-doubt, skepticism, struggle, supposition, suspicion, uncertainty, unlearning, worry.
Warnings and Reversals:
angst, anxiety, arrogance, demons, denial, despair, discord, dogma, dread, crisis of faith or confidence, fixed ideas, hauntings, ideologues, incoherence, obsession, partiality, psychological crisis, quarrel, rationalizing, regret, self-deception, shame.
Nine plus Swords. Foundations and fundamentals that support structures in the cognitive and perceptual world. Basic assumptions, postulates and premises, and how these affect the ability of the completed structures to function in a world of change. Stable, well- founded cognition must be adaptive and continuously question its own truth. Trouble is simply evidence of trouble, evidence that something needs to be changed.
Astrology: Luna in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 10°-20° Gemini, Patron: Mars). At home in the mental world, in the head, and enthused by ideas. The senses serve intellect before the emotions. Impersonal feeling but still feeling for humanity. A model of the world makes a more comfortable home, until it fails. Will thinks first, then act on evaluation. A mobile mind, but not moved by sense or concrete reality.
Qabalah: Yesod in Yetzirah. Reification, thought becomes the thing. A world in itself that is dependent on the adaptive functionality of its working parts. A foundation in change must also be able to change and adapt, or risk an accumulation of error and a subsequent crisis of correction.
Yijing: Gua 06, Song, Contention, Conflict. Da Xiang: Kan (9) below, Qian (Swords) above; “The sky together with water is contradiction in movement. Contention. The young noble, in undertaking the work, appraises beginnings.” Revisiting the early postulates and premises when there are multiple points of view to choose from. “Being true, yet opposed. Wariness in the middle is promising, at the end, unfortunate. Worthwhile to meet a mature human being. Not worthwhile to cross the great stream.” Without questioning ourselves, or using resistance as data, we will subject ourselves to hostilities, and even mutiny by the crew of selves within.
Ten of Swords
Attrition, Wearing Force, Micromanagement, Finitude
Image: (Modified) A tattered and many-times-wounded warrior staggers to his feet, using his sword as a crutch. He is the only survivor of a fray. Nine others, in another uniform, lay scattered about. The Smith deck shows a man alone, face down, stuck in the back with ten swords, and does not leave him alive. It is as though he turned his back on insignificant threats, or things that he thought could be put behind him, and transcended or ignored, things that caught up.
Commentators on the Smith deck are often very quick to point out that this is only a metaphorical death, although there is still plenty of ruin, affliction, grief, bankruptcy, desolation, troubles, misfortune, dashed hopes and dreams, and utter defeat of hope or intention. There are similarities here to the Tower, but in the mental realm. The most significant aspect is that the damage is cumulative, a death of a thousand cuts, not one mortal or devastating wound, but a death by attrition. As a Sword card, it warns of a potential failure of the mind, a failure of the intellect to cope with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ We have many handy metaphors that might be applied here: an accumulation of thought or theory can collapse like a house of cards. A final straw breaks a camel’s back. A government grows too complex and the center can no longer hold. A boxer takes one punch too many. A lapsed alcoholic might say ‘I was run over by the caboose.’ Environmental damage reaches a tipping point and a system collapses in a cascade failure. By the Peter Principle, a man gradually rises in his job to his level of incompetence. In sum, this is the climax of something a long time in coming, a function of accumulation and not a sudden event. This suggests the question of why this outcome was not foreseen and acted upon. One might well answer with the frog in the hot water image, even though this doesn’t really happen in reality. The frog got the hell out when it was tested. Many humans are not this bright.
The Ten of Swords is the wearing force of excessive detail, an erosive process, by the abrasive grit of the sands of time. We are slowly worn down or detailed to death. An architect, probably while praising himself, once coined the phrase ‘God is in the details.’ It wasn’t long before someone countered with ‘the Devil is in the details,’ which became somewhat more popular. Whichever may be the best, it’s awfully crowded down there in those details, and really hard to work around those two. The Yijing counterpart, Gua 09, is Raising Small Beasts, or Taming Power of the Small. A modern English equivalent of this amusing title might be ‘herding cats.’ It speaks to the diminishing returns of fussing over details, advocating a simplification and streamlining of our character or being, a smoothing of rough edges that we get by moving to a larger scale or more distant time horizon, a ceasing to sweat the small stuff. This principle is often applied in politics as devolution, the transfer or delegation of power to lower or local levels. This is also the ombudsman with vertical mobility through a world of layered bureaucrats. The trifles, irritants and back-breaking straws still do their work of fine-tuning, but this is seen to have its place in self-regulatory processes. This is also about our ultimate finitude as it's seen from high above: our species going extinct is a galactic trifle, as is our glorious Sun's burning out. Eternity, for man, is the briefest flash of all.
Micromanagement makes existence overly complex. The mind will never surround or comprehend a reality seen at this scale, where all it is is little things adding up to take us down. We want the view with the most information for the least effort. Our lives, our minds, our cultures grow and elaborate themselves into Rube Goldberg contraptions. At some point, only hive mind can take control. This is great for self-organizing systems, made of elements that are ’fast, cheap, and out of control,’ like insects. But it’s not as promising when decisions need to be made that will determine the fate of the world, like nuclear disarmament or the destruction of the environment. We don’t want the averaged behavior of insects to make these kinds of decisions. We want to have more components with higher perspectives, longer horizons and authority instead of helpless anonymity.
Hyperextended systems eventually collapse, in parallel ways to crashes in populations, which fall to below their long-term sustainable levels. Sometimes the standard models just disintegrate with a single unwanted datum. A bubble bursts or a market collapses. A delusion ends, or a way of thinking just gets abandoned. Sometimes we simply hit bottom and decide we have now had enough. Sometimes this is a very good process, a quick conclusion to the ill-conceived, and saves us dismantling something noxious one bit at a time. Dead-wrong ideas invalidate themselves, gone the way of phlogiston. To paraphrase Max Planck, science progresses one funeral at a time. In the best revolutions in science, the newer, simpler, more elegant paradigm is already waiting in the wings, to take the sting out of letting go. Besides the devastation, the Ten of Swords is also this large-scale rethinking, the finding of simpler, more versatile schema, like an aerodynamic mobility through the levels of awareness, like the vultures thermaling high above the wasteland.
abrasion, attenuation, attrition, bother, collapse, comeuppance, complexity, cumulative changes, deconstruction, demise, details, devolution, diminishing returns, diminution, disintegration, do-over, effortlessness, erosion, exactions, final indignity, final straw, fine adjustments, fine grit, finitude, gradual adaptation, herding cats, hitting bottom, hyper-complexity, hyperextension, inevitability, insignificance, irritants, large-scale rethinking, minutiae, non-essentials, outdated principles, overhaul, overload, overview, polishing, ravages of time, redo, refinement, relative importance, rescaling, refining, simplification, streamlining, subtle persuasion, sweating small stuff, technicalities, tipping points, wear and tear, wearing force, weathering.
Warnings and Reversals:
back-breaking last straws, bankruptcy, cascade failure, collapse, conceptual gluttony, entropy wins, exasperation, frivolousness, fussiness, micromanagement, routinization, ruination, stereotypy, system crash, trifles, triviality, troubles add up, undoing, vexations.
Ten plus Swords. Overthinking things. The Ten in the world of ideas will take the whole system too far. Things grown overly complex or complicated means too many moving parts to be managed and maintained. A superior order allows lower levels to manage themselves with a minimum of supervision or control.
Astrology: Pluto in Air Signs and Houses (GD: 20°-30° Gemini, Patron: Sol). An over- abundance of thought brings a strong sense of limitation, finitude and deeper time. Major systems of thought collapse of their own weight, as with scientific revolutions, to be replaced by more elegant paradigms.
Qabalah: Malkuth in Yetzirah. The fullest manifestation of the system of thought may be viewed at varying scales. As Malkuth suggests, things have gone too far, one is down in it, where small things can be overwhelming.
Yijing: Gua 09, Xiao Chu, Raising Small Beasts, Taming Power of the Small. Da Xiang: Qian (10) below, Xun (Swords) above; “The wind travels high in the sky. Raising small beasts. The young noble trains and refines his character.” The original concept of streamlining, working with the fine grit of time to knock down the rough edges and simplify life. “Fulfillment. Thick clouds but no rain from our western horizon.” Don’t sweat the small stuff. Fuss as you might, there are greater perspectives to take. Simply help the details to take care of themselves.
Princess of Swords
The Princess of the Rushing Winds, Lotus of the Palace of Air
Correction, Vigilance, Parrhesia, Truthfulness
Image: (Modified) A fair, lithe young princess is shown with her sword in mid-swing, lopping the head off an idol that someone has left on her family's shrine. She might be expressing impatience with the way things are hiding themselves from change. Still learning her swordsmanship, training and sparring with diligence, she might be a little inexpert still, but she is not swinging this weapon carelessly. She intends to be a queen.
The Princess of Swords is known to most commentators as a young woman (or a page) with a precociously penetrating mind. She can also represent communiques of news and information. She is quick, vigilant, assertive, inquisitive, challenging, astute, iconoclastic, adroit, feisty, insightful ahead of her years, and ready for the unforeseen. You might have met her in a coffee house near some college campus, or out rousing the rabble, planning a demonstration, or a more ambitious revolution, an en garde to the forces maintaining the status quo. Youthfulness and rebellion go together, of course, not yet lulled to sleep and obedience by consensus, peer pressure or economic insecurity. As Jefferson noted, one generation has no right to bind (or bankrupt) the next. She is simply editing the past for a new generation. She stands behind the cutting edge, and, word to the wise, she’s a little young for diplomacy. She will speak truth to power. As for causes, whaddaya got? I once saw a very young lady preparing for a day of hard play, and I heard her say to her father, ‘I don’t want to wear my princess dress today, Daddy. I want to wear something I can get blood on.’ I’m certain this was the Princess of Swords.
Perhaps it’s the fixed idea that rouses her ire the most, the general rule that won’t admit the exception, the letter of the law that won’t admit the spirit, the law that won’t look at true justice or the reasons for its own enactment, the old that won’t look at the new, the stagnant that won’t let in the fresh, the liberal idea that’s become an institution. The word 'fixed' is an odd one. When you fix something it’s supposed to get better, but it’s just not so with ideas. The Yijing’s counterpart is Gua 18, Detoxifying, or Work on What has been Spoiled. It is built on the images of wind, stopped and stagnating, at the base of the mountains, and a poison or bad medicine made by trapping venomous creatures together in a bowl. Many cultural things fit these images of pathology, atrophy, festering, and necrosis: bad or unjust law, senseless behavioral norms, entrenched political corruption, organized crime, dogma, ethical decadence, fixations, and obsessions. Circulation, jolts, exposure, whistle blowing, exposé, outspokenness and openness are the cures for these toxic conditions, stirring things up. Sometimes even a little rage or outrage is in order. Simple resentment will get nothing done. Neither will resignation or letting it be.
As a Princess, her foundational task is to get her ideas set up on the right foundation, and then the ideas in her closest surroundings, the cultural context she needs to mature within. This is her domain and her right, and she need not be shy about it. She has rights to all premises and postulates, her data’s base, to know how things work and why, and why things resist correction. She has a right to right wrongs, even the ones entrenched in tradition and legacy. It would not be surprising if she did some damage when thumping the family idols to see whether they rang false or true. Negation is going to be needed, and criticism too. These are things that swords are good for: getting to the point, cutting through rubbish and lies, interrogating with pointed questions, and getting confessions from liars. The meaning of cynicism has rotted much over the years. In the old days it meant taking a stand against arrogance, insisting on excellence, and practicing parrhesia, outspokenness and candor. This might be a little bit tactless and blunt, but it isn’t what the word cynic became. We find the limits of things, where they fail tests of their truth. We want to find fault and weakness. These are not found by making no noise, and they are not found by conformists or polite, smarmy flatterers. This is a force of correction.
Negation will takes us part of the way. When the worst of the lies and delusions are out of the way, authentic investigation can begin and we start to get constructive, and offer unasked-for second opinions. The Princess will speak her mind, hard questions first, and then her opinions. She is no friend to the information being examined, although perhaps she hopes truth will forgive her some day. She needs to recognize problems invisible to others, due to their familiarity. The platitude might get cut down or cut off in mid-air. But all of the slicing and dicing has construction for its aim, ideas demonstrated and proven, and set on solid ground, a place to take a stand.
candor, challenge, changing of minds, circumspection, clarification, conscientiousness, correction, criticism, critique, cutting the crap, deconstruction, defiance, discernment, destructive logic, discovery, exactitude, examination, exposé, forthrightness, frankness, freshened perspective, glasnost, Greek Cynicism, honesty, iconoclasm, incorruptibility, cureinterrogation, investigation, negative feedback, openness, outspokenness, parrhesia, pragmatism, purging, radical reform, reading fine print, redemption, re-envisioning, reexamination, reform, reformulation, rejuvenation, remedial action, revitalization, rigor, rigorous honesty, rousing the rabble, sentry duty, stirring things up, suspicion, testing the limits, uprightness, vetting, vigilance.
Warnings and Reversals:
corruption, cynical negativity, decadence, deceit, degeneration, disease, dogma, fixations, fretting, hypocrisy, hyper-vigilance, indiscretion, pathologies, powerlessness, resentment, rot, stagnation, toxic ideas, unpreparedness, vindictiveness.
The Earthy part of Air. The condensation or materialization of the idea, grounding ideas for realism, applicability, and practicality. A down-to-earth set of theories and rules of behavior, with proper cautions against rigid or fixed ideas. ‘The most valuable insights are methods’ (Nietzsche).
Astrology: Caput Draconis in Air Signs and Houses. Cultivating foundational principles, constituting ideas, cognitive foundations, premises, first principles, core beliefs and assumptions. Candor or honesty used for a basis, integrity of thought, edification, rigor. Challenge to ideas that need it.Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 18, Gu, Detoxifying, Work on What has been Spoiled. Da Xiang: Xun (Swords) below, Gen (Princess) above; “At the base of the mountain there is wind. Detoxifying. The young noble stirs up the people to fortify character.” Wind is stopped short at the base of the mountain. An inversion or stagnation, wanting refreshing. “Most fulfilling. Worthwhile to cross the great stream. Before the beginning, three days, after the beginning, three days.” Things need to be in their proper place in context, not stuck in isolation. Purging of the stagnant may be needed. Calls for broader context, stimulation, fresh air, reform.
Prince of Swords
Prince of the Chariots of the Winds
Exploration, Extrapolation, Intellect, Reasoning
Image: (Modified) A fair, young prince is shown in mid-leap from the back of his rearing war horse, wielding a sword with both hands. He is practicing skills, speed and agility with an intensity similar to battle, or typical of male youth. The Smith card depicts a knight in armor, visor up, mounted on a white war horse, charging into the wind with sword drawn.
Modern tradition describes the Prince of Swords as a brave, skillful, dashing young man. He is heroic, clever, restless, adroit, assertive, independent, quick, witty, creative, idiosyncratic, persistent, relentless and competitive. Ill-dignified, he is rash, brusque, importunate, impatient, careless, shallow, and lacking in staying power. Commentators err somewhat in overemphasizing his haste, as he is capable of far more thoughtful and deliberate paces. Sometimes what seems like haste might only be quick-wittedness, or to stay with the sword symbol, his rapier wit, enjoying the exhilarating thrill of a nervous system operating at capacity. Also, due to the common misinterpretations of the swords, writers may also attribute an aggression, quarrelsomeness, or even violence, that is by no means ever-present, even though he might be suspiciously quick to respond to stimuli. Response time is often as helpful as prowess in such mental athleticism.
Ultimately, as the airy part of air, this is the mind within the world of the mind, the entertainment of thought by more thought. As the Prince, it is his duty to explore this world, to understand how the mind works and then to work it. The frontiers here, those he is charged to go beyond, are endless, and so his explorations are up to and beyond his own limitations. Still, he is tasked with carrying these ideas out, elaborating the premises, varying the themes, exploring the what-if’s with alternate assumptions, extrapolating, projecting, ramifying, permuting, inventing, following ideas to conclusions, including reductions to absurdity. He may assume that too much of this applies to a real world.
At the mind’s least useful level, thoughts have little structure, no rules of construction, no hierarchy of meaning or value, the monkey mind’s internal chatter. Information and its deft handling are mistaken for intelligence and intelligence for wisdom. This is not unlike turning the mind over to some French philosopher for deconstruction. The human mind serves only itself. Intellect and information exist for their own sake. Many believe that all thoughts are true, at least to their mind of origin. Everything read can be believed if it meets expectations. And others believe that all is inane, pointless and aimless, false and pre-refuted, ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Here we have tautology, sophistry, cultural dilettantes, cleverness for its own sake, and to no small extent, peer-reviewed academia, sucking up for tenure. There is harmlessness here too, solving puzzles, jousting and sparring, jesting and satirizing, gymnasiums for training the mind. One only hopes that the eloquence and articulation found here can find something useful to do in the end.
The whole point in moving all over the place is to visit and investigate the world from multiple angles or alternate points of view. We don’t stick with one view of things and we stay wary of beliefs and convictions. We don’t just think once and then stop, we think at least twice. And taking a second look at things is the core of the word re-spect. Revisiting ideas also gives us a chance to unlearn before an error takes root. Leaning is an ongoing process. This ongoing effort to penetrate the world is the core of the Yijing’s counterpart, Gua 57, Adaptation or The Penetrating. We reconnoiter before going in, assess before following through, optimize our approaches and occupy niches with fitness and respect. Of course we contradict ourselves: we have choices of frames and perspectives. We have devil’s advocates too. And minions. We are legion.
The Prince is not a Ronin or sword for hire. He wants a higher throne than sophistry can give him. In the end he will need to reduce his thoughts to meanings, to touchstones, paragons and points of references, to useful behaviors and methods, to the sciences and technologies, to arts and humanities. He needs to learn critical thinking skills to question himself as well as the world, to arrange his thoughts according to value, to pick his battles well, to assess the worth of his programs, to subordinate his knowledge and serve his higher purpose. To do this his thought must have feeling. Many will go wrong here with emotional commitment to rigid convictions, fanatic belief, bluster, bravado, and ego involvement. Beware the terrible, swift swords of the misguided crusaders and zealots. They have learned nothing useful. The critical thoughts are best trained first on our own delusions.
access, acumen, ambiguity, ambit, analysis, appraisal, assertion, cleverness, complication, comprehension, comprehensiveness, criticism, development, discrimination, edification, education, elaboration, examination, experimentation, expansion, exploration, extension, extenuation, extrapolation, familiarity, fitness, information, ingenuity, insight, intellect, intelligence, interrogation, investigation, knowledge, learning, meaning, penetration, persuasion, probe, projection, ramification, range, reasoning, reckoning, reconnaissance, reconsideration, references, research, resilience, restlessness, rethinking, spectrum, study, subtle persistence, subtlety, survey, teaching, vision, wit.
Warnings and Reversals:
absurdity, argumentation, belligerence, deception, delusion, dissimulation, error, evasion, extravagance, fallacy, fanaticism, illogic, illusion, imprudence, impatience, indecision, misapprehension, overthinking, preconception, rationalization, self-deception, sophistry, superficiality, tactlessness, tautology.
The Airy part of Air. Breeziness, but the wind only blusters part of the time, with calmer periods between. Air is even slipperier than oil, mercurial and dynamic, yet it has weight and occupies space. The doubling asks what air is responding to, to an environment or to itself?
Astrology: Aquarius Ascending, as the Fixed Air sign, Ruler: Saturn. The experience is referred to thought and idea, wanting resolution, clarification, and consensus. Seeks social and natural order and organization. Creative, inventive, progressive, determined, forward thinking. Ideas are given a telos or goal, a vision of being made real or true.Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 57, Xun, Adaptation, The Gentle, The Penetrating. Da Xiang: Xun (Swords) below, Xun (Prince) above; “Subsequent winds, adapting. The young noble sets forth the higher purpose in carrying out the work.” Both green wood and the wind probe first for openings and subsequently follow through. “Adaptation, in little successes. Worthwhile to have somewhere to go. Rewarding to encounter a mature human being.” Rethinking or thinking twice will allow the mind to find and examine options before moving forward. Intelligence is more subtle than fixed ideas permit. The role model, like the purpose, sets a hierarchy of value for reference.
Queen of Swords
Queen of the Thrones of Air
Accession, Transmission, Challenge, Versatility
Image: A fair and very serious queen beckons to the reader with her left hand, holding an upraised sword in her right. This is a knighting ceremony. She is ready to transmit and share some of her power with you, you poor, lucky bastard. Service is in the future, not in the past, a challenge and not a reward, and if one accepts the dare to strive for greatness, expect big changes in life, and brace yourself, and gird your loins.
I’m not sure whether any Tarot writers have noticed that this card depicts a knighting ceremony, a transmission of license or authority, and a call to step up to a higher level of excellence. Most commentators manage at least to see the solemnity and seriousness of the Queen’s expression, but most seem to take this for deep sorrow and loss, or perhaps widowhood. Her strong character may have developed in hardship, knowing reversal and misfortune. Traditionally, she is independent, regal, perceptive, demanding, disciplined, severe, driven, assertive, intimidating, cold, pragmatic, exacting, versatile, and complex. She is epitomized by the goddess Athena or Minerva, or an Amazon, or a Valkyrie, or a shield maiden. She can also be an ice queen, complete with vagina dentata. Guanyin, the goddess of compassion, she is most emphatically Not. Nor is she Venus, although many commentators suggest that she loves to dance. She has an elastic mind, but it’s used to gain victory, not to vacillate. Today, she might wear a suit in the boardroom, or something really hot in leather. Either way, she is not to be trifled with. This is the other side of the Earth Mother, not the nurturing Empress or Queen of Pentacles, but the one who lets the unfit of all ages get selected out of the gene pool, the one who saves her compassion for future generations. She calls to the best that’s within us.
This is a call to step up, with courage, daring, commitment, and accountability. It’s an intensification and an exigency, a renaming of this time and place with a word of power, a new and higher standard or frame of reference. There are no masks or flattery here. This is a great chance to learn to swim in water way over your head, in a do-or-die sort of way. Compromise and half-heartedness are ill-advised. Posturing and pretense will not survive this. If one is composed of multiple selves, it is time to pull these together. Stepping back, note that all of life is like this. When time stretches out, things seem more relaxed, when time gets compressed, things intensify. But those who know or remember that life is short have a more urgent air. They will want to keep their wits close to hand, and make better use of their sense of mortality and finitude. Even the slow times can use higher standards. If choices in life must be narrowed, why not find some kind of compelling reason for choosing the best we can find?
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 28, Greatness in Excess or Preponderance of the Great, depicts a heavy storm, a surcharge of weather, that could lead to complete inundation. The roof could come down under these lively loads, the rivers rise and bridges wash out. Dispatchers will be called and first responders summoned. Emergency means that you really want to emerge from the far side of this. It is something interesting to go through, and best to go all the way through. We don’t always know what to expect, except that we will be greeting something greater than ourselves. This is a peak experience, a stretching of limits and envelopes, an unleashing of abnormality. Once again, stretched out in time, this is just life, our education. Scrunched together, it’s a pace we didn’t bargain for, but that serves us right for bargaining instead of preparing. Minds encounter a broader world and strategies, a less predictable one. Perceptions change and laws mutate. We want to get to the point and see clearly without much philosophy. Much behavior may be disallowed. Halfwits will not do well. The Queen may be a good judge of character, but she wants it demonstrated. She is only an ally in times of adversity, when she hasn't let us grow lazy and slack.
