□ RELATED SOUND: G Natural
□ SIMPLE LETTER: Movement
□ ESOTERIC TITLE: The Child of the Great Transformers; the Lord of the Gate of Death
THIRTY-TWO PATHS OF WISDOM: The Twenty-fourth Path is the Imaginative Intelligence, and it is so called because it gives a likeness to all the similitudes which are created in like manner similar to its harmonious elegancies.
The Path of Nun, DEATH, is one of the three Paths leading from the Personality to the Higher Self. As a preface to its study one may usefully consider comments by Case and Crowley. Says Case: "Key 13 tells the Secret of Secrets. . .he who knows the secret has in his hands a power which might be used to overturn the world. Yet no person learns it until he is truly prepared, and more than anything else, this means such ethical preparation that no temptation to misuse this power could ever be sufficient to turn the knower from the path of strictly constructive and beneficent application of the force he is able to control."148 One may also recall Case's statement about THE DEVIL that "It is the symbolic veil for the greatest practical secret of occultism." As we shall see, the similarity of description for these two cards is no coincidence.
Crowley comments on the far-reaching implications of this particular card. In discussing the fish, meaning of Nun, he says: "This symbol resumes the whole Secret Doctrine."149
The great importance of this Path is pointed out by its very position on the Tree of Life. It is on the Path of the Flaming Sword between Tiphareth and Netzach, meaning that it is the Path of emanation of the Lower Creator-Energy into matter; it is the Path on which the energy of God the Son is transformed into the first sphere, or pattern of energy underlying the material world. In terms of the individual man, this is the Path on which the Higher Self directs the Personality "downward" into incarnation. Considered on an upward course of personal evolution, it is the Path on which the Personality energy, projected by the Higher Self, is absorbed in physical death or reconceptualized in initiation. The Great Work involves much which could be called psychological re-orientation; there is a perceptual change about the nature of reality and about what constitutes the Self. This is one aspect of the "transformation" on this Path.
The transformation involves leaving the desire nature of Netzach and being absorbed into Tiphareth. This desire nature is the very essence of the Personality which functions entirely in terms of the satisfaction of its needs and wishes. The very will to live, meaning the desire of the Personality to continue to function in the sensory condition, is abrogated on the Path of DEATH. Here the temporary and illusory nature of the Personality is correctly self-perceived. The Personality undergoes a willful "death," surrendering everything that it believes itself to be. Most difficult is that this total surrender of life, this initiatory sacrifice, must precede the experience of cosmic awareness. One is required to give up the totality of one's being, one's very life, in relative darkness, yet in the faith that there will be a resurrection into the Light. As Jung puts it: "By descending into the unconscious, the conscious mind puts itself in a perilous condition, for it is apparently extinguishing itself."150 It is, as Gareth Knight described, a "Dark Night of the Soul," much as on the Path of TEMPERANCE, another of the three Paths leading from the Personality to the Higher Self. One may proceed to the experience of the Higher Self on any of these Paths, but the lessons of all three Paths must be mastered. THE DEVIL, TEMPERANCE and DEATH are different perspectives and aspects of the same thing, TEMPERANCE being the Path of meditation between Ayin and Nun. This might more easily be understood by considering the idea that the figure of THE DEVIL, the Angel of TEMPERANCE and the skeleton of DEATH are all aspects of the Higher Self.
Encountering such a tightly defined trinity of Tarot Keys, one may wonder how the universally applicable principle of the ¡Tin* may relate. In this case DEATH is Yod-Fire, THE DEVIL is Heh-Water and TEMPERANCE is Vau-Air, the result of the interaction of the other two. The Sepher Yetzirah, of course, speaks of only the Yod, Heh and Vau. As applied to these three cards, the Yod Heh and Vau are forces interacting in our own physical vehicle, the Heh final.
It will be seen that while the Tree of Life has a Path called DEATH, there is no opposite Path of Birth. This can be explained in two ways. The first is that THE DEVIL, which enchains in matter, is in some ways the card of birth! But, more important is the fact that both birth and death are essentially the same transition. As one is born into this world, he dies to an inner world; as one dies to this world, he is born back into the same inner world of origin. So this card represents the symbolic passing through a gateway which is at once the utter destruction of one phase of energy, and the transformation of that energy into something else. But the transformation is directed from above. Thus is the Tarot Key called The Child of the Great Transformers. It is also the Lord of the Gates of Death. Nun is not the Great Transformers themselves, he is their Child. Nun is not Death, rather he is the keeper of its Gates. Herein lies an important principle for the real understanding of this card.
Another symbolism which may be very helpful is an alchemical one. To this Path is attributed putrifaction, the decaying black mass in the crucible which eventually turns into gold. It is the emergence of new life from death. Of the four cards shown, only Crowley's suggests this idea. The Crowley, Golden Dawn and Marseilles versions all show the skeleton of Death wielding a scythe, a tool of the harvest which is also a symbol of time, and thus of Saturn-Binah, giver and destroyer of Life. Only in Crowley's card does the destructive sweep of the scythe also produce bubbles in which new forms of life are seen to be developing. This is the resurrection which follows the transformation of Death. In fact, both Crowley and Mathers attribute the skeleton to Osiris, a God slain and resurrected.
