In the class this week I discussed how I used the images on the forty pip cards of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to create my own personal numerology and keywords for the pip cards. It was requested that I post it as a blog entry. I am happy to do this with one reservation. My reservation is that I want to show how my observation of the deck's images has shaped what I have come to see the cards meanings. I have done this with other decks with mixed results. It is not my intention to provide a list of keyword meanings that someone will blindly accept as the meaning for these cards without the personal observation of their deck.
To explain this structure I am going to go through the numbers one by one. As I discuss the number's meaning I will list how I see the suit expresses that theme. It may be best if you read this while looking at the images from the Suit cards in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck or one that is very symbolically close to it.
As a matter of full disclosure, I have been strongly influenced by Mary K. Greer's book, 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. In the book she discussed the idea that not only could the Major Trumps be seen as a Journey that the Fool takes but also that the Suits can each be seen as a Journey as well that follows an established pattern. It was my interest in the narrative approach to the Tarot that was engaged with this idea. I have envisioned each of the Suits as a journey and I have used the capitalized "Journey" to refer to the sacred pilgrimage of life. This is often referred to as "The Great Work." This Journey is an idea that we encounter the events of our lives not as mere observers or victims in the course of events but rather that we are making our way through in hopes to find our true, higher, more authentic self at the end.
In working out these keywords there was also an attempt to develop my own set of keywords but not with the effort to exclude but to rather tie in what I have come to know are the Esoteric Titles given to the cards in the Liber T a hermetic book used by the Golden Dawn in their understanding of the cards as symbols. For those who are familiar with these Titles may recognize them.
Aces -- Ones
The primal force of the Aces is that embodying energy of the suit and its element. The Aces are the energy at its core and its foundational sense. A burst of elemental energy. Aces can express themselves in a few ways. They are beginnings, gifts, seeds, and as catalysts for the journey of life. They are the spark of inspiration, the curiosity to discover, the pilgrims unsettled spirit, the businessman's good idea, a lover's intuition or a farmers change of season.
Ace of Wands -- Inspiration -- The Ace of Wands is the fiery start that lights the way as a torch, the warmth of heart to empower the person to hope for what might yet come. The fire of the soul that creates and moves out of a sense of greater hope and enlightenment. I like the idea of Inspiration as it is related to the idea of breath. Breath as a the burning of oxygen for the fuel of the body is not that far off from what happens in the chemical process of flames. The fire that burns in our bellies and the burning of oxygen seems it connect us with the idea that we are living flames given flesh. The Spark. The Flame.
Ace of Cups -- Emotion -- The Ace of Cups is the blessing of emotions and feelings The overflowing of our souls into our lives. The heart's longings and voice. How we experience the complex world beyond the nuts and bolts. Emotions are the messy excess of our beings. As the cup overflows with the abundance so often does our own emotional cup overflow with the release of emotions. The Drop. The Wave.
Ace of Swords -- Understanding -- The Ace of Swords is the thoughts and words we use to place the world we live in order. The enlightenment that comes from a new discovery. There is a sense of revelation and the concept of the new idea. Intellect and the Air are both cutting and loaded objects. The intellect carries thoughts, ideas, hopes and understandings as Air carries clouds, storms, rain and snow. The edge of the Blade. The Wind.
Ace of Pentacles -- Growth -- The Ace of Pentacles is about finding where to produce, where there is a new enterprise or expansion of what has been planted. The Ace of Pentacles is where we find grounding and renewal. The Ace of Pentacles shows growth but all growth must come from being grounded. Grounding oneself in the solid, firm and practical there is a potential to allow the base energy of earth flow through the body and into the work of our lives. The Rock. The Sprout.
Twos -- Duality
The look of twos just shout duality of the Western mind. The modern western mind dictates that all of life must or can be placed in a category. It is always "this" or "that". Duality is an idea that is steeped in my personal sense of understanding the world. Many pairs show the division that exists in the world. In or Out, Light or Dark, Right or Wrong, East or West, Up or Down, Color or Black and White, Male or Female, Teacher or Student, Man or Woman, Dine in or To Go, Paper or Plastic, Cash or Check, OU or Texas. The line is different for everyone and many distinctions are not easily made but these are dualistic ideas as I see them in the cards. Looking at the Waite-Smith deck we see the twos show us that lesson of who we divide opposing forces.
