To Yod or Not?

Tarotcard Ace of Swords Yods

On a number of Tarot cards in the RWS deck you can see drop-like things. On the Tower and on three of the aces (Cups, Swords, Wands) they are very visible. With the Cups they look like drops of water, with the Wands they look like leaves. But what are they about the in the  Swords suit? What do these drops symbolize and why was the Ace of Pentacles skipped?

These “drops” are said to symbolize “Yods”; The Yod is a Hebrew letter.

The letter 'Yod' from the Hebrew Alphabet

The traditional Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters and, according to Hebrew tradition, letters are the building blocks of creation. Each letter is an archetypical form of energy, and together they allow God’s wisdom to enter into human consciousness

Each letter has 3 levels, a worldly or practical level, a level that appeals to the soul, and a divine level. The shape of each letter tells an archetypal story (just like the Tarot cards!). The names of the letters each have their own symbolism, but also a numerical meaning; After all, there is a mathematical code in every creation.

The Yod is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The meaning is therefore “The Little One who has much in him“. So what does he have in him? That’s what the archetypal imagination and the mathematical code tell us; You can think of the Yod as a small dot, a small point that expands and expands, like a kind of “big bang”. You can compare it to the universe in which more and more galaxies are forming. An explosive growth or blossoming.

The Yod is the 10th letter of the alphabet and its numerical value is 10. According to the Kabbalah, any digit or number that you multiply with 10, represents the full manifestation of that number. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph. This represents the beginning and is also the figure of man (Adam). Yod is the first letter of God’s name. So 1 x 10 = 10 : the complete manifestation of man. What the Yod wants to tell us is to look deep inside and see how divine you are. Focus on it and see if you can propagate it or bring it into the world.

Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has 1 or more yods; The Yod is everywhere. That’s because the Yod symbolizes “the hand” as a creative tool. It is an active hand that designs and creates, the hand of man and the hand of god. To understand what the Yods do on the Tarot cards, we need to know that there  is another hand: a so-called “passive” hand. This is expressed in the eleventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “Kaph”. Grammatically speaking, you can say that a distinction is made between “mine” and “yours” with both hands; One hand “takes”, the other hand “gives”. Yod is the active, giving hand, Kaph is the open, receiving hand.

The Active and Passive Hand : Yod and Kaph of the Hebrew Alphabet
Image: biblewheel.com

This is the principle expressed in the Aces: Swords and Wands are the “Yod” hands, Cups and Pentacles are the “Kaph” hands. Each ace has a number of Yods, and this number was of course not randomly chosen …

On the card Ace of Wands of the RWS deck, you can see are 8 yods. The number 8 represents life force and refers to everything that lives. It also refers to resurrecting, starting anew, detaching from the earthly. The eighth day of the week is both the last and the first (cf. resurrection of Jesus).

In the Tarot, Wands symbolize  the will, the fire of life, the fire that burns within you (passion). But with the Yods you’re going to multiply with 10; Thus, 8 x 10 = 80. The 80 belongs to the Hebrew letter “Pey” and symbolizes expression (speech, talking). The Ace of Wands is therefore about the full manifestation of the will or life force (in the way we express ourselves, which distinguishes us as humans from animals). The letter Pey consists of a Kaph and a Yod with which the divine spark in the soul is expressed. We remember the number 80 for a while because it also happens to show a connection with Ace of Swords.

Ace of Swords shows 6 Yod. The number 6 represents connection. The 6 belongs to the letter “Vav” which means “hook” or “nail”. By nailing things together, pinning them down, you can connect things. It is about the connection between the spiritual and the earthly, the divine and the human. The previously mentioned letter Aleph consists of 2 yods with a Vav in between: the lowest yod is the earthly world, the upper the spiritual world.

The Hebrew Letter Aleph
The Hebrew Letter Aleph

The swords symbolize the intellect. And in the Tarot, “intellect” is the ability to make that connection between the spiritual and the worldly, to connect all the dots with each other and thus come to higher insight. Ace of Swords, then, is about the full manifestation of the connection between heaven and earth. (6 x 10 = 60). The 60 symbolizes one of the holy names of god, and according to Hebrew tradition means “support” or “lifting.”

Using Gematria, 80 and 60 are both connected to the number 120 and its corresponding letter Samek (the 15th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and yes, the number of the Tarot Devil… but I’m not going to get into that at this point) as well as the accompanying concept (support) pillar. 120 refers to man, as in humanity. But then the “enlightened” man who has raised his consciousness to a higher plane. These two aces are about taking initiatives, creating, inventing, connecting, expanding and rising above yourself. About actively using the tools you already have in your possesion in order to do this: your will and your intellect! It s already yours, so you better OWN it!

So much for the “easy” aces, but now for the difficult ones: Cups and Pentacles. The Ace of Cups is difficult, because the number of yods raises a question. And the Ace of Pentacles is difficult, because there are no yods at all… So we have to work systematically again in order to be able to explain this.

According to the current Tarot literature, there are 26 yods on the Ace of Cups of the RWS deck; This makes a lot of sense, because 26 is a special number  in the Hebrew tradition (well, all digits and numbers are special in the Hebrew tradition, but some are extra special);

26 is the numerological value of the tetragrammaton representing the biblical god of Israel (YHVH). In the bible, this refers to the words of god “I am he who is” or “I am that I am”. It refers to the connection between god and love and the “holy spirit”. Through the Yods you come to the ultimate manifestation of the name, but strangely enough the number 260 is not very exciting (maybe because 26 is already the holiest of the sacred?).

26 is the numerological value of the tetragrammaton representing the biblical god of Israel (YHVH). In the bible, this refers to the words of god “I am he who is” or “I am that I am”. It refers to the connection between god and love and the “holy spirit”. Through the Yods you come to the ultimate manifestation of the name, but strangely enough the number 260 is not very exciting (maybe because 26 is already the holiest of the sacred?).

But there’s something weird about the Yods. On some versions of the RWS deck, you can clearly see the 26 Yods. On my version (a print from the early 90s) there seem to be a tiny little Yod that differs. It’s not a “real” Yod, it’s different in shape and color. Also, you can find are versions that only have 25 Yods on them:

Tarotcard Ace of Cups showing a white little Yod

The number 25 is connected to light and the power or ability to spread this light over a great distance. 25 expresses the concept that life takes place both outside (physical) and inside (psychic). 250 is also connected to light, lamp, hope, and progress. It is “the way of the lord” but also has a negative side (destruction, becoming bitter). Waite says in one of his books: “The cup of bitterness no longer exists for the one who has drunk from the chalice of immortality

So the Ace of Cups is still difficult. What’s going on with the Yods? Is it a misprint? Is it laziness on the part of the “chiefs of tarot card printing”? We know that Waite and Smith left nothing to chance when it came to the symbolism on the cards. So I’ll have to look further for clues in order to solve this ‘case’. And what about the Ace of Pentacles? There are 0 yods to be seen. Could this be explained?

“Nothingness” is the stage before something happens. According to the Hebrew tradition, it is the stage in which God intends to create something. This ties in with the symbolism of the Ace of Pentacles, where you first have to take a step to get something going. If there is “nothing” yet, you don’t have to be afraid. The concept of “nothing” or 0 has been around for much less time than the rest of the digits and numbers. Once people started working with it, it opened many new (mathematical) doors: people realized that theoretically there could be less than nothing. So the reason there are 0 Yods on the map may be because it refers to “fresh, new ideas” and ‘endless possibilities’ ?

The “kaph” aces point to something that can be handed to you or shared with others. You can share your light and your love (but… are you also able to receive it?) and your talents and ideas (and… are you also open to what others have to contribute?). In any case, all aces represent opportunities to make progress!

Fortunately, the Tower is ‘easy’ again: 22 Yods are on the RWS deck. 22 is the number of revelation, it unites all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The revelation comes, willingly or unwillingly, in the form of total destruction. And the full manifestation 220 tells us that we should not be in a hurry to lay a new foundation that we want to rely on. It is a slow process, brick by brick…

Tarotcard 16 The Tower from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck

The Tower is the Tarotcard on which the number of Yods deviate the most if you compare the various Tarot Decks. Are you curious about this then read this post about the difference in Yods on the Tower cards!

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