Cryptocurrencies and the suit of Coins

Cryptocurrencies are a hot new item in the world of digital engineering and social experimentations. Bitcoin being the best known, these ‘alternative currencies’ are evolving to solve the challenges an increasingly complicated world that is also increasingly paranoid about both personal privacy and privately held monetary systems (I.e. Big banks).

At its simplest, cryptocurrencies are digital objects, with built-in transactional history that can be verified via complex cryptographic means. Unlike other digital assets, you can’t just copy a bitcoin and give it away; the original and the copy have the same history and anyone checking that history can tell that it has been copied. Every time a digital ‘coin’ changes hands or is otherwise interacted with, that action is recorded in the history of the object, and thus can be verified.  There are still tons of legal and social questions surrounding the use of cryptocurrencies, but they aren’t going away as a concept anytime soon.

It may seem strange to want to write about digital alternatives to cash and credit, but the  Tarot is also evolving with the times and I’m here to explore those possibilities spaces. So just what do cryptocurrencies have to do with the Tarot? Well it starts with the suit of Coins, naturally.

Coins, Pentacles, Earth energy; all the variants of this suit refer to physical goods, tangible assets, wealth and power. Physical currencies are an abstraction for wealth and make trading and accounting easier; cryptocurrency is just the latest example that started with seashells used in barter. But most of all, if you look at the suit of Coins as a chain of exchanges, then the linkage between the suit of Coins and Cryptocurrency becomes even more important. If one goes linearly from Ace to Ten, one sees a legacy of events and exchanges that ‘coin’ has been involved it. From the decisions of the Two and Three of Pentacles, to the stability of the Four, the fallow times of the Five, and the entrepreneurism of the Six, Seven and Eight, to the accumulation and display of the Nine and Ten; the lifecycle of the suit of Coins show economic life-flow. Remember: that card didn’t just spring, fully formed for economic impact, from the nothingness of someone’s purse. It has been exchanged for work, for goods, for usury and for investment time and time again. It’s history is part of its value: the dollar is strong because it’s done so much, been used everywhere, appreciated by everyone for it’s value.

When you draw a Coins card, consider that it’s face value represents the stage of its economic journey. Perhaps draw again until you have two more Coins cards, and lay them next to the original; this show where the coin came from and where it shall go. While I can’t know the complete history of the quarter in my hand, I can know the transactional history of a BitCoin because that transactional history is part of the very identity of that BitCoin. Since Tarot cards are instances along lifecycles, I can use them to tell the history of something, because that’s part of its very definition; it’s cryptogram.





The Absence of Fire

This is part five of a series of postings about adding zero cards to the minor arcana. The first post can be found here.

Zero of Wands and the Fool

As with the Zero of Swords, the Fool is the archetype for the Zero of Wands. The Fool can only leave on his epic voyage of discovery and learning by letting go of the attachments that could hinder him.  He must be clear of prejudicing thoughts (swords), emotions (cups) and the connections and commitments that he may have had (wands). Preconceptions and prejudices will interfere with his experiences, thus limiting his growth.

Fire versus Water; Cups versus Wands:

Wands are about fire and passion. They are about what we do. Fire and Water are both dynamic forces, both ever changing but in opposite directions and opposite pathways. They are both parts of the alchemical process; tools of change. Coins and Swords are the ingredients, while Wands (and Cups) represent the process. I’ll go back and re-examine Cups as agents of change later. For now, let’s focus on Wands.

Fire-driven alchemical processes:

Wands are a force for change, from their most restful (i.e. the Four of Wands) to the slow steady grind of the nine and ten or wands. There is no alchemy without the energy to drive the reactions.

The Zero of Wands reminds us of that you may not be ready or capable of change.

Pull out your SUN card(s). Consider how the energies of the SUN are a force for change. Now turn the cards over and imagine existence without the influence of the Sun. Not it’s inverted meaning, or the shadow of the Sun’s impact. Consider its’ utter absence of its power. That result is the Zero of Wands.


