Do you recall the day of your birth? A neat little fortune-telling rhyme goes:
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
And the child that was born on the Sabbath day
is bonny, blithe*, good and gay.
I loved this as a child, because I was born on a Friday which made me a rather lovely person, if the rhyme was anything to go by. The rhyme probably originated in the 1500s. But where do the day meanings coming from? With my tarot-reader’s curiosity, my first thoughts drifted to those Week Ahead tarot spreads which follow the classical planets – Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun and Moon (the Sun and Moon were classified as planets then – you can find the Week Ahead spread in The Ultimate Guide to Tarot). So let’s see if the planetary and tarot-card associations match the rhyme:
Monday Moon Fair of face Planet of inner life
Tuesday Mars Full of grace Planet of war
Wednesday Mercury Full of woe Planet of communication
Thursday Jupiter Far to go Planet of expansion
Friday Venus Loving and giving Planet of love
Saturday Saturn Works hard for a living Planet of time and restriction
Sunday Sun Bonny, blithe Planet of life and self
* In some versions, ‘wise’
Some alignments work perfectly. Sunday’s happy child is favoured by the Sun, planet of optimism, which we see in XIX The Sun. Friday, Venus’ day, is just right for the child born on Friday – loving and giving, just like our tarot Empress, who bears a Venus glyph on the Rider-Waite-Smith versions of her card. Saturday’s child works hard for a living neatly chimes with Saturn – the taskmaster planet whose influence brings slow, hard work. The World card is ruled by Saturn, expressing the work and culmination of the journey through the major arcana cycle. Thursday’s child has ‘far to go’, which links to Jupiter, planet of expansion, education and development. No surprises there. And Jupiter’s tarot card, X The Wheel of Fortune, reflects Jupiter’s reputation as a bringer of luck – just as the Wheel turns, bringing good fortune (at least in the upright position in a spread). Monday’s child is ‘fair of face’. In contemporary astrology, the moon represents the interior rather than the exterior – inner life, intuition and dreams. In Greek mythology the moon relates to the Greek goddess Selene and the Roman Diana, both known for their beauty. And with a dose of enchanting moonlight, I can be bewitched enough not to glitch too much on this one.
At first glance, Tuesday looks like an anomaly. How does Tuesday’s ‘child being ‘full of grace’ relate to Mars, planet of war? Given the age of the rhyme – and its Christian theme – ‘grace’ may have been meant in the Christian context of ‘unmerited favour of God toward man’: a warrior’s prayer for God’s favour in battle. Mars’ tarot card is XVI The Tower, also known as the House of God, or the call to surrender to a higher power. I can just about countenance this. But what of Wednesday’s child of woe and its association with Mercury, planet of communication?
Mercury is the planetary ruler of I The Magician in tarot – one of the most energising and positive cards of the major arcana. Here’s the possible reason it’s literally woeful (bear with – I’m just having a sip of tea and a biscuit.) If we look at the etymology of Wednesday as ‘Woden’s Day’, we find Woden/Odin, the Norse deity of magic, wisdom, poetry and war. To me, it seems that ‘woe’ may have been short for ‘Woden’ , but we got landed with ‘woe’. Which is pretty miserable.
Working on this basis, I reckon that Wednesday’s child is not full of woe, but full of magic. And I’m also thinking of generations of children who misguidedly believed that they were destined to be, well, a bit dour, little knowing that the true meaning of their day of birth was rather more exciting. Woden/Odin spent nine days and nights suspended from Yggdrasill, the World Ash, a spiritual initiation which gave him the gift of reading the runes (and he was known as the ‘father of charms’). The Magician card shows the Greek deity Hermes (the Roman Mercury), who travelled between the realm of humans and the realm of the gods. As a messenger, Hermes was a god of communication, magic and divination. Now this diminution of Woden may have been deliberate (the Church, seeking to suppress our Pagan ways) or one of those slippages that no one thought to correct. But I’m going to begin doing that at a micro level.
