Tarot 101, My Way – Minor Arcana: The Sixes

According to Wikipedia,  “(Greek) mathematicians, including the mathematician-philosopher Pythagoras, proposed as a perfect number, the number 6, (which) was believed perfect for being divisible in a special way: a sixth part of that number constitutes unity; a third is two; a half — three; two-thirds is four; five-sixths is five; six is the perfect whole.” It satisfies Aristotle’s second definition of perfection: “That is perfect which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better.” In the esoteric tarot, harmony (or more properly, harmony restored), balance and success are all qualities of the number Six. Aleister Crowley considered the Sixes to be “representative of their respective elements at their practical best.”  As the number of the Sun, it is self-supporting, stable and steady in its expression. And yet, he took pains to make it clear that, although Six is the “center of the whole system” (of Qabalistic number theory), it is a temporary state of rest, “hardly won, and almost impossible to hold in an ever-changing world.” Generally, though, the Sixes were interpreted to mean the “definite accomplishment, and carrying out of a matter;” active integration of forces; perfected effort; practical attainment.

In the Thoth deck, although there are hints of growing uneasiness in the color scheme, Crowley and Harris captured the admirable equilibrium of the Sixes quite well.  The RWS versions, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The 6 of Wands is on-target in its celebratory image and the 6 of Swords implies the mental voyage of discovery that Crowley called “Science;” but the 6 of Cups and the 6 of Pentacles strike me as two examples among the Minor Arcana where Pamela Colman Smith’s prosaic scenes hijack the deeper esoteric content of the Golden Dawn model conveyed so well in the Thoth deck and The Book of Thoth. I will discuss this in detail in the card-specific sections of this post.

 

The Minor Arcana: Six of Wands

Titles:

Lord of Victory

Astrological Correspondence:

Jupiter in Leo, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Victory after strife, success through energy and industry, love, pleasure gained by labour, carefulness, sociability and avoiding of strife, yet victory therein. Also insolence, pride of riches and success, etc. The whole depending on dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“The card has been so designed that it can cover several significations; on the surface, it is a victor triumphing, but it is also great news, such as might be carried in state by the King’s courier; it is expectation crowned with its own desire, the crown of hope, and so forth. Reversed: Apprehension, fear, as of a victorious enemy at the gate; treachery, disloyalty, as of gates being opened to the enemy; also indefinite delay.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

(General) “It is the centre of the whole system; it is balanced both vertically and horizontally. In the planetary system it represents the Sun. It represents consciousness in its most harmonized and balanced form; definitely in form, not only in idea, as in the case of the number Two. The four Sixes are thus representative of their respective ele ments at their practical best.”

(Specific) “The Six of Wands is called Victory. The outburst of energy in the Five of Wands, which was so sudden and violent that it even gave the idea of strife, has now completely won success. This shows Energy in completely balanced manifestation. The Five has broken up the closed forces of the Four with revolutionary ardour. The reference is also to Jupiter and Leo, which seems to imply a benediction on the harmony and beauty of this arrangement. The rule, or lordship, in the suit of Wands is not quite as stable as it might have been if there had been less energy displayed. So, from this point, as soon as the current leaves the middle pillar, the inherent weakness in the element of Fire (which is this: that, for all its purity, it is not completely balanced) leads to very undesirable developments.”

Discussion:

Except for its impermanence, there is little negative to be said about this card. Unjustified pride and overconfidence would seem to be its chief faults. It is an ideal influence for the furtherance of any enterprise requiring initiative and enthusiasm. It advises “strike while the iron is hot,” for the opportunity to act might be fleeting, but it can also be read as “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” To me, the “victory” expressed in this card looks like a cause for celebration even more than that shown by the obvious “party” atmosphere of the RWS 4 of Wands. Some interpreters see envy in the attitude of the onlookers in the RWS card, which may lead to the fall of the triumphant rider. Others see the rather misshapen mount as depicting a “stage” horse with actors under its caparison, suggesting that the knight’s victory was won by riding on the backs of his supporters. Nonetheless, it is an excellent card for success.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘pride goeth before a fall’ card (aka the ‘overconfidence’ card),” and a brief list of additional keywords includes gain, joy, health, recognition, pleasure earned, success after strife.

 

The Minor Arcana: Six of Cups

Titles:

Lord of Pleasure.

Astrological Correspondence:

Sun in Scorpio, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Commencement of steady increase, gain and pleasure, but commencement only. Also affront, defective knowledge, and in some instances, contention and strife, arising from unwarranted self-assertion and vanity. Sometimes thankless and presumptuous. Sometimes amiable and patient, according to dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“A card of the past and of memories, looking back, as—for example—on childhood; happiness, enjoyment, but coming rather from the past; things that have vanished. Another reading reverses this, giving new relations, new knowledge, new environment, and then the children are disporting in an unfamiliar precinct. Reversed: The future, renewal, that which will come to pass presently.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Six of Cups is called Pleasure. This pleasure is a kind of pleasure which is completely harmonized. The zodiacal sign governing the card being Scorpio, pleasure is here rooted in its most convenient soil. This is pre-eminently a fertile card; it is one of the best in the pack. Pleasure, in the title of this card, must be understood in its highest sense: it implies well-being, harmony of natural forces without effort or strain, ease, satisfaction. Foreign to the idea of the card is the gratification of natural or artificial desires. Yet it does represent emphatically the fulfillment of the sexual Will.”

