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 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?

Zero and the Minor Arcana

It’s my ambition someday to create my own Tarot deck, with imagery and structure special to the decks’ theme and background. One of the advantages of making your own deck is that you can change the format and play with the structure; tailoring them specifically to the theme and mythos of the deck’s “setting”.

To that end, I’ve been thinking about the number zero. While today we easily incorporate zero in our modern thinking and counting systems, the actual use of zero as a number is less than two millenia old. Thinking in terms of zero is difficult at first, and somewhat counterintuitive.  Given an empty basket, we can rationalize statements such as: “I have zero apples in the basket.” You also have zero grapes, bananas and monkeys in the basket. In fact, you have an infinite number of zeros in that empty basket; everything not in that basket is a zero/potential for something that could be. But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves! An infinite number of zeros is too big to fit our metaphorical basket. In the RWS and most similar Tarot decks the Fool is numbered zero in the Major Arcana, but that’s the only use of zero in the Tarot that I know of. I think there’s great potential in adding zero cards to the minor Arcana as well.

So to draw upon my previous article about the Magician as a Demiurge, we must remember that the minor Arcana exist to codify things into terms that make sense. Thus the Zero minor Arcana must also be specific in their potential. Each of the Aces stand for new beginnings; ideas, endeavors, wealth and emotions. They represent the first step down the path that each minor arcana represents. A Zero minor arcana would represent the stage before that; the potential for growth and change. A potential awaiting initiation, triggering and direction. The Zero minor Arcana represent the raw stuff of creation -the potential– waiting for the will of the Magician to name it, give it form and purpose.

In following posts I’ll be exploring some of the specifics for what zero means for each of the minor arcana, how Zero can be depicted and  finally some spreads that focus on using Zero cards.


The Magician: The Demiurge?

[The demiurge] is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, “It is I who am God; there is none apart from me.” When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, “You are mistaken, Samael” – which is, “god of the blind.”

-From The Hypostasis of the Archons or The Reality of the Rulers,
Nag Hammadi Library, Codex II,
translated by Bentley Layton.

When you read about The Magician card most booklets that come with the deck invoke creativity, personal empowerment, initiative and motivation. But what does The Magician actually DO? How does one actually become or invoke The Magician? Every Tarot reader I know has their own interpretation, and I’d like to share mine. Not just who The Magician is to me, but how I incorporate that meaning into readings.

My own revelation on The Magician came out during a reading I was performing for someone else. In the reading The Magician came up as the goal for resolving a long series of challenges ahead.

In one of those epiphanous moments, I saw the implements of the minor arcana about him and asked: “Did he (The Magician) find those or did he make them?”

To which my client answered: “He’s a wizard, right? I think he made them!”

Afterwards, I kept thinking about The Magician having crafted the Cup, Sword, Coin and Wand; the very symbols the Minor Arcana are structured around. This lead to the “chicken-and-the-egg” kinda question; which came first? Did the Magician make these symbols after they already existed in the minor arcana, or did did he make them first and the minor arcana followed his example? Being a Major Arcana, it seemed inappropriate to think of The Magician was a mere locksmith who churns out copies of keys that the minor arcana use to fulfill their purpose (in which case, the Ten of Swords should ask for his money back). Nor did it seem right that he was a glorified trinket peddler hawking metaphysical bling outside the stadium of creation. No! This is The Magician! The archetype of mind-over-matter, the embodiment of creation-as-an-act-of-will. He’s the craftsman of the symbols which the minor arcana identify themselves with.

I explained this idea to Anastasia, who said simply: “So the Magician is the Demiurge?”

The Demi-who?

To detail the lineage of the Demiurge from its modern rebirths back through the Renaissance, muddle the Middle Ages, course Gnostic reconciliation and find its roots in Platonic syncretism would be an essay unto itself. Many a philosophy student has written their Masters’ Thesis on the topic already, so to use one of my favorite movie quotes:

“Let me explain. No, that will take too long. Let me sum up.”

Here’s the short version:

The Greek philosopher Plato first spoke of the Demiurge in his work, Timaeus. The work is the vehicle for his reconciliation the philosophies of his predecessors, Homer and Hesiod, on the origins and structure of reality. According to Timaeus – as revealed via grand monologues – the Demiurge brought order out of the unthinking chaos that was before and instilled both intelligence and the soul into the life thus made. The Demiurge was not the creator of the universe, merely the craftsman who made something from the raw materials already present. Plato’s Demiurge was a benevolent shaper-of-what-is. The word Demiurge translates as “public worker” and commonly refers to a “craftsman,” or “artisan.”

Later Gnostic origins, inspired by Plato’s model, added the twist so common to dark age mythologies: intrinsic evil. In many Gnostic mythologies, the Demiurge was born unaware of his origins or of the higher gods that begot him. This abandoned and feral godling created reality out of a subconscious awareness of the perfection he was born from. But his work was flawed, and thus we have plagues, earthquakes, and taxes. The Demiurge of Gnostic mythology was thus an antithesis of the true creator and an allegory of Satan. Gnostic names for the Demiurge included: “Yaldabaoth,” meaning “the blind one;” “Samael” which means “God of the Blind” and “Saklas” for “the Foolish one.” The cross-pollination of these names into other religions as various devils and demons shows just how negative the concept of the Demiurge was during that era.

What’s this have to do with the Magician of the Tarot? It begins, as things often do, with The Fool.

Evolution of the Fool into the Magician
At the start of the Fools’ Journey through the Major Arcana, the Fool says to himself:

The Fool

“I know nothing of the world at large.

Thus, I am going to set about experiencing it for myself.”

The Fool finds the world confusing and chaotic because he lacks the tools and language to understand or reason with what he encounters. He knows that there must be patterns to what’s going on. His subconscious awareness of higher orders imposes a desire to force order out of chaos – the spark of divinity in his soul manifesting as subtle wisdom. This is an example of the Logos (Greek for ‘word’) as regards to the Nous (the Mind of God) in Platonic Idealism; that there is an underlying order under the surface of things and that intelligent beings can sense the logos because of their own connection to Nous.

Keeping careful notes, and learning from his mistakes and observations, the Fool begins to discern patterns in the chaos. He creates words to define and encapsulate not just what he sees, but, more importantly, the logic behind the scenes. He makes observations, empirically tests his theories, and revises them as needed. One can easily see The Magician as the model of the scientist employing rational methodologies, even if they are fantastical.

He crafts tools that embody his theories which let him not just observe but affect the world around him.

The Cup for containing the mercurial emotions and feelings of everyday life. The Wand for the passions that burn in our hearts, light our way, and occasionally burden us. The Sword for cutting through the Gordian Knots in our minds, represents the clarity of thought. The Coin for the earthly concerns and demands.

The symbols of the Minor Arcana are his creation and thus define the world for him and bring order out of chaos; everything in the Minor Arcana makes sense because the Fool – now the Magician – sees it in terms of his paradigm.

The Fool turned Magician
The Fool turned Magician

Thus the Magician is the Demiurge; the artisan who brings order out of chaos; the lens through the rest of the minor arcana fall into place and make sense.

So how do you use the Magician-as-the-Demurge in readings?

The ‘Platonic’ Magician
When The Magician comes up in readings it speaks to me of the opportunity to re-define how the world works, to craft new tools, to make sense of things and to sift chaos into patterns that we better recognize and understand.

When The Magician comes up in a reading space for self, opportunities or goals I think about self empowerment – the opportunity to become our own Platonic Demiurge and shape or reshape what is around us (at least, in our minds). When my querent is confused and looking for help, The Magician means they need to take a step back and define what works for them and to craft or discover the tools they need to succeed. Redefine your paradigm.

When the Magician comes up in the space of the other or outsider, the message can mean that this other actor is playing the Magician; they have their own worldview and tools and may see things differently than you; that they have a role for you to fulfill in their understanding and journey. Knowing that someone else is operating within a different paradigm than you can make interacting with them easier.

The Shadow of the Magician: the Gnostic Demiurge
Of course, we have the power within us to become the Gnostic Demiurge as well. Self-delusion, arrogance, and misjudgment lead to a flawed worldview and malfunctioning toolsets. The shadow of The Magician is about the risk of abuse of power and potentially being blind to the true workings of the world. If your theories are incorrect, the results will not match expectations. Wisdom lies in revising your theory and changing as needed. Insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results. The warning of The Gnostic Demiurge Magician is: don’t become Yaldabaoth or Samael “The blind” and don’t remain Saklas: “The Foolish One.”

The Magician is one of the most powerful cards in the Major Arcana but it can be hard to understand exactly what that power is or how to use it. Like great wizards of myth and legend, The Magician is not to be trifled with, and their power is seemingly unlimited. They see beyond the veil of matter and know the secrets of the workings of creation. Their power over creation can redefine the world around them, for good or ill. When we embrace The Magician, we’re tapping into our subtle divine insight to bring order out of chaos; not just see the patterns that shape our world, but take hold of them like reins and drive them before us. To invoke The Magician is to define for yourself how your world works, and by that knowledge, know where and how to apply your will.