Tarot 101, My Way – Minor Arcana: The Nines

The number Nine marks the end of the series of simple numbers; the Ten is more of a postscript, the “jumping-off place” for a return to Unity (Ten reduces numerologically to One: 1+0 = 1). As such it is considered the completion and fulfillment of the promise of the Ace of each suit. Zoroaster said it “attains the summit of perfection,” and I read somewhere that the Greek philosophers held it in esteem as the “Third Perfection” after the Three and the Six.  Aleister Crowley  described it as delivering “the full impact of the elemental force, but in its most material sense.” The Spirit that was sprung from the Ace is now almost fully clothed in Matter, fitted for its mission in the phenomenal world symbolized by the “full stop” of the Ten but also largely constrained by its incarceration in substance.  In Crowley’s view the evolution (or, in his term, multiplication) of the number series from the One to the Nine serves to “degrade and complicate” it. There were hints of this in his observations on the Sevens and Eights (which he described as a “double excursion into misfortune”), but it reaches full flower upon the return of the descending elemental force to the middle pillar on the Tree of Life (the seat of the “great crystallization of Energy”). Nine is a lunar number that, in the qabalistic model of the Universe,  represents the creative inspiration investing every form of material expression in the outer world. It suggests the metaphysical blueprint or framework on which objective reality is erected.

In the tarot, Nine has both positive and negative connotations. In the suits of Cups and Pentacles, which operate to a considerable degree in the realm of sensation, it is almost completely at home. In the more abstract Wands and Swords it is conflicted; the former, as the least encumbered form of energy, is antithetical to its stolid nature,  while the latter is inherently disruptive, which with the Nine is “raised to its highest power.” The images in the cards of both the Thoth and RWS decks bear this out in large measure.  Although I’m not entirely comfortable with the Golden Dawn’s (and by extension, Crowley’s) naming of the Wands card as “The Lord of Great Strength” because the astrological correspondence of Moon in Sagittarius seems more tentative and elementally disjointed than overpowering, the Thoth image perfectly summarizes its qabalistic import; the RWS version does a better job of capturing the wary vigilance that lunar inconstancy advises. In Cups, both decks express the gratifying fullness of the Nine to good effect, while in the Swords both display the  often overbearing ruthlessness of mental excess. In Pentacles (or Disks), the cards of both decks are salubrious.

The Minor Arcana: Nine of Wands

Titles:

The Lord of Great Strength

Astrological Correspondence:

Moon in Sagittarius, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Tremendous and steady force that cannot be shaken. Herculean strength, yet sometimes scientifically applied. Great success, but with strife and energy. Victory preceded by apprehension and fear. Health good and recovery, yet doubt. Generous, questioning and curious, fond of external appearances, intractable, obstinate.”

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

“The card signifies strength in opposition. If attacked, the person will meet an onslaught boldly; and his build shews that he may prove a formidable antagonist. With this main significance there are all its possible adjuncts—delay, suspension, adjournment. Reversed: Obstacles, adversity, calamity.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

(General) ”After the double excursion into misfortune, the current returns to the middle pillar, (to) the seat of the great crystallization of Energy. But it takes place very far down the Tree. Each of these cards gives the full impact of the elemental force, but in its most material sense; that is, of the idea of the force. Zoroaster says: “The number Nine is sacred, and attains the summit of perfection.” Egypt and Rome, also, had Nine Major Deities. ”

(Specific) “The Nine of Wands is called Strength. It is ruled by the Moon. Of all important doctrines concerning equilibrium, this is the easiest to understand, that change is stability; that stability is guaranteed by change; that if anything should stop changing for the fraction of a split second, it would go to pieces. It is the intense energy of the primal elements of Nature, call them electrons, atoms, anything you will, it makes no difference; change guarantees the order of Nature. This is why, in learning to ride a bicycle, one falls in an extremely awkward and ridiculous manner. Balance is made difficult by not going fast enough. So also, one cannot draw a straight line if one’s hand shakes. This card is a sort of elementary parable to illustrate the meaning of this aphorism: “Change is Stability.” Here the Moon, the weakest of the planets, is in Sagittarius, the most elusive of the Signs; yet it dares call itself Strength. Defence, to be effective, must be mobile. The Nine represents always the fullest development of the Force in its relation with the Forces above it. The Nine may be considered as the best that can be obtained from the type involved, regarded from a practical and material standpoint. ”

Discussion:

Crowley himself doesn’t seem overly thrilled by the assertion that the Moon in Sagittarius spells “great strength;” his argument regarding “the weakest of the planets” being yoked to “the most elusive of the signs” is hardly overturned by the statement that the Moon “dares to call itself Strength.” The notion of a mobile defense suggests that evasion and avoidance are its forte, the feint rather than the bold frontal assault its most effective tactic. These aren’t attributes of brute strength, they are associated more with crafty maneuvering and the advantages of field position. They bring to mind the aphorism “Discretion is the better part of valor.” The Thoth card simulates a stout barrier fronted by a single champion bearing the sigils of the Sun and Moon; there is certainly nothing “mobile” about it, except perhaps as implied by the arrows that make up the barrier. But again, lightly armored archers don’t rely on the strength of the hand-to-hand combatant, they bank on distance and fleetness of foot to save themselves in battle. The RWS card similarly shows a bloodied warrior standing at the ready in front of a wall of staves. Waite’s definition of “strength in opposition” may be more to the point; the warrior’s mettle is brought to the fore when vigorously tested, but it recedes into the background at other times. Maybe “strength in reserve” rather than manifest strength is a better way to look at it. This bears out Crowley’s stipulation under the Eights that in the mutable signs (of which Sagittarius is one) “the force is fading away.”

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘bloodied but unbowed’ card (aka the ‘last stand’ card),” and a few additional keywords include vitality, ardor, creativity, mobility, adaptation to change.

The Minor Arcana: Nine of Cups

Titles:

The Lord of Material Happiness (Mathers); Happiness (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Jupiter in Pisces, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Complete and perfect realisation of pleasure and happiness almost perfect. Self-praise, vanity, conceit, much talking of self, yet kind and lovable, and may be self-denying therewith. High-minded, not easily satisfied with small and limited ideas. Apt to be maligned through too much self-assumption. A good, generous, but, maybe, foolish nature.”

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

“Concord, contentment, physical bien-être; also victory, success, advantage; satisfaction for the Querent or person for whom the consultation is made. Reversed: Truth, loyalty, liberty; but the readings vary and include mistakes, imperfections, etc.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Nine of Cups is called Happiness. This is a peculiarly good card, because happiness, as the word implies, is so much a matter of luck: the card is ruled by Jupiter, and Jupiter is Fortune. In all these watery cards, there is a certain element of illusion; they begin by Love, and love is the greatest and most deadly of the illusions. The sign of Pisces is the refinement, the fading away of this instinct, which, begun with dreadful hunger and carried on with passion, has now become “a dream within a dream”. The card is ruled by Jupiter. Jupiter in Pisces is indeed good fortune, but only in the sense of complete satiety. The fullest satis faction is merely the matrix of a further putrefaction; there is no such thing as absolute rest. A cottage in the country with the roses all around it? No, there is nothing permanent in this; there is no rest from the Universe. Change guarantees stability. Stability guarantees change. The Number Nine, in the suit of Water, restores the stability lost by the excursions of (the Seven and Eight) from the Middle Pillar. It is also the number of the Moon, thus strengthening the idea of Water. In this card is the pageant of the culmination and perfection of the original force of Water. The Ruler is Jupiter in Pisces. This influence is more than sympathetic; it is a definite benediction, for Jupiter is the planet which represents Water in its highest material manifestation, and Pisces brings out the placid qualities of Water. It is the most complete and most beneficient aspect of the force of Water.”

Discussion:

In the RWS universe, I call this the “fat, dumb and happy” card; some versions (notably the Morgan-Greer) positively reek of smug self-satisfaction. In relationship readings, it suggests being wise in the ways of love and in it for the long haul, unlike the infatuated “puppy love” of the 2 of Cups or the wistful yearning of the 6 of Cups. The man in the image could be counting his blessings. There are no emotional surprises in this steady-state environment, but, as always, Aleister Crowley damns it with faint praise by saying that it represents the satisfaction of “complete satiety;” in other words, that overstuffed and woozily bilious feeling of having indulged too heartily. (Could that man with all of his cups lurking behind him be a closet alcoholic?) There are overtones of “too much of a good thing” and “familiarity breeds contempt” about it. Looking at the Thoth 7, 8 and 9 of Cups side-by-side is illuminating; the “Happiness” depicted by Harris in the Nine is decidedly wan, as if recovery from the near-fatal illness of the Seven and Eight has just gotten underway. The water is flowing merrily again but the color scheme expresses sober relief rather than outright joy. It is benignly pleasant enough but not ecstatic by any means; that distinction belongs to the Wands.

The “metaphorical euphemism” for this card is “The ‘fat, dumb and happy’ card,”  and several additional keywords  are near-perfect pleasure and contentment, wishes fulfilled.

The Minor Arcana: Nine of Swords

Titles:

The Lord of Despair and Cruelty (Mathers); Cruelty (Crowley)

Astrological Correspondence:

Mars in Gemini, 10°—20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Despair, cruelty, pitilessness, malice, suffering, want, loss, misery. Burden, oppression, labour, subtlety and craft, lying, dishonesty, slander. Yet also obedience, faithfulness, patience, unselfishness, etc., according to dignity.”