So what do you DO when the Zero of Wands shows up in a reading? It depends on where in the reading it appears. Most locations within a spread break down into who, what, where, when, why (and why not) as well as how and how many.

When asking “Who” and the zero is the answer, consider who has no passionate attachment to the question at hand. Who is a neutral player or unbiased observer?

When answering questions of “What” or involving questions/locations about actions to take/be performed: Consider that no passion is required or even allowed. The necessary action at hand should be viewed as dispassionately as possible. Emotional attachment ist verboten and should be avoided.

“Where”? Well, the zero cards here are very Zen when it comes to questions of where: Both nowhere and everywhere at once. They represent ‘the center,’ which is the soul of the querent or question at hand.

When asking about “when”: The zero of Wands can be both immediate in its impact and infinite in its patience. The zero is immediately present and unchanging.

In a location about motivation, purpose or influence (“why” questions), ask: “where has the fire gone?” The absence of fire means that there is no passion about the role played. Another source of motivation exists and should be considered (i.e. draw another card!) if needed. When dealing with the motivations of others, ask: “What’s their stake in the situation? Why are they involved? What might awaken the fire within them to get them involved?”

As for how many? … Again, it’s a zero card!

You must bring the fire needed to make things change; you are the torchbearer, the light-bringer.

Finally: a word about reversed card meanings. Not that I personally use reverse meanings, but for those that do: Reversed, the Zero of Wands could mean that the absence of inner fire is what the problem is; total ennui. Nothing left but ashes. The situation cannot be changed; what IS has already been forged by soul-fire and is now inert. However, inert does not mean useless! Inert elements slow and regulate other changes and that may be a good thing! They introduce stability and strength by their being unyielding and unchanging.

Well, that’s all four Minor Arcana!


The Null of Mind

This is the fourth in my series of posts about zero and the minor arcana. The first article can be found here.

The suit of Swords is about air and thought, so the Zero of Swords is about the Null of Mind. It’s a very Zen thing; the attainment of no mind. Also known as ‘Mushin no shin’ (“mind of no mind” or ‘no-mindedness’). Attaining the no-mind represents reaching a true conduit to your intuition. Like the perfect golf swing, a perfectly performed aria, or an effortless act of creation, the active mind plays no role in the act. It just happens thanks to training, experience and focus.

There’s a very real basis in the concept of unconscious or passive thinking; of not overthinking the problem. Modern neuroscience shows us that the subconscious parts of our brains operate at higher speeds than our conscious minds. How much does our conscious thinking interfere with our subconscious, savant mind?

The Zero of Swords and the Fool

All the zero minor arcana have association with the Fool card. For the Zero of Swords, it has to do with what the Fool is thinking as he begins his journey – or more importantly, the fact that he isn’t thinking! The Fool’s begins his journey with a blank slate of mind: ready to learn and assimilate and grow. It’s not clouded by questions such as “did I leave the gas on?” or “what will become of me?

His focus is on the journey.

Interpreting the Zero of Swords:

Go with your initial instinct, your gut-feeling. Thinking about it will only complicate things and obstruct your progress.

Ignore the process: focus not on the how. Choose the result and do it.

Let go of preconceived thoughts and/or actions. Intuit your way to your goal.

Avoid paralysis through analysis; make the right choice, but don’t think it to death.

I don’t personally read reversals, but if I did, I would say the inverted zero of swords would represent not thinking enough about the situation.

The no-mind reading:

There is irony in asking the tarot about how to attain a zen-like no-mind state; the very act of drawing cards and then holding that information in your mind while attempting to perform said action breaks the concept of the no-mind state. Instead, let’s try a ritual reading; one that identifies the distractions and obstacles to success and helps focus the mind on the goal.

Separate swords cards and place the Zero of swords (or a substitute, face-down card) at the bottom of the spread, closest to you.

