The Wands suit always concerns hard work and effort, action, energy, and courage. Combined with the beauty of Tiphareth, the meanings most often attributed to the Six of Wands are victory (after a hard struggle), achievement, success, celebration, and honour.
In Tiphareth, the cleansing and purifying aspects of Fire transform into purification and even sacrifice.
In this post, the elements discussed in Victory! The Six of Wands (Part 1) are combined in various ways to suggest possible interpretations, ranging from the most frequently used meanings to the somewhat bizarre.
Card meanings can be very frustrating. No two tarotists seem to agree on what the cards mean, and sometimes they contradict each other completely.
But let me tell you a secret: most cards have a more-or-less-agreed-upon interpretation, but tarotists may emphasize different angles of the same meaning.
Another possibility: components that most frequently make up the divinatory meanings of cards are suit and element, number, and astrology. Some, however, use one component but not the other, add different elements such as alchemy, interpret the same element in different ways, or follow a different tradition. Or, of course, throw out tradition and create their own.
The easiest way to decipher (most) interpretations is to examine the most-often-used components of card meanings. This series of posts try to help you do that.
Suit and element are perhaps the most popular ways to create meaning for the cards. There is one problem, though: many tarotists follow the example set by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (for instance, to associate Wands with Fire), but not all (some prefer Wands and Air). In this post I use the Golden Dawn convention, but if you prefer Air, we’ll get to that element in time.
Number is another important influence on card meanings. The problem (you expected that, didn’t you!) is that there are several ways to associate meaning with numbers. The Kabbalah—in the form of the Tree of Life—offers one set of meanings; Pythagorean and neo-Pythagorean number mysticism another; and sometimes is simply what makes sense to the tarotist at the time.
(The names of the sephiroth are spelled differently in the diagram to the right. Din is an alternative name for Gevurah.)
Tiphareth, the sixth sephirah on the Tree of Life, is the heart of the Tree. It is the meeting point of left and right, above and below. Tiphareth translates to “Beauty,” and its beauty lies in balance, symmetry, and harmony.
Kether, Chokmah and Binah form the first triangle on the Tree. The second triangle comprises Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiphareth. This second triangle is upside down; it is a reflection of the first. Although Tiphareth is a reflection of Kether, not Kether itself, the sephirah plays a central role in the Tree.
Tiphareth balances the Tree. It is halfway between Kether (pure energy) and Malkuth (physical reality). It is also in the middle of the two ‘pillars’ of the Tree: the Pillar of Mercy (the ‘male’ pillar on the right, comprising Chokmah, Chesed, and Netzach) and the Pillar of Severity or Justice (the left, ‘female’ pillar).
One of the titles given to Tiphareth is, appropriately, the Intelligence of Mediating Influence. In Tiphareth, what is above meets what is below; spirit meets matter; divine meets human.
Paths lead directly from Tiphareth to Chokmah, Binah, Chesed, Gevurah, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. A path also leads from Tiphareth to Kether over the abyss, or Da’ath. (Da’ath is not one of the sephiroth, but is sometimes called the ‘hidden’ or ‘uncreated’ sephirah.)
Of the sephiroth below the abyss, only Tiphareth has a direct path to Kether.
Tiphareth represents the third day of Creation (the first is Chesed, the second Gevurah or Din), in which God separated the waters from the land. Pure energy is starting to take on form.
Tiphareth is also the sphere of the ‘son,’ the Son of the Expressed Mother (Gevurah) and the Expressed Father (Chesed). In Tiphareth, divine energy starts to manifest into the ‘divine son,’ who is often a demi-god or a king. In Christian terms, God takes on human form in Jesus, in whom divinity and humanity co-existed. The ‘divine son’ is also usually sacrificed; he dies and rises to be sacrificed again.
Tiphareth is therefore also the sphere of reconciliation and redemption.
Tiphareth finds the balance between opposites: male and female energies; Chesed and Gevurah (mercy and strict justice; the loving and the fearsome god; expansion versus restriction), and Netzach and Hod (victory and glory, also called emotion and intellect).
Male and female energies transform to androgyny; In finding the balance between Chesed (mercy) and Gevurah (justice), Tiphareth allows compassion to emerge.
Divine consciousness flows from Kether through all the sephiroth to Malkuth, which is the sphere of matter. In Tiphareth, halfway through the Tree, consciousness is revealed as human consciousness or self-consciousness. (In Malkuth it has become primitive or animalistic consciousness.)
The sephiroth are all associated with celestial bodies, which influence the meaning assigned to each sephirah. Tiphareth and the sephiroth surrounding it have been assigned six of the seven celestial bodies visible to the naked eye: Chesed (Jupiter), Gevurah (Mars), Netzach (Venus), Hod (Mercury), and Yesod (the moon). (Binah is assigned Saturn.)
The sun, heart of our solar system, is assigned to Tiphareth.
Just as the sephiroth surround Tiphareth, the planets revolve around the sun. Assigning the celestial bodies visible to the naked eye to the sephiroth around Tiphareth emphasises the central and centring role of the sephirah.
Tiphareth and the sun as symbol complement each other well. As the primary source of light, the sun suggests enlightenment, reason, and joy. The sun is also a symbol of life.
The number six is graphically represented by the six-pointed star, often called the Star of David. The star consists of two intertwined triangles. In alchemy, the triangle that points up is the symbol of fire, while the triangle pointing down stands for water. The Star of David thus shows the integration of dualities.
It is also possible to see four triangles in the star, each representing one of the four classical elements. The triangle that points up has a line across its top, formed by the top line of the downward triangle (see the illustration on the left). While the upright triangle represents fire, with the line, it represents air.
The same is true for the downward triangle. The triangle represents water, but with the line across, earth.
The star—and six—thus represents the whole of (material) creation (the macrocosm).
Six is also associated with integration as it contains the power of two threes (3 + 3 = 6, or 2 x 3 = 6), and three is the number of integration.
Six can represent balance, as it consists of three twos (6 = 2+2+2), making it three times as balanced as two.
The Pythagoreans regarded six as a perfect number because it is both the sum and the product of its parts: 1 + 2 + 3 = 6 and 1 x 2 x 3 = 6. Six is the only perfect number between one and ten.
The geometrical figure associated with six is the cube. A cube is a square (four) in three dimensions, and as four is the number of stability, six represents perfect stability. Moreover, because all six faces of a cube are exactly the same, six also stands for truth and perfection.
In his Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians, Aleister Crowley points out that the perfection of six is reflected in the four ‘six’ cards in the Tarot deck: they illustrate their element at its practical best.
Crowley talks about ‘practical best’ as a reference to Virgo, the sixth sign of the zodiac. An earth sign, Virgo is practical, conscientious, hard-working, detail-oriented, and analytical, and strongly driven to serve others. Virgo imparts these qualities to six.
Six has another mystical connection to a circle: if you take a coin and place coins of the same size around it so each coin touches the coin in the middle (see the illustration to the right), you will always have six coins plus the one in the middle.
Six is both motion and stillness. Circles imply cyclical movement. On the Tree of Life, Tiphareth seems to be an axle around which the other sephiroth revolve. Furthermore, six is not the end of the journey: on the Tree of Life, there are four more sephiroth after Tiphareth. Biblically, six yearns for perfection, which is seven.
If three completes a cycle, six is the end of the next cycle, but not yet the last one. Six is a circle, but also a square (and therefore stable) in three dimensions.
Six is not the end of the journey. It is a place of peace and beauty, but also a yearning for true perfection. It is a sphere of transformation, and moving on. Six is a circular number, but a square in three dimensions. If you look at the Tree of Life, Tiphareth seems to be the spill around which the sephiroth can turn: moving, yet staying still.
Biblically, seven is the number of perfection. The number 666 assigned to the Beast or Antichrist shows symbolically that the Antichrist always falls short of perfection. Creation was also not complete on the sixth day; although God has brought everything that exists into being in six ‘days,’ the seventh day—the rest day—completes the work.
Another way to look at the number six is to compare it to previous numbers.
Five is the number of change and unpredictability, which means chaos, disruption, loss, and pain. Five disturbs the peace and harmony of four, reminding us that growth cannot take place in a stable, static situation. But the pendulum swings, and in six, the trials have been overcome; unpredictability is replaced with regularity; equilibrium, peace and harmony have been regained.
Six is another number that implies completion. The form it takes in six is that of perfection and inclusion, or wholeness. Think of the six directions that surround you: left, right, front, back, up, and down. You are completely enclosed.
Six is the third day of creation and the completion of the sixth day. Six completes the second cycle of threes.
Five is a number that focuses on the self, on desires and needs and the pain of loss. Six take the focus back to others: it is the number of love, compassion, and social responsibilities. Rather than the ego-centrism of five, six is about co-operation and reciprocity.
Just as three integrates unity (one) and duality (two), six balances the stagnation of four and the upheaval of five. Having integrated the lessons, six offers healing and love.
One problem with the beauty and peace found in six, is that it might be a temporary peace, an unstable balance. This is especially true in the suit of volatile Fire.
We have seen that Tiphareth balances the Tree just as the sun holds the planetary forces in balance. But in both cases the forces are immense, and it might take little to upset the balance.
The divine energy becomes less pure the further it travels down the Tree. In seven the weakness of six becomes apparent.
And thirdly, if six is a yearning for perfection, something must change for the journey to continue, and when balance is upset, chaos takes over.
You may not be surprised: astrologists do no all follow the same tradition either. Most tarotists follow the example of the Golden Dawn, who assigned the second decan of Leo (Jupiter in Leo) to the Six of Wands.
Picatrix describes this decan as one of quarrelling, ignorance, pretended knowledge, wrangling, victory over the low and base, and of drawing swords. The Golden Dawn ignored Picatrix, decided on more positive associations for Jupiter in Leo, and added beauty, balance, and harmony associated with Tiphareth.
Both Jupiter and Leo are good-natured natural leaders (as long as they are admired). Both like to be in the limelight, and want to be appreciated. The decan can be described as one of big dreams and aspirations which (with Jupiter throwing some luck into the mix) may have come true.
With two such egos, however, the moment of triumph may not last long, and could descend into quarrels and wrangling. Jupiter could bring out both the best and the worst in Leo.
