Before deciding which number to use as my guinea pig for today's article, I let the tarot do the talking. I pulled a single card from one of my Marseille decks. It was the Five of Cups.
I have to be honest and admit that at first I was disappointed that a five appeared, only because the number five is such an easy number to tackle. I've already written about the sevens in a previous blog, and it is inevitable that five would come up sooner or later as I discuss each number, so I guess there's no time like the present to discuss fives.
For the purpose of illustrating the fives I chose all the five cards from the Albano Waite Smith deck. I was undecided if I should use a Marseille style deck or a RWS clone. Ultimately, I chose the Albano Waite because it is my favorite of the RWS decks and most illustrated pips (non decorative) of most contemporary decks follow this tradition.
For a person working strictly from Marseille styled pips, I know the process that I am about to describe will also work because it's how I learned. I began learning tarot with a Marseille styled deck. The two Major Arcana card points of reference in the photo are The Pope and The Temperance cards from a deck very similar to the first deck I ever owned.
I have mentioned it before that when I began teaching myself tarot, I did not have access to any of the RWS varieties and only had a Marseille style deck. So I had to learn the numbered cards in a way that made sense to me. Even though I read all I could find on tarot (and remember, this was the 1970s, before New Age hit suburban Philadelphia bookstores full blast) and mostly all that was available were occasional books on the Marseille Major Arcana. I had determined that since the major arcana placed such importance on the numbers, it followed suit to well, let the numbers follow the suits.
I determined what each of the four suits meant in a way that made sense to me, based on the material that was available to me, and sat myself down and had a serious few months with the cards, journal writing and begining my tarot journey.
It's funny that the number '5' should have shown up for this discussion, because in retrospect, the number five was the first pip number I tackled after learning the number one, which was kind of a no brainer. I chose to begin with five because as I saw it, five was the middle of the pips. It had four cards below it and four above it. I saw it as a kind of pivotal number that could sway either way.
In a general way I came to terms with the fives of each suit. Generally the fives signaled challenges and instability and a need for gaining composure before things got out of hand. According to my notes, here are the brief meanings that I came up with before even referencing the Pope and Temeperance cards.
Five of Swords - Conflict, or challenges regarding a strategic situation like justice, or communication that didn't go well
Five of Wands - Creative bursts of energy that need direction, challenges with concepts or creative execution
Five of Cups - Emotional situations that shake things up a bit for good or bad
Five of Coins - Money challenges, challenges with practical situations or matters
Having the advantage of the Pope and Temperance meanings, I saw that they each shared at least one common keyword, 'balance,' and I took that commonality and ran with it. There were other cues from the Pope/Hierophant like maybe being too inflexible which helped to gel my understanding of five, as did the cues for restoring order from Temperance.
These were my own kind of 'common sense' meanings based on my own thinking processes. Later, I began researching numbers and their meaning and began applying what I learned from numerology. Numbers make sense to me. I didn't grab onto the Kabbalah or Astrology as my primary point of reference in those days because they didn't interest me at that time. But in the years since (by virtue of owning so many decks) I've picked up on those visual clues as they appear in cards as well, and they have been an asset in furthering my understanding. So in learning tarot, it has been my experience that it has been an evolution of understanding and applying what makes sense to me in the time frame that I learn it.
When I eventually bought my first RWS deck, (which was actually the Albano White deck) my own little meanings did not always work perfectly well with what the picture implied, and it didn't make sense to say one thing when the picture told a different story. And that is when I began going with the flow. Having more than one possible meaning for a card in my arsenal of understanding just gave me a richer tarot vocabulary.
Until recent years, there weren't too many Marseille style decks available, and in those early years I only had one or two generic Marseille woodblock style decks, my 1JJ Swiss, and I think I also had the non illustrated, but decorative pip style Fergus Hall deck by then which was from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. In those early days of my learning the only RWS deck that I owned was the Albano Waite (Smith) deck.
In the 80s and 90s our US market began to explode with RWS clones which didn't bother me too much because of my art background, I gravitated toward the beautiful decks and adjusted my readings accordingly.
Since the 2000s especially, a plethera of gorgeous varieties of the somewhat ancient Marseille decks have been reproduced and or restored and introduced to the US market.
Readers from my era and demographics of learning tarot have come full circle now. The variety of tarot cards available now is awesome, but I think it might be overwhelming for a new reader to try to learn tarot organicially because there are literally thousands of different decks all aspiring to bring something new and often contradictory to the table. That, and dare I say it, I also think that there are more than a few bullsh*t decks out there, created by individuals who have jumped on the tarot deck bandwagon without genuine understanding of it. But even those have something to contribute by daring to shake things up a bit. (A genuine five experience.)
Still, my advice, is to learn the meanings of each card at your own pace and space, using one or two decks that you really like and using your own logic and instincts to allow the visual or numeric clues to enhance your learning experience.