Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tarot By The Numbers: The Eights

Eights in Tarot are a mixed bag. They contain the solid sense of four yet without its enclosing, fearful walls. Eights are about moving beyond that structure, but still working within its rules. It takes the growth lessons of all the numbers that came before it and moves still higher, still striving towards the goal. There is the hint of a new beginning with the eight, but it's more because the old ways weren't working as well as you'd hoped. There is both building and destruction inherent in the eights, so it may be difficult at times to ascertain the meaning in the card.

Eight is one number beyond perfection and represents the infinity. The mathematical symbol for infinity, the leminscate is, after all, the number eight turned on its side. We see this symbol in various cards in the tarot: The Magician, the Two of Pentacles, but also, auspiciously, in the Major Arcana VIII Strength. More about this in a moment, because as we shall see, Strength fits very neatly into the symbolism of the number eight, with its multifaceted approach to challenges.

Eight was the number of the balance and cosmic order of the universe according to the Egyptians. In Mesopotamia, the eight-leaf rosette was also the emblem of the fertility goddess Ishtar and her planet Venus. This symbolizes the eight's basic meaning of birth and death and rebirth, or building and destruction and new beginning aspect of the eight. To the early Christians it was the symbol of the new Life, the final Resurrection and the anticipated Resurrection that is baptism. It was also the number of Beatitudes (The Blesseds) of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The number eight as a symbol of new beginning is seen in the Bible, as when Noah saved eight persons from the flood to start over. Similarly, the Jewish rite of circumcision which marks the beginning of the newborn boy’s relationship with God is performed on the eighth day, and in Leviticus 9:1, the inauguration of the Tabernacle as the new dwelling place for the presence of God took place after seven days of preparation on the eighth. In Jewish Qabbalah, the number is the eighth Sephira, Hod or "Splendour." The star of Bethlehem is usually shown with eight rays. Also, Easter Sunday, the day when Christ is said to have rose from the dead, was counted as the eighth day after Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem. I know, to us it seems like seven, but the ancients had an inclusive way of counting the day itself plus the following days.

Eight, being a higher representation of four, also represents the earth, though not in its surface but in its volume, since eight is the first cubic number. The Pythagoreans have made the number eight the symbol of love, friendship, prudence and thinking and they have called it the Great "Tetrachtys". The Eight-Spoked Wheel, or Dharmachakra symbolises the Buddha's turning the Wheel of Truth or Law (dharma = truth/law, chakra = wheel). The Dharmachakra has eight spokes, symbolising the Eight-Fold Noble Path. In Neopaganism, there are eight Sabbats, festivals, seasons, or spokes in the Wheel of the Year. Eight solar years are also the time it takes the "new" midwinter solstice sun to come again close to a new moon. The number eight means multiplicity for the Japanese and in China, eight expresses the totality of the universe. Eight is considered an auspicious number for the Chinese not only because it sounds the same as “prosperous” or “fa” in Cantonese, but also because it is the yinnest of the yin numbers from 1-9. The Chinese believe that if you are at the bottom, the only way for you to go is up. So eight stands for potential and for growth: a change from bad luck to good luck. Eight also stands for the eight trigrams (bagua) – an auspicious symbol of transformation. In many cultures and ideologies eight seems to have similar meaning: the movement from less to more, destruction, regeneration, and resurrection, a kind of microcosmic cycle of life all on its own.

In numerology, eight is the number of building, and in some theories also the number of destruction. Eight has the primary numerological meanings of wholeness, change, leadership, and power and is viewed as one of the strongest numbers in some schools of numerology. The focus of eight is material possessions and money and is very powerful in attracting wealth. It tends to happen, though, if eight comes up in your numerology reading, you tend to have great gains and failures, which means major highs and lows, which is also in alignment with the rather contradictory meaning of the eight. Lots of cycles. Governed by Saturn, number eight people suffer sorrow along with success. If you are an eight person, you possess great will power and individuality, yet you are often misunderstood, partly as a result of hiding your strong feelings beneath a cold exterior. Sounds a bit like Scorpio, the 8th astrological sign of the Zodiac.

So how all this relates to VIII Strength you may have already put together in your mind. Strength used to be La Force or Fortitude, one of the four cardinal virtues in the tarot. Some earlier depictions of this card show brute force being used while others show a woman (virtues are usually symbolized as women) breaking a pillar and/or closing a lion's mouth. Fortitude to the ancient Greeks meant bringing all your resources to bear in a situation, doing whatever it takes to overcome the challenge whether that means bearing it in quiet strength or attacking the problem head on. It might mean different approaches depending on the situation. Today tarot readers often default to the meaning of subduing one's inner impulses and while that can be one approach that shows fortitude, it isn't the only one, and really is more applicable to Temperance. In some cases taking the bull by the horns, the tiger by the tail, or, in this case, the lion by his jaws is what is called for, because once you've grabbed on you can't let go until the job is finished. These kinds of challenges require determination, yes, and strength and are quite the character-building experiences. Once you've seen it through, you often come out the other end quite a different person and hence, the rebirth side of the eight is seen. You may not come away unscathed either, in fact you will probably suffer some deep gashes from those sharp teeth and claws, and so the suffering and success theme is evident in the card. The infinity symbol is seen above the woman's head in the Waite version of the card, which implies perfecting one's inner strength through challenge and maybe biting off more than you think you can chew.

