In my personal studies of the Tarot, I have found the Minor Arcana to be the hardest to translate into meaningful interpretations. The symbolism is complex and vague all at the same time. The Rider-Waite deck is the hardest for me to translate as most decks give a one word summary of the meaning and the Rider-Waite uses only pictures. What I believe Waite was trying to accomplish (though I have not read his Tarot research), was to use certain scenes from daily life, medieval times, and mythology to describe the broad meanings of the card based on a specific formula. Anyone who owns other esoteric decks such as Crowley’s Thoth Deck or The Golden Dawn Magickal Tarot will notice that the cards of the Minor Arcana contain astrological symbols. These symbols may even confuse the reader as they do not always seem to correspond with the written interpretations of the card. I have written on this subject previously in my blog but I will go through all the symbol systems involved to clarify.
The Minor Arcana is the second deck of the Tarot, the court royal cards being a separate deck all together. There are 40 cards in the deck all together. The number 40 has a long history of symbolism found throughout the Bible and ancient cultures. The great flood was accompanied by 40 days and nights of rain, Jesus walked the desert for 40 days and nights, and the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. According to Ernest Busenbark in his book, Sex, Symbols and the Stars, the number 40 may had been attributed to turmoil and hardships followed by a renewal as it coincides with the cycle of human gestation being 40 weeks or 10 twenty eight day months (18).
The tetragrammaton is the four lettered name kept sacred to Judaism and paganism across the world and is encrypted into various components of the Tarot. This ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ name has often been described as a representation of the four elements. The four fold nature of being, as articulated by Carl Jung’s quaternary, are intellect, intuition, emotion, and sensation (http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=1722). This can be seen as we think thoughts, feel emotions, use instinctive decision making combining thought and emotion, and sense the world around us. The four suits of the Tarot, the four elements (fire, water, air, earth), and the four fold nature of being are all symbolically equal. The Tarot in conjunction with Kabala, describes each of these natures further by inscribing the Tree of Life in each of the four worlds. The Tarot is graphically and symbolically describing what the written tradition of Kabala has been teaching at least since the 10th century.
The symbolism is completely holographic with the existence of each of the four worlds in each separate world:
This allows for many levels of information to be encoded into the symbolism as we apply Kabala to Tarot, as it was meant to be. There are other symbolic relationships engrained into the tree itself, such as pillars, triangles, paths, etc. Any understanding of these will further advance your study of Tarot and your ability to draw information from the spreads.
Each card of the Minor Arcana contains a NUMBER that represents the SPHERE on the Tree and a SUIT which represents the mode of being or ELEMENT. There is one more system of information added to the Minor Arcana that is not easily perceived. It contains the entire Zodiac, though in a different format than the Major Arcana.
Each house of the Zodiac contains 3 sub houses called decans or decantes. Decan means ‘division or ruler of ten’ as the whole Zodiac is 360 degrees and each decan is 10 degrees making 36 decans. Extracting the 4 aces from the 40 cards gives us 36 (40-4=36). The ace of each suit is not represented in the wheel because the ace is considered to be the pure emanation of that element. For example: the ace of cups can be seen as the pure emanation of emotion (water) in its highest form; love. It is rather simple. As we move into the 2 or Chockmah, the card takes on the symbols of the decan and house.
Venus in Cancer with Chockmah in Briah is a very balanced energy. It is the love that we can understand as we live in a dualistic reality. Venus represents love, art, the mother, and the divine feminine. We know that Cancer is a water sign, making it compatible with Venus (love, female, water). Cancer is a motherly, protective shell as illustrated by the crab. Chockmah is the first split off of Kether, and it still holds stability of divine energy. Combining all of these concepts, love is weighed as a balanced force, not like the duality of good and evil but the idea of active and passive.
For you math majors:
(Decan + House) + (Element + Modality) = Minor Arcana
A great site to get to initiate an understanding the role Kabala plays in Tarot is:
Raven’s Tarot Site
Raven’s Tarot Site
I believe this book is essential to beginning Tarot studies, especially to those people serious about studying Crowley’s Thoth Deck:
Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot
By Lon Milo Duquette
The Book of Thoth
By Aleister Crowley