Three is an important number in the tarot, and it signifies something important within the major arcana of the Rider-Waite pack of cards. There is a reason why the cards have certain symbols in a certain order. But before we can analyse the meaning of several of these cards we need to look at the importance of the number 3.
3 is a magic number, like the song by Bob Dorough. It really is a magic number in a mathematical sense as mathematics and magic correspond together for the ancients The start of which was seen by Pythagoras who saw the number 3 as a perfect number expressing the beginning, the middle and the end. He used it in music as with 1,2 & 4 to discover a principle of harmony. Over time we see three incorporated into children’s tales, goldilocks and the 3 bears, the 3 little pigs and the genii with 3 magic wishes. The trinity also features heavily in our culture, not to mention Christianity’s obsession with it. Freud’s Id, ego and superego. Dante’s Inferno, Purgatory and paradise make up his divine comedy. The 3 primary colours, red, yellow and blue. Newtons three laws of motion. The 3 wise men and the 3 wise monkeys. The list goes on and on.
The significance of three in the tarot has been used to signify in a certain way three levels of reality. The underworld, the earth we inhabit at present and heaven. As we need 3 points to make a triangle, triangles can be used and have been used to signify male and female, that of mother earth(underworld) and father sky(heaven). The empress is the third card of the Major Arcana she represents mother earth and she has been rightly been given the number of 3 to signify her. This will make sense once we consider the next two cards.
As seen in the card above, the symbols of fertility, the earth by water and dense vegetation not to mention the Venus symbol, with spirit the circle on top of the cross, matter. The empress is mother earth. Now if we multiple 3 x 3 we get 9. And 9 is the antithesis of 3.
The 9th card is the hermit.
The youth of the empress can be contrasted with the old age of the hermit. He has a long white beard, holding a staff with a hexagram light in his lamp. As discussed in an earlier blog, there are plenty of 6 symbolism within the hexagram which is the next number we shall address. The hermit is on the highest peak, looking down at humanity, much like Nietzsche’s Zarathrusta. The height of the mountains symbolising divine wisdom or knowledge. He can be seen to be like Diogenes of Sinope, with his lantern Going through the streets of Athens in the middle of the day with a lantern asking ‘have you seen an honest man?’ Diogenes represents wisdom here with the lantern and with it he is bringing light to the world. Illumination by throwing light for others to see. Light has been used in the past to symbolise knowledge, as without it we would be left in the dark. The hermit is father sky, as he towers above the world, pouring forth understanding and knowledge through his lantern. He is the end as he is an old man, while the empress is the beginning, as she represents fertility and birth. The hermit represents old age and the end of life.
Between 3 and 9 is 6. Which is the lovers in the major arcana.
The lovers represents perfectly the union between mother earth and father sky. She is positioned on the left, representing in liner time the past, the birth, the beginning, and the number before 6. Father sky is positioned to the right representing the future, old age and the end. The trees behind them represent the tree of life, the kabbalah. with the serpent round the tree of knowledge for the woman. who also represents eve. The flames behind the man, representing Adam are 12 flames of passion. Interestingly 12 (flames) divided by 4 (red apples = 3. and 4 divided by 12 = 0.333. The angle above gives form to the trinity. With the light above them symbolised by the sun they are being illuminated They are becoming enlightened. With the angle above and the male to the bottom right and the female to the bottom left, they symbolise a trinity, of several forces coming together.
There is a reason why the lovers are represented by the number 6. Have you ever noticed the similarities between the word six and the word sex. In Latin ‘six’ was spelt as ‘sex’, and ‘sexus’ (sex) was seen as the ‘state of being either male or female, gender’ (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=sex&searchmode=none)
This is deliberate, sex and six are the lovers. This is the ultimate act of creation, to become like the gods to have sex and take part in creation. But the number six is a number that unites 9 and 3. And it unites them in such a way that the gut and lusty feelings of mother earth are combined with the intellect and wisdom of father sky by the heart, the lovers.
Love unities the mind and the body. We can see this in an illustration by Robert Fludd.
This picture is a symbolic representation of the three main faculties of the human being.
Man’s Fundamental Duality
‘A simple diagram shows how in man the divine fire diminishes as it proceeds downwards, while the intoxicating vapours of sensuality prevail. Man’s loftiest faculty, the higher mind (Mens) receives the direct rays from God. Below are the regions of intellect, the point of balance at the heart, and the elemental realm of the appetites whose base and nadir, for Fludd, is sexuality.’ (Joscelyn Godwin – Robert Fludd).
We can find Plato’s tripartite theory of the soul in this diagram and the symbolic meanings of the empress, the lovers and the hermit in Fludd’s diagram as well.
Plato’s theory of the soul has three parts.
The base and heavy feelings that we have, like hunger, pain, and lust is eros. This is represented by mother earth. Thumus is love, the feeling that is shared between two individuals that in essence binds the universe together, it is the emotive feelings from the heart that unite the dualities of eros and logos. Logos being the wisdom, and the intellect.
If we give a location to these faculties we find that Logos belongs to the head, like the number 9 it is close to the divine number 10 but is a digit short. Thumus is the spirit the heart of the matter. It is located were the heart is. Below the heart we find the genitals and the stomach. This is where we find eros, the gut feelings of lust and hunger. It is where all our animal instincts are founded upon and acted from.