I’ve recently got hold of a copy of Toni Allen’s “The System of Symbols: A New Way to Look at the Tarot”. It’s been on my wish list forever. I haven’t finished it yet but the first part of the book has inspired this article on tarot numerology.
Toni’s focus on tarot numerology has given me a new perspective on determining the message of the cards. I’ve always made use of the numerical progression of tarot, and now I have a deeper understanding. Once you have a handle on the numbers, all the rest fits in. It’s a framework on which to hang your intuition… and I do like a handy framework.
I will say that Toni Allen and I do diverge at one fundamental point: she posits that the number Eleven is a higher level of One. Whereas I see it as a higher level of Two. This puts Justice at 11, connecting it with the High Priestess, whereas Allen, like many other tarotists, puts Justice at Eight. She continues this with all the numbers above 11.
It helps to see the tarot and our spiritual progression through life (lives?) as a spiral. So as we go round and back to the beginning, we have, hopefully, assimilated some lessons and understanding in order to move up to the next level of the spiral. Yet, there will be times when we are required to retrace our steps – a little like a game of snakes/chutes and ladders. Spirals and board games – I’ve already confused you, haven’t I? Let’s take a look at tarot numerology number, by number.
Tarot and Zero
Zero is pure potential, it is all and nothing. Yet it is unmanifest, nothing can come from it without the energy of One and Two. It is the infinite universe contained in a circle or sphere, or maybe an egg-shape.
The Fool is pure, untainted, a blank page. He is ready to experience life. He leaps off the cliff in a moment of pure joy in the heady pleasure of feeling alive. He has complete trust that the Universe/God/Source will take care of him and facilitate his onward travels. He has no choice. This is birth.
Tarot and the Number One
One represents pure energy. Think of the Aces as holding the whole of the energy available in that suit. So the Ace of Wands is pure inspiration, with the potential to transform into anything you would associate with Wands and fire; ideas, call to action, passion, etc. The Ace of Cups is pure emotion, untainted by negativity or positivity. It is neutral but nevertheless powerful. The Ace of Swords is pure mind. This is the bed of thought, communication, technology, etc. The Ace of Pentacles is pure earth energy. It is the realm of human beings, where we live, work, love and die.
The Magician is all those things and more. Although we view him as a person, this is simply our human need to assign individuality to a force. The image of the Magician is simply inherited from the idea of the archetype, passed down from early decks onward. But try to imagine it as the energy of the universe; the spark of creation. Anyone can use that power to create whatever they wish. One is masculine.
Tarot and the Number Two
Toni Allen states that Two is opposite to One. That gave me pause for thought. How can a number be the opposite of another number? She also describes it as the complement to One. One is active; Two is passive. Two cannot manifest without the addition of One. One cannot manifest without the addition of Two. Therefore to make anything become ‘real’, both numbers have to be added together to create Three. More on that in a moment.
Two represents the absolute (pure, unadulterated) and non-absolute (conditional, relative). Two is duality, opposites. It is agreement and conflict. Two is feminine.
The Two of Wands expresses the need to create, but by itself, it cannot. It is unable to move forward. The Two of Cups is attraction that cannot yet be expressed as physical bonding. The Two of Swords holds thoughts and words which cannot be acknowledged or spoken. The Two of Pentacles is unable to create, and remains teetering in the unmanifest. This doesn’t mean that two is negative, it simply means that the energy it holds is, as yet, unfertilized.
The High Priestess holds her secrets within. As the Maiden, she is unable to express herself out loud or experience motherhood. She can’t advise, or display emotion. All is within. She shows you that the answers to all your questions also reside within you.
Justice at key Eleven, 1 + 1 = 2 represents the laws of sowing and reaping; karma, fairness, and balance. Similar to the High Priestess she sits between two pillars to remind us that this card is another level of Two. While we may view Justice as being an external agent, i.e. we’re being judged by another person, or system, in actuality the real judging is happening within. The High Priestess is completely non-judgmental, but progression means that Justice means that we must apply our learned values to ourselves. Eleven takes us back to the idea that Two is unable to manifest. We cannot manifest without taking action (One). What action we take next, depends on what we have learned so far.
