In the meantime one reader writes, regarding my focus on the Marseille Tarots, that they have difficulty with the Pip Cards (called "Minor Arcana" by the 19th-20th century occult writers) of the Marseille decks because they lack the explicitly leading visual symbolism of the post-Golden Dawn decks. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is especially over the top in providing allegorical illustrations for every card in the deck, and Crowley is almost nearly as explicit in his designs of the "Lesser Arcana" - the four suit cards numbered 1-10. Paul Foster Case, in his B.O.T.A. deck returns to the minimalist representations of the Marseille-style decks, even though all of the above decks basically follow the Golden Dawn schema of attributions to the four elements (aces) and 36 decanants of the Roman Zodiac in addition to the 10 Sephiroth of Athanasius Kircher's Cabalistic Tree of Life diagram as used by the Golden Dawn. This is one area where the Golden Dawn architects were not too far "out to lunch". Overall, with only a few exceptions, the Golden Dawn attributions for the "Minor Arcana" are not too far out of line in terms of historical (and Traditional) attributions and qualitive numerological associations. But in general it is best to question and second-guess the Golden Dawn (and most 19th-20th century "occultists") on just about every point.
For reading into the symbolism and qualitive numerical structure of the Marseille decks, we might ask ourselves what materials a contemporary might be working from in the period in which they were created (lets say from the Tarot of Jean Noblet to that of Nicholas Conver, 1650-1780). I would suggest familiarity with Platonism, Neo-Platonism, the surviving elements of Pythagoras, numerical symbolism (explicit and latent) in The Bible, and the works of late medieval and early renaissance thinkers such as Agrippa, Pico, Paracelsus, etc.
Of course there is too much material to post in one simple blog entry, but as an introductory example here we can pull passages from Agrippa's foundational Three Books of Occult Philosophy and Manly P. Hall's excellent paraphrase of the writings of Nicomachus, Theon of Smyrna, Proclus, Porphyry, Plutarch, Clement of Alexandria, Aristotle, and other early authorities in chapter 16 of his monumental Secret Teachings of All Ages. W.W. Westcott's monograph on Numbers is also a useful compendium of historical symbolism.
First, the Golden Dawn attribution of the four elements to the four suits of the Tarot are commonsense. I have laid out the four aces to complete novices who instinctively worked out the same attribution of elemental fire to the wands/batons, water to cups, air to swords, and earth to disks/coins.
The Tarot contrasts to the interesting Minchate decks that include trump cards for the four elements proper (albeit in a different order - Fire, Water, Earth, and Air):
Perhaps the best historical (and Traditional) outline and summary of the symbolism of the four elements and their nature can be found in Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book I, Chap. iii. "Of the four Elements, their qualities, and mutuall mixtions."
There are four Elements, and originall grounds of all corporeall things, Fire, Earth, Water, Aire, of which all elementated inferiour bodies are compounded; not by way of heaping them up together, but by transmutation, and union; and when they are destroyed, they are resolved into Elements. For there is none of the sensible Elements that is pure, but they are more or less mixed, and apt to be changed one into the other: Even as Earth becoming dirty, and being dissolved, becomes Water, and the same being made thick and hard, becometh Earth again; but being evaporated through heat, passeth into Aire, and that being kindled, passeth into Fire, and this being extinguished, returns back again into Aire, but being cooled again after its burning, becometh Earth, or Stone, or Sulphur, and this is manifested by Lightening [lightning]: Plato also was of that opinion, that Earth was wholly changeable, and that the rest of the Elements are changed, as into this, so into one another successively. But it is the opinion of the subtiller sort of Philosophers, that Earth is not changed, but relented and mixed with other Elements, which do dissolve it, and that it returns back into it self again. Now, every one of the Elements hath two specificall qualities, the former whereof it retains as proper to it self, in the other, as a mean, it agrees with that which comes next after it. For Fire is hot and dry, the Earth dry and cold, the Water cold and moist, the Aire moist and ot. And so after this manner the Elements, according to two contrary qualities, are contrary one to the other, as Fire to Water, and Earth to Aire. Moreover, the Elements are upon another account opposite one to the other: For some are heavy, as Earth and Water, and others are light, as Aire and Fire. Wherefore the Stoicks called the former passives, but the latter actives. And yet once again Plato distinguished them after another manner, and assigns to every one of them three qualities, viz. to the Fire brightness, thinness and motion, but to the Earth darkness, thickness and quietness. And according to these qualities the Elements of Fire and Earth are contrary. But the other Elements borrow their qualities from these, so that the Aire receives two qualities of the Fire, thinness and motion; and one of the Earth, viz. darkness. In like manner Water receives two qualities of the Earth, darkness and thickness, and one of Fire, viz. motion. But Fire is twice more thin then Aire, thrice more movable, and four times more bright: and the Aire is twice more bright, thrice more thin, and four times more moveable then Water. Wherefore Water is twice more bright then Earth, thrice more thin, and four times more movable. As therefore the Fire is to the Aire, so Aire is to the Water, and Water to the Earth; and again, as the Earth is to the Water, so is the Water to the Aire, and the Aire to the Fire. And this is the root and foundation of all bodies, natures, vertues, and wonderfull works; and he which shall know these qualities of the Elements, and their mixtions, shall easily bring to pass such things that are wonderfull, and astonishing, and shall be perfect in Magick.
