Reaching The Mid-Point: The Sevens in Tarot
This is one of a series of articles that I wrote over my five years as the tarot columnist at Planet Waves. I will be re-releasing these, one at a time, over the coming weeks and months.
Given that the Sevens have made a regular appearance in many of my tarot articles, it might not seem immediately obvious why we should devote another article to them. However, there seem to me to be three compelling reasons to do this.
- It's a good exercise in consolidation: pulling all of the various sources together in a single article affords an element of cohesion that they otherwise wouldn't have.
- When we look at them together, we're able to see themes that we might have missed when we met them individually.
- My ideas about the cards - and one in particular - have shifted now that I have had the opportunity to write about all four of them. So this isn't just a recapping and a review; it's also a re-visioning.
Approaching the Sevens from a broader, thematic viewpoint, let's look at how the minor arcana is structured.
There are 56 cards in the minor arcana, divided into four suits (Wands, Cups, Swords, Aces); and within each suit, the cards run from Ace to Ten, followed by (in the Waite Smith deck) The Page, The Knight, The Queen, and The King. Fourteen cards in all. So, in one respect at least, the Sevens represent the mid-point of their suits.
I'd argue that this mid-point isn't just to do with their chronological location. It is also a pivotal point in the journey that each suit describes.
Once we've left the world of non-incarnate potential (the Aces), the complexities of life on planet Earth start to interact with the cards as they make their way through the suits. So, Twos introduce us to the world of duality, with a hint at the fact that we can never experience something as a pure opposite. Threes develop that idea by looking at what happens when a third element is added to the story -- and so a multi-layered picture of life is constructed in front of our eyes as more layers are added as the cards progress.
In the previous post, we arrived at the Sixes, where the pause of the Fours and the confusion of the Fives brought us to, as I put it, "calmer waters, where we are able to regroup, take stock, and act with more clarity."
In Christianity, the number seven often denotes completion. (For example, God created the world in six days, and then rested on the seventh.) It is also a key number in Hinduism, in Islam, and in Judaism, where, according to Wikipedia, it is a "highly symbolic number in the Torah, alluding to the infusion of spirituality and Godliness into the creation."
We have an opportunity to see ourselves in a different light, and we're only able to do this when we step back and inquire into the nature of who we are. After all, in each card there is one solitary figure who encounters each suit in a particular way.
The images are all quite different, and yet in each one, there's the allusion to a point of choice that is made alone.
Do we continue on a particular course, or do we choose something different?
This cannot be done unless there is insight. And there's no insight without consciousness.
As with the other articles in the series, we'll go through each card individually, looking through the lens at this idea of consciousness. Because I've covered all of the cards to varying degrees in previous articles, much of what I write here will be recapping and reviewing. However, when it comes to the Seven of Swords and the Seven of Pentacles, I'd like to look at the cards in a different light, inspired in no small part by comments I've received over the years. As always, I'd love your thoughts and observations.
I think there's sometimes the temptation to see this card in very straightforward terms - one of fighting the good fight, where the opposing wands are there to thwart the figure, and his purpose is to prevail over them.
In the Seven of Wands, the figure is solitary: this is a battle that he is waging alone. The other wands might be pointed in his direction, but there is no physical attack. At most, there's the threat of attack in the way that the wands are pointed towards him. In spite of no physical damage, the figure seems to be having a hard time of it as he grimaces in the face of his aggressors.
The previous card, the Six of Wands, suggests a moment of victory and recognition as a man rides through a crowd of five jubilantly raised wands, his head and his own wand decked in laurel wreaths. The next card, the Eight of Wands, depicts swift movement as all eight wands move together in flight. There are cohesion and forward motion. Seen in this context, the Seven of Wands feels like a hiccup along the path - a moment where the hero is unexpectedly waylaid by invisible forces.
Is this man doing battle with himself, I wonder?
Wands are about spirit, libido, what lies within waiting to be birthed, and the gifts and talents that we bring to the world. These come in many forms, whether practical skills, ideas, sexuality or works of art.
And so I ask when I look at this card today:
What things awaiting expression are the very things that we fight to suppress in ourselves? There might be battles to wage in the world out there, but when does the fight begin and end with us as individuals? What do we avoid acknowledging in ourselves because we see it as 'the enemy'? If we stopped and invited it in, what would come into awareness?
Maybe this is the true meaning of 'valour' in this reading: the courage to engage in the struggle for self-acceptance. It can feel like a war, but perhaps it's one that needs to be waged before we can be liberated into the decisive and integrated motion of the Eight of Wands.
The Seven of Cups offers us the power of choice, and the power of defining ourselves through that choice.
The card shows seven cups sitting on a cloud - and the cloud here reminds me of the clouds enveloping each of the hands in the Aces: it is representative of the divine in its many forms.
In each cup there is an object: a man's head; a snake; a building that seems carved from the rock it sits on; a mound of jewels and gold; a laurel wreath; a dragon; and a shrouded figure. I've found that when I first look at the card I'm taken in by the sheer number of things in the cups. The magpie in me - somewhat undiscerning, rather taken by the variety, enamoured by the glitter of the jewels - wants to have them all. Or wants to pick something straight away without much thought. I'm drawn to identify with the figure cast in shadow at the front of the card. It seems to represent us: the viewer (or the person for whom we might be doing the reading).
