The Math of Tarot, Part 1

This is me playing with Math and the Tarot. We count so many things on Tarot cards–the numbers play a role, the order plays a role, so I wondered if the visual presentation played a role. Specifically I was looking at groups of the element in question: how were the swords, pentacles, cups, wands GROUPED in a picture and did that have a possible meaning?

Tarot readers are always looking for something new and interesting about tarot cards, ways to further interpret a card. I found something that I thought was interesting and wondered if it could change the way I interpret cards.

As a visual artist, I look at the composition of a painting to understand how a painter wants us to see the elements in the painting, how she may want us to associate the elements together, how he might want to say something by WHERE he has placed things. Where things are in a composition matters–it matters visually. It helps the eye know where to go. But it also sometimes matters narratively–helping the viewer make associations, make connections, speak subtly to the meaning in a painting. Groupings add tension, but talk about relationship too. How do the groupings of swords, pentacles, cups and wands speak to the nature of the card itself?

Take a look at the Six of Swords. It is a card about Peace, about moving away from choppy waters, to calmer waters, about transition to something more peaceful. The swords are in two major groupings visually on the card, (2) Swords and (4) Swords. If we think of that as the #2ofSwords and the #4of Swords inside of the 6 of Swords… we may understand the card differently. Is Peace made up of a Choice (2 of swords) to Rest (4 of Swords)? Is that what the card is saying visually? Is this Peace created through withdrawal from conflict? It does come after the 5 of Swords–a loss after a battle. Narratively it might make sense. However, whereas the 5 of Swords is about losing a battle you fought. Six of swords may be about a choice NOT to fight. Hmmmm.

Look at the Six of Wands–usually interpreted as Victory! Success! look at that laurel! We usually think of the 6 of Wands perhaps as naturally, and narratively, flowing from the 5 of Wands, some Victor from the challenge, or competition. But visually the Wands are grouped in three places– 2 of Wands, 3 of Wands and the Ace of Wands (carried by our Victor). Is Victory (6 of W) created through planning (2 of W) and calculated risk/expansion (3 of W) as well as holding tight to our original passion (Ace of Wands)? I don’t know. It could just be coincidence.

But look at the 7 of Wands (Challenge! or Defending Yourself!)–which yes, narratively follows a win. If you win, people are going to try and take it from you, or challenge you more. But visually the grouping of wands is 6 of Wands vs. a new Ace of Wands and we are meant to feel for the challenger, the lone new idea. Could Victory (6 of Wands) make us rigid, unwelcome to new ideas? Is it we, the Victors, who battle back new ideas, NOT about the mob coming after the Victor? Should success breed a laziness, a settledness, that considers a new Ace of Wands to be a challenger?

These are just some random thoughts about the Math of Tarot. I find composition fascinating and I wonder if it means anything. Maybe it meant something to you. I will look at three more cards in the next post, and see what we have! This Math of Tarot, this looking at groupings of elements, may not work for all the cards, but it’s fun to think about!

Published by jstueart

Jerome writes science fiction/ fantasy and queer fiction and has been published in many magazines and journals including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Fantasy, Tor.com, Strange Horizons. His first collection, The Angels of Our Better Beasts, was published in 2016 and was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award. His work was/is a finalist for the Eugie Award and the World Fantasy Award. He also makes art---acrylic paintings and small watercolor paintings. He holds a PhD in English and is currently working on an MA in Engaged Humanities and the Creative Life at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He lived for 10 years in the Yukon Territory, but now lives in Columbus OH.

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