The Numbers of Tarot: An Exercise
Recently, a few people have asked me how the numbers of tarot work.
Each tarot reader approaches card interpretation with their own system, and their own set of key words and symbolic meanings for the cards. Sometimes, new students are frustrated in their efforts to learn tarot until they find the right approach.
For many tarotists, regardless of deck or tradition preferences, the number associated with each tarot card is extremely significant.
Although many of us agree that the number of the card is a clue to its interpretation, few of us agree on what those numbers might mean. Even more complex is the jump from traditional forms of numerology to tarot numeric interpretation. While schools of thought agree on key words for early numbers such as 1 and 2, by the time we get to 5, 6 and 7 our understanding of the divinatory values of the numbers vary widely.
The efficacy of any divinatory tool is not threatened by divergent opinions about individual interpretations. Rather, each of us must make a journey of discovery as we come to understand which key words and interpretations make sense for our vocabulary.
If you would like to utilize the numbers in tarot more thoroughly, or if you wonder if numbers might be a gateway of understanding into tarot for you, here is an exercise to try.
First, separate out your forty Minor Arcana pips, and sort them by number. This way, you can look at all four Aces, and all four Twos, and so on.
Think about what each set of four same-numbered cards have in common. How are those qualities related to the number? How do the card images depict the energy of that number? How does the element of each suit influence the energy of that number, and how does that combination of element and number create the unique card meaning for each card?
Then, write a list of key words for your tarot numbers 1-10. One thing that is different between tarot numerology and traditional numerology is that, in tarot, we must honor the idea that 10 is a unique energy, different than 1, but also similar. I think of 10 as the “higher vibration” of the 1 energy.
Now it’s time to see how your ideas about the numbers work in the Major Arcana. You can separate your Major Arcana cards into the number groups as well. The only card that will not have a place in a number group is the Fool.
The first nine numbered Major Arcana cards, therefore, can correlate with your Minor Arcana cards One through Nine. Think about the ways the Magician is like an Ace, for instance. What does the High Priestess have in common with the four Twos?
Once you have worked through all nine numbers, look at the Wheel Fortune and the four Tens. What do these cards tell you about each other?
You can sort Major Arcana cards Eleven through Twenty-One by adding the two digits of each number together to get a one-digit number. You’ll discover some interesting connections between same-numbered Major Arcana cards. For instance, consider the similarities between card Two, the High Priestess, and card Eleven, Justice. Card Six, the Lovers, shares the Adam and Eve characters with the same-numbered Devil, card Fifteen, in the Waite-Smith deck.
Finally, you can look for correlations between Major Arcana cards and Minor Arcana cards, based on their number in common.
You may or may not find that your key words for the numbers are a consistent fit throughout the Major Arcana. As with all tarot study, sometimes the value of the exercise is in the ability to compare and contrast, and to more narrowly define your own understanding of the cards, and of the components that give the cards their meaning.
Having a good understanding of the tarot numbers is particularly helpful when more than one card of the same number appear in a spread. You can use your key words for that number to give additional information in the reading.
Having key words memorized for the tarot numbers will help you give quick, rudimentary interpretations for the Minor Arcana cards, even when you are working with an unfamiliar deck.
How much weight you give numbers in your tarot interpretations will depend on your personal reading style. Taking time to contemplate the numbers of tarot will help you develop your tarot reading style.