I would like to propose a new theory about the ordering of the zodiac cards in the Minchiate, with some further suggestions regarding the overall order and structure of the deck.
The idea is based on an earlier hypothesis given by Ross Caldwell here:
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The key insight to this theory is that the Cancer card # 30 served as a pivot for pairing up the other zodiac signs. But, whereas the earlier theory posed the Rulerships of the planets as a design feature, I believe that instead it was the Exaltations.
Of the seven classical ‘planets’, the Sun and Moon each rule one zodiac sign; Saturn, Juppiter, Mars, Venus, & Mercury each rule two. And among the 12 signs, 7 of them are considered the Exaltation of a classical planet, and 5 are not. There is overlap here, which is the origin of the difficulty in placing the Minchiate zodiac. The Sun rules a sign (Leo) which is not also an Exaltation; the Moon rules a sign (Cancer) which IS also an Exaltation. Four of the planets rule two signs, one of which is an Exaltation, and Venus rules two signs, BOTH of which are an Exaltation (Taurus and Libra). This duality for Venus is what causes an imbalance; complete symmetry would only be achieved if the Sun ruled a sign of Exaltation, and Venus had only one of her ruling signs as an Exaltation. So that is the background against which the order of the zodiac had to be determined.
If we accept Ross’s premise that the sign of Cancer acted as a pivot, with the other signs being paired on either side of it, it can be seen that the first two pairs are indeed ruled by two different planets, Juppiter and Saturn. Then Mars is split over two pairs, and the only way to save that rule is to have both signs of Mars joined together to balance out the Sun, followed by Mercury paired with Venus and vice-versa. This has enough structure to show that it wasn’t by chance, but not enough to show a consistent rule. Why is this the case? The designer of the pack could have very easily started with the sign of Leo ruled by the Sun, and then had 5 pairs ruled by 5 different planets, ending with Cancer ruled by the Moon. This is Basic Astrology 101. But the designer chose not to do the obvious.
They also eschewed a very simple arrangement of ruling planets. Ross had noted that both Rulerships of Mars come in sequence (Scorpio-Aries), but if Aries and Leo were kept on the same pair, only swapped in their positions, you would have the first 7 signs ruled by 7 different planets, and the last 5 signs ruled by 5 different planets (without the Lights). But this was not done, even though all other design parameters would have been maintained. I find this strong evidence that the Rulership was not the defining feature of this sequence. Because the designer repeatedly chose to not do the obvious, we are entitled to look for an alternative explanation. I propose that the alternative is found in the Exaltations of the planets, as shown in the following diagram (I will use English translations of the original card names).
The numerals are those found on the cards, (excepting the last five, which aren’t always numbered, but their sequence implies the numbers from 36-40). The 20 new cards were added en bloc ending at position number 35. This is a clue to the sequence. Beginning with Libra, the sequence has 5 cards before Cancer, then 5 more after it. On either side of Cancer, the pairs of signs include exactly one sign that is an Exaltation; the final pair is Libra and the Star.
It is very important to note the numbers on these cards. The sum of the numbers on the zodiac cards is 354. This is the number of days in 12 synodic lunar months, and thus constitutes a lunar 'year', symbolizing the Moon in each of the 12 signs. And each pair surrounding the Cancer card has numerals that sum to 60. This number is the basis of the design, both for the zodiac and the Minchiate as a whole.
60 is one of the most symbolic numbers in the history of arithmology. It goes all the way back to the Babylonians, founders of astronomy/astrology. It is important because of its flexibility – all the integers from 1 to 6 are factors of it. But it has a very specific role in the Minchiate, because 60 is the Golden Ratio point of the 97-card deck: 97 / 60 = 1.6166
It is entirely possible that the tarot deck was expanded to have 97 cards precisely because 97 is the golden ratio pair to the number 60. We could also do this from the other direction: 60 x 1.618034 = 97.082. Once you have two successive numbers established in the golden ratio, the others follow from it, as in the famous Fibonacci sequence. In this case, the numbers would be: 1 – 4 – 5 – 9 – 14 – 23 – 37 – 60 – 97.
So, within a deck of 97 cards, both position 37 and position 60 is important. The cards are not numbered beyond the 40 majors, so position 60 is one of the minor cards, (possibly the 5 of Cups). Position 37 however, is held by the Moon. And depicted on this card is an astronomer with a pair of compasses, with which he can either chart the heavens, or divide a line ‘into extreme and mean ratio’ i.e., into the golden ratio.
I submit that the 20 new cards added en bloc were positioned specifically to make the Moon card number 37, as the golden ratio point of the entire deck. With this card being pre-eminent, the next phase is to order the zodiac around Cancer, ruled by the Moon. This sign is, in turn, the Exaltation of Juppiter, which perhaps suggested the next pair of signs outward, which are both ruled by Juppiter, one of which is the Exaltation of Venus. The pairs continue from there, and wind up with Libra, ruled by Venus and the Exaltation of Saturn. This is necessarily paired with the Star, and this pairing is likely the reason for starting the sequence with Libra.