Stepping up to be tested is the way to get an education, not sitting in back of the class guarding unearned self-esteem and fearing pressure from peers. We toughen up under scrutiny, think and get real fast. Higher bars and standards are set, and the ante goes up. It’s a waking up in a hurry, and a time to walk the talk. It’s not enough to get it right: we want it exactly right, and then to ace the dismount. Critical and crisis come from the same word, a decisive turning point. Once again, this Mother Nature is the force of selection, the half of evolution that below-average folk would rather not be aware of. But the fitness that selection rewards is not what the unfit think it is. Fitness is fitting best into the niche, a sensitivity and an intelligence, and little to do with brute force. This too may seem cruel to the weak and the average, but this is a Queen we are serving here. She does not want our half measures.
accession, arete, assignment, attainment, best judgment, calling, career, challenge, clarity, cogency, command, communication, connections, contacts, crisis, crisis management, criticality, demands, determination, discernment, dispatch, double dare, effectiveness, emergency, employment, enlistment, excellence, exigency, expedition, extremity, fitness, forte, guardian, imperative, intensification, justice, mandate, merit, no nonsense, notice, objectivity, pressure, recognition, reconsideration, recruitment, responsibility, savvy, selection, self-control, self-determination, seriousness, severity, stepping up, strictness, summons, superiority, taking responsibility, transfer, transmission, transmittal, turning point, ultimatum, urgency, versatility, vivification, worth.
Warnings and Reversals:
artifice, averages, bigotry, compromise, cowardice, deceit, flattery, half-heartedness, half measures, irrelevancies, lowest common denominators, malice, mediocrity, narrowness, nonsense, posturing, presumption, prudishness
The Watery part of Air. The watery expression of Air includes waves and pulses in the ocean of atmosphere, the transmission of fluid dynamics, as pressures move from high to low. It is also the adaptability of the fluid air to the form it wraps around, its conditions, movement that is precise and without delay, even more quickly than water responds.
Astrology: Gemini Ascending, as the Mutable Air sign, Ruler: Mercury Prometheus. Concern for the broadening of horizons and relationships, branching out, perceptual mobility, social involvement. Access and accessibility, curiosity, intelligence, association, patternment, encoding. The power of the word and its recall. Second nature, second-handedness, vicariousness, picking knowhow up from others.Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 28, Da Guo, Greatness in Excess, Preponderance of the Great. Da Xiang: Xun (Swords) below, Dui (Queen) above; “The lake rises over the trees. Greatness in excess. The young noble stands alone and undaunted, and steps back from the world without sorrow.” Bubbles and structures under the lake. Adapting in a hurry may be the only hope. “The ridgepole bends. Worthwhile to have somewhere to go. Fulfillment.” Life is contingency. We mutate accordingly. We allow that there is something else that we might change into when we encounter things greater than we are.
King of Swords
Lord of the Winds and the Breezes, King of the Spirit of Air
Proficiency, Repertoire, Resourcefulness, Expertise
Image: A fair, powerful king sits on this throne, leaning forward with both hands on the hilt of his broadsword. A look of intense concentration on his face shows he is about to deliver a judgment or plan. There will probably be no appeal.
The King of Swords has a lifetime of learning behind him, and is now a grownup man with a grownup mind. He is described by commentators as determined, authoritative, professional, commanding, experienced, educated, judicious, skillful, rational, assertive, discerning, tactical, accomplished, articulate, respectable, philosophical, and tough-minded. He might be an diplomat, a dean, a doctor, a lawyer, or a judge, but he also might be an autodidact who needs no certification to be seen as an authority in his field. He can be a self-made man who has earned his position and identity. He can make hard choices like the Emperor, but he can and will explain them. He is, in Castaneda’s terms, a ‘man of knowledge, claiming knowledge as power.’
All four Kings have specific life lessons to learn, that will pull their whole character together to optimize the best qualities of their suit. This King wants adaptive learning and thought. He must grasp that even what there is to be known evolves while we are learning what used to be true. He cannot be a know-it-all, but must retain a degree of humility when it comes to his lifelong learning. Pedantry and inflexibility get broken by forces of change. Arrogance just gets embarrassed. Authority is a thing for authors, and people find out when you don’t really have it. It’s good to move around, to flex our better judgment and try out our different attitudes. Even the path that’s most proper to us takes turns and winds around obstacles. To truly follow that path is to keep the same goal but also keep changing directions.
This is what we become with our lifetime of educational experience, our database of knowledge and algorithms, the tricks that we’ve picked up on the way, our contacts and repertoire, our assembly of methods and strategies, our masteries and our proficiencies, our cognitive and attitudinal toolkits and skill sets. our collections of knowledge and wits. These slowly become second nature. We do not need to accumulate everything that we need to get by, and the eclectics have the least crap to carry around in their heads. Sometimes it’s enough just to have the right connections, or to know the way to the useful resources. This accumulated wisdom is analogous to momentum and is as good as accumulated mass or energy. Knowing how to take hold of a thing when we need it is as good as owning the thing. We learn to interact and cooperate with our environments, even while we are making changes to them. In particular, the Swords are most concerned with our social and technological surrounds. The King must know how things work, from natural law to black markets. Where he cannot be fully informed, at least he knows a guy.
The Yijing counterpart, Gua 32, Continuity or Duration, embodies this dynamic of interactive adaptation while maintaining a sense of purpose and direction. Even if we are disciplined, we still have the freedom between disciplines. If we are learned, we can still admit error and do some needed unlearning. This means to know our own anti-cognitive processes, that defend what we have already learned from the newer and better wisdoms. Thoughts are for using and not for defending. It is not vacillation to change when change is made for the better, especially when the culture or world keeps changing. The model for the Gua is the weather, which only seems to come and go, but in fact is a dynamic system of climate circling the globe. This Gua works in larger contexts, as does a king over larger realms than the palace. He is connected to the culture at large, and to history. Perseverance here is not always predictability, or continuing a sameness: it’s continuously upgrading our life skills.
This King is in an interesting position in that he is arbiter of the rules and laws that he is also charged with making. Hypocrisy here sets a lousy example, so he must be careful with ethics. Principles, standards and justice mean something here, but so does their right application, which returns us to adaptive flexibility. The law has both letter and spirit, and the king must make both work together. While most law takes a worst case scenario and generalizes this to all times and places (just to be fair), the best government is still that which governs the least. This asks for integrity and conscientiousness from the King. Consistency, then, is a bit more important than constancy. Over a long reign with many changes, the principles evolve to continue to make sense.
accomplishment, acumen, adaptive principles, adaptive thinking, adroitness, alliance, assertion, authority, command, comparison, compass, competence, comprehension, connectedness, connections, consistency, constancy, content, continuity, coordination, decisiveness, determination, discernment, disciplinarian, discrimination, enforcement, experience, expertise, integrity, interactivity, ingenuity, intellect, judgment, jurisdiction, knowhow, leadership, learnedness, logical counsel, mastery, maturity, mental dexterity, plugged in, principles, profession, professional ambition, proficiency, qualification, repertoire, resilience, resourcefulness, seniority, skill, skill sets, standard, superiority, wisdom.
