Transitional Cards

I use two different numerical models in my work with the minor (or “pip”) cards of the tarot: the Pythagorean sequence that exhibits an increasingly complex geometric progression, and the Qabalistic  numeration based on the descent of the sephiroth on the Tree of Life. Both explain the emergence of formless “archetypal energy” from a primal state of rest and, through ten elaborations or emanations, its evolution toward a similarly passive condition when fully materialized in its final concrete form (in which the “ideal becomes real”). However, the development of each number series follows a different pattern: Pythagoras considered Ten to be the “perfect number” to which the potential inherent in the One aspires through amplification or multiplication, while the Qabalists thought of the primordial Monad as spiritually transcendent, in which case the Ten represents both a ramification and a degradation of that purity through its gradual immersion (and “bottoming-out”) in matter. The Greek philosophers considered Three, Six and Nine to be the “three perfections” while the Qabalistic perspective (although seeing the higher-numbered iterations as symbolically tainted by contact with matter) is not much different, so the numbers preceding each of them might be viewed as preparatory to a fulfillment of sorts.

In both systems there are what I think of as crucial “transitional” numbers that mediate between cards of a similar nature like links in a chain. These numbers (and their associated cards) are the Two (prefiguring Three), the Five (anticipating Six) and, in a slightly different manner, the Seven and Eight (presaging Nine). They are all developmental in emphasis: the unswerving Two brings movement and direction to the static potential of the One and sets the stage for the more expansive and liberating mobility of the Three; the disruptive Five, in the words of Joseph Maxwell, “breaks the equilibrium of the Four” by spurring often chaotic change that clears the way for a return to harmonious balance in the Six (on a “lower arc,” so to speak); the Seven and Eight suggest parabolic rather than linear motion, in that the restive Seven departs the composure of the Six by offering – not without some risk – a step in a new direction while the compensatory and corrective Eight reins in and reverses this divergent shift, paving the way for a return to stability in the Nine.

I’ve covered these assumptions at greater length in previous posts, but in a recent reading I characterized the Two of Coins as “transitional” and thought the insight worthy of generalizing. In principle, every card can be considered transitional between the preceding card and the following one, but in these instances the “destination” card represents a special state of completion that acts as a kind of “way-station” on the journey, progressing from the previous “rest-stop” by way of the connecting card. If the linking card turns up reversed it might be construed as a regressive reaction that longs to return to the earlier stability rather than welcoming the advent of a new and potentially more rewarding equilibrium.

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