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Tarot Reflections

  May 01, 2003

Essays on Card Numbers - Part One
Teresa Michelsen, CTM

Teresa Michelsen is a tarot reader and instructor who has been reading and studying tarot for 25 years. She teaches beginning and intermediate tarot courses and workshops on-line, through her Tarot Adventures and Tarot Explorations study groups.

Teresa has published many articles on tarot on the worldwide web and in American Tarot Association publications. Her first book, Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads is now available from Llewellyn, and she is currently working on her second book, The Practical Art of Tarot Reading, which will be published in 2004.

Teresa is a Certified Tarot Master. Her website, Tarot Moon, is a favorite destination of tarot readers who come for her lessons and articles on tarot and fully illustrated examples of completed tarot readings.

Teresa lives near Seattle, Washington with her husband Niels and black cat Shadow. In addition to her tarot activities, she holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Engineering, and works out of her home as an environmental consultant.



I believe the Aces represent consciousness.  In other words, especially in the context of a reading, they are not just raw powers, unfertilized seeds, hidden gifts.  The  Aces represent the point of conception and conceptualization.  Their number is one, which represents consciousness of self - "I am", and is related to the conscious mind of the Magician.  They represent the point at which an idea, thought, feeling, gift, or energy becomes known in our lives.  It is not yet acted upon, manifested, or maybe even thought about, but it identifies itself and its potential. 

Here are some examples from life that I associate with Aces:  

Wands: the moment of conception (for a man), the moment you realize what direction you want your career to take, the flash of inspiration that eventually gives rise to a creative work of art or writing, a moment of personal revelation about yourself and your life, the moment when you realize that you need to a take a life-altering course of action.

Cups: a rush of unexpected emotion that wakes you up to something you're subconsciously feeling, the moment you realize who your life partner may be, a gift of a something beautiful or aesthetic that brings peace or calm, a spiritual vision, a creative inspiration, also the moment of conception (for a woman).

Swords: the first idea or emergent concept that gives rise to a line of philosophical inquiry or research, a flash of insight into how to solve a problem, any "first thought" that leads you in a new direction, the moment when the pieces of the puzzle suddenly click together.

Pentacles: conceptualization in the mind's eye of a thing or creation - a visualization of a garden, woodworking project, house, or anything you create with your own hands.  A moment when you realize you can build or create something tangible, such as your own business, or writing a novel. The day you decide you want to own a home or have a family.  A sudden gift of funds that changes your life - a grant, scholarship, inheritance - or even the idea to seek such funds and what you want to do with them.  The moment when you first realize you want to change something about your body, health, or physical surroundings.

What these all have in common is consciousness of an emergent idea - a seed yes, but visible, germinated, and ready to put down roots (the twos) and then flower (the threes).  Almost by definition, the minute you turn over an Ace in a tarot reading, the client will become conscious (if they are not already) of the potential of that energy to manifest in their life.  This is the moment when some elemental power in the Universe manifests itself in a particular form in your life and says "I am" or perhaps "I can be if you will it so".


The Aces represent a generative energy that identifies the potential for some new opportunity in our lives.  The Aces are associated with the Magician, conscious thought, and masculine energy.

In the Twos, we find the next step in manifestation of this new idea.  The Twos are associated with the High Priestess, and represent a reflective, thoughtful, feminine energy stage.  Here we take our new idea and we ponder it, plan for it, start the preparations, and begin weighing the possibilities.  Choice between two alternatives is a key aspect of the Twos - to keep what we have or try for something new - to evaluate our new idea and decide whether to actually do it or not.  Here we must look at our new idea, lover, emotion, etc., and make a choice about committing to it or setting it aside and waiting for the next possibility to arise.  In the Twos, there is interaction with others - the self vs. the not-self - and decisions to be made that have long-term implications.

Here are some real-life examples of the Twos:

Swords: The first time we take our new idea and tell it to someone else. We perceive their reaction (good or bad).  We try to decide if it really is a good idea and should be acted upon, or just a wild imagining.  We do some research to see whether others have already had this idea and what they thought about it.  We hold actual activity in abeyance until we have thought our idea through some more and decide whether to pursue it.

Cups: Our rush of feeling for someone else has turned into a real relationship.  This is the stage where we get to know each other closely, and decide whether or not to commit to this relationship over the long-term. We learn each others good points and bad points, compatibilities and incompatibilities, and as yet have not made any decisions, just enjoying the ride.  In the meantime, we begin to think about what a future with this person might be like, even if we have not yet spoken of it.

