The Rider-Waite Wheel of Fortune Tenth Tarot Trump Card. Recoloured Image: The Tarot Deck.
10/10/10 10:10. We place arbitrary importance upon dates by virtue of the way we count them. But counting derives from our understanding of time in the first place. Whether it's our awareness of the time of day or the passing of seasons, or our larger grasp of death, we invented numbers because we can distinguish between past, present and future. Numbers are hieroglyphs, keys to the mathematical logic and principles that dictate the universe, and a pictorial language that represents our understanding of time. In other words, they encapsulate a paradox. They are both the encrypted symbols of mysteries we will never fully understand and our tools for unlocking those mysteries.
An Asian apartment building missing a designated fourth floor. Image: deedeechong.com.
A few years ago, I was living in a residence abroad, where, unbeknownst to me, the elevators were programmed to turn off at midnight. On the night of September 10, I got into an elevator in the basement of the building where the laundry room was and glanced down at my watch. The second hand had just moved past midnight. I thought, "Hey, it's just turned to September 11." At that moment the elevator doors slammed shut violently and all the lights went off. Only one floor button was lit in the darkness, the button for floor number 4. All the other buttons were unlit.
The Chinese consider the number 4 to be bad luck. There I was, in the basement, trapped in an elevator in a big silent building in the middle of the night, it had just turned September 11, and the number 4 was shining at me in the dark. To make matters worse, the top (fourth) floor of that building was undergoing extensive renovations and was sealed off from the residents. When I first arrived, they took me up there in the elevator and part of the roof had been removed. You could see right up into the sky through a clear plastic tarpaulin draped over the building. In the end, after much talking in a foreign language on the emergency phone with the building's caretaker who lived on the other side of the city, I pried the doors open manually and survived to blog about it.
In North America, the number for all emergency and disaster services is 9-11. And tetraphobia - fear of the number 4 - also appears in Taiwan, Japan and Korea because the words for 'four' are pronounced like the words for 'death.' Some apartment buildings go so far as to have no fourth floor, or no floor with any '4's in them, just as in the West some buildings skip a 13th floor (triskaidekaphobia).
What meaning is placed on three tens - today's date? Or five tens - today's date plus the time of this post? In reality, nothing. We invest numerical coincidences with meaning. Various sources (as with this apocryphal site, here) state that the number 10 indicates creation, resurrection or regeneration, or the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. And 1 and 0 are the alphabet of the simplest and most complex language of our time - the Binary Code.
Numerology has many cyphers, but perhaps one of its most cryptic is the Tarot, which is a classic, 4-suit set of 56 cards called the Minor Arcana, combined with set of 22, higher trump cards, or Major Arcana. Normal playing card decks are in fact the Minor Arcana by themselves, with the Tarot suits - Wands (or Staves), Pentacles (or Coins), Cups (or Chalices), Swords - respectively corresponding in old French decks to the suits of Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades. Each suit also represents one of the ancient 4 elements, respectively Fire, Earth, Water and Air. Tarot card games run back to the fifteenth century. Initially, the Tarot was not used for occult or divination purposes, as it is today. But it always married numerical symbolism to the basic archetypes of human existence. The basic idea is that the Minor Arcana tell you about everyday practicalities, successes and problems - and things you can concretely do to respond to them. The Major Arcana tell you the 'big picture,' your innate predisposition, your fate. The Major Arcana are symbols of all the major dramas that can occur in human society. Thus, according to Cynthia Giles, a Tarot historian, the Tarot is one of the few games that simultaneously tells you about your biggest and littlest questions. Perhaps this is why people interested in the occult use the Tarot as a tool for conquering time; it's become a game that attempts prophecy, divination or precognition. The tenth trump card is the Wheel of Fortune; the third trump is the Empress; the fifth trump is the Hierophant or Pope; the first trump is the Magician; the zeroth trump is the Fool.
One site (here) attempts to connect the development of the Major Arcana of the Tarot to the numerical codes in the Hebrew alphabet; for more information, see the site, Tarot History. One of the best films I have seen about Hebraic numerical symbolism is the movie Pi (1998). The film involves an association of the mathematical constant π with Gematria, or association of Hebrew letters with numbers. This practice is derived from the Greeks, but is now mainly used in the study of Kabbalah. There are scenes from the film here, here and here.