Tarot is an ancient practice steeped in history that blends colors and numbers to convey deep symbolic messages. It’s been a captivating tool for seekers and scholars, offering a unique perspective on life’s complexities.
In medieval and renaissance times, colors and numbers were laden with significance, reflecting essential aspects of existence. This article explores medieval interpretations of color and number symbolism in Tarot without mystifying them. Understanding their historical context gives valuable insights into how they still enhance Tarot readings today.
Section 1: Colors in Medieval Tarot
Color Symbolism in Tarot: Insights from Tarot de Marseille and Earlier Decks
In Tarot de Marseille and earlier Tarot decks, colors play a vital role in conveying symbolic meanings, offering rich insights into the secular and mystical aspects of life. Drawing from these historical decks, let’s explore the expanded significances of colors in Tarot, emphasizing their continuity from the Medieval to the Renaissance eras while incorporating examples from these classic traditions. In Medieval society, colors were often restricted by social class as to who could wear which colors, or under which circumstances specific colors were or were not appropriates. This is also reflected in many of these early Tarot decks, which is why I have chosen to refer to them, rather than more modern decks, which may draw their inspiration from any number of sources.
- Red: The Essence of Life and Passion:
Red, representing life force and vitality, signifies new beginnings and passion. In Tarot de Marseille, the red clothing of The Fool reflects the courage to embark on new adventures. Similarly, in earlier decks like the Visconti-Sforza, the red roses in The Lovers card symbolize the passion and intensity of relationships.
- Blue: Harmony, Spirituality, and Tranquility:
Blue, embodying calmness and spiritual depth, represents intuition and tranquility. In Tarot de Marseille, the blue robe of The High Priestess signifies her connection to the divine mysteries. In earlier decks like the Sola-Busca Tarot, the serene blue sky in the Three of Cups represents harmonious gatherings.
- Green: Nature’s Growth, Abundance, and Healing:
Green, symbolizing growth and renewal, signifies material and emotional prosperity. In Tarot de Marseille, the green leaves in the Ace of Pentacles represent fertile opportunities. The green landscape in the Eight of Cups in the Visconti-Sforza Tarot illustrates the nurturing aspects of change and transformation.
- Yellow: Mental Clarity, Intellect, and Enlightenment:
- Yellow, representing clarity and enlightenment, symbolizes intellect and wisdom. In Tarot de Marseille, the yellow background of The Fool’s card signifies intellectual curiosity and new insights. The golden coins in the Five of Pentacles from the Visconti-Sforza Tarot represent the illumination that comes from overcoming financial challenges.
- Purple: Royalty, Spirituality, and Transformation:
Purple, associated with royalty and spiritual insight, signifies transformation and divine guidance. In Tarot de Marseille, the purple cloak of The Pope (Hierophant) represents spiritual authority and wisdom. In earlier decks like the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot, the purple garments of the King of Cups signify his mastery over emotional depths.
Section 2: Numbers in Medieval Tarot1
- 1. Unity in One:
* One symbolized unity and the origin of all things, representing the singular divine presence and the beginning of creation.
* The Ace cards in Tarot signify new beginnings, singular focus, and the potential for spiritual or material growth.
- 2. Balance in Two:
* Two embodied balance and duality, representing the union of opposites and the harmony found in partnerships.
* The Two cards in Tarot signify choices, partnerships, and the need for balance and cooperation in relationships and decisions.
- 3. Harmony in Three:
* Three symbolized harmony and completeness, representing the divine trinity and the synthesis of body, mind, and spirit.
* The Three cards in Tarot signify creativity, collaboration, and growth. They represent the manifestation of ideas and the initial results of efforts.
- 4. Stability in Four:
* Four represented stability and foundation, symbolizing the solid structure and grounded nature of the physical world.
* The Four cards in Tarot signify stability, security, and the establishment of a solid foundation. They represent the need for structure and groundedness in various aspects of life.
- 5. Change in Five:
* Five represented change and challenges, signifying the struggle between harmony and disruption.
* The Five cards in Tarot signify conflicts, changes, and challenges. They represent a period of disruption and the need to adapt or overcome obstacles.
- 6. Balance in Six:
* Six symbolized harmony and balance, representing the perfect equilibrium achieved after overcoming challenges.
* The Six cards in Tarot signify harmony, balance, and the resolution of conflicts. They represent a state of peace and balance achieved after overcoming challenges.
- 7. Mystery and Mastery in Seven:
* Seven symbolized mystery and spiritual perfection. It was associated with divine intervention, intuition, and inner wisdom.
* The Seven cards in Tarot signify introspection, spiritual growth, and divine guidance. They represent a period of reflection and inner exploration, urging seekers to trust their intuition and delve into the mysteries of the self.
- 8. Regeneration and Infinity in Eight:
* Eight represented regeneration, cycles, and infinity. It symbolized eternal recurrence and the endless nature of the universe.
* The Eight cards in Tarot signify cycles, movement, and progress. They represent swift developments, growth, and the completion of a phase, urging seekers to embrace change and flow with the natural rhythms of life.
- 9. Spiritual Awakening and Enlightenment in Nine:
* Nine symbolized spiritual awakening, enlightenment, and divine wisdom. It represented the attainment of higher knowledge and spiritual insights.
Tarot Interpretation:* The Nine cards in Tarot signify spiritual fulfillment, wisdom, and introspection. They represent a deep understanding and the culmination of a spiritual journey, guiding seekers towards profound insights and self-realization.
- 10. Completion and Perfection in Ten:
* Ten represented completion, perfection, and fulfillment. It symbolized the end of a cycle and the achievement of a state of perfection.
* The Ten cards in Tarot signify completion, accomplishment, and fulfillment. They represent the successful conclusion of a cycle, the achievement of goals, and material or emotional fulfillment, indicating a sense of wholeness and contentment.
- 11. Illumination and Revelation in Eleven:
* Eleven represented illumination and divine revelation. It signified divine inspiration and the connection between the earthly and spiritual realms.
* The Eleven card in Tarot, often represented as Justice or Strength, signifies balance, fairness, and divine intervention. It represents a moment of truth, encouraging seekers to embrace ethical choices and spiritual enlightenment.
- 12. Divine Order and Harmony in Twelve:
* Twelve symbolized divine order and cosmic harmony. It represented the balance between the spiritual and material worlds, often associated with the zodiac and celestial cycles.
* The Twelve cards in Tarot signify cosmic balance, harmony, and alignment with the universe. They represent cycles of time, urging seekers to recognize the interconnectedness of all things and trust in the divine order of life.
- 13-21. Archetypal Influences in Thirteen to Twenty-One:
* Numbers from thirteen to twenty-one represented archetypal influences, each carrying specific meanings deeply rooted in medieval beliefs. These numbers were often associated with celestial bodies, virtues, and vices.
* In Tarot, these numbers are embodied in the Trumps cards, each representing a significant life lesson and archetype. For example, the Devil (number 15) signifies temptation and bondage, while the Star (number 17) represents hope and inspiration. Each card embodies a unique aspect of the human experience, providing profound insights and guidance.
- * 0? 22?
I’m not addressing the number of The Fool in this essay, as depending on the system in use, it can be either 0 or 22, and doesn’t fit “neatly” in either. The phrase “The Fool’s Journey” in relation to Tarot is used to describe the concept of the Fool card’s symbolic journey through the 22 Trumps cards, reflecting the journey of life with its various experiences, challenges, and lessons. The Fool is often considered the protagonist of this symbolic journey.
The origin of the term “The Fool’s Journey” can be traced back to the work of Eden Gray, an influential writer on Tarot, who popularized the idea in her book “The Tarot Revealed: A Modern Guide to Reading the Tarot Cards” published in 1960. In this book, Gray presented the concept of the Fool’s Journey, explaining how the Fool card travels through the Trumps cards, each representing different stages and archetypal experiences in a person’s life.
Since then, many Tarot readers and enthusiasts have embraced and expanded upon the concept of the Fool’s Journey, using it as a framework for understanding the deeper meanings and narratives within the Tarot deck.
The symbolism of colors in Tarot, as depicted in Tarot de Marseille and earlier decks, and the intricate meanings of numbers from 1 to 22 in medieval Tarot, together form a profound tapestry that enriches the exploration of human experiences and spiritual insight. Just as red, blue, green, yellow, and purple are woven into the fabric of these ancient cards, so too are the numbers deeply rooted in medieval beliefs intertwined with the very essence of Tarot.
Both aspects of Tarot – the symbolism of colors and numbers – offer timeless wisdom, serving as profound lenses through which to examine the complexities of existence. Whether it’s the vibrant reds signifying life force and new beginnings or the serene blues representing spirituality and tranquility, these colors bridge the secular and mystical realms. In parallel, the numbers, from the initiation of 1 to the culmination of 22, encompass a vast spectrum of human experiences and spiritual insights.
As modern practitioners engage with these intricate interpretations, they embark on transformative journeys, guided by the age-old wisdom of both color and number symbolism. These ancient insights continue to illuminate the paths of seekers, providing them with invaluable guidance and inspiration as they navigate the diverse landscapes of life and spirituality. Together, colors and numbers in Tarot offer a holistic and timeless framework for self-discovery, spiritual enlightenment, and a deeper understanding of the human journey.
For further reading:
- “The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals” by Mary K. Greer: While this book primarily focuses on Tarot reversals, it provides insightful information on color symbolism within the Tarot context.
- “The Tarot Bible: The Definitive Guide to the Cards and Spreads” by Sarah Bartlett: This comprehensive guide covers various aspects of Tarot, including color symbolism, offering readers a deeper understanding of how colors influence interpretations.
- “Tarot: Your Everyday Guide” by Janina Renee: This book explores different elements of Tarot, including colors, and how they can be integrated into daily practice. It offers practical insights into incorporating color symbolism into Tarot readings.
- “Tarot and the Archetypal Journey: The Jungian Path from Darkness to Light” by Sallie Nichols: This classic work delves into the psychological and archetypal aspects of Tarot, including discussions on color symbolism. It provides a deep exploration of how colors can be understood within the context of Tarot’s symbolism.
- “The New Complete Tarot: A Step-by-Step Guide” by Juliet Sharman-Burke: This book not only covers the basics of Tarot but also delves into the symbolism, including colors. It offers practical insights and exercises to deepen your understanding of Tarot’s visual language.
- “Color Your Tarot” by Barbara Moore: This coloring book is an interactive way to explore the colors of Tarot. It allows readers to engage with the symbolism by coloring the cards, providing a hands-on experience to internalize the meanings associated with each color.
- “The Secret Language of Tarot” by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone: This book explores the hidden symbolism and language within Tarot cards, including color meanings. It provides in-depth explanations of how colors can be interpreted in Tarot readings.
- “The Tarot Shows the Path” by Rolla Nordic, was written to accompany her own Tarot deck. The deck was produced in black and white so that the owner might colour the cards by hand to complement their learning process and enhance the personal nature of tarot reading, which is a very effective way of learning. The drawings are attractive and appealing in themselves and more or less follow a traditional tarot format with debts to Frank Lind (Insight Institute) and the Waite/Smith deck. I include it here, even though both the deck and book are out of print, although occasionally available on the used book market, as it remains a favorite of mine.
Here are some suggestions for resources on basic Renaissance numerology:
- “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by Manly P. Hall: While not specific to Renaissance numerology, this classic work explores various mystical traditions, including numerology. It provides a broad understanding of esoteric knowledge and can serve as a foundational text.
- “De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres” (Three Books of Occult Philosophy) by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa: This Renaissance-era work is a comprehensive guide to Western occultism. It delves into various mystical topics, including numerology, and offers insights into how numbers were perceived during the Renaissance.
- “The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy” edited by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie: Pythagoras, the ancient Greek mathematician, and philosopher heavily influenced Renaissance numerology. This anthology compiles essential texts related to Pythagorean philosophy, providing a historical perspective on numerology.
- “Number: The Language of Science” by Tobias Dantzig: Although not specific to Renaissance numerology, this book explores the historical development of the concept of number and mathematics. Understanding the evolution of numerical concepts can provide valuable context for studying numerology in different historical periods.
- Online Resources: Various websites and online platforms dedicated to numerology provide introductory materials and historical perspectives on different numerological traditions, including those from the Renaissance era. Websites like Numerology.com and Cafe Astrology offer basic guides to numerology, which can serve as starting points for beginners.
Remember to cross-reference information from different sources to gain a well-rounded understanding of Renaissance numerology, as interpretations might vary based on the specific historical context and the author’s perspective. Remember to check local bookstores, libraries, or online retailers for these resources. Happy reading and exploring the wonerful world of Tarot symbolism!
- These are not necessarily Traditional Keywords for the Tarot Pips but are based on numerological meanings for the numbers. Some of the concepts can and do carry over, however.