Fourteen: the Higher Helpers

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When we get to the higher numbers, we often can gain insight into their meanings by looking at the divisors (in this case, 2 and 7). Two is feminine, primarily about balance or tension between opposites, while 7 is one of the powerfully magical numbers. Fourteen takes those qualities and shifts them into an even more potent combination.

14 is often associated with the moon, as it takes the waxing moon 14 days to reach full moon, and 28 days to complete the full lunar cycle. Lunar deities are often associated with the underworld – presumably because of the fear of those nights when the moon was dark. In ancient Babylonia an Akkadian poem describes how the ruler of the Netherworld, Nergal, was translated from heaven down to the underworld, with an escort of 14 deities. In Egypt, another ruler of the dead, Osiris (whose wife, Isis, was a lunar goddess), was cut into 14 different parts by Set, his dark brother.

In Islam, a religion where lunar symbolism plays an important role, there are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, 14 ‘solar letters’ and 14 ‘moon letters’. The Hurufis, working in the late 14th century, combined letter and number mysticism with physical attributes of the body and found that the words to depict hand and face (yad and wajh, respectively) both have a numerical value of 14. Another Islamic link to 14 is a Shiite reference to 14 innocent saints.

Similarly, In Christian lore, we hear of fourteen helping saints who assist in dangerous situations: kindness allied to reason. Various churches and monasteries were erected in medieval times to these heavenly helpers, the Vierzehnheiligen in Franconia being the best known.

These qualities may go some way to explain the potency of the number in the Temperance card in the Tarot. It is depicted as an angelic figure, pouring liquid from one vessel into another. Some have linked the figure to Aquarius, the water carrier, and to the Egyptian Hapi, god of the Nile; either way the symbolism contains elements of fruitfulness and inspiration. The word Temperance  in the tarot is used here in its alchemic sense (the right mix of ingredience in the right proportions at the right time – the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage). It might be relevant here to recall the story of the marriage of Cana, where Christ who transformed water into wine, as one of the meanings of Temperance is a deep balance, and transmutation of energies. We might also see it as replenishment of the conscious mind through creative interaction with the unconscious.

Number fourteen marks the completion of the Minors with the Kings of each suit. The Kings usually depict mature men – the emphasis being on attitude rather than age.

The King of Swords represents the detached, rational, intellectual male who dislikes emotional outbursts, staying detached if at all possible. He is difficult to get close to; if you’re in a relationship with someone like this you’ll find him at his best in games of strategy, looking down from his mountain-top and moving humans about like chess pieces. In older times he would be a warrior, while today he might be a philosopher, scientist, mathematician, politician.

The King of Cups, in contrast, is someone who understands the emotions. He may not find it easy to express his emotions, but he feels very deeply. He’s usually an older man, someone who has gone through the mill; he may be a divorcee, and often still has emotional baggage from previous relationships. He has drained his cup but still needs support, indeed negatively aspected he may be a bit of a parasite.  At his best, though, he is a warm, genuine, generous family man.

The King of Discs is strong, practical, and hierarchical. He is good with money, likes to deal with real-world issues, and is intelligent, acute, forceful and charming. He has a grounded physicality and assurance which is very attractive. Feelings of controlled sensuality and power emanate from him; he may well consciously generate these feelings for his own ends. He often lacks subtlety and imagination, but this is not a man to cross. Anyone trying to better him or take advantage of him might be advised to think again. His ruthless egotism and need to control can make him a dangerous enemy.

Finally, the King of Rods or Wands. As King of the creative suit and (in the Intuitive Tarot, the King of Air), he is equally as charming as the King of Discs but at his best has real depth and power. He has learned to ground his energy, through his staff (which symbolizes his inner vision, as well as his potency). He is perceptive, intuitive, and keenly self-aware; he could be a charismatic leader, teacher or spiritual searcher. However, negatively aspected he can be arrogant, manipulative, so sure of his own judgment that he becomes tyrannical. Alternatively he may become a shape-changer, never settling, never fulfilling his manifest destiny.

Of all the kings he is most aware of the unconscious and can work with it. Because of this understanding and talents this man can do great good – though you’ll have to be strong to keep up with him.

Thirteen: Death or Rebirth?

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Number thirteen is the sixth prime number, and many cultures find it portentous, if not unfortunate. Its negative associations can be seen as far back as Babylonia and ancient China, when an extra 13th month had to be added every now and again to keep the seasons in line with the solar year. In China this extra month was called the ‘Lord of distress’ or ‘opposition’.