Libra is the Balances, and it appears that the whole idea behind the Minchiate was to create pairs that are balanced. Thus, the deck was expanded by doubling the 20 majors with 20 new cards. These new cards pair up with each other, as well as the five final cards - four of which line up with the four elements. But the specific pairing of Libra with the Star is pertinent because it symbolizes the sign ruled by Venus, aligned with the Star that symbolizes two stars that are one – Venus as the Morning Star and Evening Star.
The only way the scheme of Exaltations can work is if one of the signs ruled by Venus is set apart to start the sequence. This is either Taurus or Libra, but since the card will be paired with the Star, the obvious choice is Libra, to emphasize the duality. We can conclude that this is deliberate because Taurus actually would be a nice balance to Cancer – Taurus is the Exaltation of the Moon as Cancer is her Rulership. But the designer, again, chose not to do the obvious.
By using Libra instead of Taurus, the latter is then paired with Scorpio, possibly to emphasize that the Babylonians used the brightest stars in these two signs – Al-Debaran and Antares – as fiduciary stars that marked the axis of their zodiac. They are almost exactly 180 degrees apart and very bright, making them very useful to the earliest astronomers.
As we look at the pairs of cards whose numbers sum to 60, the first step outside the zodiac sequence is the Moon and the element of Air, at positions 37 and 23. These happen to be the golden ratio pair: 37 / 23 = 1.608. This can hardly be accidental. The more typical elemental sequence would be Fire-Water-Air-Earth, but here the latter two are switched, so that Air can precede Libra, the Cardinal sign of Air, and be paired with the most important card of the upper sequence, the Moon. And of course, the five highest cards are known as arie or ‘airs’ – it is significant that they are paired with four Elements and the Cardinal Air sign.
With these pairings in mind, we can see that the lower cards can also be paired. Setting aside the Excuse, there are 19 cards below the pairs shown above; these pair up so that their numbers sum to 20 – the number of both the initial majors and the added set. This results in a similar diagram, where the pivot is the Chariot.
The first four Papi align with the newly-added Virtues. This, again, could not have been random – it would have been simple to add the four new Virtues to the three already present (and even keep Death at 13 in the process) but the designer chose not to do so. The reason seems to be that these cards should pair up surrounding the Chariot, as though they were participants in a tableau based on a triumphal procession.
The other five cards that precede the Chariot are relatively positive – Love, three Virtues and the Wheel of Fortune, versus the five cards that succeed the Chariot, which are all negative. All of these pairs deserve exploration as to their symbolism.
The zodiacal pairs that surround the Cancer card have numerals that sum to 360, representing the full circle. The nine pairs that surround the Chariot have numerals that sum to 180, a half-circle. The four pairs of the Elements and the arie have numerals that sum to 240. This set of numbers 180 – 240 – 360 provide the ratios of 3:4 – 2:3 – 1:2. In music these would represent the intervals of a fourth, a fifth and an octave. In astrology they would be the Opposition, the Sextile and the Conjunction.
The golden ratio also provides another reason for the exact placement of the 20 new cards in a row; they begin after position 15, so that the 40 majors finish with 20 new cards and 5 existing ones. 40 / 25 = 1.6, approximating the golden ratio. Therefore, the golden ratio point of the 40 majors is at position 15, where the existing sequence is interrupted by the new cards.
If we step back a little bit, we can see a larger pattern occurring. In the expanded deck, you have 40+1 majors and 14 cards in a suit: 41 + 14 = 55, a Fibonacci number. This total can be split into 21 existing majors, and 20 new cards plus 14 in a suit, making 34. Thus, you have the classic Fibonacci pair of 21 and 34 embedded in the structure of the deck.
Let us now return to the original problem, which is the sequence of the zodiac. We can see that the order of the cards allows 7 levels to be created, with a different planet exalted at each level. But the consequent order of the planets is highly idiosyncratic. It does not follow the Chaldean order, the days of the week, or any other well-known planetary sequence. And even if it did follow a known order, there would still be lots of room for variations as to which sign appeared on which side of Cancer for the pairing.
I am inclined to believe that the planetary Exaltations are possibly an alchemical reference. But there is another possibility; that the order is derived from the year of the creation of the Minchiate. If we look at the sequence Saturn-Mercury-Moon-Sun-Mars-Venus-Juppiter, it is possible to find a time when these seven were in that order in the zodiac. For example, on August 1, 1532 (Julian), these seven were at: 6 Cancer – 29 Cancer – 15 Leo – 17 Leo – 5 Virgo – 3 Libra – 17 Scorpio. I am not suggesting this is the year of the creation, just that it is entirely possible that the planets could be found in that particular order in that (or any) era.
