Tarot 101, My Way – Minor Arcana: The Sevens

My favorite all-purpose definition for the Sevens comes from Elizabeth Hazel’s The Tarot Decoded. Where Aleister Crowley considered them entirely negative (“The four Sevens are not capable of bringing any comfort; each one represents the degeneration of the element”), Hazel views the Sevens as showing an irresistible urge to take a  step in a new direction, away from the idle complacency of the Sixes and into unknown territory. As such they also represent a test or a trial, and require clarification  of the goal before that first foot is planted on untrodden soil. Some see Seven as a holy number that has benevolent connotations, but on the Qabalistic Tree of Life it is, in Crowley’s words, “doubly unbalanced; off the middle pillar and very low down on the Tree.” Even its astrological correspondence to Venus, the “Lesser Fortune,” can’t save it from the dilemma of being mired in earthly  travail. (Crowley: ” . . . the greatest catastrophe that can befall Venus is to lose her Heavenly origin.”) As noted in my previous post, “The Sevens and Eights,” 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. Thus there is a dynamic tension between the Sixes and the Sevens that makes it impossible to stand still.

Hazel, whose work is also grounded in the Hermetic Qabala, has a more nuanced take, suggesting that the Seven is twin to the Five on the opposite side of the Tree. Where the former clears the way for a restoration of harmony, the latter recognizes that sustained harmony can produce monotony, and moves to shake things up. Unlike the Fives, however, this is not a sudden, compulsive and chaotic reaction to stagnant conditions but a more gradual realization of the need for renewed growth, and the possibilities thereof. As with the Sixes, the Thoth Sevens are exquisitely evocative of the challenges present in these cards. The Wands and Swords depict the desperate plight of “the one against the many,” while the Cups and Disks convey corruption and deprivation; they are not an encouraging bunch. For their part, Waite and Smith fare a little better here than with the Sixes. The Wands and Cups are suitably unsettled, and the Swords card shows a literal “stepping away” (even though the usual interpretation doesn’t highlight this fact); only the 7 of Pentacles is off-key, looking more like a momentary pause in the harvest than an expression of “Success Unfulfilled” (Golden Dawn) or “Failure” (Crowley). In broad (that is, Golden Dawn) terms, the Sevens “generally show a force transcending the Material Plane,” and  ” . . . a possible result which is dependent on the action then taken.” (Frankly, though, this is true of any card in the deck.)

 

The Minor Arcana: Seven of Wands

Titles:

Lord of Valour

Astrological Correspondence:

Mars in Leo, 20° — 30°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Possible victory, depending upon the energy and courage exercised; valour, opposition, obstacles, difficulties, yet courage to meet them, quarrelling, ignorance, pretence, wrangling and threatening, also victory in small and unimportant things, and influence over subordinate. Depending on dignity as usual.”

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

“”It is a card of valor, for, on the surface, six are attacking one, who has, however, the vantage position. On the intellectual plane, it signifies discussion, wordy strife; in business—negotiations, war of trade, barter, competition. It is further a card of success, for the combatant is on the top and his enemies may be unable to reach him. Reversed: Perplexity, embarrassments, anxiety. It is also a caution against indecision.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

(General) “The position is doubly unbalanced; off the middle pillar, and very low down on the Tree. It is taking a very great risk to descend so far into illusion, and, above all, to do it by frantic struggle.  The four Sevens are not capable of bringing any comfort; each one represents the degeneration of the element. Its utmost weakness is exposed in every case. The Seven is a weak, earthy, feminine number as regards the Tree of Life, and represents a departure from the balance so low down on the Tree that this implies a loss of confidence”

(Specific) “The Seven of Wands is called Valour. Energy feels itself at its last gasp; it struggles desperately, and may be overcome. This card brings out the defect inherent in the idea of Mars. Patriotism, so to speak, is not enough. Fortunately, the card is also attributed to Mars in Leo. Leo is still the Sun in his full strength, but the marks of decadence are already to be seen. It is as if the wavering fire summoned the brutal energy of Mars to its support. But this is not enough to counteract fully the degeneration of the initial energy, and the departure from equilibrium. The army has been thrown into disorder; if victory is to be won, it will be by dint of individual valour – a “soldiers’ battle.”

