The Kabbalah is a complicated subject. It basically discusses the creation of life, the universe, and everything. And as such it has to take abstract concepts that can’t fully be comprehended and bring them down to something resembling a human level. The end result is a system that can be studied for a lifetime, or even thousands of lifetimes, and still not be fully understood. And even if you did understand it, you could never really manage to impart that understanding to someone else.
This, on the other hand, is a short post dealing with the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah itself is intertwined into all aspects of the tarot, but for our part what we’re really concerned with is how the Kabbalah relates to the pip cards. So we’re going to keep this short and sweet and only cover what we absolutely need to in order to understand the next section. But a deeper study of the Kabbalah will certainly aid in understanding the tarot.
The Kabbalah itself is part of the Jewish religion. According to Kabbalistic beliefs, the Kabbalah was the spoken word of God, as passed down by Moses but originally given to Adam (the historical view on the subject places its origins at a much later date). There are many books written on Kabbalism, but the three major books are the Sepher Yetzirah, Sepher Bahir, and the Sepher Zohar.
The Sepher Yetzirah is almost mandatory reading when dealing with the tarot. The best English translation is the one by rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Be careful of the various occult translations (especially Mathers). Most were done by people who had very little understanding of the Hebrew language or Kabbalah, and the text is often mangled. Kaplan also made a translation of the Sepher Bahir. The Sepher Zohar is much longer than the other works and has never been fully translated into English (although I did hear about Oxford working on a very expensive full translation at one point).
Back to the history lesson. Many of the Jewish sects have since abandoned Kabbalah completely, or have lessened its important within the faith. However some sects still do practice Kabbalah and it is still taught by some rabbies. But Kabbalism has also expanded outside of Judaism. The Kabbalistic works were picked up in Europe, mostly by Christian mystics, and the concepts ingrained into occult theories. Rosicrucian beliefs are largely centered in Kabbalism, and the ideas have spread from there into almost all aspects of magick, including the modern neopagan religions.
And all of this leads up to a theory concerning tarot. At one point in time, due to lack of understanding both the history of European art and Egyption hieroglyphs, that the tarot originated in ancient Egypt. It was believed that the older Egyption society had a wealth of esoteric information that had become lost in modern times. And the tarot was supposedly a fragment of this information. And it was believed that the Kabbalah did in fact originate with Moses, except that it wasn’t given to him from God, but taken from the Egyptians and then preserved as another lost fragment of this information. And so a correspondence was created between the tarot and the Kabbalah that exists even today, long after the Egyptian origins of the tarot have been disproven.
Now there’s a thing called the tree of life. The tree of life is a diagram that was created to help visually explain some of the Kabbalistic concepts. The tree itself consists of ten points, known as sephiroth, and twenty-two paths connecting those points. These ten sephiroth, and twenty-six paths, represent the entirety of creation. By understanding how the tree of life works, we understand how the universe was created. But it isn’t just how the universe is created. It shows how everything is created, how it grows, and how it ends. Anything can be put into the tree of life.
Our ten points correspond to the first ten Hebrew numbers. The twenty-two paths correspond to the twenty-two Hebrew letters. The twenty-two paths deal with the tarot trumps, and that’s not what we’re concerned with here. So instead we’ll be looking at the ten points.
The first point is Kether, but Kether isn’t the beginning. Rather, Kether is where we start, because we need to start somewhere. But there is stuff that lies before Kether, and stuff that lies before that, and so on and so on. There is no true beginning, that we know of, to start at. And so we pick a point in the middle and go from there. That point is Kether.
Now the next nine points are created in succession after Kether, first the second point Chokmah, all the way down to the last point, Malkuth. And when Malkuth is reached, the universe is created. But, the universe was also created instantaneously. All points appeared at the same time. As soon as Kether appears, so does Malkuth, and all points in between. There is no delay Kether existing and Malkuth, yet at the same time the points come in succession and one point cannot come in existence without the preceding point.
To help explain this idea there is the lightning bolt diagram. Basically it compares the process to a lightning bolt. When a lightning bolt comes, it’s all at once. Its top appears as soon as its bottom. As soon as there’s the beginning, there’s the end. Yet we know logically that a lightning bolt begins in the sky, and moves downward eventually hitting the ground. This of course is just a metaphor. We know scientifically that a lightning bolt does not come all at once in any way, and the appearance that it does is an optical illusion brought about by the high speeds at which it moves. The points do come all at once, and they do it in succession.
As said there are ten points, and in order they are Kether, Chokmah, Binah, Chesed, Giburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkuth. Each of these points is infinite, and yet limited. That is to say that each point goes on for infinite and holds an infinite amount of things, and yet no point holds all things, each only holds certain things.
The idea is best described mathematically. There are an infinite amount of numbers between 1 and 2. 1.1, 1.23, 1.4566743, ect are all between 1 and 2. Yet 3.1 isn’t between 1 and 2. It’s between 3 and 4 (and there are also an infinite amount of numbers there). Infinite things, yet limited and not all encompassing.
And that’s all that needs to be known to get into the next section, Numerology 101, where we’ll discuss the meaning of the ten points and how creation moves through them. But I did say in the last section that I’d discuss the duality of the universe to a greater degree here. On greater reflection, it helps to understand the tarot in general, but isn’t a necessity to understand the pips. Still, I did say I would.
The universe exists as a duality. All things come in twos with everything having an opposite. Male/Female, Good/Evil, Life/Death, ect. Even the ten sephiroth have the ten qlippoth, and each is a necessity for the other two exist. That’s because in the beginning, out of the nothing came a something, and then there were two things, a nothing and a something. From these two things spawned everything else, and so all things exist in these pairs. Even the four elements are a take on this. It’s just that you have the original pair that start, Fire and Water, and the later pair that are spawned from them, Air and Earth.
But there are five elements. And the world isn’t so black and white. There’s not only gray, but there’s stuff that can’t even fall into the color spectrum. It’s because the universe doesn’t really exist as a duality. It sort of does, because, as said before, there was the something and the nothing. But there’s something else too.
The nothing wasn’t there first. It could only come into being when it’s opposite, the something, existed. The same goes for the something, it can only exist when the nothing also exists. This is the first duality, and so the universe turns on this principle. But as I said no one knows the true beginning of things, and the something and the nothing are not it. So what was before the something and the nothing? Something else entirely, and something that doesn’t turn on a duality. And the heritage of this something else is still intertwined into this universe, and it’s the third thing that creates the triplicity under which all things exist.