Tuesday, June 19, 2012

3) Tarot : Symbolism - Lemniscate (Symbol of Infinity)

The “symbol of infinity” is also called the “Lemniscate” (meaning “adorned with ribbons”).  It normally refers to the destination of certain closed curves having a resemblance to the figure “8” turned on its side. 

This symbol is seen in several Tarot decks in the “Magician” and the “Strength” cards – Strength being the octave of the Magician card. In addition, this symbol is also seen on many “World” (representing the perpetual motion of the Earth in the Universe and how it may affect the querent) and the “2 of Pentacles/Coins” Cards.

The symbol is a kind of geometrical representation depicting the perpetual motion/interaction of Energy and Matter and their indestructibility. The English term “infinity” has been derived from the Latin term “infinitas” which is translated as unboundedness”.
The origins/concept of infinity can be traced to the times of Zeno of Elea (490 – 430 BCE), a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher of Southern Italy, best known for his paradoxes. Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes et al were familiar with the term “infinity” and had their own concepts/understanding of it. In Indian Philosophy, the Isha Upanishad of the Yajurveda (200 BCE) and other well known Indian Mathematical texts (400 BCE) the concepts of infinity and terms like “enumerable” (which can be numbered), Innumerable” (asankhya – countless or innumerable) and “Infinite” (ananta – without a beginning or an end) were worked upon by the philosophers, sages and teachers of that time.
John Wallis is said to have introduced the infinity symbol in 1655 (although it may have been used by the ancient philosophers and Mathematicians in different forms in their calculations/theories). One conjecture is that he derived it from the Roman numeral for 1000 which is written as “C”, “I” and an inverted “C” and was used in relation to the term “many”. He may have also developed it by working on the letter “Omega” of the Greek alphabet.
In his treatise “De sectionibus conicus”, Wallis has dwelt upon the sign of infinity to signify an “infinite number” thus: “Esto enim (infinity) nota numeri infiniti”.
In Mathematics, the infinity symbol is treated as a finite number even though it has an indefinable Mathematical value. The symbol in its true form has no beginning and no end and reflects the belief that in life and in the universe there is nothing but unending continuum.
Infinity, thus, refers to something “without any limit” and is basically a concept relevant in a number of fields, predominantly, Mathematics and Physics and is used in Calculus, Real analysis, Set Theory, Cantor’s Cardinality of the continuum, Geometry and topology, particularly as classifying spaces, Fractals, Mathematics without infinity, Physics, Theoretical Applications of physical infinity, Cosmology, Logic, Computing, Arts and Infinite sciences et al (ad infinitum (J).

A layman’s understanding of infinity:

In Mathematics, an unimaginably large value is called infinity or is said to be at infinity. For example, if you can think of /visualise any number in a straight line with its origin as zero. Then, you extend this number from zero to the right forever and imagine that infinity is at the end of that line – even then, this line has no end. In another example, if you started at the origin of that line and spent your whole life running towards infinity at a million miles per hour, and somehow could live for that many years, then, you would be no closer to infinity than when you had started. If you imagine moving to the right of the zero, then it is called “positive infinity”. Similarly, if you imagine moving to the left of the zero, then it is called “negative infinity”, however, both figures essentially mean “infinity” only.
The word “infinity” can therefore represent or mean “time” and “space” that has no end.  Also, it can mean a “destination’ or “point” which cannot be reached.

The Ouroboros:

A variation of the infinity symbol is the “ouroboros” i.e. a snake or a dragon devouring its own tail, which represents the belief of an ending also being a beginning and that, a beginning needs an ending in order to begin again.

Interpretations of the infinity symbol in Tarot: 
  •    When applied to the symbolic meaning during our studies/reading of Tarot Cards the infinity symbol, simply, connects us to the “infinite” and “eternal” nature of our spirit and our “thinking’ and “thought” processes.  
  •    At a more basic level, in connection with our readings, it suggests that, before taking action on our plans, ideas, we should ponder over the effect of such an action which could snowball into a domino effect – a one-way street over which we may have no control – ad infinitum.
  •    Also, whether we have set our goals so high that no matter how hard we try, they would always be beyond our reach. Perhaps, it is a time to replan and rethink.
  •     There can be several interpretations for the infinity symbol, perhaps infinite in their number. For example. For couples, it is a romantic reminder of infinite love and understanding between the partners or spouses. For a family unit it symbolises the permanent love, care and protection of a family unit and so on.
  •     Infinity represents all time – past, present and future, centred in the present moment of “NOW”. Everything that ever happened is occurring now and everything that will ever happen is also governed by the collective actions taken now. Thus, we create our present from our past and our future from our present  and the action taken now represents our Karma (Karma, in any case in Sanskrit means “Work” which can also be interpreted as “Action taken” or “contemplated to be taken”) and will shape our destiny.
  •   Thus, we may deduce that in interpretations of the symbol during a Tarot reading, infinity represents the endlessness of energies and, that, energies can neither be created nor destroyed but that they may continue without end through both light and darkness,             happiness or sorrow, comfort or distress ,good or bad,  and in the dynamic sequence of circumstances governing the Query, when a card having an infinity symbol appears, success will depend on the querent’s actions taken now and corrective measures taken while negotiating the way forward through obstacles, which may present themselves . The symbol is found on many Tarot Cards, both traditional and non-traditional.

Infinity symbol in Tarot Cards:

The three cards i.e. Magician, Strength and the two of Coins/Pentacles signify things that could impact the rest of our lives, hence, the reason for the infinity symbol. 

The Magician Card offers life’s skills that can change the way one deals with worldly problems and impact the rest of our lives.

The Strength Card helps you through everything, though it is difficult to acquire strength, but if one does acquire it, then it can make one’s dreams come true. 

The Two of Pentacles teaches one to take care of oneself, one’s health or finances, plans and projects and juggle one’s problems.
However, when the cards reverse themselves, there is a need to be cautious. The logic here is that when the Card comes upright in a Reading, the possibilities/duration are “infinite” whereas, the reversed Card indicates “finite” or “limited” possibilities/duration.
Reversal of cards signifies a period of confusion and inability to act. The Magician’s intellectual connection has temporarily been lost, and he has to rely on other attributes, like his charisma and instinct as he finds that his tricks are going wrong or not falling in place. Similarly, the woman in the Strength card may be losing her courage to tame the Lion – even though she has the skills to do it, but she is weakened by her uncertainty and lack of confidence/will. Similarly, reversal of the two of Pentacles could mean ensuing financial debts or mismatching of assets and liabilities, leading to financial distress. However, these difficulties are for a finite period of time, though possibly undetermined at the time of the Reading, and shall be overcome by the Querent with careful strategy.

    The Magician:
-      In several Tarot decks, the magician refers to scholarly/spiritual knowledge.

-      In the Rider Waite Deck - Above the Magician’s head is the archetypal sign of infinity, like an endless cord forming the lemniscate. Interestingly, in this image, there is also the “serpent cincture” or “girdle” or the “ouroboros” (the serpent devouring its own tail), which is also an ancient symbol of eternity or transmutation and transformation and in this image represents the eternal nature of the spirit.   

-      The Celtic Cross Deck - among many things is a representation of endless spiritual love. The curves of its design are based on the continuous essence of the infinity symbol. Above the Magician’s Head is shown the symbol of Infinity below which are symbols of the four minor Arcana suits. 

-      In the Mythic Tarot – the Magician is depicted by Hermes who is considered to be a trickster par excellence and has limitless possibilities for the Querent up his sleeve. The two serpents intertwined around the Wand (symbol of Fire suit) portray the symbol of infinity.  

-      In the Crowley Tarot - Two of the three Magi cards show the sign of infinity, while the third with its imagery suggest that the Magus is one with the infinite universe. 

-      In the Arthurian Tarot – the red and white dragons of Vortigern form a sign of infinity over Merlin’s head locked in their eternal fight depicting the eternal fight between good and evil).  

            Some variations are also seen in Tarot depictions of the Magician, where the Card does not show the infinity symbol, but there is an implicit   indication of the same.

