The Visual Quintessence: Six Ways to Summarize

I titled this post “The Visual Quintessence” because I’m going to show the six ways the quintessence card can be calculated in a series of photographs.

You will frequently see me mention and apply the “quintessence” (or “quint”) card in my tarot readings. The quintessence is a way to summarize all (or, as we shall see, most) of the cards in a spread in a single Major Arcanum or trump card through what is called numerological reduction. The most common way to do this is to add up the face values of all the cards to produce a single sum and then – if the number is larger than 21 (for example, 24) – add the digits together to come up with a single-digit number (2+4 = 6).  The quintessence card in this case would be the Lovers. You can also “cast out nines,” a technique in which 9 is removed from the sum until you arrive at or below a value of 21 (the number of the World). In my example, 24-9 = 15, the Devil; you can either stop there or take away 9 once again to get to the Lovers (15-9 = 6). Casting out nines gives you the flexibility to accept the quint that best fits the context of the reading. A final way, one which I’ve only seen described once, is to simply subtract 22 (the total number of trump cards) from a sum larger than that number to arrive at a smaller value. The example gives us 24-22 = 2, the High Priestess.; if your original sum is large enough, this can also yield a double-digit number. No matter how you slice it, the quintessence is read as additional information that can offer a big-picture perspective on the outcome shown in the original reading; it can be especially useful when that outcome is inconclusive.

My understanding is that the quintessence first appeared in early French cartomancy, in a method called tirage en croix. I first encountered it in the work of the late German tarot writer Hajo Banzhaf, who insisted that the court cards (which have no numbers on them) should be excluded from the calculation, obviously following Alejandro Jodorowsky’s lead. The other oddity is that, in order to come up with the Fool as quint, you have to renumber it as 22 since numerological reduction can never produce zero. If you choose not to do this, and also leave out the court cards, you can wind up with a quint card that is an incomplete expression of the cards in the spread. My opinion is that all of the cards on the table should be represented in the roll-up. A third consideration is that there is no allowance for factoring in reversals; the cards are enumerated the same way whether upright or reversed.

I’ve never liked these workarounds, so I decided to: a) include the court cards as 11 through 14, and b) subtract the face value of any card that turns up reversed, permitting reduction to zero and even allowing for a negative number, and therefore a reversed quint. For someone who reads reversals, this is only logical.

The first photo shows the result of calculating the quint with no reversals and no court card values, and each subsequent picture changes it up slightly. The five cards in all of these example are the Sun, the 4 of Pentacles, the 5 of Cups, the Ace of Pentacles and the King of Pentacles, numbering 19, 4, 5, 1 and either null or 14 depending on the chosen approach to court cards.

In the first example, the math gives 19+4+5+1+null = 29, and 2+9 = 11, Justice.

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In the second example, I include the King of Pentacles as 14, which results in 19+4+5+1+14 = 43, and 4+3 = 7, the Chariot.

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In the third example, I reversed the Sun and the Ace of Pentacles and gave them negative values, while leaving the King of Pentacles out of the calculation, which gave me (-19)+4+5+(-1)+null = (-11), Justice reversed.

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In the fourth example, I included the King of Pentacles upright as 14 while keeping the reversals. This time the sum came to (-19)+4+5+(-1)+14 = 3, the Empress.

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In the fifth example, I reversed the King of Pentacles and included it as “minus 14” while leaving everything else the same, and came up with (-19)+4+5+(-1)+(-14) = (-25) and (-2)+(-5) = (-7), the Chariot reversed.

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In the sixth example I used “casting out nines” instead of numerological reduction, which gave me (-19)+4+5+(-1)+(-14) = (-25), and removing 9 from the sum leaves (-16), the Tower reversed. If I take away another nine I will have (-7), the Chariot reversed. This method can unearth some of the hidden correspondences between the trump cards.

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As you can see, things can become very confusing very quickly if you don’t keep your numbers straight, or try too hard to apply your high-school mathematics; there is a little bit of latitude (OK, “sloppiness”) in how the negative numbers work with numerological reduction. (I have to confess that I had to shoot some of these pictures more than once because I forgot to reverse the quint cards.) Your best bet is to choose the method you prefer and stick with it. I’ve used my personal approach with good results since I first encountered the quintessence in 2011. It’s an important part of my practice, although I don’t use it all the time (or even most of the time).

2 thoughts on “The Visual Quintessence: Six Ways to Summarize

  1. It literally never occurred to me to subtract reverse card numbers when doing this. Something never sat right with me when I added the reverse cards in, but i never spent time thinking about it. I’m going to tinker with this. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t take credit for this. I owe the idea to Amanda on the (now defunct) Aeclectic Tarot forum, although I’m not sure she still uses it. It just made sense to me since I can’t see the Fool as 22 (although Eliphas Levi did). In the TdM the Fool is unnumbered like the court cards, but I would never leave the Fool out of the quint calculation. There are just too many of them out there. Plus, I could never figure out why it’s OK to give the Fool an arbitrary number but not the court cards.

      Liked by 1 person

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