The Minor Arcana of Egyptian Tarot are not pictorial. Pictured minors were first featured in the Rider-Waite deck published in 1909 and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith. The vast majority of Tarot decks that followed base the interpretation of the minors on Pamela Coleman Smith’s images. Many people prefer pictured minor cards because they are easier to remember, more visual and thereby sometimes considered more affective triggers of intuitive insight.
In older traditions of Tarot, however, the minors are illustrated by patterns of spots on the cards corresponding to their “suit” or “element,” like the pip cards are illustrated in our regular playing cards. They, too, trigger intuitive insight and, moreover, provide a reliable system of interpretation apart from intuition. After all, intuition doesn’t always kick in.
Another difference between most decks and the Brother of Light deck is that the elements are assigned differently to the suits of our minors. In the Brotherhood of Light tradition, the element of water is represented by the Cups and the element of fire is represented by the Scepters, or wands. But, we depart from many other traditions in that our element of air is represented by the Coins (Pentacles), and our element of earth is represented by Swords.
The third difference between the minors of Egyptian Tarot and other systems is that our minors have an exoteric (outer) meaning and an esoteric (inner) meaning. The outer meanings relate to the corresponding Major Arcanum while the inner meaning relates to the minor’s corresponding decanate.
What is a decanate? The zodiac is composed of twelve 30-degree signs. Each sign is further divided into three subdivisions of 10 degrees, which are called decanates (deca means ten in Greek). There are 36 decanates in all. The Minor Arcana as they relate to the Major Arcana symbolize more day-to-day issues, the mundane or outer-exoteric meanings. The inner-esoteric meanings, or deeper meanings of the Minor Arcana correspond to the spiritual teachings of the decanates of the zodiac.
The Tens of the Brotherhood of Light deck are not considered part of the Minor Arcana as the tens are in other decks. They correspond to Major Arcanum X, The Wheel, sometimes called The Wheel of Fortune, which is ruled by Uranus, the planet of sudden changes. The four Tens, accordingly, also represent Change and correspond to the four seasons rather than the decanates of the zodiac. Even though the tens are not considered part of the Minor Arcana, we will explore the tens more thoroughly in this blog series.
- The Major Arcana correspond to the 10 planets and 12 signs
- The Minor Arcana correspond to the decanates of the zodiac
- The Tens correspond to the four seasons
Each card of the Minor Arcana carries a suit with it. The suits are the coins, scepters, cups, and swords.
The coins relate to the season of spring when the winds blow, spreading pollen, fecundating the earth, and bringing forth new growth. The winds, or the element of air, blow in currents. (The only other element that travels in currents is water, and that element is represented by the cups.) Besides water, there are two other nouns that we can attach to currents. One is money; money travels. It has to move from one person to another, from one place to another, to be useful. Money even has another name – currency. What else travels through the Ethernet? Ideas travel. Ideas are exchanged moment to moment; and, of course, ideas include social exchange, news, and even gossip. So the element of Air has become associated with Coins (aka Pentacles), ideas, social exchange, money, and new beginnings. At some point in history, diamonds as seen today in our playing cards symbolized wealth.
In the summer, we experience heat, which in olden times was associated with fuel and, more specifically, the flames of burning wood. In the summer, the fields are plentiful and there is an abundance of grasses and clover for the livestock to graze. We associate heat with passion, personal interests, authority, careers, reputation, enthusiasm, and power. In the Brotherhood of Light tradition, the Scepter or Wand symbolizes the element of fire and the heat of passion and authority. Ultimately, the symbol of the heat of summer came to be symbolized by the trefoil of the fields, the clover, or the club.
Fall is a time of harvest, abundance, celebration, and family. It is that time of the year when cups of wine are raised in moments of cheer and goodwill toward men. It can be a time of love, joy and peace, and also a time of family tension, sibling rivalry, and feelings of disappointment. In other words, the fall is an emotional time as symbolized by the cup and the element of water. In today’s playing cards, the heart has replaced the cup.
Finally, in the dead of winter, the animals hibernate, the leaves have fallen from the trees, and the ground is frozen. All is crystallized and quieted. Food is difficult to find, and many will perish from the severity of the weather, from illness, or from starvation. Any food that might be available will be tubers or roots buried deep beneath the hardened soil. The Swords represent strife, the hardships of the human experience, and the element of earth. The Sword became the Spade that was used to dig for food and, to this day, the Ace of Spades and the Queen of Spades have been associated with unfortunate events.
- The Coins represent the element of Air, Money, Ideas, Gossip, News, and New Beginnings
- The Scepters represent the element of Fire, Passion, Personal Interests, Hobbies, Authority, Power, Career and Reputation
- The Cups represent the element of Water and Emotions, both good and bad
- The Swords represent the element of Earth, Strife, Hardship, Poverty and Illness
Next week’s blog will explain the four Ones, or Aces, corresponding to Arcanum I, The Magus. For more information about the Brotherhood of Light tradition, visit our website at www.light.org.