This association with the lunar vs solar year leads me to wonder whether it is yet another example of the patriarchal downgrading of everything feminine, which probably began in Sumerian or Babylonian times. The thirteen moons of the old calendar were always associated with the feminine for obvious reasons; so in order to ensure the patriarchy had no possible threat to its authority, everything to do with the feminine was subtly demoted – a situation which continues to this day.

However, not all cultures had found such negative connotations in the number. Egyptian lore posited thirteen steps that led up to eternity: at the thirteenth step, the soul was said to reach a state of completion. In Judaism the Torah states that God has thirteen ‘Attributes of Mercy’, while the Qabalah talks of thirteen heavenly fountains, thirteen gates of mercy and thirteen rivers of balsam in paradise. In ancient Greece Zeus, the thirteenth god, was seen as the most powerful of all the gods. However, in Norse mythology the gods numbered twelve, with Loki the trickster coming in as an uninvited thirteenth to cause the death of the hero Baldur. That, then, led directly to Ragnarök, the battle of the gods.

Christian tradition saw thirteen as unequivocally evil, presumably because Judas, the thirteen disciple, betrayed Christ. In classical and medieval times, this grouping of 12+1 was quite common, with the 1 being the leader, or fated to die (or both, as we see in the Christian story). In addition Christians associate thirteen with witchcraft, the number of witches in a coven.

In contrast, Gnostic lore suggests a thirteenth aeon which will bring about the completion and resolution of the previous twelve eras. Similarly, in Mezoamerica, thirteen also had favourable connotations: the Mayan calendar was lunar and they saw the thirteenth day as the turning point, its symbol being the butterfly. The calendar was divided into periods of 52 (4 x 13). There were also thirteen heavens and thirteen deities.

The early creators of the Tarot seem to have followed the more negative connotations of the number. They certainly ensured that number 13 was always associated with the Death card, although numbers fluctuated for the other cards. However, today the interpretation is more of transformation and change than bad luck. Every time we alter something in our lives, we encounter a little death; when we move, change jobs, even (according to Lisa Alther in Kinflicks) have sex. So the Death card is about mortality and a voluntary surrender of the old (in comparison with The Tower, which destroys the old in a flash, whether we will or no). It’s also about stripping away the ego, necessary if we are to move on spiritually. If the card is reversed, it probably indicates an inability to change, stagnation.

Number thirteen also relates to the Queens of each suit (not the Kings, as previously and erroneously inserted in the previous version of ’13’! Apparently no-one noticed this as I would have expected at least one comment, if you had).

As we’ve seen already, 13 is a number particularly associated with the feminine, so it is apt that we find the Queens occupying the 13th slot of the numbered cards.

The Queen of Swords is depicted as a stern-faced woman, sword at the ready. Standing on the beach with an active volcano in the background, we might see her as an ancient queen awaiting some major disaster – the immolation of Atlantis or Hera, perhaps. In the Intuitive Tarot her element is fire, and thus she combines a stringent intelligence with deep passion – a passion that is under strict control most of the time. However, in readings, you may find her as a divorcee or a wronged partner; she is often a woman in the grip of a potent anger which, although usually well-hidden, can sometimes explode into the open.

The Queen of Discs is a pragmatist. Dealing with business, money, things of the senses, she enjoys the good things in life, particularly her home. If she is a business-woman you’ll expect to find her very successful. She wheels and deals, brings people together, and then expects them to dance to her tune. She can be very controlling and does not enjoy people doing their own thing. Normally she gives the impression of being a rock for all around her, but this can be misleading. She’s more vulnerable and fragile than she thinks, and should ensure she has a good support network to call on.

The Queen of Rods is creative and highly intuitive. She can get a bit airy, floating over the hills like a butterfly, but if she can harness her gifts she can become a powerful healer or intuitive. As a mother she can be a bit scatty, but so charming no-one really minds (though her children may need therapy later!). Sensitive, perceptive, and creative, she can sometimes be a little arrogant (a trait she hides well). I often connect her to Ishtar, queen of all gods, who went down into the Underworld to challenge her dark sister, Ereshkigal, who (not surprisingly) took exception to this and hung her on a hook to die. Rescued by the god Enki’s servants, she was able to return to the land of the living – sadder and wiser.