My younger sister was born on a Wednesday and I remember that when she cried we’d say ‘Full of woe!’ This happened a lot as we lived near the beach and she hated sand – there’s many a picture of her making sandcastles with a pretty woeful expression. Thankfully she got over her dislike of the beach, and her woe. Maybe I should tell her now that she, and anyone born on a Wednesday was never a child of woe at all, but Woden’s child – full of abracadabra.
Main image: The Magician from Tarot of the Heart, Liz Dean/Oliver Burston
When writing The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, I included in each major arcana profile a subheading, ‘Reflections’ – a list of minor arcana cards that echo the meaning of the major: Death’s reflection in the Ten of Swords. The Devil in the Eight of Swords (you get the picture). Then I began looking for patterns (I’m hard-wired to do this after thirty-plus years as a tarot reader. Of course, ahem, I started reading when I was five ten okay, 21).
When exploring alignments, I got to investigate some alternative relationships between cards. For example, the link between the Devil and the Eight of Swords may be obvious (restriction), but going deeper, I felt the Fives tell us much more; Fives can explain why you end up in a Devil situation. So, here’s my list:
I The Magician: The Aces
III The Empress: The Queens
IV The Emperor: The Kings
VI The Lovers: The Twos
VII The Chariot: The Knights
VIII Strength: The Eights
X The Wheel of Fortune: The Nines
XI Justice and XX Judgement: The Threes
XII The Hanged Man: The Fours
XIII Death: The Tens
XIV Temperance: The Sevens
XV The Devil: The Fives
XIX The Sun: The Pages
XXI The World: The Sixes
The High Priestess, Hierophant, Hermit, Tower, Star, and Moon are not aligned with minor groups. (The Fool, as outside the major arcana sequence, is not included.) Given the minors often reveal the detail of day-to-day concerns, perhaps my inability to align minors to these six cards isn’t surprising; after all, the High Priestess, Hierophant and Hermit operate beyond the visible in realms unseen. The Tower, Star, and Moon evoke the liminal, too – the blackness of the Tower’s landscape and the twilight worlds of the Star and Moon reveal the consequence of undercurrents in our lives, rather than what is manifest in the light of day.
Looking at how the groupings fall has helped me consider, more broadly, some of the minor arcana cards’ meanings. I’m skipping the explanations of some alignments here, as they’re obvious: how the Aces fall under the Magician (initiation, beginnings, pure essence – the alchemic territory of the Magician); and the Queens and Kings, overseen by the Empress and Emperor, with each Court card an aspect of the major archetype. Then, Tarotistas, come the others, below, along with my connections (aided by my trusty tea and cake):
VI The Lovers: The Twos – turning points
The Twos represent the choice aspect of the Lovers: the need for a mature decision. Rather than leap off the cliff in a spontaneous surfeit of joy, Fool-style, it’s time to consider long-term options. The figures on the RWS Twos are largely static, suggesting the process of consideration over time – which may be procrastination (Swords) planning (Wands), flipping alternatives (Pentacles) or the long gaze into the eyes of the beloved (Cups). And of course, the Two of Cups evokes the literal love meaning of the Lovers in readings, and the Lovers in its composition, with the lion (symbol of passion and protection) replacing Archangel Raphael as the guiding force appearing above the couple.
VII The Chariot: The Knights – forging ahead
As the Kings and Queens are four aspects of the Emperor and Empress, with the Knights we see four faces of the charioteer (pragmatist, idealist, egotist, dreamer). The purpose of the journey might be revealed by the Knights – financial stability and work (Knight of Pentacles); a love quest (Knight of Cups); to battle (Knight of Swords) or for adventure (Knight of Wands). The Knight of Wands is the unfailing symbol of moving house, in many readings – just as the charioteer departs the city, onward.
