The numerical value and the numbering of the Tarot cards

Written by  on May 15, 2017 


Some of the Tarot readers relays on numerological calculations, respectively numerological connections between the cards. If there are more cards of the same number, that means something.
During their readings, they add up the numbers displayed on the cards and based on these calculations, draw different conclusions, make predictions or even give some advices.
My concern is that practitioners do not really know and understand the theoretical aspects and particularly, they do not know how the Tarot cards were numbered and what is their actual numerological value.

Two distinctive issues here.
First, we should know and understand how the Tarot cards were named and numbered, respectively what those numbers represent.
Secondly, we have to understand what the numbers represent in Numerology and actually how Numerology works.

The truth is, we don’t know anything about how the cards of the so-called Major Arcane were named and numbered.
In the oldest known Tarot decks, such as the Cary-Yale or Visconti-Sforza Tarot decks from the middle of the 15th-century, the cards of the Major Arcane were unlabelled (Helen Farley – A cultural history of tarot from entertainment to esotericism, page 19). The numbering and name giving for these cards was a later development, addition to these cards. Obviously, an original Italian contribution, considering the Roman numbers on the trumps as a symbol of superiority in contrast with the Arab numbers of the small cards. The names of the trumps are also certainly of Italian-Catholic inspiration: Pope, Popess, Emperor, Temperance, Hermit or The Devil.
How they were numbered remains a mystery and subject of heated debates. Later speculations regarding the link between the 22 trumps and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are due exclusively on the unsustained suppositions of Court de Gébelin (“Du Jeu des Tarots” – The Game of Tarot) and Comte de Mellet (“Recherches sur les Tarots, et sur la Divination par les Cartes des Tarots, par M. Le C. de M. – Study on the Tarots, and on Divination with Tarot cards, by M. the C. of M.). These speculations were further explored by Eliphas Lévi and Papus (Gérard Anaclet Vincent Encausse, 1865 – 1916), and were introduced at the foundation of the Golden Dawn system.
No matter how systematic or articulated these explanations may seem, these are merely speculations. Not to mention that scholars such as William Wynn Westcott (1848 – 1925) mistranslated and misinterpreted the Hebrew Kabbalistic texts only to fit their own vison and understanding. And it was not the exception, but the common practice of those times. Once the connection was suggested, scholars tried to find explanation and fit the existent cards into the Hebrew mystical system. Although, in the traditional Hebrew mystical literature we can find not a single reference to the Tarot cards. Which is at least odd if such a connection ever existed. The link between the 22 trumps and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is purely speculative and it’s the result of the imagination and philosophical efforts of the medieval Western occultists to find such a connection, respectively to explain the 22 trumps.
Bottom line is we don’t know how the trumps were numbered or what those numbers represent.

Fortunately, the numbering of the small cards – Numerals – is reasonably simple, but completely numerologically unrelated.
Most readers believe that 2 of Wands, 2 of Cups, 2 of Swords and 2 of Discs are representing number 2; the 3’s represents number 3 and so on.
It may come as a surprise, but they don’t.
Then how the small cards were numbered?
The numbering of the small cards is exclusively connected to Astrology and not to Numerology.
The first attempt to explain the connection of the small cards to astrological aspects was made by Papus in his book ‘Le Tarot Divinataire’ (known as ‘The Tarot of the Bohemians) and published for the first time in1909.
This system was adopted by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and willingly or unconsciously, is the most used system by the Tarot readers community.
Papus noticed for the very first time the connection between the small, numbered cards and the 36 decans of the Zodiac.
Except the 10s, which Papus considered to be ‘transition’ cards according to his Kabbalistic views, the 9 numbered cards, including the Aces which are considered to be the 1s, are made up a total sum of 36 cards.
As we know, one year is divided into 4 seasons, each season is divided into 3 months, but also each month is divided into 3 decans, sometimes called ‘decani’ or ‘faces’.
According to Papus, the first decan is ‘Active’, the second is “Passive” and the third represents the ‘equilibrium’, it’s ‘dual’, respectively can be both active and passive.
So, let’s take as example the third quarter of the Zodiac where we have the Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius.

