The Tens: A Lingering Farewell

A music critic once observed that Led Zeppelin seemed to be “emptying the vaults of every scrap of unreleased material” when they issued the Physical Graffiti album. I’m in a similar situation here; this post has been lurking in my drafts for a couple of weeks, waiting patiently as  the rants of the last few days picked up steam and then subsided.

The minor-card Tens in the tarot elicit a grab-bag of impressions when they appear in a reading. The 10 of Cups is seen as emotionally comfortable in a muted sense, just as the 10 of Pentacles is domestically cozy in its leisurely, homespun way, while the deflated 10 of Wands is considered burdensome because it lacks the customary vigor of the suit, and everyone struggles to find a “silver lining” in the outwardly dismal 10 of Swords. But in all cases they represent a situation or sentiment that may have overstayed its time. There is a cinematic sense of having one foot in the next act via navigating some kind of drawn-out “crisis of closure.” There is not much energy remaining in the Tens, so they go out “not with a bang but a whimper,” in T.S. Eliot’s memorable phrase. However, even though they are depleted, none of them can remain in a state of absolute rest because, as we all know, there is no standing still in the tarot; everything is in dynamic flux and actively seeking resolution. At the end of a reading (i.e. as the “outcome” card) they can represent a “cliff-hanger” finale that may benefit from pulling another card to extend the narrative a bit further into the future.

In essence, all of the Tens are conflicted. They embody the seed of a new beginning (numerologically, 1+0 =1), but they haven’t quite let go of the past and are dragging their feet in divesting themselves of its residue. The Ten is a postscript to its suit; the Nine is considered its “perfection” (although that doesn’t necessarily mean a joyful fulfillment). With the Ten, completion equates to exhaustion and attenuation. Aleister Crowley commented “As a general remark, one may say that the multiplication of of a symbol of Energy always tends to degrade its essential meaning, as well as to complicate it.” Emerging from the exalted domain of Spirit, the newly-minted Aces are pure and simple in their expression, but the energy becomes increasingly ponderous as it is encumbered with the bonds of dense matter until it “bottoms out” in the Tens.

From that point, there is “nowhere to go but up,” but ideally not back to the beginning of the same suit, which would be an admission of failure to evolve. Although he wasn’t the source of my inspiration (which goes back many years), I agree with Alejandro Jodorowsky that the spent Ten of one suit resurfaces fully charged in the Ace of the following suit. The cyclical nature of tarot is not that of a treadmill, but of a spiral that descends through the suits until it reaches the realm of Earth and is then resurrected at the top of the chain in the of halls of Fire, hopefully on a “higher arc” of the evolutionary continuum, wearing the badges and scars of both wisdom gained and adversity overcome.

In his Tarot de Marseille course material, Jean-Michel David noted that every card should be considered within the context of its predecessor. Although he was talking specifically about the cards in a reading, we could say that the tarot is a “matrixed” system in which every card meshes seamlessly with the adjacent cards like the joints in a human leg, conveying motive force down the chain to transform desire, thought and feeling into forward movement. The Ten sits at the crux of that transformation, requiring only a small but cunningly placed nudge to push it over the brink. I tell my clients that the time is ripe for some kind of change when a Ten appears in the reading; it’s not accidental that the Tens have a strong affinity for the Wheel of Fortune, which Crowley described as “Change of fortune. (This generally means good fortune because the fact of consultation implies anxiety or discontent.”) In other words, the client has come for a reading because they instinctively anticipate (or fear) that something is drawing to a close and change is in the wind. Here lies an opportunity for the kind of “empowerment” I mentioned yesterday.

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