VIII Strength: The Eights – grace under pressure
If we see Strength as focus, as directed energy, the Eights align naturally with this card of grace under pressure: the working perfection of the Eight of Pentacles; the self-directed anxiety of entrapment with the Eight of Swords; the ever-expanding networks of the Eight of Wands; and, for the Eight of Cups’ departing figure, the realisation that something is missing. The irregular placement of the three cups upon the neat row of five depicts an uncomfortable gap, compositionally, which draws our focus. Fulfilment is elsewhere, and so the quest to find it must begin. Each scenario on the cards calls for strength – the strength to walk away (Cups), the strength to think our way out of the Eight of Sword’s limiting mindset, the strength to strive for and achieve goals (Pentacles), and the strength to avoid overwhelm as the Eight of Wands speeds the pace of life.
X The Wheel of Fortune: The Nines – intense times
By card nine in three minor arcana suits, we may just have convinced ourselves we’re in control. Nines are cards of accumulation and, therefore, intensity. Before the revelation of the Tens, we reach peak performance, able to manifest the ideal reality with the Nine of Cups or enjoy the material security of the Nine of Pentacles. The Nine of Wands could be framed as ultimate defence, as we protect our past achievements (and wounds); while the Nine of Swords takes us into the shadow self with its hyper-anxiety – the conflictual suit of Swords internalised in extremis. As anxiety can arise from having no control over external situations, the Nine of Swords is a harbinger of the Wheel of Fortune. The Wheel tells us what the Nine of Swords knew all along: control is an illusion, and there are greater forces at work over which we have little influence.
XI Justice and XX Judgement: The Threes – assessments
It’s the public nature of some of these Threes that lead me to Justice. Three women dancing in a garden (Cups); a craftsman holding court in a church, standing on a bench; and a journeyman atop a hill, standing tall with three wands, glimpsing the potential of the territory ahead. Looking at these cards, it’s as if we’re almost part of the picture, at the edge of the party, or talk, or just a footstep or two behind the traveller. As I reader, I feel cast into the role of observer – or Judge. There’s an element of assessment going on within the cards (what’s the traveller thinking, as he scopes out the landscape? What’s the verdict on the craftsman’s ideas, after he steps down from the bench?) Even the Three of Cups’ women might be celebrating the outcome of a trial, whether legal or personal.
The Threes also resonate with Judgement as, looking at these cards in sequence, they represent the highs and lows of the phase we’re reflecting on before moving toward the completion of The World. As Threes, they often represent physical events (the number Three is dynamic, symbolising tangible results). Threes also carry an emotional charge – the good times (Cups), the trips (Wands), the achievements (Pentacles) – and the sorrows (the Three of Swords, naturally). And it’s these experiences we need to revisit and assess; to decide which memories and lessons to take forward, and which to leave behind.
An alternative alignment for Three is The Empress.
XII The Hanged Man: The Fours – states and retreat
As the number of stability, Four evokes the stillness of card XII. The Four of Cups’ dejected figure might be the Hanged Man before his spiritual initiation; without trust in the flow of life, he is unable to move forward. The Four of Swords and Four of Pentacles are equally static, occurring as statues – the knight in his church, the merchant in the town square. The Four of Pentacles denotes the Hanged Man’s absolute security, while the Four of Swords signifies rest; there is nothing to change other than one’s perspective. The spirited Wands’ joyful couple are to put down roots in their ideal location, bringing their element of Fire down to earth, and it’s this Four of Wands that most expresses the bliss of the Hanged Man’s suspension, symbolised by his halo and beatific smile.
XIII Death: The Tens – all the endings
After the completion of the cycles experienced in the Tens, Death, or change, must come. What has amassed in the Nines now manifests: endings (Ten of Swords), fulfilment (Cups), consolidation and unification (Pentacles) or impossible burdens (Wands). If positive (Pentacles and Cups), the lesson may be to appreciate what we have and to continue to feed relationships and creative projects with our energy. If negative (Wands and Swords), Death releases us from self-enquiry. There’s clarity and truth; the bones don’t lie.