Shuffle the rest of the deck (again, without the Swords cards) and draw three cards.

Coin cards represent physical distractions – your ‘stance’ as it were.

Cup cards represent emotional distractions – what might be limiting your movement.

Wand cards represent spiritual challenges – what might be holding you back.

Major Arcana represent major players – they could hinder or aid you.

After viewing each card and intuiting their meaning in this situation, turn them over. This represents you shutting out their influence and letting go of your dependencies upon others.

Return your gaze to the Zero of Swords (or its proxy card) and remember that none of this matters. There is no you, there is nothing in your way. There is just the goal.

When all you can see and think about is attaining that goal, look up and do what must be done.



The Void of Soul

The Zero of Cups

This is part three of a series of postings about adding zero cards to the minor arcana. Part one can be found here.

After pentacles, the next most physical in representation of the minor arcana is the suit of cups.  While coins are an abstraction of value, cups serve an immediate purpose.  Like our emotions, water ebbs and flows and can be difficult to contain. The Cup is the symbol of how we contain and share our emotional selves. Cups contain that which is fluid, dynamic; like our emotions, water is every changing and seeking ways to move. Our emotions seek release and expression. We contain, classify and quantize our emotions, just as we measure liquids by volume. Thus the cup is the appropriate symbol for the most fickle and fluctuating element of our spiritual selves.

Cup? What cup? I need no cup.

The suit of cups spins the wheel of emotional context, from inception through decision, to loss, abandonment and nostalgia and finally to acceptance and fulfillment.  So what would a Zero of cups represent? Emotional detachment: an unbiased position and/or a balanced outlook.

None of the existing cards of the suit of cups are truly detached, emotionally speaking. Even the ‘negative’ cards in the suit have emotional content; the four, five and eight of cups are entirely about emotional investment, loss and rejection.  The closest card in the suit of cups to non-involvement might be the seventh, but the Seven of Cups is about desire; the dream for what could be or was. The Four of Cups could almost be considered balanced if there were two goblets being offered from the heavens and two on the ground (instead of three on the ground and one from on high), but it is not.

No (current) card in the suit of cups represents the anti-cup; the state of emotional detachment. I believe it is important to be able to reach that state. Merely drawing a card from another suit doesn’t count. That’s answering a different question than what is being asked; like a joke about impressionist art: “How many rectangles does it take to change a light bulb? Bananas.” There needs to be a card that symbolizes the lack of emotional connection to a subject or issue.

What’s so important about emotional detachment?

Emotions aren’t rational; they don’t conform to the logical expectations of the mind. They chafe under the social pacts we agree to and rebel against cold hard facts and mathematics. Making a rational decision when emotional contexts are involved is an order of magnitude harder because the head and the heart don’t speak the same language. Even when we ‘know’ what is right; the emotional part of our being can still yearn for the alternatives. Emotional satiation is more rewarding than intellectual satisfaction. To paraphrase something Yoda said of the Dark Side of the Force: feeding emotional needs over intellectual ones is ‘not stronger, but quicker and easier.’

So how does a Zero of Cups come into play? It can be the objective of the reading: e.g. “How do I reach this nirvana?” When it comes up in a reading it can mean that, all things given, what the querent is feeling on the subject is the balance point; no adjustment is necessary or possible. Or it can mean that the emotional context of the question is null and void, irrelevant. The querent can stick to the facts of the matter and make their choices without worrying about emotional effects.

Oh, and one should always be careful not to overindulge anyway.

The Zero of Pentacles

This is the second of a series of posts about my ideas on adding a ‘zero’ card to each of the minor arcana (the first article can be seen here). I’ve started with the suit of Pentacles, because at first glance, Pentacles (or coins, or earths or any of a myriad of other names) seem to be an easy concept to apply ‘zero’ to.  This assertion turns out to be both true and untrue. To start, lets make certain we’re all talking about the same thing.

Just what is a Pentacle?

