Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Good observation, Debra. To me the testicles just emphasize the theme of materiality, like his overall corpulance. In Neopythagoreanism as presented by the Theology of Arithmetic, 2 is the number of matter, just as 1 is the number of form, and 3 the number of matter to which form (in the sense of ideal form, in the mind of God) has been given in approximation. To give a contemporary example: Michelangelo confronts the unformed matter of his block of marble (the 2) with the ideal he wishes to express (the 1). The result is his sculpture (the 3), which to us looks divine but which he himself finds far short of the ideal. (He sometimes destroyed his work in frustration.)

Now I want to add some additional reflections on the SB 2's that I've had since yesterday.

Upon reflection, I see that my inability to apply the "four temperaments" to the SB 2's was premature. They do apply, but in a somewhat forced way. That is, since Swords relates to the courage, daring, and even recklessness needed to separate from the One, Choler does apply there, even though the figures in the SB 2 of Swords are not exactly choleric. Then, too, Cups' putto playing the violin, in that he is basking in his love for the One, can perhaps be taken as Phlegmatic. That leaves only Batons as Melancholic, while Coins, due to the optimism expressed in the partnersip between nobles and merchants, is Sanguine. The 2's in that way fit Marco's proposed schema.

In the case of the Aces, I pointed out surprising parallels between the SB cards as I was interpreting them and the "Etteilla" interpretations as given by Papus. So it is tempting to wonder whether perhaps these cards, or similar ones, inspired the cartomantic tradition which Etteilla reflected in his writings (and which he himself said came from old Italians that he had known). The same is true for the Twos. My first example (as translated on the James Revak website):
TWO OF SWORDS: Friendship, Attachment, Tenderness, Kindness, connection, Relationship, Similarity, Intimacy, Concord, Association, Interest, Conformity Sympathy, Affinity, Attraction. REVERSED: False, Falsehood, Lying, Imposure, Duplicity, Bad Faith, Roguery, Trickery, Treachery, Deception, Superficial, Superficiality, Surface.
These words might reflect the relationship between the two men on the SB card, where the younger is looking to the older one for advice and support. This advice could either be well-intended or duplicitous (like that of the serpent in Eden), corresponding to the Etteilla Upright and Reversed meanings.

Etteilla's interpretation for Batons also fits the SB card well, with its corpulant man looking sadly into the distance.
2 OF BATONS: Sorrow, sadness, Melancholy, Affliction, Displeasure, Distress, Grief, Mortification, Ill Humor, Quarrel, Affliction, Gloomy Ideas.--Bitterness, Anger, Spite. REVERSED: Surprise, Enchantment, Shock, Trouble, Unforeseen Event, Unexpected Occurrence, Fright, Emotion, Fear, Dread, Terror.--Dismay, Astronishment, Domination, Ravishing, Alarms.---Wonder, Phenomenon, Miracle.
While these meanings are rather various, the overall trend fits well my comparison to Adam after his expulsion from Eden; it was not only a sad event but an unforeseen one: he did not expect to be dealt with so harshly.

The same fit works for Cups, in which the SB, as I read it from the Neopythagorean exposition of the 2s, has a love-possessed putto playing the violin to his beloved:
2 OF CUPS: Love, Passion, Inclination, Sympathy, Appeal., Proclivity, Friendship, Kindness, Affection, Attachment, Liking, Union, Gallantry, Attraction, Affinity. REVERSED: Desire, Want, Wish, Will, Craving, Covetousness, Cupidity, Concupiscene, Jealousy, Passion, Illusion, Longing, Appetite.
These are simply the positive and negative aspects of Desire.

The only interpretation that does not fit the scene depicted in the SB is the 2 of Coins. Here is the Etteilla:
2 OF COINS: Embarrassment, Obstacle, Engagement, Obstruction, Hitch, Snag.--Trouble, Upset, Emotion, Awkward Position, Confusion, Difficulty, Unexpected Obsacle, In Error, Obscurity.--Agitation, Anxiety, Perplexity, Concern. REVERSED: Note, Written Dolcument, Handwriting, Test, Literature, Doctrine, Erudition, Written Work, Book, Production, Composition, Dispatch, Epistle, Missive.--Written Character.--Literal Sense--Alphabet, Elements, Principles, Bill of Exchange.
Of these, only "Bill of Exchange" fits the Merchant, the card's representative of the Neopythagorean 2's materiality. In fact, the meanings listed for the Upright go totally against the optimism I found in the upper medallion on the card. However I can think of two possible explanations for this discrepancy.

First, if the lower medallion was identified with Pantalone, that figure, who characteristically used his wealth and power in an attempt to push his way into a young lady's affection, would indeed be an obstacle and embarassment to his younger and nobler friend, who in the Commedia dell'Arte plots might be the young man who also desires the young lady's affection.

Second, seeing the lower figure as a friend who later proved an embarrassment would apply if at an early date--and regardless of the original meaning--the card was indeed interpreted as one of the Estensi, Ercole or Alfonso, together with Savonarola. Savonarola was a friend who later, when his extremism aroused the anger of the Pope and lost the allegience of the Florentines, would have been an embarrassment to the Estensi in their ongoing struggle with the Papacy and its allies.

The Threes

For the Sola-Busca Threes, I would venture to say that the designer of the cards has seized on one principle of the Triad as presented in the Theology of Arithmetic. That principle is: if the the Monad is form, and the Dyad is matter, then the Triad is matter that has been given form. I have already quoted passages to this effect in the Theology of Arithmetic's chapter on the Dyad that anticipate this theme. In the chapter on the Triad, the theme is developed further: in the Triad, not only is matter given form, but also a certain completion and perfection, and even a kind of divinity. Here are the relevant passages in the chapter on the Triad:
The Triad has a special beauty and fairness beyond all numbers, primarily because it is the very first to make actual the potentialities of the monad--oddness, perfection, proportionality, unification, limit... (p. 49)
The monad is like a seed in containing in itself the unformed and also unarticulated principle of every number; the dyad is a small advance towards number, but is not number outright because it is like a source, but the triad causes the potential of the monad to advance into actuality and extension... (p. 50)
They call the triad 'piety': hence the name 'triad' is derived from 'terror'--that is, fear and caution. (Translator's note: Here trias [triad] is linked with trein [to be afraid]).
The triad, the first odd number, is called perfect by some, because it is the first number to signify the totality--beginning, middle and end. When people exalt extraordinary events, they derive words from the triad and talk of 'thrice blessed,' 'thrice fortunate.' Prayers and libations are performed three times... Among the virtues, they likened it to moderation: for it is commensurability between excess and deficiency... (p. 51)
The triad is the form of the completion of all things, and is truly number, and gives all things equality and a certain lack of excess and deficiency, having defined and formed matter with the potential for all qualities... (Translator's note: Since the triad is the first actual number, and qualities [and everything else] owe their existence to number, then the triad is the source of all qualities.) (p. 51f)
One example that I have already given is sculpture: the sculptor turns a block of marble into a beautiful representation of divine form. More to the point for the Sola-Busca threes is the example of God's descent into matter, as the divine man Jesus. The mechanism is precisely that described by Aristotle in his account of the generation of animals, a mechanism conformable to the Neopythagorean doctrine: it is the father who provides the form, by his sperm, and the mother who provides the matter, the egg that is formless without the father's sperm. (See "...what the male contributes to generation is the form and the efficient cause, while the female contributes the material.") In Aristotle's analogy, the father's semen is like the carpenter with his tools, and the mother is like the wood. If so, the most divine animal birth is that of Jesus, in which Holy Mary provided the matter and God the Father the form. Like ideals imprinted into brute matter, Jesus is God imprinted into the matter of the human body. And unlike the sculptor or carpenter, God the Father's work is truly perfect; Jesus is without blemish or imperfection.

It seems to me that the SB Swords, Batons, and Coins each reflect this second person of the Trinity in a different way, while Cups illustrates the Trinity as a whole.


In Swords, we have Jesus as he is killed in the Crucifixion, and also something in the heart of the believer as a result of contemplating that wounding and slow death. [Here, for Swords and part of Batons, have rewritten what I said originally, as a result of some discussion by Pen and SteveM in another thread, at viewtopic.php?f=12&t=621&start=10#p9139 and following, for which I am grateful. Here is my revision, Feb. 11, 2011:]

I think we need to see the image in the context in which three stab wounds to the heart appeared at that time in Italy. The Augustinians were developing imagery around their chosen saint, Augustine, meant to be comparable to the stigmatization of St. Francis. I will show six early examples, starting in the 1360's and 1370's, through the 1420's. I get all of them from Donal Cooper's "St. Augustine's Ecstasy before the Trinity in the Art of the Hermits, c. 1360-c. 1440," in Art and the Augustinian Order in Early Renaissance Italy.

The first image is c. 1374 Siena, anonymous painter (Cooper p. 191). It is the bottom of a crucifixion scene, showing Augustine on the left and John the Baptist in the middle. Augustine is pointing to his heart, and there are words at the bottom.


The next image is c. 1380, the relevant detail of Francesco di Vannuccio, Crucifixion with Virgin, St. John the Evangelist, St. Augustine and an Augustinian donor, Siena 1380 (Cooper, p. 193). St. Augustine is looking up, with blood spurting from Jesus's heart and something like rays extending down to the saint. At the crucifixion, Jesus was pierced by nails and stabbed by the spear of Longinus. But we can't see what is happening to Augustine. An analogy to the stigmatization of St. Francis is evident.


In this fresco, a donor stands to the right of the cross, from whom a banner extends toward the cross, reading ""Vulnerasti domine cor meum caritate tua" (Cooper p. 197), i.e. "You have wounded my heart with your charity." Very similar words appear at the bottom of the previous fresco, "Vulnerasti cor meum de charitate tua." The wording is not found as such in Augustine's writings; the closest is Confessions IX: "You had pierced our hearts with the arrows of your love [charity], and we carried your words with us as though they were staked to our living bodies" ("Saggitaveras tu cor nostrum caritate tua et gestabamus verba tua transfixa visceribus," Cooper p. 197). The inscriptions merely substitute "meum" for "nostrum" and "vulnerasti," echoing the famous "vulnerasti cor meum" of Song of Songs 4:9, for "sagittaveras."


Above are two more images. The one on the left is a detail from a painted panel crucifixion by Nicoletto Seitecolo,, Padua 1360s (Cooper p. 190). I have just shown the saint. Above him (not seen here) is Christ on the cross. Cooper says (p. 190)
...a slit in his habit opens to receive a set of rays emanating from a light source above his head (figs. 56-57). Here the analogy with Francis stigmatisation is more emphatic, for the rays strike an open and bleeding wound in Augustine's chest.
The image on the right is from Otaviano Nelli, Ecstasy of Augustine before the Trinity, c. 1420-1430, in Gubbio, Umbria (Cooper 188, but here from ... escoes.htm. Here we have both the crucifixion and the exposure of the wounded heart. We have the other members of the Trinity as well. The Father is holding the cross; I am not sure exactly where in that mass of wings the Holy Spirit is. but I think I see a very small white dove just above the cross and below the Father's chin. Cooper comments:
Nelli's fresco depicts Augustine kneeling in a chapel doorway, his gaze fixed upon an apparition of the Trinity, figured as the Throne of Mercy and enveloped by angels. ...The saint delicately opens a slit in his habit to reveal his heart, on which Nelli has traced a miniature, ghostly reflection of the Trinity. The Gubbio fresco takes its iconographic cue from the established visual repertoire of Francis' stigmatization. (Cooper p. 186)
The same imagery, showing the Trinity more clearly but without the exposed heart, appears in a painting by an anonymous Florentine painting, second half of the 14th century (Cooper p. 194).


Finally I get to the image that most closely corresponds to the SB 3 of Swords (Cooper p. 194).


Cooper observes (p. 195):
Rather unusually, Lippi rendered the Trinity as three conjoined cherub heads, and he placed the scene in Augustine's study, with the saint wearing the Hermits' black habit but no vestments or mitre. Looking up from his scroll, Augustine is struck in the chest--and, one presumes, his heart--by three golden arrrows.
It is this image that the designer of our card has used, it seems to me. Looking at the crucifixion, the believer receives the Trinity into his heart, mirroring the piercing of Jesus on the cross in the way that St. Francis' stigimatisation did but in one place rather than the usual five. In that way, the experience of Christ's suffering turns into a victory for the immortal soul, and for Jesus's mission. This victory is symbolized by the wreath hanging below the cross.

It is this wreath, I think, that makes the subject Christ and the Christian believer rather than, for example, the otherwise similar image of Absalom, the rebellious son whom David sorrowfully has his men put to death, as Pen suggested on the other thread cited earlier.

The victory wreath below the heart represents the victory which his sacrifice accomplished.

In Batons, we see the piercing, but now from the perspective of Jesus the child. It is in being for part of his time a helpless infant that the second person of the Trinity is distinguished from the other two: his birth from the womb of Mary. Madonna and Child paintings during the Renaissance often showed Mary looking at her putto-like infant sadly, as if already knowing his fate. Here are two examples, both details from larger paintings: the first is by Mantegna, 1499 Mantua, and the other by Bellini, 1505 Venice (San Zaccaria Altarpiece), which I take from ... rtytwo.htm:



Symbolizing the sorrow, we have the infant pierced by arrows. But again there is the victory wreath below.
[Note: this ends my revisions to this section as done Feb. 11, 2011.]

Batons gives him wings on the sides of his head, like those of Mercury. These wings identify him with the Greco-Roman god, there the conveyor of souls to Hades, Olympus, and the Isles of the Blest. The wings also identify him with the alchemical Mercurius, whom the alchemists treated as a version of Christ, but one which needed to be purified in their laboratories of its evil side, corresponding to Jesus's materiality. The Jesus of dogma of course had no actualized evil side; all potential evil, owing to the susceptibility of the flesh, was fully suppressed by his good side; hence Mercurius, whose evil side did manifest to the alchemists (mercury as poison), was not the same as Jesus, but a more undisciplined figure, like ordinary humans; the alchemists' work thus corresponded to the purification that needs to take place in the human soul once the spirit of Christ is implanted there. The wings on Batons' Christ-child thus show a Christ as he is in the human soul, one whose suffering is also a basis for purification.


In Coins, we again see the theme of the Christ-child, this time carrying what would seem to be a heavy burden but with mastery of his load. It is Christ carrying the burden of his sacrifice, by which he atones for the sins of the world. The skull in the load is another reference to the death he must suffer, as well as to the ox, the animal most suited to bearing loads. There is also the string of fruits beneath the skull. Sofia di Vincenzo calls them poppies, to symbolize oblivion (Sola-Busca Tarot, p. 66). I disagree. I think they are more likely grapes, depicted in the large, hard way they were depicted on the Dionysian sarcophagi of Roman times that the Renaissance found such a source of fascination and inspiration. They symbolize the blood of Christ as existing in the wine of the Eucharist, by which Christ defeats death for people of faith. I am not quite sure what to make of the pumpkins on top; my guess is that they indicate the season appropriate to the fruit at the bottom, autumn as the time of the grape harvest.

In Cups, we see the Trinity as a whole. Some plants duplicate themselves by sending out shoots that become new plants. That is what is pictured here, I think. but with cups instead of the bodies of the plants. The upper plant/cups represent God's extension of Himself in the other members of the Trinity. God the Father is on the bottom, removed from the cosmos he has created. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are in the cosmos, here above the transcendent Father, the Holy Spirit as Paraclete taking the place of the Son after his Ascension. The upper plant/cups are parts of the original one, connected to it by the shoots, but also different; the shoots thus give the three plant/cups the mystery of the three-in-one. Or so my imagination has it.

What do the four temperaments look like when applied to the Threes, as I have interpreted them? It seems to me that Swords, with its pierced heart representing the killing of Jesus, reflects the choleric temperament, the anger and violence of his persecutors. In Batons, we have the sad face of the infant Jesus pierced by arrows: this is the melancholy temperament. In Coins, we have the Christ-child bearing his burden with confidence: the sanguine temperament. In Cups, we have the three persons of the Trinity in repose and mutual support: the phlegmatic temperament. Marco's schema for mapping the temperaments onto the suits is fully and straightforwardly upheld in the case of the Threes.

A comparison with the "Etteilla" interpretations as given by Papus (which I get from James Revak's website) again makes me wonder whether it was cards like these that inspired the divinatory tradition that Etteilla inherited and wrote about. Swords, for "Etteilla" a negative card of alienation and scorn, very much reflects the angry, destructive mood of Christ's persecutors:
3 OF SWORDS: Estrangement [or Distance], Departure, Absence, Cap [or Deviation], Dispersion, Remote, Delay.---Scorn, Repugnance, Aversion, Hate, Disgust, Horror.--Incompatibility, Annoyance, Opposition, Unsociableness, Misanthropy, Rudeness.--Separation, Division, Rupture, Antipathy, Part, Cut. REVERSED: Distraction, Insanity, Delirum, Mental Alienation [Derangement], Absent-Mindedness, Crazy Behavior.--Error, Miscalculation, Loss, Detour, Gap [or Discrepancy], Dispersion.
Batons, it seems to me, presents Christ from the perspective of him as a young man starting his mission, but also with the negative aspects and melancholia reflective of the unpurified Christian and of Jesus's suffering on the cross:
3 OF BATONS: Enterprise, Begin, Start.--Usurp, Seize.--Daring, Brashness, Boldness, Carelessness, Adventurous, Audacious, Temerity, Bold, [Foolhardy, Rash].--Undertaking, Muddled..--Disconcerted.--[Crippled or] Paralyzed, Effort, Test, Temptation. REVERSED: Interruption in: Misfortunes, Troubles, Pain, and Toil.--End, Cessation, Discontinuation, Respite, Rest, Influence, Intermediary, Intermittence.
Coins, on the contrary, has the sanguine optimism of the Christ-child taking on the most important of burdens with every prospect of success:
3 OF COINS: Important, Noble, Consequential, Celebrated, Big, Great, Extensive, Enormous, Manificent, Renowned, Famous, Powerful, Lofty, Illustrious.---Illustration, Esteem, Grandeur of Soul, Nobility of Conduct, Acts of Generosity, Magnificently, Splendidly. REVERSED: Puerility, Childhood, Childishness, Frivolity, Weakening, Debasing, Reduction, Courteousness, Lowness, Medicrity, Trifle, Trinket, Servility, Weakness, Child, Infant, Puerile, Puny, Low, Grovelling, Lowly Contemptible, Humble.--Abjection, Humility, Humiliation.
Here the theme of success is in the Uprights (the competion of his task, in the language of the Theology of Arithmetic), and that of the child and associated weakness in the Reverseds.

Finally, we see Cups celebrating the happy outcome of God's love, not only the successful mission of the Son but the continued presence of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, after his Ascension. The mood in these "Etteilla" interpretations is sanguine rather than phlegmatic; the SB card, I think, is calmer and more phlegmatic.
3 OF CUPS: Success, Science, Fortunate Outcome, Happy Issue, Victory.--Healing, Cure, Relief.--Fulfillment.--Perfection. REVERSED: Expedition, Dispatch, Execution, Achievement, [Completion.] End, Conclusion, Termination, Accomplishment.
Again there is the element of completion that the Theology of Arithmetic attaches to the Triad. In the Trinity, God is complete.

The Fours

I found it harder to understand the chapter of the Theology of Arithmetic on the Tetrad than the chapters before it. I give you its first paragraph. as probably the clearest general statement:
Everything in the universe turns out to be completed in the natural progression up to the tetrad, in general and in particular, as does everything numerical--in short, everything whatever its nature. The fact that the consummated by the tetrad along with the numbers which precede it (Trans. note: 1+2+3+4=10), is special and particularly important for the harmony which completion brings; so is the fact that it provides the limit of corporeality and three-dimensionality. For the pyramid, which is the minimal solid and the one which first appears, is obviously contained by a tetrad, either of angles or faces, just as what is perceptible as a result of matter and form, which is a complete result in three dimensions, exists in four terms (Trans. note: perhaps the four Aristotelian causes, mentioned on p. 58, or perhaps the four elements...). (p. 55)
It seems to me that the "four terms" at the end of this passage might simply be the four points that determine a tetrahedron. Let me try to explain, as far as I am able. The Tetrad is an advance upon the Triad in two primary respects. One is that it is the number pertaining to three-dimensional existence, whereas the Triad only has to do with figures in a plane. The Monad designates a point; two monads, i.e. points, make a line; three points are the minimum needed to determine a plane figure, namely, the triangle; and four points are needed to determine a solid figure, namely the tetrahedral pyramid. And with that geometry has reached its limit, the Theology declares. Five points do not determine any more dimensions than four points do.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, arithmetic texts even classified numbers in this way: linear, planar, and solid, giving diagrams in the margins to illustrate the point. Below is an example, which I get from Heninger, Sweet Harmonies, p. 72f, originally from Joannes Martinus, Arithmetica, Paris 1526. In turn these diagrams come ultimately from Nichomachus, who intended them as a foundation for such philosophizing as we see in the Theology of Arithmetic.



I am not sure why "1" is included in each series. Perhaps as God it was thought to contain all dimensions.

The other main aspect of the Tetrad is the point about how everything in the universe gets completed in the Tetrad. In part, this has to do with its association with the tetrakys, the sum 1+2+3+4. The Tetrad completes what is necessary to generate all numbers, for the first four numbers add up to the decad, after which the numbers start over. As the Theology explains later: regards 1,2, 3, 4, the a measure and a complete boundary of every number, and there is no longer any natural number after it, but all subsequent numbers are produced by participation in the decad, when the cycle is started a second time, and then again and again on to infinity. (p. 55)
But the tetrad completes "everything in the universe" in another sense as well. I get this one from a string of examples that the Theology gives. For example, from Aristotle we know that there are four types of causes:
the by which, the from which, the by means of which, and the with what end (that is, God, matter, form, result). (p. 58)
These four are usually called formal, material, efficient, and final. There are also four elements (p. 58), four directions (p. 58), four seasons (p. 58), four cardinal virtues (p. 59), four mathematical sciences (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy, p. 55f), and a host of other foursomes (pp. 58-63).

Here is my generalization: given a type of specific result accomplished by the Triad (in the leap from ideal thought and unthinking matter to action that produces a desired result), the Tetrad describes the nature of the whole in which that result fits, be it a virtuous action, movement in a direction, causation of something, part of the cycle of vegetation, etc. Thus we have four directions, four virtues, four directions, four causes, four seasons, etc; it takes no more than four to describe the whole of a given category of reality.

The Church Father Irenaeus even used this principle to show that there can be four gospels and no more: the other gospels in circulation during his time were therefore spurious and fake. (For the relevant passage in Irenaeus, see "Irenaeus and the Four Gospels" at

Sofia DiVincenzo calls four the number of matter (The Sola Busca Tarot, pp.40, 68). In the Theology, two is the number of matter. But four is as well, in the sense that matter is what fills the three dimensions of space. Four is also the number of the square, and from that, the cube, the hardest to move of all the polyhedrons. It is the number of solidity. Or in another formulation. After discussing the tetrad as the only square whose perimeter is equal to its area, the author adds,
The tetrad is the first to display the nature of solidity: the sequence is point, line, plane, solid (i.e. body). (p. 63)
Now let us turn to the cards.


The Sola-Busca Four of Coins shows a corpulent woman carrying three large discs on her shoulder and holding out another one to the viewer. I will pass over until later Di Vincenzo's view that she represents the "golden proportions" and "Diana, the celestial nymph." It seems to me that she is the embodiment of Plenty, and is offering one of her coins as a gift. She represents material abundance, both in her discs and her body, and the sharing of her wealth, the Aristotelian virtue of magnanimity. The relationship to the Tetrad is that the idea of abundance follows from the idea of the whole of something. If one has the whole, one has it all.

It may be a scene such as that on the SB Four of Coins that prompted the "Etteilla" word lists for that card:
4 OF COINS: Charity, Present, Gift, Generosity, Liberality, Child’s Holiday Gift, Favor, Offering, Donation, Bonus, Assistance.—The Color White, Lunar Medicine, Pierrot [Pierre au blanc, [White Stone]]. REVERSED: Enclosure, Circuit, Convolution, District, Circumference, Circle, Circulation.—Intercept, Obstruction, Blocking, Cornering, Cloister, Monastery, Convent.—Immutable, Fixed, Determined, Definitive, Extremity, Borders, Limits, Bounds, End, Barrier, Partition, Outdoor Wall, Hedge, Interior Wall.—Obstacles, Hindrances, Difficulty, Suspense, Delay, Opposition.
The first set of Upright meanings fit the SB Four of Coins quite well. The first set of Reversed meanings fit the idea of a whole by indicating the three-dimensional space which contains it, a similar orientation to the Theology.

A. E. Waite continued this line of thinking: his own word-list for this card has Etteilla's "gift" as well as other words of a more defensive nature: "The surety of possessions, cleaving to that which one has" (; Smith's illustration, borrowing from the Sola-Busca but giving it Waite's twist: it shows a man clutching a large coin, with the New York skyline in the background.


In passing, let me note that the Waite-Smith Four of Cups and Swords also borrow from the SB (Added 7/14/10: I will discuss them when I come to those cards). See In fact, given that Etteilla's lists seem to come ultimately from reflections on the SB designs, that Waite borrowed heavily from these lists, and a that large number of Smith's designs borrow from the SB, the SB, coupled with the Neopythagorean texts, may well be the single most important historical deck there is for understanding how the post-18th century interpretations of pip cards in cartomancy came about.

[Paragraph and image added on 7/14/10:} At the same time, the SB pip designs seem to me richer than the Waite-Smith's, because of their greater ambiguity. Even the most famous borrowing from the SB, the Three of Swords, pales by comparison with the SB version; all we have in the Waite-Smith is gloom and despair, whereas the SB has a victory wreath as well; it is a "unity of opposites," encouraging us to find the "silver lining" in the storm cloud of suffering. The SB are superior in another way, too: in the genuinely ancient wisdom, both Pagan and Christian, to be found there.


Now let us look at the SB Four of Batons:


This card, it seems to me, says that once there are four, the category is complete and self-sufficient, in need of nothing more and in fact making sure that there are no more. Thus we have a warrior armed with four arrows, a shield, and a bizarre helmet, like a snail in a snail-shell, or the hard skin of a lizard.

Di Vincenzo (p. 98) takes a Jungian approach to this card. For her, the arrows attached to the helmet are the four Jungian functions: thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting; their positions on the sides of the helmet suggest that they are in balance.

That idea, or at least that formulation of it, seems to me too modern to fit the card in its historical context. The four arrows could conceivably be the four temperaments; but the warrior looks more choleric than he does any of the other three. I see the arrows as defense, handy if he needs them. Perhaps in a sense all four temperaments are defenses, as ways of mediating with the world and thus protecting ourselves from it. The shield is for defense, too. And I interpret the shell or hard skin helmet in the same way. He protects himself with his shield and his helmet against any intrusion. He is like the snail who retreats into his house-like shell when something challenges his existence. To paraphrase Irenaeus, and Luther, holding their gospels: "Here I stand; don't confuse me with anything else."

Drawing a connection between the SB Four of Batons and the corresponding "Etteilla" word list is a bit of a stretch. Here is the "Etteilla":
4 OF BATONS, ETTEILLA, UPRIGHT: Society, [Company,] Association, Assembly, Connection, Federation, Union, Assembling, Reunion, Circle, Community, Gathering, The Masses, Crowd, Throng, Group, Band, Company, Cohort, Army.—Convening, Accompaniment, Blending, Mixing, Alloy, Mixture.—Contract, Convention, Pact, Treaty. REVERSED: Prosperity, Increase, Growth, Advancement, Success, Attainment, Happiness, Flourishing, Felicity.—Beauty, Embellishment.
Many of the Upright meanings do seem to reflect the card as I have interpreted it, especially these : "Federation, Union, Group, Company, Cohort, Army." Such organizations are usually created to defend the interests of its members as defined in a certain way, against competing interests. There is no "us" without a "them," unfortunately; and "contract, convention, pact, treaty" are typical terms to define and secure those interests. The Reverseds just indicate the attainment, to a significant degree, of the whole of what one desires.


The Four of Cups is typically seen as a man putting a cup into a sack, leaving three on the shelf. Di Vincenzo (p. 40) applies her Jungian approach: the cup being put in the sack is that aspect of our personality, one out of the four functions, that we hide from view, even from ourselves. (Jung called it the "shadow.") My first thought was that such a perspective is again too modern to fit the card in its historical context. And how would one hide one's temperament? However when I look at the "Etteilla" word-list for this card, I am not so sure that she is off-base.
4 OF CUPS: Weariness, [Boredom,] Displeasure, Discontentment, Disgust, Aversion, Enmity, Hate, Horror, Anxiety, Mental Suffering, Mild Dejection, Vexation, Painful, Annoying, Unpleasant.—Distressing, Troubling. REVERSED: New Instruction, New Light.—Sign, Indication, Conjecture.—Omen, Presage.—Premonition, Prognostication, Prediction, Novelty.

Most of the words in the Uprights describe exactly those things we wish to hide in ourselves: we are disgusted by just those aspects of our personalities that we hide from view. Bringing these aspects to light might very help bring about the results indicated by the words in the Reverseds. So perhaps Di Vincenzo's idea is right, when cast in Etteilla's language.

[Paragraph and image added 7/14/10:) This idea of a hidden cup, standing for a hidden aspect of one's personality, may also be what is being depicted in the Waite-Smith Four of Cups. Instead of going in a bag, the fourth cup is held by a hand coming out of a cloud, while a boy broods next to it; the implication seems to be that the cup is in the boy's mind.


Another possibility also occurs to me, for the SB Four of Cups: it could be that the man has taken out the fourth cup and is looking into the sack to see if there is anything more. Life is about more than material abundance and self-interest. From this viewpoint, the Tetrad, standing for the whole of material abundance, is not enough. What is left out is soul, which is the subject of numbers five through eight.


In the Four of Swords, we see the same type of ox-skull as in the Ace and the Three of Coins. Tarotpedia ( shows us a 1574 medallion of an wreathed ox-skull with the motto ""VICTORIA EX LABORE HONESTA, ET UTILIS": The Victory you gain by your work is honest and useful. The same meaning might attach to the Four of Swords, which has a similar skull and wreath.


Yes, that does seem like one meaning. From the perspective of Neopythagoreanism, we might even say: abundance, or mastery over the whole, acquired by hard work.

But again, as with the Ace and Three, it seems to me that the skull also represents death, and the wreath, victory over death. But what would that have to do with the number four? One possibility is suggested in the Theology:
And just like Solon's apothegm about "seeing the end of a long life," (Translator's note: Solon said, "Count no man happy until he is dead." See Herodotus I.30-33) it is possible to understand from Homer that those who are still alive are only thrice blessed in point of happiness, since thre is still the uncertainty of change and alteration, while those who are dead have happiness securely and are out of the reach of change in a more complete manner--i.e. four-fold. For he says of someone still alive only "thrice blessed son of Atreus," but of those who have died an excellent death, "Thrice and four times blessed are the Greeks who perished then." (Trans. note: the first quote is perhaps from a variant of Iliad 3.182; the second line is Odyssey 5.306.) (p. 60)
An excellent death gains one the admiration of those left behind and a special place in Hades, which the Renaissance understood as the pagan version of Heaven. See Thus it is victory over death.

Another possibility is that the swords here are an X, as used to cross something off, suggesting hard work leading to material abundance is nothing after death. What is missing is the immortal soul, which we won't see in the Theology until the Eights. That is not something talked about in the chapter on the Tetrad, however.

But the "X" made by the swords may have another meaning, a Christianization of the Theology's point about excellent deaths. Again the "Etteilla" word list seems like a reflection on this card:
4 of SWORDS, ETTEILLA, UPRIGHT: Solitude, Desert, Retreat, Hermitage.—Exile, Banishment, Ostracism.—Uninhabited, Remote, Abandoned, Given Up.—Tomb, Sepulcher, Coffin. REVERSED: Economy, Good Management, Wise Administration.—Foresight, Direction, Household Management, Savings, Avarice.—Order, Arrangement, Relationship, Agreement, Concord, Accord, Concordance, Harmony, Music, Disposal.—Testament. Reserve, Limitation, Exception.—Circumspection, Constituency, Discreet, Wisdom, Sympathy, Care, Precaution.
The Uprights reflect that very theme of death that I see in the ox-skull, coupled with that of an arid place where such skulls are often found. Yet such places are not merely places of death, but also of solitude and retreat, as the "Etteilla" list suggests, places to contemplate death and triumph over it, as the early hermits did. In that sense, the X suggests the Christos.

The first two groups of Reverseds, on the other hand, do seem to reflect the theme of hard work for which the ox is a symbol. The third set, beginning with "Order" and as far as "Music," reflects another property of the Tetrad in the Theology, as expressing the harmony in natural wholes, which the Neopythagoreans called "soul" on its most basic level:
The tetrad comprehends the principle of soul, as well as that of corporeality; for they say that a living creature is ensouled in the same way that the whole universe is arranged, according to harmony. (p. 63.)
There follows a discussion of musical harmony in relation to the tetrad, observing that there are three fundamental harmonies, definable as ratios using only the numbers 1-4; the tetrad thereby contains "the category of soul." However this type of soul would seem to be one that does not survive the destruction of its harmony and dies with its possessor.

In the final sentence of the chapter, the author seems to take the universe itself as an ensouled creature, given its evident harmony:
If the universe is composed out of soul and body in the number 4, then it is also true that all concords are perfected by it.
In that sense, the woman in the Four of Coins could well fit the last sentence of Di Vincezno's description of her (p. 69):
...It is the image of Diana, the celestial nymph, the corporeal soul of the universe, vestal of the higher intelligence that is concealed in all belongs.
Since the universe was seen as round, the soul of the universe would be just such a figure as that corpulent lady, or even more rotund. But since she is the soul, not the body, artists could be given a certain license. More popular was the type of image that Durer gave of her in 1502, under the name "Urania" rather than "Diana." (I do not know any alchemical texts illustrating the soul of the universe as such, as opposed to the soul of the earth, also round, shown as the "philosopher's stone's" nurse; Luna or Diana was sometimes portrayed as the "stone's" nurse, too.)


Even in Durer's illustration she might not be the soul of the universe, but rather just the Muse of Astronomy ( The soul of the universe was Aphrodite Urania, i.e. the Celestial Venus, of Plato's Symposium (

(Paragraph and image added 7/14/10:) Waite and Smith, in their version of the card, pick up on the "excellent death" theme, but not the "hard work" part. They show a tomb having on its lid a sculpture of the man presumably inside, dressed as a knight. In the stained glass of the church window is a cheerier scene, but it has little relation to Waite's word-list for the Reverseds, other than its happiness. That scene does have a kind of harmony, but Waite excluded that set of words of the "Etteilla" from his list. (See


How do the scenes on the SB Fours relate to the four temperaments? The corpulent woman bearing a coin-like gift would seem to be sanguine, i.e. optimistic and probably cheerful in her beneficence. The warrior in the snail helmet is defensively choleric: stay away! The man with the cup looking in the sack strikes me as melancholy. The scene on Swords, if victory over death, could be melancholy, phlegmatic or sanguine; the same if it represents hard work. I find it a card of many emotions. It is possible that all four temperaments are represented; however their suit assignments do not quite meet those suggested by Marco, of which we saw examples in the Threes.

The SB Fives

There are several passages in the Theology of Arithmetic's chapter on the Pentad that are of relevance to the Sola-Busca Fives. For one thing, the Pentad is the number associated with the vegetative soul, which is the next step in complexity beyond figures in three dimensions, which we saw were governed by the Tetrad.
Since in the realm of embodiment there are, according to natural scientists, three life-engendering things--vegetative, animal, and rational--and since the rational is subsumed under the hebdomad and the animal under the hexad, then the vegetative necessarily falls under the pentad, with the result that the pentad is the minimal extreme of life. (pp. 72-73).

The vegetative soul is defined by plant life, that which plants have in common with other forms of life: "addition and increase" (p. 73) both individually and through and propagation of the species. Like the plant that comes from a new seed, the five has the property of always containing itself when squared:
When it is squared, it always encompasses itself, for 5x5=25, and when it is multiplied again, it both encompasses the square as a whole and terminates at itself, for 5x25=125.
As related to increase--and, I think, decrease, for plants also wither--there is a connection with justice and injustice, which has to do with unfair increase and its rectification. The Pentad, situated halfway between 1 and 9, is a mean between extremes and has a position like the fulcrum of a balance.
It is the midpoint of the decad...
says the first paragraph of the chapter (p. 65). And:
So, you see, the pentad is another thing which as neither excess nor defectiveness in it, and it will turn out to provide this property for the rest of the numbers, so that it is a kind of justice, on the analogy of a weighing instrument. (p. 70)

The Theology compares those who have gained from wrongdoing to the four numbers above 5, situated on one side of the beam, and those who have been wronged to the four below 5, on the other side of the beam. By subtracting from one and adding that to the other, equality is achieved (pp. 71-72). Thus the Pentad is associated with Nemesis, goddess of divine retribution or distribution (p. 73). For the association between Nemesis and distribution, the translator says that 'Nemein' (distribute)is the root of 'Nemesis' (p. 73).

Finally, five is two plus three, and thus associated with marriage:
The pentad is the first number to encompass the specific identity of all number, since it encompasses 2, the first even number, and 3, the first odd number. Hence it is called 'marriage,' since it is formed of male and female. (p. 65)

The Theology also identifies Six with marriage (p. 75), as the multiplication of 2 and 3. It might be appropriate to call Five the male number of marriage and Six the female number of marriage, as odd numbers were considered male and even numbers female. Plutarch may have used these labels explicitly to distinguish the two numbers of marriage, but if so I cannot now find the reference.

These last two properties of the Pentad--its relation to justice and marriage--are summed up near the end of the chapter:
Because it levels out inequality, they call it 'Providence' and 'justice' (division, as it were) [Translator's note: the word for 'division' (dichesis) is similar to that for 'justice,' (dike)], ... and 'Aphrodite' because it binds to each other a male and a female number. Likewise, it is called 'nuptial' and 'androgyny' and 'demigod'--the latter because it is half of ten, which is divine, but also because in its special diagram is is assigned the central place. (pp. 73-75)
The "special diagram" is the scales with 5 as the fulcrum and the other numbers at either side. There is more to the Theology's analysis of the Pentad, to be sure, but this is what seems to me relevant to the Sola-Busca.

With that, let us turn to the Sola-Busca Fives.


Batons shows a man carrying a gourd and five large arrows or spears. Di Vincenzo, in Sola-Busca Tarot p. 100), calls the gourd a "symbol of human stupidity," since it is "dried up." But perhaps it conceals something, inside or symbolically. We might ask, what did gourds mean in Renaissance art? A cursory look on the Web shows a few possibilities. At ... r%2009.pdf, p. 7, we find it identified in Durer's Jerome in his Study as a symbol of divine favor, referring back to a gourd that God provides Jonah for shade and then destroys in the night, an act that makes Jonah upset and perplexed. God uses the gourd as an explanation for why he spared Nineveh, after it repented of its sins: it is for him to decide who he will favor and not. According to Ferguson (Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, with Illustrations from the Paintings of the Renaissance, p. 31,in Google Books) its association with the story in Jonah made the gourd a symbol of the Resurrection. In a Crivelli [/i]Madonna and Child[/i], according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (, it has the meaning of salvation. That is especially clear if it is pictured with an apple, the fruit of death to which the gourd is the antidote. Ferguson also mentions that pilgrims carried water in gourds (p. 31); it was particularly associated with the pilgrimage to Compostela (p. 124). When shown with a fig, however, a gourd could be a phallic symbol ( Moreover, Levenson (Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, p. 294, in Google Books) says that the gourd, especially if shown with a skull, as in Durer's engraving, might also have been seen as a symbol of transience, because in the Jonah episode God destroys the gourd overnight. Similarly, Parshall (at, Art Bulletin Vol. 53 No. 3), refers to its use as a symbol of vain pride.

As usual, we have an ambiguous image. Drawing from the above, I would say that the man is either a thief who has stolen something of only transient worth, or a pilgrim seeking salvation while warily walking a path where danger lurks. A relevant detail might be that the batons are divided into a group of three and a group of two (forming an X), suggesting the unification of male (as in the man and his gourd) and female that produces new fruit, i.e. rebirth.

The "Etteilla" word-list reads like a reflection on wealth and its possibly unjust acquisition:
5 OF BATONS: Gold, Riches, Opulence, Splendor, Sumptuousness, Brilliance, Luxury, Abundance, Fortune.—Physical, Philosophical, and Moral Sun. REVERSED: Legal Proceeding, Lawsuit, Disagreements, Discussions, Disputes, Fights, Litigation, Pre-Trial Investigation, Judicial Proceeding.—Annoyances, Conversation, Squabble, Harassment.—Contradiction, Inconsistency.
One should not assume that only material gold, etc., is indicated by this list, at least in earlier centuries, given such riddles as those, for example, in the tale of the three caskets in The Merchant of Venice. That tale, typical of the genre, derived from Italian sources, including Boccaccio's Decameron (

The "Etteilla" Reverseds fit in well with the idea of rectifying unjust distribution, as the Theology suggests in its passages about justice and Nemesis. In that case, the thief might be taking back what is rightfully, or at least appropriately, his--or someone else's, to whom he will give it (as Christ did with salvation). Or he might properly be a subject for retribution himself.

The Waite-Smith card here has what looks like a robbery in progress, or at least an unfair fight, 3 against 2. It doesn't owe much to the SB, although it is consistent with one interpretation of it.


Swords seems to offer what is one remedy to such inequality: melt down the valuables, or the means by which they are inequitably acquired.


The "Etteilla" list here suggests what such a removing of inequality feels like to the dispossessed, if the person doesn't feel his gains were ill-gotten.
5 OF SWORDS: Loss, Falsification, Waste, Degradation, Detriment, Decline, Destruction, Deterioration, Deprivation, Reduction, Injuries, Defeats, Prejudice, Wrong, Defect, Fault, Miserliness, Decline in Business, Damages, Disadvantage, Devastation, Squandering, Dissipation, Misfortune, Afflictions, Setback, Reversals of Fortune, Ruin, Downfall, Rout.—Debauchery, Disgrace, Defamation, Dishonor, Vile Abuse, Infamy, Affront, Meanness, Deformity, Humiliation.— Theft, Robbery, Abduction, Plagiarism, Kidnapping, Hideous, Horrible.—Opprobrium, Corruption, Dissoluteness, Seduction, Licentiousness. REVERSED: Mourning, Despondency, Ailment, Grief, Distress, Mental Suffering, Funeral Rites, Interment, Obsequies, Funerals, Inhumation, Sepulcher.

Di Vincenzo sees this melting down by fire as having an alchemical meaning. That may be true. However her alchemical interpretation does not fit any alchemical text I know of. She says,
An amphora, vas genitrix of alchemistic memory, here a symbol of the receptive aspect of the human mind, contains five swords, phallic symbols which in thies case are symbols of the fertile ideas from without and tied, so to speak, by the intellence agent, which knows how to join concepts from diverse directions to each other. (p. 127)

Where I have seen alchemical pictures of substance dissolving under heat, (i.e. in the Rosarium Philosophorum,, it is usually in the putrefactio, in which the masculine (three?) and the feminine (two?) dissolve their separateness,joining into one being. It appears to ordinary consciousness as a defeat (e.g. if we take Jesus as an exemplar of alchemical transformation), but it paves the way for victory.

An interesting aspect of the SB card is how it recapitulates all the numbers up to five: one vessel, two handles, three spheres on the ground, four legs, and five swords. In Di Vincenzo's account of the three spheres, she refers back to something about the Three of Swords that she found significant and I did not: there, the middle sword passes through the middle of a pentangle of five circles. She takes them as representing the apple of the Garden of Eden, source of knowledge (p. 124). But why five? In her section on the Five of Swords, she takes the number as an allusion to the Five of Swords, which has three apples, sending us back to the Three of Swords. Hence the "apples" are about "the interdependence of action and result." She sees the Five as a successful integration of ideas and material conditions. But that, as I see it, is already accomplished in the three.

All I can think of is that the configuration of five circles might possibly be an allusion to the Medici coat of arms, with the sword blade covering one of its six circles. But why would that appear here? Actually, various numbers of small globes appear at various points all through the Sola-Busca pip cards. Perhaps they have some meaning, perhaps not. Sometimes (although not often) we over-interpret!


The Waite-Smith card seems to emphasize the loss implied in the "Etteilla" word-list as injustice rather than justice. The "Etteilla" list, like the Sola-Busca card, is more neutral, mostly describing feelings. I infer that Waite was not a socialist.


In the SB Five of Coins, we see a man covering himself with the skin and feathers of a giant bird. I think this card relates to the Pentad as the male card of marriage. Birds were phallic symbols, as a drawing from the same general time and place should make clear.


In reproducing this image, Zucker (The Illustrated Bartsch, vol. 24 part 3 p. 199) comments:
Hind quite rightly noted that the "representation of the penis in the form of a bird dates from antiquity," and that accello is still used ideomatically for "penis" in Italian...

The animal being depicted here may be an odd-shaped griffin, since it has a lion's haunches, but the point remains. On the other side of this engraving are depicted "various occupations," as the title given to it says; but all of the depictions contain allusions to the penis, even drawing an actual one dangling from its owner in one instance.

On the card, the man's stick touching his circular shield is perhaps a suggestion of phallus + vagina, and similarly for the cigar-shaped thing in a circular sun, on the long red shield to its right. Di Vincenzo, in catorizing this last one as a phallic-vaginal image, says:
The color red '"brings to mind vital energy, blood, fire, the desire for conquest and power. (Sola Busca Tarot, p. 71)
The three-pointed tuft at the top of the head might also have a sexual connotation.

More specifically, this card may relate to the conventions of courtly love poetry. Sometimes the male lover was likened to a falcon flying to its beloved, as in the tapestry fragment below (Michael Camille, The Medieval Art of Love, p. 99).


In a similar vein, the troubadours frequently compared themselves to nightingales, singers of the night (as in Romeo's argument with Juliet over whether the bird they hear is a nightingale or a lark); in such a metaphor, they sang of their love for women who were already married. In one song (I can't find the reference at the moment, but it is only one illustration of the general pattern), he sings outside his lady's balcony at night when the husband is asleep. One night, the husband wakes up and thinks he hears something outside. The lady says that it was just a nightingale. The husband goes outside and shortly after sets a dead nightingale before her, with its neck wrung. The implication, of course, is that this is what he will do to the lover if he catches him--or perhaps has already accomplished.

Here is the "Etteilla" word-list, which seems to me to reflect both the positive and negative sides of love, especially love outside of marriage:
5 OF COINS: Lover, Person In Love, Chivalrous Man [Galant], Refined Woman [Galante], Husband, Wife, Spouse, Friend.— Paramour, Mistress.—Love, Cherish, Adore.—Harmony, Accord, Suitable Character, Presentable, Decorum.REVERSED: Muddled, Disorganization.—Debauchery, Disorder, Trouble, Confusion, Chaos.—Damage, Ravage, Ruin.—Dissipation, Wasting [Consumption, therefore also Tuberculosis?].—Dissoluteness, Licentiousness.—Discord, Disharmony, Conflict.

The Waite-Smith perhaps shows two such lovers, after they have been found out: they have loved outside the bounds set by the Church. At least that is what his word-list would indicate, borrowed from the "Etteilla."


The Sola-Busca Five of Cups shows a wanderer, depicted similarly to the Marseille-style Fool, but with two cups before him and three behind.


Again it seems to me that the scenario is one of marriage, with himself as either husband or son. From the Neopythagorean perspective, the three cups behind him designate his number, as the male, and the two before that which he seeks, his future wife. His clothes, and the dog biting at his leg, shows him to be poor. The marriage should improve his fortunes. Alternatively, he is searching for his family, so far unknown to him, the ones whose whose marriage not only produced him but allows him legally to inherit. If so, he will benefit from his discovery of them. At least this is the interpretation suggested by the "Etteilla" word list (which also includes less direct blood relationship).
5 OF CUPS: Legacy, Succession, Bequest, Gift, Donation, Dowry, Patrimony, Handing Down, Will.—Tradition, Decision—Conspiracy. REVERSED: Consanguinity, Blood, Family, Forbears, Ancestors, Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Uncle, Aunt, Cousin.—Filiation, Extraction, Race, Lineage, Alliance [Union].—Affinity, Contact, Relationship, Connections [Junctions].

Waite sees this card more negatively, although such is not suggested either by the SB card or the "Etteilla" list, which he tries to reconcile with this negative attitude (see Smith's card is similarly negative, corresponding to the SB only in that there are three cups on one side and two on the other.


Waite's negative impression comes from his odd interpretation of the three and two, that the three are what is lost and the two are what is gained. I prefer the more positive perspective relating the three and two in the Neopythagorean way to the benefits of marriage, as I think the "Etteilla" list does as well. And so does the Sola-Busca: If our wanderer is depicted as poor now, and he persists in his journey despite dogs and dishevelment, that probably indicates a change in fortunes to come.

So how do the four Sola-Busca Fives relate to the four temperaments? Well, the man with batons and gourd looks to me Choleric. Marco's schema would have him melancholic. Cups, looking off into the future with perhaps a hopeful expression on his face, seems to me Sanguine. Marco would have him Phlegmatic. The Bird-Man singing to his beloved in Coins is probably Phlegmatic; Marco's schema would predict Sanguine. The melting-down of swords has no meaning in itself; but if there is an analogy with the alchemical mortificatio, then the mood is Melancholic, as opposed to Choleric. So while the temperaments fit, in this case Marco's schema does not.

More on the SB gourd

In the previous post I wrote:

Batons shows a man carrying a gourd and five large arrows or spears. Di Vincenzo, in Sola-Busca Tarot p. 100), calls the gourd a "symbol of human stupidity," since it is "dried up." But perhaps it conceals something, inside or symbolically. We might ask, what did gourds mean in Renaissance art? A cursory look on the Web shows a few possibilities. At ... r%2009.pdf, p. 7, we find it identified in Durer's Jerome in his Study as a symbol of divine favor, referring back to a gourd that God provides Jonah for shade and then destroys in the night, an act that makes Jonah upset and perplexed. God uses the gourd as an explanation for why he spared Nineveh, after it repented of its sins: it is for him to decide who he will favor and not. According to Ferguson (Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, with Illustrations from the Paintings of the Renaissance, p. 31, in Google Books) its association with the story in Jonah made the gourd a symbol of the Resurrection. In a Crivelli Madonna and Child, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (, it has the meaning of salvation. That is especially clear if it is pictured with an apple, the fruit of death to which the gourd is the antidote. Ferguson also mentions that pilgrims carried water in gourds (p. 31); it was particularly associated with the pilgrimage to Compostela (p. 124). When shown with a fig, however, a gourd could be a phallic symbol ( Moreover, Levenson (Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, p. 294, in Google Books) says that the gourd, especially if shown with a skull, as in Durer's engraving, might also have been seen as a symbol of transience, because in the Jonah episode God destroys the gourd overnight. Similarly, Parshall (at, Art Bulletin Vol. 53 No. 3), refers to its use as a symbol of vain pride.