XIV Temperance: The Sevens – a struggle for balance
Take a measured approach, says Temperance, and you can make it work. Sound advice for the Sevens, of course, to not give in before the finish line – even if your competitor is stealing from you (Seven of Swords) or you’re tired of fire-fighting (Wands). Rise to the challenge, be ingenious and so what Temperance does – pay attention to every detail and don’t waste a drop of your energy on what isn’t important. And don’t rest for too long (Pentacles). Oh, the fantastical delusions of the Seven of Cups: don’t give in to those, either. Just do the work (note to self). So, in this sense, Temperance, as archangel Michael, is the guiding light when the work of the Seven threatens to derail our hopes. Anything is (still) possible.
XV The Devil: The Fives – potential pitfalls
If ever there were a gateway drug to the Devil, it would come packaged as a Five. Sorrow and bereavement (Cups), tests (Wands), humiliation (Swords) or isolation and poverty (Pentacles). How we manage the Fives leads to the darkness of devil-ment or the choice offered by the Lovers. We either lose ourselves, or choose for ourselves. The Fives, in this way, denote challenges that if left untended can lead us into temptation.
XIX The Sun: The Pages – divine children
Looking at the RWS card as a container of Pages, we might consider that the Page of Wands is the gardener (gardening as the work of the soul). The Page of Pentacles built the wall (the material world); the Page of Swords defends it, while the Page of Cups brings the Sun’s joy. As the RWS and Marseilles Sun cards depict children, this fits the Page profile – a child or youth. In Jungian terms, the child of the Sun can be regarded as the archetype of the Divine Child; Jung says this archetype means ‘the completion of a long path’. As card XIX in the major arcana sequence, the positioning of the Sun comes towards the end of the hero’s journey that the major arcana cycle may be said to represent.
XXI The World: The Sixes – microcosms of completion
Six is the number of harmony. To me, the tarot sixes are all microcosms of completion. They illustrate some kind of transaction – for example: the Six of Pentacles depicts a donation; the Six of Wands, a victory procession; the Six of Cups,
a gift, and the Six of Swords, paying the ferryman for safe passage. The aspect of completion is reflected in the cards’ meanings – in the Six of Cups, getting complete with your past when a person from the past returns; in the Six of Pentacles, we see an act of generosity (when we’re successful in life, we give back). With the Six of Wands, the goal is achieved, and there’s also a visual affinity in the Six of Wand’s laurel wreath and the mandorla wreath on the World. With the Six of Swords, a conflict is over.
These Sixes also depict groups outdoors – even the Two of Cups has a third person, centre-left – and the actions takes place outside. In this sense, the Sixes illustrate public displays of completion that XXI World, in its expansiveness, represents.
Now before you think I’m about to delve into Doreen Virtue’s conversion (see Lisa Frideborg Eddy’s excellent blog for this), here I’m talking about the tarot virtue cards: Strength, Justice and Temperance.
Given that the major arcana cards were not originally numbered – this came later – I wondered what would happen if the deck’s three surviving virtue cards vanished, just for a moment and then how the remaining cards might reconnect. Would there be another story?
Why, you might say. Why oh why, Liz. Well, while researching the Hermit, I found myself pouring over the symbols in a fifteenth-century engraving, The Triumph of Time (above), inspired by Petrarch’s lyric sequence poem Trionfi. (It’s the kind of thing I’m drawn to when I have a cup of builder’s tea in one hand and a Jaffa cake in the other.) Anyhow: in this image, one of the predecessors of the tarot Hermit, I recognised a number of symbols pertinent to other major arcana cards. First up, the chariot of our Hermit, or Father Time, is redolent of card VII, the Chariot. Artists inspired by Trionfi included triumphal chariots for all six paintings in the sequence, but the connection for me is the sense of force and determination: more Chariot, less Hermit. The chariot’s wheels are clock faces, which suggest the Wheel of Fortune, the next card. Father time’s chariot is speeding along – as does time, symbolised by the hourglass. His crutches represent infirmity and his wings, the onset of ascension. These original symbols in van Heemskerck’s illustration seems to embody both the Chariot and the Wheel of Fortune. Time, like fate, is beyond our control. It moves quickly, a chariot chasing after our egos, or quest for Fame. With Strength vanished, we get the Chariot, the Hermit and the Wheel as a trifold lesson on time.