In the West, ‘tradition’ is mostly either—or a combination of—the Golden Dawn, Waite, and Crowley. In turn, they often used Etteilla’s interpretation as a base.
Etteilla thought that the Six of Wands signified servants and housework.
Etteilla’s interpretation does, however, pick up Virgo’s qualities of service and social responsibility.
McGregor Mathers (the Golden Dawn) used Etteilla’s reversed meanings: attempt, hope, desire, wish, and expectation, for the upright meanings.
The Golden Dawn called the card Lord of Victory, and added victory after strife, avoiding of strife, success through energy and industry, pleasure gained by labour, carefulness, and sociability. It seems they chose to combine the meanings of Tiphareth and the characteristics of Virgo to form an interpretation.
Waite merged some of these meanings: in addition to ‘great news,’ he agreed that the card is one of triumph, expectation (crowned with its own desire), and crown of hope.
You might want to throw the whole lot into the fire and rely on the image alone for inspiration. The most popular deck in the West is the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (the first illustration in this post), so this is the image I used here. You might have seen from the other card images I have used that there are more, and very interesting, ways to illustrate the card.
The cards designed by Pamela Colman Smith are, in their simplicity, highly evocative. Most of the people in her designs have neutral expressions, which means that we can project whatever we want on them.
What is your first reaction when you look at the the Six of Wands? Is the rider arrogant, relieved, proud, tired, determined, task-oriented, serious? Look at the faces of the two people in the background. Are they rejoicing, admiring the rider, bored, angry, expectant, afraid, exultant?
The rider has the horse under firm control. What does this mean? Is he a good horseman; keeping a tight rein on his emotions; sure of where he is going; letting his instincts guide him?
Is he returning, or setting out?
Newly crowned (as a winner, or a king?)
Setting off to war or coming back victoriously?
A braggart showing off?
On his way to a fancy-dress ball, or a play?
Is that a celebrity surrounded by an adoring crowd?
A proud, arrogant man who demands admiration?
A famous wizard? (Wands are tools in magical practices)
A healer? (Fire can be healing and purifying; six is a number of community service)
A messenger? Bringing good news or bad? Are the crowd of people around him waiting anxiously for news?
A groom on his way to the wedding?
A politician who won, or is campaigning?
A king or king’s son about to be sacrificed to ensure a good harvest? It was the fate of many divine sons, or the sons of kings, to be sacrificed, in the place of the king, for the good of a community. These sacrificial victims were often decked in garlands. Jesus was given a crown of thorns and a robe to wear.
The two major arcana cards with the same number are Trump VI, the Lovers, and Trump XV, the Devil (1+5=6). These two cards are in many ways mirror images of each other, and demonstrate the extremes of two possible interpretations.
In most interpretations, the Six of Wands is a triumphant, joyful card. The strife in the Five of Wands has been resolved, and the victory is celebrated.
An interpretation of the Six of Wands that reflects the Lovers is one of triumph, celebration, beauty, and hope. The right choice has been made, and victory is the result. (In this version of the story of Adam and Eve, Eve has not succumbed to temptation).
In the Lovers, two people are blessed by an angel; in the Six of Wands, the victor has been crowned with laurels. In both cases, peace and harmony can be assumed.
Because the card is numerically linked to the Devil, we should take different interpretations into account, especially if the card is reversed or falls in an unfavourable position.
The image on the card has no context, which means the victory depicted by the Six of Wands is ambiguous. We don’t know what kind of victory this is, or what happened to the vanquished. Or was it perhaps a pyrrhic victory, with many soldiers lost?
Is the rider filled the joy and love of the Lovers, or the pride and arrogance of the Devil?
Is this man perhaps not returning, but setting out for war, with the possibility of defeat and even death?
We can also look at the scene with the eyes of those standing around the rider. For the spectators, there may be no celebration, no beauty, and a sense of hopelessness. Are they sharing in the joy of victory, or filled with fear and hate?
In the Devil, the blessing is that of the Devil, not an angel. The Devil is about slavery and imprisonment, the losers in a fight, or the wrong choices made.
What is interesting, is that Etteilla saw service and even slavery in the Six of Wands.
According to Crowley, because six is associated with Tiphareth, the four sixes represent the practical best of their element.
The titles that the Golden Dawn gave to these cards reflect this: Lord of Victory (Wands), Lord or Pleasure (Cups), Lord of Earned Success (Swords), and Lord of Material Success (Pentacles).
Crowley titled the Six of Swords ‘Science,’ suggesting clarity of thought, discrimination, and research.
The four ‘six' cards all display the qualities usually associated with six: beauty, virtue, completion, practical deeds, success, service, and balance restored. Each card portrays these qualities according to the nature of its suit.
In the fire suit Wands, the beauty of Tiphareth is conveyed in courage and a hard-won victory. In Cups, the suit of emotion and relationships, Tiphareth is expressed in pleasure, love, and generosity. Swords, the suit of rational thinking and communication, shows a relief of mental anguish and a victory over fear, or—if you prefer Crowley’s interpretation—clear thinking and the fruits thereof. Pentacles, the suit of practicality and material matters, display practical generosity and sharing of wealth.