Discussion:

I have a quarrel with the whole “nostalgia” angle that Waite brought to the interpretation of this card, since it deviates so markedly from his Golden Dawn source material. The image suggests that Smith was on an entirely different page and Waite went along with her. Crowley’s commentary intimates a more “mature” form of pleasure than might be assumed from the interaction of two innocent children. The longing for a lost childhood that underlies much of the modern interpretation of this card seems like a “red herring” that leads the reader astray (although there are some suspicions about the intent of that man walking away in the background, who some see as “Peter Pan” and the children as “Lost Boys”). The idea of pure pleasure, regardless of its source, seems more to the point. I see it as a card of emotional fulfillment and satisfaction, nothing more. Crowley’s observation that this card is “one of the best in the pack” makes it an inspiring influence to see in a relationship reading.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘Neverland’ card, where nobody grows up (aka the ‘don’t worry, be happy’ card”); a few additional keywords

The Minor Arcana: Six of Swords

Titles:

The Lord of Earned Success

Astrological Correspondence:

Mercury in Aquarius, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Success after anxiety and trouble. Selfishness, beauty, conceit, but sometimes modesty therewith, dominion, patience, labour, etc., according to dignity.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Journey by water, route, way, envoy, commissionary, expedient. Reversed: Declaration, confession, publicity; one account says that it is a proposal of love.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Six of Swords is called Science. Its ruler is Mercury, so that the element of success turns away from the idea of division and quarrel; it is intelligence which has won to the goal. The perfect balance of all mental and moral faculties, hardly won, and almost impossible to hold in an ever-changing world, declares the idea of Science in its fullest interpretation.”

Discussion:

This is a card of mental acuity and the perfected accomplishment of the “bright idea” formulated in the Ace of Swords. The RWS version has a morose feel that doesn’t square well with the core meaning of the number Six, although it does suggest tentative progress toward the goal that was envisioned at the journey’s inception. The important thing is that it shows being “in transit” toward the destination, but it is unclear whether the boat has just left the dock or is nearing the far shore, so the imminence of arrival is uncertain. Also, the purpose of the swords at the front of the boat is ambiguous; are they there to defend stoutly against “sea monsters” who might terminate the adventure prematurely, or are they just “running interference” for minor inconveniences along the way? (My opinion is that it’s the latter, given the fortunate tone of the Six.)  Although – like the 3 of Swords – there is an emotional quality to it that belies its cognitive nature, it depicts the intellectual pursuit of answers and is ultimately a mental quest. It suggests an unsettled mind. The Thoth 6 of Swords entertains no such conjecture; it is crystalline in its clarity.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘betwixt-and-between’ card (aka the ‘unsettled mind’ card”); here are a few additional keywords: mental works, painstaking care, innovation, creativity.

 

The Minor Arcana: Six of Penatcles

Titles:

Lord of Material Success

Astrological Correspondence:

Moon in Taurus, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Success and gain in material undertakings, power, influence, rank, nobility, rule over the people. Fortunate, successful, just and liberal. If ill-dignified, may be purse-proud, insolent from success, or prodigal.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Presents, gifts, gratification; another account says attention, vigilance; now is the accepted time, present prosperity, etc. Reversed: Desire, cupidity, envy, jealousy, illusion.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Six of Disks is called Success; the ruler is the Moon. This is a card of settling down; it is very heavy, wholly lacking in imagination, yet somewhat dreamy. Change is soon coming upon it; the weight of earth will ultimately drag the current down to a mere eventuation of material things. Yet the Moon, being in Taurus, the sign of her exaltation, the best of the Lunar qualities are inherent. Moreover, being a Six, the solar Energy has fertilized her, creating a balanced system for the time being. The card is worthy of the name Success. Remember only that all success is temporary; how brief a halt upon the Path of Labour. The Number Six, as before, represents the full harmonious establishment of the Energy of the Element. The Moon in Taurus, while increasing the approach to perfection (for the Moon is exalted in Taurus and therefore in her highest form) marks that the condition is transient.”

Discussion:

This is the second of the RWS Sixes that I think misses the point. The Golden Dawn title is “Lord of Material Success.” There is no mention of charitable giving or gifts of any kind, it’s all about the well-earned fruits of one’s labor.  The most I can get out of Smith’s image is that the obviously well-off man feels uneasy about his extravagant wealth and is trying to salve a guilty conscious by giving some of it away. The fact that he seems to be favoring one beggar over the other is really immaterial to the interpretation of the card. The concept of charity is entirely foreign to a card whose true calling is making money hand-over-fist, not passing it out, no matter how discriminating the man’s judgment appears to be; the very idea seems a bit soft-headed. I ignore Waite’s meanings for this card even more than those for the 6 of Cups and stick with the idea of material gratification. It really should show the merchant from the 3 of Wands greeting his returning ships at the dock and collecting his profits.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ’embarrassment of riches’ card (aka the ‘salving a guilty conscience’ card”); additional keywords include settling down, stabilization of circumstances, good fortune.

 

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