Reading the Tarot Pips – Part 4: Putting It All Together

April 7, 2007

Yeah, I’ve been putting this off. This section ends the first half of this article, and by the end of this section, with a little practice, you should be able to read the tarot pips just fine. The second half of this article is going to deal entirely with the astrological associations of the pip cards. Since a basic primer on astrology is required to understand that section, it requires a bit more parts than what we’ve talked about so far. But the astrological side of the pips is a bit superfluous and is most useful when looked at as a compliment to the elemental-kabbalistic associations of the cards. The second half of the article will help you gain a better understanding of the pips, but the first half is all that is actually necessary.

Here we’re going to talk about putting together everything we’ve talked about so far, starting with the elements. The tarot suits each correspond to one of the elements:

Fire = Wands, Sticks, Staffs
Water = Cups, Chalices
Air = Swords
Earth = Coins, Discs, Pentacles

The associations of Water and Earth are almost never disputed. A cup is an object which holds water, and the element of Water is very much tied into the symbolism of the cup. Earth is associated with the material world and wealth, something symbolized by the coin.

There are, however, some disputes about the associations of Fire and Air, and some tarot decks have been designed to correct this supposed error in the older Fire=wands association.

To begin with, the element of Fire is associated with raw will. Within ritual magick, the will of the practitioner is represented by the wand. Likewise the sword, in ritual, can be used to cut through the air for a variety of purposes, thus giving it an associated. As a weapon, the sword is an elegant weapon that swiftly and through intelligent design slices through the opposition. The wand, used like a club here, is a simple weapon of pure brute force. Swiftly sticking a blade through a man’s chest is an airy attack. Pushing a blunt stick through his chest is a fiery attack. And lastly, a wand is a piece of wood which can easily be set on fire like a torch, thus giving it yet another associated with fire. Unless you’re a biblical angel, you aren’t going to be able to do this with a sword.

The counter argument to this associated consists almost entirely of the idea that fire burns, ergo fire must be signified by swords because they are a weapon.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can start to look at how we determine what a card means. We do this by crossing our associations. We look at the suit to determine what element is represented by the card (see part I), and we combine that with what is signified by the number on the card (see part III).

Each number and element is limited to only certain ideas, however the ideas contained within each number and element is infinite, and likewise the number of ideas contained within each card are both limited and infinite. In other words each card has a lot of meanings.

If our goal is to look at the card, to understand it, to meditate upon it than we can choose to look at it in both a very broad perspective that covers all of its various aspects or we can look at it in a more limited perspective and try to understand what it means in regards to single specific aspect contained within it, and everything in between these two extremes. If we’re using the tarot for divination, however, ideally we want to know exactly what the card means. On the metaphysical side of this we can utilize intuition, channel meanings, and read the energy on the cards. On the physical side we use the context of the reading to determine what is meant by the card. We look at what the question was, the other cards in the spread, the meaning of the card’s position in the spread, and what we already know about any of the parties involved in the question.

Determining the exact meaning of a card is the more difficult part, and something that can only be truly learned through practice. However the more a person understands the cards and their meanings and associations, the easier it is to find their meanings in the context of a reading. At the same time reading tarot forces the reader to focus so greatly on precise meanings of the cards, and allows them to do so inside of a context, that at times the reader will discover meanings that they otherwise would have missed, and a much greater of understanding of the complete card is obtained.

Now that everything’s been said the lesson is pretty much complete. Contained within these first four parts is everything a reader needs to know in order to begin understanding and reading the tarot pips. All that’s left to do are some examples of putting these meanings together. Most tarot books will give meanings to various cards and expect the practitioner to work backwards from there. Instead, with these examples, I’m going to take one of the more specific ideas associated with the element and show how it moves through the ten numbers. This isn’t meant to be a complete divinatory key for any suit, but rather a look at one very specific idea moving through the ten numbers.

To begin with we’ll take an easy idea, romantic love as represented by the cups. Please note that, dependent upon the question and spread, any of these cards can represent things of the past, present, or future. The verb tense contained herein is meaningless.

A – Here we have the foundation, the point from which everything else will spring forth. This can represent the beginnings of a romance, or the events that led into a romance. It can be something as simple as asking someone out on a date for the first time to a complex chain of fifty events that ended in two people meeting each other.

2 – This is love’s purest form. It’s love at first sight. Soulmates coming together. It exists without reason or thought. It simply is, and its strong and powerful. This is the emotion at its most base and uncompromised. This is the what the sappiest of music and poems tries to express, yet the fact that it has been thought about and communicated has tainted it beyond this purity.

3 – In number three it is realized that love exists, and so love becomes idealized. This is what is talked about in the sappy poems and songs. This is, ‘I’ll love you forever, I want to always be with you, I would die for you, ect. ect.’ It’s also in three that sacrifice becomes associated with, and often mistaken for, love. In its purity love simply is, it’s only after the existence of love is acknowledged that sacrifice can logically be equated with love. In truth this isn’t necessarily the case, it’s the act of believing it that makes it so.