All four cards demonstrate practical help to others, a deed intended to improve the life of others.
The cards also depict more than one person, emphasizing the aspect of community and teamwork.
At the same time, all four cards can be interpreted less favourably. The Wands card may depict a victory that came at a high cost; the soldier and fortress in the Six of Cups suggest danger of some kind; the Six of Swords has a sense of defeat and hopelessness; and the Six of Pentacles shows poverty and perhaps a patronizing attitude. And could the man be giving money to one beggar, but not the other?
Victory (Six of Wands) follows strife (Five of Wands).
From the Five to the Nine, the Wands suit is associated with fighting and war. In typical Wands fashion, battles are fought (and won) with courage and determination.
The Fire suit is not about long-term victories and success; a fight (Five of Wands) disturbs the domestic peace (Four of Wands). The fight is won and celebrated (Six of Wands), but in the Seven of Wands, a new battle starts. The Six of Wands is about victory, but not lasting peace.
The concepts in Fighting fair: The Five of Wands (Part 1) can be combined and recombined in various configurations. This post lists some of the possibilities:
From the peace and harmony of the Four of Wands, we move to the fights, struggles, irritations and contests in the Five of Wands.
Let’s take a look at the elements that often go into the interpretation of the Five of Wands.
Both Wands and Fire have been discussed in previous posts (see ‘Related Posts’ below). In summary, Wands are about direction, control, power, intent, and will. They are associated with effort and hard work, and with its phallic shape, masculine characteristics such as drive, ambition, energy, and action.
Fire, on the other hand, implies heat, light, energy, and growth. It is also associated with purification, desire, destruction, sacrifice and divinity. Being pure energy, Fire has no form of its own, and left without fuel, will soon burn out (but maybe not until it has destroyed everything that can burn). It signifies both the spark of life and the spark of inspiration.
In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the life-giving power of Fire is represented by growing leaves on the Wands.
In combination, Wands and Fire represent ideas and creativity, magic, and transformative power. The Wands personality is charismatic, passionate, enthusiastic, optimistic, and dynamic. When the power of Wands and the all-devouring energy of Fire combine, there is change, action, conflict, struggle, and suffering, but also celebration, victory, and strength in adversity.
The Suit of Wands usually represents creativity, business and career matters, and spirituality.
* Some Tarotists prefer to associate Wands with Air, in which case you will combine the characteristics of wands with those of air. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose teachings still have a major influence on Tarot, associated Wands with Fire.
All meaning in Tarot is associative, that is, all elements and symbols take on the meaning(s) most often associated with them. When card meanings differ from and contradict each other, the cause is often different interpretations of one or more symbols. The number five is a good example of divergent associations.
Four represents a world of structure, order, control, and security. Everything changes, however; all things grow and decay. And so four gives way to five; to chaos, destruction, and loss.
Four represents a successful harvest. Before new seed can be sown, the soil needs to be prepared. Five is the upheaval and disruption of tilling, but also the possibility of fertility and growth, and therefore health and vitality. It is the transitional phase to an even deeper balance and harmony.
It brings with it freedom, but also disruption, instability, and alteration.
If seen as change and unpredictability, Five is a number of creativity. Creative inspiration is stifled in the unchanging world of four, but flourishes where everything is in flux. Times of transition and uncertainty open new possibilities and expanded horizons.
Where four defines a three-dimensional shape (the pyramid), five represents the fourth dimension, which is time. Time brings change and growth, but also endings, loss, and decay.
To Christians, the number might suggest the five wounds of Christ, another image of pain and violence. It is also an image of sacrifice.
Just as four is the square, five is the pentagram, or five-pointed star. When the star is upright (one point upward and two down), the pentagram signifies humanity: we have four limbs, and the head makes a fifth protrusion. (See the image below, from Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's Libri tres de occulta philosophia. Agrippa was a sixteenth-century German physician and alchemist.)
Because five is the number of humanity, it signifies that humankind is a mixture of good and bad.
The Pythagoreans saw five as the number of marriage, of mystic harmony, the joining of heaven and earth and the union of male and female in marriage. Five is the sum of two and three (5=2+3); two represents the earth and the feminine, while three stands for the sacred (see the post on the Three of Wands). Three is also the first odd number, and therefore male. (Remember that the Pythagoreans did not regard one as a real number.)
Five can also be written as 4+1, which is the union of the material (four) and the divine (one).
If Five is written as 2+1+2, with two signifying duality, we can say that five is the balance between opposing forces, and that it can mediate and negotiate where there is conflict and opposition (two). It can also mean that man and woman are equal, with God as the balancer in between.
The Pythagoreans regarded five as a circular number, because when squared, 5 is always part of the solution: 52 = 25, 55 = 3125.
Three and four both signal completion, the end of a cycle. Five is completion in a different way: that of totality, holism, a whole. This is because five fingers make a hand and five toes make a foot. (Sort of.) Five points make a ‘man’ (see Agrippa’s diagram above). Five senses let us form a picture of the (material) world around us.
‘Whole’ and ‘completion’ mean comprehensiveness, and from there we go to comprehension and understanding.