Wands:  We are considering starting a new life.  We have something stable already built, but are considering leaving it and heading out into a new direction, to become a new person.  We are weighing the risks against the potential gain of expansion of our horizons, but have not yet left the security of our homes.  This could be an adolescent considering moving out of his parent's home, a person deciding whether or not to leave their marriage, or a businesswoman considering moving to a new country to take a new job.  At this time, all the considerations are weighed and any planning or preparation is done that is needed.

Disks: Here we are faced with a physical or material decision that has emotional undertones.  We are keeping our options open by juggling more things than we can really handle over the long-term.  Meanwhile we struggle with the internal process of deciding which of these things to keep and which to let go.  A new opportunity (Ace) has entered our life, but to take advantage of it, other things must be dropped.  An example might be working long hours to build a consulting business while still holding a full-time job, knowing that eventually either the consulting business will take off and you can quit your job, or it will fail and you will go back to your first job without the extra hours of work.  Here we try to determine if this new financial or material opportunity is really viable and worthy of our full attention and investment.


The Threes can be associated with the Empress, and are the productive and fertile union of the pure male principle (embodied in the Magician) and the pure female principle (embodied in the High Priestess), and are considered balanced and harmonious for this reason (all the multiples of three are). The Threes therefore represent the traditional associations of fertility and abundance, but also the first earthly manifestation of the new gift or potential that came with the Aces, which has been pondered, planned for, evaluated, and decided upon in the Twos.

Even at this point, the journey is by no means finished.  In fact, it is just getting started - but the first actual steps toward making it a reality have been taken. Another aspect of the Threes is the intervention or involvement of three people.  Just as the Twos deal with duality, which often involves another person, so the Threes take this one step further - leading to even greater productivity or greater difficulty, joy or pain.

Here are some card associations corresponding to these aspects of the Threes:

Pentacles: The first actual use of a newly learned skill to make something. A project moves from blueprints to construction.  A family moves into its new home after deciding to move across the country and start a new life. A financial investment pays off with dividends.  Working in teams to accomplish something practical.

Cups:  Friends or family celebrate a commitment to a relationship, such as a betrothal - this is the stage when the relationship has been publicly announced and celebrated, but the marriage has not yet taken place.  A pregnancy or adoption.  The first harvest of the season, celebration and sharing these fruits with others.

Swords:  The moment that a new direction of thought is manifested, for example, a person writes the first chapter of a new book.  A grant is received and a scientific research program begun.  A person presents their ideas at a conference and gets public or professional feedback and criticism. The intervention of a third party into a previously stable relationship, resulting in jealousy or heartbreak.

Wands:  After long planning, a person starts a new business and gets their first contract.  A person makes a decision to change their lifestyle and begins to take the actions required to achieve this change.  A person takes their first independent steps out into the world and goes exploring.  A new job offer is accepted that reflects a change of career.  The expansion of a business to include employees or a new partner.

All of these situations lead to growth, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful.


Fours are identified with consolidation, security, stability, building foundations for the future, resting, and regeenerating.  Just as the Three are expansive and creative, the Fours represent consolidation, contraction, and conservation of energy.  They are the natural counterbalancing force to the Threes, and a restful stop before continuing on to the unstable energy of the Fives.

We can liken the first four numbers to the seasons of the year.  Aces are springtime - the germination of the seed, the first shoots of the plants, the thawing and beginning of a new cycle.  Twos are summer - putting down roots and sending up stems and leaves - the potential of the plant beginning to be realized.  Threes are autumn - the fruiting, ripening, and harvest of the plant and celebration of the harvest.   And Fours are winter - resting, conserving energy, established plants putting down deeper roots during dormancy, preparing for the next cycle.

Here are some real-life examples of fours:

Swords:  Restful contemplation after a painful experience which has expanded our understanding of ourselves, others, or the world.  Time is needed to heal our mental wounds and to integrate what we have learned in a positive manner.  During this time, we try to fit what we have experienced into a mental framework and make sense of it.  This could be a solitary vacation or retreat to try to sort out your direction in life, rehabilitation after surgery, a mental illness or drug addiction, or as simple as taking some time off after completion of a particularly demanding or difficult project at work.

Wands:   In this card there is celebration, but also a formalization of a business or romantic relationship into a partnership that lays the foundations for the future.  Here we are making a final commitment and agreeing to live by certain promises, rules, or ethical standards freely given to one another, that will set some limits on future activities but also provide a solid and stable foundation for growth together with our chosen partner.  A marriage or formation of a business partnership are good examples.

