The Qabalah - Secret Tradition of the West – 2
I don’t know if anyone noticed that despite Eliphas Levi saying he was listing twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet in fact he only gave twenty one!? The missing one is Shin – which in his system of correspondences in the Tarot section of his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magic (Chapter 22 of Transcendental Magic) is allocated to Trump 0 – the Fool.
This card and image should also give us pause for thought when at the beginning of his next lesson he tells his student to take up his Tarot pack and lay out the sequence of Trumps “in two lines of ten... from one to twenty one”. This is a mathematical impossibility. He must intend two lines of eleven – with Trump Zero included in there somewhere. The question is – “Where?”
The answer is plain to see in the book – which he later advises the student to study. It falls between Trumps XX and XXI – the Last Judgement and The Universe. As we shall see from Eliphas Levi’s lessons, and also from the evidence of other French occultists who follow him, they like to see the sequence of Tarot Trumps as the story of a typical initiate (represented by Trump I – the Juggler) going through a series of initiatory experiences that conclude with the final judgement of his suitability for resurrection to the higher life (Trump XX) leading him to final achievement in the balanced harmony of Trump XXI. However – should the Last Judgement go against him, then he shows himself to be the Fool – worth nothing! Or to quote from the book: “A man in the garb of a fool, wandering without aim, burdened with a wallet, which is doubtless full of his follies and vices; his disordered clothes discover his shame; he is being bitten by a tiger and does not know how to escape or defend himself.”
This is a far cry from the Golden Dawn conception of the Fool, placed at the start of the sequence of Trumps and representing a newly created innocent spirit entering material life or initiatory experience. However, it is not our intention to become entangled in the webs of differing ideas of symbolic correspondence between one school of esoteric thought and another. Even if – and indeed precisely if – those who hold to them consider them to be the one and only true vouchsafed to them on the highest authority. Suffice to say, that for the comparative beginner, any reasonable system is likely to work, and they do best to stick to it – right or wrong – until such time as they are mature enough and practised in the ways of esoteric symbolism to be able to work with any – or to forge their own without being distracted by academic party poopers.
There is, back of Levi’s magical symbolism, a profound religious interpretation within the line of the visionary Biblical books of Ezekiel and of the Apocalypse. As he plainly spells out in Lesson Three – the Tarot is “the great key to the hieratic hieroglyphs. We find there the symbols and numbers in the prophecies of Ezekiel and St John. The Bible is an inspired book, but the Tarot is an inspirational one.”
So much for Lesson Three. In the fourth lesson he raises the question of two great Kabbalistic traditions: Bereshith, which means genesis or beginning, and Mercavah, which means chariot or throne. Bereshith and the Mercavah contain knowledge of God and of the world.
Bereshith is the first word of the Old Testament, and usually translated into English as ‘In the beginning’. The opening pages of the Zohar (the Kabalistic Book of Splendour) analyse it and its implications at great length. The symbolism of the Throne of God, or its wheeled version as a Holy Chariot, comes from the first three chapters of the Book of Ezekiel, written soon after 600 BC with the exile of the Jews to Babylon. It is a book of visions and symbolic actions, beginning with the appearance of God in human form, throned in glory and surrounded by a rainbow and four winged cherubim. Apart from the Tarot figure of the Chariot one might speculate how far seated figures in the Tarot Trumps may reflect various elements of Throne mysticism.
Levi concludes the lesson with a rundown of the symbolism of the ten spheres of the Tree of Life seen as expressions of God, a great harmony of physical and moral worlds revealing and demonstrating the existence of eternal wisdom, eternal principles and eternal laws, emanating from an infinitely active creative intelligence. A wisdom and understanding that are inseparable from each other, resting upon a supreme power called the Crown. Not a king, for that would imply an idol. The supreme power is, for kabalists, the Crown of the universe. And the whole creation is the kingdom of the Crown, or the Crown’s domain.
God is thus the power or supreme Crown (Kether) that reposes on eternal wisdom (Chokmah) and creative intelligence (Binah); in which are goodness (Chesed) and justice (Geburah) which are the ideal of beauty (Tiphareth). In Him are ever victorious movement (Netzach) and great eternal rest (Hod). His will is a continual childbearing (Yesod) and His kingdom (Malkuth) the immensity that peoples the universe.
“Let us stop here!” says Eliphas, “For we know God!
In the fifth lesson he tells how this rational knowledge of divinity is spread over the ten figures from which all numbers are composed, which gives the whole method of kabalistic philosophy.
This method is composed of thirty two instruments, or means of knowledge, called the thirty two paths; and the fifty subjects to which knowledge can be applied are like fifty gates. This synthesising universal knowledge is thus like a temple to which thirty two ways lead and which one can enter by fifty doors. The fifty gates or doors are a classification of all beings into five series of ten that embrace all possible knowledge. This is sometimes depicted as five Trees of Life depending from each other, representing the four manifest worlds of the Kabalists and the Limitless Light behind them.
This numerical system, called decimal because it has the number ten as its base, establishes by analogies an exact classification of all human knowledge. In Levi’s view, nothing is more ingenious, nothing more logical or exact.
This high knowledge acquired, one can pass to the final revelations of the transcendental Kabala, and the study of the schemhamphorasch, a 72 letter name of God that also figures in traditions of angelology, and is said to be the source and reason for all dogmas.
“There, my friend,” says Eliphas Levi, “ is what we have to learn. See if it does not frighten you. My letters are short, but they are very concise résumés that speak much in few words. I have left quite a long gap between my first five lessons to leave you the time to reflect on them, and I can write to you more often if you wish.
“Believe me, sir, with the ardent desire to be useful to you, your totally devoted one in the sacred science.” – Eliphas Levi.