In the fire suit, five is about movement, constant activity, and restlessness; movement not only because five is a circular number, but also because the pentagram is an infinite shape. You can trace the lines over and over, without coming to a stop. (See Eliphas Lévi’s Pentagram on the right, from his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, 1855).
Unlike the Four of Wands, which looks to the past, five focuses on the future.
The Kabbalistic system assigns significance to numbers according to the ten sephiroth on the Tree of Life.
The fifth sephirah on the Tree is Gevurah (or Geburah), often translated as strength, judgement, power, restraint, severity, or discipline. Where Chesed is mercy, Gevurah is perfect justice.
Associations that flow from “justice” include difficult decisions, duty, rewards and punishment, sowing and reaping, morality, and fear.
Mars, the god of war, is assigned to Gevurah, where he strengthens the severity of the sephirah with power and authority.
As counterpoint to Chesed—the Expressed Father—Gevurah is the Expressed Mother. This means that five is both female and, as an odd number, male. Again we can say that five expresses the equality and union of man and woman.
Five can be a turning point or a pivot. Why? In the sequence of the single-digit numbers, five is the middle number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. It stands between beginning (one) and completion (nine), which means five is a significant number. Whatever happens in five, choices and actions will influence the rest of the suit.
Five goes to the heart of the matter, the very centre of attention.
Five can therefore also represent mediation and negotiation between parties.
Five can be a spiritual number because there are five books in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, that is, the Law); Jesus received five wounds on the cross; and 5=2+3, in this case with two referring to the twofold command to love God and your neighbour, and three to the Trinity.
Mediaeval alchemists added aether to the four elements fire, water, air, and earth. They believed that aether was the same or a similar substance to what heavenly bodies are made of. Aether is also often associated with spirit.
William Wynn Westcott, co-founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, muses that five can refer to a demi-goddess, for five is half the decad (10), which is divine.
Westcott also suggests that five can refer to twins, because it divides the decad into two equal parts (5+5=10). (Numbers: Their occult power and mystic virtues.)
The Golden Dawn assigned the first decan of Leo (Saturn in Leo) to the Five of Wands. Picatrix described this decan as one of boldness, liberality, victory, cruelty, lust, and violence.
Saturn, as the furthest planet that could be seen with the naked eye (that is, the planet was seen as the boundary of the universe), is the planet of restriction, boundaries, limits, discipline, duty, and the rigid enforcement of the law. Saturn is the Roman equivalent of Cronos (a titan), often confused with Chronos, the personification of time. Due to this confusion, Saturn is also the master of time (or Father Time), and therefore growth, loss and decay.
Saturn is in detriment in Leo, which might mean that fiery, wilful Leo has to suppress his enthusiasm and impulsiveness. The result could be explosive, turning Leo’s natural authority and courage to cruelty, lust, and violence.
The Golden Dawn’s interpretation is a combination of characteristics of Gevurah and Saturn in Leo. They agree with Picatrix’s view (cruelty, violence, lust), and add rashness and wastefulness. Their title for the card is “Lord of Strife.” Crowley agreed.
Waite, however, seems to give the energy and competitiveness of five and the exuberance of Wands greater emphasis. He sees “mimic warfare” and “sham fights,” and the “strenuous competition and struggle of the search after riches and fortune” (The Pictorial Key to the Tarot).
The bit about riches and fortune is probably Waite’s attempt to reconcile Etteilla’s interpretation with his. Etteilla perceives gold, riches, luxury, and fortune (and, for some reason, the physical, philosophical, and moral sun) in the card.
Are the boys fighting, or are they trying to form a pentagram with the wands? How serious is the fight?
The corresponding major arcana cards are Trump V, The Hierophant, and Trump XIV, Temperance (14=1+4=5)
Five means trouble in the suit of Wands, and therefore spiritual and sexual problems. And so the Hierophant depicts everything that the Five of Wands is not. The Hierophant shows harmony and a common purpose; In the Five of Wands there is conflict. Instead of loss, the Hierophant suggests “found.”
Spiritual power turns into the fight for temporal power. Perfect peace has become restless movement; eternity, the loss and decay of earthly time.
The Hierophant stands for convention, tradition, morality, the tried-and-true, conventional wisdom, social norms, formal education, and marriage. He also represents perfect justice—tempered by mercy and forgiveness—and appropriate expression of sexual desire.
The Five of Wands depicts the struggle against rules and conventions. The card could also suggest a loss of the inhibitions and restraints necessary in a civilized society. Depending on how violent you see the fight, this struggle could free creative inspiration, or remove the social restraints that keep us civilized.
Temperance is another foil for the aggression displayed on the Five of Wands. Trump XIV shows the most positive aspects of five—moderation, balance, successful combination, blending, and harmony—while Wands turn to violence and, depending on how aggressive you think the card is, cruelty and lust.
The fives in the suits are about hardship and loss, and the worst that the suit could bring. In the Five of Cups we find emotional pain; in the Five of Swords, despair and mental anguish; in the Five of Pentacles, poverty and illness.
Like the Four of Wands, the Five of Wands can be seen as the most positive of the four cards. The exuberance and enthusiasm of Wands could result in not much more than lost tempers and perhaps the ‘aggression’ of a war game. On the other hand, if repressed anger boils over and the boys lose their inhibitions, the fight could lead to bloodshed and depravity.