At its most elementary, the word ‘pentacle’ is a combination of words for ‘five’ and ‘what is written’, meaning any written symbol with five lines or with five corners. Pentacles have often been used as occult symbols, used to identify members of an order or group, such as the Seal of Solomon, or the Pythagoreans, as well as more modern groups of pagans. In that sense, they were the equivalent of team logos, gang signs or corporate icons. (I admit it amuses me to imagine a gang of young-bearded Greek philosophy students, running the streets of Athens, tagging building corners with pentagrams to mark their territory. But I’m silly like that.)

Classically, a Pentacle was a mystic symbol, written onto paper, carved into wood or stone, or etched into metal. Since they were often put on small discs, the suit is also known as Coins and thus the common association with matters of wealth. I believe, however, that there’s a lot more to Pentacles than as an abstract medium for financial transactions and understanding this is necessary for exploring the concept of a ‘zero’ of Pentacles. It’s all about the ‘mystic symbols’ part that our metaphorical philosopher-taggers mark their territory with.

So what are these ‘mystic symbols’ all about? Well, as an engineer in my day job they remind me of circuit boards, diagrams and flowcharts. In a way, that’s what a symbol is: a diagram of esoteric knowledge, a pattern for channeling energies, a fuse to prevent excessive flux, a ward against the unwanted. Crafting them takes time, skill and the right materials; thus Pentacles as Talismans have an intrinsic value. Someone openly displaying a great many of these Talismans would have the air of someone of great wealth, influence and/or craft (if they made their metaphysical bling for themselves). They wear their personal talismans of health, their house has pentagramatic wards against the weather, they carry icons of sacred ancestors and so on. They are an embodiment of the six through ten of Pentacles.

Now imagine you don’t have any of this.

A Zero of pentacles

So what would the Zero of Pentacles mean? In one literal sense it would mean being destitute, impoverished beyond the downtrodden depicted in the RWS Five of Pentacles; those are affluent people who have fallen on hard times. The Zero is the primitive; one who has not only never had possessions, but has never known what it is to own something. Also: since Pentacles are wards, talismans and spiritual circuit breakers, the Zero is someone who is vulnerable and unprotected against the unseen an unknowable.

Now, to counter this rather depressing concept of the Zero of Pentacles thus far, consider the following: The Zero has no ties or commitments; no debts or responsibilities to or for others. They are the free radical or the noble atom; readily hungry for attachment and interaction, or aloof and uninvolved. Like the Fool, ready for a journey of awakening. This is especially appropriate when you consider that the Fool is also numbered zero. In fact, all the Zero minor arcana will have a strong correlation with the Fool.

And finally: how liberating a message would it be to ask the question: “what have I got to loose if I do this?” Then draw the Zero of Pentacles and realize: nothing!

If one considers the craftsman aspect of the suit of Pentacles, then the Zero represents the ignorant, unenlightened and unwittingly (or willingly!) agnostic. The concept of Pentacles as science gives me a new idea for the suit: That Pentacles can  represent knowledge and wisdom of a temporal nature; of how physical things work in the secular sense. A craftsman doesn’t need to understand how the world came about, or who or what made it so; they just need to understand the physical properties of the materials they are working with. The numbered minor arcana then represent orders of magnitude of understanding: from the stone tool, to the pulley and lever and wheel; hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, electromechanics, relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory… where could it end?

Depicting the Zero of Pentacles

Here’s the hard part: how do you show the lack of something? The answer really depends on the visual style of the deck in question.  If the purpose is to show who the Zero of Pentacles is, then the imagery depends on depicting who are the dispossessed, the utter bottom rung of the social ladder. If the purpose is to show what the Zero of Pentacles is, the primitivism is the key. In fact the entire question of depicting the Zero of Pentacles is almost entirely subjective. For now, I’m going to postpone this part to another article. It’s a big enough subject it needs it!

In the meantime: How would you depict a Zero of Pentacles?