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?


Christine Payne-Towler: Essay On The Minor Arcana

(c) June 2011 Bonnie Cehovet