Updated: Mar 31
NUMBERS IN TAROT: THE MAGIC ADDITION
Numbers in Tarot can be a daunting subject. Especially when we often choose a deck because of an imagery, a vibe... not to do math.
We get drawn to a set of cards because it’s a promise of a universe far from cold rationalism and numbers.
When one starts learning Tarot, they might like the Rider Waite Smith style. Others will prefer Celtic atmospheres or the classic Marseille geometry.
It doesn’t matter here because one thing that all decks have in common despite the different styles, colour codes and sometimes names of the cards, are the numbers.
Each card has a number and each number carries a meaning.
Tarot and Numbers work perfectly together. Even for beginners!
It may seem complicated to add, subtract or learn their symbolism but there are simple ways to get started and make numbers your allies. Especially when you’re reading with minimalist minor suits (hello Marseille, Old English Tarot deck and their friends).
Numbers have been used since the dawn of times to predict the future and interpret the will of Gods and Goddesses. Greeks, but also Hebrews and Chaldeans alike used to believe in Arithmomancy, which later led to numerology.
Pythagoras (6th Century BCE) was one of the first – to our current knowledge – to give very specific attributes to each number.
Following his dogma, all even numbers are female and all odd numbers are male.
Pythagoras (6th Century BCE) – Not just a pretty face
The meaning of a number depends on your cultural background.
What is true for a number in the West, may not be true in Asia or Africa. What is true for a Muslim may not be the same for a Christian or Buddhist and so on and so forth.
In this post, I’ll focus on one tradition: Tarot. With its own history, background and cultural connections, it has also developed its own numerology. It’s a mix of Paganism, Western beliefs and Christian influences.
While Tarot is not a religious tool, it was created and developed - as we know it - during extremely religious times mainly in Italy and France. For instance, it is no accident that the Devil is card 15 (1+5 = 6). The Church did not invent anything but rather 'stole' from various Pagan and Ancient cultures. Therefore understanding basic Catholic symbolism can help understand Tarot in more depth (one does not need to adhere to any religious dogma to do so).
Let’s start with the minor cards
As you know, there are 4 minor suits:
Wands, Cups, Coins/Pentacles and Swords. Each of them mainly linked to certain topics, one element and one season. Also see my infographics on the minor suits.
Each minor suit is made of 10 numbered cards (Ace to 10) plus the Royals (Court cards). That's a total of 14 cards per suit.
Let’s ignore the Royals and focus on card 1 to 10. The symbolism of number 1, 2, 3…10 will be the same for all four suits and continue into the Major Arcana.
1 : New beginnings – Sparks – Decisions
Maybe the most powerful of all numbers, 1 is for (new) beginnings, creative spark, genius and decisions. That’s why Aces or such potent cards. That’s why the Magician is the master of the 4 minor suits, of the 4 elements.
2 : Partnership – Collaboration – Opposition – Duplicity
2’s carry an inner contradiction and must be read only while taking other cards around them in consideration. There are always 2 faces to one reality. Which one is at play here? Only the bigger picture of your spread can determine if your 2 is mostly positive or negative.
3 : Growth – Dynamism – Decisions – Change
For better or for worse, 3 always speaks of a specific action, which will lead to growth and expansion.
Whether this action is pleasant or heartbreaking is not the subject. It’s inevitable and will lead to growth.
4 : Stability – Structure – Standstill
4 stands for stability, rest and even boredom. Rather influenced by the reading it is surrounded by, more than influencing it. The number itself is mostly positive and minor 4s go from great (4 of Wands) to still pretty okay (4 of Swords). 4 is both complete and balanced.
5 : Conflict – Damages – Struggles
A very human number in the Christian tradition, 5 is the number of mankind (6 is the Devil, 7 is God). 5 is everything imperfect and unfinished. Often difficult but not entirely bad either.
5 speaks of struggles and obstacles, real or imaginary. Number 5 is never still and always come with changes.
Number 5 is never all dark but can certainly cast a shadow over a spread
6 : Support, Balance, Hope
Ideals, hopes, victories...6 used to be a dark number associated with all things Evil. But its meaning has evolved into something more positive in Tarot over the centuries. 6 was considered the first perfect number by the Ancient Greeks.
Messages of hope, nurturing energy and support.