Justice is at the center point of the Major Arcana, the pivot. Or you could see it as a portal from the lower group of One through Ten to the higher levels of Twelve (three) through Twenty-One (three).
Judgment is Key 20 2 + 0 = 2. It is akin to what we might experience at the end of life. We lie on our death bed with the opportunity to review our pleasures and pain. Our triumphs and failures. We get to assess whether we made the most of the gift of time or if we frittered it away. We can look at our regrets, our wrong-doings and the things we did right. If we are very lucky, we have one last chance to make amends. When you see Judgment, you may find yourself given that chance to make a difference.
Tarot and the Number Three
Three is where things start getting interesting. Three is the number of manifestation. The result of a merger between One and Two. Three is outward expressing. The energy of One and the promise of Two has come to fruition.
The Three of Wands has put inspiration and plans into action. The Three of Cups is able to express emotion freely. The Three of Swords has acknowledged and recognized the contents of the intellect. The Three of Pentacles manifests with co-operation, materials and tools.
The Empress is the result of a non-sexual union between The Magician and the High Priestess. The energy of One meets the Energy of Two. She is fecundity. She represents nature and its irresistible directive to reproduce itself, over and over. 3.33 recurring. Forever.
The Hanged Man at key Twelve (1 + 2 = 3) represents energy which has depleted. Yet, the figure is shown hanging from a living, burgeoning tree, thus revealing that there is always a way of replenishing our weary soul. The Hanged Man is nature’s need to take a break; the equivalent of winter, when it appears nothing is visibly happening. Yet beneath the surface, preparation for new growth and manifestation is taking place.
The World at key Twenty-one is the highest level a soul can attain before restarting the process all over again. It is the top of the current spiral and the bottom of the next. Lessons have been learned. Mistakes made. The slate is clean and the debt of karma discharged. This is an opportunity to start afresh.
Tarot and the Number Four
Four represents the consciousness. It is the self, the ego, the ‘I am’. To us humans, Four feels stable and comfortable. We know where we are with ‘I am’. Four also represents barriers, separateness. The realization that we are individual.
The Four of Wands is the ego in harmony with the world, other people and the subconscious. It is in balance. The Four of Cups is the ego turned in: self conscious and self-absorbed. The Four of Swords is the ego subjugated to, and within, a meditative state. The Four of Pentacles is the ego protecting itself at all costs.
The Emperor contains all the energy of Four. From laying down necessary and sturdy foundations to overreaching unyielding control. The Emperor is the will, the ego displayed in total authority. While the Emperor exudes a feeling of permanency, it is wise to remember that this is an illusion.
Death, the Thirteenth key of the Major Arcana, 1 + 3 = 4, shows unequivocally that the illusion of the unchanging nature of Four is exactly that. Death dissolves the ego. Those carefully laid foundations crumble and become unstable. No amount of willpower can hold off Death. Death breaks down the barriers of separation. When death of the body occurs, the soul rejoins the Source.
Tarot and the Number Five
Toni Allen describes Five as a transformer, which converts one type of energy to another. It is a pivotal point. A bridge between two countries. The channel between this earthly dimension and the dimension of spirit. Some might say that a psychic medium acts as that channel, or maybe a priest or pope. Five is an unbalanced number. In tarot this means that it offers challenges. Anyone negotiating the energy of Five needs uncommon skill, balance and sure-footedness to get themselves through.
The Five of Wands is the sometimes difficult connection between ourselves and others. The Five of Cups is the bridge between conscious and subconscious, between thought and feeling. The Five of Swords is a turning point that challenges the ego; how you respond reveals who you truly are. The Five of Pentacles is change in material circumstances that causes us to question and reevaluate our priorities – all that ego protecting at Four was of no use.
