A Few Notes On The Minor Arcana

When we think of the Minor Arcana, we think of the 40 pips (numbered cards) and the sixteen Court cards. We might think along the lines of Marseilles (icons only, no imagery) versus non-Marseilles (those decks that show imagery in the Minor Arcana). Our minds might, momentarily, wander over to the four suits, their differing names from deck to deck, and the elemental association of Fire with Wands and Air with Swords, and how in some decks this association is reversed. Our minds just don’t stay for too long with the Minor Arcana.

There are many different decks out there, representing many different schools of thought. What they have in common are: (1) they have four suits, with Elemental associations, (2) each suit has ten numbered cards (Ace through Ten), and (3) each suit has (traditionally) four Court cards, titled Page, Knight, Queen and King (or some similar titles), or a variation with Princess, Prince, Queen and Knight (the “Thoth Tarot”). Additional cards have been added to some decks, but this is the foundation for the traditional Minor Arcana.

Something that we often only pay passing attention to is the importance of the numbers themselves. The play an important part in bringing “order” to the foundation and geometry of the Minor Arcana, and its ability to drive the “story” of a reading or meditation. In her “Essay On The Minor Arcana”, Christine Payne-Towler talks about Pythagoras, a sixth century BC teacher and prophet. There are some very interesting concepts here, about each number having a specific vibration, and specific properties. From here Pythagoras developed the harmonic theory, which is expressed through music, but which he also applied to the relationship amongst the stars, and at the atomic level.

Pythagoras used numbers to drive his philosophy. Whole numbers, in his world-view, embraced and illustrated the Great Laws of Nature. In both the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana, we are dealing with numbers, numbers which act as the foundation for the card being examined, not to be viewed as a system (numerology) that was super-imposed on the Tarot. The geometric figure that Pythagoras used to express his philosophy was the Tetractys, a pyramid a ten discs, with each disc bearing the geometric figure of a whole number.

Every numbered card in the Tarot takes on the sacred geometry of the number that rules it. Aces represent a whole, and opportunity. Two’s represent duality, while Three’s act to balance and bring together the the properties of each element. Four’s form a foundation, while Five’s act to challenge each individual. Six’s can be seen as two three’s working together, and move the individual forward. Seven’s represent the spiritual triangle in the physical square. Eight’s can be seen as two connected squares, while Nine’s become the “perfect number”, in the form of three triangles. Ten’s act to continue the cycle, as they move into the Ace of the next element.

In future blogs I am going to be taking a look at the sequence of numbers as they play out in each of the suits – how the structure of the number blends with the essence of the Element to make the Tarot what it is. What are your thoughts on numbers as related to Tarot? Do you consider them significant to your readings? Do you see them in an individual format, or as part of a process, with each number holding its own position and responsibility?

Bibliography

Christine Payne-Towler: Essay On The Minor Arcana

(c) June 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

 

 

 

Advertisements

12 comments on “A Few Notes On The Minor Arcana

  1. Wendy says:

    I am looking forward to this:

    In future blogs I am going to be taking a look at the sequence of numbers as they play out in each of the suits – how the structure of the number blends with the essence of the Element to make the Tarot what it is. What are your thoughts on numbers as related to Tarot? Do you consider them significant to your readings? Do you see them in an individual format, or as part of a process, with each number holding its own position and responsibility?

    Thank you for your posts. I quite enjoy visiting here regularly. 🙂

  2. Wendy –

    Thank you so much for your lovely comment! 🙂

    Blessings,
    Bonnie

  3. Toni Gilbert says:

    Bonnie, Yes, the numbers are important because what you have stated are the numbers’ archetypal principles. Instead of looking at the images and reading them only, I also look at the number with the vibrations in mind. It adds more information to the whole reading. Toni

  4. mystereum says:

    YAY! Numbers rather than numerology! Thank You, Bonnie! I love how you brought Pythgoras’ Tetrachtys in for the minors. Layers in such a more vibrant life to their numbers.

    Personally, the numbers jump to me geometrically first in readings, then the story and visual geometry of the imagery fills the number cup, and then the cup dissolves with them both often focusing on something that jumps out of the card. . .yet the number often comes back to mind as the structure or skeletal identity of a form-giver for each card.

    And, I am really looking forward to your series!

    Cheers, Jordan

  5. Toni –

    You are so right – numbers add a great deal of information to a reading! 🙂

    Blessings,
    Bonnie

  6. Jordan –

    LOL Pythagoras was Christine’s doing, although anyone who looks at numbers knows that much, if not most of how we relate to numbers comes from the Pythagorean Theory. The relationship and connection between the numbers int hat pyramid is mind boggling!

    Sweetie – the numbers would jump out to you geometrically in a reading because of your architectural background! The story then follows. It is fascinating to me how all of the different areas of your life come together so nicely! The world has great things in store for you!

    Blessings,
    Bonnie

  7. My first perusal through the numbers on the Pips stumped me. Why is it that the larger numbers are “spelled out” using discreet clumps of smaller numbers, and those clumps are never larger than 4? In other words, if a 10 wants to be expressed, it will be shown as 4 + 4 + 2 instead of 5 + 5. Why is that?

    Then I read a science article talking about how animals count. They also count in clumps. And their largest clump is also 4. So they can think up to 4 x 4, and then it all goes into a gang called “many”.

    So I think this is how the early card-players thought too. They were just getting used to the Arabic (Hindu) numerals when the cards came to Europe, since their indigenous calculation methods were with the abacus, or the very unwieldy Roman Numerals. A person who isn’t literate and numerate will look at the cards with a different eye, that’s for sure!

    In a way, that might lead directly into architectural and/or proportional thinking. By seeing in clumps of 1, 2, 3, and 4, the mind can very quickly size up a number up to 10 without counting, and it also expresses an immediate ratio that can be related directly to situations in the outside world. I think this is the deepest and most instinctive substrate providing meaning to the Pips pack.

  8. Christine –

    Thanks for chiming in! 🙂 I can’t wait to get deeper into the structure of the pips!

    Blessings,
    Bonnie

  9. Cher Green says:

    Numbers, not numerology – very nice. I look forward to further posts on this.

  10. Cher –

    Posts coming up on the Tetractys, and on each of the four suits. 🙂

    Blessings,
    Bonnie

  11. Yes, sometimes I draw upon the numbers in a Tarot reading, depending if they catch my eye or not. I particularly like looking at the nines – it shows that the client is close to achieving something but has 1-2 more obstacles or challenges to overcome before getting there. I also pay attention to the numbers when I see three or four of a particular number. I weave this into the overall story for the client, to help them see some of the broader patterns affecting them.

  12. Biddy –

    Happy to see you commenting! 🙂 I agree about the numbers and the patterns. It is all par of the whole.

    Blessings,
    Bonnie

Leave a Reply to Cher Green Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s