As pointed out by
Dion Fortune, our systems of esoteric thought are essentially based on
three things: the Tree of Life, the Tarot and Astrology. These three
disciplines are not separate systems, but three aspects of the same
system, which we call the Western Esoteric Tradition. Each of these
disciplines relies on the other two to help give it depth and
understanding. This is the underlying reason why all three disciplines are
represented (in a somewhat piecemeal fashion) in the Scottish Rite Masonic
degrees, as well as in the esoteric classes following the degree program.
It is interesting to note that other esoteric traditions, such as the
Golden Dawn and their later off shoots, also make use of this triplicity
of esoteric disciplines.
Fortune goes on to indicate that the paths on the Tree of Life, as
numbered by Aleister Crowley, correlate to the Major Arcana of the Tarot,
and represents the equilibrium between these two sephiroth. Just as each
sephirah represents one stage in the creation of the universe, the Major
Arcana then bridges one sephirah to another and illustrates the experience
to be gained as one Sephirah flows into the next. This idea can be charted onto a
convenient table, as presented below. The numbers following the starting
and ending sephirah are the numbers as usually applied to the sephiroth,
as commonly seen in charts illustrating the Tree of Life.
Major Arcana starting
sephirah ending sephirah
Without becoming too entangled in Qabalistic philosophy, we can think of
the Sephiroth as being the planets the ancients had conceived of. This, in
turn, allows us to conveniently link astrological significance’s to the
Tree of Life, as well as map planetary influences to the interplay of the
Major Arcana. Also note that each planet, or sphere, has an esoteric
symbol associated with it. These symbols, which have been used for several
centuries, help convey the esoteric characteristics of each planet. When
used with the Tree of Life, they help outline the basic qualities of each
Sephirah, which in turn allows the initiate to quickly grasp these
correspondences. This method of looking at the Sephiroth is more easily
understood than the Qabalistic or Golden Dawn interpretations, which are
much richer in information, but require a great deal more study. The
following mappings will suffice for our discussion.
or Sphere Esoteric Symbol
(Creativity) Primum Mobile The First Whirling
Motions of Creation.
Chokmah (Wisdom) Sphere of the Zodiac The Sphere of the Zodiac.
Binah(Understanding) Saturn The Cross of
Corrosion atop the Crescent.
(Mercy) Jupiter The Crescent Moon
atop the Cross.
Geburah (Severity) Mars The Cross of
Corrosion atop the Solar Disk.
Tiphareth (Beauty) The Sun The Solar Disk.
Netzach (Victory) Venus Solar Disk
atop the Cross of Corrosion.
(Splendor) Mercury Crescent atop the
Disk atop the Cross.
(Foundation) The Moon The Crescent Moon of
Malkuth (Kingdom) Earth Disk, Cross and
Crescent, all overlaid.
Fortune writes that there are basically only three esoteric symbols: the
Cross of Corrosion, the Crescent Moon, and the Solar Disk. When one looks
at the planetary potencies, as defined by the ancients, each planet could
been seen as being a combination of these symbols in a particular order.
Added to these symbols, the medieval alchemists added the Sphere of the
Zodiac to represent Chokmah, and the Primum Mobile (or what we could think
of as the “Big Bang” of modern astrophysics fame) to represent Kether.
can divine the meanings of these esoteric symbols by conducting the
following exercise. Venus is depicted as the Solar Disk atop the Cross of
Corrosion. The Solar Disk is, of course, the Sun with its radiant heat and
warmth. The Cross of Corrosion are the four elements of the alchemist’s
world, each in its proper proportion. However, they work with and against
each other in the physical world, which is why nothing ever built will
remain forever. Everything breaks and wears down, or becomes corroded.
Now, Venus is outwardly very warm, loving and radiant, as can be seen in
any of the popular art from the last several centuries. However, inwardly,
it can be quite corrosive. Just ask anyone who is going through a romantic
on the other hand, is depicted with the Cross of Corrosion atop the Solar
Disk. Outwardly, Mars may appear corrosive, with things like war,
destruction and what not laid at its doorstep. Inwardly, however, it is
quite solar in nature. Tearing things down makes way for new things in its
place. A good example of this is the trimming back of a rose bush. Very
destructive at the onset, but very solar when the roses grow back next
season, in ever larger blooms.
Mercury, as a final example, has one of the more complex symbols. It has
the Crescent Moon atop the Solar Disk, atop the Cross of Corrosion.