This is our choice, and one we are empowered to make alone.
And then I look at the cups more closely, and in this case, not all cups are equal.
Some can perhaps be eliminated more readily; others remain a bit of a mystery.
Why is there a skull on the cup that holds the laurel wreath, which is usually a symbol of victory? Is it perhaps an indication of what happens if we pursue winning at any cost? Will the 'jewels' reveal themselves to be baubles: pretty to look at but without much value? Or are they genuine and simply a gift, willingly given? Who is that figure who is shrouded, and yet glowing brightly? Does it indicate the need, sometimes, to hold to our faith, even if we cannot see what it is that seems to be welcoming us?
Is anything as straightforward as it first seems?
Having said that, I go back to the one thing that they all have in common: the cloud. All are of the divine. Nothing is left out. There may be many paths, but we all get there in the end.
This has proven to be a very interesting card. A man with five swords in his arms creeps away from two swords that remain on the ground behind him. He is on tiptoe, as if he is avoiding being caught out at something.
My first observation was this: "It feels like deceit in order to gain the upper hand, whether out of shame or ambition. Whatever the motive, the result is the same: in this situation, we do not give of ourselves fully …. The subterfuge does not just affect our thoughts, but also our environment. In short, it affects our experience of the world." In this article, I also pointed out that I had "the feeling that he was unable to carry all seven, and it is only a matter of time before he returns for the other two."
However, as someone else suggested to me once, there might be a subtle but significant shift in the interpretation: is he taking them for himself, or is he preventing someone else from using them? Is that preventative action selfish or altruistic? And, if it is selfish, who's to say that the result of his actions will ultimately be judged as selfish?
Alternatively, can the card be viewed in a wholly positive light, whereby the protagonist is free to take advantage of something that is offering itself to him? What sense of morality, if any, is attached to the card? The only thing we can state with any certainty is that there is more than one possible motive, and there is also more than one possible outcome.
I believe that the allowance for a moral ambiguity to the card is key here, if we go back to the idea of conscious choice. Often, the choices we make are not straightforward, and sometimes acting in accordance with our own sense of truth can throw up all kinds of moral dilemmas. Perhaps, then, the emphasis is on "conscious".
Finally, when I look back at the card, it seems to me that the figure is acting with deliberation, but his eyes are closed. Is there full consciousness after all?
I had previously written this about the Seven of Pentacles:
" man stands in a vineyard, chin resting on a long-handled tool that he has been working with, surveying the product of his labours - seven pentacles which hang like fruit in the vines before him. He seems tired. He has worked hard to get to this stage. It feels hot: the sky is clear - not a cloud in sight to offer any shade - and, apart from the vines, there is little sign of greenery around him. It is as if he has been rearing his crop in an arid landscape, against the odds. Yet he has met with success in spite of this. It reminds me of the vintners in areas such as California, Australia and South Africa, who not only have to work with nature in order to ensure their crops, but also have to work against it, diverting rivers and creating reservoirs to irrigate land that would otherwise be water-less.
Now we have a pause in the proceedings. A moment of review to assess progress. The crop is thriving, but there is still work to do before the pentacles are harvested and yield their value. The man is not yet wealthy: he is dressed well, but plainly, and the fact that he is in the fields means that he is still all too familiar with manual labour. The Seven of Pentacles is concerned with the building of 'sweat equity'. It is only when we reach the Nine and Ten of Pentacles that the figures are promoted to a time of affluent leisure."
I have highlighted two areas in bold type, because I feel that these need to incorporate more of the sense of ambiguity that is expressed in the other three cards. The more I look at the vine, the more my eye is drawn to the brown on the leaves, and not the green. When I look at the Pentacle on the ground, I see it fallen there, rather than harvested, because the vine is not able to sustain it any longer.
So this really is a moment to pause and reflect on progress, and to weigh up carefully the next decision. Does the figure continue on the same trajectory and risk his entire crop? Does he throw in the towel now and start again? Or does he choose to do something different that is significant enough to bring the vine back to full health (green) again? This card is, indeed, about building sweat equity on one level.
The question is: how is that equity built?
As with all the other cards - and most obviously the Seven of Cups - the figure is not without choice. It is the exercising of the choice that determines the outcome.
Going back to the idea of completion with which the number seven is associated in the Creation Myth, we are in a process of creation all the time. In fact, it is we who are the creators of our own experience. It is fitting, therefore, that the Sevens link this act of creation with the idea of consciousness as it pertains to choice.
Often, we create our experience at the default level: we choose the same thing time and again - we walk the path of the unconscious - until something prompts us to do otherwise.
Sometimes we preempt the failing crop by changing how we farm it; and sometimes we need to watch the crop fail before we understand what we can do differently. Sometimes we feel at constant odds with ourselves; and sometimes we are able to put down our battle staff and ask ourselves how we got to this point in the first place.
It is when we exercise the power of choice, rather than have something else choose for us, that we are able to bring something to a close, and to open the doorway onto new possibilities.