As usual, we have an ambiguous image. Drawing from the above, I would say that the man is either a thief who has stolen something of only transient worth, or a pilgrim seeking salvation while warily walking a path where danger lurks. A relevant detail might be that the batons are divided into a group of three and a group of two (forming an X), suggesting the unification of male (as in the man and his gourd) and female that produces new fruit, i.e. rebirth.
Here is Durer's St. Jerome in his study:


From the position of the gourd, suspended from the ceiling a long way from the skull, I would guess that people would think the gourd meant salvation rather than human vanity. But here is another gourd picture:


I scanned this one from Lilian Armstrong's The Paintings and Drawings of Marco Zoppo, 1976, p. 525. She does not definitely attribute it to Zoppo, although she says it is similar. I would say at least the same milieu--i.e. late 15th century, somewhere between Bologna and Venice. (I will discuss Zoppo's relation to the SB in another post. Tarotpedia raises the issue at ... Sola_Busca; there is also ... ge=2&pp=10. The only art historian I know of who says that Zoppo did the SB is Eberhard Ruhmer. But right now the subject is gourds.) Do the gourds here represent temptation, on the same order as Eve's fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? I would imagine that such an association would have come to mind for any 15th century viewer. The man is dressed like a beggar; thus surely the gourds are not his. Or are is he considering accepting the salvation that Christianity offers? That seems to me less likely. Or are they just gourds? The pose is just too suggestive, I think.

Here is another. I get it from Ruhmer's Marco Zoppo, 1966. It is from Zoppo's "Parchment Book."


Is there an allegory here? Perhaps that the fruit of hard work is salvation? Or that the price of human vanity is condemnation to hard labor, here or in the next world? The gourds are so extraneous, surely they have a purpose--if only to stimulate thought and discussion. The Sola-Busca pips do the same, at least for me.

The pose of the man in this last drawing is similar to that in the card at the top of this post, the SB Five of Batons. He is even carrying staves! The overall mood resembles the SB Six of Swords ( Zucker (The Illustrated Bartsch, vol 24 part 3) says that the SB's figures are too poorly done to be by Zoppo. More on that later.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Mike, thanks for these fascinating and thought-provoking posts.

Here's one (a thought). The last two images seem to cry out that they're only a small part of a sequence that tells a single story. Man considers plant with gourds. To pick the fruits/to cut down or not? He cuts the plant down (or perhaps he's half way through, as the plant has few staves compared with the bundle he carries in the second drawing) and carries the whole lot away. I wonder why, when in the first picture it's the gourds that interest him, yet in the second he's bearing all those staves as well. Perhaps (having cut the staves) he's wondering if he should leave the fruits to grow on, but decides against this. These two seem to follow on, but surely there must originally have been more images, both before and after these. Perhaps the written story itself still exists, hidden away somewhere.

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Interesting idea, Pen. Some of the drawings in Zoppo's "Parchment Book"--the ones with fighting putti in various poses watched by gentlemen---do seem to form a sequence and perhaps illustrate a story. However, my recollection is that the drawing of the man carrying the staves is the only one involving gourds, or staves, in the "Parchment Book," and that the other one is from somewhere else. But could it have originally been there and gotten detached from the rest, along with other drawings now lost? I will re-read Armstrong on where the drawings come from as soon as the book comes to me again via Interlibrary Loan. I will also check Hind and other sources (Levenson, Zucker, etc.)

The SB Sixes

The Theology' of Arithmetic (attributed to Iamblicus, trans. Robin Waterfield, Phanes Press 1988, pp. 72-73), has Six as the number governing the animal soul. In the ancient world, what defined an animal, as opposed to a vegetable, was locomotion, the ability to change the location of its entire body by means of its own power, unlike a plant, which is either rooted in one place or has its motion imparted to it by something else--the wind, an animal's fur, etc. As though to express that essential property, the Sola-Busca Six of Swords shows us a man walking, albeit laboriously, given the six swords he is carrying. That difficulty reflects a fact of life in those days, that travel for many people was not that easy. It was also dangerous; one needed all the protection one could get.


The "Etteila" word-list shows a similar emphasis on self-movement, at least in the uprights. (I use quotes around "Etteilla" because these lists are actually from Papus, in La Tarot Divinitoire, who attributes them to Etteilla. I do not know how they derive from Etteilla.):
ETTEILLA 6 OF SWORDS: Road, Path, Lane, Walk, Passage, Footpath, Route—Walking, Trafficking, Canvassing, Thoughtfulness [the text reads: Prévenance; but if Provenance is meant, then the translation is: Provenance], Driving, Means, Manner, Way, Expedient, Voyage, Course, Stroll, Pattern, Tracks, Trace, Envoy, Commissionaire [Messenger]. REVERSED: Declaration, Declaratory Act, Exposition, Discussion, Interpretation.—Charter, Constitution, Diploma, Manifest Law, Ordinance.—Publication, Proclamation, Conspicuousness, Public Notice, Publicity, Authenticity, Fame.—Denunciation, Counting.—Enumeration.—Knowledge, Discovery, Exposure, Vision, Revelation, Apparition, Appearance, Admission, Confession, Protestation, Approval, Authorization.
I have no idea where many of the Reverseds come from. Some, e.g. "Declaration," "Proclamation," etc. perhaps have something to do with the meaning of "messenger" in the Uprights. Others, i.e. "Vision, Revelation, Apparition," may be connected with another aspect of the Hexad, its connection with Hecate (p. 81). In ancient Alexandria, she was the goddess of witches and curses ( In medieval Germany, hexagonal designs were painted on buildings as protection against hexes, perhaps because of the linguistic similarity; but I can find no evidence for an actual etymological connection between "hex" meaning "witch" and "hex" meaning "six."


Waite also understood the Six of Swords in terms of traveling. For some reason he associated the card with travel by water, although such is not part of the Neopythagorean meaning nor the "Etteilla" word-list which he largely copied (see Smith's illustration shows a man on a raft, having a much easier time of it than the SB's man on foot. The woman and child are part of a narrative that Waite conceived for the Swords (Kaplan Vol. 1, p. 272), and have nothing to do with anything before him that I can find.


In Cups, we see three childlike cherubs playing on a large cup in which five other cups are part of its design. Waite, too, saw the theme as childhood.


The "Etteilla" list also uses that theme, at least in the Uprights, although generalized to include the past, which for most of us is where childhood is. In the Reverseds, however, the theme is the future.
ETTEILLA 6 OF CUPS: The Past, Times Gone By, Wilted, Faded, Formerly, Earlier, Previously, Long Ago, In The Olden Days.—Old Age, Decrepitude, Antiquity. REVERSED: Advent, Future.—After, Following, Subsequently, Later.—Regeneration, Resurrection.—Reproduction, Renewal, Repetition.
But what do childhood, the past, and the future have to do with the number six? The Theology speaks of six as divisible by three, and hence, like the Triad, pertaining to beginning, middle, and end (p. 78). But in the 6, these three are in the context of the animal soul, which unlike the plant remembers its past, has these memories available to it in the present, and can use them in anticipating the future. Beginning, middle, and end have become past, present, and future. In cups, we see the past in the "Etteilla" Uprights and the future in the Reverseds. In the SB illustration, as well as the Waite-Smith, we see one universal part of that past for humans, childhood and our memories of it.

The Theology relates the Hexad to childhood in three other ways. First, like the 5, multiplying 6 by itself, once or as many times as one likes, always results in a number ending with 6: the child is like the parent. The Theology says:
When squared, it includes itself, for 6x6=36; when cubed, it no longer maintains itself as a square, for 6x36=216, which includes 6 but not 36. [Translator's note: That is, 36 is circular, 216 is spherical.] (p. 75)

And later, after discussing 6 as a number of marriage by multiplication (female 2 x male 3), it adds: is the function of marriage to make offspring similar to parents. (p. 75)

Second, it says, the number of days, from conception, after which a human fetus is viable on its own (self-moving, in other words) is 216, the cube of 6. And third, from Pythagoras's account of his former lives--legend had it that he could remember previous incarnations--the author deduces from the historical facts Pythagoras mentioned, that the time between incarnations was 216 years, again the cube of 6.
One sentence of the Theology summarizes both points:
Since the cube of 6 is 216, the period pertaining to seven-month offspring, when to the seven months are added the six days in which the seed froths up and germinates, [translator's note: Greek months consisted of thirty days. The first six days of pregnancy were commonly held to be different from the rest, a preliminary period leading to pregnancy proper (see also pp. 93-4). Interestingly, in modern embryology, the fertilized egg is reckoned to be implanted in the uterus on or about hte sixth day] then Androcydes the Pythagorean, who wrote On the Maxims, and Eubulides the Pythagorean, Aristoxenus, Hippobotus and Neanthes, who all recorded Pythagoras' deeds, said that the transmigrations of soul which he underwent occurred at 216-year intervals; that after this many years, at all events, he came to reincarnation and rebirth as Pythagoras, as it were after the first cycle and return of the soul-generating cube of six (and this number is in fact recurrent because of being spherical), and that he was born at other times after these intervals. (pp. 83-84)
Thus 216 is the number for regeneration or rebirth into childhood as well as generation in the womb resulting in a self-moving child.