The Queen of Cups, her arms open, bare-breasted, stands looking out at us in invitation, and challenge. Surrounded by the deep ocean, she is traditionally seen as warm, inviting and passionate. She is powerful, desirable; with a strong connection to her emotions and body; she can find herself ridden by her emotions (or hormones!), lacking much ability to think objectively. She often appears in readings where someone wishes to offer themselves fully, but are constrained by external circumstances to keep within clear boundaries. If she appears reversed, she may well have offered herself but been rejected. She can also be the devouring mother, preventing her children from living their own lives.

in the Minors

Twelve: The Sacred Gates

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Twelve: 4×3; 6×2; 7+5, 10+2. We should now be able to intuit why the number is so potent when we look at the combinations of these numbers. Twelve is a culmination of the first part of the journey through the Major Arcana: a gateway between the physical world and the unknown. The Hanged Man is a crucial card in the journey through the Majors. It depicts a man hanging feet uppermost from a tree, or, in The Intuitive Tarot, suspended within the web of space. A number of ancient myths describe gods hanging upside down to gain wisdom (for example Odin). In medieval times thieves and vagabonds were sometimes punished that way, so the original imagery may have depicted a thief (which may explain why the Hanged Man is shown in old packs holding money bags, or with money falling from his pockets). However, today we prefer to see the Hanged Man as surrendering to fate.

In the card we see a man, his arms outstretched, face serene. Hanging there, he realises that everything he has been taught, every idea he has had, needs to be questioned and – if necessary – jettisoned. Most people find that it is preferable to ignore the fundamental questions. The Hanged Man will always ask them.

The interpretation is in keeping with the number twelve, which has a long and august tradition of deep knowledge dating back to Babylon or before, often relating to the astrological signs of the zodiac. The ancient astrologers considered that the moon and sun both moved through twelve stations; they divided the year into 12 months; and saw twelve northern and twelve southern stars. Even in China the 12-sign zodiac and a 12-month year were used (though there were no similarity between western and eastern signs). As in Babylon,  the Chinese combined a decimal cycle with the duodecimal cycle.

The twelve signs of the zodiac have influenced civilization ever since – even our secular, over-sophisticated western culture still retains a basic belief in astrology. Until quite recently our own counting system and money utilised a duodecadic system, and the entire world still uses twelve and twenty-four as a basis for time, a throw-back to the time when many ancient cultures were duodecadic. We still talk of a dozen and 144 (12×12) is a sacred number in mathematical traditions (the twelfth Fibonacci number). Twelve was important in early Mediterranean cultures and the ancient Near East – the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible gives numerous examples of the number (the twelve fountains of water in Elim (Num. 33:9); the measurement, in cubits, of the wall of New Jerusalem shown by the seventh angel (Revelations 21:17); there were twelve tribes of Israel, and of course Christ had twelve apostles.

Islam considers twelve important in that the descendants of Muhammad are traced to the twelfth generation (the group Twelver Shia has ruled Iran since 1501); while the Bektashi dervishes wear headdresses with twelve wedges and have a duodecagonal agate on their belts. Finally, in ancient Egypt there were twelve gates to heaven and to the underworld where Re, the Sun God, spends the night. It is a coincidence that St John’s Revelations also describes twelve gates to the heavenly Jerusalem?

Returning to the Tarot, we find the Knights on their quest at number 12 of the Minor Arcana.

The Knight of Cups is the most emotional Knight – a dreamer, sometimes a bit lost, he is Parsifal on his Grail quest. He is the Knight who relates most to the Grail (with its 144 facets), and has a quiet inner strength and harmony. He is often shy and withdrawn and, reversed, can be incapable of finding his true self, continually searching for perfection and peace of mind.

The Knight of Rods (Wands), meanwhile, is the most creative, intuitive of the Knights. Like all the Knights, he is a searcher; like the Knight of Cups he is also an idealist but unlike the former, he often finds ways to express his ideas. He is a poet, a troubadour, a healer. If reversed he can become quite cynical, angry and driven.

The Knight of Discs (Pentacles) is practical, down-to-earth, realistic and sensual. He takes life as it comes and doesn’t enjoy thinking in philosophic or psychological terms. He is pragmatic, can be extremely attractive and entertaining, and reliable. Reversed, he can also can be pig-headed in the extreme, confused and insensitive.

And lastly, we arrive at the Knight of Swords. This Knight is a bit of an enigma. He’s often seen as the archetypal warrior: young, active, impetuous. Unfortunately this often means he ends up in difficult predicaments. He keeps a brave face on things, and usually appears strong, confident, and brave. This is his persona, a mask; the real man is often wracked with guilt, fear and anger. If he can look inside, he will find real substance there, but if he stays with the persona he will often end up empty, a husk.

ELEVEN: Master or Mute?

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There is a significant difference of opinion in numerological circles as to the significance of the number 11. Many consider eleven to be an angelic or master number, a number for delving into the mysteries. Others see it as negative, forever caught between ten and twelve. The association of eleven with negativity may have emerged with Babylonian myth, which tells of the struggle between Tiamat and the ordering gods. Here Tiamat (chaos) is supported by eleven monstrous beings. However, we might also wish to consider that this may simply be a myth from the early patriarchy, where Tiamat is seen as female, and the ordering gods as male.

