...Eliphas Levi declared that by arranging the Tarot cards according to a definite order man could discover all that is knowable concerning his God, his universe, and himself. When the ten numbers which pertain to the globes (Sephiroth) are combined with “22 letters relating to the channels, the resultant sum is 32--the number peculiar to the Qabbalistic Paths of Wisdom. These Paths...are analogous to the first 32 degrees of Freemasonry, which elevate the candidate to the dignity of a Prince of the Royal Secret. Qabbalists also consider it extremely significant that in the original Hebrew Scriptures the name of God should occur 32 times in the first chapter of Genesis...
Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages
Kabbalah is an esoteric discipline for reading, and discovering, hidden knowledge encoded in the Torah. This is, at least, it's original purpose. One of Kabbalah's methodologies is gematria, based on the fact that the Hebrew alphabet--as with the Greek, Roman, and many others--served as numerals as well as sounds. This means that Hebrew words are themselves all values. For Jewish mystics, shared values between words indicated deeper connections which demonstrate the hidden construction of the world. The most common example is that the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, has a value of 26. 26 is also the value of ABHA and AChD, "Love" and "Unity," which the Kabbalists read as insight into God's nature.
To better investigate the hidden meanings of words, Hebrew Kabbalah embraced Pythagorean numerical mysticism, and this more than anything made the discipline attractive to those outside of Judaism. Aside from gematria, Kabbalists constructed a diagram--based on Pythagorean concepts--called the Etz haChayim or "Tree of Life" after the one in Eden. This was said to be a blueprint of Creation, showing not only the structure of the Universe and Man, but the mind of God. Hermetic Kabbalists--commonly referred to as Qabalists to distinguish them from Judaic mystics--adopted gematria and the Tree of Life to build their model of the universe.
The Tree of Life is constructed from the Numbers we discussed in the last chapter. 0, 1-10, and 22 are the most essential. The entire schema is an attempt to "Square the Circle," or unite Earth and Heaven. For this reason its skeleton is based on 3 and 4.
For starters, the Tree of Life is made of four overlapping circles. These correspond to the letters of the Divine Name, YHVH. Y is the letter of Fire, the Father, and Atziluth, the Divine Plane. H is the letter of Water, the Mother, and Briah, the Archangelic Plane. V is the letter of Air, the Son, and the Angelic Plane of Yetzirah. The final H is the letter of Earth, the Daughter, and the Elemental Plane of Assiah. Where these circles or Planes overlap, Ten Spheres or Sephiroth are formed. These Sephiroth correspond exactly to the values of the Numbers we discussed in the last chapter, so that the highest sphere is "Unity" and the lowest is "Completion."
The four Planes or Worlds are meant to show the process of manifestation. The best way to understand this is by example.
There is a coffee cup on the table in front of me. It Atziluth, the highest plane, it isn't really a coffee cup...it's a swirling pattern of atomic particles beyond my senses. This is the "Divine Fire" that forms the true substance of Creation. But the next plane, Briah, is the Ideal plane of consciousness. This is where my idea of "cupness" resides. It is the repository of all such ideas. In Yetzirah, Fire and Water (Father and Mother) come together to form Air, the Son. In this plane my senses read impressions from the cup (its shape, it's color, it's texture) and uses these to marry the phenomena to one of the ideas in my head. The final result of this process is Assiah, the material world, where the object is not atomic particles but is now--for me--a cup. A coffee cup. From a Qabalistic view we are all the Creators, using the ideas in our head and our senses to manifest the entire world from Fire.
It is easy to see, at this point, how nicely the ten Numbers fit into this plan. Where Ultimate Reality (Y) and Ideal Reality (H) meet we have the three numbers of Heaven, Unity, Division, and Space. Where Ideal Reality (H) meets Sensual Reality (V), we have Matter, Time, and Individual Consciousness. Sensual Reality (V) meets with Physical Life (H) to generate Individuality, Sensation, Learning, Creation, and Completion.
