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Tarot: "Good" and "Bad" Cards of the Minor Arcana

 Comments on "Good" and "Bad" Cards
  Chart of "Good" and "Bad" Card Associations
  The Suites: Their Energy and Mode of Operation
  An Examination of the Numbers
  Thoughts on Magical Work


COMMENTS ON "GOOD" AND "BAD" CARDS

The association of a card as being good or bad is a distinction that I find to be based on a pessimistic approach to the cards. The dualistic tags of "good" and "bad" are relative sides of the same coin. It said that all good things must come to an end. When this end occurs, the "bad" side of the coin appears. The seeds of the "bad" are present in the "good", just as the full potential for "good" is present in "bad". When one operates on the basis of "good" and "bad" concepts, there exists no balance. There is always striving for what is not possessed, and sorrow for what is lost.



I instead encourage a holistic approach to the cards that allows one to accept the "good" cards as a respite, and the "bad" cards as opportunities for growth and movement. The nature of the cards is not judged by relative labels of dualism. Instead, the cards are appreciated individually – moments of being where only opportunity is present. The idea of non-dualistic identification of the cards is challenging. To fully examine the philosophy behind the minor arcana, I will continue to use the tags of "good" and "bad". When you see these words, instead think "opportunity" and "opportunity".

I feel that there are two kinds of "bad" cards: challenge and warning. The first category, those of challenge, contains those cards that indicate change and spiritual examination. The second category, those of warning, contains cards illustrating human short comings. Ironically, these short-comings are promoted when change or spiritual insight is not embraced

 

CHART OF "GOOD" AND "BAD" CARD ASSOCIATIONS

Card #

Pentacles

Wands

Cups

Swords

# of Good

# of Bad

1

G

G

G

G

4

0

2

G

G

G

G

4

0

3

G

G

G

B

3

1

4

B

G

B

G

2

2

5

B

B

B

B

0

4

6

G

G

G

G

4

0

7

B

B

B

B

0

4

8

G

G

B

B

2

2

9

G

G

G

B

1

3

10

G

G

G

B

2

2

# of Good

7

7

6

4

   

# of Bad

3

3

4

6

 

THE SUITES - THEIR ENERGY AND MODES OF OPERATION

A review of suites shows an unequal distribution of good and bad cards. The suite of Pentacles has the most good cards, while the suite of Swords has the least good cards. Why? There is a widely held philosophy that a return to earth – to simplicity – is a preferred path. Pagan religions promote unity with Mother Earth. Eastern religions – Taoism and Buddhism - also encourage a return to living simply, and basing our lives on what is experienced by the senses.

PENTACLES: EARTH

The element of Earth is expressed through the direct experiences of our five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. This suite is one of action and reaction. When I sell somebody an item, they will give me money. When I eat ice cream, it will taste good. When I drink too much, I will have a hangover. The functions are uncomplicated. When somebody lives at an Earth level, life could be as slow and steady as the seasons turning and the crops growing. Paganism feels very much in touch with these cycles, and celebrates them on Full Moons and quarters of the year.

The suite of Earth has the fewest bad cards, and the most good cards. This is explained by the suite’s simplicity and approximation to the natural unity.

WANDS: FIRE

The element of Fire adds passion and energy to the foundation created by the element of Earth. The natural rhythms of the planet are usurped by outside influences. The result is new creations and ideas. The goals created are not dependent on the timing of the planet. As events are accelerated, the natural balance is sometimes overthrown. The result is competition, seen most vividly in the sixth through ninth cards. The passion of the Wands is a force largely devoid of emotions. It is neither cold hearted nor full of anger. The volcano is an analogy in that it can destroy existing land, plants, and animals as it creates new land. There is no motivation of destruction. Transformation, a function of death and birth, is a balanced force of nature.

The suite of Wands is same as the suite of Pentacles in the number of good and bad cards. However, the good cards are slightly less "good". The introduction of Fire creates new, formally unknown, things and disrupts natural cycles. This movement from the foundation of Earth would account for the stirring of forces seen as "bad".

CUPS: WATER

The element of Water adds emotions to the minor arcana. Water is a substance that flows to the lowest places, and it can be calm or stormy. Water can be represented by shallow puddles or by bottomless oceans. Emotions take on all of these qualities. The shape and status of water is dependent on its container and temperature.

The suite of Cups has one more bad card than the suites of Pentacles and Wands. The higher number of bad cards is a function of Water’s variability.

SWORDS: AIR

The element of Air adds intellect and conscious thinking to the minor arcana. The element of air is the most removed from the element of Earth. Fire is dependent on Earth for fuel. Water is dependent on Earth for a place to rest. Air can exist without Earth. This nature analogy can be extended to the realm of our being. One can make decisions, and have thoughts, that are not based on reality, or grounded in practicality. The thought that begins as a breeze quickly becomes a tornado, or escapes into the emptiness of space. Air is the most difficult element to contain, control, and quantity. The more we try to control our thoughts, the wilder they become. Meditation brings our thoughts back to a stable form. The purest forms of meditation seek not to contain, control, or quantify thoughts. Zen meditation instead acknowledges a thought, and allows for its natural departure. There is no counting of thoughts, no tally sheet of grievances and hurts.