The Hierophant is illustrated as God’s interpreter, the Pope. The connection between our lowly ego and the higher spiritual realm. However, it might be better to look upon the card as a mentor, a guide who gently helps us through a challenging life situation. Think of the formation of four points in a square. The fifth point lies in the center, bringing the elements together. Making connections.
Temperance is the Fourteenth key of the Major Arcana, 1 + 4 = 5. It is illustrated by an angel ‘bridging’ land and water, daily life and emotions. Temperance is an agent of balance, of connection which deeply permeates the tarot. The Hierophant is human, therefore closer to the rest of humankind; the angel is near the Divine thus indicating a higher level of Five. In the card, we can see clearly the four elements of fire (the crown-shaped sun), water (the stream and cups), air (the sky and mountains and earth (the land; rocks, grass and irises). The angel is the agent who brings it all together in a perfect, harmonious, healing whole. Temperance soothes and calms a challenging situation.
Tarot and the Number Six
Six is connected to air, the breath of life. Six is a balanced number indicating we have safely navigated the challenges offered by Five. It shows we are ready to reach out to another, to experience love and to make choices which will determine our future. We can choose to keep hearts and mind open or we might select a path that takes us toward repeated cycles and futile habits which keep us imprisoned. Six is a number of give and take, of self-sacrifice. We should give, even if we are struggling. At the same time, we must be open to receive. Six is also connected to the vibration of the solution, rather than the problem.
The Six of Wands shows the result of making good choices while challenged. We are balanced and in harmony with the universe. The Six of Cups indicates that we are able to reach out and give love before the need to receive it. The Six of Swords shows how we are able to use our intellect to navigate a challenge to move to a calmer, mentally peaceful place. The Six of Pentacles tells us that giving to another brings its own rewards in the earth realm.
The Lovers is somewhat misnamed. While it does imply love, it is less to do with romantic love and desire, and more to do with the discernment of truth and beauty. At this point in our journey through our life, we get to choose whether to let the ego dictate our path, or if we allow spirit and love to lift us higher.
The Devil is the Fifteenth key 1 + 5 = 6. It shows us exactly where we end up if we follow that ego-centric path. We fall prey to our own destructive behaviors and shackle ourselves to our base desires. All is not lost though; the Devil is quite happy to allow you to leave, but you have to loosen the chains and open the door all by yourself. No-one can rescue you but you.
Tarot and the Number Seven
Seven relates to the ‘light that shines within’. It is a spiritual number, and connected to human spiritual nature. Seven is always on a quest for deeper knowledge and greater understanding. Seven is intuitive, introverted and often psychic. It is connected with mysticism, secrets, the unknown and unknowable. When we encounter the number Seven, we know that something unusual or different is about to confront us.
The Seven of Wands shows the light within in action. The Seven of Cups represents the endless questing search for truth and beauty. The Seven of Swords hints that we may be hiding our intellectual strength. The Seven of Pentacles underlines the fact that spirituality can be found in manual work.
The Chariot illustrates the strength of the intellect. The agile mind that is able to see both sides of a situation. The talent for negotiation and mediation. The desire to know how things work on all levels, physical and metaphysical. It shows how a sensitive individual is able to work sympathetically with children, animals, and nature in general.
The Sixteenth key, the Tower 1 + 6 = 7 indicates what happens when we ignore the warning present in the Devil card. Energy must shift. Change must happen. The low-level, self-destructive cycle cannot continue. It almost always appears to be a negative event, but it is not. Later in life, you can look back and see it had to occur.
Tarot and the Number Eight
The number Eight is the solid representative of personal power and inner strength. It is the number of organization and authority. It takes the foundations of Four and builds upon them. Eight is also connected to the laws of cause and effect: Karma, which is why Strength is sometimes swapped with Justice.
The Eight of Wands indicates a need to move swiftly, to get organized and to work within a team. The Eight of Cups shows inner spiritual strength which has the guts to choose a different route. The Eight of Swords reflects what happens when we give away our personal power. The Eight of Pentacles works on building wealth and material security.