4 – Love, as represented by the four, is childhood crushes and first loves and the like. It’s what we think of as love before we ever fall in love. It’s untested and it exists because we haven’t yet experienced actually falling in love. Yet because we have so little experience to go on and there isn’t an outside force acting against this ideal of love these crushes can be very strong and intense.

5 – And here we have five, which is our outside force. The five represents any force which could threaten to end a relationship between two people. Outside affairs, temptation for outside affairs, families not getting along, one person getting offered a job 300 miles away, ect. The five can represent the end of the relationship, or it can just represent a threat to a relationship.

6 – Six is love in its most balanced and perfect form. This isn’t the raw and overpowering love of 2, the overly idealized love of three, or the simple crush of four, and it has survived and proven itself stronger than the obstacles of five. It has taken on the strongest aspects of each of the previous numbers and cast aside the weaknesses. This is the calm and harmonious yet strong love that can last forever.

7 – Seven is the possible end result of the perfect love of six. It’s been without opposition, it has achieved the highest possible state that it ever will, and in the end it’s led to stagnation and boredom within the relationship.

8 – And eight is the opposition to seven. It’s massive change, either in a desperate attempt to save the relationship or end it. It can mean changes within the relationship, experimentation, trying to spice things up, counseling, whatever. It can also mean affairs with other people. Alternatively seven can be seen as the reaction of losing the perfect love of six. Here seven deals with depression and sloth, where as the opposition of eight is being jaded and closing oneself off from future emotional connections.

9 – The nine is about compromise, and here we have compromise of love. This isn’t soulmates coming together in two and this isn’t spending your life with your most perfect mate as in six. This is giving up on those things and instead settling for someone who you enjoy, who makes you happy, and who you think will give you a happy life. It’s a very positive form of love, a lesser form nonetheless.

10 – And here we have the collapse of love. Tens deal with endings, so obviously this deals with a love affair coming to an end. Where as the 5, 7, 8 can mean an ending, they can all also mean things which can be overcome. The ten is the ending itself. If it’s a future event, it can obviously be altered, but the meaning of the card itself holds. But there is an exception. In the ten the idea collapses on itself, and this leads directly into eleven, which is the seed of a new idea, which immediately becomes a one. In this way the ten, in addition to being a card of endings is a card of transition (note: if we look at trumps XII, XIII, and XIV in succession we see that ending and transition are deeply intertwined, but since this article doesn’t deal with the trumps, I’m not saying anymore about that). The ten can mean an evolution of love. Perhaps the intense love of two will burn out but form the calm and more sustainable love of six, or the crush of four will evolve into the love of nine or even six. When reading the cards like this though one has to be careful to read the cards as they lay, and not to try to put an optimistic maybe in there. That way lies to madness and the horrible misinterpretation that have been made of the Death card. Sometimes the Death card means someone is going to die. That is the most literal meaning of the card.

Looking at the ten as transition we see that love can evolve. We’d expect it, since the numbers represent an evolution of our idea from one to ten. A two can become a six or a nine. A four can become a six or a nine. A six can become a nine. But can it evolve backwards too? Can the compromised love of a nine ever achieve the perfect state of six? Can the perfect state of six ever achieve the raw and pure state of two?

These questions aren’t rhetorical, and I’m not about to answer them either. But they do have answers. And even if you never do figure out what the answer is, you’ll still get a prize for trying.

Okay, now let’s try another one dealing with cups, but we’ll try to go through it a little bit faster.

A – Once again we have a foundation. This is the seed that will eventually grow into getting laid. This is not the act itself, but something that brings it into being.

2 – Here we have pure sex. This is animalistic and instinctual. There is no thought or meaning behind it. Whatever’s having sex isn’t even aware of what it’s doing, it’s just doing it.

3 – And with the three we have a realization that sex is happening. We know there is such a thing as sex, that it is pleasurable, and we can anticipate it happening and long to bring it about to receive pleasure. We can also assign it things. We can associate it with love. Sex can now be viewed as a beautiful thing, or as a dirty thing. It can be something we’re proud of or ashamed of. The point is, we realize it’s happening and it can be assigned meaning.

4 – This can be looked at in a few different ways. This can be great sex, great only because the person hasn’t yet experienced better sex. For example if you only ever had sex for five minutes at a time in the missionary position, you could conceivably see it as the greatest thing in the world. On the other hand it could be subscribing to certain views of sex, for example the idea that sex isn’t meant to be pleasurable for women.

5 – And here we have the outside force. The obvious idea is anything that stands in the way of someone having sex, be it moral views, religion, society, or a father who owns a shotgun. This can also be something that shatters a previous view of sex. A realization of homosexuality, sexual experimentation, ect. And of course there’s the more simple meaning of impotence, abstinence, and castration.

