The Fours in Tarot

I have made the case on this blog before that the Enneagram and the Tarot had similar origins back in Ancient Egyptian and Greek days.  The Tarot has become, in my mind, a powerful tool for explaining the different mental, emotional, and instinctual reactions for each Enneagram type.  Maybe someone figured somewhere back in the day that if we could see our neuroses depicted as harmless cartoons, we could feel more comfortable accepting how we went off course and became "blocked from the divine". 

It's interesting to me, by the way, that those whose lives have been touched by the Enneagram of Personality seem to have insight into what are called the Minor Arcana (things that we can change about ourselves); whereas those whose lives have been touched by the Gurdjieffian Enneagram seem to have more insight into the Major Arcana (events in life that are beyond our control).  Just a side note- I will leave the interpretation up to others, but it appears both camps need each other for completion.  Correspondingly, my interest is in the Minor Arcana, because I can see the parallel most clearly with the Enneagram personality types and their psychological structures.  As much as it is important to understand the external forces acting upon our lives, it is just as important to know how we can work with our inner impulses to relax the defences and become more open to the flow of life.

There are four "elements" in the Minor Arcana of the tarot- the wands, the swords, the cups, and the pentacles, representing respectively the elements of fire, air, water, and earth.  From an Enneagram standpoint, it makes most sense that the first three- wands, swords, and cups correspond to our three intelligence centres.  The wands correspond to our instinctual intelligence found in the gut, the swords to the intelligence found in the head, and the cups to the emotions arising from the heart centre.  My working hypothesis is that the pentacles- which is another word for coins- represent how those three influences come together to form our worth in the world, basically, how that balance eventually translates into our finances.  I'm open to other suggestions, but that's what I'm working off now.

"If we didn't want to invite you, why would we have included garlic-free tapas and a 'blood' option on the menu?"  Katie Mervitch from College Humour does a tremendous impression of Type Fours.  Here we see the Type Four vampire's inability to let go of their identity as an ousider, a central tenet to the Four's overall addiction to frustration. 

There are nine personality types in the Enneagram, and correspondingly, nine suits of four in Tarot.   A "trinity of trinities", nine was a particularly holy number for the Ancient Egyptians, whose ontology provides the foundation for nearly all of modern Western thought. Dozens of blog posts could be written on the divine properties of numbers that the Greeks passed on from what they learned from the Egyptians, but I'm going to go right into my first interpretation instead.  Suffice it to say that Four, which I'm focusing on first, represented stability, as illustrated by the square or the four-pointed pyramid, an object that was impossible to topple. 

While the sin or vice associated with Enneagram Type Four is envy- a felt sense of deficiency and a corresponding craving for what other people have to feel complete- the virtue represented by Type Four is its opposite, equanimity, a non-reaction to craving or aversion, the two great causes of human suffering according to the Buddha.

Sandra Maitri, a modern-day Enneagram teacher describes the state of equanimity as emotional and mental evenness, an imperturbability, and "an acceptance of what is and a capacity not to be inflamed by external events.... to approach [one's] experience without reacting to it, without clinging to it, and without needing it to be right, dramatic, or out of the ordinary" (Maitri, 2000).  

She quotes Oscar Ichazo, one of the grandfathers of the modern Enneagram, with his definition:

Compare the similarities between the Enneagram's divine property for Type Four- Equanimity, and the Tarot's qualities associated with the number Four: "Authority, responsibility, structure, reason, society, peace, experience, knowledge, wisdom, maturity, self-mastery, power, protection, stability, will, leadership, taking action, competence."  - Joanne Walmsley

Compare the similarities between the Enneagram's divine property for Type Four- Equanimity, and the Tarot's qualities associated with the number Four: "Authority, responsibility, structure, reason, society, peace, experience, knowledge, wisdom, maturity, self-mastery, power, protection, stability, will, leadership, taking action, competence."  - Joanne Walmsley

A whole being lives in complete harmony with his environment.  His moves are economical and always appropriate to his circumstances.  He is not emotionally affected by external stimuli, but responds to them exactly as much as is necessary. 

In the tarot, the Major Arcana associated with the number Four is the Emperor.  The Emperor is described by tarot readers as representing "the father figure reigning through wisdom, order, authority, power, and control.  Thus he embodies the material world, structure, and order" (Source). 

Unfortunately, the tragedy of human nature is that we are fallen creatures indeed, and we come up far short of the divine quality associated with our type.  Therefore, people in the average to unhealthy range of their type-- which is 99.99% of us on the earth-- exhibit to some degree qualities that are the opposite of our type's divine characteristic. 

So instead of being stable and non-reactive, those whose Enneagram type is type Four are the most emotionally unstable and dramatic of all the types. 

"The problem with average Fours", say Riso and Hudson, is that "they try to understand themselves by introspecting on their feelings.  As they move inward in a search for self, they become so acutely self-conscious that their subjective emotional states become the dominant reality fot them.  And, because even average Fours are so involved with their emotions, they do not usually express their feelings directly.  Instead, they communicate their feelings indirectly and sybolically." 

Riso and Hudson describe the Type Four personality as being "self-aware, sensitive, and reserved."  They go on to summarize their gifts and achilles heel:

They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity.

When Fours are at their best, however, Riso and Hudson go on, Fours are "inspired and highly creative.  They are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences."

According to Riso and Hudson, "Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.  Image and quote Source

According to Riso and Hudson, "Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.  Image and quote Source

Each type has a painful irony around which their internal logic turns, some way that they work against their deepest desires.  According to Riso and Hudson, Fours, who are ever engaged in a search for their true self, over-identify with their feelings, hoping that by dwelling on them, and trying to hold on to them for long stretches of time, they'll lead them to the kernel of their identity, the core of "who they really are".  They are convinced that buried in the depths of the darkness of the human psyche lies true reality, covered up by layers of contrived and inauthentic egoic material accumulated throughout their lives. 

However, the irony is that the more Fours focus on their subjective, inner experience, the more opportunities they lose to build a healthy, confident self based on accomplishments and financial security.  As a general rule, Fours make less money than other personality types because of their constant search for authenticity at the cost of what feels fake, hyped, or impersonal.  Fours often find solace in the arts, known to be one of the lesser-paid careers.

Riso and Hudson brilliantly outline what draws them toward the creative arts in Personality Types,

Fours are the most self-aware of the types, and this is the basis of what is most positive and negative about them.  The constant conflict we see in Fours is between their need to be aware of themselves so they can find themselves, and at the same time, their need to move beyond self-awareness, so they will not be trapped in self-consciousness.  The tension between self-awareness and self-transcendance can be resolved in creativity.  In the creative moment, healthy Fours harness their emotions without getting lost in them, not only producing something beautiful, but discovering who they are.  In the moment of inspiration they are, paradoxically, both most themselves and most liberated from themselves.  This is why all forms of creativity are so valued by Fours, and why, in its inspired state, creativity is so hard to sustain.  Fours can be inspired only if they have first transcended themselves, something which is extremely threatening to their self-image.  In a sense, then, only by learning not to look for themselves will they find themselves and renew themselves in the process.

At the average level, Fours feel fundamentally disconnected from others, thinking others have something special to make it in this world, and they lack it.  This feeling of lack acts as a vaccuum that sets them off balance; thinking they are missing a critical piece of themselves that will help them navigate the world more competently, Fours see themselves as cut off and separate from "the other".  This feeling of separation is both a driving energy and a consequence of this orientation.  The feeling of not belonging prevents Fours from participating in life, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The more Fours withhold themselves due to feeling deficient, the less they get invited to participate in activities and events with others.  So the older a Four gets, the more their disconnection becomes real instead of imagined.

Looking at the characteristics of the Emperor, it is clear that he is in touch with an objective reality outside himself in order to represent such characteristics as authority, reason, and stability, but the average Four tries to find objective reality in their subjective experience.  Feelings are just like clouds that float in and out according to the weather, and therefore just like it would be foolish- and impossible- to make clouds stay in a given shape and position in the sky, Fours lose contact with reality when they retreat inward to "spend time with their feelings", to try and suspend their internal weather system and create an identity around it. 

A defence mechanism for their inability to "just be" in the world without the crushing shame that accompanies their feeling of deficiency, is to create a fantasy self in their minds that is usually beyond the scope of their actual gifts and abilities.  Retreating to their inner fantasy world as an antidote to reality that requires engagement and action means, again, that life will continue to pass them by.  Invariably, a recognition that life is passing them by results in even more shame, and as a result the Four responds by protecting themselves with a shield of melancholy and self-depracation so that people stop expecting too much of them, lest they dissapoint again.  

So to turn our focus toward the Minor Arcana finally, it is easy to see how these four cards relate to them.

The brilliance of the Rider-Waite version of the Tarot deck, which is the one that is most well-known in North America, is that his pictures can be interpreted through the lenses of both the virtue and the vice.  Here we could either interpret this picture as pouting and refusing the cup of emotional engagement with another due to the Four's snobbery, or as an equanimous, clear-minded response to the invitation to induge in emotional fantasy.

The brilliance of the Rider-Waite version of the Tarot deck, which is the one that is most well-known in North America, is that his pictures can be interpreted through the lenses of both the virtue and the vice.  Here we could either interpret this picture as pouting and refusing the cup of emotional engagement with another due to the Four's snobbery, or as an equanimous, clear-minded response to the invitation to induge in emotional fantasy.

The Four of Cups

As cups relate to the emotions, and the figure in the picture is crossing his arms over his chest in response to being offered a Fourth cup, we can associate this card with the Four's emotional withholding. 

Maitri describes the trap of the Four in the heart space:

Fours must recognize how they continuously judge, censor, and control themselves in order to approximate their inner picture of how they believe they should be, and further, how they shame themselves for not measuring up to it.  They need to see how this non-allowing distances them from their direct experience and thus perpetuates the sense of being disconnected and is therefore how they abandon themselves.

Fours have many things to share with the world but hold their gifts and sponteneity back to match the refined, cultured and graceful fantasy image of themselves.  As Maitri advises, "the controlled and controlling Four behavior needs to be replaced with an attitude of surrender and openness to what is occuring, internally or externally, rather than fighting it."

The Four of Swords

Compare the Enneagram Type Four's tendency to retreat from the world and the following description of the Four of Swords: "vigilance, retreat, solitude, repose, exile, inner reflections, planning for the future, contemplation, solid foundations, rest, convalescence." Source

Compare the Enneagram Type Four's tendency to retreat from the world and the following description of the Four of Swords: "vigilance, retreat, solitude, repose, exile, inner reflections, planning for the future, contemplation, solid foundations, rest, convalescence." Source

Swords relate to mental activity, and in the Four of Swords card, we see a soldier in deep contemplation.  Here, the Tarot website Keen.com provides an interesting description:

"The scene on the card is a well-lit basilica. Ordinarily the basement of a church that houses the deceased of noble birth or heroic accomplishments, these large chambers were traditionally lit by the lowest frames of large stained glass windows on the exterior of the cathedral. The tomb of a fallen warrior is memorialized on top of the casket with a life size marble replica laying in repose, hands folded in prayer. By his side, a horizontal sword is emblazoned across the tomb; on the wall next to his tomb are three swords hanging. One points to his head, the other to his heart, the third to his gut. To the left of the three swords is a stained glass window with a distant colorful domestic scene."

Again, there are two interpretations to every Rider-Waite illustration.  This could be a picture of someone retreating from the world, using "their imagination to make their life more bearable" (Riso and Hudson), or taking time out of their daily life to meditate their way out of their fantasy and into the practical and mundane aspects of life.

Four of pentacles

In the Four of Pentacles illustration, we see a man outside the city clutching his four coins close to his body.  Source.

In the Four of Pentacles illustration, we see a man outside the city clutching his four coins close to his body.  Source.

Pentacles relate to money, and as was already mentioned, Fours have an aversion to the practicality and the seeming "inauthenticity" it takes to make money and become financially stable in the world.  Moreover, due to their penchant for intensifying feelings to feel more alive and real, Fours are often risk-takers with their money so they can enjoy the feeling of hanging from a cliff emotionally, thereby feeling more real objectively.  Enneagram teacher Helen Palmer has a great description of one of the three subtypes of the Type Four, the self-preservation Four. 

This subtype is willing to jump into new situations, to pack up and move, to get going or take risks when the preservation instinct is triggered, or when an authentic life seems elsewhere. To others, these actions may seem reckless, like throwing caution to the wind, but it can work well with an unorthodox, creative or artistic style. The tension here is between wanting to acquire material security and feeling detached from it all.

The healthy flip-side of this recklessness is saving their money- actually holding on to it- and building a solid foundation for their future.

Four of wands

A Tarot reader's keywords associated with this card: harmony, haven, romance, peace, concord, prosperity, satisfaction, positive improvement, celerations, weddings, engagements, family celebrations, rest, relaxation, creativity, openness, adventure, creative impulses, artistic expression. Source

A Tarot reader's keywords associated with this card: harmony, haven, romance, peace, concord, prosperity, satisfaction, positive improvement, celerations, weddings, engagements, family celebrations, rest, relaxation, creativity, openness, adventure, creative impulses, artistic expression. Source

Finally, we have the Four of Wands, one of the most beautiful and welcome cards in the deck.  Out of all the intelligence centres, Fours are most disconnected from the gut, the centre of action, movement, and instinct. It is from here that we tend to the needs of one's physical body, we protect our assets, and enforce our boundaries.  When Fours come out of their heart space and get grounded by getting in touch with their bodies and physical surroundings, they can build lasting relationships, fulfilling careers, and a healthy financial reserve.  To access the gut, Fours need to have a regular exercise routine where they get their heart-rate up, learn how to manage their time and practice noticing when they drift off into the heart space.  They might want to include root vegetables in their diet to help with the "grounding", get help tending their finances, learn to read maps and generally just learn how to navigate the world and its "real-life" exegencies.


iMPLICATIONS FOR INTERPRETATION

After seeing how the cards relate to each Enneagram type's mental, emotional and instinctual patterns, you would think that a Minor or Major Four card coming up in a Tarot reading means that the querent is a Type Four.  But that is actually not the case.  A Type Nine can repeatedly get the Four of Pentacles, for example, just like a Four can rarely have a Four card come up for them.  In real life, we know that any personality type can withhold, pout, retreat, be self-absorbed, or conversely, exercise their connecting lines to outside objectivity to build a solid and lasting relationship or project in their lifetime, but it's the Four who truly does it par excellence.  So just because you see a certain card come up in a reading, there is no need to assume you are dealing with the corresponding personality type.  As we say in the Enneagram, we have each type within us; but there is one one type that is home base for us, from which we access all the other energies of the Enneagram.