Thirteen: Death or Rebirth?

Numerology meaning 4 Comments »

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

Working with Tarot Card Meanings for Intuitive Guidance and Self-Development (Part 2) – Reversals

Self Development No Comments »

Last time we talked about identifying with a card, chosen either at random or by visual selection and being open to any sub conscious messages that card might suggest to you.

I talked about how it might be if I drew the Three of Rods and concentrated on what the design is saying to me. I began with the ideas – suggested by the design – of: concentration, energy, beautiful colours, velvet smoothness, peace. Excitement at holding this beautiful egg-shape.

But what if I drew the Three of Rods and it was upside down i.e. reversed?


If the card is reversed (appears upside down) the intuitive message you need to take from it is modified. In the case of the Three of Rods, I would still have access to the creativity or beautiful secret, but I need to be aware that there may be some blockage.

At this stage, I need to stay in the reverie, letting my mind flow freely around any further images that came.

I might get the sense I am trying too hard to control an outcome, or that there is some outstanding task to be completed. If no guidance comes, I will pass the issue over to my higher and unconscious selves, and forget it for the time being, waiting for synchronicities or dream messages to help clarify the situation later.

Tarot Card Meanings: More on Reversals

Tarot Card Meanings No Comments »

People often find reversals – when the card is drawn upside down – offputting in the extreme. Indeed, many tarot readers don’t use them at all, preferring to interpret both negative and positive sides of the card at the same time. However, reversals can be very useful – particularly when the majority of cards have appeared reversed. One way of working with them is to see a reversal as an indicator that there is a blockage or lack of confidence involved: so for example, if someone has drawn the Nine of Rods (Wands) reversed, the interpretation could be that although they appear to be strong and in control, inside they are feeling defensive and not at all sure how long they wish to continue holding people at bay.

Reversals of the darker cards often display a more optimistic aspect of the card. The Nine and Ten of Swords reversed all indicate that the darkest time has already passed (useful, as they are such dark cards!), and the Five shows the fearful, cowering person at the bottom of the card beginning to take power into her hands and face her fears.

One of the most interesting of reversals is the Tower. The meaning of the card is the lightning strike of God, the cosmic illumination that shatters all existing structures – and although the card isn’t always *that* negative, it certainly can indicate disastrous events (like 9/11, for example). So how to read the Tower reversed?

Nowadays I usually see this as dismantling important aspects of your life, which can be deciding to downsize, for example. Separation, divorce, or giving in your notice after a shock could also be The Tower reversed. But one of the best examples I’ve encountered happened recently in a reading for a woman who was 7 months pregnant. She blenched a bit to get the Tower reversed and I explained what I’ve just said above: that it wasn’t necessarily negative at all, but she’d have to rethink her life and get rid of all sorts of unwanted stuff. Three days later she texted me to say her baby had been born – 2 months early, but he was fine. She wanted to know what the Tower reversed meant! I replied that although she had expected the birth, she’d thought she had plenty of time. Now, however, both she and her partner would have to make some radical changes to their lifestyle – dismantling the old structures and setting up new.