We speak in Tarot of pairs, trios, the One, the Everything, the Zero, and so on. However, if we must think of numerical degrees and hierarchy in Tarot, it may be quite useful to think of what cards are the most significant. As far as I’m concerned, there are these three: the Zero: the Fool, The One: The Magician, and the Two: The High Priestess. The Fool being nothing, amounting to nothing, and being useful only to the extent that it functions as a catalyst for all the other cards it comes in touch with, reminds us of how absolute freedom from constraints enters into play, not only with the world of concrete action, but also with vastness, space, and abstract choice. In the world of concrete realization, the Fool is bad news. For, if it’s concrete solutions we are looking for, then nothingness and vastness are the last elements that we want to see as part of our equations and calculations. The artist and painter Wilhelm de Kooning was once asked: “what do you think of space?” He answered: “fuck space.” So, the Fool floats in space, is not conscious of anything, and is beyond hope and fear. It is also for this reason that it is rather silly to think of the Fool as undergoing a journey at the end of which he will come out enlightened. The Fool learns nothing because he is not supposed to ‘learn’ anything. Nor can the Fool make a good partner. When women clients identify the men they live with as the Fool, I say to them one thing only: “Fuck the Fool.”
After space – which may or may not mess with our heads, depending on how we see it – we have contraction. In the Kabbalistic tradition, in order for God to be able to create the world, he needed to turn himself into a point. We talk of the Monad in geometry and Tarot. The One is the one (monad) and nothing else. If the Fool floats in space aimlessly and suggests all things potential, The One is the sudden realization of this potential. It is raw beauty, untouched by experience, but with a flame in its eye. The Magician winks charmingly, but you can’t expect finesse from him. He’s good with his fingers, to be sure, but you still have to remember that what he shows you may not be what he actually gives you. What you see is not what you get. The Magician is undivided power. We stand in its awe, we are seduced by it, and we find it inspiring, insofar as it can put us on new tracks. We may think of the Magician forming a propitious pair with another Trump – the High Priestess is often referred to in this context – but a trick is still a trick. The Magician is no more interested in the High Priestess than she is in him. And why is this so? Because Trump Two has enough going for itself. After space and the contracted, yet undivided power, something mysterious happens. The One is obviously so smart that he can manage to even trick himself into seeing multiple facets of himself. Thus, by the sole power of suggestion, the Magician’s force creates a form that divides itself. The One power becomes Two. As such, it manifests itself as the grandest esoteric secret. The secret of how we get from one to two. How we get a sense of what it means to share a form.
The High Priestess is this form. She is not only a reflection of the monad, but a power in herself. And her secret is division. She knows how to divide, how to differentiate, and what all that means for the One. Once the monad divides itself into 2, and thus resides in the dual state of 2, what comes after is the increasing complex manifestation of what took place in the ‘ur’ experience, in the 2. The High Priestess knows ‘how to,’ she is the epitome of dualism, yet unlike the Empress, who repeats her act by creating a variation on division, 2+1=3, the High Priestess knows what it was like to experience the primal division. The Empress has already forgotten it. Consequently, she has no idea why things are as they are. She just embraces everything, and welcomes more divisions. That’s why she is pregnant all the time. In other words, everything that happens between numbers 3 and 9 is a process of creating variations of the interplay between 0, 1, and 2.
On this note, it may also be useful to think of how all the other cards associated with number 2 behave. If Zero doesn’t count, and the One is beyond settlement and negotiation, the number 2 emphasizes the original dividing power. As such, it is always dualistic, ambivalent, and conflicting. It never aims at reintegration, as things can never be settled. Least of all as in the 2 of cups – as represented symbolically, rather than geometrically in some decks. There is nothing more disconcerting than seeing 2 lovers depicted on most fantasy cards consecrating their supposed love and loyalty to one another, and thus doing the ‘right’ thing. The 2 can never work out. It is not in the nature of things to unite, but to divide. You come into this world alone, as One, and you die alone, as many. Meanwhile, we all pretend – in love and life.
Culturally speaking, I can never understand why, if we accept the 1+1, we are most suspicious of accepting the 2+1. Sure, in a religious context, some are happy with the Trinity, and others are happy for this order of things: 2 get married and have a third, a child. And yet, by the same token, and as we obviously like to add to make sure that we recreate ‘unity’, why can we not have 2 women and a man in the house? We are more prone to accepting 2 women and 2 men, but somehow we still need to think of them as divided. 3 women and 3 men is also kosher. It’s a small community. Not only can they mirror each other, but they can also compete. 6 is the number of rivalry and sacrifice. Isn’t this what they do in the Lovers card, to some extent, for it’s clear that the 2 are not on the same page. The woman desires the Angel’s gaze, and the man desires her. The Angel goes with Zero. So, it’s better to stick to the Marseille tradition on this one. Not only is the L’Amoureux (The Lover, not Lovers) card the card of hesitance, immaturity, and supreme indecision, but it is also the card that has least to do with love. It’s the 2+2+2 card. Now, that’s a whole trinity of conflicting emotions. To my clients who get excited when I draw the Lover card, I have this to say: “good luck.”
If we continue a bit with the numbering, it is also interesting that 4 men desiring a woman is also a kind of unity, albeit one that emphasizes a brighter idea. In the 7 we have 2 sets of tri(bal) power celebrating the ego at work in the world, and in the 8 we are back to conflict. Major conflict: 2+2+2+2 is also 2 sets of 4. Here come the Emperors of the world trying to force concrete knowledge out of the High Priestess. But she knows what she knows. If they draw anything out of her, it’s a blank they draw. Good luck to them too. That’s why all the eights are marked by an ‘emptying-of-the-mind’ kind of moment. Things are aloof. The Emperors are depressed and pessimistic. The stability that they try to seduce the High Priestess with doesn’t work. She is not for fixing. She’s not into fixing. When finally the One gets divided in 9 parts, a sense of discernment emerges. The Emperor raised at the power of 2 plus 1 realizes here what power really is. It is not in the square, but in the circle. The big O. Being in the circle is not the same as understanding the circle. Being in the circle means orbiting around the point and seeing it divide itself.
The best way of going about it in Tarot is still to count. Look at numbers, their value, and their significance over and above the sentimental imposition of clichés and metaphors on them. What we must love is the geometry of form but only as it allows us to dream of infinity.
Note on the deck: Jean-Claude Flornoy: restoration of Jean Noblet’s Tarot de Marseille, 1650.
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