Chap. 4. Of a Three-fold Consideration of the Elements.
Chap. 5. Of the Wonderful Natures of Fire and Earth.
Chap. 6. Of the Wonderful Natures of Water, Air and Winds.
For the historical Tarot suits we must fall back on Traditional practice of correspondence rather than direct obvious representation such as found in the Minchiate trumps. Here we have the Tarot suits: Batons (Fire); Cups (Water); Swords/Daggers (Air); and Discs/Coins (Earth):
Above we have picture the four aces, attributed to the monad, unitary concept, the numeral 1. In Manly P. Hall's summary of classical sources we read:
Monad--1--is so called because it remains always in the same condition--that is, separate from multitude. Its attributes are as follows: It is called mind, because the mind is stable and has preeminence; hermaphrodism, because it is both male and female; odd and even, for being added to the even it makes odd, and to the odd, even; God, because it is the beginning and end of all, but itself has neither beginning nor end; good, for such is the nature of God; the receptacle of matter, because it produces the duad, which is essentially material.
By the Pythagoreans monad was called chaos, obscurity, chasm, Tartarus, Styx, abyss, Lethe, Atlas, Axis, Morpho (a name for Venus), and Tower or Throne of Jupiter, because of the great power which abides in the center of the universe and controls the circular motion of the planers about itself. Monad is also called germinal reason, because it is the origin of all the thoughts in the universe. Other names given to it were: Apollo, because of its relation to the sun; Prometheus, because he brought man light; Pyralios, one who exists in fire; geniture, because without it no number can exist; substance, because substance is primary; cause of truth; and constitution of symphony: all these because it is the primordial one.
Between greater and lesser the monad is equal; between intention and remission it is middle; in multitude it is mean; and in time it is now, because eternity knows neither past nor future. It is called Jupiter, because he is Father and head of the gods; Vesta, the fire of the home, because it is located in the midst of the universe and remains there inclining to no side as a dot in a circle; form, because it circumscribes, comprehends, and terminates; love, concord, and piety, because it is indivisible. Other symbolic names for the monad are ship, chariot, Proteus (a god capable of changing his form), Mnemosyne, and Polyonymous (having many names).
Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book II, Chap. iv. Of Unity, and the Scale thereof
W.W. Westcott's Numbers, Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues, The Monad. 1.
Above are pictured the four deuces, reflecting duality and the number 2. Again, from Hall:
The following symbolic names were given to the duad--2--because it has been divided, and is two rather than one; and when there are two, each is opposed to the other: genius, evil, darkness, inequality, instability, movability, boldness, fortitude, contention, matter, dissimilarity, partition between multitude and monad, defect, shapelessness, indefiniteness, indeterminate ness, harmony, tolerance, root, feet of fountain-abounding idea, top, Phanes, opinion, fallacy, alterity, diffidence, impulse, death, motion, generation, mutation, division, longitude, augmentation, composition, communion, misfortune, sustentation, imposition, marriage, soul, and science.
In his book, Numbers, W. Wynn Westcott says of the duad: "it was called 'Audacity,' from its being the earliest number to separate itself from the Divine One; from the 'Adytum of God-nourished Silence,' as the Chaldean oracles say."
As the monad is the father, so the duad is the mother; therefore, the duad has certain points in common with the goddesses Isis, Rhea (Jove's mother), Phrygia, Lydia, Dindymene (Cybele), and Ceres; Erato (one of the Muses); Diana, because the moon is forked; Dictynna, Venus, Dione, Cytherea; Juno, because she is both wife and sister of Jupiter; and Maia, the mother of Mercury.
