a personal perspective
In two previous Newsletters, I have discussed some aspects relevant here. The first of these was for issue 22, titled ‘Kabalah and Tarot‘, in which I looked more at the Tree of Life in its various forms – though also mentioned the Hebrew alphabet; the second was for issue 28, titled ‘the Golden Dawn’s Attributions‘.
In addition, a number of other past Newsletters have picked up aspects of Tarot and Kabbalah, including Waite’s ‘The Great Symbols of the Tarot’ (issue 17); Stephen Mangan (kwaw)’s ‘The Fool, Alef and Orion’ (issue 38); and Dovid Krafchow’s ‘Kabbalistic Tarot: Hebraic Wisdom in the Major and Minor Arcana’ (issue 52) – For a general and full list, see the newsletter archive.
What I am here more concerned with is to present, in this written form, what some have undoubtedly heard me present before – either during various courses over the past twenty years, online in condensed form, or at the 2005 International Tarot Conference.
I make absolutely no claims that this has any historical basis – in the sense that similar connections were perhaps made in the 17th century. Any more, for that matter, do any of the other correlations made by others over the course of the past 150 years. At most, it is possible that once the trumps were developed, a further influence may have played into refining some of the imagery, and possibly even providing a fixed ordering, by considering them as abecederium (Mark Filipas’s presentation on this has done much to lend credence to this as possibility – Cf Filipas’s ‘A Lexicon Theory of Tarot Origin’ (issue 4).
What follows is a three-step process, based on several reflections: firstly, the cards themselves which are, in this instance, paired; secondly, their ordinal (or sequential) value and the Hebrew letter equivalent; and thirdly, considering their progression as a reflection of ascending towards the sublime pinnacle of manifestation.
It should be apparent that, for this at any rate, a foundational view of the world as essentially spiritual is propounded. This does not mean that the model cannot be re-interpreted in alternative ways, but rather that in order for it to make sense in the first place, this aspect provides its basis.
Firstly, let’s consider the Atouts on their own. For myself, it was in seeking to consider the cards in isolation of the overlays others had made that I came to consider their pairing as fundamentally useful – and that irrespective of further correlations.
When laying out the sequence in order, what is apparent (when using a foundational deck such as a Marseille-type) is that their numbering is in Roman numerals (additive style, ie, four is written as IIII). This provides an immediate visual connection between III and XIII, or VI and XVI. It also ‘suggests’ that neither X nor XX have ‘numerals’ after what appears to be symbolic of inversion (by looking at the ‘X’ itself, and the image). So we have, in order, a sequence of I & XI, II & XII, III & XIII, etc.. This provides a first step that, however, does not in any manner take away from its full simple sequence from I through to XXI and beyond. Rather, a ‘mnemonic’ is suggested as to what inner qualities or aspects are required or suggested for the ‘outer’ manifestation to occur.
The bateleur displays an inner strength (I and XI), etc.. Cards X and XX show, respectively, a ‘turn to the inner’ and ‘re-turn to the outer’, culminating in the final pair of XXI, often showing its outer face as mere Fool. Below is the Noblet in that paired sequence:
progression and journey
This pairing provides not only a useful aspect to considering cards, but also shows a progression towards integration – whether the process be considered psychologically, alchemically, or Kabalistically. And here is where considerations of models from the Tree of Life also become useful.
If one takes to heart the Sefer Yetzirah, there is no suggestion that the letters are to be placed as ‘paths’ between Sefirot. In specific regards to the Tree of Life, we have what are ten emanations outpouring in sequence from a fount of unlimited being – or Ein Sof.
This sequence gains ever more density until resulting in the weavings underpinning the material world, or Malkut.
As we view this graduated emanation, we begin from this final position on Malkut (at the ‘bottom’ of the Tree of Life) and face the ultimate spiritual source. Our path, our journey, thus travels back, or inwards and metaphorically upwards, into ever remote worlds.
If the essence of the Tree of Life is one representing the world in its ongoing emanation, tarot may conversely provide us with a means by which to signpost our journey of return within the chambers of emanations we successively enter.
Let’s therefore look at a model of the Tree of Life – one similar (though with some differences) to the more commonly available versions. For the sake of brevity given the space I have in this Newsletter, I only include the version upon which is also shown the completed placement of cards and letters.
Beginning at the bottom, we can see here not only what may require to be focussed and worked on prior to the ensuing step, but also how there is, in a sense, a double ascent: not only as an initial effort (I – VIIII, leading to a first appreciation for Da’at or Knowledge); but also a second inner journey culminating in Da’at as Gnosis. The final step, that of integration of the pair shown on the Sun in Hockmah, is by Divine Grace, shown as XXI.
The ‘art of memory’ is far more than what today is called ‘memory’. Rather, the art provides for means by which to deepen understanding, enable the recollection of past knowledge, and advance with wisdom.
This is very much what comtemplation of the overall image ‘in a single body’ offers.
At different levels, we are also faced with not only the four cardinal (strength, temperance, justice and hochmah or wisdom) and three theological (faith, hope and love) virtues, but we also need to face what is at times called the "Guardian at the Threshold" (Cf, for example, Steiner’s ‘Initiation, Eternity and the Passing Moment’ GA138).
In all these considerations, I am reminded that Tarot is grounded within the late mediaeval period, in a world permeated with neo-platonic, pythagorean, and Christian aristotelean thought: it is very much these impulses that play themselves into the very fundament of atouts imagery.
In the integration I present above, it should perhaps need no reminding that, similarly, the Tree of Life – as glyph – arises within a Kabalah that develops a little earlier but in the same European context.
In this context, I can well understand the view that sees in tarot a reflection of a vast and rich wealth out of which regular contemplation, combined with the frequent reading of seminal books in humanity’s strivings, leads to not only ever deeper reflections, but also, importantly, a means through which to see ongoing insights reflected in this creation gracefully gifted.