-      In the Osho Tarot -  the Magician Card is called “Existence” and depicts the Magician as a naked female figure viewed from the back sitting on the lotus of perfection, gazing at the beauty of the stars .It is as if she is one with the Universe, without any worldly trappings and can put before the Fool (Querent) “infinite” possibilities. 

-      In the Visconti Sforza Tarot This is the Magician or Juggler Card from the Pierpont – Morgan – Bergamo Visconti – Sforza Tarocchi Deck made by Bonifacio Bembo. Notice that all the suits of the minor Arcana (secrets) are represented at his table.  There is a knife (representing the suit of Swords – Air), two coins and a white loaf (representing the suit of coins or pentacles (Earth), in his hand he holds a rod or baton (representing the suit of Wands or Staves – Fire) and a cup (representing the suit of cups – water). This deck was one of the first few to be designed at a time in 1450 A.D.,. Although it does not specifically indicate a lemniscate, by its imagery the Magician card offers “infinite” possibilities. 

-      In the Marseilles Tarot - the curves of the Magician’s hat represent the symbol of infinity.

-      The Magician Card invariably has the symbols of the four Tarot suits i.e. Classical elements of Air, Fire, Earth and water. 

-      The Magician card points to the talents, capabilities and resources at the querent’s disposal.

-      Depending on the card’s placement in relation to other cards, the message is to tap one’s full potential rather than keeping oneself in check, particularly when there is a need/restlessness to transform the existing situation/circumstances. The card urges one to consider the “infinite possibilities” and to rely on one’s intuition to bring about the change/transformation, sometimes under the tutelage of a guide or a mentor.

-      Thus, we see that, the Magician gives you infinite tools to make your dreams come true, although, he is often a “trickster “or “illusionist”, but he helps you to learn from your experiences and acquire the necessary skills to understand that, if, things are not falling in place, shift gears and find the way forward to achieve your goals and aspirations.


The Strength Card, like the Magician has tremendous Powers - strength and courage. The Card teaches us that when faced with a difficult situation, a creative handling of one’s capabilities is called for instead of indulging in criticism and senseless despair. Courage, strength and self-discipline are necessary to battle with the situation. It is also a time when consolidating action is required not just a semblance of action. There is an over-riding need to show leadership and take charge of the situation.

-      In the Waite Tarot is depicted a woman, who has overcome a lion with a quiet strength that has come from within. There is a lemniscate, the symbol of infinity, representing her indomitable spirit under any difficult circumstances at all times.  

-      In the Celtic Tarot - Here a young woman draws apart the jaws of a beast (which is a Celtic equivalent of a Lion), demonstrating her power over the uncontrolled forces of nature. She is Celtic Queen Macha who had the strength equal to any man and in battle her gaze was said to freeze enemy combatants with horror. Interweaving Celtic knots, in which there is no beginning or end, reflect/symbolise the sign on infinity.

-      In the Mythic Tarot - For a change from several other decks, this card shows a Man Hercules or Heracles, a son of Zeus, the King of the Gods in Greek Mythology. Here, he has conquered the Nemean Lion (one of the twelve tasks set out for him by King Eurystheus) with his bare hands, displaying his immense strength and courage. This card does not display the lemniscate, but shows tacitly, that with a self-belief in oneself anything obstacle in one’s path can be achieved as Hercules is the universal archetype of immense strength and courage and his legend and exploits has endured for ages and will do so for several centuries hence.

-      In the Visconti Sforza Tarot -  This Card is called Fortitude . Like in the Mythic Tarot, here too, Hercules is depicted wielding a club above his head. A crouching Nemean Lion is shown before him. The lemniscate, has not been shown here as in the above Deck, but tacitly indicates to the same qualities.

 -      In the Arthurian Tarot the Strength card has been depicted by Sir Gawain, who was Arthur’s nephew and Captain/Commander of the Knights of the Round Table. His Celtic name was Gwalchmai (the Hawk of May). He wears round her neck a magical token of Lady Bercilak, which protects him from harm. On his shield he wears her interlaced knot which represents the symbol of infinity in Celtic Art.

Two of Pentacles:

Twos of a suit characteristically, represent the conflicts inherent in Opposites and focus on any pending decisions that are required to be made. In other words, Twos take us from Principles and concepts to taking action and experiencing the consequences, good or bad, of the action.

Thus characteristically, twos represent the need to balance the material (work) with other important aspects/areas of life, such as family, friends and our own physical and mental and spiritual well being, plans and projects and managing one’s problems.
The two of pentacles, also, suggests that one should be very careful in financial matters (juggling of coins). It also tells the Querent that the skills that one gains in his investments now can give the person not short term gains, but gains throughout his life or ad infinitum.

-      In the Visconti Sforza Tarot -  In the two of coins, the scroll in between the two coins/pentacles, resembles a lemniscate.

-      In the Celtic Tarot  the intricate, interweaving knotwork shows the duality of two eternal possibilities - gain or loss in equal measure, like the obverse (heads) and reverse (tails) sides of a coin.

-      In the Mythic Tarot -   is shown Daedalus, who had built the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete and is the smith and craftsman for the Gods in Greek Mythology, is shown at work in on his table. Below the table on both sides are two pentacles having interlaced knots representing the sign/symbol of infinity.

-      In the Waite Tarot – there is a man dancing with two coins/pentacles, one in each hand. A cord or rope passes around the pentacles and forms a large lemniscate, the symbol of eternity/infinity.

-      In the Arthurian Tarot - the suit of Pentacles is called the suit of stones. In this card, a river splits into two in a snow covered valley. If one meditates deeply on this card, one becomes aware that the river splits into two or more places, before rejoining again, thus creating islands and symbols of infinity.

The World:

Notice that the World card in the Waite Tarot shows a wreath, perpetual in its depiction, representing the turning wheel of Life and achievement and is bounded on the top and bottom by two red "ribbons"(or the lemniscate) and indicating that nothing is constant/permanent in the perpetual motion of time and the Universe.


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  2. This was incredibly helpful, as today I pulled four cards for a daily spread, and they included Strength (reversed), Two Pentacles, Eight Pentacles, and the Magician. Whole lotta lemniscates going on today! Even the Eight Pentacles, being an 8 is inherently an upright lemniscate. Anyway, found your info 'infinitely' helpful haha : )
    thank you!

  3. Thank you so much Katerina. Glad this article helped out in a small way. We have always found the lemniscate to be a very intriguing symbol. Even on several coins issued by various countries the Lemniscate has figured prominently, in the hope that their currency will be in circulation in perpetuity.

  4. Excellent post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and seeing examples of infinity in all those various decks. Today I drew 2 of Pentacles clarified by Strength so this information was extremely helpful! Thanks so much for taking the time to research such a great post.

    1. Thank you so much Fiore for your extremely encouraging comment and for sharing your experience.

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  6. So today, on 8th of 8th, I had one of the most ground-shaking days of my life. It's beyond my belief what kind of realizations I came upon today. Later on, I realised that the symbol "8" also means infinity, and I started researching about it online. I ended up here. As I've been interested in Tarot cards for some time, I have never read about them or had them read. Today, although, it seems as if the universe itself pulled out the symbol right in front of my face. And all of the things that you wrote about aligned with my experiences today and before. Today I felt that the course of my life has changed for good, that I understood life in such a clarity I didn't know possible. And after such a long time struggling with the plain basics of my life - finances, finishing my studies, my health - I understood that it has all been worth while. Since it led me to this day.

    Thank you for sharing this blog post! It has been, in the lack of better words, most helpful and delightful. I'm sending you heaps of good energy wherever you are.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and your beautiful words/sentiment. As you have rightly observed, everything in nature is inter-connected and everything happens to guide us/enlighten us on the way forward, at the appropriate time.

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  9. I like your article and reference to the twos as balancing karma. I am writing a book about past lives and I am exploring this concept. I wish you had spoken a little bit about yourselves as authors.

    1. Thank you, Patricia for visiting the blog. Apologise for the somewhat late response, due to other preoccupation. We are ex-State Bankers from India, and Tarot Card reading and researching is one of our hobbies we picked up after retirement. All the very best with your book. The subject matter sounds very interesting.

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