The Eight of Swords is one of those Minor Arcana scenic pips that makes us wince a little. Usually pictured is a woman bound, blindfolded, and barefoot surrounded by eight swords. Often when a querant receives this card in a reading there is an immediate sense of identification with feelings of being trapped and unable to determine which way to go to release oneself. This is, as with all eights, a challenge to be faced and overcome, hearkening back to the Strength card. However, being of the Swords suit, this is a challenge of the mind and of using one's mental faculties to either entrap or release oneself, and being an eight it is likely a bit of both. Something must be destroyed in order to gain release and in this case the bonds must be cut, she must abandon a certain way of thinking that has gotten her in this sticky predicament in the first place, she must rely on her inner resources (Strength, again) rather than her sight and problematic thought pattern, carefully feeling the earth with her bare feet for clues to her next move. The desolate landscape and the circular pattern of the swords indicate that this situation could quite literally go on endlessly (the infinity pattern of the eight) unless she herself does something about it.


The Eight of Cups shows yet another desolate environment, a place of darkness and stagnant waters. The symbolism of this eight is associating more with the regeneration aspect, but also inner fortitude as well. The figure is usually seen leaving eight cups behind which represent emotional ties, relationships, and other meaningful associations to him in order to seek out that which is more emotionally fulfilling to him. In reference to the seven, this guy has decided which cup contains his most sought after desire and in the eight he leaves the others behind in order to pursue his dream. That can be one of the hardest decisions one makes in life and hence the inner strength and determination of VIII is needed to see it through. The lesson of the eights are that nothing good comes without sacrifice and that sometimes suffering is just part of the path to success. We must face the bitter with the sweet. Something compels us, though, in the Eight of Cups, to move beyond that which we've known and loved to something more, thought we don't even yet know what that something will actually be.


The Eight of Wands focuses more on the power of the eight to get things accomplished as quickly as possible. Even in the pictorial decks, this is one pip card that often shows primarily the eight wands, with no storybook scene to tell the story. In the Thoth deck it is called "Swiftness" and that keyword is very apt for the energy of the eights in this card. This is the "git 'er done" card that takes the aspect of the Strength card that means taking on a challenge and moving quickly to its resolution. In modern terms this card has come to often represent the fast-moving communication of the internet, emails, text messages which accomplish passing information back and forth in the wink of an eye. However, it can also represent various actions being performed at once with a common goal. To coordinate these efforts takes a good deal of focus and determination to make sure all eight of those wands hit their mark. This highlights the facet of eight that refers to multiplicity, balance, and order. While the wands are not yet "grounded" they aren't flying off in fifty different directions either. They have been aimed and are in alignment with one another, so there is a purpose and direction to their trajectory. Events are going to happen quickly and there is a focused purpose to them.


The Eight of Pentacles relies on the inner determination that is brought to bear on a task that requires detailed, focused concentration over a period of time. This card often shows an apprentice at work hammering out a series of pentacles assembly-line fashion. This kind of detail work takes dedication and much burning of the midnight oil. Often when I see this card I feel the intensity of the figure's concentration. He is totally engrossed in what he is doing and is really bent on doing it just so, getting it just right. It also reflects the aspect of the eight that represents building, as he is building his reputation as well as building his skills. The alignment of the pentacles he has finished show the order of the eights, and also the notion that in order to reach the higher levels you have to start at the bottom. Some find this card a bit out of order in the sequence of the pentacles suit and some decks, such as the Hudes, have even switched the meanings of the three and the eight, showing an apprentice on the three and a master on the eight. But I believe this is incorrect if you take into consideration the loss of the the five and the decision-making of the seven. Here is someone who is starting again but not entirely from scratch. He is learning a new skill that can build on the skills he has already obtained. He is taking on a new field of endeavor and, as such, is broadening his resume. Possibly he's found an area of his work that he's never been really good at and is polishing his skills and aptitude in that area so that he can be even better at what he does. This is the guy from the seven who dreamed of what he wants and is now setting about the task of accomplishing that goal. He's pouring on the juice here, doing what needs to be done, even if it may seem rather boring and repetitive.

The eights are a mixed lot, to be sure, and it really helps to relate the cards back to VIII Strength to understand the different kinds of approaches and the different facets of the meaning of strength. There are situations that call for a slow, tedious, dedicated approach, while others call for a full on, no holds barred attack. Some situations require us to restrain an urge to rush in while other situations need us to work up the courage to act decisively and with force. The four Minor Arcanas show these various approaches with the cyclical and dual idea of building and destroying, suffering and success that the eight represents.

Classic Tarot By Carlo DellaRocca Tarot Deck Published by Lo Scarabeo
Robin Wood Tarot by Robin Wood Copyright 1999 Published by Llewellyn Worldwide
Tarot of the Magical Forest by Leo Tang Made in China Copyright 2005
DruidCraft Tarot created by Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm and Will Worthington Published by Connections and St. Martin's Press 2004The Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti Copyright 2004 Published by Llewellyn Worldwide




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