Later on we find the Dionysiads, eleven women of ancient Sparta whose group formed to counteract the worst excesses of the Dionysian revels. In medieval times, St Ursula was supposed to have travelled to Cologne in a fleet of eleven boats, each of which carrying 1000 virgins (i.e. 11,000 altogether). Unfortunately it was a dangerous time and they were all martyred. Would this have something to do with the fact that the carnival season in the Rhineland begins at 11.11 on the 11th November each year?

It is probably not significant that soccer teams have eleven players – ten plus the goal keeper… But, we should consider the ‘eleventh hour’ – an hour of significance, and the last time changes can be made to avert disaster.

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In the Tarot Majors, eleven is either Justice, or Strength, depending upon your deck. Arthur Waite transposed the two images for reasons he did not elaborate (although pictorially, Justice’s scales might be better illustrated as an 8, albeit on its side). (In the earliest decks Justice may well have been numbered 20, just before The World, so it’s an auspicious, well-travelled card.) If Justice is 11, it’s well-balanced by the two equal 11s on either side, and (at least in our day and age) we might think of it as mute. However, it is more usual to see Strength as 11, and here both aspects of the number are seen, with the angelic or master aspect holding a lion in check. This is fortitude, the inner strength that allows us to control the raging beast within. (The darker aspects of the number might be seen as the Id (the unconscious, powerful instinctive urges and instincts) being held in check by the super-ego or higher self). Thus eleven is about a dialogue with the unconscious, being able to release and resolve our unconscious energies.

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In the Minors, the ‘mute’ aspect of the number is seen in the Pages, who symbolise young, tentative energy. The Page of Cups, for example, looks with concern at a large goblet being offered to her. She is not at all sure she will take the cup, even though it is an offering of love – and she is right to be concerned, as her youth may well preclude her ability to deal with the challenges of intimacy.

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The Page of Discs (Pentacles) looks fixedly into a large coin. Again, she seems to need help but also may have shut herself away in order to concentrate on the issue. This Page, however, is grounded and sensible, and will probably make her decisions wisely – as long as she does not become too isolated.

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The Page of Rods, in contrast, is creative and intuitive, but can become defensive and unhappy if she cannot find a way to express herself. She’s a poet or an artist, and because of that needs – more than any of the other Pages – to delve into her own unconscious. Like the Page of Cups, she’s caught between childhood and adulthood, but what calls to her is not growing up, it’s her soul. She can be quite angry, caught between her idealism and the way she sees the world outside.

Similarly, the Page of Swords is a truth-seeker, driven by the need to stay true. Like Joan of Arc, she will, if need be, go to war to ensure she stands fast by her own integrity. If the card is reversed, she is probably contemplating some action that would compromise that integrity.

The Pages, despite their youth, all feel under pressure to discover something about themselves – without realising that the eleventh hour will come and go many times in their lives, and each time it will leave them wiser and more true to themselves than before.

TEN – Completion and the start of a new cycle

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The number ten must have signified the limits of our counting for millennia – our ten fingers. Ten contains all natural numbers – 1+2+3+4 = 10, and is represented by an equilateral triangle.

equilateral triangle

Ten serves as the basis for the now ubiquitous decimal system (as opposed to fractions), simplifying mathematics and allowing the formulation of far more complex mathematical systems. In addition the number represents a spiral of achievement: once 10 is reached, we progress on a higher level until 100 is attained – and then on again to 1000. On that note, many different cultures have utilised this decimal system for their military structure – the Romans had decans (in command of 10 men) and centurians (oddly, in charge of 60). The Turkish army had ‘on bashi’ – leader of 10 and yűzbashi, leader of 100.

Many other traditions placed great emphasis on the number 10. In Hebrew tradition there were the Ten Commandments, and also the ten sephiroth of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, which depicts the ten cosmic emanations of the godhead. In ancient India there were 10 books in the early Rgveda while Buddhist tradition, like the Hebrews, also has ten commandments. In Islamic tradition there are ten senses – five inner and five outer, and 10 mystical leaders each with 10 gifted disciples. And of course, 1 and 0 form the binary system upon which our whole digital age is based.

In the Major Arcana of the Tarot, the Wheel depicts the Wheel of Existence – both the end and beginning of a cycle. Originally called the Wheel of Fortune, the card has slightly negative connotations and a punitive moral tone, i.e. even when you’re at the top, the path inevitably leads back down to the bottom again. The Intuitive Tarot views things more optimistically. Right in the centre of the image we see the Yin-Yang symbol, the balance of dark and light, male and female – the promise that down is inevitably balanced by up, and that both are part of the Whole. Around the spiral, moving into the centre, are figures on the Wheel: some with their heads in the direction of the flow, others facing away, fighting the current. Either way, we all get to the same place eventually.