Drop Justice, and we have The Wheel of Fortune followed by the Hanged Man and Death. This makes a kind of narrative sense: life deals us what it will – we enter the world between worlds (the Hanged Man), and if really unlucky, we die. (If we see Death as the Black Death of the Middle Ages, Death’s Danse Macabre would have felt literal rather than symbolic). Without Justice, Death feels even less discriminating. There is no human intervention, or judge to pass sentence – no orderly process of assessment. There is simply Fate, a hanging, then a dying. But what if we see the Hanged Man as a response to the Wheel? Again, without Justice, the arbitrator, there’s no go-between, nothing telling us how to respond to or interpret the world – we must be guided by our own knowing. The Hanged Man exists on the earth plane, but he is in a spiritual bliss-state, beatific, glowing. When exposed to the vagaries of Fate and the universe, which has ultimate power over us, we are changed by the experience. The Death that follows, then, is the death of the ego.
Drop Temperance, and we get Death followed by the Devil and the Tower – the unholy trinity of change, bondage and chaos. With no angel of Temperance between the Devil and the Tower, we hurtle straight from temptation, addiction, entrapment or lust into an almighty calamity, which eventually brings a release. (There’s more to say on this, of course – see The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, which dives deep into the symbols of these wise, dark cards…)
Without the virtues of Strength, Justice and Temperance, there’s no reckoning; no pause in which to find order or assimilate our experiences. With these cards in the deck, we are called upon to seek the higher ground, the higher self; to find a greater authority either within ourselves (Strength, Temperance), or externally (Justice). The moral lesson, then? Perhaps, that we can intervene in our own stories and respond accordingly – whatever happens.
There’s also virtue in exploring the ‘lost’ virtues of the tarot, too, if you’re interested: once, there was Prudence (absorbed into the Hermit, Justice or/and The Hanged Man); and Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith may have made her way into The High Priestess; and Hope most likely into The Star. My theory on Charity is that she surfaces as Temperance by way of Chastity – but that’s another story, coming up in Understanding Tarot.
Thanks for reading, tarotistas… til next time.
Tune in to Masterchef. There’s a pile of crumble, or ‘soil’. A neat dollop of fruit compote and, if you’re lucky, a side of custard in a teeny jug (read crème anglaise, if you will). A huge moon-white plate showcases each artful plonking. And as we know, plating in Masterchef is very important indeed, involved foam, some kind of piped gel, and micro herbs. I can say this with all the seriousness of a Gregg’s sausage roll.
And yet. As a foodie and tarotist, I’m seeing the process of reading as deconstruction: arranging a set of cards in a formation which suggests how a jumble of thoughts, experiences and aspirations might be temporarily separated and expressed in a way that makes sense. We’re rearranging the client’s crumble in one clean serving, looking at the fruity bits, the hard topping, the runny flow of existence. (Of course, I’m being free with my metaphors here, but that’s my job: to make connections, one card to the next, and ultimately delve into how tarot readings work – for us, as readers, and for the client.)
Deconstruction creates space. It shows up the gaps between ideas and creates definition through separation. And that’s a key aspect of divination: to walk into unknown spaces, to feel and to interpret what’s not immediately apparent. When we simplify, we see.
