The Pythagoreans held that Number is sacred and embodies the root of all Existence; the measure of anything whatsoever can be taken in its ten formative principals, which ascend from an embryonic origin in the Monad or Point (1) to mature perfection in the Decad (10). (Note that this isn’t the mathematical perception of Pythagoreanism and its 50 geometric “triples,” but the philosophical and mystical one.) On the other hand, Qabalistic number theory based on the Tree of Life assumes that perfection abides at the ideal level of pure Spirit (1) and descends into an imperfect state of material “fixation” in the Ten, through a process of sequential “emanations.” As Aleister Crowley put it in The Book of Thoth, “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.”
At one time I had occasion to associate the cards of the tarot with the series of “common” numbers from 1 to 78, arranging them in a table that begins with the Fool as 1 and ends with the King of Pentacles as 78, following the Golden Dawn suit progression of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. In this model, the Ace of Wands is not only an expression of One, but also the 23rd card in the continuum. The purpose of this exercise was to easily find a card that lies at the midpoint between two other cards, but I recently found another use for it in the concept of “mirroring,” in which a card shares a sympathetic relationship with another card that sits at the same distance from the opposite end of the series as the original card does from its own end. To take a random example, the Page of Wands is the 33rd card in the “big picture” but it is also the eleventh card from the Ace of Wands, which equates to “1” in the minor card sub-series. Its mirror would be the 4 of Pentacles, which is the eleventh card from the King of Pentacles counting backward from the other end of the numerical spectrum.
With the trump cards, the sub-series begins with the Fool and ends with the World, so the mirror of a trump will always be another trump, a convention I decided makes the most sense. For example, the Star is the eighteenth card in the series which begins with zero (the Fool as “1”); it is the fifth card from the nearest end (the World), and its mirror would be the Emperor, the fifth card from other end (the Fool). (As an aside, it’s interesting how this scenario plays into Crowley’s tinkering with the Star and the Emperor.)
All of this is merely a preamble to my main purpose in this essay. Past-life implications have always been a preoccupation of esoteric astrology with its “prenatal epoch” calculations, and I’ve been seeing an interest in it on the tarot forums lately. While I’ve used tarot for spirit-world exploration in the past, I’ve never formally approached past-life readings. This spread is my first foray into the subject. It is largely deterministic in nature, since it assumes that present-life circumstances have their causal root in past-life events and developments. The discharge of karmic debt (which I now understand isn’t limited to fallout from previous incarnations) is the main theme of this spread.
It offers a four-card tableau to be read as the past-life “story” and a parallel set of four “mirror” cards providing the narrative for present-life circumstances. These series are linked across the “veil” between worlds by a numerical quintessence card summarizing the past-life experience and its trump-card mirror in the physical world, which shows how that experience can manifest outwardly. In addition to reading the two chains of cards as sympathetic counterparts, it is possible to consider each pair as a collaborative “duet,” in which the present-life card can either help the past-life card achieve its unrealized potential or incite it to “dig a deeper hole” for itself in the current situation. Cards that are elementally friendly or hostile can either augment that emphasis or ameliorate it.
Here is an example layout that I did for myself. It seems to me that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime reading unless present-life circumstances change dramatically through working proactively with its insights; in that case a “refresher” reading may be warranted. I found this fairly difficult to penetrate at first (probably because I don’t use the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery very often) but it eventually came into focus.
The past-life cards suggest a cloistered (3 of Pentacles reversed), poverty-stricken (5 of Pentacles) existence in which salvation may have been denied (Judgement reversed), resulting in a solitary outlook on life (Ace of Swords). Judgement and the Star, both reversed, suggest exclusion (perhaps excommunication) from spiritual sustenance; this would make sense since in my present incarnation I’m “devoutly non-religious” and pretty much a maverick iconoclast. If that life occurred during medieval times, it could have had monastic overtones.
Where the Star is abstracted and remote, the Emperor is thoroughly “in the moment,” relishing his opportunity to set things in order. The series of present-life cards moves from a brash beginning (Knight of Wands, a “break-out” card; maybe symbolic defiance of the Inquisition?) through a period of self-refinement (Magician, which suggests “boot-strapping”) and a purifying “trial by fire” (10 of Wands), culminating in a serene state of emotional maturity (King of Cups).
The “duets” have an aura of taking responsibility for my own deliverance through active engagement with life rather than retirement, although I can certainly backslide into contemplative isolation with that King of Cups. I notice that there are no elementally unfriendly matches among these pairs; at worst they are “neutral and supportive,” what I characterize as “complementary opposites” offering an opportunity for constructive collaboration. Overall, this reading seems to hang together rather well for a test case.