Discussion:

For once, I agree with Waite: I see the man in the RWS 7 of Wands as “holding the moral high ground” in the altercation. However, I’m not as optimistic about his prospects for success; he strikes me as a military scout who has encountered far more than he can handle and is on the verge of flight as suggested by the next card, the 8 of Wands. Its esoteric title, Valour, may mean “extraordinary courage in the face of daunting odds,” but as Crowley observed, “Patriotism is not enough.” In practical reading, I advise seekers to be alert for growing opposition, and to look to their defenses before the storm breaks. As always, forewarned is forearmed, and it may be best to “fight fire with fire.” Another pertinent aphorism is ” The best defense is a good offense.” Seize the advantage when it presents itself.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘fight fire with fire’ card (aka the ‘from the frying pan into the fire’ card),” and a brief list of additional keywords includes courage amidst opposition, self-confidence against difficulties.

 

The Minor Arcana: Seven of Cups

Titles:

Lord of Illusionary Success (Mathers); Debauch (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Venus in Scorpio, 20°—30°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Possibly victory, but neutralized by the supineness of the person. Illusionary success. Deception in the moment of apparent victory. Lying, error, promises unfulfilled. Drunkenness, wrath, vanity, lust, fornication, violence against women. Selfish dissipation. Deception in love and friendship. Often success gained, but not followed up. Modified by dignity.”

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

“Fairy favors, images of reflection, sentiment, imagination, things seen in the glass of contemplation; some attainment in these degrees, but nothing permanent or substantial is suggested. Reversed: Desire, will, determination, project.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Seven of Cups is called Debauch. This is one of the worst ideas that one can have; its mode is poison, its goal madness. It represents the delusion of Delirium Tremens and drug addiction; it represents the sinking into the mire of false pleasure. There is something almost suicidal in this card. It is particularly bad because there is nothing whatever to balance it – no strong planet to hold it up. Here recurs the invariable weakness arising from lack of balance; also, the card is governed by Venus in Scorpio. Her dignity is not good in this Sign; one is reminded that Venus is the planet of Copper, “external splendour and internal corruption.”

Discussion:

The rather sinister overtones of the RWS version of this card are often overlooked in the general understanding that it simply means “fantasy,” or maybe “too many choices” leading to confusion. The Thoth card leaves no shadow of doubt in this regard; there is absolutely nothing whimsical or discretionary about it. Illusion (and perhaps delusion) is at the forefront of its interpretation, along with the unsavory taint of corruption. Crowley considered this corruption to be the necessary initiator of a two-phase alchemical process (the other being putrefaction [aka “rotting”] in the 8 of Cups), leading to reduction and recombination in the 9 of Cups; in other words, an essential prelude to transmutation. He certainly could have picked a more lucid title for the card than “Debauch;” I think he was too enamored of the salacious Venus in Scorpio implications, and what he called “the obscene and shameful secrets of a guilty conscience.” If one stretches a bit, some of this sleaziness can even be glimpsed in the RWS 7 of Cups despite our typically blasé efforts to ignore it.

“Metaphorical euphemism” for this card is “The ‘I don’t know what it is, but I’ll know it when I see it’ card;” a few additional keywords are success gained then lost, deceit, error, promises unfulfilled.

 

The Minor Arcana: Seven of Swords

Titles:

The Lord of Unstable Effort (Mathers); Futility (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Moon in Aquarius, 20°—30°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Partial success, yielding when victory is within grasp, as if the last reserves of strength were used up. Inclination to lose when on the point of gaining through not continuing the effort. Love of abundance, fascinated by display, given to compliment, affronts and insolences, and to detect and spy on another. Inclined to betray confidences, not always intentional. Rather vacillating and unreliable, according to dignity as usual.”