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The Tens of the Minors reflect different aspects of the number. The Ten of Rods (Wands) and Swords depict the feelings of despair and pessimism that often accompany the end of a cycle. In the Ten of Rods, a figure is seen struggling under the weight of ten large planks of wood. In the background a storm is building but on the horizon is a small city. The traditional meaning of the card is about obstacles and feeling completely blocked. However, there is just a hint here that we don’t have to carry our burdens. If we decide to walk away from the planks they are sturdy enough to stand on their own, and can often be used as the structure upon which to build a better life.

The Ten of Swords is a real challenge. The traditional meaning is that this is the nadir, the worst of times – often, it is seen as a collective low, for instance the recession. Still, this intimates that things can only get better. In the illustration, the figure is struggling to stand with ten swords in his back, but none of them is a lethal wound; he is not down and out (unlike the Rider Waite, where the figure lies slain with blood running from his body).

In happier mode, the Ten of Cups is a card of relationship – the highest and the best a couple have to offer each other. In the Intuitive Tarot the couple is shown looking into each other’s eyes in confidence and love. They are equal partners, with different gifts to offer the other. Their arms curve around an unborn child – although this can sometimes be a shared project rather than a physical child. In other decks, for example the Rider Waite, the Ten of Cups is shown as a happy family who look with confidence into the future, surmounted by a rainbow.

The Ten of Discs is also depicted as a family in the Rider Waite deck, but if you look closely you see there’s no real connection between any of the family members, and it’s all a little florid. This probably reflects the point that, if you have things too easy for too long, stasis and stagnation will follow. This can also be seen in the Intuitive Tarot, where the Ten of Discs is seen as a slightly ambiguous card about the family. This deck is concerned more about genetic inheritance and the long march of time leading up to our contemporary era; sometimes even cellular inheritance. We see the timeline curve off to the right into the unknown future, where we have the opportunity to make some major shift in approach.

Eight: the auspicious number

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Eight has been considered an auspicious number from antiquity. It was thought that beyond the seven planets, there was an eighth sphere – that of the stars. As early as Babylonian times, the number was seen as connected to the gods (the god was said to reside on the 8th floor of the ziggurats). In addition the eight-pointed star represented the goddess Ishtar (the Great Goddess) – this figure and the octagon were appropriated by the Jews and later the Christians. The Jews still consider the eighth day one of purification and circumcision; thereafter the Christians took the idea of purification into regeneration, Christ resurrecting on the eight day of the Passion. This is the reason many baptistries are octagonal.

Mithraic rites talk of a mysterious eighth gate beyond the 7 main gates; which appears to promise a fast-track to paradise. The Muslims believe there are 7 hells and 8 paradises, with 8 angels who carry God’s throne, while both Chinese and Buddhists see the number as highly fortuitous: the eight symbols of Buddhism, and Confucious’ eight precious items.

The sign for infinity, infty, is an eight rotated 90 degrees. Its name – the lemniscate – comes from the Latin lemniscus, meaning “ribbon”. This can be seen as an indicator of spiritual power in, for example, the Rider Waite cards The Magician and Strength.

Doubling numbers is seen as doubling their power, thus doubling 4 (the number of the well-ordered material world) we find eight winds, eight pillars of heaven, and – i China – the eight ages of man. This may explain the 8 x 8 = 64 structure of the I Ching. In Norse mythology we find Odin’s horse Sleipnir with eight legs – perhaps doubling its speed.

In tarot terms, the number eight is usually auspicious. In the Rider Waite deck, Strength is numbered 8, which might explain why the woman depicting Strength has the lemniscate above her head. Waite said that there were good magical reasons why he reversed the numbers between Justice (RWS 11, usually 8) and Strength (RWS 8, usually 11) – although he didn’t explain them. We will take the traditional numbering and look at Justice – which, as an integral sense of balance, clarity of vision, and the ability to act with integrity and a sense of rightness, is a good fit with the poised balance of the numeral 8. Given that Justice is about divine justice as well as human justice, the Hermetic principle of ‘as above, so below’ is also relevant.

In the Minors, eight is mostly auspicious: for example the suit of Discs is about carving out a career in something you love dearly. Here the sculptor lovingly carves his eighth wheel which will adorn the ziggurat behind him. It’s about dedication and focus, manifested in the world. The Eight of Rods is seen as optimistic striving – lots of ideas, speed, moving towards a goal, the start of a journey, the end of delays. The Eight of Swords suggests letting go of the old tapes we play continually in our heads – we limit ourselves and you would think that if we could see the detrimental effect it has on our lives, we would drop the rope that binds us immediately! Finally, in the Eight of Cups, we see a figure moving slowly away from the eight cups that have supported him emotionally – a relationship or career which has outgrown its usefulness perhaps, or just the inner knowledge that it’s time to move on. Whatever the tree represents, it’s now pretty much dead – and the moon and star beckon you on into a more connected life. The idea of change and even resurgence is an underlying message here.

Nine: the cosmic number

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Well, we’re nearly at the Decad (10). Nine has always seemed like a magical number to me – a powerful magical number, though some old writers – particularly Christian – identify it with sorrow and pain, as Christ died at the 9th hour (3pm), and the 9th Psalm apparently contains a prediction of the Antichrist. However, other classical writers consider 9 almost perfect, needing just one more digit to form a complete whole – 10.

In many traditions, nine is seen as connected to the highest (ninth) heaven, which is beyond the planets and fixed stars, while the Cosmic Tree is seen as having nine branches. Dante talks of nine orders of Angels, and the alchemists also considered that the harmony of the cosmos rested within nine spheres and nine muses. In Islam there are nine states of existence, and in China nine-storey pagodas are popular – pagodas tend to have odd numbered storeys and each number will have significance. Also in China, as well as Mexico, we find nine rivers of the underworld (in the former these are manifested as a nine-headed dragon). There are many more ramifications of nine in Chinese mythology, including nine openings of the human body. The Mongols and Turks also cite nine as important – for instance, the Great Mongol Khan had nine standards before which people had to prostrate themselves (nine times).

Nearer home, old Celtic and Germanic law referenced nine: our current leasing system – based on 99 or 999 years – may reflect an ancient legal time-limit (ownership of real estate ends in the 9th generation). We still say ‘a stitch in time saves nine, and ‘togged up to the nines’). There may be some connection with witchcraft, as on Walpurgisnacht (Beltane, 1st May), witches are thought to travel to their meetings in the mountains of Germany in chariots drawn by 99 cats.

In healing, a charm or ritual act was often repeated nine times, blessings were given over nine different herbs to counter demons and poison; and the number occurs in many fairy tales and myths; for example, the River Styx in Greek mythology has nine curves, and major feasts were held to honour Apollo every nine years. Roger Bacon, a renowned philosopher in Elizabethan times, considered that the ninth astrological house was about wisdom and good fortune; which may explain why nine has often been connected with good luck.

More pertinent to the Tarot, in Norse myth Odin was said to hang on his tree for 9 days and nights, to gain wisdom. He also had to learn nine songs. (The myth of the Hanged Man is seen as emerging from this story of Odin – though that card is number XII.) In fact, in Tarot terms, IX is the Hermit.

The ambivalence of the symbolism of Nine is reflected in The Hermit, the first of the Major Arcana to turn inward, into solitude and contemplation. Jung considered that this inner journey would be taken only by people over 40 – anyone younger might not have sufficient maturity. However, age is relative and some youngsters – the lucky ones, perhaps – find that dark path in their late teens, trying to come to terms with their lives.

The message of the Hermit is that life is at a tipping point – the Nine propels us into a new state, but to get there we have to go down into silent questing. In the west the widespread practice of withdrawing from society in order to pray and contemplate has largely died out, but the need to connect with our inner selves is still felt. Often our unconscious prompts us to follow a more solitary path: experienced as a small, insistent voice; a deep, apparently irrational, urge; dreams; or synchronous messages from the universe. We ignore these promptings at our peril!

In the Minors, the ambivalence is continued. The Nines are a very mixed bag.

The Nine of Cups and Discs (Pentacles) are about happiness and abundance, the Nine of Rods is about strength but also vulnerability; while the Nine of Swords depicts the dark night of the soul – a time of soul-searching, lack of faith, and depression.

Perhaps, instead of seeing these cards as ambivalent, we should perhaps consider them to be paradox – in that we cannot experience happiness deeply, without also being able to experience sorrow and loss of faith. Without the dark night of the soul, we can never really understand the wonders of life. We tend to think of children as bubbling over with joy and happiness, untouched by doubts and depression, but this is a slightly sentimental view. The fears and dark feelings that young babies and children experience are very real and immediate. They have not learned to block such feelings; to protect themselves with emotional and body armour. But once we have been through the dark night and returned, we are then far more able to dance with the rhythm of the universe, and enjoy the sensual pleasures of the earth – not just money, but our bodies and the wonders of the senses (the 9 of Discs). As adults, we protect ourselves against the world (the Nine of Rods), trying not to be seen as vulnerable – but that self-protective stance can get tiring and will eventually turn to physical and mental blockages.