Outwardly, Mercury seems very hidden and occult in nature, with its arcane
knowledge and occult secrets. Inwardly it is very solar. It is very
enlightening and uplifting to learn the esoteric secrets this planet has
to offer. On a deeper level, however, the occult knowledge of Mercury is
very corrosive. The learned secrets, when applied, will cause profound
changes in the initiate.
applying these esoteric symbols to other planets, and see what inferences
you can deduce. Such exercises will give you a more insightful look at the
symbolism used in the Western Esoteric Tradition.
Following the BOTA deck-coloring portion of the course, the remainder of
the evening classes was spent on discussing the pathways between the
Sephiroth and the appropriate Major Arcana cards. The correspondences that
were worked out were based on the symbolism of each Major Arcana, and how
that symbolism would apply to the two Sephiroth as a balancing agent or
action of equilibrium. What emerged could be seen as both life lessons for
the individual initiate, as well as universal Qabalistic truths regarding
the creation of the physical universe.
Masons see the Major Arcana paths as conduits within which each Sephirah
conducts its energy downward into the next Sephirah. In this fashion, the
universe is created from very simple ideas, which are built up into
specific archetypes. These archetypes then form the basic foundation of
what becomes the physical universe.
more item before I jump into the correspondences. The paths on the Tree of
Life are numbered the same way as the Major Arcana, starting with zero.
This might be a bit confusing at first, but it really makes the mental
gymnastics a lot easier when equating these two items.
begin with, the zero path linking Kether with Chokmah is the first Major
Arcana, The Fool. The Fool’s youthful exuberance is the creative energy of
the Primum Mobile flowing into creation towards the second sephirah, resulting
in Wisdom. To start any new project, reach towards any goal, or bring any
new idea into manifestation, there must be a creative spark to get the
process going. This is The Fool, as he steps off the cliff and falls into
path defines the manifestations of the First Whirlings’ creative force
into a dynamic, directed force. The ancients considered this the Sphere of
the Zodiac. From a mathematical standpoint, Kether can be considered as a
point. Chokmah, then, is that point extended into a line. The process of
creating this line was The Fool.
first path that links Kether with Binah is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Magician. The Magician directs the creative energy of Kether
towards the third Sephirah, Binah, which results in Understanding. The
magician understands the importance of focused thought in directing this
creative energy. This understanding gives us the symbols of the four suits
of the Tarot, as well as the four alchemical elements, with which we
define our reality.
second path linking Kether with Tiphareth is represented by the next Major
Arcana, the High Priestess. The High Priestess directs the creativity of
Kether into the beauty of Tiphareth, creating the secrets of the universe,
which she hides behind her veil, behind the throne. Even though these
secrets may be learned by all, the seeker must prove to the High Priestess
that he/she is worthy to receive them.
third path linking Chokmah with Binah is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Empress. The Empress directs the wisdom of Chokmah into the
understanding of Binah. This completes what is known as the Supernal
Triangle, in Qabalistic thought. This first triangle defines the idea of
opposites, such as on/off, yes/no, male/female, etc. This path provides a
way of balancing the idea of opposites, which takes both wisdom and
path defines the change of dynamic force (Sphere of the Zodiac) into the
stable form of Saturn. Again, using a math metaphor, The Empress defines
the changing of a line of dynamic energy into a surface of stable form,
adding a second dimension. The Empress, then is working as Mother Nature,
on an archetypal level, creating form from force. The esoteric symbol for
Saturn, the Cross of Corrosion atop the Crescent Moon, is quite apt for
both this Sephirah and the path leading to it. Saturn, as well as The
Empress, are outwardly corrosive. Dynamic energy is hammered into form and
shape. Inwardly, this is a very lunar process, filled with hidden
processes and intuitive reasons. This is the archetypal female principle
of creation, lovingly creative and also terrible cruel.
fourth path linking Chokmah and Tiphareth is represented by the next Major
Arcana, the Emperor. The Emperor is a combination of the wisdom of Chokmah
and the beauty of Tiphareth. As a ruler, he combines wisdom with beauty to
rule objectively and fairly. The Emperor, as a ruler, is never disputed or
questioned. He rules with a steadfast authority that is never in doubt.