The suite of Swords has traditionally had the darkest of reputations. There are more bad cards than good cards. It is my belief that this is a reflection of the turmoil people experience from the stresses of the mind. Thoughts are egocentric, and cannot join with others. When a person is operating in the realm of Air, they are furthest from the soothing womb of the Earth.

 

AN EXAMINATION OF THE NUMBERS

Number: Ace (one)
General Meaning: new beginnings and potential
Comments: This number has all good cards. The tools on the table in the major Arcana’s Magician are separated into the four suites.

Number: Two
General Meaning: relationships, duality, balancing of two
Comments: This number has all good cards. This emphasizes the positive nature of balance and the acceptance of duality. These two qualities are the basis of all relationships.

Number: Three
General Meaning: synthesis, collaboration, self-expression, fulfillment
Comment: All suites are favored by this number except for the Swords. In the Swords, the collaboration seen in the other suites becomes arguments and disagreements. The nature of Swords is exposed: there is little room for unity in the egocentric realm of air.

Number: Four
General Meaning: foundations, stability, status quo
Comment: All suites are favored by this number except for the Pentacles and Cups. When there is too much of something, excessive abundance, the result is negative. When one amplifies the earthy foundation of Earth, there is no room for any movement or accommodation of others. Nature becomes suspended, and the natural cycles cannot move forward. In the suite of Cups, the stability of emotions allows them to become stagnant and complacent.

Number: Five
General Meaning: change, instability, volatile, necessary to adapt unpleasant changes
Comment: It would seem that change is universally unwelcome. All suites have bad cards for this number. Human nature finds some form of peace in stability. Even a known bad situation would seem to be better than an unknown situation. Instead of taking this traditional reading of the suites, a person should greet new opportunities and challenges. Change is a natural part of nature, and change can be the servant instead of the master when change is accepted.

Number: Six
General Meaning: assistance, idealism, perfection, and a change for the better
Comments: All suites are favored by this number. Six represents a place of rest after the changes of the number Five. However, one should realize that Six is merely a place to visit, and not the destination. Esoteric theory of the tarot hold that the number Six is the point at which a suite has evolved into a functional state. There is form, foundation, motion, and a sense of time. There is not a sense of spirituality or an appreciation of the finality of things. These come later.

Number: Seven
General Meaning: Unexpected change, perception, insight, new awareness and perspective, change brought about by insight.
Comment: All suites have bad cards for this number. The culprit is again change. Change is now driven by insight and spiritual awareness. The Pentacles ask one to be patient and spiritual about material things. The Wands speak of a competition requiring new skills of reasoning and perception. Cups ask for a decision between multiple options. Swords warn against complacency and deceit by ourselves or others.

Number: Eight
General Meaning: control, power and mastery over a situation through self-reliance and autonomy, organization
Comment: Cups and Swords do not fair well under this number. The traditional meaning for the suite of Cups is abandoned success or ability not to see what is available. The warning for the Cups speaks of the nature of emotions when controlled and directed. The traditional meaning for the suite of Swords is one of entrapment. The issue of the Sword’s egocentric nature is repeated. Power and mastery traps the participant or others.

Number: Nine
General Meaning: Completion and fulfillment of each suite, maximum intensity of each suite in the cycle, completion, fulfillment.
Comment: In this number, the suite of Swords is given the title of "Nightmare". The outcome of complete focus in the area of Swords – the intellect – is seen. At this point, one feels no comfort from the Earth Mother. The other suites fair much better. The competition of Wands is successfully concluded and Pentacles and Cups reap generous benefits.

Number: Ten
General Meaning: renewal through a new cycle. Many lessons have been learned regarding the suit in question – mastery
Comment: The male suites of Wands and Swords are ill favored in this number. The cause is rooted in the nature of male and female energy. Female energy is nurturing, lingering, caring, controlling, and restricting. Peace is found in female energy, and thus in the suites of Pentacles and Cups. Male energy is outgoing, brash, quick, short, and open. These qualities, the basis of the male Wands and Swords, is not a solid foundation for a renewal of cycles.

 

THOUGHTS ON MAGICAL WORK:

The qualities of suites have been explored. In the area of magic, it would seem that Earth based workings are preferable. The suite of Pentacles – Earth – is only seen in a bad light when there is too much of it (4), and when there is change of a mundane (5) or spiritual type (7). These are expected, and should be avoided in the case of the number four, or welcome in the cases of five and seven.

The other suites begin to exhibit issues when they are worked with in a magical way. Wands – Fire - have unfocused, non-regenerating qualities when pushed to an extreme. Cups – Water – suffer from the unstable nature of the medium. Swords – Air – provide an egocentric method that gives much pain for its results.

An interesting note is that general Ceremonial and Enochian magic focus on the area of Swords. Based on this, I would discourage only a hearty few from this path. At the other extreme, the neopagan religions – including Wicca – follow the path of the Pentacle. It is of no coincidence that the preferred medallion of Wiccans is the pentacle.

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