When reading the pip cards as a numeric sequence in accordance with esoteric number theory (both Pythagorean and Hermetic), the Sevens, Eights and Nines present a unique conundrum because they depart from the elegant geometric simplicity of the first six numbers. This makes them more difficult to conceptualize in metaphysical terms without relying on prior philosophical assumptions – many of them rooted in spiritual or religious paradigms – of dubious value to practical interpretation. Here I will focus on the Sevens and Eights, which I have found particularly confounding in a mundane sense.
Elizabeth Hazel, in her excellent book The Tarot Decoded, suggests that they are mystical and palliative numbers, respectively, but this doesn’t square well with the qabalistic view of “the Descent of Spirit into Matter” exemplified by the Tree of Life. Transmuting “force” into “form,” spiritual energy becomes more enmeshed in physical reality and therefore more stable and reliable but also more constrained in its fluidity of expression the further it travels down the Tree. Aleister Crowley noted that the Sevens (and by extension the Eights) are “doubly unbalanced; off the middle pillar, and very low down on the Tree.” Joseph Maxwell characterized the odd numbers as seeking balance, implying that they lack such innate fulfillment, while the even numbers are striving to remain poised under the evolutionary pull of external change. Both the Sevens and Eights are caught in the onrushing, downward spiral of devolution (which Crowley described as “the gradual exhaustion of the original whirling energy”) following the momentary respite of the Sixes. They imply a sloughing off of the outworn excrescences of the Sixes and a struggle to revitalize the elemental pulse in a coherent and pragmatic way. In the overall scheme of things, they give the unmistakable impression that “the bottom is about to fall out” after the pleasant interlude of the Sixes, or maybe that a purging “flush” is imminent; even at their best they aren’t especially promising cards in most of the suits.
Hazel considers the Sevens to represent a “need to clarify,” and a “test” of the stabilizing urge of the Solar Sixes that may have outlived its usefulness, while the reactionary Eights signify a partial restoration of the balance lost in the process, suggesting a corrective pendulum-swing of redirected force that may over-compensate. (She also calls Eight the “sum of effort,” expressing the concept of “4+4.”) Although his pronouncements were often harsh, Crowley made a vivid observation in this regard. The Seven, he proposed when speaking of the suit of Cups, represents a “corruption” of the stagnant bounty of the Six that no longer serves the purpose of elemental expansion, signaling a systemic breakdown of what the Greeks called the “second perfection.” The Eights complete the alchemical analogy by symbolizing “putrefaction” or a cleansing reduction of the wastage left by the Seven in order to reinstate the conditions for further refinement of the energy (perhaps through a Mercurial force of will rather than the gentler regenerative powers of Venus). What follows is an eventual purification and “re-centering” of the elemental energy in the Lunar Nines (the Greeks’ “third perfection”). A telling analogy is that of agricultural manure, which is a toxic bacterial sludge when spread, but through the mellowing agencies of time and weather, transforms into a stellar fertilizer.
The Sevens embody complexities and conflicting impulses. As odd numbers, they represent a post-apocalyptic echo of the fiercely disruptive Fives that eliminated all obstacles to emanation of the Sixes. If the Martial Fives “break eggs to make omelets,” the Venusian Sevens rummage through the stale remnants of the Sixes in search of that last morsel of ham. A high degree of bedeviling detail coupled with being pulled in different directions by circumstances can result in not being able to “see the forest for the trees,” which in turn can stall progress until all is sorted out. The Eights come under the sway of Mercury, so their method is predominantly mental, and their unbalanced, low-energy state makes their signature mode of expression anxiety, or in slightly more constructive terms, obsession with petty details. Unproductive vacillation or frittering away of energy are other possibilities. Together, they “check and adjust” one’s advancement.
Thus, the experience of the Sevens and Eights in series can be likened to that of learning to ride a bicycle. Leaving the comfortable stability of the Sixes behind, one first wobbles this way (Seven) and then that (Eight), One is an unnerving departure from balance and the other is a corrective “steering” – and perhaps “over-steering” – maneuver. The first is a “gut” reaction (“Oh no, I’m going to fall!”) resulting in an uncontrolled jerk of the handlebars, while the second is a quick mental calculation of how much to jerk them back in the other direction. The outcome is a swerving path that hopefully spells forward progress and not skinned elbows and knees!