Two more things must be noted. Above the Tree is what the Qabalists call Ain, or "Nothing" (the blue curve in the diagram). The Tree of Life is understand to grow downwards, rooted in Heaven, from the concept of Zero. It is best then to think of the first Sephiroth as the trunk of the Tree and the tenth as the summit. Zero, then, exists above the Ideal Plane of Briah. We can have no conception of it.
Between the upper three Sephiroth and the lower seven (the 3 and 7 of Heaven and Earth) is a gap where no Sephiroth exists. This is the Abyss, the gulf between Heaven and Earth caused (in mythology) by the Fall. The Tenth sphere at the base of the Tree replaces this gap.
Before we continue, please note that this arrangement creates three columns of Sephiroth, or "Pillars." These grow down from and reflect the highest three Sephiroth of Heaven. The right pillar grows from 2, and reflects Maleness and Force. The left pillar grows from Space and reflect Femaleness and Form. The middle pillar grows from Unity and reflects Consciousness.
So far we have seen how the basic framework of the Tree is based on the numbers of 3, 4, and 1-10. But the number 22 is also crucial here. As we noted, 22 comes from the three vectors of the Cube, the seven points of the Cube, and the twelves edges of the Cube. As 3 and 7 are also Heaven and Earth, we see in 22 the sum total of creation.
Hebrew letters are themselves divided up this way. There are three Mother Letters, seven Double Letters, and twelve Singles. Since this is not a study in Hebrew, we needn't dwell on what that means. What is important to us here is that Kabbalists believed the universe was something that Yahweh (YHVH) spoke into existence, using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (again, simultaneously sounds and numbers). Qabalists have a similar concept, in that the Mind creates the universe from numbers and letters as well. The 3, 7, and 12 letters of the Hebrew alphabet thus form "paths" between the static Sephiroth. They may be thought of as bridges or roads between the spheres, or conduits for the Divine Fire. On the Tree of Life three are horizontal, seven are vertical, and twelve diagonal. They correspond to the Elements (Fire, Water, and Air...Earth is the final Sephiroth at the base of the Tree), the Planets (Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), and the 12 signs of the Zodiac.
Taken together, this schema give us 32 categories of Creation. This is again the Union of Heaven and Earth. Think of One (Unity) doubling six times (the number of the Cube), 1 - 2 - 4 - 8 - 16 - 32. This is the also the number of times God is mentioned in Genesis. Into these "slots" the Qabalist is encouraged to categorize all phenomena, turning the Tree of Life into an elaborate memory palace.
Let us take as our example the 6th Sephira, called "Tiphareth" (Individual Consciousness in our Pythagorean model). We know 6 is the faces of the Cube, connecting it to Earth, but it is also the product of 1 and 2 and 3, the numbers of Heaven. So we can see it as a sort of mediator or bridge between Heaven and Earth. This makes sense; looking at the Tree again it is positioned in the Middle Pillar between 9 (the Ego, or Lower Self) and 1 (Unity, the Divine). Six is then the Word Made Flesh, the Christ described by John. It is the link between God and Man. We should not be surprised then that the Cube, flattened out, makes a Cross.
It's Hermetic planet is Sol, the Sun. Again, this works; the Sun is the Son. But the Sun is also our local star, and thus a sort of personal god, a bridge between Earth and the Heavens. And the Sun rises and sets; in ancient mythologies Sun gods die and are resurrected. So we assign other deities here, such as Osiris, Ra, and Dionysus. Solar associations also give us metals like gold, animals like the Phoenix, and gems like the yellow diamond. The list goes on and on and on. Apply the same to the 31 other categories and soon we have an entire conceptual model of the universe built up on our Tree.
An imprisoned person with no other book than the Tarot, if he knew how to use it, could in a few years acquire universal knowledge, and would be able to speak on all subjects with unequalled learning and inexhaustible eloquence.