The Four of Wands suggests perfect peace and domesticity. Change is inevitable, however, or growth will come to a complete standstill. In the Five, peace is disrupted, harmony becomes a fight, order becomes disorder. Peeking ahead, we can see the victor riding triumphantly away. But what happened to those who lost the fight?
The divinatory meanings most often applied to the Four of Wands are home, completion, reward, celebration, and rest after hard labour. These concepts derive from the elements discussed in Time out! The Four of Wands (Part 1), in particular a combination of number, suit, element and decan.
These are, of course, not the only interpretations of the Four of Wands. Even when the same elements are combined, each tarotist will have her or his own interpretation of these concepts. Each tarotist may further use different esoteric systems with the cards, or combine the concepts with a specific theme (such as feminism)—or a storyline (such as the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table)—or prefer to emphasize one or two aspects over the others.
For creative problem solving, the more you can see in the card, and the more the card evokes, the better for stimulating ideas.
Below are suggestions of keywords and phrases for the Four of Wands, based on various combinations of the concepts, and divided into several categories. You will see that some concepts contradict each other as much as others complement each other. Choose the ones that seem the most appropriate to the situation, or that engage your imagination the most.
preparing, consolidating, refining, or perfecting a creative project
creating order, de-cluttering, preparing a work surface
constraints such as deadlines or a tight budget
The Four of Wands is a card of joy, celebration, and reward. It is also a card of home and the warmth of the fireplace.
It comes after the completed cycle of Ace, Two, and Three of Wands, but acts like a bridge between the first and the next cycle. The Four of Wands both celebrates what has been achieved, and starts the Four, Five, and Six cycle.
Wands are symbols of control, order, direction, intent, and healing. Wands usually depict hard work or effort, not least because the suit has in the past been associated with the farmer class in mediaeval feudal society. Wands therefore represent labourers and peasants.
Wands are also associated with ideas. The suit tells the story of ideas, from the spark of inspiration to the effort and reward of implementing innovative ideas.
These elements are often combined with the qualities of Fire: passion, energy, and action. Fire is associated with heat, light, energy and, in the Tarot world, life and growth.
The two elements are more fully discussed in First fruits: The Three of Wands (Part 1), Personal power perplexed: Two of Wands (Part 1), So, you drew the Ace of Wands in a reading? and Making meaning: The wand as a symbol.
Four was an ideal number to the Pythagoreans and their followers. The number signifies the material world, solidity, order, stability, security, and permanence. It also indicates justice (“a square deal”), balance, and wholeness.
Here is why:
Four is the first number to create a three-dimensional shape: the pyramid or tetrahedron. (Remember: one is a point, two a line, and three a triangle.)
A tetrahedron is solid, tangible, and real. The Pythagoreans regarded four to be the source of all that is three-dimensional.
To the Pythagoreans, four signified justice, because it is the first evenly-even number. An evenly-even number is one that can be divided into two equal numbers (in this case, 4=2+2).
Four therefore became associated with honesty, trustworthiness, and reliability. We acknowledge this when we say “square deal,” “fair and square,” and “square play.”
As 2+2, four is twice as balanced as two.
Being perfectly balanced, four is a point of stillness, of catching breath before moving on.
Four unites and resolves all dualities signified by two, resulting in a unity and harmony that surpass those of three.
Four also contains twice the wisdom ascribed to the twos.
“Twice as” is not necessarily a good thing. A four can be still to the point of stagnation; unity and harmony taken too far can result in passivity, apathy, and sluggishness. Wisdom gained is useless if it is not carried out into the world. For the fours, the danger is withdrawing from the world, feeling bored and dissatisfied with what has been gained, and trying to cling to what may seem to give security.
Four lines form a square, a shape traditionally associated with Earth and the material world.
A square represents a rational division of space, all parts being equal. It contains four equal sides and four right angles, symbolizing perfection, precision, regularity, exact measurement, and order. It epitomizes symmetry, and therefore perfection.
A square defines an enclosed space which, taking all above associations into account, represents a safe haven or home.
Four is more stable than three, the way a chair with four legs is more stable than one with three. A pyramid is also unlikely to fall over.
However, four sacrifices energy for stability. A square stands securely, almost “planted.” Four has the lowest energy of all the numbers so far, and the Fours in the Tarot suits mostly reflect this.
As the first number that can create a three-dimensional object, four has traditionally been associated with the material world. We talk about the four corners of the world and the four winds. There are four phases of the Moon, four seasons, four (classical) elements, four directions.
In the astrological scheme of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the number four is associated with both the planet Earth and the Sun.
The Pythagoreans regarded the number 10 as signifying the universe, the source of everything. From 11 onwards, all numbers can be reduced to 10. For example, 12=1+2=3, 251=2+5+1=8.
Ten is one again (1+0=1), but at a higher level. One, of course, is the ultimate symbol of unity and wholeness, the unity that was before two brought division and polarity. One is the source of everything, and is equated with the divine.
The number four carries some of the potency of ten. If you add all the numbers preceding four to four, it creates 10: 1+2+3+4=10.
The tetraktys, a sacred symbol to the Pythagoreans, is a visual representation of this expression. It is a triangular arrangement of ten points arranged in four rows. The tetraktys shows that ten evolves from the first four numbers:
The tetraktys, which means “a set of four things,” embraces physical reality: the four elements, the four seasons, the four directions, etc., and all three dimensions of the material world.
The fourth sephirah on the Tree of Life is Chesed, which can be translated as “mercy.” It can also mean grace, gentleness, and loving-kindness. These qualities can exist only once wisdom (two, or Chokmah) and understanding (three, or Binah) have been assimilated.
Chesed starts the second triangle on the Tree of Life. It falls in the second of the four worlds, Beriah, usually translated as “World of Creation”.
According to the Kabbalists, Chesed signifies the first day of creation, when God separated light from darkness. In Chesed the divine enters creation.
The six sephiroth that follow Chesed represent days two to seven of creation.
The space between the first two triangles on the Tree of Life is called the “abyss.” It is what separates the divine from creation. Chesed is therefore the first sephirah after the abyss and the first hint of solidification and materialization.
Chesed, as the first day of creation, brings order, and thus organization—arrangement, government, the law.
The Pythagoreans divided numbers into male (odd numbers) and female (even numbers). Because they did not consider two to be a real number*, four is the first of the female numbers.
However, Chesed is located on the right (male) pillar (the Pillar of Mercy) on the Tree of Life.
Chesed sits beneath Chokmah, which is called the Supernal Father. In turn, Chesed is called the Expressed Father, a step away from divinity and slightly more accessible to us.
Both Fire and Aries (the sign of the zodiac assigned to the Four of Wands), have masculine qualities; on the other hand, grace and loving-kindness seem more feminine.
As four is about balance and unity, we can say that the masculine and feminine energies are well-balanced in this card.**
Four, as the symbol 4, consists of a triangle (the top part) and a t-square (the bottom part); these are tools used for measuring, planning, surveying, and building. These practical, hands-on activities, done to precision, result in well-constructed structures and precisely defined boundaries.
The Kabbalists called the number four the Measuring Intelligence.
As measuring intelligence, four gathers, measures, weighs, analyses and classifies the material world. It is careful and conservative, measuring each action before carrying it out. It judges, assesses, distributes and limits according to what is fair.
Three is the end of a cycle; four starts the next. Four looks back towards the past, however, to what has been achieved. Look at the symbol 4: it seems to point back to 3. The triangle in the upper part is also a symbol for three.
Four is the number of memory, of gathering, classifying and recording the present and the past.
Because four is a rational number, focuses on the past, and represents memory, it can signify a breakthrough in a problem. Once you have gathered all the significant facts, and combined them with your knowledge and expertise, the answer becomes clear.
Too much focus on the past can lead to boredom, stagnation, insecurity, and materialism. Four can warn you that you are stuck in a rut. It is not a creative number; it is practical and reliable, but relies on “what has worked before.”
Venus in Aries, (21° to 30°)
The Golden Dawn assigned the third decan of Aries to the Four of Wands, a decan that Picatrix described as one of beauty and subtlety. (Picatrix is the astrological source the Order used.)
Venus, goddess of love, represents attraction, desire, sexuality, beauty, luxury, femininity, and sensual pleasure. Although she is in detriment in Aries, she is not overwhelmed, and her influence is apparent. Venus is assigned to the Empress.
The 18th-century occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette—better known as Etteilla—was the first to give divinatory meanings to all 78 cards (including reverse meanings).
Like the Golden Dawn, Etteilla seems to have based his interpretations on astrology and the four elements. We know that Etteilla and his students strongly influenced the Golden Dawn, in particular Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and Arthur Edward Waite. In turn, many of the meanings ascribed to Tarot cards today are based on those of Golden Dawn members Waite and Aleister Crowley.
Etteilla saw a strong social or communal element in the Four of Wands.
The Golden Dawn called the Four of Wands “Lord of Perfected Work,” emphasizing hard work (Wands), the ending of a cycle (Four), and beauty (Venus).
Arthur Edward Waite emphasized safety and domesticity.
Crowley named the card “completion”.
Even though many modern decks are based on those of Waite and Crowley, there is no need to stick to their or any other deck creator’s explanations. You may see something in the image that is different from what the designer wanted to portray, or you may find personal associations arising when you look at the image.
On Waite’s Four of Wands, the image is based on Waite’s interpretation, “country life, haven of refuge, a species of domestic harvest-home, repose, concord, harmony, prosperity, peace, and the perfected work of these.” Can you see that in the image?
Perhaps, to you, the card portrays a “welcome home” party. Or “bon voyage.”
The image is festive, which might make you think of an engagement, wedding, or family reunion. Or perhaps the town is celebrating the end of a siege or a successful harvest. They could be performing a sacred ritual to thank the gods or goddesses for a good harvest.
Suppose the people are not celebrating, but chasing away demons with some ritual? Or the two people in the foreground might be cheerleaders (in funny clothes), and the people are rejoicing over a win.
