The different number of Yods on Tarotcard ‘The Tower’

Tarotcard the Tower from seven different Tarot decks

On a number of Tarotcards you can find ‘Yods’. The Yod is the tenth Hebrew letter and means “the creative hand of God.” The Yod as a letter is assigned to Tarotcard IX the Hermit by occultists who follow the Golden Dawn as a system (others sometimes assign it to Tarotcard X The Wheel of Fortune).  The Yod is depicted on the Aces, the Tower, the Moon and on some decks also on the Sun. There it represents a ‘divine spark’.

In this post I would like to elaborate on the number of Yods that appear on Tarot card ‘The Tower’. This differs per deck and that is no coincidence! All occultists have had their own reasons for displaying exactly that number of Yods on the card. I’ve listed a few for decks that I own myself, but I’m sure there are many more decks that show a different number of Yods.   

One of the “pillars” of the Tarot is Kabbalah. The idea is that each major Arcana card corresponds to a letter from the Hebrew Alphabet and a path in the Tree of Life. In addition, the numerological value (Gematria) also plays an important role. On the images of the cards, ‘numbers’ of things (e.g. number of trees, number of birds, number of pieces of fruit in the tree, etc.) are no coincidence; Every detail has been thought through and symbolism is all around! This is also the case with the number of Yods. As with everything, occultists also differed on what they thought were the “logical” or “correct” references. I have counted the yods for a number of decks and put them in an overview:

Overview of number of yods on Tarotcard the Tower for different decks
Overview of number of Yods on each deck

You can see that this varies quite a bit per deck; We know from Waite and Paul Foster Case what their motivation was, because they wrote a lot about the Tarot and Kabbalah. But also for the other decks you can make a substantiated guess with the help of the Gematria and the Kabbalah. It’s a lot of fun to dive into this, because not only the number of Yods has a meaning, but also the way they are arranged! Let’s try to work it out for Tarot card XVI The Tower.

We can find the following values (of number of Yods) in the Tower if we compare the seven decks from the list above: 16, 20, 22, 37 and 40.

Waite-Smith and Paul Foster Case

On the cards of Waite-Smith and Paul Foster Case we count 22 yods. Waite and Case generally agreed on many subjects (a rarity in the world of occultists).

On both cards, the 22 Yods refer to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. On the right side of the Tower we count 10 Yods and on the left 12 Yods. At Paul Foster Case, the tower itself is also made of 22 layers of masonry; The 10 Yods on the right are clearly arranged in the shape of the tree of life at Paul Foster Case. He says about this Card:

“Unlike the twenty-two layers of masonry, twenty-two Hebrew Yods are shown, hanging in the air on either side of the building. These represent the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the forces corresponding to them. Ten, on one side of the Tower are arranged in the form of the Tree of Life. They represent the elementary and planetary letters. The twelve on the other side represent the twelve zodiac letters. They are in the air, to indicate that the forces they symbolize do not rest on any physical basis”

The Hebrew letter ‘Peh’ assigned to the Tower literally means ‘the mouth as an instrument for speech’. What goes into our mouths is food for our body, but what comes out of our mouths is nourishment for the mind. Hence, all the letters of the Alphabet – which together make speech possible – are applicable to the Tower. That it is not all so beautiful can be seen from the story of the Tower of Babel, an analogy that is clearly visible in this Tarot card. Kabbalists therefore assign the opposites ‘Grace and Sin’ to the letter ‘Peh’ because it is usually either one or the other that comes out of your mouth :-). This contradiction is also in the Tarot cards: The Chaos of the Fool (22) vs the structure of the Emperor (2+2 = 4)

Mars is the planet that belongs to Peh and that rules over the constellation Aries (IV the Emperor) and Scorpio (XIII Death). Both refer to the number 4. If you look at a Gematria book, you can read that the 22 refers to the fence of the circle representing the archetypal world, as well as the completion of a cycle or manifestation. There is a phase that – rather abruptly in this case – comes to an end, after which something new can begin. In the Tarot, of course, this mainly takes place in the (archetypal) inner world, where your ideas, norms, values, thinking patterns and belief system are turned upside down!

Oswald Wirth

On the Tower of Oswald Wirth it seems easy: 16 Yods that probably correspond to the number 16 of the Card itself.

Tarotcard 16 The Tower from the deck of Oswald Wirth

We keep in mind for a moment that 16 can be represented as 4 x 4 or as base 2 with exponent 4. In the Gematria, the word for the plant ‘Hyssop’ has a numerical value of 16. This is in the old Bible symbol for purifying, (thoroughly) cleansing, removal, eliminating impurities. The most important (spiritual) purification is also given a numerical value of 16. The word ‘she’, the female unifying force linked to ‘Gimel’ the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet assigned in the Golden Dawn to card II The High Priestess. You could say ‘female wisdom’ or ‘female intuition’.

The contradiction is that also the word for ‘to destroy’ is reflected here. Let’s not dwell on it too much but keep it in the back of our minds.

Hebrew words for Hysop and She

The Marseille Deck (Jean Dodal)

The Marseille deck by Jean Dodal, originally produced in Marseille in 1701 and restored by Jean-Claude Flornoy in 2007  , shows no less than 40 Yods on the Tower.

Tarotcard 16 The Tower from the Marseille deck by Jean Dodal

The number 40 is an interesting number. For example, in the Bible it is the number of days it rained and thundered during the great flood. 40 is also the numerical value of the letter MEM, which is assigned to tarot card ‘the Hanged Man’. Mem is assigned to the element of water. And on the one hand represents the source, fountain of life, womb. On the other hand it represents the unconsiciousness that can overwhelm you (and even destroy you). Mother is also from here.

Numerical value 40 is seen in words that mean ‘liberator’ or ‘messiah’.

But at the same time, there are many words with a numerical value of 40 that are about taking away, destroying, looting, sinning, damaging, acting corruptly, pain, worrying.

On the right we see 22 yods, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet as just discussed. On the left are the 16 yods corresponding to the number of the card. And at the top, in the middle you can see 3 more yods. It refers to the letter ‘Gimel’ linked to card II the High Priestess. ‘Gimel’ literally means camel and symbolizes change and is connected to 16 because the letter is made up of parts that carry a numerical value of 16. How this exactly works is a subject for another blogpost…Purity / purification are the key words to remember.

The Marseille decks of Marteau and Hadar

Two Marseille decks have 37 yods. These are those of Paul Marteau (1930), a Grimaud heir and Kris Hadar (1996). They have clearly restored the same historic deck 😉

The Gematric value of 37 was also discussed in The Fool’s Staff; 37 degrees is the body temperature of man. The numerical value of Alah. 37 is widely used in names and expressions of Jesus. Jesus calls himself son of man 37 times in the Bible. 16 yods on the left, refer to the number of the card. On the right are 19 yods. The Moon is obvious, there are many words that get the gematrical value 19 and that have to do with ‘dark’, ‘Black’, ‘Emptiness’ and ‘Chaos’.

The Tower of Belline

In the Grand Tarot of Belline we see 20 Yods. This deck seems to be a kind of mixture of the work of Jean Baptiste Aliette and the Marseille deck. It is attributed to Jules Charles Ernest Billaudot a.k.a. Mage Edmond.

Tarotcard 16 The Tower from the Grand Tarot de Belline

The Grand Belline Tarot doesn’t really have an accompanying book outside of the little leaflet in the deck and as far as I know no one has made any attempt to write this (yes it’s on my list ;-). This is in contrast to the Belline Oracle, about which many books can be found. Most Tarot readers read this Tarot as a Waite or Marseille deck.

The letter ‘Kaph’ of the Hebrew alphabet, has the gematric value of 20. The shape of this letter resembles a crown lying on its side. That is why you see the crooked crown on the Tower. It refers to a Jewish concept, which is best described as “humility” or “Nullification”.

In short, it refers to a situation where you are able to “surrender” to the idea that the physical world and your scope of thought has limits, and that there is much more than you can ever comprehend. When you grasp this, it can make you more open-minded and grow (spiritually). The 20th path in the tree of life is also the path where Mars provides turbulent activities in your unconscious! On this path is Tarot card 9 (the Hermit) which can explain the nine yods on the right. The 11 yods on the other hand can also have many different symbolisms, but I was immediately reminded of Aleister Crowley, who calls the 11 ‘the number of Magick‘ by which he refers to the energy or possibility of changing yourself or things around you through your Will. But the 11th path in the tree of life is also an option: from  the crown (the connection with the One,  also a connection between our reality and the One, all that is) to understanding (the ability to place a smaller reality in a larger reality).

Get started with Gematria and Kabbalah

There is so much more to tell, you could write a whole book about the yods on Tarot card the Tower! By investigating and deepdiving into these kinds of material, you come to new insights on the Tarot cards and how they are connected and are referring to each other. It can keep you occupied for quite a while.

There are many books on these topics and yes, it takes a while before you find one that is appealing to you. If you like to get started with Gematria and want to delve into related kabbalistic concepts but you do not want purchase 50 books first, you can also try the following approach:

  1. Find out which Hebrew letter belongs to the Tarot card you want to analyze
  2. Go to this tool to be able to copy the letter
  3. Paste the letter into a gematric translator like this
  4. Gather all the symbolism of the Gematric value (there are many gematria books but you can also find a lot on Jewish religious websites!)

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