In modern tarot practice, the Fives and Sevens are generally interpreted as difficult cards. But Paul Marteau, writing about the Tarot de Marseille in 1949, gave me a different perspective. It became apparent as I read his book that Marteau was heavily influenced by the numerological thinking of fellow Frenchman Joseph Maxwell in the latter’s 1933 TdM book, The Tarot. Maxwell was mainly interested in isomorphs ( sets of two different numbers that add to the same number, such as 2+3=5 and 4+1=5, and their varying contribution to card interpretation), but Marteau only occasionally touches on this. He, is however, well-versed in Maxwell’s “unitary” and “binary” number theories. In that sense, any binary number (Two and its derivatives) is galvanized by introducing an active One into the passive equilibrium of the numerical composite, a transition into creative disorder that Marteau sees as an improvement.
I’ve always considered the Five and the Seven to be transitional since each is reactionary to the complacent inertia of its predecessor. My frequent mention of this in various posts on the esoteric numerology of the cards doesn’t need repeating. But Marteau (standing on Maxwell’s shoulders) gets “under the hood” a bit to explain why this should be so. The unitary acts as a “radical” that enters the equation and unsettles the status quo; if things have been getting stale, here is an opportunity to step out in a new direction. It may not seem like much of an improvement while it’s pushing us out of our comfort zone, but the progression of the cards is about continuous “becoming” rather than arriving at and remaining in any particular state of harmony or disharmony for very long, so the disruption amounts to a “necessary evil” that ideally leaves us wiser in its wake.
The Five clears the way (think of a “bulldozer”) for the return to equilibrium symbolized by the Six, while the Seven sets the stage for a similar “re-centering” in the Nine after a pendulum-swing into overcompensation in the Eight (I like the “learning to ride a bike” analogy for this pair). This is obviously the “Qabalistic” viewpoint but it has always made more sense to me than the Pythagorean model once we get past the Five in geometric number theory. In practical reading, it works very well to explain to a querent the temporary, transitional nature of such apparently unfortunate cards (especially when using the Thoth deck and to a lesser extent the pictorial Waite-Smith Tarot since our sitters will inevitably draw their own assumptions from the imagery). Making this out to be an opportunity of sorts in the “big picture” is where we as paid advisors earn our fee.
Those who want to learn more about Joseph Maxwell’s unique approach to the numerology of the tarot — short of attempting his very difficult book — might want to take a look at this previous post: