Saturday, March 13, 2010

Part II of Number Symbolism

My last post covered numbers 1 to 6 of Liz Greene talking about number symbolism in the context of a Tarot Weekend. The whole seminar lasts about 9 hours, is well worth getting, and you can buy it here.

So here's part II. (Again, the pictures are my choosing!):

The 7 is again like the 5 not divisible by anything. They’re both rather odd numbers. The 7 is the Sephirah called Netzach, and it’s sometimes translated as victory and sometimes it’s called splendour. It’s on the feminine side of the tree of life. It’s almost like the rainbow or the peacock’s tail in alchemy. It’s this glorious expression of all possible manifestations, all forms of life. It’s as if Adam in the garden is suddenly presented with every possible variety and form of living being. He hasn’t yet named them. But the whole range of possible manifestations is revealed. 7 is a number which of course is also associated with the 7 planets. So it’s a number that seems to pertain to the variety of dynamics inherent in the cosmic system. It’s the complete cosmic system, it’s all the components. And you find it turning up a lot in many different symbolic systems. Because it’s a very specific representation of ‘Here’s the cosmos and it’s all one.’ But by the time you get to 7 it’s been broken down into 7 primary ingredients, which are the astrological symbols of the planets, all the possible choices.

It’s also associated with ceremonial magic. It seems to have that connotation. Ritual. Different from the 5 connected with the pentagram. 7 has to do with invocation. It’s the knowledge of correspondences, the understanding of all the links and connections. So the number in Cabbala, in Pythagorean thought, seems to have to do with the recognition of the diversity of manifestation and how to manipulate it, how to work with it. And also the beauty and glory of the range of things that are available in life.

So you can see how something that starts as a unity gradually enters further and further into the realm of manifestation, it gets more and more diverse as it goes. It appears to fragment, it has more and more colours, more and more shapes, more and more names. It’s still not complete because the numbers from that perspective are a process of emanation into reality. So the completion only comes at the last one.

So 7, you get a sense of the variety, and it does seem to connect with Psyche’s choices. She just has all these possibilities thrown at her.

8 is connected with worldly knowledge. And I think that the card reflects it very well because it’s about having to understand and name and learn about all these different facets of manifestation that are presented in the number 7. So like 4, 8 is connected with the earth plane. It’s the Sephirah of Hod. In some systems it’s associated with the planet Mercury because it has to do with industry and knowledge and understanding applied to reality. It’s Adam naming the animals, taking power over the material world. It’s the application of knowledge to the diversities of life which seems to link up very well with the 8 here in the suit of cups.

The 9, which is the last but one of the Sephirot, is called the foundation. It’s name is Yesod. And it’s an unashamedly phallic connection. It is literally the ejaculation of the divine energy into material reality. So if you take that quality of the number 9 and you put it together with the suit of cups, which has so much to do with the heart, then of course you’re going to get ecstasy. Which is precisely what it is.

10 is the completion of the system. It’s called Malchut, the kingdom, so manifestation is now complete. It’s the miracle of the completed universe into which all the prior 9 qualities have been embedded. This is the permanent relationship, it has a foundation as a kingdom, it’s anchored and earthed.

I know that it’s very abstract, trying to get a sense of the quality of a number. Although from the point of view of reading these cards as they turn up in a spread, simply working with the mythic image is immensely helpful. You can actually get a picture of Psyche going down into the underworld and that gives you something to hang on to in terms of interpreting a card. The numbers behind them really form the structure of the whole Minor Arcana. It is worth trying to get a sense of the quality and colour and flavour of the number.

Numbers in these kinds of systems are not just quantities. They are qualities and they are also entities. They are beings, they have life, they have sentience. Just like the planets in astrology do. The numbers in the Pythagorean and Cabbalistic systems which I think underlie the numerical symbolism of the Minor Arcana of the Tarot are not simply measuring something. They have a power of their own. So it’s not only the image on the card that is important to remember in giving you a key to the divinatory meaning. It’s what is this number about? Because as it comes through the 4 suits it’s almost as if the number is a deity or a living entity and it’s going to wear the clothing of the element that the suit belongs to. It’ll wear the clothing of water when a number represents one of the cards in the suit of cups.

To get a sense of the entity under the clothing you lock into the meaning of the card in a way which I think is impossible if you’re just trying to remember a divinatory meaning for it. So although it’s quite abstract, it’s worth trying to learn more about these numbers. There are variations as to what’s involved from one symbolic system to another.

If you read Plato’s description of the geometric forms, they don’t really sound a lot like trying to read a Cabbalistic text about the Sephirot. So they’re not going to squash together neatly as in A on top of B fits exactly. But the more you get a sense of how numbers are used in the various systems that have fed into the Tarot, I think the better your ability to read these Minor Arcana will be.

All the numbers come out of Oneness and Oneness is just a point. If you have ever done geometry or played around with it, a point doesn’t have any shape or form or can’t see anything, it’s just a point. You can’t see what its depth is, what its height is, it’s got nothing, no dimensions. And a point is visualised in number symbolism as the centre of a circle. This is the Godhead as a unity. The moment you draw a diameter across the circle you have 2. You’ve cut the circle in half. If you take the radius of a circle, which is from the point at the centre to the circumference and you line it up around the circumference you wind up with 2 triangles, or a hexagram.

So all the geometric shapes, what Plato called the plane figures, all come out of a circle, from a point. The whole of the structure of material reality, all the solids, the pyramid, the cube, the dodecahedron, all these amazing structures that form the imaginal basis of material reality, come out of a point. So when you’re thinking of numbers, they’re perceived as a metaphor for the creation of the universe out of a Oneness. It’s a very, very profound perception of numbers that they’re working with here. Not just 1,2,3 to count up how much sterling you’ve got in your pocket.

So if you can make the effort to do a bit of reading around this kind of symbolism, it really will help your understanding of the cards.

I think astrologers have an advantage because they know their aspects, so you can get a lot of insight from the nature of how aspects are interpreted, because they’re based on the same number symbolism: an opposition is a 2, a square is a 4, a trine is a 3, a sextile is a 6, a septile is a 7 and so on, a quintile is a 5. And there is such a thing as a decile which nobody ever uses, which is a 10. And then we also have the reptile! The puerile, the imbecile! Which are very, very esoteric aspects, not often used.

It’s remarkable how it gets you going. 3 is the 1st plane figure, but there’s no doubt it’s only 2 dimensional. The moment you’ve got 4, a square is a plane figure, but you can get a pyramid out of 4. It’s got 4 sides, it’s the first number that can actually create something solid. It’s wonderful stuff, but as far as what to read, there isn’t really a handbook, and most Tarot books don’t go into it. A good place might be Frances Yates’ books.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information, it is much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all interested in tarot. please get back to astrology as i enjoy your posts.

Anonymous said...

Certainly nothing wrong with the study of Gematria especially if one is fond of math. However for an insightful look into Kaballah from another perspective read "Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree" by Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi