Reading the Numbered Cards

The Elemental Way

The use of the four Classical elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire may be familiar to you, the elemental way of reading the numbered cards is both traditional and adopted by occult revisions.  For creative association they serve well, and have been passed on as a result.  But the fact that there are 14 cards per element stretches even the most obsessive sort of mind. With the numbered cards, we’re going to make limited use of fortune telling tradition because there really isn’t a purely intuitive way of making these cards useful.

It is clear that the first card makers, at least in Northern Italy, were thinking of the elements when they appropriated the suited cards. The elements were still a significant part of science, medicine, and natural magic, being usefully comprehensive for describing physical symptoms, behaviors in organic chemistry, and other places where the adjectives serve. The later printed decks, the ones that reached the common people, are very clear about indicating the element of the suit, usually in the Ace card.   So this association of the suits to elements was made well before the game became occult, and may be considered authentic to the deck’s design.  The real challenge isn’t learning the character of each element or suit, but memorizing the keyword titles that have been established with essentially arbitrary interpretations.

When the memory won’t kick in and you’re winging it without a book, you can always rely on the element and the rank, high or low, to at least add a little shade more to a reading.

Staves, Wands, Clubs

2. — Power. 3. — Virtue. 4. — Closure.
5. — Anxiety. 6. — Victory. 7. — Honor.
8. — Speed. 9. — Force. 10. — Oppression.

Cups, Hearts

2. — Love. 3. — Abundance. 4. — Luxury.
5. — Dissatisfaction. 6. — Pleasure. 7. — Corruption.
8. — Lethargy. 9. — Delight. 10. — Satisfaction.

Swords, Spades

2. — Peace. 3. — Sorrow. 4. — Alliance.
5. — Defeat. 6. — Science. 7. — Ignorance.
8. — Chaos. 9. — Cruelty. 10. — Ruin.

Coins, Disks, Pentacles, Diamonds

2. — Change. 3. — Work. 4. — Security.
5. — Fear. 6. — Success. 7. — Failure.
8. — Experience. 9. — Gain. 10. — Wealth.

Here’s a handy little chart you can print and tuck into your deck, click first for full size:

Numbered Cardslt

The various decadent era occult organizations can be summed up as presenting the Tarot as the key to unlock an ancient knowledge.  While it may be that trans-generation powers of folklore and myth can indeed deliver old knowledge, the Tarot most certainly as whole did not get its design in Ancient Egypt or anywhere that far back.

It is this folk lore that gives the cards their various traditional fortunes.  But a drawback has been placed within the essence of reading the Tarot, the largest block of 40 cards is too difficult for many to memorize, let alone intuit or feel their way for an association.  This technique of using correspondences is rote memorization, which eventually becomes the possession of the body, and can lead to a recall produced through feeling in response to a visual of the card.

Few decks are illustrative enough with their numbered cards to offer much for a visual storytelling element, so learning the cards is about imagining these relationships creatively, adding sophistication to an otherwise linear, colorless number, but most significantly, though numbered and titled and classified, the numbered cards show the depth, ease and humanity of making irrational, illogical and arbitrary calculations.

Stay Strong, practice makes better!
Stay Strong, practice makes you better!

Minor Cards: Coins

The Minor or Lower Arcana, a slightly beefier version of our standard playing cards deck, is represented here by that crisp survivor, the Jean Dodal Tarot de Marseilles, produced in 1701.  Considered the standard example of the block printed, colorful cards that insured the Tarot’s survival, created in a cosmopolitan port city full of travelers from throughout the known world.  The numbered cards bear close resemblance to the Mameluke deck, with it simplified knotwork and foliation.  In the Marseille arrangement, the number two card is usually the signature card, for trade information or tax stamps, leaving the ace card, clearly indicating their elemental associations, as the most artful and spectacular of the Minors.

The arrangement of the pips does produce a range of visual patterns that can be associated with feelings relating to the meaning of the card that you have assigned, or developed from interpreting the card’s traditional title.  The balancing of meaning against the Classical four-element model represented in the suits creates a lot of breathing room for folding in or dismissing the involvement of a card as you make a story.  It’s a challenge that the most numerous cards are the ones with the fewest visual cues, but a little abstract free association goes a long way in factoring, and resolving, complex puzzles of the imagination.

The Court cards are different from most modern fortune telling Tarot.  One convention of decadent era occultists was to convert the Page into a female, usually a Princess.  As a result I like to think of the card as a Lady.


Remember Coins are the Aristotelian element of earth.  Wealth, abundance and enterprise, the coin or disc of gold also stands in for the sun, the powerhouse of our world.

King of Coins

King of Coins

This King is driven by wealth or power, builds alliances, prepares for war, plans major construction projects, does whatever it takes to grow in influence.

In the 18th Century, this card was called Caesar.  In our time, it is the One-Eyed King of Diamonds.




Queen of Coins

This Queen is master of the estate.  Knowing all creatures great and small, every grain planted and stored, when the seasons turn and how long the supplies will last.

Folk lore calls it Rachel, biblical wife of Jacob, good and enduring mother.  In our modern deck, she holds a flower, the Primrose.



Horseman of Coins

This Noble is on a quest for wealth, security, an entrepreneur looking for a home or someone to serve gainfully. The treasure that haunts their dreams is an easy life within the safety of a good land and the rule of law.

Folk lore named it Roland, Charlegmane’s loyal general (or Hector the hero of Troy).



Page of Coins

This Valet is the perfect instrument of peaceful business endeavors.  Efficient, detailed and accurate, keeping the ordinary in order makes or displaces a person from this post.  All is well when the books are in balance.




Ace of Coins

This card is drawing your attention to the quality of the ancient element of Earth.  The Earth is our home, our mother, and our cradle of life.   With fire, it erupts into mountains of lava.  With water, it is sculpted and spread in deltas.  With air, it can blind us in clouds of dust, or blaze with the stillness of sand dunes.



Two of Coins

The ancient Franks who are partly storied in the early Tarot were among many to use the Perennial calendar illustrated, migrating between two points, summer and winter, in twelve waxings and wanings of the Moon.  One basic balance in nature is the the harmony of the cycle, the wave defined by opposing points.



Three of Coins



Three flowers is among the oldest stand-ins for mother, father, and child.  Moon, Sun and Star, the two-dimensions of line become three dimensions of form when it comes time to produce.  This is the work of creation.



Four of Coins


The simplest way to remember this card is that four walls build a house, also many animals prefer four legs to two.  It’s sturdy and stable, covering all the directions, the card of a good foundation.




Five of Coins

Five is an unlucky number in the Minors.  It’s an odd number, the stability of four is put off balance by an extra element.  This is no magical fifth element, but a dive into the world’s chaos.  Instability leads to fear.




Six of Coins


Starting with a good foundation and overcoming adversity in the real world means success.  Building on what good you have to begin with.  Everything is in proper working order, full and abundant yeilds.




Seven of Coins


Seven is another odd number with direction changing character.  Major changes can come about suddenly, whether they are setbacks, accidents or they derail the whole plan.  This isn’t just chaos, but the loss of the effort to build.  One can only lose what they have gained.



Eight of Coins


Restored to order or simply having survived the storm, in the aftermath of one’s effort and trials the real treasure gained is experience.  From a position of experience, one can turn to gold what others could not.



Nine of Coins


From a position of experience setbacks are predicted and managed.  New sitations and resources are identified for their usefulness or need for management, and so the boat is not rocked by the waves of life.  Anything can be of gain to one in this position.



Ten of Coins


As the highest ranking, most manifest of the numbered cards, the element of earth has reached its perfection through the ingenuity of human hands.  Experience and material life are in balance, this card indicates the good life.


Minor Cards: Cups


The cups signify the Classical element of water, and water is considered to be the stuff of the heart, and feelings.  But specifically, one’s own heart, how one takes the world, as opposed to how one influence is.  Like water the emotions described by Cups are stored, held, and consumed.  Whether holding wine or water, they indicate home environment, private leisure and the quality of life.


King of Cups

This King is driven by regal displays and sophistication, temporal power through the arts, influencing others with privilege, and his ability to bestow status and luxury on his allies.  He delights in what is fine and rare.

The card’s folk name was Charlemagne.  In our time, it is the Suicide King of Hearts.


Queen of Cups

This Queen is master of Feasts, through her dedication to the calendar of social life, to the positions and responsibilities of each member of the household, she is responsible for the well being of the court and the prevention of rebellion.

Folk lore calls it Judith, the woman that cut off the head of general Holofernes.  In our time, she holds a rose.


