2009 Tarot Study – Numbers and the Tarot Major Arcana
If you’re new to Tarot, you might wonder why the Justice and Strength cards are numbered differently from one Tarot deck to another.
In the older Tarot de Marseille decks, Justice is VIII and Strength is XI (and the Fool, by the way, has no number at all, while the Death card has a number — XIII — but no title).
In some modern decks, Justice is XI and Strength is VIII.
No one really knows how the original Tarot majors were ordered, or if they were ordered at all. In some of the oldest known Tarot decks the major arcana had no numbers.
I’m not expert in Tarot History so I won’t even attempt to delve too deeply into it or say where these various systems may have originated. There are other, more scholarly sources for that information.
I do know that over time the titles of the cards have changed as well, and today they vary quite a lot from deck to deck. I personally prefer that Justice be numbered VIII, but my preference is such mainly because that’s how it was numbered in the first two Tarot decks I used, the Voyager Tarot and the Crowley-Thoth Tarot. It’s how I grew accustomed to the cards being numbered while I learned them. As far as I know it was the Rider Waite Tarot that first switched the numbers of the Justice and Strength cards. I don’t know all the reasons for that or other modern decks’ variations, but my guess is that it may have to do in part with astrological correspondences.
In most correspondence systems that I’ve read of, the astrological signs and planets are linked to the Tarot as follows:
0 Fool — Uranus
I Magician — Mercury
II High Priestess — Moon
III Empress — Venus
IV Emperor — Aries
V Hierophant — Taurus
VI Lovers — Gemini
VII Chariot — Cancer
VIII Justice — Libra
IX Hermit — Virgo
X Wheel of Fortune — Jupiter
XI Strength — Leo
XII Hanged Man — Neptune
XIII Death — Scorpio
XIV Temperance — Sagittarius
XV Devil — Capricorn
XVI Tower — Mars
XVII Star — Aquarius
XVIII Moon — Pisces
XIX Sun — Sun
XX Judgement — Pluto
XXI World — Saturn
As you can see, keeping Justice numbered VIII throws Libra out of order, whereas numbering Strength VIII and Justice XI would return Leo and Libra to the order in which they appear on an astrological chart wheel.
The correspondences I’ve shown above include the planets that have been discovered since the creation of the earliest Tarot decks we know of. When the earliest Tarot decks were printed, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto hadn’t yet been identified as planets — a status recently stripped from Pluto by astronomers. Prior to their discovery, Saturn was the outermost planet that was known.
In some correspondence systems the three newer planets, because they’re not considered part of classical astrology, are replaced by the elements Water, Air, and Fire:
0 Fool — Air
XII Hanged Man — Water
XX Judgement — Fire
Earth is left out because we live on Earth — just as it’s been left out of the planetary correspondences.
In my opinion there is no perfect system of correspondences to Tarot, and I discussed that in my previous post about the Hierophant. The system shown above is the one that I think best fits the archetypes of the Tarot’s major arcana, but that’s just my opinion. In keeping with that opinion of mine, for the sake of consistency in this study, I’ll write about the Justice card as number VIII and Strength as XI when I need to indicate a number, unless I have an obvious reason for doing otherwise.
Some decks add keywords or titles to the minor arcana as well — which I think many people new to Tarot tend to take too seriously and allow them to limit their interpretations. All this can get a bit confusing to those just learning Tarot. What I suggest is to simply be aware that there are different systems, that these things vary between decks, and to work on learning one new deck at a time — unless you enjoy a challenge.
Copyright © 2009 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved.