Are We Having Fun Yet?

I guess you could call me an “accidental professional.” Will I read for the public, for pay? Sure, if the circumstances are right. Do I obsess about getting paid for my efforts? Not by a long shot. I learned to read the cards – and to cast and interpret horoscopes and geomantic charts – mainly because it’s fun, and secondly because it’s fascinating to explore alternatives to the conventional (and almost entirely mechanistic) scientific rationale for how the Universe works. A few extra coins to buy a new deck or book are certainly appreciated, but it’s not something I count on; if I must, I simply refrain from buying them for a while, until the lust subsides or the items become less readily available. That’s what the Amazon wish-list is for: a “time-out” or “cooling-off” locker for the hopeless addict who already has too many decks and books anyway.

The clarion-call of internet marketing gurus is “Monetize! Monetize!” Those of us who have information-sharing blogs that experience even a moderate amount of traffic are intermittently pestered by shills who want us to let them place ads on our sites for a pittance in revenue. I write because it brings me great pleasure to exercise my command of language, and I pay for the privilege of posting my thoughts here. I also publish  in professional journals – for no monetary compensation other than a free copy of the magazine – because seeing my name in print is flattering and rewarding enough. If I ever get sufficiently motivated to actually write a book, that will be a different matter, but for now the “fun factor” transcends the mercenary allure. (Besides, as Terry Pratchett wrote in The Monstrous Regiment, “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to those who think they’ve found it;” in short, if I ever start imagining myself as some kind of “Master,” I might as well give up the chase and just descend into bored indifference.) This life-long pursuit leads me down many interesting byways, of which the following discussion offers a prime example.

Back in the 1970’s there were numerous highly competent and dedicated people who were convinced that astrology could be turned into an empirical science. Those who have been exposed to the statistical work of Michel Gauqulin and the harmonic theories of John Addey will know what I’m talking about. Many hours of computer time were expended compiling and analyzing minute bits of natal data to support this hypothesis, but there has been little progress in that direction (at least in Western astrological circles) since 1976. People just don’t seem very interested any more, although working a birth-chart through the series of major harmonics is still an enlightening endeavor (and, of course, Vedic astrologers see that as a key element of their discipline). But Addey established one general assumption, rooted in the philosophy of Plato’s Timaeus, that has significant relevance and usefulness to the practice of tarot divination:

“Time is an image of eternity flowing according to number,” supporting the proposition that astrology – and in a parallel sense, tarot – is “the study of effects in the world of flux and change.”

The operative principle here is the concept of number as the unifying theme and the very foundation of the chronological understanding of mundane developments. Esoteric number theory applied to the interpretation of tarot cards – and especially to the 40 minor or “pip” cards – is an extremely fruitful way to decipher the emergence and ramification of universal energy in its classical expression as “elements:” Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Both the Pythagorean and Qabalistic (“Tree of Life”) views on the evolution of number in elemental form have a bearing on how the series of a minor suit unfolds: the Number 1 – or Ace – represents the nascent potential in the suit, the Point that has neither mass nor direction, being entirely formless in the realm of pure spirit, while the Number 10 – considered by Pythagoras to be the “perfect number” but in tarot terms a developmental post-script to the “completion” of the Nine –  literally embodies the “final resting place” of the chain of increasingly concrete emanations from the elemental root: the material world. Each of the numbers in between those extremes produces an incremental elaboration of the original idea behind the suit, allowing the reader to fashion a narrative of increasing structural coherence and complexity.

My purpose here isn’t to provide an exhaustive enumeration of the occult qualities of each integer. In Part IV, “The Small Cards,” of The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley did an admirable job of explaining at least the Qabalistic perception of  the flow of elemental energy. For a more Pythagorean approach, Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy has a section devoted to each number up to 12, but it has religious overtones that I find less convincing than the simple geometric bases of Pythagoras; once the Number 5 is exceeded, the logic diverges into more mystical territory and recedes in practical value (at least in my own experience), yielding to the more pertinent Tree of Life model. A much more convoluted but ultimately more satisfying examination of number theory is offered by Joseph Maxwell in The Tarot, and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn co-founder W. Wynn Westcott published a miscellany of esoteric interpretations in Numbers, Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, available as a free PDF download from However, I still haven’t found the “Holy Grail” of information sources on occult number theory (although Iamblichus and Thomas Taylor are still on that infamous wish-list). What I can’t do in good conscience, at least at this point, is recommend any of the “what’s my lucky number/will I win the lottery?” books on modern numerology as a reasonable place for a beginner to start.

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