Introduction to the Court Cards

The Quadriliterum

The Pythagorean interpretation of the court cards is based primarily on the numbers 1 to 4, but also on 7 to 10, as will be explained below. The relationships are easiest to explain by means of the Verbum Quadriliterum, the four-letter name of Jupiter: JOVE. The Quadriliterum is analogous to the Tetragrammaton, though there is no suggestion here that the Quadriliterum is any more than a mnemonic device. In the following discussion, keep in mind that I and J are equivalent in Latin, as are U and V. Thus the Quadriliterum may be written JOVE, IOVE, JOUE or IOUE as required.

The four letters of the Quadriliterum primarily represent the Monad, Dyad, Triad and Tetrad, the meanings of which have already been discussed in connection with the pip cards. The Monad, which is the undifferentiated impulse, is represented by the letter I, which is a symbol of Insemination by the father. The Dyad, which is the Object towards which the impulse is directed, is represented by the letter O, which a symbol for the receptive mother. The Triad, which is the movement from the impulse to its goal, is represented by the letter U, a symbol of the Union of the parents, because its shape is between I and O. The Tetrad, which is the completion of the union, is represented by the letter E, a symbol of the materialized Effect (4 = 1 + 3, E = I + U). These primary meanings of the numbers 1 to 4 generate a number of secondary meanings, which are also symbolized by the Quadriliterum.

JOVE symbolizes the Gods: Jove, Ops, Venus, Eros. That is, inseminating Father Jove (Ju-Pitar), receptive Mother Ops (Ops Mater), Venus, who brings father and mother together, and Eros, who brings their meeting to consummation. These Gods will be seen to correspond to the Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages of the Tarot.

JOVE symbolizes the Complementary Gods: Juno, Ocean, Vulcan, Eris. Jove and Juno are married, co-regent sky Gods. The Goddess Ops (Rhea) and the God Ocean are both associated with flux and flow. Beautiful Venus and ugly Vulcan are married. The God Eros (Love) complements the Goddess Eris (Strife).

IOVE symbolizes the Elements: Ignition, Ocean, Vapor, Earth.

IOVE symbolizes the Functions: Iactus, Objectus, Vector, Eventum. Iactus means emission, projection, throwing, and utterance. Objectus means a thing interposed, a putting opposite, or an object. Vector means a carrier. Eventum means the outcome, issue, result, fulfillment, event, or experience.

IOVE symbolizes the Relations: I, Other, Volition, Effect. I become conscious of the Object, and take Voluntary action towards it, with consequent Effect.

IOVE symbolizes the Psychological Traits: Intuition, Openness (emotion), Understanding, Energy (action).

IOVE symbolizes the Dialectic: Idea, Opposite, Unification, Entirety.

IOVE symbolizes Process: Impetus, Objective, Venture, End.

IOVE symbolizes Gestation: Insemination, Ovum, Uterus, Emergence.

IOVE symbolizes Growth: Integral, Organic, Virgin, Egotistic. That is, the young child is Egotistic (self-centered), the youth is Virginal (yet Virile), the parent is Organic, and the elder has an Integrated personality. These correspondences are central to the court cards.

JOVE symbolizes the Qualities: Just, Overflowing, Virile, Enthusiastic. The archetypal father, mother, youth and child, also important to the court cards.

IOVE symbolizes the Suits: I (a Staff), O (a Cup), V (a sword edge/point), E (coins).

Finally, observe that the Roman numerals I, II, III, IIII symbolize the meanings of the numbers they denote. I is the Monad, the unitary impulse, the male and his seed. II is the Dyad, the principle of duality, the receptive female and her womb. III is the Triad, the principle of harmony which unites polarities. IIII is the Tetrad, the principle of completion, order and stability. When the four Roman numerals are written vertically, we have the Tetraktys, which has been discussed already:

I I I I I I I I I I See also the
Table of Keyword Meanings of Quadriliterum.

The Descent and the Ascent

IOVE symbolizes an archetypal structure which can manifest in two orders, IOVE and EVOI, both of which arise in interpretation of the court cards. The Order of Descent (or Emanation) is IOVE: from impetus (I), to purpose (O), to process (V), to completion (E). The progression is from more refined to grosser forms, symbolized by the elements: Ignition to Ocean to Vapor to Earth. The sequence is formal, since each member derives its existence from the preceding (no completion without process, no process without purpose, no purpose without impetus). When the progression is a descent of spirit to matter, it corresponds to the Nigredo of Alchemy.

The Order of Ascent is EVOI: from delicate beginning (E), to vigorous adolescence (V), to nurturing parent (O), to fully integrated elder (I). The progression is from grosser to more refined elements, symbolized by Earth to Vapor to Ocean to Ignis. The sequence is developmental, since each stage evolves into the next. When it is an ascent from matter to spirit, it corresponds to the Albedo of Alchemy. "EVOI!" or "EUOI!" is, of course, the ecstatic cry of the Bacchantes.