Horseman of Cups

This Noble is on a quest for truth.  After a way to contain himself and his ambition, a true goal.  An easy stand in for the Holy Grail, which is the search for a kind of immortality by idolizing its evidence.

Folk lore called this La Hire, the general who backed Joan D’Arc, or the lady herself.  In our time, it is the One-Eyed Jack of Hearts.


Page of Cups

This Valet is skilled at insuring the party goes off well and cleaning up the messes afterwards.  Making sure people don’t drive drunk, that the food and wine are flowing and the entertainers are on their feet and not asleep into the buffet.



d06284d02hAAce of Cups

This card is drawing your attention to the ancient quality of water.  The cup on this card is a reliquary or container for communion.  It’s a vessel of vessels, a tiny model of the ‘city in the clouds’ where all the food is nourishing body and soul.  Water is the source of life, and its origin.



Two of Cups

With cups and their water being such ancient parallels to the origin of life, this is less to do with face time as the natural way life combines in union and divides in growth and blooming.  This is the card of love (the gift of life) that one has within them, not so much the romantic love that one envisions.


Three of Cups

Since three is a creative number, from the wellspring of life, the love of the earth, two cups are mixed into a third and a guest is at the table. There is extra, this is the natural, easy generosity of parents to a child, the endowment of a plentiful, reliable source.



Four of Cups

Beyond a full heart aware of the gift of life, an especially lucky person’s chest can swell with the experiences of a good and rich life.  With plenty of heart to go around, and the right space for ease, this isn’t just a full life, it’s a luxurious one.



Five of Cups

The unlucky five is like a cougar hunting in the palace gardens.  No matter how much one has, how fortunate they are in love and life, humans are notorious for growing too familiar, and forever wanting more.  It’s a significant, greedy monkey trait, the spilled drink on one’s clothes.



Six of Cups

We don’t cry over spilled milk.  We move on, accepting that things cannot always be perfect, old thrills may not last, and things that fill a child’s heart lose their attraction.  But even in the small things that don’t shake our world, there is pleasure to be found.  Though each is the same, a field of flowers delivers its own collective delight.


Seven of Cups

As the heart acclimates to its growing understanding of the world, one can be left with little but their daily pleasure to pursue.  When the need to satisfy a pleasure craving interferes with a happy life, one’s own heart balance becomes corrupted, willing to give up life nourishing good to satisfy merely pleasant needs.


Eight of Cups

This is the curious and enchanting stability that comes from having experience of themselves.  Knowing what we are capable of, we build lives ordered to maintain pleasure and minimize pain.  The slow ballooning of bureaucracy,  and the haze that covers long relationships comes from this.


Nine of Cups

Deprived of the thrills of novelty and enthusiasm that experience takes from us, there are still occasions when one can reach, or be blindsided by, peak moments.  These arrive in forms like existential bliss, mind altering feeling, and pivotal decisions.



Ten of Cups

As the highest ranking of the numbered cards, the most water of cups, we have the modest but noble title of satisfaction.  In our cups, we have drunk of the water of life.  We’ve added a savoring to our appetite for the sweetness of life, have learned to love again.



Minor Cards: Swords


However regrettable, the sword is the epitome of an every person’s tool.  Human life is not all that distinguished from a competitive wildlife, without its extra blood and its tools, ideas and developments that seem to clothe and armor the sword.  In Classical times the wind was an invisible force that brushed along you, breathed hot and cold.  The air was, correctly guessed, full of material currents.  As an element, the Sword is associated with the human sphere of thought.  Each card is a meditation on the benefits and perils of human intellectual influence on the state of our cultures and environment.  The Tarot is a blend of flash cards for nobility, and for the Minors, a soldier’s game.  Before the royals, the court cards were generals, lieutenants and aides.  The swords suit reflects a military origin and colors the mental sphere with a usefully combative, tempestuous shade.

d06284d02sKKing of Swords

This king is driven by the need to control, of forces human and natural, of ideas, science, law, and conflict.  Some are drawn towards justice, the code and the staying of the sword, while most that make the sword their emblem, for these only speed and strength are valued.

In 18th Century France this card was called David, the wise King.


Queen of Swords

This queen is master of the intellect.  Her perceptions are honed, her language is spare and precise, her emotions take a back seat to matters of deliberation.  The results of her efforts result in a penetrating wisdom, the ability to predict outcomes and read their significance.