In Ideal Suggestions,Kristin Prevallet says:
‘Imagine a spider web woven between two bushes – a web that shapes and defines what otherwise would have been an empty space. Now imagine that the web reveals the actual texture of the space in between – because these two are form the same thread, woven like cosmic strings, vibrating existence into being.’Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics, Selah Saterstrom (Essay Press, 2017)
Reading this quotation, I imagine a spread of tarot cards as the web, and the spaces between them the texture. A further image is writing a sentence in ink and lemon juice. The first and last words are in ink, and the words in between are written in juice. When we read cards, we’re holding the paper over a flame, seeing the hidden words, the mysteries, writing themselves onto the surface. They look different from the words recorded in ink: scorched, sepia, perhaps incomplete. Something substantial is emerging, which was always there, and now it’s appearing in the once-blank space in a sentence. In tarot, the cards in a spread create two things: a pattern of physical cards, and a pattern of space between them. As the physical cards hold energy, energy also exists in ‘negative’ space. (By the way, BETWEEN is the Switchword for activating clairvoyance, or clear-seeing – see my site www.switchwordspower.com).
Of course, we want to make sense of a reading, to bring every card’s meaning into a whole narrative that makes sense to us and to the reader. But if we’re focussed purely on this – making a linear story from a layout of cards in which there is only a beginning, middle and end with no pauses, no gaps – we can deny ourselves the space for insight. I’ll call this the ‘third space’, the realm of imagination, intuition, sensation. It’s that split-second gap in which intuitive ‘flashes’ happen; a disruption in the narrative in which truth raises its hand.
Client A wanted to know the outcome of a relationship issue – would she stay with her husband of twenty-two years? And with this direct question, she was giving me her power. I didn’t want it. Neither did I want to turn counsellor or advisor, turning the question back to her, saying, ‘What do you think? Do you want to leave this relationship?’. Instead, I offered her the elements, the life-fragments represented by each card. Unsurprisingly, one card was Death, at which she almost shouted, ‘That’s the end! It’s the end of the relationship.’ (We were at a wedding at the time, which made the reading rather poignant…) The next card was the Six of Cups. The client, who had some tarot experience, wanted to interpret this with Death as ‘And then he comes back!’ But what spoke to me in that moment was the gap – what lay between Death and the Six? Looking at each card without trying to make a story triggered an image. If felt as if the two figures on the Six, a man and woman, had no place in space or time. They were floating on a cloud by a fairy tale castle, disconnected from reality. There was no feeling of continuance after Death, despite the traditional meaning of reunion associated with the Six. I related these impressions without offering an answer to her question. It was for her to know and to experience. And taking that position in a reading can be difficult, because as readers we’re so judged on whether we get it ‘right’. I could have given her a straight prediction in a few minutes, but that space-in-between was telling me not to do so.
A year later, this client contacted me to say she and her husband had tried a relationship re-boot, and enjoyed six months of feeling they were back on track. But this didn’t last, and hadn’t feel real; they couldn’t recapture past happiness and so they separated – but had felt glad they had recommitted to working it out, giving their marriage one last try. They’re on good terms. She’s since moved on to a new partner.
As readers, it’s not for us to offer absolutes, or fix a problem, whatever that is. What we can do is present the cards and then be willing to walk into the spaces and pathways in between; to deconstruct that irresistible narrative that wants to shout out the beginning, the middle, the happy or unhappy ending without pausing for breath. To not have the whole crumble in one mouthful. And instead let those spaces, the gaps on the plate, speak.
It’s a tricky subject to write about, this third space in tarot. By nature it is indefinable. Putting it into words feels like trying to catch a dream just as you’re waking up: a slippery fish that won’t be landed. Think too much, grab too hard, and the dream-fish disappears. Immerse yourself in the stream and follow its glint, and there you are, in the third space without quite knowing how or why – which can be indescribably magical.
Cards in the featured image are from HBO’s Game of Thrones Tarot (Chronicle Books, 2018). Liz Dean (author); Craig Coss (artist).