Cups: Here we begin to see that all is not love and perfection in our relationships with others.  We have gotten past the breathless excitement, romance, and passion of our early relationships, and reality and familiarity is setting in.  This is a test of our ability to see things as they really are, to establish a deeper relationship with someone that is not based on transient pleasures.  Or else, we may discover that there is nothing really solid there and we are bored.  This could be likened to a mid-life or mid-marriage crisis.  If a couple gets through this stage together, then their marriage nearly always comes out the better or stronger for it.  Or, they may do something they bitterly regret later (5 of cups).

Disks:  This card represents consolidation of our finances or material possessions.  In a positive light, after the expansion and risk-taking of the Threes, we pull back a bit and make sure we are providing for our future.  We may focus on building our assets carefully, rather than investing in dot.coms.  We establish bank accounts for our kids' future college expenses and for retirement.  We protect our investments through insurance and careful money management, and put a hold on any risky activities.  We pay attention to our diet and exercise, trying to hold on to our youth and good health.


Fives are an interesting dichotomy in tarot - in traditional decks they are painful, negative cards, and yet in some more modern and feminist decks they are cards of spirituality, magick, and womanhood.  The same duality can be seen in their associated trump, the Hierophant.  On the one hand, he represents in some decks and to some readers all that is wrong with organized religion - corruption, greed, and intolerance.  On the other hand, he represents the link between the divine and the mundane, the Word of Spirit brought to earth.  Some decks assign the Hierophant to the element of earth, in his association with Taurus.  To other minds, he is best represented by Spirit rather than one of the four earthly elements.

In traditional numerology, Fives represent instability and change.  After the highly stable (and some might say rigid) Fours, a fair amount of destabilizing energy is needed to push oneself out of this stable or stagnant situation to allow further growth.  One characteristic of the Fives is that the change is generally not voluntary or expected - therefore, it can be frightening and there may be a real or perceived lack of control over the situation and one's reactions to it.  Hence the traditional associations of the Fives in tarot with the most negative situations in life.  The movement from the Fives to the more harmonious Sixes can be brought about through a personal or spiritual transformation or through the grace of God/dess - and this is where the other side of the Fives can be seen, even in the traditional decks.

The number 5 is also associated with women, and with magick.  These associations may have been frightening to some originally, and added to the negative associations with the Fives (as in the fifth sephiroth of the kabalah).  However, some newer decks, such as Wheel of Change, have begun to celebrate these as positive associations.  The symbol of the upward-pointing pentagram is one that often appears, as well as four elements or directions integrated into central white energy in a ritual circle.

I have been working with a personal Tree of Life that encompasses the scientific aspects of creation, as well as spirituality, and some of the ideas that are coming out relate to the trumps numbered 0-5 - they can be likened to the natural creation of the earth, as follows:

0 - The Fool - spirit, nothingness, the origin of the universe

1 - The Magician - air, coalescing of swirling gases and elements into matter and molecules

2 - The High Priestess - water, the formation of the earth's oceans and atmospheres, the creation of the necessary conditions for life

3 - The Empress - earth, the abundance of plant and animal life that arose next

4 - The Emperor - fire, the spark of consciousness and self-awareness that arises in humans and organization of the humans into civilization and the arts of agriculture, trade, law, government

5 - The Hierophant - spirit, the reaching out of human civilization for something greater than itself, a return to our connection with the origin, but filtered through our perception of the material world

Notice that the trumps 0-5 comprise the four elements, bracketed on either side by Spirit.  The trumps 1-4 are known as the "heavenly and earthly parents", and this is quite interesting in this context.

Some real-life examples of the Fives:

Wands: Intense competition at work or in the marketplace, a clash of wills while the argument is still going on and no-one is sure who will come out on top, internal conflict caused by uncertainty about one's identity or a challenge to deeply held ideals, instability that threatens a marriage or business partnership, scattering of energies due to lack of focus.

Swords:  Being confronted with new ideas that feel threatening to the established order of things, rampant idealism overriding calm reason, facing a harsh reality, mental instability resulting in cruelty or victimization, verbal battles or contests, a period of revolutionary change.

Pentacles:  Financial instability, loss or sudden change of job or living situation, being physically out of balance or ill, facing a period of hardship, rejection or isolation, physical violence or accidents, stress.

Cups: Loss of a relationship, coping with death or illness of a family member or friend, grieving, emotional instability (positive or negative), self-doubt, fluctuating self-esteem, creative change.

End of Part One – To be cont’d in May 15th issue


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