The Power of Ten in Four: The Court Cards and the Decimal Paradigm

Along with a few other tarot authors I’ve encountered, Alejandro Jodorowsky makes much of the fact that the court cards have no numbers on their faces and therefore shouldn’t be given them for any purpose whatsoever. His specific argument is that the organic “base-10” structure of the Minor Arcana doesn’t support the practice of assigning the “face cards” the numbers 11 through 14 of their suit. Personally, I find this a rather myopic outlook. Since a card has a physical presence, it is a “thing” and can be enumerated in a variety of ways for any objective one has in mind. (Those with long memories or young children might take a page from Dr. Seuss and think of them as “Thing 11” through “Thing 14.”) We could just as easily consider them to be 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the “royal” subset if that meets our need, and – although I find it less useful for divination – in Tree of Life terms they are sometimes numbered 2, 3, 6 and 10 according to the sephira they occupy: Father (King), Mother (Queen), Son (Knight) and Daughter (Page). My point is that “hidden wisdom” can be found in treating them as having numerical value. In fact, Pythagoras asserted that the power of the Ten is concealed in the Four because 1+2+3+4 = 10, so there is a historical precedent for bringing the two together in a synergistic way.

Despite published opinion to the contrary (e.g. Hajo Banzhaf), I have long held that the court cards must be informally numbered 11 through 14 in order to perform a “quintessence” calculation that properly includes all of the cards in a spread, so I decided to see if Jodorowsky’s premise can be made to accommodate the inclusion of those cards in a way that isn’t jarringly unnatural. I used his analogy of a court-card “palace” to align them with his ascending ten-point structure for the pip and trump cards. I also added a little cosmology of the sort that he vehemently derides as the “useless mutilations” of syncretism because it pleases me to do so and it agrees with my esoteric worldview. Furthermore, although Jodorowsky feels that the court cards cannot be encompassed by his decimal model of the tarot universe, he does manage to shoehorn 22 trump cards into this mathematical framework with a little creative pruning; we might therefore say he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth.

In conducting this exercise, I stayed with Jodorowsky’s unconventional hierarchy for the court cards (Page, Queen, King, Knight) and the notion (echoing Joseph Maxwell) that the even numbers are passive and balanced while the odd numbers are active and unbalanced. I also maintained his view that the Pentacles and Wands are “putting down roots” in their respective domains while the Cups and Swords are “reaching for the sky” in theirs. However, in doing so I’ve proposed that each of Jodorowsky’s two major horizontal divisions (Earth and Heaven, or “Solar Sphere” in my prototype) can each be split into a “lower” and “upper” region to accept my court-card grafting. Furthermore, I’ve added “Chaos” below Earth as the starting point for the Pages, who are “standing outside the door” of Jodorowsky’s palace but have not yet been allowed to enter, and “Cosmos” above Jodorowsky’s “Heaven” as the rightful abode of the Knights, who are trying to soar beyond the limits of their suit. His “Human Horizon” between Earth and Heaven I’ve renamed the “Horizon of Awareness” between the physical plane and the astral (or Lunar) realm atop Aristotle’s sublunary sphere. Finally, I added the developmental factors of Initiation (Pages); Preservation (Queens); Aspiration (Kings); and Transformation (Knights) to each major horizontal partition.

As a minor addendum to the main thrust of this effort, it struck me that Jodorowsky’s decimal model, in which the left-hand number in a two-digit expression holds the “Ones” position and the right-hand number fills the “Tens” place, offers some interesting food for thought. The digit on the right might be considered the “driver” or motive force for the compound number and the one on the left (which in tarot will be either the Magician or – in the last two trumps – the High Priestess) represents the “director” or “guide” who steers the energy where it has to go. I envision a “train” motif in which the Magician is the “conductor” (“Psychopomp” in another mythological setting ), the High Priestess is the “ticket agent” who decides who boards and who doesn’t; the Empress (as Venus in Taurus) is the “steward” charged with the well-being of the passengers, and the Emperor is the “engineer” responsible for getting the train to the terminal on-time. So, pushing this metaphor for all it’s worth, we could say that the Pages as “11” partake of two instances of the “conductor” but have little motivational drive (perhaps they are in the middle of a shift change at the station), accounting for their rather flat-footed stance; the Queens as “12” assist the “conductor” as gatekeepers (something that is implied in Jodorowsky’s “palace” floor-plan); the Kings as “13” aid the “conductor” as “stewards” assuring the safe and serene passage of those under their care; and the Knights as “14” symbolize the “engineer” looking around the next bend for any impediments to progress. Whatever, here is the design I came up with:


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