Having just realized that it was 10/10/10 (smacks head), I thought it would be neat to examine the 10s of Tarot: Trump 10, Wheel of Fortune, and the four Minor Arcana tens (10 of Wands, 10 of Swords, 10 of Cups and 10 of Pentacles).
When I see the 10s in Tarot, I think of a spiral, with the 10 being the next step upward to another cycle. All of the single digits (1-9) have been completed and we’re now up to the first double digit. Because 10 reduces to 1 in numerology (1 + 0 = 1), the 10s also have something in common with the Aces (1s): new beginnings.
In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the 10s reside in the bottom sphere (sephirah) known as Malchut (pronounced malKOOT). This sphere, known as Kingdom or Manifestation, is the “heaviest” sphere because it’s the lowest on the Tree—the “down and dirty” realm of earthly life. The Aces reside at the tippy-top of the Tree in the sphere of Kether; straight from the Divine in seed form, the Aces are handed to us from the Universe to do what we will with them (or not).
Without getting too deep into the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, there are “worlds” that govern four areas on the Tree. Sephiroth 1, 2 and 3 are within Aziluth, the realm of “first causes” and pure light. It’s considered masculine and associated with the element of FIRE.
The next world is Briah, which contains Sephiroth 4, 5 and 6. This is the realm of intellect and ideals, so it’s associated with the other masculine element, AIR.
The third world is Yetzirah, a realm of formation. Sephiroth 7, 8 and 9 are found in this world, which is associated with the feminine element of WATER.
The last world, and the lowest on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, is Assiah. Only one sphere lives here: Malchut. This is the material world of the feminine element EARTH.
The majority of Tarot enthusiasts ascribe the Minor Arcana suits thusly: Wands=Fire, Swords=Air, Cups=Water and Pentacles=Earth. So, intellectually, you could transpose that association onto the Tree of Life where Atziluth is “like Wands”, Briah is “like Swords”, Yetzirah is “like Cups” and Assiah is “like Pentacles”.
Also, the number of each sephirah on the Tree of Life correspond to the Minor Arcana cards of the same number. Thus, Kether contains the Aces, Chokmah the 2s, Binah the 3s, Chesed the 4s, Geburah the 5s, Tiphereth the 6s, Netzach the 7s, Hod the 8s, Yesod the 9s and lastly—the topic of this post—the 10s will reside in the sephirah of Malchut.
Wands/Fire are fastest (like light), followed by Swords/Air. Things start become weighed down in the world of form (Cups/Water) and are at the heaviest as it enters the material world we live in—you know, the world of money, body, health, possessions, flora, fauna…pretty much everything you experience with your five senses. This last world of Assiah, with sephirah 10, Malchut, and all the Minor Arcana 10s, are heavy dude. Very heavy.
Now, instead of “worlds”, lets call those realms “homes” (to make it a bit cozier). As you well know, some “homes” are comfier than others are—especially depending on the temperament of the owner and the visitor.
What does this all have to do with the 10s in Tarot, especially when it comes to Rider-Waite-Smith decks?
Well, have you ever wondered why the 10 of Pentacles looks like a happy card, as does the 10 of Cups—but the 10 of Swords and the 10 of Wands look positively dreadful? I mean, they’re all 10s, right?
Seeing those cards through the lens of the four “homes” (worlds) of the Tree of Life gives us a clue as to why.
Wands/Fire is most comfortable in the upper “home” of the Tree of Life, the speed-of-light realm of Atziluth. Zip, zip, zip—WOW, talk about fast! Now, what happens when that fast, bright energy—most comfortable at the top with the Aces, Twos and Threes—suddenly has to slow waaaay down in order to manifest in the material world where the 10s reside?
Why, it’s downright burdensome, that’s what! Just look at that poor guy in the 10 of Wands! And why in the name of God is he carrying those sticks so awkwardly? He is cruising for a major backache—or worse. Instead of staying at the realm of the 9, getting healing for those wounds on his head and putting up a defensive barrier, he goes on out and grabs some more freakin’ Wands! And so, the Wands suit in the sephirah of Malchut, numbered 10, is the MOST uncomfortable in this particular home.
Next, we have the often-feared 10 of Swords. Ouchies! Someone needs a chiropractor—or a good acupuncturist! (Or maybe even the undertaker? *wince*). But because the Swords are most comfortable higher up in the Tree, up in the sephirah within the “home” of Briah, they, too, get a beating in the material world of Malchut. However, the 10 of Swords is actually not quite as bad as the 10 of Wands, energetically speaking. Swords/Air are fast, too—as fast as the speed of thought and communication. But look closer at the 10 of Swords: there’s a new day dawning! The man with the swords in his back has nowhere to go but up—(spiraling up to the Aces where he, hopefully, gets a new, refreshed perspective…without the mental overkill).
Now, consider the 10 of Cups, often considered one of the most positive and lovely cards in the Tarot. Water/Cups are the third “home” down on the Tree of Life, encompassing the sephiroth within Yetzirah. Ahhh, now we’re talking. Yetzirah, the world of formation and containment, makes for a comfy home for Water/Cups. Thus, this joyful card is often called the “happy family” card (or, as Tarot author Nina Lee Braden calls it, the “Little House on the Prairie” card). The realm of emotions, intimacy and familial connection feels quite comfortable in the 10s, because it’s so close to its home base.
And now we come to the 10 of Pentacles. Money, land, a multi-generational gathering, luxurious clothing, pets, buildings, family crest, lush vegetation, solid foundation, abundance—this card is right at home in Malchut because, after all, this lone sephirah resides in Assiah, the material world of Earth.
And how about that Wheel of Fortune, Trump 10? Talk about a crapshoot! Nothing in life is guaranteed, is it? Up, down, up, down—ever tossed about by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (to quote Shakespeare). Now, on the Tree of Life, the 21 Trump cards connect the sephiroth via paths. It just so happens that the Wheel of Fortune lies on path 21, connecting sphere 4 (Chesed) with sphere 7 (Netzach).
Interestingly, 4s are all about earthly stability (numerologically speaking), while the 7s often connote vacillation and DE-stabilization (not to mention spiritual truth, higher wisdom and refined intuition). And here’s a Hebraic “funny”: the Wheel of Fortune connects with the Hebrew letter Kaph, which means palm of the hand. I say “funny” because that ol’ Wheel of Fortune can often feel like a “slap across the head” when it barrels down our way! (Those 7s get a bad rap in the Tarot, but I’ll leave that for another post…)
Chesed in is in the world of Air, while Netzach is in the world of Water. Can you say “storm-tossed-freakin’-sea”?!
Actually, I was wrong about nothing being guaranteed in life. There is ONE thing that is guaranteed--the only constant: CHANGE.
So when the Minor Arcana 10s show up in a reading, or that gear-like pit-wheel (think grist mill!) known as the Wheel of Fortune rolls onto your table, take heart. You’re about to spiral up to a higher plane (if you choose) and a higher understanding of this material plane of Malchut.
Card images from the Universal Waite Tarot, published by USGS.