Look at the four staves. They form a symmetrical structure, reflecting the order and structure of the number four. Could the staves perhaps form a doorway or window? Are we looking at the scene “with blinkers on,” with tunnel vision? Or are we invited to step through the opening to join the fun? Or maybe the staves form a goal post.
What about the walls and towers in the background (a city? a castle?): to Waite they represent a haven or refuge. You might see a prison, or a symbol of patriarchy.
Look at the bottom third of the image (Rider-Waite deck): are the women on a wall, or perhaps on a stage?
The pip cards—the Aces through Tens—reflect aspects of their corresponding major arcana cards, that is, those cards that bear the same number.
The major arcana cards corresponding to the Four of Wands are Trump IV (the Emperor), and Trump XIII (Death, 13=1+3=4).
Death is a conclusion: a reckoning and an ending. Like the Four of Wands, however, Death also signifies the start of a new cycle.
Death is often associated with judgement; the number four represents justice and mercy.
The Four of Wands therefore carry the judgemental and the regenerative aspects of Death. The old life forms the foundation (Four) on which the new life is built.
The dance of Death is a mediaeval allegory to remind people, no matter how rich and important they are, death comes for everybody. In the Four of Wands, whatever has ended is celebrated with dance. If it is a harvest the people are celebrating, the reaping has been done, and the fruit of the harvest is celebrated. Having done the reaping, Death with his scythe stands just off-stage even in this happy card.
Like the Emperor, the Four of Wands is associated with order, structure, and control. Nature has been tamed, and the walled city reflects both security and civilization. (You might, of course, see the castle or city as a place of imprisonment, in which case the shadow qualities of the Emperor as patriarch—even if he is benevolent—come to the fore.)
The Golden Dawn assigned the Hebrew letter Heh to the Emperor. Heh means ‘window’ or ‘opening’ (literally ‘wind-door'.) The Four of Wands reflects this “window” through the four staves in the foreground, which seem to form an opening for us to enter. The shape formed by the Wands also recalls the shape of Heh, ה.
Both the Four of Wands and the Emperor embody Aries qualities. In the Emperor, the masculine Aries reigns unhindered. In the Four of Wands, we see the influence of Venus in the dance and the impression that ‘home’ is just behind the castle walls.
The fact that Venus, assigned to the Empress, shows up in the Four of Wands is interesting! Could it be that the energy of the Empress—freedom, fecundity, untamed nature—has been carried into the logical, rational, regulated world of the Emperor? Perhaps the joy depicted in the Four of Wands only becomes possible once the masculine and the feminine have been integrated and found balance?
The four suits each have their own character, depending on their suit symbol and element. Each one has a distinctive way of expressing the characteristics of their number.
The threes, especially the Three of Wands, show energy and passion. In contrast, the fours slow down considerably. All the fours demonstrate the aftermath of excitement: the ‘crash’ after the high, the hangover, the too-full feeling after a delicious meal, the need to clean up after the event. The fours are sulky, withdrawn, listless, and insecure.
It is difficult, however, to tone down the exuberance of Wands. You almost literally have to hit them over the head to bring them to a standstill. (Look at the Nine of Wands!) In the four, the Wands energy is still present, but much quieter. It is the only one of the fours to show more than one person, and activity instead of withdrawal. It is also the only four that seems to think there is something worth celebrating.
The first four cards in the Wands suit tell the story of success, and of ideas.
The Ace represents the spark of an idea and the energy to go for it.
The Two draws back to take stock and to make decisions. It weighs the pros and cons before making a move.
The Three suggests that the correct choices had been made, or at least that things are looking good (depending on whether you see the ships going out or coming in). The Three also suggests that the ideas have been established and taken root.
The Four joyously celebrates the success of the first three cards. Ideas and hard work have brought their reward.
In the five, the energy turns to irritation and competitiveness, but in the four there is still a communal, celebratory spirit.
* One is the source of all numbers, therefore it is not a real number; two is likewise not a real number, as it comprises two ones.
** The words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ refer not to male and female, but to qualities traditionally seen as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. They represent duality, each part with its distinct energy.
Have you noticed how often we define problems as what we do not want, or what is negative, painful, or needs to be fixed? Even the word “problem” is problematic: it immediately makes us think of what is imperfect.
What will happen if we focus on the positive instead?
Suppose, instead of asking …
Of course we also have to focus on what is wrong, what is negative and needs to be fixed. But framing a question differently—appreciative inquiry—can help us gain a different perspective.
Appreciative Inquiry as a technique was formulated in the mid-1980s by David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University. He suggested that rather than focusing on the pain, we look towards increasing the pleasure. The technique is also an effective way to identify opportunities and strengths for improvement.
Appreciative Inquiry involves four Ds: Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver. First we define the problem, then we decide where we want to go, how we can get there, and how to do it.
Let’s use these elements in a Tarot spread:
The Sceptic's Tarot is about using Tarot cards for ideas, brainstorming, problem solving, decision-making, planning, goal-setting, motivation, self-exploration, creative activities, counselling, relaxation and more.
There is nothing mystical, esoteric or supernatural involved.
The cards are usually associated with divination. They do not have to be. The Sceptic's Tarot offers a different take on how Tarot cards can be used.