Strength shows how raw physical strength is not necessary to demonstrate your power. Much can be achieved by using a softer approach. Strength is demonstrated in so many ways. Strength of character; strength of mind; strength of purpose. Strength can be used for good and for bad: to aid or to dominate, to comfort or to bully.
The Star, key Seventeen 1 + 7 = 8, has a gentle, cool energy. It represents the perfect organization of the universe. It reflects the perfection of the soul and strength in the recognition of our own inner beauty. The Star is about ‘knowing’; the feeling of total faith that all is as it should be. The Star is true strength.
Tarot and the Number Nine
Nine is the number of self actualization. Where spirituality meets earth. Nine is the number of the divine seeker – one who has the wisdom to understand that the journey of life is a never-ending cycle. Nine knows that as the soul progresses towards perfection, there are still errors to be made. Forgiveness is the acknowledgment that to err is to be human.
The Nine of Wands shows how close the seeker is to his or her goal. The Nine of Cups indicates a high level of fulfillment and the ability to love oneself. The Nine of Swords reflects a total lack of self love and value. The Nine of Pentacles shows how spirituality is present right here on earth and there’s nothing you need, or to achieve to feel it in this moment.
The Hermit has reached a high level of soul understanding, yet he must continue seeking and exploring the human condition. He longs to leave the world but he has to find a way to share his wisdom, so others may follow the path he treads. Thus, he may wish to retreat into solitude for a while, but sooner or later he must engage with one or more willing students if his knowledge is not to die with him.
The Moon, key Eighteen 1 + 8 = 9, shows that however hard we search, much is hidden from us. Our weak human senses are so limited compared with certain other creatures. Where we triumph is in our ability to use our minds to solve puzzles and problems. When that doesn’t work, we fall back on our innate intuition to guide us. Once the veil of darkness lifts and the moon’s illusions are revealed for what they are, we reach clarity and understanding. This journey through a strangely lit landscape is another necessary life lesson. We learn that not all is as it seems.
The Tarot and the Number Ten
Ten and One are almost the same, however there is a subtle difference. While One is the beginning of everything, Ten is a re-beginning, a restart or a reset. Ten signifies the end but within the end, there has to be the new. Even if that new thing is no-thing.
The Ten of Wands shows that the journey’s end is in sight. Almost done. The Ten of Cups reflects the ultimate goal of a loving relationship. The Ten of Swords illustrates the death of the ego and the rebirth of consciousness. The Ten of Pentacles shows the cycles of physical human life, from the youngest to the oldest.
The Wheel of Fortune, the Tenth key of the Major Arcana 1 + 0 = 1. “Let’s go round again”. The Wheel represents change, so new beginnings within other cycles is the order of the day. Usually these changes are out of one’s control, unless you can harness the power and will of the Magician. Where do you see yourself, on the spinning outer hub, gasping for breath? Or sitting calmly in the middle, near the hub, waiting for peace to return?
The Sun, the Nineteenth key, 1 + 9 = 10, 1 + 0 = 1. The Sun is almost at the end of the Tarot soul spiral. It indicates that the seeker has now reached a level of maturation, that the soul is ready for rebirth. It brings sunlight to dark corners. It causes growth, and also death. The sun warms our faces and bleaches our bones.
Tarot Numerology and the Court Cards
The Court Cards, although not visibly numbered, are influenced by numbers too.
Pages = 11/2
Knights = 12/3
Queens = 13/4
Kings = 14/5
Pages are the explorers of their suit. Their function is to reach out to the world and make connections (Two).
Knights are the active members of their suit. Their function is to create (Three).
Queens are the anchor of their family suit. They provide the necessary stability and structure (Four).
Kings are the balancing element of their suit. They provide a role model, guidance and leadership. They are also able to offer challenges and quests (Five).
I wrote this for myself, to cement my understanding of tarot numerology. I hope it inspires you to do your own exploration of the tarot numbers.
The deck used here for illustration is The Voyager Tarot by James Wanless