In folklore, she was called Pallas (Athena), or Black Maria, both wise mothers of thrones.  In our deck, she is the Queen of Spades, holding a lily or lotus in her hand.



Horseman of Swords

This noble is on a quest to conquer.  Whether it’s land, or sea, or hearts or minds, the objective is to seize by sheer force of will something that will gratify the sword’s thirst.  In his eyes, glory, fame and recognition are the minimum before one can return home and carry out a normal life.

In folklore this cards was named after Ogier the Dane, a legendary giant that was supposed to be one of Charlemagne’s knights.


Page of Swords

This valet is the right hand of their master, truly a sword in service, and therefore more likely to do the dirty business of others.  Executing orders, and opposition, enforcing the will of others, and serving as a symbol of greater of authority are all traits of this familiar character.



Ace of Swords

This glorious card is a contemplation on the element of Air, it represents the pinnacle of most human measures about what is important in life.  To the mind and its machinations go much of our awareness.  The hand grasping the tool, the tool is deadly, and by it the crown rules.  Whatever is crowned is ruled by the sword.



Two of Swords

Two taught bows are drawn, level with the ground, waiting to be released and strike.  No arrows have flown, this is the moment of aim, a friendly competition, the eye and the breath rule here, the arrowhead has yet to strike.  Swords crossed, the gesture of civility before the contest.  This, the moment before action, the shadow of war, is the unfortunate hieroglyph of peace.


Three of Swords

If opponents were parents, the three, denoting an offspring, will certainly give birth to sorrow.  Standing side by side with weapons at rest it is the hungering thought that boils their blood, fills their minds and threatens to part them, and this is what they produce together.



Four of Swords

The bonds that come from mutual interest and contractual obligation have a way of producing predictable results.  Alliances are not only necessary to navigate life, they are the most peaceful weapon humans have.  But they are sharp edged – what brings strength can include supporting things you don’t believe in.


Five of Swords

In the intellectual realm, probably the most important realm to most humans, conflict and competition expose us to considerable attack, where we risk injury or even defeat.  Just remember that we can only experience defeat when we are taking up arms for a concern that we intend to see win.


Six of Swords

Once we realize that it isn’t enough just to follow along with what’s around us, often the result of defeat and resulting incomprehension, we order our thoughts around making better judgements.  We evaluate the evidence, work together for truth rather than connection.



Seven of Swords

No matter how organized one tries to be, something odd can just be thrust into the mix.  Especially when our language, as communication, is so inefficient at sharing ideas.  Even when sound methods are present, what we don’t know, and how we answer to what we don’t know, has led to all the greatest conflicts.


Eight of Swords

In a card that suggest humor, the highest stable numbered card (after the four and six, the other two tidy shapes) for the realm of thought is chaos.  In a complete gaze on the mind, one admits that alongside the plans and choices is a considerable amount of static, chaos is a factor of the human mind.


Nine of Swords

With knowledge comes responsibility.  With a solid grasp on the workings of the mind, choices that can heal or manipulate come to the fore.  Human capacity for cruelty is terrible in the hands of a skilled mind, knowledge does not insure understanding.  For this, intellect alone is revealed as insufficient for a reasonable human.


Ten of Swords

Swords have a reputation, as weapons, and as the Tarot suit with the most dire cards.  As each element comes to completion in the ten, Swords climaxes in ruin.  The lesson is simple enough, it’s the inscription of Ozymandias.  All the civilizations of the Classic world had gone to ruin, their achievements known as remains.  It is also the fate of our thoughts.




Minor Cards: Staves


Representing the Classical element of fire, what could be more suitable than the emblem of wood.  A reasonable ordering of wood pieces by size would be twig, stick, stave, and log.  A stave is a good fire starter, it can be carried, it could hold up to a glancing sword or give a good club across the head.  Staves can be architectural, good for tent pole, scaffold or palisade, where we get the idea of staving off hunger by fencing our livestock in.  Wood is temporary but useful, lasting long enough to serve a purpose.  Fire burns until its fuel is spent, and moves when it can to where there is more.  The work of feeding a home fire is continual, repetitive and necessary to stay alive.  Perhaps there are reasons the element for wood, for all its usefulness, constructive and destructive capacities, is matched to the passions and energy of humans.  Fire is the visual for the way humans effect each other, not the internal feeling of cups but the expression, the cause and effect, of feelings acted upon.  Fury, rage, heroism, compassion, all intangibles brought to life, that come from the heat the burns at 98.6 degrees in the human form.