7: Knowledge – Magic – Solutions
7 is considered in many cultures and traditions a perfect number. One of completion, of wholeness. It is not an ending (like 10) but a goal reached, a victory (or defeat, when reversed).
8: Infinity – Transformation – Justice - The Unknown
8 is the number of endurance and resilience. Sometimes associated with the simple of infinity. Sometimes a difficult “plateau” number where much has been achieved and yet more remains to be done (especially in a cycle of ten).
9: Profusion – Climax – Momentum
Not the highest number and yet, one that speaks of the climax of a situation. The worst or the very best. A total isolation or the profusion of love. This is a very strong number that emphasizes the symbolism of the suit to which it belongs while keeping an open door to change (a chance if you’re looking at the 9 of Swords for instance).
10: Endings – Closure – Exit
Like the Ace, the 10 is an extremely powerful number, it increases the power of the suit at play and speaks of the end of a cycle. It echoes to the card of Judgement: Here are the consequences of your journey.
They can be good or bad, but they will close a chapter.
This is rather approachable even for a beginner.
And it will be so helpful to keep in mind for big, complex readings. Knowing these numbers and keeping in mind whether they carry a darker or lighter symbolism will add precision and details to your readings.
The knowledge of numbers is something to hold on to no matter which new deck you are testing or learning.
That was easy. And to be honest, a little simplified, but if you master this to start along with the meanings of the minor and major cards, you can start reading Tarot rather seriously.
Some people like to use numerology as well and go deeper using this technique. This is something you can do. But Tarot tradition is not linked to numerology in the first place and I personally don’t do it. You may want to test and see if you get results.
We saw how 1-10 work with the Minor Suits. Let’s look at the Major Arcana.
What I just told you about the minor suits is also true for the 22 major cards. Hurray! But there are some subtleties to keep in mind. After all, Tarot is full of details and exceptions to its own rules. That’s the fun of it.
#1 The Magician: New beginnings. The start. Youth
The Magician is obviously more than new beginnings, but it is that. The Magician never speaks of an end or of a routine. Speaking of new beginnings: the Magician is also the card of Spring. The “real” start of the year in many non-monotheistic traditions. The earth awakens, everything is possible.
#2 The High Priestess:
2 Faces of one reality, remember? This is also true for the High Priestess. She knows everything there is to know. In the known and unknown world. Above and below the surface. She speaks of duality and everything hidden. She is the keeper of the Truth. A thing both beautiful and often difficult to obtain, comprehend and accept.
#3 The Empress
The Empress is, among other things, practical. She thinks with her head while listening to her heart. She is able to make harsh decisions when necessary, but never for the fun of it.
#4 The Emperor
Stability, solid foundations. Boredom? The Emperor rules over his world. He is as comforting as sometimes frustrating. The stability found in number 4 and in the figure of the Emperor can feel reassuring and safe. But it can turn into a prison, a routine that leaves one feeling stuck and belittled.
#5 The Hierophant
The authority of the Hierophant, like the Emperor, is a two edged sword. You may find yourself looking up to the Hierophant, you may also find him looking down at you. Letting you realize what you are not, what you can not and what you know not. The Hierophant is more neutral than positive in the Marseille tradition (mine) and the meaning of his presence – just like any 5 in the Minor Suit – will be revealed by the neighbouring cards.
#6 The Lovers
Choosing between virtue and vice. Between a devil and an angel. This is, simply put, what the original “Lover” (yes, no s) card is all about. Beyond that traditional meaning, The Lovers speak more directly of love itself in whatever form it comes, including romantic.
6 is the number of precarious balance and choices
#7 The Chariot
Victory, Destiny and Success. 7 is a glorious number in Tarot. And the Chariot is a glorious card. This card speaks of both intellectual and material triumph: it’s is whole, mighty and complete. It is divine.
#8 Justice (in RWS, 11)*
Decisions! Justice speaks of legal matters but mostly, of their outcome. Like the 8s of the minor suit, you will know if the news are good or bad based on the surrounding cards.
#9 The Hermit
The Hermit is very much related to the 9 of Swords. A card of isolation, traditionally linked to convents and monasteries. In this case, 9 for the ultimate wisdom, the one that is so crucial that it cannot simply be put out there. We’re approaching the end of a cycle with this mysterious card. Something is about to be revealed or understood.