While the monad is the symbol of wisdom, the duad is the symbol of ignorance, for in it exists the sense of separateness--which sense is the beginning of ignorance. The duad, however, is also the mother of wisdom, for ignorance--out of the nature of itself--invariably gives birth to wisdom.
The Pythagoreans revered the monad but despised the duad, because it was the symbol of polarity. By the power of the duad the deep was created in contradistinction to the heavens. The deep mirrored the heavens and became the symbol of illusion, for the below was merely a reflection of the above. The below was called maya, the illusion, the sea, the Great Void, and to symbolize it the Magi of Persia carried mirrors. From the duad arose disputes and contentions, until by bringing the monad between the duad, equilibrium was reestablished by the Savior-God, who took upon Himself the form of a number and was crucified between two thieves for the sins of men.
Agrippa, Book II, Chap. v. Of the Number of Two, and the Scale thereof.
Westcott, The Dyad. 2. http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/nop/nop08.htm
M.P. Hall's summary:
The triad--3--is the first number actually odd (monad not always being considered a number). It is the first equilibrium of unities; therefore, Pythagoras said that Apollo gave oracles from a tripod, and advised offer of libation three times. The keywords to the qualities of the triad are friendship, peace, justice, prudence, piety, temperance, and virtue. The following deities partake of the principles of the triad: Saturn (ruler of time), Latona, Cornucopiæ, Ophion (the great serpent), Thetis, Hecate, Polyhymnia (a Muse), Pluto, Triton, President of the Sea, Tritogenia, Achelous, and the Faces, Furies, and Graces. This number is called wisdom, because men organize the present, foresee the future, and benefit by the experiences of the fast. It is cause of wisdom and understanding. The triad is the number of knowledge--music, geometry, and astronomy, and the science of the celestials and terrestrials. Pythagoras taught that the cube of this number had the power of the lunar circle.
The sacredness of the triad and its symbol--the triangle--is derived from the fact that it is made up of the monad and the duad. The monad is the symbol of the Divine Father and the duad of the Great Mother. The triad being made of these two is therefore androgynous and is symbolic of the fact that God gave birth to His worlds out of Himself, who in His creative aspect is always symbolized by the triangle. The monad passing into the duad was thus capable of becoming the parent of progeny, for the duad was the womb of Meru, within which the world was incubated and within which it still exists in embryo.
Manly P. Hall's summary:
The tetrad--4--was esteemed by the Pythagoreans as the primogenial number, the root of all things, the fountain of Nature and the most perfect number. All tetrads are intellectual; they have an emergent order and encircle the world as the Empyreum passes through it. Why the Pythagoreans expressed God as a tetrad is explained in a sacred discourse ascribed to Pythagoras, wherein God is called the Number of Numbers. This is because the decad, or 10, is composed of 1, 2, 3, and 4. The number 4 is symbolic of God because it is symbolic of the first four numbers. Moreover, the tetrad is the center of the week, being halfway between 1 and 7. The tetrad is also the first geometric solid.
Pythagoras maintained that the soul of man consists of a tetrad, the four powers of the soul being mind, science, opinion, and sense. The tetrad connects all beings, elements, numbers, and seasons; nor can anything be named which does not depend upon the tetractys. It is the Cause and Maker of all things, the intelligible God, Author of celestial and sensible good, Plutarch interprets this tetractys, which he said was also called the world, to be 36, consisting of the first four odd numbers added to the first four even numbers, thus:
1 + 3 +5 +7 = 16
2 + 4 + 6 + 8= 20
16+20 = 36
Keywords given to the tetrad are impetuosity, strength, virility, two-mothered, and the key keeper of Nature, because the universal constitution cannot be without it. It is also called harmony and the first profundity. The following deities partook of the nature of the tetrad: Hercules, Mercury, Vulcan, Bacchus, and Urania (one of the Muses).
The triad represents the primary colors and the major planets, while the tetrad represents the secondary colors and the minor planets. From the first triangle come forth the seven spirits, symbolized by a triangle and a square. These together form the Masonic apron.
Hall concludes his summary with the comment, "The decimal system can probably be traced back to the time when it was customary to reckon on the fingers, these being among the most primitive of calculating devices and still in use among many aboriginal peoples." This hints at one of the diverse ways the Tarot reflects directly the primordial symbolism of human anatomy and how it relates from Microcosm to Macrocosm in the Traditional Hermetic sense.