The Tetractys spread makes use of this most sacred symbol of the Pythagoreans,
and thus it is the most suitable spread to use with the Pythagorean Tarot.
One of Pythagoras' aphorisms says:
What is the Oracle at Delphi?
And the most solemn oath of the Pythagoreans is:
The Tetractys, the very thing which is the Harmonia of the Sirens.
Nay! By him that gave our family the Tectractys,
(For additional information, see
Back Design in
the More about the Tetractys.)
which holds the Fount and Root of everflowing Nature.
Ou ma ton hameterai geneai paradonta Tetraktun.
Pagan aenaou Phuseôs Rhizôma t' ekhousan.
Although Williams (168-9) describes a Tetractys spread, ours is somewhat
different. In our Tetractys spread the cards are laid out in the alchemical
arrangement given in a 1766 Nuremburg manuscript, and reflect the numerical
structure of the Tetractys as given by Plato (Timaeus), Theon, Proclus and other
(click for more on Tetractys)
Each plane (row) is laid out from left to right. First are the Four Elements,
then centered above them the Three Principles, then the Two Seeds, and finally
the One Fruit. In general terms, the left side of the Tetractys (loci, or
positions, 1, 5, 8, 10) constitutes the Transpersonal Axis, and represents
aspects of the situation that are larger than the individual. This axis is the
path of evolution, by which the World Soul proceeds from itself. The right side
(loci 4, 7, 9, 10) is the Personal Axis, representing aspects that are
individual in nature. This axis is the path of involution whereby the
World-Soul returns to itself. Thus the two axes begin and end at the apex
(locus 10), representing the World Soul, where they are coincident. The
intermediate loci (2, 3, 6) represent aspects that mix the personal and
transpersonal natures. (Mead 162-8)
In the following description the loci are numbered in the order they are laid
out, not according to their Pythagorean values (for which, see
More about the Tetractys);
the names are given in Latin and Greek as well as English.
The Four Elements refer to the mundane world and the different ways the ego
experiences it; Pythagorean doctrine calls this plane Mundane (evolution) and
Physical (involution). The elements also correspond to the four functions of
consciousness identified by Jung (sensation, feeling, thinking, intuition). The
remarks made about the four suits of the Minor Arcana also apply here. In this
spread the elements are arranged from most to least dense, representing a
gradation from more collective to more individual experiences.
The Earth locus refers to aspects of the question that are material or relate to
nature and the body; it relates to the function of consciousness that Jung calls
Sensation. In particular, this locus comments on aspects relating to physical
existence (food, shelter, physical comfort, etc.). Earth is dry and cold:
dryness (the power of rigidity) refers to the inviolability of these material
aspects; coldness (the uniting power) refer to their shared character, for in
them we are all alike, even with the beasts.
The Water locus refers to emotions and relationships; it corresponds to the
Feeling function. In particular, this locus represents our emotional
entanglements with the world, especially with people (love, hate, friendship,
fear, dependency, etc.). Water is cold and wet: coldness (the uniting power)
refers to relationships; wetness (the adaptive power) refer to the flexibility
and fluidity of emotional reactions.
The Air locus refers to ideas and reason; it is the Thinking function in Jung's
taxonomy. In particular, it refers to our creative, intellectual activities.
Air is wet and hot: wetness (the fluid power) refers to the fluidity and
adaptability of thought; hotness (the discriminative power) refers to our
ability to draw distinctions and make innovations.
The Fire locus refers to ideals, inspiration and spiritual matters; it
corresponds to the function that Jung calls Intuition. In particular, this
locus refers to our deepest aspirations, commitments, intuitions and
motivations. Fire is hot and dry: hotness (the power of separation) refers to
the discriminative force of ideals and intuitive inspiration; dryness (the
inflexible power) refers to the imperative force of aspiration and intuition.
The Three Principles refer to our experience of time and change; Pythagorean
doctrine calls this plane Planetary (evolution) and Psychic (involution).
(Note, my assignment of these loci to the astrological crosses, which is based
on Hamaker-Zondag, 56-67, differs from Williams, 168-9.)
The Salt locus represents the fixed past, for it cannot be changed, and memory,
which is the psychic correspondent of the past. (Thus, salt is bitter, but a
source of wisdom, see 17.Moon.) In particular, this locus represents the
foundation of the situation addressed by the question. It thus corresponds to
the Fixed cross in astrology (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius), which represents
an inward orientation of psychic energy and a tendency to adapt to the inner
The Salt locus is closely related to the Earth and Water loci, which are below
it, since our psychic past comprises the (immutable) objective past and our
(mutable) emotional appraisal of it. (And thus their mixture can produce either
bitter, poisonous brine or the elixir of the wise.)
The Quicksilver locus represents the mutable present, which is in flux, and the
present moment, which is its psychic correspondent. In particular, this locus
represents the role of the present moment in the situation, especially focusing
on its ability to change, the crux of the problem. Thus Quicksilver (present)
mediates between Salt (past) and Sulphur (future); it creates psychic life by
mediating between the concrete, dead past and the ephemeral, living future. It
corresponds to the Mutable cross of astrology (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius,
Pisces), and thus to our ability to change between inner and outer the
orientations of the psyche and between adaptation to the inner and outer worlds.
Overall, its position in the center of the Tetractys represents our control over
The Quicksilver locus is closely related to the Water and Air loci,
which are below it, since our present choice is based on emotional
appraisal (Water) and rational analysis (Air) of the situation. The
fluid present thus involves both synthesis (cool Water) and analysis
The Sulphur locus refers to the volatile future and to our intention, which is
the psychic correspondent of the future. In particular, this locus refers to
future aspects of the situation: endings, changes, goals and intentions - the
fiery spirit that the Quicksilver must reconcile with the unchangeable, perhaps
bitter, past (Salt). It corresponds to the Cardinal cross in astrology (Aries,
Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), and thus to an outward orientation of psychic energy
and to a tendency to adapt to the outer world.
The Sulphur locus is closely related to the Air and Fire, which are
below it, since the future is born out of our thought (Air) and
inspiration (Fire). Both elements are warm, which represents the
inevitable discrimination between the path taken and all the rest.
The Two Seeds refer specifically to the unconscious and conscious parts of the
psyche, but generally to all dark-light oppositions; Pythagorean doctrine calls
this plane Ethereal (evolution) and Spiritual (involution). Williams (168-9)
calls these loci Tenebrae (Darkness) and Lux (Light), and assigns them to Yin
and Yang, which is consistent with the Pythagorean interpretation that follows.
The Moon locus refers to the unconscious psyche, and to all the dark, invisible
aspects of the situation. In particular, it represents aspects of the problem
that are obscure, hidden, indistinct or archetypal. These are the unseen forces
of which it's most important to become cognizant. They are often inertial in
their action, and reflect the flow (or Tao) of the universe. The Moon locus is
closely related to the Salt and Quicksilver loci below it, since the unconscious
comprises both the past (individual and collective) and the present state of the
The Sun locus refers to the conscious psyche, and to all the clear, visible
aspects of the situation. In particular, it represents what is manifest,
unhidden, distinct and in conscious awareness. These forces tend to be
impulsive (non-inertial, against the flow) and reflect the actions of the
individual. The Sun locus is closely related to the Quicksilver and
Sulphur loci below it, since the conscious psyche is especially devoted
to present awareness (Quicksilver) and future plans (Sulphur).
The One Fruit refers to the Unus Mundus (One World) or the Self, the integrated
psyche; Pythagorean doctrine assigns this plane to the World Soul (Anima Mundi).
The totality of the universe comprises the hidden transpersonal world
and the transparent world of personal consciousness, which are in fact
two sides of the Unus Mundus. Thus it unites the Moon and Sun, which
occupy the loci below it. Further, a synchronistic event (meaningful
coincidence) is a coincidence of these opposites (Coincidentia
Oppositorum), that is, a unitary event manifesting simultaneously
in the two worlds (the material world and the meaningful world).
Divination operates by attempting to create a synchronistic event,
thereby revealing in consciousness the hidden motion of the Tao (Unus
Mundus). (von Franz, ch. 11) (For more on this, refer back to
"Divination" in the Introduction.)
In simple terms, this locus represents the resolution or outcome of the
situation. More precisely, it represents the Kairos (Critical
Moment) at the pivot of the cosmological structure represented by the
cards occupying the loci of the Tetractys.
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Last updated: Sun Mar 14, 2004