Warnings and Reversals:
arrogance, condescension, disconnection, domineering, guild monopolies, hypocrisy, inflexibility, malice, pomposity, prejudice, protectionism, pursuit of a matter to ruin, ruthlessness, sarcasm, self-glorification, self-importance, severity,
The Fiery part of Air. The force of the climate, as weather, seems to come and go, yet this is inter-connected, with the trade winds, storms and doldrums. Consistency is more than constancy, self-succession more than sameness, as truer measures of endurance. The invigorating spirit of the tempest is also in the gentle breeze.
Astrology: Libra Ascending, as the Cardinal Air sign, Ruler: Venus Lucifer. A personality configuration characterized by mental leadership, passionate thought and a sense of justice that is not watered down. Will take the potential of an idea and bring it about, but without insisting it go through no changes. Applied intelligence, evaluation, mediation, appraisal. Fair, impartial, judicious, diplomatic.Qabalah: Not a very useful source of ideas here.
Yijing: Gua 32, Heng, Continuity, Duration. Da Xiang: Xun (Swords) below, Zhen (King) above; “Thunder and wind. Continuity. The young noble makes a stand without changing bearings.” The dynamics of climate and its traveling storms. Dynamic balance in change. “Fulfillment. Nothing is wrong. Worthwhile to be persistent. Worthwhile to have somewhere to go.” Keeping to to the path or vow, holding true throughout the outer or superficial changes may yet allow for substantial changes if the spirit, principle and ethics of the matter remain consistent.
Ace of Pentacles
Root of the Powers of Earth
Seed, Realization, Preconditions, Gestation
Image: A coin-like disk is held up from below, engraved with a five-pointed star, the form of Solomon’s Seal, the Pentagram or the Pentalpha of Pythagoras, the top point up, each point engraved with an elemental sigil. This is an item consecrated to an incipient future, whether as a talisman to invoke a force or an amulet to ward one off.
Traditional interpretations of this card suggest such things as material gain, prosperity, profit, attainment, perfection, security, contentment, comfort, and invocation of aid. But it is too soon in the progression from Ace to Ten to be seeing much fulfillment or watching any rapid progress. This situation needs more cultivation and care. There is potential to be nurtured, or raw talent to be developed. This is about basics and first things first. The Ace of Pentacles speaks to the conditions needed for an idea to become a reality, a proposal to become a business, an invention to become a prototype, a seed to become a plant, or an egg to become an animal. It is not wealth, as many would have it, but it may be an opportunity for wealth. It might be the core of a good idea, or a need for a new beginning. It behaves like the seed particle that a raindrop or snowflake forms around. A set of necessary and sufficient conditions acts as a cause for an increase in existence, attracting material and promoting development, growth in layers of accretion, without much internal force or substance to drive the process at first. Slowly, energy freezes into physical form, verbs slow down into nouns, light cools off into thingness. Materialization should not imply a lack of light or spirit, merely an investment, and that just for a time. When we look closer, the mystery of it all still shines through the ordinary.
Three conditions must be met for things to come into being, or for entities to come to life and thrive. Prohibitive conditions must be out of the way. Supportive conditions must be in place. And the necessary information must be present to inform the new formation.
Getting to the beginning, a crack appears in the sidewalk and the seed of a weed washes in. A promising niche opens up and little is there to stop it from being exploited. There may be a need for a thing to occur, a problem that wants a solution. The new thing is somehow enabled or allowed into being. Some real-world potential has its prerequisites and preconditions met. Zoning allowances and site conditions permit a house to be built. The feasible or viable thing is offered a niche in which to take root. The new thing may be welcomed by society because there is trust and good faith. Sometimes the obstacle is the young thing itself.: perhaps it's overly complex, or lacking in humility, or lacking in parsimony. Perhaps security is too big an issue and the thing won’t let its shell come undone. Here, all but the essential and the germane might need to be surrendered. We might need to want even less than what we now have. The word capacity can mean both emptiness and power. When the prohibitive conditions are out of the way, it can mean both at once.
Next, a thing will need support to get started. The seed wants to land in good soil. The business plan wants some demand and investors. The patent wants some venture capital. The research project wants a grant. The new crop wants a field. The new field wants a down payment. The new life wants its wherewithal. The poker winnings want an ante. Resources must not only be available: they need to be available at a sustainable rate of use, and one hopes for lots longer than the life of the thing. The thing wants purchase, as in a place to begin, a place on which to stand, a basis, an environment to sustain it. The mountain peak wants a base much wider than itself, and it may have to give up some of its height to get this. This is the image of the Yijing counterpart, Gua 23, Decomposing or Splitting Apart, whose core meaning is stripping away the inessentials to get to essence of things. Things not germane are expendable now. In lightening up, we carry on with less but with a greater stability or greater potential. A breakdown in prohibitive or superfluous conditions that still leaves the essentials intact is what we want in order to move forward.
Finally the thing wants the needed instructions. This is the DNA, the prospectus, the patent, the blueprint, the business plan, the discovery, the mission statement, the brief statement of goals and objectives, some common sense and basic business savvy. This is compact information, like the constitution sets the form of a government, or the zygote implies the adult. While evolution and life produce the myriad beings without holding this essence or plan in advance, it has still become part of the process.
abridgment, ante, antecedent, basics, beginning, capitalization, conception, consolidation, constitution, core, cornerstone, crystallizing, curtailment, embryonics, essentials, fertile eggs, founding, foundations, fundamentals, germ, germaneness, germination, gestation, getting ready, grounding, groundwork, implementation, incubation, initial investment opportunity, laying claim, necessities, opportunity, parsimony, patent, preconditions, preparation, prerequisites, purchase, raw material, raw talent, realization, requirements, reward, root, rudiment, security, seed, seed money, simplification, source, stabilization, stake, start-up, substance, substantiation, substructure, support, sustainability, sustenance, underpinning, venture, wherewithal.
