AUTHOR’S NOTE: This essay is a reprise of more than one prior post, but I recently came across Alejandro Jodorowsky’s extremely favorable assessment of the number 8 in its role as tarot symbolism and felt compelled to restate my case.
While some esoteric thinkers consider the number 8 to be the ultimate “perfection” of the binary series that begins with 2, comprised as it is of 2x2x2 (or 2 cubed), I have always treated it as an unbalanced, low-energy number in keeping with its station on the Hermetic Tree of Life; it is the mirror of Aleister Crowley’s view of the Sevens: “doubly unbalanced, off the Middle Pillar and very low down on the Tree,” although still a “remedy for the error of the Sevens.” I believe 8 is viewed as a fortunate number in both modern numerology and Eastern mysticism, but I can’t shake Crowley’s observation that “there is no possibility of perfection in the cards of this number,” even though he amended his harsh opinion by adding “they are free from such essential and original errors as in the Lower case.” The obverse of the “perfection”of anything is its inevitable corruption and dissolution, which Crowley and Harris took great pains to make apparent in the 8 of Cups of their Thoth deck, with Crowley injecting his alchemical assumptions into the metaphysical stew.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, on the other hand, lands in the first camp, describing the number 8 as showing the “concentration of fulfillment” and often mentioning the virtue of its perfected state. The closest I can come to this perspective is seeing Eight as a corrective to the deviation of Seven, a compensatory reaction to the drastic departure of the latter from the entrenched complacency of Six in its quest for new experiences. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Elizabeth Hazel’s premise that Seven represents a “test” or a “trial” of some kind, and I think Eight strives to “right the ship” after the stormy passage through the vicissitudes of Seven; think of it as the “calm after the storm.” The words that come to mind are “adaptation” and “adjustment.”
Astrological correspondences add a little more weight to these assumptions. The Sevens are related to Venus, which many consider a “spiritual” number, but Venus can be prone to uncritical acceptance of less-than-ideal circumstances in its insistence on maintaining harmony (perhaps harboring residual angst over being cast out of the “comfort zone” of the Six). The Eights are imbued with the rational presence of Mercury, and attempt to catch the balls that the Sevens drop in their effort to juggle too many unique and unexpected impulses for change. Mercury sorts things out and reinstates a sense of organization to the disarray that emerged under Venus, but there is still a restless volatility to its operation. Even the Eights of the Waite-Smith deck, which might be expected to capture the essence of perfection implied by other esoteric systems of thought, all convey a certain anxiety (with the possible exception of the 8 of Pentacles, which is too immersed in the details of the craft to notice that the unsold products are stacking up).
It’s probably useful to bump my first (and still arguably best) post on the subject, which expands on some of the arguments made above.