Two of Wands -- And -- Twos can be parallel. These are boundaries, guidelines, meaning two things that exist separate and equal. Oil and Water, Light and Darkness. They each have their own substance and essence, neither blended or mixed. The Duality of dominion and tolerance. Where we accept what is in play and allows for the other.
Two of Cups -- Both -- Twos can be mixed. They can be joined, blended, or combined. With unity of two things there is a third new substance created. The element of Water helps us here to see how it is the great dissolver. Emotions create grey issues out of what might have been black and white.
Two of Swords -- Or -- Twos can be crossed. These are contradictions, disputes, rivals, crossroads, a literal clash of swords. This could be competing thoughts, ideas, egos, jealousy, spend or save. This is the concept of mutually exclusive items or stalemates until resolution.
Two of Pentacles -- Alternate -- Twos can be juggled. When twos must mutually remain and not unified they must take turns. Mutually held, divided, shared. Children in divided custody, responsibilities to teh sacred and the secular, budgets that require the management of funds. The idea of the Aces as a solo, a single but here the two is multiple Aces.
Threes -- Adding
Threes speak of addition and outcome. The adding to what already is and how that change affects the dynamic of what has been established. The elemental property can give us insight to the realm in which we see that increase but I also see how that addition looks.
Three of Wands -- Compensation -- The increase is seen on the card as one which as joined the two. Two on one side and one on the other, the wands in the picture more than any other shows the imbalance of the three. But as the man reaches past one wand to the second on his right there is a sense that he changes to make the inclusion. There is a wisdom, creativity and leadership to understand and act to allow the addition.
Three of Cups -- Join -- The addition of joy: the new child, new friend or ally. The more the merrier, this is the thriving of emotions in growth. In depth and the natural growth of life is in reproduction. Religious, business, and families -- infertility is nigh unto death. A wholeness is found in creation and peace can be restored through a moderator.
Three of Swords -- Disrupts -- The increase is a betrayal and the excluded is added. The mistress, the corporate spy or falsehood integrated as a belief. The addition brings chaos, sickness or sorrow. This can also be the unwelcome addition of the third-wheel, pushy mother-in-laws, a tumor or drug addiction or even just bad news. Truth becomes real.
Three of Pentacles -- Aid -- The forces join together to prosper to a higher level. We are better together, greater than the sum of the parts, 'a cord of three strands is not easily broken.' The student finds his master and begins his mentoring in the balance of skills to become proficient. Small Victories.
Fours -- Stopping
It was the Fours that got me set on this round of study. As I looked at them, the Emperor illustrated one aspect of Fours while the Suit cards another. The moment when we stop, pause or cease to move forward there is a force that is acting. Inertia dictates that things in motion remain in motion until something acts upon them. What is acting in these cards?
Four of Wands -- Celebration -- We stop to celebrate, give rewards. To pause in our progress to enjoy what we have accomplished. To build on the foundation that has brought our success and a moment to enjoy. "All work and no play . . . ." Expressing the joy in the Journey.
Four of Cups -- Apathy -- How sad is it when we stop, simply give up because we no longer care? The opposite of love is not hate but apathy. The Journey, the goal or the road has lost its appeal. There is a lack of desire, depression or regret that high cost of the Journey will require us to pay. There is a feeling that disillusionment is a cage in which pilgrims can become ensnared.
Four of Swords -- Recover -- Often we must pause to recover, rest, heal or regain. There comes a time when limits pushed require a time of recuperation, restocking and preparations are taken again. A day off, a vacation, a good night's sleep, a healthy meal, vitamins, vaccinations, sabbatical, or spiritual retreat. Yet the road still calls.
Four of Pentacles -- Controlling -- The Journey stops when the ability to control is at a max. A person's ability and management skills may limit his drive. Rightly or negatively limits show control and hold up continuation. Limits of control are different for everyone, it may be three children, defending the land you possess, being the leader of a group, coloring in the lines, fences, speed limits, maxed out credit cards.
Fives -- Mazes
On every Journey there are moments when we face darkness, setbacks, struggles, or even being lost. A labyrinth of life experience. Fives are about a crisis we are facing. The fierce struggle to survive is found in the Fives. I read a book when I was overseas about the nature of a Pilgrimage. In the book the author discussed the idea that with each trip we take there can be moments of frustration, delay and unexpected difficulty. It taught that these difficulties should not be shun or grieved over but to be embraced as part of the Journey. I have seen that in any vacation or meaningful travel that it has been helpful for me to remember that these moments shape the trip and if I can embrace them as part of the adventure then I am able to allow them to work in my life the purpose for which they have come.