6 – Wow! I think everyone has an idea of what this represents. If you think of the best sex you’ve ever had, it might’ve been a six, but it probably wasn’t.

7 – And with seven we have overindulgence. This can refer to things like kinks and orgies and multiple partners, or it can just refer to regular sex with the same person, but way too often. In any case Crowley named this card Debauchery, and this is why.

8 – And here we have the extreme opposite of seven. Where as seven is debauchery, eight represents sexual repression. Sex in all its forms are viewed as sinful, destructive, harmful, immoral, ect. Instead of overindulgence we have abstinence.

9 – And after everything we end up here, back at compromise. This is two people getting together to pleasure each other. It may not be the greatest sex ever, it may not be about love, but in the end everyone leaves a little happier than if they hadn’t.

10 – And here we have sex collapsing upon itself. This can refer to a very bad sexual experience like rape or molestation that traumatizes and forever changes, possibly kills, a person’s sex drive. It can also mean going into a state of abstinence, either intentionally or unintentionally. It can mean getting screwed over in an early sexual relationship and not wanting to have sex again.

Okay, let’s move into another element and look at knowledge as represented by the swords.

A – This is the foundation of knowledge, the seed. This is actually what is. Knowledge is an abstract. It takes something that is and it turns it into something that can be understood, pondered, and cataloged. The seed of knowledge is the thing that is before its made abstract. For example, a bear would be a seed, but when we call it a bear and catalog its shape as being a bear, it becomes knowledge and is no longer a 1.

2 – This is absolute truth. It’s knowledge which is pure and untainted, the most simplest form of knowledge.

3 – This is the state supposedly achieved by Adam and Eve right after eating the fruit, which according to that myth brought about sorrow, thus the card is sometimes named sorrow. In any case this is the knowledge that knowledge does in fact exist. And once you know it exists, it becomes tainted, and it’s no longer absolute truth. But it can now be pondered and thought of and given names. It also becomes more complex. And where all knowledge is attainable in two, once three is reached it will eventually lead to the realization that one will never know everything (another reason why the card represents sorrow).

4 – The four is ignorance. It’s having an absolute truth that is only an absolute truth because the idea has never been challenged.

5 – Five is opposition to an idea. It is the force which acts upon the paradigm and brings about the paradigm shift. At times it’s also a force that acts upon a paradigm and is destroyed by it. And sometimes it is the paradigm itself acting against an idea that exists outside of it. It deals with a loss of faith or having ones beliefs brought into question and possibly destroyed. It can be a very negative card in terms of having one’s entire world view taken away. But it can also be a positive card representing new ideas and inventions or enlightenment.

6 – Here knowledge has been formed, it has been challenged, and it has survived those challenges. Crowley calls this card science, and this is why. The card extends beyond the limits of just science though. And it is the closest one can get to finding absolute truth outside of two.

7 – Seven is knowledge becoming so overly abstract and complex that it becomes very difficult to ever obtain. At this point knowledge becomes useless, because it is too complicated to ever be understood, or if it can be understood it is too abstract to have any bearing on real life. We see an example of this in the field of modern physics. Not too long ago the field of physics became so complex that no one person could realistically master it. At this point the field of physics collapsed (that would be the ten), and from that spawned two separate fields, theoretical physics and experimental physics.

8 – This is the reaction to seven. Here we have an oversimplication of knowledge, a dumbing down of knowledge, or a pure revolution against or hatred towards learned individuals.

9 – And then we have the compromise of knowledge. Psuedointellectulism exists here. Truth is entirely lost, as is application, or at the very least these things no longer matter. What matters is people being smart, or giving the appearance of being smart. This is the place where people use big words. It is the place of contemplation sans reason. This is also where complex questions get easily understood and simple answers. Such as ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people’ being answered with ‘The lord works in mysterious ways’, along with any other complicated question concerning God. In fact the knowledge of nine deals largely with everything having answers that can be looked up, and that these answers be obtainable by everybody. Public schools are usually built here :)

10 – And here knowledge collapses under its own weight. It becomes so complex it can no longer be understood, or so abstract it no longer matters, or so dumbed down it has become useless.

I was hoping to do at least two more of these, one for Fire and one for Earth, but I’ve spent a real long time on this already. Maybe I’ll get around to adding to this post in the next few days. If anyone wants to try to do one themselves, feel free to post it here. If we get good ones for Fire and Earth, then I won’t have to do them :) But feel free to use whatever idea you feel comfortable doing regardless of the element.

As for the second half, it’ll probably be some time until I get around to doing it. I really need to get a better outline on what I’m doing there and I need to put some ideas together. Honestly astrology has never been my strongest subject. These posts are also turning into a lot more work than I originally thought they’d be, and I kind of need a break. On the plus side though, about 95% of the information is in the first four articles, and you can read the pips just fine with the information you already have.