The Rhythms of the Universe

In his 1975 book The Tarot, one of my favorite studies of the esoteric and psychological complexion of the Major Arcana, Richard Cavendish mentions while describing the Chariot that “numerologically the number seven governs the underlying rhythms of the universe.” I have always subscribed to Aleister Crowley’s assumption that the seventh sephira of the qabalistic Tree of Life, Netzach, is “doubly unbalanced; off the middle pillar, and very low down on the Tree.” He goes on to add that, because the purity of Venus is degraded in this position, “The four sevens are not capable of bringing any comfort; each one represents the degeneration of the element. Its utmost weakness is exposed in every case.”

Crowley and his Golden Dawn peers held that as elemental energy descends the Tree it becomes increasingly corrupted by its mundane subjugation. In her book, Tarot Decoded, Elizabeth Hazel builds on this, saying “The number 7 is mystic and deep. The beauty of the number 6 is beginning to erode. The spiritual quality and character of each element is being tested at this point in the numeric sequence.” Isabel Kliegman observes in The Tarot and the Tree of Life that the seventh sephira, in departing the harmonious equilibrium of Tiphareth, represents taking a step in a new direction, but not without having to carefully prepare for that first step in order to avoid stumbling right out of the gate and going astray.

For his part, Henry Cornelius Agrippa – while ultimately pontificating on the “holy” nature of the number –  walked through the “factoring” of the seven (via what Joseph Maxwell called “isomorphs): 6+1; 5+2 and 4+3 all add to 7. It is the first of these that interests me here; 6+1  imposes a surfeit that disrupts but also discharges the complacency of the number six. Maxwell posited that inserting a “1” into any isomorph introduces a “new unity,” thus offering an opportunity to step away cleanly from the involute nature of its more entrenched partner. (We might think of it as a symbolic “chick pecking its way out of the shell.”) Agrippa’s religious persuasions seem to form much of the basis for the modern view that seven is an entirely positive number, something that I’ve never bought into. Its relation to the phases of the Moon, with their fluctuating light and dark periods, makes its temperamental irregularity abundantly clear.

In pondering all of this in terms of the “rhythms of the universe,” it strikes me that the energy of the 7, as it leaves the “safe haven” of Tiphareth, resembles an unstable “wave of becoming” and, with Venus riding its crest, that could become a “joyride” that may not end well. Crowley could never restrain himself from delighting in the erotic implications of Venus, so the rhythm being contemplated here has a decidedly sexual feel to it. (Witness Crowley’s take on the 7 of Cups, titled “Debauch,” portraying “invariable weakness arising from loss of balance” that suggests the slightly addled Venusian experience of falling in love, or at least “in lust.”)

But it seems to me that the allure of Venus could be put to much better use than merely plotting one’s next romantic conquest. The noblest approach to this rhythmic wave-form could be in trying to figure out how to transcend its unsteady perturbations and take it to the next level of creativity. Hard to do from the vantage point of Netzach, swimming against the current as it were, if we try to turn back and figuratively re-enter the womb. But, unless we take on the daunting mission of ascending the Tree from the ground floor, there is some truth in the aphorism “You can never go home again.”

Maybe irresistable “birth contractions” is a more fitting way to grasp the nature of these rhythms. Agrippa does exhaustively explain the repetition of the number seven in 22 stages during the course of a human life, from conception all the way through to death. His math seems a little shaky at times and he skips a couple of milestones in the later years of life, but there is a certain logic to his rhythm (or rhythm to his logic)..

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