Number Theory in Action

Occult number theory – whether Pythagorean or qabalistic – is one of my favorite ways to extract additional information from the cards in a spread. The geometric axioms of Pythagoras evolve from the Monad (the Point, or Number One) to the Decad (the Decahedron, or Number Ten), while the qabalistic approach follows the descending flow of elemental energy on the Tree of Life from the first emanation, the entirely spiritual sphere of manifestation at the top, to the tenth emanation, the wholly material expression of reality at the bottom. At each way-point, the metaphysical interpretation of the resident number becomes more complex and nuanced, and in the Tree of Life model, more concrete. This is especially useful when dealing with the 40 numbered suit cards, but it has more specialized applicability to the 22 trumps, and can be used to some extent with the 16 unnumbered court cards.

In her excellent book, The Tarot Decoded, Elizabeth Hazel talks at length about “sets” (multiple occurrences of the same number or type of card in a reading) and “series” (runs of cards similar to the “straights” used in playing card games). In practice, a number of Fours could suggest that maintaining present stability is a priority for the querent, even at the expense of lost opportunities, while several Fives can show that stability is seriously lacking. One requires a conservative or defensive stance to remain in a steady state of balance, while the other demands explicit action to counter the chaotic impulse and restore balance, as indicated by the suits involved. An abundance of Aces (the static Point) can reflect a great deal of potential but not much happening yet (realization of that promise comes with the Twos – the more dynamic Line), while many Tens can mean an excess of passivity brought on by exhaustion of the initial thrust inherent in the Twos. In the Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley provides extensive examples of numerical correspondences between the small cards and the Tree of Life.

I personally get the most mileage out of the series. A Four followed by a Five implies that the complacency of the Four is due for a shake-up as the chaotic energy of the Five bears down on it. In that sense, the Five is a necessary corrective for the stagnation of an elemental force that has reached the limit of its first expansive urge and stalled there, resistant to further growth. In these situations I sometimes think of the Fives  as “can-openers” or “nut-crackers” (and, more graphically, as “laxatives”) that clear  the way for a return to equilibrium in the more gratifying and harmonious Sixes. The Four was a comfortable resting place but it offered only temporary fulfillment, constricted in its level of satisfaction and in need of a figurative “kick in the pants” to drive further progress.  Even when these cards aren’t directly adjacent in the spread, if they are of the same suit and appear in ascending order in the sequence I still read them as a series modified by the intervening cards. They stand out both as a preponderance of their particular suit and as a coherent advancement of the numerical hierarchy.

Here is a partial list of divinatory meanings for the first ten numbers:

Aces: An anticipated beginning.

Twos: A period of give-and-take.

Threes: A period of growth and progress.

Fours: A period of consolidation.

Fives: A period of challenge and upset.

Sixes: A period of harmony restored.

Sevens: A period of renewed initiative and testing.

Eights: A period of adjustment and reaction/overreaction.

Nines: A period of re-centering and reconciliation.

Tens: A period of rest and relative inactivity.

With the trump cards, numerological derivation enters the picture. Each of the Major Arcana from One (the Magician) to Ten (the Wheel of Fortune) has one or more higher-numbered trumps that are considered “numerological counterparts,” in that the values of the upper-tier card(s) can be numerologically reduced through addition to yield the same number as the lower-tier card. For example, the Wheel of Fortune has the Sun as its counterpart since 19 can be summed as 1+9 to produce “10,” the number of the Wheel, while the Magician has two counterparts: the Sun can be further reduced (1+9=10 and 1+ 0 =1, the Magician) and the Wheel can be reduced to “1” in the same way. Thus, these cards all share some of the qualities of the Aces, although the higher-numbered trumps have a more galvanizing range of expression than the vertical “above” and “below” of the Magician.

Another way to assess it is by direct numerical association: all of the Aces have commonality with the Magician, all of the Twos with the High Priestes, the Threes with the Empress, the Fours with the Emperor, the Fives with the Hierophant and so on up to the Tens, which have an affinity with both the Magician and the Wheel as noted above. The rest are brought into the fold by numerological reduction: the eleventh trump relates to the High Priestess, the twelfth to the Empress, the thirteenth to the Emperor, etc. Certain interpretive parallels can be drawn between the cards by examining their numerological relationships. Only the Fool, as Zero, stands apart from these philosophical iterations.

Many readers dismiss the court cards from any consideration of numerical or numerological analysis because they are unnumbered. I find this exclusion to be a mistake; every card on the table can be subjected to any of the techniques in the reader’s toolbox. The court cards Page through King can be assigned the numbers Eleven through Fourteen, bringing them into play for any of the manipulations described above, and for others like the quintessence calculation. Another method of correspondences aligns the court cards with four of the key spheres on the Tree of Life: the Father (Kings and the Number Two); the Mother (Queens and the Number Three); the Son (Knights or Princes and the Number Six); and the Daughter (Pages or Princesses and the Number Ten). Not all of these systems of symbolism are universally compatible, though, so the reader should pick one and stay with it. I use the Eleven through Fourteen numeration since the four court cards fill those slots in the suit sequence, making for a logical progression.

For anyone of an analytical temperament, these permutations can not only be enormously instructive but also a great deal of fun.

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