This is the archetype of the male principle, which could be seen as good
fifth path linking Chokmah to Chesed is represented by the next Major
Arcana, the Hierophant. The Hierophant directs the wisdom of Chokmah down
to the mercy of Chesed. This creates the traditional path a priest or
priestess would normally take when they act as an intermediary between
their constituents and deity. This is also the path assumed by the
traditional teacher. The collegian faculty also uses this path, as they
dispense the traditional knowledge of a college or university. In both
cases, the client is deferring to the “expert” advice or counsel of the
priest, teacher or guru.
sixth path linking Binah and Tiphareth is represented by the next Major
Arcana, the Lovers. The Lovers balance understanding with beauty to
provide the foundation for personal relationships. This is the archetypal
or unconditional love of soul mates. It is interesting to note here, that
this sort of love is very rare in our pedestrian world. The mass media
focuses on stylized beauty that usually runs only as deep as the makeup
used before the photo shoot. This is very different than the love and
acceptance seen with partners who have shared very long, married lives.
seventh path linking Binah and Geburah is represented by the next Major
Arcana, the Chariot. The Chariot directs understanding of Binah down to
the severity of Geburah. This creates a path of determined leadership,
which we rely on to see ourselves through tough times. The Chariot is the
battle commander of our lives. He never gives up or gives in. The Chariot
uses severity to accomplish set tasks. However, no more severity is used
than is absolutely necessary, which is why it is tempered with
eighth path linking Chesed and Geburah is represented by the next Major
Arcana, Strength. Strength balances the mercy of Chesed with the severity
of Geburah to create Strength. This is not just physical strength, but is
also seen as the strength of one’s character. Stories of such strength,
Samson & Delilah and the Greek Hercules, show the dynamic (and very
difficult) balance of such forces. Such stories are not, necessarily rare.
One has only to look carefully at the history of the founders and
defenders of our own country. These are stories of common people
travelling this path.
is seen in the symbolism for Jupiter, the Crescent atop the Cross of
Corrosion. Mercy demands that the issuant judge when to grant mercy and
when to withhold it. Outwardly, this necessitates an understanding of the
hidden issues of the situation. Inwardly, this type of judgment can be
very corrosive to the person in judgment, as well as for the judge. The
symbolism of Mars, the Cross of Corrosion atop the Solar Disk, indicates
that outwardly severity is corrosive. Inwardly, Geburah is very solar, in
that the destruction of old ideas and thought-forms makes room for new
ideas and concepts. Together, these two planets share a common symbol, the
Cross of Corrosion. It is perhaps this one symbol that can be used to sum
up the path of Strength: both planets (and Sephirah) have a common theme
of corrosion. It takes Strength to remake the balance, and to hold both
ends in balance.
ninth path linking Chesed and Tiphareth is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Hermit. The Hermit directs the mercy of Chesed down to the
beauty of Tiphareth, creating a path dedicated to finding the “quiet time”
to reflect on one’s inner thoughts. This is the path of meditation and
tenth path linking Chesed with Netzach is represented by the next Major
Arcana, the Wheel. The Wheel, or the Wheel of Fortune, directs mercy from
Chesed down to the victory of Netzach. This is the wheel of chance and
opportunity. It constantly recombines all four alchemical elements to
provide reoccurring chances for “the right opportunity at the right time.”
This is how “luck” is created.
eleventh path linking Geburah to Tiphareth is represented by the next
Major Arcana, Justice. Justice directs the severity of Geburah down to
beauty of Tiphareth. This combination of severity and beauty is what
Justice is composed of. This is the “poetic justice” of reaping what you
have sown, as well as the justice of the hangman’s noose. This is
necessary to correct past karma, to make way for the soul’s evolution to
twelfth path linking Geburah to Hod is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Hanged Man. The Hanged Man directs the severity of Geburah
down to the splendor of Hod. This combination of severity and splendor
creates the basic framework for spiritual awareness. This is the sacrifice
upon the alter to attain the splendor of the spiritual awareness and
esoteric knowledge that it brings.
thirteenth path linking Tiphareth and Netzach is represented by the next
Major Arcana, Death. Death directs the beauty of Tiphareth down to the
victory of Netzach. Death, as a combination of beauty and victory, allows
a seeker to transcend older, worn out ideas, and move on to higher levels
of understanding. On the physical plane, Death may be seen as a blessing,
when it comes in its proper time.
this point, it is interesting to note that Mars (Geburah), the Sun (Tiphareth)
and Venus (Netzach) all share a common symbol in their esoteric makeup,
the Solar Disk. Mars and Venus look as if they are opposites, which they
are. The Sun, as a mid-point between these two planets, is represented by
just the Solar Disk. What these three planets, and Sephiroth, have in
common is that they all have a solar component, either outwardly or
inwardly. They all, in some manner, contribute to the growth of the
fourteenth path linking Tiphareth to Yesod is represented by the next
Major Arcana, Temperance. Temperance directs the beauty of Tiphareth down
towards the foundation of Yesod. This provides a balance that is seen as
moderation. Moderation allows one to see and experience the sights, sounds
and sensations of the physical world, but still maintain one’s self
control and reason.
fifteenth path linking Tiphareth and Hod is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Devil. The Devil directs the beauty of Tiphareth to the
splendor of Hod, creating the materials of our desires and passions. This,
in and of itself, is not really evil. It becomes evil when such desires
take over our lives as our main focus. This is when we become “bedeviled”
by our passions and desires. Greed, lust, drug addiction are only a few of
these combinations of beauty and splendor that have gone bad.
sixteenth path linking Netzach to Hod is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Tower. The Tower balances the victory of Netzach with the
splendor of Hod. This balance is not really a balance at all, but a
dynamic shifting of our patterns of consciousness. The Tower calls us to
challenge those assumptions, ideals and goals that are outmoded or false.
