The prominent 19th century occultist and Golden Dawn Member S. L. MacGregor Mathers wrote about the significance of numbers in an ordinary card deck in his essay The Tarot, published in 1888:
“It has been long known that the ordinary 52 card pack was susceptible of some peculiar numerical significations, e.g.:
52 Cards in the pack, suggest 52 weeks in the year.
13 Cards in each suit, suggest 13 lunar months in the year, 13 weeks in the quarter.
4 suits in the pack, suggest 4 seasons in the year.
12 Picture Cards in the pack, suggest 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac
Furthermore, if we add together:
The pips on the plain cards of the four suits = 220
The pips on the 12 Picture Cards = 12
Twelve Picture Cards reckoned as 10 each = 120
The number of cards in each suit = 13
We shall obtain the number of days in the year = 365
But concealed behind their apparently arbitrary and bizarre designs, the Tarot Cards contain a far more complicated system of recondite symbolism.
We find the number ten multiplied by the mystical number four, and combined with a primitive hieroglyphic alphabet of twenty-two letters.”
Before we look at the deeper meanings of numbers in Tarot, it is worthwhile noting that the esoteric science of numbers, arithmology, was first developed by the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 B.C.).
In the centuries that followed, his teachings were passed on over generations in Europe and the middle East, mainly within secret societies, which were formed due to political unrest and upheaval.
When occult groups such as the Freemasons, became interested in Tarot from the late 17th century onwards, it seems logical that arithmology would be gradually embedded into the Tarot.
Today, the meanings of numbers in the Tarot are still based on the teachings of Pythagoras.
However, you will find that changes have been made to the card sequences in various decks, which follow different traditions.
Here is an overview of the significance of numbers:
|Pythagoras||Numerology and Tarot|
|A mystical symbol, not a number. Mathematically and philosophically Zero represents nothing and everything, the two infinite ends of the finite, neither of which is physically attainable.||God force; the force before entering into manifestation.
In Tarot: The Fool. In some decks the Fool is numbered 22—see below.
Root of all numbers, unity, principle of all things, indivisible
Gender: male and female (containing the odd and even)
Time: The present now
Positive Attributes: Essence; beyond all knowledge
Negative Attributes: chaos, confusion, obscurity, darkness; ambiguous
Mind of Man: Intellect (source of all ideas)
|Divine spark, male principle.
The number One represents ambition and courage; associated with the sun.
In Tarot: Aces/One—Potential, gift, spark, ideas, beginnings; births; initiation, opening, opportunity, starting point. Concentration of will; mindfulness, intention, commencement, focus.
The Magician – male principle; new beginnings and potential as suggested by the four suit symbols on his altar.
First increase; first change from unity; indefinite.
Gender: First female
Time: night and day as a twofold aspect
Positive attributes: power, summit, patience, harmony, root
Negative: strife, falsehood, ignorance, defeat
|Differentiation; female principle.
The number Two represents emotions and harmony.
In Tarot: Personality, feelings; reflection; duality; opposites. Striving for balance; subconscious. Passivity, choice, intuition, inner guidance.
The High Priestess – female principle.
First odd, first number to be called multitude; cause of plurality of numbers; allows power of monad to proceed into energy and extension
Gender: the first male number
Time: Past-Present-Future as a threefold measure of time
Positive Attributes: harmony, good counsel
Mind of Man: Intellect, intelligence, knowledge
|Manifestation; holy trinity of wisdom, love and truth.
The number Three represents creativity, joy and expansion; associated with the planet Jupiter.
In Tarot: Manifestation, foundation, affection, understanding, harmony, beauty, integration, combination, fecundity, growth. Unfolding; co-operation.
First square number among even; second even number
Gender: Female in first extension; to open and shut the recesses of generation
Time: the four seasons
Positive Attributes: Fountain of natural effects; keybearer of nature
Mind of Man: the fourfold division of Man in terms of soul, body, desire
|The Earth; four seasons, four elements; four holy creatures guarding the throne of god (human/air, eagle/water, lion/fire, bull/earth – see Tarot cards Wheel of Fortune, The World).
Will, discipline, construction; associated with planet Uranus.
In Tarot: Grounding, focus inward on self, stasis, boredom, stability, order, completion, turning point. Reason, consolidation; assessment of needs; organisation, establishment.
First number to combine odd and even; second odd number; privation of strife (as a number uniting 3 + 2)
Gender: Male (as odd); male and female (as 3 + 2)
|Humanity. Freedom, mental dexterity, communication; fruitfulness and new learning.
Associated with the planet Mercury.
In Tarot: Challenge, strife, struggle, conflict. Breakdown. Chaos, upheaval, stress. Disturbance, anger, loss (of temper, feelings, security or integrity).
The Hierophant – authority, education, dogma, structure; potential for rebellion.
First perfect number. Gender: Female (as even)
Time: Regeneration (which occurs after 6 x 6 x 6 years)
Positive attributes: harmony, perfection of parts, benevolence, peace, principle
Mind of man: Truth; only number adapted to the soul of Man
|Beauty; creation and perfection.
The number Six represents love, wisdom and responsibility; associated with the planet Venus.
In Tarot: Advancement, reciprocation, sharing, contemplation. Exuberance; co-operation, choice;
The Lovers – responsibility.
Only number in decad that did not arise from any union and does not unite with anything.
Gender: Male (as odd)Time: The lunar cycle as four sets of seven days
Positive Attribute: Veneration
Mind of Man: Dream (vision)
The number Seven is the highest mystical and sacred number; it represents life, higher learning, spirituality and contemplation.
Associated with the planet Neptune.
Male magic (based on anatomy—7 orifices)
In Tarot: Movement, mastery, struggle, new direction, inner growth, self-reflection; discipline, restraint, self-expression, independent action, foresight, indecision.
First cube number among even; first cube of energy
Gender: Female (as fourth even number)
Time: One third of a day; the day divided into 8 + 8 + 8 hours; the eighth day as rejuvenation, or regeneration of the cycle of seven days
|Strength; divine law, authority, materialism; associated with the planet Saturn.
The figure of Eight is a symbol of spiralling motion of the creative forces, also representing karmic justice ‘as above, so below’.
Female magic (based on anatomy—8 orifices)
In Tarot: Energy, thrust, evolution, movement, inspiration, restrictions, evaluating, prioritising, persistence, resilience, expansion.
In the RWS tradition: Justice.
In the Marseille/Crowley tradition: Strength.
First square number among odd numbers; the number which flows around the other numbers within the decad like the ocean around the earth; the first triangular number (3 x 3)
Gender: doubly masculine (as odd and as the first odd square)
Time: the nine months of gestation
Positive Attributes: concord, freedom from strife
|Completeness; end of a cycle; the beginning and the end.
The number Nine represents unconditional service and action.
Associated with the planet Mars.
In Tarot: Solitude, gestation, self-reliance, isolation, integration, experience. Fulfilment, peak, self-awareness, narrow-mindedness, inflexible.
Contains in itself both even and odd
Gender: containing both male and female
Positive Attributes: strength (ruling over all other numbers), faith, necessity
Mind of Man: Memory (as mental calculation)
|Perfection through completeness; return to unity, accomplishment of purpose. Transformation.
In Tarot: Completion of a cycle; endings and beginnings, result, regeneration, release, responsibility, consolidation; new direction or re-commitment; purpose.
The Wheel of Fortune.