(Also please keep in mind that I consider that the Five hold a unique position as they more than any other number hold special lessons that I need to learn.)
Five of Wands -- Fight! -- The Maze of Passion. When we fight, our passions can get the best of us. In practice we can begin to fight. Stress, feeling overwhelmed by teh challenge. When we are in the moment and a challenge arises we must be careful not to allow the fire of ego and pride take over but use control to press to victory.
Five of Cups -- Grief -- The Darkness of Emotions. The struggle with grief. Life always shorts us. We will always lack something. A grief of loss is within us and we can get lost in regret. There are moments when grief and depression is truly a maze in which we all can get lost and even lose ourselves beyond simply losing our way. Often we need help recognizing what we still have.
Five of Swords -- Defeat -- The Struggle of the Mind. In our own minds we can seem the master of all knowledge. The world out where we live though will show us how we become small, weak, or lacking. There are many ways in which defeat can come: arrogance, pride, lack of being prepared. How do we get past the defeat and get back on the road?
Sixes -- Apex
Sixes are a peak in the Journey and are the start of the slide to the completed cycle. Here is also a sense of completed small victories. The top of the mountain with a view of the action and the landscape from which we have come. It is a short-term situation but is also a moment to apply yourself to the lessons learned or to receive the recognition deserved.
Six of Wands -- Victory -- The battle won! The war may or may not be over but for now there is a victory. A chance to receive a pat on the back or pat someone on the back. The moment to see that you can move forward in confidence and honor.
Six of Cups -- Memory -- Embrace the lessons of the past, there is a blessing in the experience and more so when it is shared. There is a positive exchange with ourselves or with others when wisdom is shared or life is mutually considered. A struggle completed with your good nature still thriving and a positive moment not to lose track of your own ethics. The Journey and struggle has not damaged our spirits.
Six of Swords -- Moving On -- The rough waters churned by struggle of thought and stress. There is a relief in conquering and moving on to new ventures, new homes, new vistas. Not a completely positive outcome but not negative sense of quitting (8 of Cups), just turning to something new with lessons learned and experience gained.
Six of Pentacles -- Generosity -- In the moments of life when we get out of the Maze we must share the wisdom, the profit, and even a bit of ourselves. There must be an answer to the responsibility. This is the responsibility that we owe when we gain the blessing. this is the free-will offering, the shout of praise and giving of alms to the poor in order to show how we are thankful. As cheesy as it sounds, pay it forward. We have a karmic debt to share the learning we gain with others. We gain so that we can give.
Sevens -- Challenges
As we begin to ready ourselves for the success we fight, yearn for, wait for and imagine there are some challenges we face. Each is one we face on our own and all alone. The challenges test our resolve and our discipline. How we see ourselves through these challenges add to our character for good or ill.
Seven of Wands -- Courage --In our lives we come upon times when we must fight off all challenges on our own. We can only trust our own instincts and our own training. Here we face overwhelming odds or fears. Courage is something we muster from within and in a moment’s notice. The challenge is to stand firm when the emotions and the weaker baser self calls us to run. Times when we must summon the courage to count the cost of what we are willing to lose for the right and good cause. This may be to swim up the stream against popular opinion or to fight the good fight alone knowing the ship is sinking or the plane is going to crash somewhere.
Seven of Cups -- Reality -- Moments when the fantasy world lure away from the real choices we face. Don't allow false hopes keep you from reality. The postmodern life offers many different diversions and we must focus on what is before us. We may enjoy a moment of escapism in a film, book or television but we must remember it is what we do that matters. We must take care not to lose ourselves in the glittering of fool's gold.
Seven of Swords -- Integrity -- In each battle on the Journey there will be a moment when we can take what we have not earned. We will be tempted to take the short cut, sleep late and abandon our responsibility. We must fight the impulse, be true, faithful and honest. In the Journey of our lives we need to remember what we are risking. We journey as a part of the battle for our spirits and our souls.
Seven of Pentacles. -- Patience -- The challenge of waiting can be agony. The moment of harvest requires an ability to simply allow time for growth. The whole period of waiting and work can be lost in an instant of an uncontrolled hand not willing to wait. The maturity to know that things come in times, seasons and cycles comes from the struggle with the appetite, greed, and the secret of being content in the wait can only be learned but never really taught.
Eights -- Reactions
If the Sevens show the challenges then the Eights show the response to them. Each of the Suits response as the expression of their element. The way we react to challenges will show how we act in pressure situations.
Eight of Wands -- Action -- The fiery suit demands a swift response. The quickness of the fire suit is seen in the spread of an erupting blaze from just a simple spark. The lack of hesitation and surety are signals of Wands. The challenge is responded to in a burst of emotion, the swing of the fist, the unforgiving tongue, or a burst of energy.
Eight of Cups -- Retreat -- When the emotional battle comes to a head there is a natural option of unhooking, giving up and surrender. The moment when we choose to abandon the success we have gained in relationship or endeavor for the easy out. The moment when our reaction is to heal our emotions in separation. This card is opposed to the 6 of Swords because in the 6 of Swords there is a next step after an ending. This is the step away as bringing about an ending.
Eight of Pentacles -- Work -- The reaction of the earthly is on of prudently getting back to work. The reaction we sometimes need to redouble our efforts and study, research and simply toil away at a task. The card can hint of training and the proactive move to find a mentor or the help we need to succeed.
Nines -- Rewards
The Nines were the biggest struggle to bring together as a group. I began to reflect on the Hermit as a Nine and saw how each of these cards show individuals. People are who they are as individuals. These are all at a moment when they are reaping a reward they earned for themselves on the Journey. This is the position that their reactions to the Journey have brought them too. How are people as they near the end of their Journeys?
Nine of Wands -- Strong -- This is a card of a person left on guard. One who has been injured in battle and has the strength to stand at his defensive post knowing that there may be more fighting left. This is a card that shows the power to carry on and even intensify the energy to accomplish a victory in the battle. There may be a recovery when the battle is won but now the power of self to stand at your post.
Nine of Cups -- Fat and Happy -- The Wish card. This card shows a man who is happy with what he has gotten. One rich man when asked how much was enough his reply was "one more." How sad it is to not find joy and contentment in what you have. The prosperity of the Cups have developed into a state of bodily abundance and emotional fullness. A man or woman quick with a joke, a laugh and another full cup to hand you.
Nine of Swords -- Anguish -- A card of sorrow and emotional pain. There may be a brave smiling face in the light of day but alone at night there is depression, fear and tears. A mind and a spirit bothered by sleepless nights, doubts, grief, regrets, and secrets. A person alone with one's thoughts is truly alone. The Journey has brought and overwhelming reward of fears, sorrows and guilt may haunt a mind that made poor choices. We do not know of the anguish is based in the reality of the situation or if the product of the mind.
Nine of Pentacles -- Stability -- A woman stands comfortable in her garden. There is security gained from foresight, planning, hard work and right timing. There is a sense of well earned pride and satisfaction from what has become of her work.
Tens -- Endings
All things that have a beginning must have an end. It is the very nature of our existence. The Tens in the Suits truly grasp the finality and the outcome of a situation.
10 of Wands -- The Frodo Ending -- The Journey has cause a profound change and the result will always be a burden or oppression that we must bear as we move onward. "You can never go home." We may find a measure of relief and peace but we are not what we were before we started. The price has been a high and lasting one.
10 of Cups -- Riding off in to the Sunset -- The happy couple has found true love and the reward will be happy children and a peaceful, abundant home. The prize of the Journey has been emotional fulfillment in the fight for home and community.
10 of Swords -- Romeo and Juliet Ending -- A total loss, while the Wands allows for a hope to move on, the end of the Swords is utter ruin. All is lost and there may never be any recovery. When the couple commit mutual suicide the hope of love is gone. Tragedy is always a potential ending for all Journeys. The world goes on but it is at a severe loss and cost.
10 of Pentacles -- Happily Ever After -- The fortunes have smiled and the end grants material success. The check comes in the mail, the inheritance gets through probate, the sell of stock nets huge profits. A happy ending almost in a sense that all is well with the world. Enjoying the prosperity of well being.
I hope that this will be helpful for you to look at and begin to develop your own set or system of keywords and deeper understanding of the Tarot. This is a evolving process and there is a chance for all of us to develop and grown in the area of understanding of card meanings. I do not think that they are necessarily static or universal.