Warnings and Reversals:
avarice, baggage, corruption, discontent, failure, false security, fool's gold, frivolousness, greed, haughtiness, impatience, inessentials, insignificance, irrelevance, opulence, over- exploitation, overindulgence, priorities reversed, unfitness, unsuitability, unsustainability.
Ace plus Pentacles. Ideas begin to materialize, congeal, solidify, or take tangible shape. Invested energy will be disproportionate to the mass of a product. A royal battle is fought between titanic animals for the sake of tiny DNA molecules. Massive amounts of energy potential and information are invested in tiny bits of matter.
Astrology: Saturn in Earth Signs and Houses (GD: 0° Capricorn). Shows a concern for security, order, reliability, practicality and economy. Down to earth and discriminating. Ambitious but patient and prudent, not overreaching security concerns.
Qabalah: Kether in Assiah. Idea condensing, congealing, crystallizing into cncrete form, verbs turning into nouns, energy turning into mass, light freezing into solid form.
Yijing: Gua 23, Bo, Decomposing, Splitting Apart. Da Xiang: Kun (Ace) below, Gen (Pentacles) above; “The mountain depends on the earth. Decomposing. Superiors are generous to subordinates, confirming their positions.” The towering mountain surrenders some of its height for the sake of a broader, more stable base. “Not worthwhile to have somewhere to go.” It is a time to shed things not needed, dead weight, shells, husks. Getting down to the germane, or the seed to the germ that sprouts.
Two of Pentacles
Harmonious Change, Interplay, Dynamic Equilibrium, Affirmation
Image: (Modified) A large stone, once roughly spherical, has split in two. A jagged crack divides them. The figure vaguely resembles the Taijitu. Into and through the crack a wild flower has sent its roots. The Smith deck depicts a juggler managing two pentacles circulating within a lemniscate form. Boats ride on high sine waves in the background.
The Two of Pentacles is sometimes titled harmonious change, and is said to suggest such properties and things as agility, flexibility, juggling, multitasking, deftness, financial dexterity, profitable partnership, difficult or challenging situations, precarious balance, full hands, handiness, sleights of hand, changes of occupation, getting with the rhythm of change, harmony in mid-change, a playful approach to change, stimulating developments, coping with competing demands and the deftness needed to handle two situations at once. In simpler terms, things are in motion here and want some skillful handling, as distinct from mishandling, if one wants any say in the outcome.
Things have a way of working themselves out. Each thing has its own way, which may or may not be the same as the ways some others have. There are learnable or predictable responses to the interaction of internal forces with environmental conditions. In the West this is called natural law, in the East, the Dao or the Way. A thing following its original nature has a natural behavior. This can be symbolized by an uncarved piece of wood, which, unlike an unformed lump of clay, will have a natural grain, suggestive of natural inclinations or a direction. Looked at naively, this makes even inanimate things appear to have intent, or to be operating according to some plan or purpose. When we learn the way of things, we begin to see where things seem to want to go. Our lives get a lot easier when we want these things to go that way too. When we want to change their direction, we learn a little more about different responses to different conditions and then add those to the mix in sufficient quantities. To choose a new path for a thing without regard to givens, or the facts of existence, our lives become more challenging. It is best to want rivers to take the most direct downhill route that snakes between its obstacles. Such a path is also taken by weather, lightning, roots and the young. One who acts with this knowledge appears to have mastered things, but he is merely obeying their discoverable natural laws.
The Two is best understood here as the before and after of change, even when there are yin and yang, heaven and earth, checks and balances, ups and downs, men and women, or rights and lefts in play. The world just isn’t as simple as yin-yang theory would have it, although this simplified model can sometimes help us to manage our worlds. Our ups and downs can be leveraged. If we buy low and sell high, we can even profit in the bear markets. It is important to understand the interplay and the inter-regulation of what we may perceive to be opposites. Simplicity emerges from that, and direction. Patterns of alternation are the rhythms of the world and its concert. The harmonies interconnect us when we can be in tune.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 11, Interplay, often incorrectly called Peace. This depicts Heaven and Earth moving together in concert. Contrary to popular belief, the original Yijing preceded any sort of Yin-Yang theory by many centuries, yet the Gua diagram is the closest the original Changes comes to having a Taijitu, the familiar Yin-Yang symbol. In this chapter, the interplay of forces is energetic, productive and highly creative. In humans, one type of this intercourse makes human children. In the text we are advised to move with the way things are moving. A willingness to adapt and go with the flow allows us to harness the world's inertia. This way, the world is inclined to move with us instead of against us, which can often be mighty convenient, and a most productive arrangement. And if we need to steer things the tiniest bit, we have some energy saved from mostly not fighting the world.
The idea here is to get things done by cooperating with the world and its natural laws. Because of the synergies involved, things can get relatively energetic or dynamic here. This is why Peace is such a poor name for the Yijing counterpart. What to do may be clear, and even simple if we are seeing shining paths, but change is still inclined to be dynamic and demanding of a fuller attention, as implied by Smith’s juggler. We make our best luck here by capturing available opportunities and using the world’s momentum or inertia as our primary source of kinetic energy. This is like imbalance, but in a forward direction instead of side to side. Thus we lean into the change, and get up to speed, when it is hanging back that would overwhelm us. To go the way things are already going is not doing, but it’s not doing nothing.
accommodation, accord, affirmation, agreement, alliance, ambivalence, assent, balance, centeredness, change, circulation, concurrence, conducting, cooperation, correspondence, creativity, dance, dao, dynamic adjustments, dynamic equilibrium, dynamism, exchange, flexibility, flow, fluctuation, flux, grace, graceful transition, greased grooves, gyroscopics, harmonious change, harmony, interaction, interchange, interplay, inter-regulation, knack, momentum, natural law, nimbleness, optimizing, poise, process orientation, progression, quickening, quickness, reconciliation of opposites, relatedness, rhythm, smooth runnings, suppleness, synergy, time's arrow, transformation, transition, versatility, vitality.
Warnings and Reversals:
adversarialism, balance mismanaged, blundering, clumsiness, concern, disagreement, discord, dualism, extreme swings, false joy, fumbling, imbalance, inconsistent action, isolation, manic depression, out of control, out of touch, polemics, recklessness, ungain- liness, worry.
Two plus Pentacles. Directed materialization, the dynamic movement of change through time, making use of the dynamic tension of opposites, in concert. Direction into forward motion. Organized progress. The weaving of forces together. A natural grain or direction of things which can often look like intention but often is not.
Astrology: Uranus in Earth Signs and Houses (GD: 0°-10° Capricorn, Patron: Jupiter). Finds a higher order in the material, challenged to find new methods and applications in working with powers that be. Approaches appear original but they come from reading the way things work. Problem solving and pragmatic behavior. May sense the more efficient pathways by finding lines of least resistance. Established methods are less important than optimum results.
Qabalah: Chokmah in Assiah. Wisdom in the material. There is what looks like a telos or purposefulness in the world of matter, but this belongs to higher forms of life. Across the spectrum, the way of things is obedience to natural law.
Yijing: Gua 11, Tai, Interplay, Peace. Da Xiang: Qian (2) below, Kun (Pentacles) above; “Heaven and earth interact. Interplay. Their heirs enrich and complete heaven’s and earth’s natures, confirm and reciprocate their proper order, supporting and protecting the people.” Division and disconnection unplugs beings from an infinite power supply in the momentum of the universe. We reconnect and heal this. “Smallness departs, greatness arrives. Promise and fulfillment.” We learn what we can of the natural law and accept the forces around us to live life with the greatest effect.
Three of Pentacles
Work, Participation, Contribution, Tikkun
Image: A master craftsman is putting the finishing touches on an ornate temple piece, featuring a sculpted triptych of symbols. A monk and a nun look on. The artist is not of their order and might even be fully secular. He might do this as a donation or he might take money or trade. His name might not be signed here, the work being dedicated to something higher than himself. The work will outlive him.
Traditionally the Three of Pentacles refers to a spectrum of kinds of work that we do in the world, but always on a level above drudgery and tedium, and preferably higher still, on the level of journeyman or master. As such, common interpretations speak to skill in work or trade, craftsmanship, material endeavors, gainful employ, beneficial arrangement, collaboration, cooperation, working with others, commission, sponsorship, patronage, contribution, growth, building, expansion, development, material increase, prestige in a vocation, mastery, dignity, and renown. A combination of key words for the Three and the Pentacles suggests “understanding the material,” which might be taken in the sense of knowing the possibilities of the medium in which we work, and also understanding what it means to be living embodied in this material existence.
For the secular and apophatic mystics, this material world is our home, and its nature is our nature. Alan Watts wrote, “You did not come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave comes out of the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” Similarly, the highest that one can rise in Zen is everyday suchness, and the highest circle of attainment in Zen’s Oxherding Pictures brings us back to the world, with gift-giving hands. Nobody here is getting free from the chains of matter and flying off to join ascended masters in all-white spirit realms. This is the secular sort of mysticism that some real scientists like to explore. And it’s the grounded and earthy understanding of this card. There is a sacredness in the ordinary that is worthy of referent respect. This is what we put into our higher work, a dedication and consecration to higher states and purposes, to the best that’s within us. This is dignity and humility both. Mohammed explained why: 'Because Allah has no other hands than yours.' We pay our rent in this world, out of reverential respect and gratitude. We elevate and redeem the lowly material. The Kabbalists call this Tikkun, mending the world. The Hindus call the work Karma Yoga. It is service by which we heal the false or illusory divisions between matter and spirit, and in this service there is at least enough selflessness to broaden our sense of who and what we are, confirm our character, and expand our horizons of time and our influence in the grander scheme of things.
We get here by coming home, by finding and knowing our place and settling right in. This is Wendell Berry’s home world, and we belong here as well. We own ourselves and possess what little domain we might have. This is our sacred trust, our own dominion and our responsibility, and we are its stewards. It’s ours to accept and approve. If we practice good nichemanship, if we manage to fit in here, then we have the fitness that Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin praised as a key to evolution. It is to be noted that to accept our place in the grander scheme of things is not an end to our more ambitious behaviors, but only a place to begin. Acceptance is not the same as approval, it is merely to start out with the facts. We can still make things better by our dedicated service and consecrated works and contributions.
This card is about participating in the world as though we belonged here, about getting involved, partaking in wholeness, working at creation and coevolution, expanding and extending ourselves in the process. We chop wood and carry water and find our nobility in this. Worth has more value here than gain. Honest labor and labors of love confirm our place in this world. From this place we make art. We realize and materialize our spirit, we don’t help it to escape.
The Yijing counterpart is Gua 02, Accepting or the Receptive. There is a bit of stoicism to the chapter as the endurance and perseverance of the mare is celebrated. It speaks of tolerance, contentment, patience, accommodation and affirmation as free assistance to our sense of belonging. But this is also the place that we begin from, the capacity or power of possibility. Existence gives us a lot of givens, and a lot of raw material. To the extent we can accept this as a great gift, with gratitude, it is ours to work with.
accepting, allowance, appreciation, attending, augmentation, collaboration, commission, competence, comprehension, consecrated work, contribution, cooperating, coordinating, dedicated work, demonstration of ideals, doing our share or part, donation, embrace, employment, endeavor, extension, foundation, generous action, generosity, gifting, gifts, givens, giving, grant, grounding, grounds, growth, higher purpose, higher work, input, involvement, karma yoga, labors of love, largesse, naturalness, occupation, participation, paying your rent, persistence, potential, presence, raw material, realism, right livelihood, setting examples, simplicity, substance, taking part, tikkun, tolerance, understanding, undertaking, upholding, work.
Warnings and Reversals:
absence, cheap ideas, contempt, denial, disjointed existence, disrespect, dissociation, drudgery, escapism, frivolity, fugue, half-heartedness, idleness, indolence, ingratitude, mediocrity, pettiness, settling for less, slacking, slip-shoddiness, sloppiness, whining, wrong livelihood.