This unusual order is, again, not arranged in the simplest way, such as putting the Exaltation signs in their natural zodiacal order. The designer was doubtless aware of such a simple astrology and eschewed it for something a little more puzzling.
The idea of duality permeates the zodiacal order. We begin with Libra, the sign of the Balances. This is followed by Virgo, the only sign that is the Rulership and Exaltation of the same planet, an inherent duality. It is paired with Gemini – the Twins, another duality, which is also ruled by Mercury, a god that has plenty of duality symbolism.
Balancing this pair is the pair at the other end, surrounding Cancer. These are Pisces and Sagittarius, the signs opposite Virgo and Gemini, both of which are ruled by Juppiter. The further duality is that Juppiter’s Rulerships are the Detriments of Mercury, and vice-versa; this is the only case in the zodiac where that happens between two planets.
The third zodiacal pair is Scorpio – Taurus. The first duality to notice is that after Libra, the next sign was Virgo, adjacent to Libra. Then the next sign is Scorpio, also adjacent on the other side. The inherent duality of this pair is that they formed the axis of the Babylonian zodiac. They are the only pair in the Minchiate which are also opposite each other on the zodiac circle. This pair could have easily been Scorpio-Aries, both ruled by Mars, but the designer chose not to do this. The axis of Al-Debaran and Antares is the likely reason. They are balanced against another pair with duality: Capricorn and Aquarius are both ruled by Saturn.
The final pair represents another duality with regard to Libra: Aries is her zodiacal opposite. This pair also has an inherent duality: Aries and Leo are the Exaltation and Rulership of the Sun. They are the only pair in the Minchiate which have this characteristic, and being the central pair of the sequence seems appropriate for the Sun.
While each of the pairs shows some kind of duality, the order of the pairs seems to derive from Libra. First a sign on one side of it (Virgo), then on the other side (Scorpio), then across from it in the Zodiac (Aries). The first two pairs are balanced against two other pairs (each with their own inherent duality), while the center is occupied by the two signs most important to the Sun.
The subsequent creation of 7 different levels of Exaltations could be numbered in either direction. If Cancer is the 7th level, it makes sense because the Moon is the 7th planet in the Chaldean Order. Also, the 6 other pairs sum to 60, which is a multiple of all numbers from 1-6, whereas 7 is not a factor of 60. Conversely, if Libra and The Star are at the 7th level, then you have Libra as the 7th zodiac sign, and both Libra and The Star have a relationship to Venus, long associated with the number 7.
The reasoning for the particular pairs looks solid. But even if the pairs are locked together, (so e.g., Scorpio must be with Taurus) their order is still changeable (why Scorpio after Virgo?). The answer to that must be in the sequence of the planets in their Exaltation.
The following section is highly speculative. Taking the order of the planets in their ‘Minchiate Exaltations’, and then calculating the number of cells in their classic magic squares, we get this chart:
Saturn – 9
Mercury – 64
Moon – 81
Sun – 36
Mars – 25
Venus – 49
Juppiter – 16
Taking the differences between each successive square, we get 55 – 17 – 45 – 11 – 24 – 33
Now pair these up, radiating from the Sun at the center: (45 + 11) - (17 + 24) - (55 + 33). The sums are then 56, the number of minor cards; and 41, the number of major cards; then 88, made up of a near-Fibonacci pair, with a ratio of 1.666
So, you have a reference to the two main divisions of the deck, and the golden ratio. This could well have been a means of encoding this planetary sequence, as the difference-values between squares would obviously change depending on what order they are in. If the position of Juppiter is a given, based on Cancer, and Saturn is a given based on making a link with Libra and the Star card, then the remaining group of five pairs is easy to figure out on the basis of magic squares; there are only a few combinations to work through, and only one that will give you the result indicated above. The sum of all the differences is 185 = 5 x 37, the number of the Moon card, and the golden ratio point in this deck.
- the 97 cards of the Minchiate split into 37 and 60 as golden ratio segments.
- 37 is the number of the Moon card. It is paired around the sign of Cancer by card 23 – Air.
- The remaining cards surrounding Cancer are paired up as 4 elements/4 arie, and the zodiac signs, beginning with Libra, which pairs with the Star.
- The six remaining pairs of signs include one Exaltation of a different planet at each of 7 levels
- These culminate in the sign of Cancer, Rulership of the most important card – the Moon.
- The sequence of Exaltations may be explained by a calendar date or the magic squares of the planets.
- All of the upper section card pairings have numerals that sum to 60, a golden ratio point of the 97 cards.
- The most important subset of these is the 12 zodiac cards, whose numbers sum to 354, the days in a Lunar Year, i.e. the Moon in each of the 12 signs.
- These pairings are mirrored in the lower section of the majors by nine pairs around the central card of the triumphal Chariot.
- Each of these pairs has cards that sum to 20, the number of new cards added, which doubled the number of majors and allowed all of these balances to emerge.
R. Leo Gillis