The SB Six of Coins shows a man pounding out a pattern on a metal plate, while other metal plates, in the shape of discs, hang on the wall. The arrangement of discs on the wall corresponds to a particular feature of the Six, that it is a "triangular" number, that is, its units can be laid out with equal spaces between them and forming an equilateral triangle. This concept was carefully explained in medieval and Renaissance arithmetic books, for example the passage below from the same 1570 Parisian book I showed in relation to the Tetrad:


Three is another triangular number. Correspondingly, the SB Three of Coins also has the discs laid out in the shape of an equilateral triangle. The next one is ten.

Turning to the man at the bottom of the card, we see a worker very much in the present, He is focused, attending and very much on-task, and careful not to make errors. I think, the third part of time, not covered in Cups, which has past in the Uprights and future in the Reverseds.

The "Etteilla" word list for Coins similarly speaks of the present time, and of attention and care to the present:
ETTEILLA, 6 OF COINS: The Present, At the Moment, Presently, Now, Forthwith, Suddenly, Instantly, At This Time, Today, Assistant, Witness, Contemporary.—Attentive, Careful, Vigilant. REVERSED: Desire, Wish, Ardor, Overzealousness, Passion, Affectations, Cupidity, Envy, Jealousy, Illusion.
Waite, in borrowing from this list, seems to have thought that the French word "present" had the same two senses as the English word, and so included "present" in the sense of "gift." We see both senses in his list of Upright meanings:
WAITE, 6 OF PENTACLES: Presents, gifts, gratification; another account says attention, vigilance; now is the accepted time, present prosperity, etc. Additional Meanings: The present must not be relied on.
Corresponding to the mistranslation rather than to the words that Waite got right, Smith's design shows a man giving alms to beggars.


The Sola-Busca Six of Coins won't go to waste, however: Smith uses a version of it for her Eight of Pentacles (, of which more later.

Finally, Batons shows a man carrying large arrows and holding a lantern.


The ribbon divides the arrows into groups of three, two, and one. This division corresponds to a special feature of the Hexad as presented in the Theology of Arithmetic. The first sentence of the chapter reads:
The hexad is the first perfect number; for it is counted by its own parts, as containing a sixth, a third, and a half. (p. 75)

That is, its factors when added together yield the number itself.

As for the man, he is reminiscent of the Hermit card. Since in its early form that card showed a man with an hourglass, I can't help wondering if perhaps this man in the 6 of Batons carried an hourglass, too, in its original design, before the engravings were made.

In the engraving, I imagine him as a servant forced to get up and answer the door for his master, or do labor past the time he would normally have stopped for the day. The poor man didn't even have time to put on his pants! But perhaps I am influenced by the "Etteilla" word-list, which again reads like a meditation upon the SB card.
ETTEILLA 6 OF BATONS: Domestic Worker, Servant, Valet, Lackey, Maid, Mercenary, Subordinate, Slave.—Courier, Messenger, Domestic Help.—Interior of a House, Housekeeping, Family, All Domestic Servants. REVERSED: Waiting, Expectation, Hope [Desire], Believe Deep Down, Base Yourself On, Trust, Promise Yourself.—Confidence, Foresight.—Fear, Apprehension.
The Uprights are consistent with the interpretation of the man as a servant. The Reverseds convey what he is feeling: it is again about time, but now about emotional attitudes about the future from the perspective of the present: hope, fear, confidence, etc., all emotions that the higher animals might have as well. Since he is traveling, we again have locomotion in space; but the fourth dimension of time is there, too.

Smith's design seizes on the two words "Courier, Messenger" in the Etteilla list.


This card has the same 1, 2, 3, grouping of staves that the Sola-Busca has, as well as the sense that the figure has been in motion, the hallmark of the animal soul. Thus three of Smith's designs are in harmony with Neopythagoreanism, the Sola-Busca, and the "Etteilla" lists; only her Coins is out of step.

What remains is the question of how these cards might reflect the four temperaments of Renaissance psychology. Here Coins might be Sanguine, in that he is being careful and hard-working, with an eye to a successful career. Batons might be melancholy, in carrying an equally heavy load at night when he has to carry a lantern as well. Cups might be Phlegmatic, in the putti's calm, gentle play. So far these assignments fit Marco's proposed distribution by suits. the man in Swords does not on the card look very choleric, given his heavy burden. But perhaps these swords are his booty from a fight, as in the Waite-Smith design for the Five of Swords; in that case, he may well have choler in his recent past. To me the man in Swords appears more melancholy than the man in Batons; but that might be the result of an engraver who didn't fully understand the conceptions behind images already prepared for him by a painter. So at least in principle I think the Sola-Busca Sixes do reflect Marco's proposed correlation of suits and temperaments.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Etteilla meanings for many of the cards are transfered from the meanings given in his earlier book on divination with ordinary playing cards, which used a 32 card piquet pack; he used the reversed meanings of the piquet cards for the upright meanings of different numbered tarot cards whose numbers are not included in a piquet pack.
Etteilla transferred the meanings of the French suited piquet pack from his first book on cartomancy to the tarot cards in his later book. e.g.,

Etteilla 10 hearts = Town, 10 cups = City; 10 clubs = house, 10 coins = house.

Etteilla used the reverse meanings of the piquet cards to make up for the additional cards in the tarot, e.g.,

Etteilla 10 hearts R = inheritance, 5 cups = inheritance; 10 clubs R = lover, 5 coins = lovers; 7 spades R = friendship, 2 swords = friendship; 7 clubs R = embarrassment, 2 coins = embarrassment; 7 hearts R = desire, 2 cups = love.

In general but not always the fives are reversed tens, twos reversed sevens, fours reversed nines.

Etteilla's 'authority' for the the correlation of french to italian suits ~


was probably Mellet:

V. Comparaison de ces Attributs avec les valeurs qu'on assigne aux Cartes modernes pour la Divination.

Nos Diseurs de bonne-fortune ne sachant pas lire les Hiéroglyphes, en ont soustrait tous les Tableaux & change jusqu'aux noms de coupe, de bâton, de denier & d'épée, dont ils ne connoissoient ni l'etynologie, ni l'expression; ils ont substitué ceux de coeur, de carreau, de trefle & de pique.

Mais ils ont retenu certaines tournures & plusieurs expressions consacrées par l'usage qui laissent entrevoir l'origine de leur divination. Selon eux,

Les Coeurs, (les Coupes), annoncent le bonheur. Les Trefles, (les Deniers), la fortune. Les Piques, (les Epées), le malheur. Les Carreaux [Il est à remarquer que dans l'Ecriture symbolique les Egyptiens traçoient des carreaux pour exprimer la campagne.], (les Bâtons), l'indifference & la campagne.

V Comparison of these Attributes with the values assigned to modern cards for the purpose of divination.

Our tellers of good-fortune not knowing how to read hieroglyphics, withdrew all the images and changed the names of cups, batons, denier & swords, while understanding neither the etymology nor the expression; substituting hearts, diamonds, clubs & spades.

Nevertheless, they retained certain turnings & several expressions by which we can retrace the origin of their divinatory meanings to the original suits.

According to them, the Hearts (Cups) announce happiness. The Clubs (Coins) fortune. Spades (Swords) misfortune. Diamonds [note that in the symbolic writing system of the Egyptians diamond squares represent the countryside] (Batons) indifference & the countryside.

Recherches sur les Tarots, et sur la Divination par les Cartes des Tarots par M. Le C. de M. ***
Mellet also associates the 10 hearts / cups with the town/city:

Les coeurs & plus particulierement le dix, dévoilent les événemens qui doivent arriver à la ville.

The hearts & more particularly the Ten, reveal the events that must arrive at the city.
A wicked pack of cards by Decker, Depaulis and Dummet, p.74 & 94

*The correspondence of latin to french suits has also been made recently in the Dame Fortuna tarot deck, which is based on Etteilla.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

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