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

“Design, attempt, wish, hope, confidence; also quarrelling, a plan that may fail, annoyance. The design is uncertain in its import, because the significations are widely at variance with each other. Reversed: Good advice, counsel, instruction, slander, babbling.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Seven of Swords is called Futility. This is a yet weaker card than the Seven of Wands. It has a passive sign instead of an active one, a passive planet instead of an active one. It is like a rheumatic boxer trying to “come back” after being out of the ring for years. Its ruler is the Moon. The little energy that it possesses is no more than dream-work; it is quite incapable of the sustained labour which alone, bar miracles, can bring any endeavour to fruition. The comparison with the Seven of Wands is most instructive. The intellectual wreckage of the card is thus not so vehement as in the Five. There is vacillation, a wish to compromise, a certain toleration. But, in certain circumstances, the results may be more disastrous than ever. This naturally depends upon the success of the policy. This is always in doubt as long as there exist violent, uncompromising forces which take it as a natural prey as if there were a contest between the many feeble and the one strong. He strives in vain. This card, like the Four, suggests the policy of appeasement.”

Discussion:

The Thoth version of the 7 of Swords is entirely transparent; it shows the futility of opposition (Crowley: “He strives in vain,” or in Borg terminology, “Resistance is futile”). The RWS version is a different beast. Waite even admits that the intent of the various “significations” is uncertain. Does it mean theft? Does it mean plans that have gone awry? Does it mean deception? Mathers’ definition of “vacillating and unreliable” seems as good as any. I take my cue from the fact that the man in the image is stepping away to the left (usually seen as the past) but he is looking back over his shoulder to the right, toward the future, clearly conflicted about his next move. He may only be wary of pursuit, but it strikes me that he has unfinished business there; he is just retreating to regroup (or maybe to sell off his spoils), and will come back to finish the job before the enemy soldiers in the background realize what happened. In practical terms, it could be read as “get while the gettin’ is good,” perhaps bowing to the inevitability of discovery and skulking away. It advises against getting too “cute” with your maneuvering (unless, of course, you happen to be Niccolo Machiavelli). “Palace intrigue” would be one way to think of it; in other words, be careful whom you let into your confidence because they may have a hidden agenda.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘false pretenses’ card (aka the ‘conflicted intentions’ card);” here is a short list of additional keywords: passivity, moodiness, loss of energy, vacillation, doubt.

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The Minor Arcana: Seven of Pentacles

Titles:

The Lord of Success Unfulfilled (Mathers); Failure (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Saturn in Taurus, 20°—30°. L. .

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Promises of success unfulfilled. (Shown in the symbolism of the rosebuds, which do not as it were come to anything.) Loss of apparently promising fortune. Hopes deceived and crushed. Disappointment. Misery, slavery, necessity and baseness. A cultivator of land, and yet is loser thereby. Sometimes it denotes slight and isolated gains with no fruits resulting therefrom, and of no further account, though seeming to promise well. According to dignity.”

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

“These are exceedingly contradictory; in the main, it is a card of money, business, barter; but one reading gives altercation, quarrels—and another innocence, ingenuity, purgation. Reversed: Cause for anxiety regarding money which it may be proposed to lend.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Seven of Disks is called Failure. This suit gives the extreme of passivity; there is no positive virtue in it. This card is ruled by Saturn. Compare it with the three other Sevens; there is no effort here; not even dream; the stake has been thrown down, and it is lost. That is all. Labour itself is abandoned; everything is sunk in sloth. The number Seven has its customary enfeebling effect, and this is made worse by the influence of Saturn in Taurus. The atmosphere of the card is that of Blight.”

Discussion:

The RWS version of this card dances around the obvious. The only nod it makes to the idea of “success unfulfilled” is the fact that the unmotivated farmer has only managed to harvest one “coin” and is already taking a break, resting on his hoe and apparently daydreaming. It’s common to interpret this card as “delay,” but it looks lackadaisical to me and expresses distraction more than forced suspension of effort. The Thoth card, reflecting Saturn in Taurus, is stubborn to a fault, and the failure it depicts is almost willful, like “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” There is every reason to believe that the harvest will spoil before it’s gathered because the farmer has not bent to his task. The diligence that surfaces in the 8 of Pentacles is nowhere to be seen here. In practical terms, it may reflect being satisfied with less than full value for your efforts, or perhaps not getting paid in a timely manner.

The “metaphorical euphemism” for this card is “The ‘unfinished business’ card,” and a few more useful keywords are hopes deceived and crushed, loss of motivation, hardship.

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