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Baneemy's Avatar
Join Date: 07 Jan 2003
Location: Taiwan
Posts: 83
Pips: the meaning of the numbers

In the ongoing debate over the relative merits of illustrated vs. unillustrated pip cards, several of you have mentioned that illustrations are unnecessary because the meaning of the Seven of Swords, for instance, is essentially just a combination of the meaning of "sword" and the meaning of "seven."

For those of you who read the pips this way, I'm interested in hearing what the numbers themselves mean to you (i.e., what do all the Fives, regardless of suit, have in common). If you can explain what it is about each number that makes its associated meaning seem natural to you, that would be even more interesting.

I'm sure we all have a slightly different take on what the numbers mean, but I suspect that there will be a lot of consistency, too. Integers are, after all, pretty damn universal.

Thanks in advance.


"Ma-a-an overboard!"
--W. Strieber
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Old 11-01-2003     Top   #1
of the woods
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i like to use unillustrated pips, as sometimes the pictures 'get in the way'.

here are some numerology threads for the individual numbers;



three= [url]






live life

Last edited by zorya; 11-01-2003 at 04:18.
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Old 11-01-2003     Top   #2
Baneemy's Avatar
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Thanks, zorya. I guess I should have run a search before posting this.


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Old 11-01-2003     Top   #3
cuddles's Avatar
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don't worry, we all had to get used to doing searches ;-)

and i find that sometimes when people forget it can spark interesting new discussions.

also take a look at thirteen's tarot basic...she discusses the numbers there

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Old 11-01-2003     Top   #4
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Join Date: 15 May 2002
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I will agree to disagree here.

The seven-of-swords is a good example in which an illustration like the one in the H-W deck restricts the range of possible meanings of seven + swords.


Originally posted by Baneemy
In the ongoing debate over the relative merits of illustrated vs. unillustrated pip cards, several of you have mentioned that illustrations are unnecessary because the meaning of the Seven of Swords, for instance, is essentially just a combination of the meaning of "sword" and the meaning of "seven."

I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.
Tom Lehrer
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Old 24-01-2003     Top   #5
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With special regards to the seven of Swords, I made some reference to my views in an earlier thread titled Suggested meanings for non-illustrated pips (not given as a link in zorya's post), which also links to other threads - probably duplicating links made by Zoria above. But still, revisiting always adds to searches - as new discussions always take mildly different forms.

With regards to the number seven, it has a dynamism (as an odd number) more 'complete' or fuller than either three or five, without the squareness nor triplicities of nine. I always find the seven has a spiritual dimension which seems to want to communicate itself - a little of the Star's free-flowing waters of divine guidance (& the Star's number is, of course, X & VII, which in its Roman, Greek and Hebrew forms do not 'reduce' to 8).

But to answer the original question in a pre-discursive way. Each of the numerals, from one through to ten (& beyond - but these are not at issue here) can be geometrically represented within a circle. In their very construction, certain common insights will, I am certain, inevitably result.

The trick is to both do this and to allow various reflections to emerge. For example:
  • 1 - how else, besides the point at its centre, can this be represented?
    2 - a line can divide the circle in two, but does it have different impact when horizontal (reminiscent of Theta, which begins the Greek 'thanatos'='death') to vertical (reminiscent of 'Phi', which is used both for the Golden Ratio and begins the Greek 'philos'='love'). And what about considering its curved division as in the Yin-Yang image?
    3 - an equilateral triangle within the circle certainly gives an impression of three-ness (I realise some will see this as a fourfold division) - and there are numerous other renditions....
I do think that it is the exercise which leads to deeper insights. In addition, there are also the various considerations which one can enter when reflecting on the ways the specific suit can be depicted with a specific number in mind (eg, seven swords), and the actual rendition in the depiction in question: why this particular way?

But I have started the discursive element, rather than its intrinsic geometrical qualities... to the thread on Pictures vs. Symbols on the Pips, I have only just caught sight of it, and will eagerly read it at length!
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Old 24-01-2003     Top   #6
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while i would scarcely call myself a reader, i find 13's explanation of the minor numbers very clear, so that all one has to do is think of the element and the number as relating to that element.

like for 2: "they indicate duality but, more importantly, they indicate instinctual knowledge. Aces are undirected energy; the twos are, in a sense, the knowledge of what the direction for that energy should take."

so i start with the idea that 2s are about instinctual or unspoken knowledge of the suit's element; 7s, a loss of control. with the context of the card in its position, the question of the reading, and the surrounding cards -- i find it easy to understand the meaning of the minors without memorizing any set keywords.

but maybe i oversimplify.
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Old 02-04-2007     Top   #7
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Join Date: 03 Feb 2007
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This thread coming up is especially helpful to me :X I just acquired the Manga Tarot and all the pips are unillustrated, putting more demands on me learning and remembering more things than I've had to do before! ((I'm such a picture person, I think ))

Anyway, thanks for asking the question; I'm bookmarking this thread
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Old 03-04-2007     Top   #8
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I too prefer unillustrated pips for the same reason. Some writers (Rachel Pollack and others) have said that illustrated pips give freedom from the formula methods which had been used before anyone illustrated them, but I don't really see this as a bonus. The more the artist suggests as a possible interpretation, the more possibilities are ruled out if they don't match the picture. The Golden Dawn did not recommend illustrated pips either.

I agree with others here who see the pip cards as formulaic in nature. Even in decks with illustrations, the meaning still tend to follow a pattern, so it seems not much is gained, especially when you consider that a formula divides the amount of information needing to be committed to memory, so the apparent aid to memory of having pictures is not the short cut it appears to be.

I can understand people appreciating the illustrations though, as they can make for a very beautiful deck full of pictures, but I think it's possible to have it both ways, such as in the Thoth, where the artwork suggests and reflects a mood, but does not offer a potential scenario to fit the meaning. Also, some of the very old traditional decks have wonderful patterned pips which are very appealing to the eye but offer no clue as to the interpretation.

I still have decks with illustrated pips, some are very beautiful, but I have to admit they can be distracting.

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Old 04-04-2007     Top   #9
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