The New Year has come, I’m waiting for professorial feedback on my first paper as a graduate student (a terrifying prospect), and I return triumphant to the blogosphere. I figured that, it being the start of the year and all, I would talk a bit about year cards.
For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, a year card is a card from the Major Arcana numerologically chosen to represent the significance of a particular year (in this case, 2018) in an individual’s life. Year cards are easy to calculate: Add the current year to the month and date of your birth. Then, add together the digits of the sum. If the resulting number is between 1 and 21, you stop there; otherwise, you add together the digits again until you get a result less than or equal to 21. So if your birthday is August 23rd, you would add 8+23+2018 to get 2049. Then you add 2+0+4+9 and get 15.
Your year card is then the Major Arcanum that corresponds to the number you calculated. In the case of someone born on August 23rd, her year card for 2018 would be Key XV: The Devil.
The year card is closely related to two other cards calculated in a similar manner: The life card and the name card. The life card is meant to correspond to some kind of overarching life path or destiny. You calculate it the same way as the year card, but using the year of your birth instead of the current year. If you were born August 23rd, 1979, you’d add 8+23+1979=2010, then 2+0+1+0=3; your life card would be Key III: The Empress.
The name card is calculated by adding up the values of the letters in your name, to reveal something deeper about you. A=1, B=2, and so on. If your name were Ana Gram,* you’d add 1+14+1+7+18+1+13=19876, then 1+9+8+7+6=31, then 3+1=4. So your name card would be Key IV: The Emperor.
My own year card, life card, and name card are the Hermit, the Hierophant, and the Wheel of Fortune. Probably part of why I feel such an affinity for the Hierophant, stuffy though he may be. For another overview of name cards and year cards, see my very first post.
Now, all that is well and good, but there’s something that’s always bothered me about year cards and the like. They’re calculated in base ten. Base ten is the counting system we use every day. It’s based on powers of ten. We count zero through nine, then reset at ten. The thing is, there’s nothing fundamental about base ten. It’s not like the number ten is woven into the fabric of the universe as THE NUMBER WE MUST USE TO COUNT. It’s just sort of a happy accident that we have ten fingers, so it’s easiest for us to do math in base ten. But we could theoretically use any number as the base for our counting. Computers use binary, which is base two, and (I’m given to understand, though I myself am in no way a programmer) hexadecimal, which is base sixteen. In each of these cases, the number at which we reset is different.
Let’s say the base of our counting system is some number b. Then for any number whose digits are d1 through dn, the value of that number is read as d1xb^(n-1)+d2xb^(n-2)+…+dnxb^0. I realize that’s some arcane mathy notation, so let’s take an example: the three-digit number 101. In base ten, the counting system we’re used to, this is a way of writing “one hundred and one”. b is ten, and n is three (because 101 is a three-digit number). So we get 1x10^(2)+0x10^(1)+1x10^(0) = 1x100+0x10+1x1 = 100+0+1 = 101. But in binary (base two), 101 is a way of writing “five”. Here, n is still three, but b is two, so we get 1x2^(2)+0x2^(1)+1x2^(0) = 1x4+0x2+1x1 = 4+0+1 = 5.
The choice of base is completely arbitrary. We could just as easily go about our daily mathematical lives in base ten as in binary, in hexadecimal, or in some entirely different counting system. So why do we do our numerological calculations in base ten?
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of the numerology of the Minor Arcana is structured around the number ten. There are ten cards per suit (not counting the Courts), and the Kabbalistic symbolism of Tarot is structured largely around the ten sefirot** of the Tree of Life. But all of the 10-ness of the Tarot is confined to the Minors. There’s nothing in the Major Arcana, apart from convention, that suggests we should be using base ten.
So let’s try a little experiment. Since there are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, let’s calculate our year, life, and name cards in base twenty-two.
To do this, we’ll need other digits than the ten that are familiar to use from the decimal counting system. I’ll use letters to denote these. A is a one-digit way of expressing the number 10, B is 11, C is 12, all the way through K as a one-digit stand-in for the number 21. So for example, the number 1F is 1x22^(1)+Fx22^(0) = 1x22+Fx1 = 22+15 = 37.
If you’re not used to counting in non-decimal systems, this could be really confusing, and I apologize for that. I’m not entirely sure how to make it any clearer. So I’m just going to assume everyone understands, and I’ll proceed with the rest of the post. If you’re still confused, Wikipedia is probably a decent place to read further.
Now, let’s look at calculating year cards in base twenty-two. Start the same way you did before, by adding together your birthday with the current year. We’ll take our August 23rd example again; 8+23+2018=2049. Now, before you add the digits together to reduce the number, convert it to base 22. If you’re not a mathematical genius, welcome to the club; you can use this handy converter. Where it says “Enter a new base”, put “Base 22”. Then type the original number in the “Decimal” field and you can see the equivalent in base twenty-two.
In base twenty-two, the number 2049 becomes 453. That is to say, it’s 4x22^2+5x22^1+3x22^0 . Now, add the digits together. 4+5+3=C. (Remember, C is our one-digit stand-in for the number 12 in base 22.) So in base 22, your year card would be Key XII: The Hanged Man.
You can do the same thing with your life card and name card. If you were born on August 23rd, 1979, then 8+23+1979=2010. 2010 in base 22 becomes 438, and 4+3+8=F. Your life card would be Key XV: The Devil. And Ana Gram’s name adds to 19876. 19876 in base 22 becomes 1J1A. 1+J+1+A=1A; this is still too high, so we reduce again and get 1+A=B. Ana Gram’s name card is Key XI: Justice.
I like calculating year cards (etc.) this way. It feels more authentic to the 22-card structure of the Major Arcana, rather than jamming the whole suit into a numerological system based on the number ten. Numerology can be a useful tool in Tarot, but the problem with it is always that it feels somewhat arbitrary. Calculating these values in base twenty-two is still arbitrary, to be sure, but it’s arbitrary in a way that’s closer in line with the actual structure of the Majors.
In base 22, my year card (for 2018), life card, and name card are (respectively) the Moon, the Star, and the Wheel of Fortune. Interesting that my name card doesn’t change.
I think there’s probably more work to do with Tarot numerology in non-decimal counting systems. I’ll likely come back to this idea at some point in the future, and see where else I can take it. For now, good luck calculating your year cards this way–if you choose to do so. Be sure to let me know how it turns out. And a very happy 2018 to all.
*A name chosen primarily for brevity, so that I don’t have to add together a dozen letters.
**Yeah, yeah, I know the conventional spelling is “sephiroth”. But just like I use an alternate Tree of Life in my personal practice, I use non-classical spellings of Kababalistic terms more in line with a transliteration of Sephardic Hebrew.