When the Ascent is complete it sets the stage for another Descent, since the elder provides leadership (Impetus) for the formation of plans (Objective) and action (Undertaking) toward the goal (End). Thus there is a cycle combining upward development and maturation with downward origination and harvest. The paradigm of the Descent is Insemination of the Ovum, its implantation in the Uterus and eventual Emergence; the paradigm of the Ascent is childhood, youth, maturity and old age. Both aspects are symbolized in the court cards.

The Decad comprises both the Descent and the Ascent, joined in the earthly plane by a conflict, as has been described in detail in connection with the pip cards. In brief, the Descent occurs in the numbers 1 to 4, IOVE. The final Ascent EVOI is in 7 to 10, for 7 is the undirected impulse (Energy), 8 is the novice on a new path (Virgin), 9 is fulfillment (Overflowing), and 10 is the integrated personality (Integral I), which is the higher Monad (for I is the Greek numeral for 10). It will be recalled that 5 is a crisis that disturbs the stability of the 4; it is a fiery impulse like 1 and so is represented by I (Ignis). The crisis is resolved by 6, which is represented by O (Ocean), since water is the complementary element to fire. Thus this mundane conflict and resolution is represented by IO, a traditional ritual cry invoking divine aid.

The interpretation of the entire Decad can be remembered by a common Bacchantic salutation addressed to Jupiter:

"Jove, io euoi!" that is, IOVE IO EVOI.

Finally we consider the relatively active and passive qualities of the numbers. IOVE represents an alternation of active and passive, +-+-, which determines the quality of both 1 to 4 and 10 to 7. Clearly, 5 is also active, but the quality of 6 is not so clear since it must oppose 5 to restore the status quo. Is water seeking its own level active or passive? We give it a neutral quality 0, since otherwise it would violate the active/passive alternation. Thus we get the structure:

1234 56 789X IOVE IO EVOI +-+- +0 -+-+ If one writes the numbers vertically, with active numbers on the left and passive on the right, a pattern very much like the Cabalistic Tree of Life results: 1 3 2 5 4 6 8 7 9 10 One can certainly make arguments for putting 1, 9, and 10 in the middle pillar, as in the Tree of Life, but I leave the issue unresolved.
The Fourfold Name of JOVE reveals the Way:
the One goes forth and grows in four degrees;
in four again toward the height it flees.
EUOI! we cry. Heed what these Sovereigns say!

Elemental Analysis

Each scale of the court cards is associated with an element (e.g., Pages = Earth), as is each suit (e.g., Cups = Water). Therefore each court card can be understood in terms of the interaction of the elemental qualities (stoicheia) of its rank and suit. For example, the Page of Cups can be understood as an interaction of the cool dryness of the Pages with the cool moisture of the Cups. In each case the rank gives form to the substance of the suit (e.g., the Earth of the Page gives form to the Water of the Cups). To this end, it is important to remember that, according to Aristotle, each element is dominated by one of its qualities: fire by heat, water by coldness, air by wetness and earth by dryness. Also according to Aristotle, hot and cold are more active qualities than dry and wet. In summary (using ">" to indicate dominance): Fire = Hot (active) > Dry Water = Cold (active) > Wet Air = Wet (passive) > Hot Earth = Dry (passive) > Cold. Notice that in the process of Descent the qualities change from active to passive, and vice versa in the process of Ascent.


Images The following chart summarizes the images associated with the court cards; they comprise the Twelve Olympians plus Hades, Persephone, Dionysos and Eros: Wands Swords Cups Pentacles ---------+--------------+-------------+---------------+-------------- Rex Hephaistos, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, (King) Lord of Fire Lord of Air Lord of Water Lord of Earth Regina Hestia, Hera, Aphrodite, Demeter, (Queen) Lady of Fire Lady of Air Lady of Water Lady of Earth Eques Apollo, Athena, Artemis, Persephone, (Knight) Lad of Fire Maid of Air Maid of Water Maid of Earth Puer Ares, Hermes, Eros, Dionysos, (Page) Child fo Fire Child of Air Child of Water Child of Earth The elemental associations are based on the elements and qualities commonly associated with the gods. For the most past the Kings and Queens are gods of the first Olympian generation (however, Hestia predates the Olympians and Hephaistos is a son of Zeus). The Knights are of the second Olympian generation (offspring of Zeus); the Pages are of both the second (Ares, Hermes) and third generations (Eros, Dionysos), but all rather childlike. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades are the three Olympian brothers who divided the sovereignty of the world among themselves; the fiery element is assigned to Hephaistos because he is an Olympian, but it really belongs to Prometheus (who, like Hestia, predates the Olympians).
Return to Pythagorean Tarot homepage

Send comments about this page
Last updated: Sun Aug 26 14:16:33 EDT 2001