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The Qabalistic Tree Of Life


Although popularly known as the source of modern playing cards, and also having a reputation for its use among gypsies as a means of fortune telling, the tarot images known as the Rider-Waite deck are revered by occultists as being a picture book of wisdom relaying the spiritual and psychological principles of consciousness. These images were reportedly designed by a group of spiritual initiates circa 1200 AD in the city of Fez, Morocco, based on spiritual teachings gleaned from Egypt, the Biblical Old and New Testaments, India, Europe and China, in order to keep the truths of spiritual thought intact for future world cultures, in a form which could be understood by anyone in the world regardless of their native language.

Pictures were also chosen because it was realized that the human mind responds to images much more easily than written text, an idea which would later, in the twentieth century, be used by advertisers, and formulated into the saying "A picture tells a thousand words". To prevent deliberate attack or suppression of the teaching of these principles, they were disguised as a game. Each card in tarot is known as a "key" rather than a card, to convey the idea that the image is a key to the door to esoteric or spiritual knowledge about consciousness. The name "tarot" is derived from the Latin word "rota" meaning circle or wheel, which appears to spell tarot when the letters are placed in a circle, as on the image of key number 10, The Wheel Of Fortune (Jupiter in astrology).

The 78 images or keys of tarot are divided into Major and Minor Arcana, the word arcana meaning secret or esoteric. The Major Arcana consist of 22 keys which correspond to the principles assigned to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, so that The Fool key, for example, has the first letter of this alphabet Aleph associated with it, and the Magician is assigned to the second letter, Beth, ending with the World key, assigned to the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Tav. The 56 keys of the Minor Arcana are similar to our 52 playing cards, with the addition of four extra court cards known as Pages, and are comprised of four suits, Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, which correspond to the four elements of astrology, Fire, Water, Air and Earth respectively. In the relatively modern branch of occultism known as Qabalah, which was derived in the late 19th century from Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah, these Minor tarot arcana correspond to the four levels of creation, which are the Archetypal (Fire), imaginative (Water), active (Air) and manifested/physical (Earth), while the Major Arcana keys are assigned to the paths connecting the Sephiroth on the qabalistic Tree Of Life. The French occultist and former Catholic priest Eliphas Levi is often credited as connecting the Major tarot keys to the kabbalistic Tree Of Life[1].

In kabbalistic philosophy, creation is said to occur with a lightening bolt which travels through the Tree Of Life. The ten spheres or sephiroth on the tree correspond to astrology's inner and outer planets; Neptune is associated with the top sphere or emanation of Deity, the ineffable Oneness of creation, Uranus is associated with sphere 2, known as Chokmah or Wisdom and associated with light, the first recognizable manifestation of Deity. This sphere is also known as the Sphere Of The Zodiac to indicate light and energy emanating from stars. Sphere number three is Binah, assigned to Saturn, and this represents the contraction or limitation of light energy into matter. These first three sephiroth are sometimes known as the Supernal Triad. There is also an invisible sephira in between this Supernal Triad and the Higher Mind levels of consciousness described below representing what is known as The Abyss or Daath. Astrologically, this is sometimes associated with Pluto. Some students of kabbalah who also study physics see an analogy between the Supernal Triad and Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, or Mass-Energy equivalence, E=mc2[2].

Sphere number four known as Chesed or Mercy, corresponds to Jupiter, sphere five, Geburah, or Justice to Mars, and the central integrating sphere number six, Tipharth or Beauty to the Sun. Spheres number seven and eight correspond to the personality level of consciousness, to Venus and Mercury respectively, or Netzach and Hod, while sphere number nine, Yesod represents the subconscious mind which humans share with all creation, sometimes known as the animal soul, represented astrologically by the Moon, and known as "Foundation". All the above emanations are grounded in the Earth level of creation known as Malkuth.

The Major Arcana

The 22 Major Arcana tarot keys display many esoteric principles of astrology, since they are comprised of the twelve concepts which astrologers assign to the modern Zodiac, and the ten "planets" (which are not really planets but astronomical bodies representing spiritual or psychological principles) used in Western horoscopes i.e. Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto). Although the last three of these, known as the Outer Planets in astrology, were only discovered in the past three hundred years, the designers of tarot, and their predecessors who intuitively received the idea of the Tree Of Life, understood their esoteric principles and left spaces for them on these maps of consciousness, believing that their outer symbols would be discovered in future centuries by astronomers in the form of planets in our Solar system.

The Keys 0 - 21

See also



  • Waite, Arthur Edward, 1990, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
  • Case, Paul Foster: The Tarot, A Key To The Wisdom Of The Ages. Macoy Publishing Company 1947
  • Fortune, Dion: The Mystical Qabalah, Ibis Books 1979

Notes and References