Recombinant Trumps: Hermit and Death

The second array of trump-card counterparts involves the Hermit and Death on opposite sides of Justice, and the relevant numbers for the accompanying cards are Nine and Four. The interplay of numbers across this one is fascinating, and it will be interesting to see if it repeats with the remaining eight tableaux.

The Hermit, numbered IX, relates directly to all of the Nine “pip” cards; to the Moon through numerological (aka “theosophical”) reduction (1+8 = 9) and also via astrological opposition (Virgo vs. Pisces); and to the Fool through “casting out nines” (9 – 9 = 0); there is no associated court card for this trump.

Death, numbered XIII, is symbolically connected to all of The Fours and the Emperor through theosophical reduction (1+3 = 4), and to the Queens as the thirteenth suit card of each suit, while the Queens are also related to the Emperor and the Fours by reduction (1+3 = 4).

In addition, the Hermit and the Emperor share a “hidden” secondary connection to Death (9+4 = 13).


In esoteric number theory, the Nines represent the completion of their suit; the Tens are postscripts that have one foot in the following suit, thus signifying both an ending and a promised new beginning in the next Ace (10 = 1+0 = 1). A similar scenario accompanies the transition from the Hermit (IX), the end of the “simple number” series of trumps, to the Wheel of Fortune (X), the first of the “compound” number sequence. The Nines are as good or bad as it gets, after which the Tens offer at least the opportunity for renewed growth or recovery. Because they are “lunar” numbers, the Nines have an illusory quality to them, which might best be described as the “illusion of self-sufficiency.” Of the four, the 9 of Pentacle and the 9 of Cups seem to be the most happily situated, but they may be “kidding themselves” and their nonchalant complacency can come across as both narcissistic and delusional. The 9 of Wands looks stalwart but one wonders whether it will have the energy to withstand the next assault, while the 9 of Swords has all but given up the fight, its sanity in doubt.

The Hermit, as Trump IX, could signify the “illusion of wisdom,” a feeling reinforced by its opposition to the Moon, which corresponds astrologically to Pisces and is therefore in a polarizing relationship with the Hermit through its sign, Virgo. If the Hermit is going to descend the mountain under the light of the Moon, he had better watch his step! The 9 of Pentacles between them reminds me of the lyrics to the Robert Johnson blues song “Stones in My Passway,” the implication being that it is a perilous road to an uncertain destination, and the other Nines are too self-absorbed to offer any help. The Fool (assuming he has a choice) had better think twice about taking it.

“I got stones in my passway
And my road seem dark as night
I got stones in my passway
And my road seem dark as night”


“I have a bird to whistle
And I have a bird to sing
Have a bird to whistle
And I have a bird to sing
I got a woman that I’m loving
Boy, but she don’t mean a thing”

The Fours represent an earlier instance of completion, that of realizing the dynamic potential of the first three cards of their suit in more stationary terms; the geometric expressions of One, Two and Three exist only in two-dimensional or planar space, while the Four signifies the cube, the first three-dimensional solid. They symbolize stability (as does the Emperor on his throne) but also the risk of stagnation as the forward momentum of the elemental energy stalls. Death as the agent of profound change permits no malingering in the “comfort zone;” in esoteric number theory the Fives, as harbingers of disruptive (and ultimately liberating) developments, bring Death’s implacable stroke to bear on the inertia of the Fours, ending their momentary respite.

For their part, the Queens (another uncredited manifestation of “13”) underscore this sense of inevitability; they are patient as befits their numerological connection to the Fours, and at least superficially compassionate, but they also tolerate little in the way of idle slacking. I can envision them as the “velvet glove” around the Emperor’s “iron fist” (1+3 = 4), moderating his harsh Rule of Law but not necessarily staying his hand; after all, Justice still lies at the heart of this entire tableau. They won’t go around shouting “Off with their heads!” like Alice’s Queen of Hearts (well, I’m not so sure about the Queen of Swords), but they might whisper it in the Emperor’s ear and let him handle it.

There is another “hidden” link between the two “wings” of the array: adding the number of any one card on the Hermit side (0, 9 or 18) to that of any one card on the opposite side (13 or 4) produces a number that reduces numerologically to “4” (31, 22 or 4 itself). The Emperor has his fingerprints all over this thing, even if the Hermit and Death appear to be running the show.


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