The Tree of Life in the Abstract

As I understand it after many years of study, there are two ways to look at the Qabalistic Tree of Life. There is the traditional viewpoint of Hebraic mysticism involving what I term the “rabbinical” Tree, perhaps best exemplified by the work of Rabbi Isaac Luria (which I admit to not having studied in depth since the Zohar and its hierarchy of angelic names and orders is intimidating as an intellectual undertaking). Then there is the “Hermetic” or Kircher Tree of the Western Mystery Tradition (the primary focus of the British Occult Revival at the end of the 19th Century). Most of the books I’ve read come from that source.

Although I have a thorough grounding in the philosophical principles of the Hermetic Tree, in my daily practice I use it mainly as a numerological abstraction. Esoteric number theory of the Pythagorean type takes me only so far in describing the evolution of the minor cards of the tarot from the Ace to the Ten of each suit. Eventually the model becomes overly complicated by geometric intricacies and the narrative wanders off into mystical and religious territory that I find relatively useless from a pragmatic divinatory standpoint. This is where the “ladder of emanations” depicted by the ten Sephiroth on the Kircher Tree provides the most coherent design for explaining the significance and interaction of the numbers.

The topmost sphere on the Tree (Kether or Crown) is the transcendent realm of pure Spirit, superseded only by the three Veils of Negativity from which it coalesces. This is the domain of the Pythagorean Point, which is hypothetical and exhibits neither mass nor movement; it is all-penetrating, residing nowhere and everywhere at once. The Aces are the tarot expression of this boundless potential since they don’t (as is often assumed) represent the actual “first step” in any situation but merely the inclination or urge to take that step that must still be “triggered” by engagement with events; until this purposeful act of initiation (symbolized by the Pythagorean Line) it is merely a tenuous impulse.

At the bottom of the Tree, the sphere of Malkuth (Kingdom) is the dominion of Earth, representing the corporeal “fixation” of Spirit in Matter. The entire Tree is therefore a diagram of the “descent” of said Spirit from its most numinous manifestation to its most tangible (and least fluid) condition. Aleister Crowley considered this evolution to reflect a “corruption” of the pristine spiritual state of the Ace, ending in total exhaustion of the elemental force in the Ten. Each descending rung in the ladder goes a long way toward illustrating the decrease in freedom of expression for the energy represented by the suits of the Minor Arcana.

I’ve used these assumptions to form my own list of functional attibutes for the ten numbers that partakes of both Pythagorean and Qabalistic premises. I’ve posted this before but recent conversations in the online tarot community as well as the many new followers I’ve attracted to this blog make it worthwhile to refresh the topic here.

Ace: A period of preparing to begin.
Two: A period of commencement and compromise.
Three: A period of growth and progress.
Four: A period of consolidation.
Five: A period of challenge and upset.
Six: A period of harmony restored.
Seven: A period of pursuing and testing new options.
Eight: A period of adjustment and anxiety.
Nine: A period of re-centering and reconciliation.
Ten: A period of rest and relative inactivity.

Here is the link to the full post on the subject:

In closing, I should probably mention that I don’t use the assignments of the Major Arcana to the 22 “paths” between the Sephiroth for much of anything other than contemplation (and metaphysical tinkering since I don’t concur with all of them). There is perhaps some practical value in considering which of the three “pillars” and four “tiers” the cards occupy, but I seldom get that far in my deliberations for any given reading.


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