The 1st decan of Libra is the Ace of Swords (Air).
The 2nd decan of Libra is the 2 of Swords (Air).
The 3rd decan of Libra is the 3 of Swords (Air).
The 1st decan of Scorpio is the 4 of Cups (Water).
The 2nd decan of Scorpio is the 5 of Cups (Water).
The 3rd decan of Scorpio is the 6 of Cups (Water).
The 1st decan of Sagittarius is the 7 of Wands (Fire).
The 2nd decan of Sagittarius is the 8 of Wands (Fire).
The 3rd decan of Sagittarius is the 9 of Wands (Fire).
The 10 of Wands represents the transition from Sagittarius, the Fire sign to Capricorn, the Earth sign.

This scheme – or pattern – applies in a similar way to each of the four quarters of the Zodiac.
Much later, in 1944, Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947) published ‘The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptiansț. The book describes the philosophy and the use of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, a deck of Tarot cards designed by Crowley and co-designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris.
Crowley made several fundamental corrections to the Golden Dawn system and his vision is still the theoretical foundation of most of the current Tarot practices.
Regarding the numbered cards and their associations, Crowley excluded the Aces from the scheme, and started the association to the decans from the 2s and going up till the 10s inclusively.
The Aces, according to Crowley’s interpretation represents the ‘spirit’ of the four elements and represent a link between the small cards and the court cards.
Roughly, the Aces represents the 4 seasons, respectively the ‘root’ of the 4 seasons which are the 2 Equinoxes and 2 Solstices.
I consider that Crowley made the right corrections regarding the small cards.
So, as we can see, the numbering of the small cards was made according to the cards astrological position on the Zodiac and not by numerological considerations and associations.
Some may believe that it’s possible that the astrological and numerological associations may be identical or at least correlated. They are not.

Now a crash course in Numerology.
Generally, there are two distinctive methods of how Numerology work. Apparently they are distinctive, practically not so.
First, as in the case of Gematria, the system adopted by the Jews, to the letters and/or the words, there are numbers assigned and we can execute different operations based on those numbers.
The other method is to assign planets to the numbers.
I said ‘apparently’ the two methods are different, but practically not. That is because actually both, planets and numbers are assigned to the letters, but very few people know these assignments and don’t use the two methods combined.
What we have to understand for now is that to each planet there is a number, respectively a letter assigned.
But there are several different methods of assign the planets to the numbers.

How the planets are assigned to the decans in Astrology?
Well, there are only two methods in use with several variations depending on how many planets are counted in.
The most commonly used system is the one of the Golden Down.
It’s based on the work of William Wynn Westcott (1848 -1925), expressed in the book “Numbers, Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues” (page 125), first published in 1890. According to Westcott, the ancient Egyptians associated the names of the 7 Gods with 7 numbers as followed:

1. Saturn, Rephan, God of Time.
2. Jupiter, Picheus, God of Life;
3. Mars, Moloch, God of destruction.
4. Sol (Sun), Phre or Pire, meaning Holy Lord.
5. Venus, Suroth, lady of love.
6. Mercury, Hermes, Hermanubis, God of speech.
7. Luna, Piooh, lady of waters.

This coincide with the planetary system of Ptolemy and Lilly.
William Lilly (1602 – 1681) in his famous book ‘Christian Astrology’ (London, 1647) reiterate the theories of Claudius Ptolemy’s (c. 100 – c. 170) from his even more famous ‘Tetrabiblos’ (meaning “Four Books”).
It’s important to know and understand that the astrological model proposed by Ptolemy and adopted by Lilly was the Hellenistic Geocentric model – a model of the universe with the Earth at the center, and based on the knowledge of only 7 planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon.
We know that the ancient Egyptian Astrology was decan based, but that system is lost and Ptolemy did not make any references to it.
Lilly on the other hand proposed the so-called Chaldean rulership, assigned to each decan of the Zodiac a different ruling planet. He called the decans ‘faces’.
The Zodiac is roughly a circle of 360° (respectively 365 representing the days of a year). The Zodiac is divided into 12 signs, each of approximatively 30° arcs.
The term ‘decan’ is applied to the subdivision of a Zodiac sign into 10° arcs. As a consequence, each sign is divided into 3 decades referred to as the first, second and third decans.
The interpretation of Decans is based upon a system of rulerships, each decan being ruled by a different planet.

So, the numerical attribution of the planets resulted from the erroneous perception of the ancient astronomers of our very own solar system.
They consider the Earth as being in the center of the universe and the visible 7 planets are revolving around it, Saturn, the closest one being attributed to number 1, the Moon, considered to be the farthest, being attributed to number 7.

Aleister Crowley distributed the planets to the decans in a repeating pattern as follows starting from the 1st decan of Leo.

So, according to Crowley and subsequently to the Golden Dawn system, the association of the rulership in the third quarter of the Zodiac is:

1st decan of Libra – 2 of Swords – Moon in Libra, respectively number 7.
2nd decan of Libra – 3 of Swords – Saturn in Libra, respectively number 1.
3rd decan of Libra – 4 of Swords – Jupiter in Libra, respectively number 2.
1st decan of Scorpio – 5 of Cups – Mars in Scorpio, respectively number 3.
2nd decan of Scorpio – 6 of Cups – Sun in Scorpio, respectively number 4.
3rd decan of Scorpio – 7 of Cups – Venus in Scorpio, respectively number 5.
1st decan of Sagittarius – 8 of Wands – Mercury in Sagittarius, respectively number 6.
2nd decan of Sagittarius – 9 of Wands – Moon in Sagittarius, respectively number 7.
3rd decan of Sagittarius – 10 of Wands – Saturn in Sagittarius, respectively number 1.

According to this, 3 of Swords and 10 of Wands are assigned to Saturn, respectively, from numerological perspective, to number 1. They are also linked to the card The Universe from the major Arcane, which is also assigned to Saturn and it’s numbered 21, respectively to 7 of Disks, 5 of Wands and 8 of Cups, all the other cards assigned to Saturn and numerologically associated to number 1.
Obviously, the numbering of the Tarot cards does not reflect and are not correlated with the numerological value of the cards.
Crowley didn’t consider it relevant that each planet is assigned to a specific number and any numerological calculation should be made based upon these attributions.
Some may argue that Crowley used Gematria, an ancient Assyro-Babylonian system adopted by the Jews, but it’s not entirely true and definitively don’t clarify the issue of numeric attribution of the planets.
Gematria is a generic name for several different methods of alphanumeric ciphers which assigns numerical value to the Hebrew letters and words. Gematria doesn’t make the connection between planets and numbers, but it’s based upon a completely different philosophy which exclusively applies to the Semitic family of languages.
On the other hand, Crowley identified correctly the correlation between the 10 Sephirot of the Tree of Life and the numbered cards. He attributed the 2’s to Chokmah, the 3’s to Binah and so on.

But the Golden Dawn system is not the only one in current use.

Sepharial in his 1913’s book “The Kabala of Numbers”, respectively Cheiro in his 1926’s book “Book of Numbers”, both proposed a new system of attribute the numbers to the planets.
Unfortunately, neither of them explained the reason behind their attribution system.
Apparently, Cheiro based his system on the ‘evidence’ of a nine planets solar system: “There is no getting away from the fact that there are only nine Planets in our Solar System, also that there are only nine numbers by which all our calculations on this earth are made.” (Chapter II, page 35).

1 – Sun
2 – Moon
3 – Jupiter
4 – Uranus
5 – Mercury
6 – Venus
7 – Neptune
8 – Saturn
9 – Mars

It’s all good, but Cheiro completely forgotten about the Earth. Pluto was discovered in 1930 and meanwhile some astrologers also introduced Ceres (1801) and Chiron (1977) in their astrological system.

