Introduction to Minor Arcana: Pip Cards


In the Pythagorean Tarot the pip cards are illustrated with simple, abstract images representing the combined elemental and numerological interpretation of the card, so the meaning of a card can be determined from its suit and its position in the suit, as shown below. There is, therefore, no need for the concrete interpretive image found in many modern tarot decks (older decks, before the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, had abstract pip cards, much like those in modern playing cards). My basic source for Pythagorean interpretations of the numbers is Iamblichus' Theology of Arithmetic (Phanes, 1988), but I have put my own spin on it. (See also the
Verses on the Numbers.)

This page presents (1) the meaning of the suits by means of a number of keywords, and (2) their color correspondences. A more detailed description of the meaning of the numbers will be found in the discussion of the individual pip cards of the Minor Arcana. See also the Tables, which summarize the Pythagorean meanings of the numbers.


(See also the
Verses on the Suits.)


Spiritual realm. Creativity, Imagination, Inspiration. Illumination, Mysticism, Magic. Burning, Purifying. Idealistic, Ascetic. Fire. "Divine fire," "Fiery," "Ardent," "Hot-headed."


Intellectual realm. Reason. Logic, Science. Conflict, Revolution. Rationalistic, Divisive. Air. "Incisive," "Sharp," "Head in the clouds," "Full of hot air," "Soaring into the stratosphere," "Etherial."


Emotional realm. Relationship, Feeling. Counselling, Family. Agreeing, Conforming. Sympathetic, Cooperative. Water. "Going with the flow," "Gushing," "Mercurial," "Sparkling," "Easy to agitate, stir up."


Material realm. Experience of the body, Physical. Sports, Handicrafts, Business. Action, Competition. Pragmatic, Acquisitive. Earth. "Down to earth," "Feet on the ground," "Earthy person," "Materialist," "Worldly," "Mundane."


The background of each suit is dominated by one or more colors that suggest their elemental and psychological meaning:
I. Wands: fiery red, orange, yellow
II. Swords: sky blue, white clouds
III. Cups: deep blue, sea-green
IIII. Pentacles: verdant yellow-green, earthy dark brown
However, a different, more systematic set of correspondences is used to illuminate the internal structure of the Minor Arcana. It is based on color assignments to the Powers: Hot=yellow, Wet=green, Cold= blue, Dry=red/brown. Complementary colors (blue/yellow, red/green) represent opposed Powers (Hot/Cold, Wet/Dry). Form this we get the elemental and planetary correspondences:
Fire = yellow = Hot = Jupiter
Air = green = Wet = Venus
Water = dark blue = Cold = Saturn
Earth = brownish red = Dry = Mars

Commentary: There are many possible correspondences between the colors, elements and planets, each of which has its own advantages for various purposes. The correspondences used here have the following virtues: (1) the colors are consistent with those traditionally assigned to the planets and their astrological characters, (2) the colors are consistent with psychological interpretations of the elements and planets, (3) the colors are consistent with the dominant powers of the elements, (4) opposing elements and qualities are assigned complementary colors, (5) the intermediate color green is assigned to the intermediate element air, (6) the primary polarity (fire/water) is assigned yellow/blue, which corresponds at the elemental level to the extremes white/black and gold/silver. We follow Aristotle's identification of the dominant powers of the elements (fire is hot, air is moist, water is cold, earth is dry) and Ptolemy's identification of the dominant powers of the planets (Jupiter is hot, Venus is moist, Saturn is cold, Mars is dry).
It is an oversimplification to assign a single power to each element, so more accurate colors for the elements are:
Fire = Hot+Dry = orange, yellow, red
Air = Wet+Hot = yellowish green
Water = Cold+Wet = greenish blue
Earth = Dry+Cold = dark brown, purple
These Words Arcane the Lesser Secrets hold;
with Signs and Symbols let the Truth be told!

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Last updated: Fri Jun 23 11:30:51 EDT 2000