Recombinant Trumps: Rescuing Chaos from Conformity

This post brings together a few ideas I’ve floated in past essays: “playing both ends against the middle” when approaching the trump-card sequence; the concept of “numerological counterparts” among the trumps; the trumps as “archetypal expressions” of the “pip” cards; and the linking of certain trumps through means other than immediate proximity. I’ve recently been involved in on-line discussions about the correct historical distribution of the trump-card series (apparently there are either several versions or none at all), and during one of them I made the observation that, while some of the trumps demonstrate obvious conformance to hierarchical conventions in their ordering, others collaborate more persuasively when freed from a rigidly linear format. The visual sense I get from this assumption is one of an organic chemistry diagram, in which some atoms are connected by “covalent bonding” (a function that in my proposed model is sustained by an intrinsic numbering scheme shared by overtly unrelated cards). In The Way of Tarot, Alejandro Jodorowsky observed that the non-contiguous trumps can be paired in a wide variety of visually compelling ways; although many of his examples left me unconvinced, his approach aligns neatly with my own.

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In one of my earlier posts I proposed the trump card numbered XI (either Justice or Strength depending on the deck) as the “turning point” or “linchpin” of the typical chain: if the Fool is excused as lying outside the array (see Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom for a precedent), this card has ten trumps before it (Magician through Wheel of Fortune) and ten after it (Hanged Man through World). This enables a symmetrical coupling of the cards on either side of Trump XI in pairs that are equidistant from the middle: in this paradigm, the Wheel of Fortune collaborates with the Hanged Man at the near end of the opposing “wings” and the Magician works in tandem with the World at the outer extreme, while the intervening cards join forces in the same way. It is then possible to extrapolate from this nucleus by bringing in the trump, court and pip cards that answer to the same numbers as the original pair, either directly or by numerological reduction, and aligning them in diagrammatic fashion on the appropriate side of the layout. This is another of my intellectual exercises and I make no claims of utility for any particular purpose.

I decided to produce a visual tableau for each pair of trumps and their entourage of like-numbered counterparts. Here is the first one, involving the Wheel of Fortune and the Hanged Man flanking Justice. It inspires the plausible impression of a court trial, with Justice as the presiding judge, the Pages as the “jury of peers,” the Twos as the deliberation itself (looking at both sides of the argument from a variety of angles), and Judgement as the verdict; all of these cards are symbolic of “two-ness.” The cards on the Wheel of Fortune side (which all convey “one-ness”) suggest the “discovery” process, with those on the Hanged Man side (with the Hanged Man looking like the defendant “in the dock”) confirming that “justice has been served.” I brought the Fool in on the Wheel of Fortune side as the “wild-card” inspiration for the Magician, who symbolizes the resourceful detective (think Peter Falk in Columbo).

The Empress and the World on the Hanged Man side both answer to the number Three, as does the Hanged Man itself. As I’ve mentioned before, Isabel Kliegman (in her book The Tarot and the Tree of Life) considers Three to be a number of fulfillment and completion, so these cards signify a satisfactory conclusion to the affair (at least to somebody’s satisfaction). If the Aces represent the “facts,” the Twos “put two-and-two together” and the Threes comprise the deductions made from that evidence (Johann Fichte’s thesis/antithesis/synthesis). Only the High Priestess is missing, since there is precious little “divine mercy” in this outlook. (Hmm, those Aces do have a sexual urgency to them. Maybe the estranged husband [Hanged Man] stabbed [3 of Swords] the third party [3 of Cups] at church [3 of Pentacles] and was sent “up the river” [3 of Wands]? See, you knew I’d have some fun with this after all.)

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