Numerology meaning: Seven

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Seven – the heptad – has long been considered a powerfully magical number – the seventh child of the seventh child, the seven-year itch; or the seven ages of man, for example. Arabic philosophers also considered that human development could be seen in 7 years stages, while medieval hermeneutics referred repeatedly to the interaction/union of the spiritual numeral 3 – which often referred to mind, body, spirit – and the material 4 (air, fire, earth, water). The bible also often refers to the number 7 in dreams (Pharoah’s dream of the seven kine). The Pseudo-Hippocrates text says ‘The number 7 … tends to bring all things into being. It is the dispenser of life and is the source of all change, for the moon itself changes its phases every 7 days.’ (quoted in The Mystery of Numbers by Anne Marie Schimmel).

This brings us close to the innate power of the number: the seven days of the week, and the lunar cycle of 28 days (7 x 4). In ancient and medieval times there were thought to be seven planets (including the Sun and Moon), which were seen as part of the seven heavenly spheres with God in the centre. The Babylonian ziggurat had 7 storeys, while the Tree of Life had 7 branches. This is also seen in the 7 branches of the Menorah, the oldest symbol of Judaism. The Egyptians considered there were seven paths to heaven, seven halls of the underworld, and seven heavenly cows. The Mayans, meanwhile believed in a 7-layered sky.

The power in this number is perhaps the reason that the the seventh Major Arcana, the Chariot is seen as such a potent figure – Apollo, controlling the sun in its passage across the skies; Mars, the god of war; or Indra, the Indian sky god, riding his fiery chariot and wielding a thunderbolt. The Chariot appears as an indicator of will and determination, the ego in all its glory. Today, we see the Charioteer as Phaethon, son of the Sun, young and arrogant, who persuades his father Helios, the Sun, to let him drive the solar chariot across the sky unaided, but then loses control of the fiery steeds and plunges to his death. Thus underlying this card is the idea of passion and youthful ego which accepts no limitation, but cannot always fulfil its ambition. Most modern packs show the Chariot holding the reins of one black steed (the unconscious) and one white (the conscious). The intimation here is that to achieve what you want in the outside world, you must utilise both conscious and unconscious minds. If you are unaware of this dichotomy, you may well find that you end up grounded, burnt out, and wondering what on earth happened.

In the Minors, the Sevens are predominantly optimistic and aspirational. In the Rider Waite pack the Seven of Cups is usually read as the danger of dreams turning to delusion, but in the Intuitive Tarot the focus is more supportive – it shows one dark, and one light figure looking down at six small cups contained within a translucent figure-of-eight (the …, usually associated with infinity). Above them, a large goblet with a rising sun appears as a Grail vision. When this card appears it is often because the client needs to reconnect with their most inspiring dream – which I usually see as the work they were sent to earth to complete. Many – if not most – people have forgotten their dreams and settled for second or third best (the small cups at the bottom). But if they stop looking at limitation and start allowing themselves to hope once more, they can achieve more than their wildest dreams.

The Seven of Rods shows a figure climbing out of the constricting palisade around his life, reaching out for a stave that moves high above him. Behind, soft greens suggest a lovely landscape or wood. In the Rider Waite, the Seven shows the winner in a battle; here, the focus is more about the opportunity to reach up and out of the limitations of an old life. Similarly, the Seven of Swords indicates someone looking out on an alien landscape, while in a cave nearby lie seven swords (depicting his intellectual strengths and abilities). Right beside him a huge, sinuous pillar of smoke rises to the sky, though the figure seems oblivious. The interpretation is of a situation that requires ingenuity, subtlety and firm resolve – some new challenge which needs cunning and strategy.

The Seven of Discs, in contrast, shows someone resting after their labours, watching the energy around two opposing geometric shapes on the horizon. A well-needed rest, or time to take stock (or even, the detached observer watching a war of words). If the card is reversed it may mean that there is a danger of apathy or inability to make decisions.

Numerology Meaning: Six

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Six was seen by the Neoplatonists as the perfect number, as it has a wonderful symmetry. It is formed by either adding or multiplying 1, 2 and 3; the product of the first male and female numbers (3 and 2), and contains all geometric figures – point, line and triangle.

In biblical terms God was said to have created the world in six days, resting on the seventh. The seraphim were said to have six wings and, in Revelations, six angels blow trumpets to announce the Last Judgement. (The seventh will blow when the divine Mystery is finally revealed.)

In Zoroastrianism we find six ages of creation, related to the six supreme angelic entities (the Amesha Spentas). Again, this figure is completed by the seventh, supreme being, Ahura Mazda.

Returning to geometry, the square acquires volume to become a six-sided cube with six sides. However, the platonic solid most emulated in nature is the hexagon, as seen in beehives and snowflakes – not surprising, when you consider that its shape multiplies into a structure of amazing economy – and infinite complexity.

In Hermetic and Vedic traditions, the six-pointed star comprises two combined triangles, one facing up, the other down – symbolising the male and the female respectively. The Indians see this as the union of Vishnu – the creative – and Shiva – the destructive forces of the material world. Thus the hexagram can be seen as the union of opposites.

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In tarot terms, this union is reflected in VI, The Lovers. In the Visconti-Sforza deck the union was literal – a marriage, with a blindfolded Cupid hovering over the lovers. In later packs, however, the lovers have been joined by a second woman and now seem to represent the judgement of Paris, where Paris is asked to judge the relative beauty of three goddesses, Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera. With Cupid, Aphrodite’s son, floating around above them, the result is a foregone conclusion, and Aphrodite rewards Paris by giving him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, as his wife (it doesn’t seem to bother her that poor Helen is already married to Menelaus, and that her decision causes the Trojan war). The Lovers becomes a choice between lovers, or between mother and lover. In the Intuitive Tarot, shown here, the choice is one of maturation. Do the lovers stay joined in their symbiotic, slightly limiting relationship, or do they pull apart? The dark figure in the background is Conscience, or the super-ego, who incites us to move out of comfort into growth.

The Minors reflect different aspects of the number. The Six of Rods (or Wands) is a card of triumph, the victor returning home from the war or, in the Intuitive Tarot, the moment when we realise that all our hard work has been vindicated and we have attained the success we’ve worked for. The Six of Swords promises that the harbour is just around the corner after a long, difficult journey. Discs is a card of generosity – money or gifts being offered and received, again the reward of justified success. Finally, Cups suggest a last look back – of nostalgia and gratitude that we have moved on from the past and can now begin to build a new future.

Numerology Meaning: Five

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According to Schiller, Five is the human soul. Certainly it reflects our bodies: head, arms and legs within the circle of soul, as pictured in Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic image of Vitruvian Man…

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Five has long been associated with human life and with the five senses. In that way it is, perhaps, apt that the Hierophant, the inner Old Wise Man is number V of the tarot trumps. He not only represents our wisdom, but our humanity. Jung also saw five as the number of natural man. Five is the first number made up of even and odd – the combination of the masculine 3 and the feminine 2, and as such often represents the union of male and female. So, in the Intuitive Tarot (illustrated), the Hierophant’s wisdom is symbolically shown in his mitre as encompassing the five main religions – the fish (Christianity), the cow (Hinduism), the five-pointed star (Judaism), and the sickle moon (Islam), all contained within an oval egg (Buddhism). The Hierophant himself, however, stands in front of an enormous moon to signify his feminine understanding.

Nature uses the five in significant ways: plants often have five petals and we, of course, have five fingers and toes, but aside from that, the five is mostly significant to humanity. The Pentateuch (the five books of Moses); the pentagram (sign of Ishtar, Venus, and goddesses related to the planet Venus) and the pentagon give an immediate lead into the importance of five in the ancient world. Paracelsus also utilised the five-pointed star in his medical literature. It is also mythologically important: the old solar year was based on the number 5 x 72 days (360 – based on the same breakdown of time as the hours of the day) but, to ensure the year was the correct length an extra 5 days (the epagommeneia) had to be added – Hermes, apparently, gambled with the moon god to gain these five days.

And of course we have the five elements in Semitic, western and Chinese tradition. In Hindu and Sikh tradition five was omnipresent and Chinese tradition was based almost entirely on the five – 5 sacred mountains, five degrees of nobility, five relationships between people, virtues, moral qualities, classical books, five main weapons, five punishments and fivefold luck.

In the tarot minors, five is a slightly difficult number, though one very relevant to many issues of humanity. The Five of Cups references grief and mourning, and our tendency to withdraw to process such emotions. The Five of Discs depicts the loss of home, and/or the need to leave our security every now and again, to revision our lives. The Five of Rods indicates conflict – a kind of ritualised balletic battle of the kind we find in families, relationships, and work. Finally, the Five of Swords illustrates the need to feel superior at others’ expense – patronisation, denigration, intolerance; putting others down to feel good ourselves; the tyranny of the patriarchy; and the feelings of humiliation felt by the underdog.