Another method of assign numbers to the planets is based on the association between the days of the week and the 7 classic planets:

1. – Monday (Lunae) – Moon
2. – Tuesday (Martis) – Mars
3. – Wednesday (Mercurii) – Mercury
4. – Thursday (Iovis) – Jupiter
5. – Friday (Veneris) – Venus
6. – Saturday (Saturni) – Saturn
7. – Sunday (Solis) – Sun

Alternatively, some use this system, but considering Sunday the 1st day of the week, so implicitly Sun is number 1, Moon is number 2 and so on.

But there is also a different method of attribute ruler planets to the decans called
This method employs the ruler of the sign as specifically the ruler of the first decan, with the second and third decans associated with the rulers of the other two signs of the same triplicity. Thus, according to modern Astrology, the First decan of Aries is ruled by Mars; the Second is ruled by the Sun, ruler of the next Fire sign, the Leo; and the Third is ruled by Jupiter, the ruler of the third and following Fire sign, the Sagittarius.
But things were always the same.

Triplicty rulerships using the “Dorothean system” (classical Hellenistic astrological system) are as follows:

Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius): Sun, Jupiter, Saturn.
Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn): Venus, Moon, Mars.
Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius): Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter
Water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces): Venus, Mars, Moon.

First planet is considered to be the Day Ruler, second the Night Ruler, and third Participating Ruler.

Currently, the most commonly used rulers of the decans are:

Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius): Mars, Sun, Jupiter.
Earth (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn): Venus, Mercury, Saturn.
Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius): Mercury, Venus, Saturn or Uranus.
Water (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces): Moon, Mars or Pluto, Jupiter or Neptune.

Coming back to the third quarter of the Zodiac and applying the Sepharial /Cheiro attribution of numbers to the planets, respectively the Triplicty rulerships, we’ll obtain a different result:

1st decan of Libra – 2 of Swords – Venus in Libra, respectively number 6.
2nd decan of Libra – 3 of Swords – Saturn or Uranus in Libra, respectively number 8 (Saturn) or number 4 (Uranus).
3rd decan of Libra – 4 of Swords – Mercury in Libra, respectively number 5.
1st decan of Scorpio – 5 of Cups – Mars or Pluto in Scorpio, respectively number 9 (Mars) or number 10 (Pluto).
2nd decan of Scorpio – 6 of Cups – Jupiter or Neptune in Scorpio, respectively number 3 (Jupiter) or number 7 (Neptune).
3rd decan of Scorpio – 7 of Cups – Moon in Scorpio, respectively number 2.
1st decan of Sagittarius – 8 of Wands – Jupiter in Sagittarius, respectively number 3.
2nd decan of Sagittarius – 9 of Wands – Mars in Sagittarius, respectively number 9.
3rd decan of Sagittarius – 10 of Wands – Sun in Sagittarius, respectively number 1.

Same issue here as it is in the case of the “Chaldean” system.
2 of Wands is associated to Mars, respectively number 9; 2 of Cups is associated to Moon, respectively number 2; 2 of Swords is associated to Venus, respectively to number 6; finally, 2 of Discs (Pentacles) is associated to Saturn, respectively to number 8.

Nowadays, both astrologers and Tarot authors use different combinations of numerical attributions to the planets and on the two, available method of determination of the rulership of the decans.
Some extended the Chaldean system adding extra planets to the original pattern, while others use the method of Triplicity with different number and set-up of planets.
The result is a complete Babylonian chaos. (According to Genisis 11: 4-7, humans wanted to build a tower in Babylon to reach the heavens and challenge the God. In response, God ‘confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’).

Excerpt from the book ‘The Unified Esoteric Tarot’ by Attila Blága. Full or partial use of this text for commercial or non-commercial distribution by any means whatsoever is strictly prohibited unless expressly authorised by the author.

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