It tears these things down, which leaves room to build better structures
on which to build our lives.
Symbolically, Venus and Mercury appear very similar, both have Solar Disks
atop Crosses of Corrosion. However, Mercury’s symbol is surmounted by a
Crescent. This planet itself is the symbol of occult knowledge and
learning. Learning such knowledge is emotionally very similar to loving.
Both consist of the same trial and error, as well as the same emotional
rollercoaster rides. The path between Venus and Mercury, The Tower, is
most appropriate. Learning difficult subjects often entails tearing down
what you think you already know and replacing it with something new. This
is a process any instructor, especially college professors, have seen many
seventeenth path linking Netzach to Yesod is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Star. The Star directs the victory of Netzach down to the
foundation of Yesod. This combination of victory and foundation brings
enlightenment and hope to the seeker.
eighteenth path linking Netzach and Malkuth is represented by the next
Major Arcana, The Moon. The Moon directs the victory of Netzach down to
the kingdom of
Malkuth. Combining victory and the kingdom creates intuition.
nineteenth path linking Hod and Yesod is represented by the next Major
Arcana, The Sun. The Sun directs the splendor of Hod down towards the
foundation of Yesod. The combination of splendor and foundation produce
happiness and a zest for life. It is this zest for life that gives us the
desire to work for a better day, to strive for a better life.
twentieth path linking Hod and Malkuth is represented by the next Major
Arcana, Judgment. Judgment directs the splendor of Hod down towards the
Malkuth. Combining splendor and the kingdom creates the
conditions that allow for renewal and rebirth. Judgment is not so much
about judging and punishing souls according to their karma, but has more
to do with rebirth and renewal, or getting that “second chance in life.”
This allows for the atonement of errors and to learn from past mistakes.
twenty-first path linking Yesod to Malkuth is represented by the next
Major Arcana, The World. The World brings the foundation of Yesod down
into the kingdom of
Malkuth. When the foundation of Yesod is combined with the
kingdom, the attributes of all the paths are made available to the
physical plane. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in the Masonic
teachings. All of the archetypal energies of the Major Arcana are now made
manifest in the physical world, completing the first half of the cycle of
the Tree of Life.
Three of Life, as a glyph portraying the Western Esoteric Tradition, is a
composite set of symbols from astrology, Qabalah, and the Tarot that are
all interrelated and interconnected. Along with these symbols are two
additional items which help link each of the components of the Tree of
Life. They are the Lightening Bolt, or Flaming Sword, and the Serpent of
Lightening Bolt links the Sephiroth in sequential order from Kether down
to Malkuth. This is the flow of energy from one Sephirah to the next. This
flow of energy is independent of the paths that interconnect the Sephiroth.
This bolt of energy
flows from Kether down through each Sephirah, proceeding as
a sequence of the evolution of force into form, from which the material
universe was eventually created.
contrast to the Lightening Bolt, is the Serpent of Wisdom. The Serpent of
Wisdom is pictured as a snake, winding its way up the Tree of Life, from
one Major Arcana path to the next, never touching the Sephiroth. The
serpent winds its way back up the Tree of Life crossing each Major Arcana
path in the exact reversed order, starting out from the last path, The
World, and proceeding up the Tree of Life. This is the Path of Initiation,
the path traveled as the initiate unravels the mysteries of each path in
the Tree of Life.
Tarot readers, we are also initiates in this system of Western Esoteric
Traditions, even if we currently practice only one of the three main
disciplines. The enthusiastic reader will uncover additional
correspondences and linkages between the tarot and other esoteric systems.
Many authors have written about associations between the Tarot and the
Chakras, Viking Runes, Numerology, Color Theory and the I Ching, to name
only a few. Perhaps this is the best feature of our favorite discipline,
its interrelationship with so many other esoteric disciplines. For myself,
the Tarot is as ubiquitous and as indispensable for the esoteric student,
as a screw driver and pliers are for the homeowner.
Fortune, Dion. The Mystical Qabalah, Twelfth printing, 1976, Ernest Benn
Limited, London, England.
Paul Foster. TheTarot – A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, 1975,Macoy
Publishing Company, Richmond, VA.