AUTHOR’S NOTE: Several years ago I came across the revelation that the numbers Three, Six and Nine represent the “Three Perfections” of ancient Greek (or possibly Hindu) philosophy. I was unable to discover the historical source of this information, but the idea has stuck with me. The “magic number” in the following meditation is the multiplier “3X” (the result of which can be duplicated by adding together three instances of each number). I’m using the Thoth tarot for illustration but the Waite-Smith deck will suffice pursuant to the discussion in the second paragraph below. (As a bit of pop-culture irrelevance, every time I approach this topic I get Jimi Hendrix running through my head: “If six turned out to be nine/I don’t mind, I don’t mind.”)
In the realm of esoteric number theory, Three conveys the principles of momentum, advancement and opportunity; Six embodies balance and harmony as the launchpad for further progress; and – after the “pendulum-swing” of Seven and Eight – Nine reasserts that stability on a “lower arc” while sacrificing some of the blissful equanimity to a fluctuating disposition. Here I’m amplifying the significance of each triune number by multiplying it by the “prime” integer “3” to bring all of them under the umbrella of the ninth trump card, the Hermit. As an expression of “Earthly perfection,” the Hermit symbolizes the limit of our potential for individuation on a wholly internal level of development, after which to continue on the path we must open ourselves to more universal influences beginning with the Wheel of Fortune.
As an aside, I view the eighth Major Arcanum as providing a “proof-test” of the foundation for the emerging psyche before it reaches fulfillment in the ninth and final single-digit iteration; after all, we can’t have a “perfected” individual with “feet of clay.” A case can be made for both Lust/Strength and Adjustment/Justice in the eighth place, but for the purpose of this discussion I’m going with the former as showing the courage to face down one’s restive ego rather than the more cerebral judgement of our worthiness to transcend; in this model Adjustment makes more sense after a “turn of the Wheel” resets the itinerary. On a related subject, there are other “isomorphs” (different pairs of numbers that add up to an identical sum) for Nine, specifically 1+8, 2+7 and 4+5. French writer Joseph Maxwell covered them at length in his book The Tarot and their exploration can be fruitful, but they are beyond my scope here. (If you care to look, I have other essays on Maxwell’s work.)
Using “Thesopophical reduction,” the math works out as follows (“casting out nines,” or subtracting increments of nine, yields the same result with an interim consideration):
3×3 = 9, the Hermit
6×3 = 18; 1+8 = 9, the Hermit (with a stop-over at the Moon)
9×3 = 27; 2+7 = 9, the Hermit (also, 27 minus 9 = 18, the Moon)
The callow Threes may be seeking an enlightenment that they won’t know how to handle when it appears, so all they can do is contemplate its inscrutability from afar. Interposing the Moon in the other scenarios suggests that we can only obtain the mature “pearl of wisdom” by diving deeply into the dark waters of the subconscious reflected in the Lunar sphere (which may be why Israel Regardie advised every occultist to undergo psychotherapy). The Hermit is often seen as a sober (even drab) figure, but this exercise raises it in my estimation to become a paragon of intelligent self-mastery, signifying the triumph of the formula “To Dare (Threes); To Will (Sixes); To Know (Nines); To Keep Silent (Hermit).
Although Pythagoras declared Ten to be a “perfect number,” in the occult tarot Nine represents the culmination of its element; Ten overshoots the mark and becomes something of a postscript with one foot in the next suit. In that sense, the last card in this series, the 9 of Disks, could be considered the “Hermit’s handmaiden,” with fertile Venus in Virgo underscoring the fecundity of archetypal Virgo. Pushing the analogy for all it’s worth, we might also say in paraphrasing William Blake that the Moon (as Pisces in opposition to Virgo) is “watering heaven with its tears” (the inseminating Yods falling into the sea of the Unconscious) as nourishment for Virgo’s husbandry. (Crowley says that it displays “drops of impure blood” but I’m not going there, he can keep his “Cakes of Light.”
Here it is graphically: