A Study in Facing, Part 3: Pip Cards

The Minor Arcana, or “pip” cards, of the RWS deck are by far the most diverse population from a directional standpoint, since there are more cards that I would classify as “ambiguous.” This includes cards with posture/gaze misalignment and cards with multiple figures that give no clear sense of facing or “visual flow.” There are 12 cards in the left-facing (past) category, 14 cards that display a neutral (present) orientation, and 12 cards that face toward the right (future). The ambiguous cards include the 9 of Wands, the 4 of Cups, the 7 of Swords, the 9 of Pentacles, the 5 of Wands, the 10 of Pentacles, the 6 of Cups and the 2 of Pentacles. While the 4 of Swords, the 8 of Swords and the 10 of Swords appear to have nominal directionality, they are really going nowhere so they are binned with the neutral subgroup.

Pip Facing.JPG

Of the left-facing group, the figure in the 9 of Wands appears to be glancing warily over his shoulder, perhaps thinking that the momentarily vanquished enemy is sneaking up on him. The man in the 4 of Cups has his hands full with the current crop of goblets, but another one is appearing stage-left, demanding his attention. Both of these individuals are firmly rooted in the present, but their past threatens to overtake them.  The 7 of Swords is the most conflicted card of the bunch, stealthily retreating back the way he came but strongly compelled to rehash his recent adventure, clearly plotting another foray. The woman on the 9 of Pentacles is comfortable with what her past life has brought her, but she can’t help anticipating more. What I’ve always noticed about this card is that there is no path leading out of her garden, so she is essentially a prisoner of her own success. The little bird, which has the freedom to fly wherever it wishes, is her only solace. The figures or scenes in the rest of the cards in this subgroup either face or flow decisively to the left, and are interested in what they may be leaving behind.

Of the neutrally-oriented subgroup, the facing of the 5 of Wands is a toss-up that will be decided by the outcome of the battle, the 4, 8 and 10 of Swords are essentially static and bereft of purpose, and the 10 of Pentacles shows three generations that appear to be at cross-purposes with no clear trajectory.  The rest of the cards in this population are unmoved by “time or tide” (although the 7 of Wands remains so only by sheer force of will), reflecting immersion in the present with no consideration of anything outside of the moment.

Of the right-facing subgroup, I decided that the man on the 3 of Wands – although he appears to be facing directly away from the observer – has his right arm outstretched toward a future which is symbolized by the merchant vessels starting out on their voyage. The 6 of Cups earns inclusion due to the left-to-right visual flow of the image, with the older child giving way to the younger one; although a common interpretation of this card is “nostalgia,” its trajectory bets on a future “refresh” or “reboot” of one’s stale emotional state, not on memories of the past. The figure on the 2 of Pentacles is struggling to maintain his equilibrium through fancy footwork, but his gaze is firmly fixed before him and not behind. The rest of the cards leave no doubt about the direction in which they are facing, and their interest in what awaits them is apparent in the images.


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