The Tens as “Disengagement”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This meditation on the nature of Ten is an extension of my previous thoughts on the subject.

I’ve written in the past that, esoterically speaking, the Tens of the tarot suits represent the exhaustion of the original elemental force that first appeared as pure, untrammeled spiritual energy in the Aces. This is based on the idea that “Spirit” descends into “Matter” by flowing downward on the Tree of Life until it reaches its utmost material expression at the bottom (tenth) sephira. At that point it is fully clothed in Form and has sacrificed its transient fluidity and mobility, becoming firmly grounded in the here-and-now. Although Pythagoras considered Ten to be the “perfect number,” Hermetic Qabalists see it more as a postscript to the state of completion shown in the Nine, an enervated sendoff that presages emergence into the Ace of the next suit in a circular (or spiral) progression. The divinatory meanings for the Tens are a mixed bag, some showing satisfied fulfillment and others extreme duress, but most give the impression of being overdue for a shake-up.

Recently, when encountering the 10 of Wands in a reading, it struck me that the image in the Waite-Smith deck communicates a sense of impending “disengagement” and “cessation of effort.” The man is obviously weary under his burden of staves and seems to be looking for a place to unload, but he has a way to go yet before he reaches the distant village. (He also looks like he’s going to need physical therapy.) Coming after the distraught 9 of Wands and it’s allusion to “making a last stand,” it implies the rout that follows being overrun by a superior force.

This analogy of “retreat” or “retirement from the field” might be applied to all of the Tens. The 10 of Cups evokes rusticated tedium of the “Is that all there is?” kind. It makes me think of the Beatles’ “Desmond and Molly Jones,” for whom their “happy home” was the pinnacle of achievement, after which there was nothing else worth striving for. It suggests withdrawal into domestic anonymity, or maybe the Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb.” I look at its homely (and somewhat insipid) image of blissful delight and think “That’s very nice, where’s the exit?”

The 10 of Swords conveys an impression of cognitive overload leading to mental breakdown. Recovery is the only viable option, but first the focus must be shifted away from the demoralizing vision of “gloom-and-doom” toward one of redemption. It’s impossible to tell whether the heavy clouds are lifting or just settling in, and the implication of a storm brewing is unavoidable. There may be “nowhere to go but up,” but letting go is easier said than done when you’re pinned to the ground, and professional intervention may be warranted.

The 10 of Pentacles always makes me think “overstuffed” in the sense of mundane lethargy. The old man might very well be nursing his gout. This is the obvious outcome of the saccharine 10 of Cups; the family group in the middle-ground exhibits all the trappings of material success but they seem rather jaded. I get the notion that they want more out of life than home-and-family but can’t agree on what that is, so they’re just standing around indecisively (or maybe they’re pondering where to stash the old boy, who — given the impatient toss of the woman’s head — I assume is his father). I’ve encountered this card in readings as a post-divorce state of stunned immobility after the “slash-and-burn” event, like a spent field awaiting replanting; it also came up as portraying a family dynamic that had reached a state of impasse when a querent’s son, daughter-in-law and child “came home to roost” in an unwelcome fashion.

Originally published at on March 11, 2022.



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Parsifal the Scribe

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at