The Tarot was not created as an esoteric tool; it was a deck of cards for gambling. The Italian tarocchi and its French cousin, from whom we get the word tarot, was played with four suits and an extra set of Trump cards. It began to transition from a card game to a divinatory device in the late 18th century. Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Protestant Freemason, speculated the cards were actually of ancient Egyptian origin. Elphias Levi later connected them to the Kabbalah.
Even if they were not made as a divinatory tool, they certainly seem made for it. By chance (?) the cards are built along the exact same Pythagorean principles as the Tree of Life. To wit, there are 4 suits that correspond exactly to the Four Qabalistic worlds, each with 4 Court Cards that perfectly mirror the formula of the Tetragrammaton (Father, Mother, Son, Daughter) and 10 lower cards that correspond to the Sephiroth or Pythagorean Decade. The Trumps, with evocative titles and images like the Devil, Death, and the Sun, are 22 in number (like the letters of the Hebrew alphabet or the dimensions of the Cube). Even better, of the 22 Trumps one, the Fool, is numbered "zero," leaving 21 others...3 sets of 7. The Tarot couldn't have been better suited to Hermetic purposes if it had been designed by an initiate.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn made the Tarot central to its doctrines (alongside Qabalah and Enochian), and its most infamous graduate, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) made it a centerpiece of his teachings. In The Book of Lies he wrote;
The Great Wheel of Samsara.
The Wheel of the Law.
The Wheel of the Taro.
The Wheel of the Heavens.
The Wheel of Life.
All these Wheels be one; yet of all these the Wheel of the TARO alone avails thee consciously.
Meditate long and broad and deep, 0 man, upon this Wheel, revolving it in thy mind!
Be this thy task, to see how each card springs necessarily from each other card, even in due order from The Fool unto The Ten of Coins.
Then, when thou know'st the Wheel of Destiny complete, may'st thou perceive THAT Will which moved it first. [There is no first or last.]
And lo! thou art past through the Abyss.
Towards the end of his life Crowley worked with British painter Lady Frieda Harris (1877-1962) to create what must be one of the definitive esoteric Tarots, the Thoth Deck. His companion volume, the Book of Thoth, is a masterpiece. In it, he takes the Golden Dawn's encyclopedic correspondences and associations and brings the new Thelemic formula of the New Aeon to them (see the next chapter). His Tarot, on the Tree of Life, is as follows;
The meanings of the small cards derive directly from the Pythagorean Decade, filtered however though the Element or Plane of each suit.
Wands: Fire, Y-The Father,Will and Action
Cups: Water, H-The Mother, Emotion and Ideals
Swords: Air, V-The Son, Thought and Definition
Discs: Earth, H-The Daughter, Matter and Senses
Thus, the Two of Wands signifies Separation or Polarity in Will, whilst the Two of Swords is the same in Thought. The Eight of Cups is Learning from an Emotional experience, while the Eight of Discs is learning from Material ones.
The Court Cards, then, show the manifestation of the Tetragrammaton in each World. The Knights represent the Fiery element, the Queens are Aqueous, the Princes are Airy and the Princesses are Earthy. So the Knight of Wands is the paternal, Fiery portion of Air. The Queen of Discs is the Maternal, Aqueous portion of Earth.
The 22 Trumps are somewhat more complex, deriving their meaning from the Element, Planet, or Zodiacal sign they are associated with (by way of the Hebrew alphabet). To get the reader started, I provide here Crowley's short poetic descriptions of each from The Heart of the Master;
0. The Fool
All ways are lawful to Innocence.
Pure folly is the Key to Initiation.
Silence breaks into Rapture.
Be neither man nor woman, but both in one.
Be silent, Babe in the Egg of Blue, that thou mayest grow to bear the Lance and Graal!
Wander alone, and sing! In the King's Palace his daughter awaits thee.
I. The Magus
The True Self is the meaning of the True Will: know Thyself through Thy Way!
Calculate well the Formula of Thy Way!
Create freely; absorb joyously; divide intently; consolidate completely.
Work thou, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, in and for Eternity.
II. The Priestess
Purity is to live only to the Highest; and the Highest is All: be thou as Artemis to Pan!