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

“Death, failure, miscarriage, delay, deception, disappointment, despair. Reversed: Imprisonment, suspicion, doubt, reasonable fear, shame.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

”The Nine of Swords is called Cruelty. Here the original disruption inherent in Swords is raised to its highest power. The card is ruled by Mars in Gemini; it is agony of mind; thought has gone through every possible stage, and the conclusion is despair. There is the acrimonious taint of analysis; activity is inherent in the mind, yet there is always the instinctive consciousness that nothing can lead anywhere. The number Nine brings back the Energy to the central pillar of the Tree of Life. The previous disorder is now rectified. But the general idea of the suit has been constantly degenerating. The Swords no longer represent pure intellect so much as the automatic stirring of heartless passions. Consciousness has fallen into a realm unenlightened by reason. This is the world of the unconscious primitive instincts, of the psychopath, of the fanatic. The celestial ruler is Mars in Gemini, crude rage of hunger operating without restraint; although its form is intellectual, it is the temper of the inquisitor. There is, however, a way of dealing with this card: the way of passive resistance, resignation, the acceptance of martyrdom. Nor is an alien formula that of implacable revenge.”

Discussion:

As is often the case, Crowley’s singular vision is more valuable than that of the other two esoteric masters combined. He makes no bones about this being a thoroughly nasty card. The observation “it is agony of mind; thought has gone through every possible stage, and the conclusion is despair” alone is worth its weight in gold. Personally, I see few redeeming qualities in this card. Some writers call it the “Dark Night of the Soul” with compelling justification. It shows the terror of midnight, and daybreak is a long way off. It is considered one of the worst cards in the deck, even more vile than the 10 of Swords, which at least has a new dawn peeking over the distant horizon. It shows the depths of despair with no relief in sight. On careful examination, though, it can be seen that the points of the nine swords in the RWS version terminate beyond the right border of the card, suggesting that “the rest of the story” lies in the immediate future (although the fact that the 10 of Swords beckons from that direction is small consolation). It evokes a pallid, enervated echo of the “no pain, no gain” scenario of the 3 of Swords, but there is little energy here to strike a blow for mental liberation. Edgar Allan Poe could be its patron saint, or perhaps Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues, who wrote”

“Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.”

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘dark night of the soul’ card (aka the ‘it’s darkest before the dawn’ card);” here is a short list of additional keywords:  despair, agony of mind, suffering, frustration, restlessness.

The Minor Arcana: Nine of Pentacles

Titles:

Lord of Material Gain.

Astrological Correspondence:

Venus in Virgo, 10° to 20°

Commentary:

Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Complete realisation of material gain, inheritance, covetousness, treasuring of goods and sometimes theft, and knavery. All according to dignity.”

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

“Prudence, safety, success, accomplishment, certitude, discernment. Reversed: Roguery, deception, voided project, bad faith.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley)

“The Nine of Disks is called Gain. The suit of Disks is much too dull to care; it reckons up its winnings; it does not worry its head about whether anything is won when all is won. This card is ruled by Venus. It purrs with satisfaction at having harvested what it sowed; it rubs its hands and sits at ease. As will be understood from the consideration of the Tens, there is no reaction against satisfaction as there is in the other three suits. One becomes more and more stolid, and feels that “everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” The number Nine inevitably brings back the balance of Force in fulfilment. The card is ruled by Venus in Virgo. It shows good luck attending material affairs, favour and popularity. This signifies the multiplication of the original established Word – by the mingling of “good luck and good management.” As a general remark, one may say that the multiplication of a symbol of Energy always tends to degrade its essential meaning, as well as to complicate it.”

Discussion:

The RWS version of this card presents a conundrum. The woman in the image would seem to have everything she needs and is completely at ease in her surroundings, but the hidden truth is that she will receive nothing more: there is no visible portal  through the hedge that borders her garden, so she has no access to additional resources. She must make do with whatever is at hand (not that it seems to be such a daunting prospect at the moment). There is a languorous complacency about this card that invites eventual decline into decadent self-indulgence. Like the residents of The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” she is “just a prisoner here of (her) own device.” Representing the harvest time of September, Virgo stands on the doorstep of winter with scythe in hand, but Venus is the “don’t worry, be happy” planet and channels the blasé Grasshopper more than the industrious Ant of Aesop’s fable.  I get the impression that winter will find her unprepared, and am reminded of the lyrics from the country-rock song Ventura Highway: “This town don’t look good in snow.” The colors employed by Harris in the Thoth card look earthy and fruitful as befits its title of “Gain.” There is nothing remarkable about the card from a story-telling standpoint; it is stable and neutral; steady accumulation seems to be assured.

“Metaphorical euphemisms” for this card are “The ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ card (aka the ‘Hotel California’ card),” and additional keywords include material gain, goods, riches, harvest, fruitfulness, inheritance.

 

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