. . . until it becomes a catalyst for change. In the song of the title, Harry Nilsson was talking about the stifling torment of emotional rejection, but French tarot writer Joseph Maxwell had a different idea. Maxwell considered the number One to be the primal unity, perfect in its indivisibility and needing no amplification. However, when added to even numbers, which are at rest in their passive mode of balance and harmony, it acts like a “burr under the saddle,” galvanizing the idle circumstances into motion. The odd numbers thus produced are active in nature since they are inherently unbalanced and aspire to regain their former state of equilibrium. Another useful analogy is dropping a rock into a placid pond; it produces ripples that move outward until they meet the shore, causing incrementally minor but cumulative changes in the waterline. The number Five as “4+1” provides an instructive example: in its self-contained symmetry, Four can be an insular and stagnant number, but injecting a “new unity” into the equation can give it a renewed sense of purpose. This is why I’ve always considered the tarot Fives to act like “nut-crackers” or “can-openers,” exemplifying the expression “You can’t make omelets without breaking eggs,” with the added impulse of the One providing a sense of direction and motivation unavailable to the Four.
Much has been made of the tarot Aces as symbolizing potential rather than kinetic energy. They portray the idea or inspiration behind an action rather than signifying the act itself, thereby helping to scope the target but not actually “pulling the trigger.” When taken in combination with another suit card, they can find the range and commence firing. For example, combining the Ace of Wands with the 4 of Pentacles, the advice can be to “get crackin’ and stop wasting time going over the same old ground.” By themselves, Aces don’t provide much information beyond conveying the underlying “mood” of the situation. They require traction in order apply their abundant energy in ways that can make a substantial difference. With trump and court cards they don’t offer much more than a background “tone,” but with other suit cards they really come into their own.
In esoteric systems, the Aces are described as the “root” of the power of their element, and they function as exactly that, with their elemental purity nourishing the entire chain of development that culminates in the Nine of the suit and ultimately expires in the Ten. Severed from the trunk of the “tree,” they can furnish only an abstract concept, the proverbial “good idea” that becomes an empty gesture for lack of a clear success path and insufficient incentive to make it happen. As a rule, the Aces are full of creative intention but are often short on practical horsepower.