Read thou in the Book of the Law, and break through the veil of the Virgin!
III. The Empress
This is the Harmony of the Universe, that Love unites the Will to create with the Understanding of that Creation: understand thou thine own Will!
Love and let love! Rejoice in every shape of love, and get thy rapture and thy nourishment thereof!
IV. The Emperor
Pour water on thyself: thus shalt thou be a Fountain to the Universe.
Find thou thyself in every Star!
Achieve thou every possibility!
V. The Hierophant
Offer thyself Virgin to the Knowledge and Conversation of thine Holy Guardian Angel! All else is a snare.
Be thou athlete with the eight limbs of Yoga; for without these thou are not disciplined for any fight.
VI. The Lovers
The Oracle of the Gods is the Child-Voice of Love in thine own Soul! hear thou it!
Heed not the Siren-Voice of Sense, or the Phantom-Voice of Reason: rest in Simplicity, and listen to the Silence!
VII. The Chariot
The issue of the Vulture, Two-in-One, conveyed; this is the chariot of Power.
T R I N C : The last oracle!
Balance against each thought its exact opposite!
For the Marriage of these is the Annihilation of Illusion.
IX. The Hermit
Wander alone; bearing the Light and thy Staff!
And be the Light so bright that no man seeth thee!
Be not moved by aught without or within: keep Silence in all ways!
Follow thy Fortune, careless where it lead thee!
The axle moveth not: attain thou that!
Mitigate Energy with Love; but let Love devour all things.
Worship the name _______*, foursquare, mystic, wonderful, and the name of His House 418.
(This Name to be communicated to those worthy of that Initiation.)
XII. The Hanged Man
Let not the waters whereon thou journeyest wet thee! And, being come to shore, plant thou the Vine and rejoice without shame.
The Universe is Change: every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy. Die daily!
Death is the apex of one curve of the snake Life: behold all opposites as necessary complements, and rejoice!
Pour thine all freely from the Vase in thy right hand, and lose no drop! Hath not thy left hand a vase?
Transmute all wholly into the Image of thy Will, bringing each to its true token of Perfection!
Dissolve the Pearl in the Wine-cup: drink, and make manifest the Virtue of that Pearl!
XV. The Devil
With thy right Eye create all for thyself, and with the left accept all that be created otherwise!
XVI. The Tower
Break down the fortress of thine Individual Self, that thy Truth may spring free from the ruins!
XVII. The Star
Use all thine energy to rule thy thought: burn up thy thought as the Phoenix!
XVIII. The Moon
Let the Illusion of the World pass over thee, unheeded, as thou goest from the Midnight to the Morning!
XIX. The Sun
Give forth thy light to all without doubt: the clouds and shadows are no matter for thee.
Make Speech and Silence, Energy and Stillness, twin forms of thy play!
XX. The Aeon
Be every Act an Act of Love and Worship!
Be every Act the Fiat of a God!
Be every Act a Source of radiant Glory!
XXI. The Universe
Treat time and all conditions of Event as Servants of thy Will, appointed to present the Universe to thee in the form of thy Plan.
And: blessing and worship to the prophet of the lovely Star!
Amazing, really amazing Post. Ive been Reading your RPGs posts and you Have a gift for teaching complex mattersReplyDelete
If i May, id like to recommend you The HQ Promethea by Alan Moore. Its almost what you wrote here but woven in a comic story.
Anxious to read your thoughts about Hindi or Japanese esoterics
I am a huge Alan Moore fan, of course. Actually, I used to share a house with a lovely house mate from Alan's neck of the woods, and hearing my interest in Crowley and Magick (I was in OTO at that time) he turned me on to Promethea. Pity Alan has kept us all waiting on his grimoire.Delete
Thank you for the lovely comment. I will take your request to heart; I spent a lot of time with Hinduism (my Masters thesis was sacral kingship and the Hindu goddess) and have lived in Japan fifteen years, so it might be good to address them next. Food for thought. Thanks!