Updated: Sep 8
NUMBERS IN TAROT: THE MAGIC ADDITION
Numbers in Tarot. It can sound daunting. Especially when we often choose a deck because of an imagery, a vibe.
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. Especially 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.
For example, 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’s also developed its own number symbolism. It’s a mix of Paganism, Western beliefs and Christian influences.
Let’s start with the minor cards. That’s the easiest bit to dive in.
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 cards (Ace to 10) plus the Royals. So 14 cards per suit. So far, so good.
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:
1 : New beginnings – Sparks – Decisions
Aces are especially strong, they are the “essence” of a suit and their presence in a spread brings out all the power of a suit. For example the Ace of Wands might be the most masculine card of all, it speaks of action, career moves, great decisions and fights well fought.
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. Whether this action is pleasant or heartbreaking is not the subject. It’s inevitable.
4 : Stability – Structure – Standstill
A number that covers breaks, stability 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).
5 : Conflict – Damages – The Unknown – Struggles
Tricky 5. A very human number (in the Christian tradition – a big influence on Tarot, ironically – 5 is the number of mankind, 6 is the Devil, 7 is God). 5 is everything imperfect. Unfinished. Difficult but not all bad. 5 speaks of struggles and obstacles.
number 5 is never all dark but always casts a shadow over the spread
6 : Routine – Precariousness – Blockages
6 traditionally is the number of the Devil. Also the number of blockages and situations that cannot last. This number is often more positive when drawn reversed. It speaks of a routine, which is not necessarily for the best. Often a balance, which is only precarious and without solid foundations. Careful for what is coming around the bend.
7: Completion – Knowledge – Understanding – Solutions
After the Devil, God. 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: Action – Movement – Transformation – Justice
A number highly affected by the cards around it. It does not lead the dance but gives you important information about it nevertheless.
9: Profusion – Climax – Accomplishment
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 card 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).