The purpose of this book is to demonstrate the relationship between the Qabalah, a time-honored mystical system, and the Tarot. To do so is to pointedly disagree with some very great Jewish scholars, who state that no such relationship exists.
What I have attempted to do in this work is to integrate some of the very complex threads of Qabalistic symbolism and interpretation, emphasizing the relationship of the Tree of Life (primary symbol of the Qabalah) and the Tarot as taught in the tradition of the Hermetic Qabalah. I must emphasize that lam not writing on the Hebrew Qabalah, but on a separate and distinct system also based on Hebrew texts. In my opinion, the Hebrew scholars have been mistaken in their perception of late nineteenth century occult developments as merely a romantic and misunderstood pastiche of mystical Hebrew lore.
Moreover, I have attempted to demonstrate that the principles of the Qabalah are appropriately applied to any ordinary Tarot deck. To that end this work reproduces four entire decks, including the Marseilles Tarot. Very little discussion is accorded that work, chosen as a comparison with the more symbolically concise modern decks because it is the most common and popular of the decks crystallizing the cards' early imagery. The Marseilles Tarot is a "standard" deck, the other three decks used here are those related to the nineteenth century occult fraternity, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Those decks are The Golden Dawn Tarot, The Thoth Tarot and The Rider-Waite deck. One other deck, not shown, but which I recommend very strongly, is that of the late Paul Case and his organization, The Builders of the Adytum. This is a deck to be hand colored by each student.
Besides this deck, Case produced some exceptionally good Tarot literature, to which I have devoted considerable attention. His correspondence courses on Tarot, written more than forty years ago, are still being distributed. And, since distribution is restricted, I must quickly note that I am in no way associated with that organization, having been provided a complete set of his courses by sympathetic friends.
Case was a brilliant teacher who must be credited as the first to apply the terms of modern psychology to the cards, an approach very much like that of Carl Jung. I consider Case to be the first great modern scholar on the Tarot, unrecognized as such generally because his major works have been available only to corresponding students of the Builders of the Adytum, who are asked that they be kept confidential.
I have found his ideas, which have influenced my approach, very profound, but with reservations. I question his dogmatic reliance on Gematria (Qabalistic numerology), as well as some of his interpretations of Waite's symbolism. Moreover, at the time Case was writing, our psychological language was in a state of development, and his courses do not reflect today's more precise terminology. A student must "read between the lines," considering forty years of publications on the occult since Case wrote his courses. A great deal of what Case did not say to his corresponding students has been published explicitly by Regardie, Butler and others.
Such criticism does not apply to his small work entitled The Book of Tokens, written in 1934. If there is one single book which I would recommend, it is that collection of essays on the Hebrew letters. It is a milestone of philosophical literature, showing the Tarot to be a key part of the Western Mystery Tradition.
A comment might also be in order here about my frequent reference to the works of Aleister Crowley, considered by many to be one of the twentieth century's great fiends, and by others to be the torchbearer of the religion of the future. It is very difficult to be objective about Crowley, but in making the attempt I have been impressed by the profundity of his writings on the Tarot. His work remains instructive despite criticisms which may be leveled against his personal behavior. I suspect that history will view Crowley as very much a representative of the early twentieth century, a period which espoused the aesthetic of the avant garde: What was new and shocking was better, by definition, than what was old. This idea actually underlies all of modern art, music and literature, not to mention the behavior patterns of the artistic elite of London, Paris and New York during the nineteen twenties and thirties. Crowley's behavior fits this pattern, as does the very style of his cards, which is essentially Cubist, the most important and avant garde of all styles of modern art during his prime.
It is important to appreciate this conceptual difference, imbedded in the Crowley deck versus the others. The Order of the Golden Dawn (1888-1900) was created at a period when an idea was revered according to its antiquity. Thus the leaders claimed that their Order's history traced deep into the past of mankind, and invoked the monolithic ideological structure of the Gods of Egypt. Crowley, on the other hand, says that a new age has arrived (of which he is, not coincidentally, the prophet). Old may be good, but new is better.
I may well be criticized for staying too close to traditional symbolic lines in this work, particularly since the climate today is one of rather sweeping re organization of symbol systems. A number of books have recently appeared in which the traditional placement of Tarot cards on the Tree of Life has been radically altered. And, frankly, there are several keys which I might assign differently were I starting with no prior conceptions about where the cards should be placed.
But the system, while drawing vitality from gentle modification, does not graciously suffer radical overhaul at the hands of any single individual. It appears intended to develop slowly, each authority incorporating some socially-based alteration, making the discipline of greater value to the contemporary society. A system, whether cult, religion or meditative program, is an access pattern into the inner worlds, one agreed upon and strengthened by generations of use. It is a path into the unknown paved with culturally-determined, though universally applicable, symbols. And within any given school, the symbols may be manipulated and variously applied. Certainly, I have no quarrel with those who have virtually turned the Tree of life upside down with their combinations and permutations of ideas. But to do so mitigates the powerful group effort called "tradition," and potentially creates a new Path. Expressed in another way: It is the agreement over time on the meaning of a set of symbols which makes a system a Path. To this end I have given only those attributions which are now commonly accepted. This is not to imply that such attributions are immutably correct, rather to suggest that their accepted interlock is of greater immediate utility to the student than some of the many divergencies.
In this regard, Gareth Knight makes a profound observation. In his Experience of the Inner Worlds he describes the workings of a group using the Tarot cards as psychic doorways. He states that "From a formal Qabalistic point of view it was found possible to start any Path working from virtually any Tarot trump - which suggests that the sacrosanct and rigid application of Tarot correspondences to the Tree of Life is of little real importance."1
Thus, one must always approach these materials with the attitude that no matter how specific the system, it is only one means of approaching an inner reality. My own style of approach involves building a solid intellectual foundation for the ideas of each Tarot card, yet doing so with full understanding that every tower of ideas must eventually fall, and a new tower built in its place. Each of us builds our own Qabalah, which changes as we learn. What this means is that we all begin with the same concepts, which we personalize and incorporate into our own systems, so that they take on real meaning. And the more we learn, the more we see the original concepts in a different light than when we began.
In attempting to present a basic framework for study, I have tried to show how concepts have been derived wherever possible. Most of all this means a frequent repetition of the Tree of Life illustration, applying different sets of corresponding symbols. To understand the Hermetic Qabalah means to draw literally hundreds of Trees of Life, until the myriad interrelationships begin to make sense. What I have done here is to provide examples of my own manipulation of Qabalistic ideas, i.e., those ideas which when seen graphically, have led to special insights. A work such as this can only be a record of its author's learning process. I must add that this work focuses entirely on the philosophy, rather than on the practical exercises involving the Tarot. Those exercises, both meditative and ritual, have been so extensively discussed by others that there is no need to repeat them here. Of course, I have cited the most important books in which these procedures are to be easily found.
Let me say, finally, that this book has been extremely difficult to write, and I doubt that it will be much easier to read, although I have done my best to simplify abstract concepts wherever possible. The irony is that the baroque and convoluted system of ideas called Qabalah, that impossibly complicated intellectual exercise which is the topic of this book, leads to an inner reality of such beauty and simplicity that it could be explained to a child. Yet it is the very complexity of this exercise of approach that makes the inner simplicity meaningful and comprehensible.
Robert Wang Columbia, Maryland 1982
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