The Nines: One Foot Out the Door

AUTHOR’S NOTE: My metaphysical view of the cards of the Minor Arcana has long been steeped in the numerical symbolism of the Hermetic Tree of Life, seasoned with a little Pythagorean number theory. But it can be refreshing to consider other perspectives, and in this example I’m addressing the opinions of Alejandro Jodorowsky in The Way of Tarot. Although he disavowed any lingering debt to both men in his introduction, he was obviously still influenced in his thinking by his early exposure to Joseph Maxwell and Paul Marteau.

In the case of the Nine, the premise of Hermetic philosophy is that it reunites the unbalanced forces of the Seven and Eight and reconciles them with the influx of solar energy from the Six to form the conceptual model or “blueprint” for the concrete reality that emerges in the Ten. In other words, it focuses primarily on the processing of “inputs;” Jodorowsky, on the other hand, emphasizes “outputs.” He considers Nine to represent the transitional, “opportune” crisis involved in preparing to depart one state of being and enter another. In his estimation it’s something of a “betwixt and between” number that can court the risk of staying in “crisis mode” athwart two worlds rather than embracing the final frontier that arrives with the Ten.

This viewpoint has a lot to recommend it. Consider the images of the Waite-Smith Nines: with Jodo’s insights and a little imagination, it is possible to discern a certain fatalistic malaise in even the best of them:

The man in the 9 of Wands has been hard-pressed and knows that he enjoys only a momentary respite in an ongoing struggle. As an impending change of venue, this card suggests the continuing saga that the warrior is facing a final defeat in the coming battle and must soon grab his belongings and set out as a refugee on the road to asylum (trudging along in the 10 of Wands.)

The man in the 9 of Cups seems to be “sitting pretty” but his alert, upright posture and somewhat tentative air of well-being betray an uncomfortable awareness that the element of Water is unstable and prone to flux, so he should probably “drink up and go home to his family” (the 10 of Cups) before the storm breaks.

The person in the 9 of Swords is overwhelmed by “Woe is me!” despair and fails to notice either of the two “escape routes:” the nine horizontal swords that form a “ladder” by which to haul oneself up from the Stygian depths, and the sword-points that terminate outside the frame of the scene, implying that there is more to the story than meets the eye (even if it is only being stabbed in the back in the even more discouraging sequel, the 10 of Swords – an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” scenario if there ever was one).

Permit me an amusing aside here that might serve to illustrate the first of these options: My daughter didn’t know you’re supposed to stick live lobsters into the pot of boiling water head-down, so she dunked one tail-first and it instantly climbed right back out, making her run away in panic, thinking it was coming after her! Advice for the sufferer in the 9 of Swords? Open your eyes, raise your sights and look for an opening.

The woman in the 9 of Pentacles appears to be in an enclosed vineyard with no avenue of resupply. Once she eats all the grapes, she will have to fall back on her own ingenuity (and tighten her belt) in order to endure until she can relocate to a “safe haven” (in the 10 of Pentacles). In this nine the developing crisis is hidden behind a claustrophobic veneer of complacency that can only erode over time.

Jodorowsky scraps the classical and Qabalistic idea of Nine as a number of completion and fulfillment (the Greeks’ “Third Perfection” after Three and Six), instead treating it as a harbinger of “difficult passage” to the next phase (he even offers the shopworn analogy of childbirth). In that sense, the Ten – rather than being the enervated postscript of Aleister Crowley’s version – represents the full and final accounting for the energy of its suit (the “perfect number” of Pythagorean theory). This kind of “outside-the-box” mental exercise is fun and instructive in developing a personal inventory of useful storytelling “tropes.”


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