Of course, in all cases, the skeleton represents that which remains after the maggots of earth have consumed the flesh. The skeleton is the framework of the organ system, and is thus central to growth and fruition. Interestingly enough, as the word Nun is a verb it means to sprout or to grow. In this we can view the skeleton as a symbolic and perpetual seed. The plant dies in the winter, but not before producing seeds which will regenerate its image in the spring. The image which carries over is a kind of spiritual skeleton, a pattern unaffected by the transformation of the plant: The plant becomes the seed, which again becomes the plant. This is what is meant by the words of the Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom: ".. .it gives a likeness to all the similitudes which are created in like manner similar to its harmonious elegancies." Meditation on this idea will reveal the ultimate message of the DEATH card, which is rather a distillation of the entire Great Work or, as Crowley said of the fish symbol, "resumes the whole Secret Doctrine."
Nun means fish; Tzaddi means fish-hook. And while the Sepher Yetzirah relates imagination to Tzaddi, the later Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom calls Nun the Imaginative Intelligence. To make this symbolism less mysterious, the documents imply that on the Path of Tzaddi we begin to develop the tools of Creative Imagination which are required to tread the difficult Path of Nun, i.e., to make the transition between Personality and Higher Self. Again, everything is summed up by the fish symbolism.
The fish is a traditional symbol of what the alchemists call First Matter, an almost impossible subject to describe, but which is the mind-substance of everything that is. Gareth Knight says that the best modern definition is offered by Coleridge and is the "Primary Imagination."151
The fish has also, since perhaps the second century A.D., been a key symbol of Christianity. In the earliest Church the Eucharist was not specifically represented, but was implied in a number of innocuous meal scenes. The most common of such scenes was the Agape or Friend's Meal. Iconographers describe such scenes as a fractio panes, meaning that bread is broken symbolically. In the earliest Agape scenes, several figures are shown around a table with a fish at the center. This fish, always shown alive, and often in dual form, represents Christ who offers himself as the symbolic meal.
Christ came to be associated with the fish, primarily through the imagery of the Miracle of Loaves and Fishes, another convenient way for the early Christians to secretly represent the Eucharist. It is also related to a title of Christ: Jesus Christ Son of God Savior. When the first Greek letters of this title are combined, they spell Ichthos, the Greek word for fish.152
The environment of fish, that from which it comes, is Water, and in Christian terms, this means Christ coming from Mother Mary Binah, who is often called Stella Maris and the Great Sea.
The astrological sign attributed to Nun, Scorpio, is symbolized in three ways. It is the Scorpion, the Serpent or the Eagle. This is the transition on the
Path of DEATH from the dangerous creature which poisons and crawls upon the earth, to the Serpent which weaves its way (a reference to the Astral Light) upward, to become the Eagle which soars above all heads.
Crowley uses all three of these symbols. His skeleton has the Scorpion and Serpent at the feet and an Eagle behind the head. Most suggestive is that the Serpent wraps around the Fish. This is a circular, swirling activity, a movement which the Sepher Yetzirah describes as the attribute of Nun. In this context, movement means change, continual transformation which is the skeletal pattern of the Universe, i.e., that on which all else is predicated.
Movement is the primary activity of the Mars force ruling Scorpio. And as Mars is involved, so are DEATH, THE TOWER and the fifth Sephira, Geburah. Moreover, THE EMPEROR is this Mars energy during the daylight, while DEATH is the same energy in the dark of night. This is, again, the darkness of unknowing, the "Dark Night of the Soul" described by Saint John of the Cross. What he says of this condition applies to THE DEVIL., TEMPERANCE and DEATH: ". . .although this happy night brings darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; and that, although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and to raise it up; and although it impoverishes it and empties it of all natural affection and attachment, it does so only that it may enable it to stretch forward, divinely, and thus to have fruition and experience all things, both above and below.. ."153 His reference to the loss of natural affection and attachment is a comment on the diminishing of the desire nature of the personality. There develops, in fact, a dreadful emptiness, almost a complete disinterest in everything, even concerning whether one lives or dies. Life's processes cease to hold value. Yet with this feeling, one pushes ahead, almost mechanically, but with great faith. The Soul moves forward inch by inch, in an indescribable blackness (the "dark night," the "putrification") in the belief, and not always so sure, that the light will eventually appear to lead the way.
All that is involved relates to the sexual energies. Scorpio rules the sexual organs as Mars rules Scorpio. It is the reproductive energy which is consciously directed in practical exercises such as that of the Middle Pillar.15* Crowley's version of DEATH best indicates this activity.
The Golden Dawn card is quite traditional, with two exceptions. First, the Eagle of Scorpio is at the upper right, changing from the form of the Fiery Serpent. Opposite this is the darkened Sun which is intended to represent the process of putrification, from which spiritual gold will eventually emerge. It is also the Christian "Darkness at Noon."
Waite's departure from tradition, showing Death as a mounted skeleton in armor represents another aspect of the Path, which is its warrior quality. Here Waite has drawn on medieval representations of Death, depicting him as the Black Knight. Behind him is the fallen King of matter; before him a Bishop in fish-head Mitre, supposedly intended to indicate the passing of the Piscean Age. The rising Sun behind the dual Towers, first seen on the Path of THE MOON, is also a reference to resurrection, the conquest of death. Finally, and most interesting in this version, is the banner with the White Rose of ten petals, five inner and five outer. Insofar as the Rose is based on five, it is a reference to the Martian force of Gebruah. But the totality of the ten petals means the involvement of the entire Universe under Kether, because of its white color. This also means THE FOOL, and Uranus, to which the white rose is related.
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