Squaring the Circle

I remember reading in Jean-Michel David’s Tarot de Marseille course material that it can be instructive to lay out the “pip” cards in different, seemingly random patterns to see what visual hints to their interpretation might be gleaned from the various combinations. Recently, I was reading an informative article about the meaning of the Masonic “square and compass(es)” that explains them as being symbolic of Euclid’s 47th problem, “Squaring the Circle,” and the associated idea of synthesizing the spiritual and physical natures. The circle is produced by the compasses and represents the soul, while the tetragon signifying the body is created with the carpenter’s framing square; bringing the two together yields the “squared circle.”

The Masonic Square & Compasses—Decoded

In pondering how these ideas might be put to use in tarot terms, I decided to lay out the TdM court and pip cards into a “wedge” pattern that is built upon the shape of the Masonic square, following a “zig-zag” progression from the Ace at the point to the court cards along the outer edge. I repeated this four times, once for each suit.




All images copyright U.S. Games Systems, Inc, Stamford, CT

I have no clue what I’m going to do with this array in a practical sense, but the numerology provides interesting food for thought. The Ace represents the Monad and stands alone. The first diagonal rank outward contains the Two and Three, which add to Five, suggestive of the Pope/Hierophant; the second diagonal rank includes the Four, Five and Six, which add to Fifteen, the Devil and reduce to Six, the Lover(s); the third diagonal rank holds the Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten, which add to Thirty-four and reduce to Seven, the Chariot. The final diagonal rank is populated by the unnumbered court cards, which were included for completeness.

The ten pip cards add to Fifty-five and reduce to Ten, offering the Wheel of Fortune as the “last word” on the extension of the series (whose number, as Pythagoras noted, embodies the Four by addition). This card implies the encompassing “circle” (with the Ace of the suit as its “trigger” or “lever”) surrounding the Five, Six and Seven, which themselves can be construed as signifying the “fixed” decans of the Chaldean astrological sequence (in other words, the mundane “square within the  circle”). It’s also worth noting that Five, Six and Seven add to Eighteen, the number of the Moon and another expression of the circle. Adding the Ace (+1) to the sum yields the Sun, the angular diameter of which is nearly identical to that of the Moon; bracketing the Wheel of Fortune with the Sun and Moon cards suggests the elongated rotational movement of the cosmic lemniscate.

I can make a fanciful story out of these five “quintessence” cards: the Pope marries the Lovers “after a time or a few times” (as Monty Python once described the courtship of “Princess Mitzi” and “Prince Walter,” clearly the salacious purview of the Devil). Then they head out on their honeymoon (the Chariot) cheered on by the wedding guests (the court cards). Upon returning, they enter their marital adventure with a “spin of the Wheel” (of Fortune). I suppose I could have taken it just a little further by interpreting the Wheel of Fortune as showing “Prince Walter” getting “run over by a London bus on the way back from the tobacconist’s” but that would have been pushing the Pythonesque allegory too hard.

Perhaps, depending on the type of encounter being contemplated (creative, romantic, intellectual or commercial), I could turn each of these patterns into a form of four-tiered relationship development spread that projects the likelihood of the venture coming successfully to fruition.

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