#10 The Wheel of Fortune
Someone said End of a cycle? Here it is. The Wheel is a card that calls for major changes but because it is (almost) half way through the journey of the major arcana, it does not only end something. It calls for a new situation too. Your position on the Wheel is changing. It is inevitable.
From 11 on, one usually adds up the numbers and continue to use the 1-10 symbolism. But I find that to be too reductive and not always correct. I actually do it completely differently: I divide even numbers by two and consider each number on their own for odd numbers. For example the Hanged Man is like two 6s. Precariousness, a lack of balance, a change to come but a current blockage. The Devil is 1 and 5. Literally bad decisions, a lack of vision.
#11 Strength (in RWS, 8)*
11 follows the big release of 10 and may call for all your strength to keep going. Rebirth requires enormous efforts but can be energizing.
11 is one of the most revered angel numbers with its perfect symmetry.
It is a card and number of integration (1+1 =2), inner healing and balance.
#12 The Hanged Man
Card 12 is one of slow, inner changes. Sometimes the result of a long period of blocks and stagnation. But one that is proving to be fruitful. A rather passive card on its own, even if adored and feared by some, the Hanged Man highly depends on its neighbouring cards. Just like any 3 in the deck (1+2).
For this card, I would not apply the addition that would lead us to 4. This is not at all a card of routine and blockages (but it can be brought by them). This is the card of radical change. And one deeply linked to this very special number that is 13.
13 is widely considered a sacred karmic number, often lucky.
The card of Death can only be read by being put in the context of a spread or question. While it does announce endings, it also announces immediate new beginnings (just like a karmic cycle).
14. Or 2 times 7. A lucky number. Temperance speaks of the beauty found in spirituality, the one that feeds your soul, no matter what it is called. The one that can heal and protect. Faith in all its forms and with all its virtues: patience, moderation, growth.
#15 The Devil
1x5 is Man and 1+5 is the Devil. Never black or white, never clear and always tricky. Card 15 speaks of "evil"…that usually comes from our very human flaws.
Number 15 in itself also speaks of finances and success. Two things the Devil stands for that are often condemned by religious dogma. See my post about the Devil here.
#16 The Tower
16 is a number associated with changes and important lessons. In the light of the surrounding cards, one could count 1+6 (a righteous warning or punishment) or 1×6 (Evil at play).
8+8 = radical, sudden changes. My personal view: a possible addition of the energies of the 8 of Wands and the 8 of Swords.
#17 The Star
Heavenly and protective, the Star is connected to number 7, which is whole and complete. Beyond that, the number 17 is usually associated with spiritual awakening, awareness and wisdom.
#18 The Moon
18 speaks of infinity and constant small changes (a tamed 8), of the origins (1). The ultimate feminine card, number 18 is associated with abundance as well as darkness and sometimes bondage. There is light and darkness in this number, just like the symbolism of the Moon card.
#19 The Sun
The essence of number 9: Joy, fulfilment, rewards. Happiness well deserved as one could find in number 10 (1+9) and 9 (1×9). Self-confidence and success are often associated with 19 in angel numbers.
You can read it as a 2: Good actions rewarded, bad ones punished. Or 2×10: Not only has a cycle come to an end, you will now face the consequences for better and for worse. 20 in itself is a number of accomplishment and balance. Much like 10. In Tarot, we see the culmination of a cycle where consequences are being revealed.
#21 The World
Absolute completion. 10+10 and 1. There have been enough changes to reach a state more permanent, but one that gives birth to a whole new state (1). This is a little more complex but very accurate way to approach this number.
#0 The Fool
0. The most complex and perfect of all numbers. Beginning or end? The Fool originally had no number, just like Death had no name. That’s changed with RWS. But the meaning remains. It is both the beginning and the end of the journey (as Tarot never leaves a door simply closed and all endings call for new beginnings). 0 is infinite and speaks of endless possibilities, just like the Fool, it is pure Faith made number.
** Justice & Strength are swapped in the RWS and Marseille system. Marseille has Justice at number 8 and Strength at 11. There’s a little debate around this but RWS is the winner of all recent Tarot trends, that’s a fact. You may read that the RWS, putting Justice (balance) in the exact middle of the major arcana, is more logical. One could argue that mid-way is where you have already given a lot and still have a long way to go and therefore need all your strength. At the end of the day, use the numbers according to the deck you are reading or organize your deck as you want it. The important thing is to be consistent with yourself. Know what a number and card mean before you start a spread.