King of Staves

This king is driven by a need for greatness.  Though a totalitarian in every respect, visions of his own grandeur haunt his dreams, his people are dragged along with him, but this occasionally works out well.  Should his vision be of wisdom, science, or destruction, those around him share in his fate.

French folk lore identified this card as Alexander the Great, the philosopher king.  In our modern deck the King of Clubs often holds a mirror.


Queen of Staves

This good queen is master of the arts, everything she touches turns to gold.  Her understanding tends deep and she is most moved by subtle and meaningful matters.  She is constantly on the road, chasing after wonders, pursuing legends of more. She is patron of the market place, exploring its diversity, rewarding quality with patronage. Her treasures are experiences, which she brings home to better the lives of her people.  Her poetry brings clarity to conflict, and shapes the people’s memory and collective wisdom.

In 1700s France, this card was known as Argine, a scramble of Regina, meaning Queen.


Horseman of Staves

This noble is on a quest for valor, better understood today as reputation.  He’ll do whatever it takes to stake his claim as leader of the pack.  The trouble is one person’s idea of good isn’t always shared, and this hero character can be quixotic or worse.  Comedic ruin can come from pursuing what at first seemed like a good thing, much harm can come at the hands of a person who believes their objective is noble.

In 1700s France, this card depicted Lancelot.  The veritable knight in shining armor, it was also called Servant of the Lady.


Page of Staves

This passionate worker is the epitome of mover and shaker.  From seating arrangements to the performance of music, this Valet makes the magic happen.  When it comes to creative solutions, inciting a riot, or getting someone elected, this is who keeps their finger on the pulse of the times and it is their savvy on which their superiors rely.



Ace of Staves

This card is a meditation on the element of fire.  It is wise to consider your passions, and see how they shape your decisions and the course of life.  This is the part of the world that you can change, you build the fire and illumine the dark around you.  You build the device that lifts the stones.  Focus on what you are able to do, not what you can’t change.



Two of Staves

Perhaps it is in battle that some things are decided, but battles are decided by the skill of the soldiers.  When two staves collide it is the sound of practice.  Title, privilege and luck may set the stage for our fates, but it’s what you do with the materials at hand that really matters.



Three of Staves

When one has aligned themselves with the forces of their choosing, our own lives become the fruit of our labors.  We exhibit the virtues of that which guides us.  This is a neutral card, everything depends of the nature of the project that was undertaken, to produce these results.



Four of Staves

It’s a simple matter when undertaking a project that once it is finished the result may be assessed.  Having the labor and the enjoyment or lessons combined is a balance of closure, a single full experience to add to the many that life offers.



Five of Staves

Even within passions that are well reinforced around us, well conceived and executed, the very uncertainty of heading a certain direction is inevitable.  It may seem as though anxiety is there to block any notion of progress.  This is because the future has yet to happen.  Take action, or no change is the only certain outcome.



Six of Staves

It can be fairly said that victory is only possible when the effort is considerable.  There are easy victories, but the point is that the use of force is necessary to effect change.  The type of victory is sure to reflect the kind of force, while difficulty is a separate matter entirely.



Seven of Staves

While the odd numbered cards have that old Pythagoras sense of something added to a symmetry, the seven is more malevolent in the other suits.  Being the passions, Staves describe qualities that motivate both good and unpleasant aims.  Victory is a neutral balance, its nature can be undesirable.  Honor is a passion that, even misguided, can discipline our other fires.



Eight of Staves

The greatest fruit of experienced passions, shaped and directed, honed to excellence, is speed.  The master craftsman gets better results in less time.  The skilled orator knows which notes get expected reactions.  Contours evolve as shapes are streamlined. Effectiveness yields swift and decisive  results.



Nine of Staves

Even the most burning creative desire is only as capable as the level force they are able to apply.  A steady fire is required to melt the metals.  One can have all the experiences in the world and still not possess the necessary verve to produce an effect of them.



Ten of Staves

Like the Swords, this card produces a curious climax as the highest card in the fire element.  But it isn’t difficult to imagine that in the face of any truly total passion, a consuming fire, there isn’t room for anyone or anything else.  This card could be named obsession, but the results are in the realm of domination.