Recently, I decided to learn how to read the Tarot cards. This came after months of internal conflict since there is this certain witchy-woo factor associated with the Tarot and I for one do not engage with fortune-telling or fortune-tellers. And while I had no interest in reading the Tarot professionally, I was supremely drawn to it. As I delved into the Tarot, I realized how Tarot readers were giving Tarot cards such a bad name. The Tarot, as I discovered is an ancient tool for communicating with the soul. While the Purists deny that the Tarot has anything to do with the Torah, there are Kabbalists who maintain that the Tarot was designed as a way to transmit the mystical elements of the Torah in a clandestine manner when oppressive foreign regimes forbade their teachings. The Kabbalah which is a school of thought in Jewish mysticism, in its essence, explores the relationship between the Godhead and Creation. The fundamental understanding is that there is a root level that is the unseen, above-the-veil world and then there is the branch level or the physical, below-the-veil world. Whatever finds expression in the physical world first has a spiritual origin and the time taken for manifestation depends upon the density of the branch level world. From conception to creation, it’s a full cycle. The symmetry used is the Tarot deck is based on the Tree of Life which is the foundational symmetry of all creation. The Kabbalistic Tree of life is made up of the 10 Sefirots which are the divine emanations or attributes. Let’s understand what the Tree of Life stands for and the meaning of the ten Sefirots. The Tree of life is one of those symbols which can be found in practically all the ancient cultures of the world. It’s a visual representation of the connection between so called heaven and earth. Be it the biblical Tree of Paradise, the Kalptaru from Hindu mythology or the Sefirotic Tree of life of the Kabbalists, they all signify the merge of matter and spirit resulting in fecundity. I have reproduced the blueprint of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life below.
The Sephirotic Tree of Life
The Sephirots are all linked to each other (not shown in this image) and work together to cast the fundamental die of creation. There are 22 channels connecting these sephirots in total. Let’s go over what do these sefirots represent individually. In the picture they appear as circles but think of them as spheres or disco balls that are refracting light at each level.
At level zero we, have Keter. Keter means crown and is shown outside the body as it is so sublime that it’s completely incomprehensible to the physical body or the logical mind. Keter is what sets the whole interlocking pattern of cause and effect into motion. It’s the formless void from which all creation arise.
The first Sefirot is Hochma. On the human body, it corresponds to the right hemisphere of the brain and the masculine principle. It connects directly to the soul. This is where light enters from Keter and stirs up the will or desire for pleasure. This is where the creative power that sparks inner vision resides.
The second sefirot is Binah. Binah corresponds to the left hemisphere of the brain and the feminine principle. Characterized by the power of understanding and analysis, Binah develops the vision of Hochma in an incremental fashion. It is characterized by order, analysis and logic.
Da’at is the third sefirot and corresponds to the space between the two brows or the third eye. Da’at represents clarity of thought and ideas and intensity of focus that translates wisdom into action.
The fourth sefirot is Hesed which represents the power to love and exhibit kindness, generosity, mercy and optimism. It corresponds to the right shoulder.
Next is Gevurah, the fifth sefirot, and it represents restrain, discipline, control and caution. It corresponds to the left shoulder.
The sixth sefirot is Tiferet and it represents beauty and truth. It is the seat of empowered empathy where kindness is balanced with strictness. It corresponds to the torso in the human body.
Netzach is the seventh sefirot and represents forceful determination, courage and daring that leads to victory over challenges. On the human body it corresponds to the right leg.
The eighth sefirot is Hod and it represents inner strength, quiet beauty, humility and the ephemeral quality of devotion. It is symbolic of sublimation of self for a higher cause. It corresponds to the left leg.
The ninth sefirot is Yesod and this represents the power of connection and communication. Yesod is the foundation where the energies of all the sefirots above it are mixed and balanced to finally find expression through Malchut. It can be understood as the final push that a mother makes to bring forth a baby into the world at the culmination of 9 months of development in the womb.
Malchut is the final expression of the creative process. It is the crying baby that finally comes out into the world and fills you with delight and pleasure until he/she doesn’t and you move on to the next cycle of creation.
There are some Kabbalists who include Da’at as one of the 10 sefirot and exclude Keter and then there are other who do the reverse. I have included both as I find them both relevant to my understanding.
What does this have to do with the Tarot?
A traditional Tarot deck is divided into the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The word ‘arcana’ is derived from the latin word ‘arcanum’ which means mystery or secret. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana and these represent the attributes of the individual soul above the veil.
The Major Arcana : Rider Waite Tarot
The Fool’s Journey is nothing but the 22 paths of enlightenment with their own individual lessons and complexities which are beautiful, mysterious and astoundingly archetypal. Remember that there are also 22 paths connecting the Sephirots. Each sefirot has its own masculine and feminine principles. The sefirot that corresponds to the right side have a dominant masculine principle and the sefirot on the left have a dominant feminine principle. The energies are balanced in the middle path. Each sefirot corresponds to two cards from the Major Arcana that speaks to both the principles. That’s a whole blog all by itself and maybe I’ll write about it separately but let’s just focus on the structure for now.
The Minor Arcana is divided into 4 suits consisting of 14 cards each. Each suit corresponds to the four elements of the physical world i.e. Earth, Air, Water and Fire. Everything that arises in the material plane is a combination of these elements. They correspond to the four realms that separate us from Source and are referred to as Assiyah(Earth), Yetzirah(Water), Briyah(Air) and Atzilut(Fire). The elements get subtler as you continue scaling up the evolutionary ladder. We are constantly straddling all the four realms although one particular element may be dominant at a time. Further, these elements correspond to the different levels of the Sefirotic Tree of Life. Keter corresponds to the realm of Atzilut or divine fire where reality is merged into Oneness. Hochma, Binah and Da’at correspond to the realm of Briyah or the mental plane. Hesed, Gevurah and Tiferet correspond to the realm of Yetzirah or the emotional plane. And, Netzach, Hod and Yesod correspond to the realm of the Assiyah or the plane of action. Malchut is the final expression of these energies.
I’ll give an example to make it simpler to understand the flow of energy through these channels. Suppose Aina grows up in an environment of financial scarcity. Her parents might have struggled with rent and school tuition and made huge sacrifices to ensure her needs were taken care of. Depending on the temperament of the parents and the way in which they handled their resources, she might develop a worldview that may be positive or negative. Let’s now suppose that it sparks a fire in her and she commits herself to mastering the material plane for the benefit of her parents in their old age and her progeny. This is the stirring of desire in her soul which enters Hochma and gives her an inner vision of her future. This desire can take multiple paths. She could run a business, write a book, rob a bank or make a career in the corporate world. The path that she chooses will ultimately depend on her quality and skills. Once she has that figured, she would take the required action for bringing life to her ambitions. On the emotional plane, she will be driven by gratitude or grudges depending on her experience. She will take the required action and bring forth the desired financial security and maybe buy a house with a pool. This will give her immense pleasure and maybe even make her parents proud. However, the moment she has finished this cycle of creation, her fulfillment is gone and she will look for new ways to satisfy herself. Maybe now that the house and job is taken care of, she would want to take a swim in the emotional waters of relationships and settle down with a man. Once the honeymoon phase of the relationship is gone, she will probably crave for a baby. And so the wellspring of desire will continue to splutter on. For 99% of the population, these cycles are happening unconsciously onboard the karmic wheel of life. Why? Because we act on desires instead of changing the quality of our desires. We are working at the branch level when the control room is at the root level. What happens when we work through our desires and transmute them? We evolve. We level up. We come closer to Source. We sense the Atzilut. How do we do that? By enhancing our awareness. Awareness of what? The roots and branches, the Kabbalists would say.
So we see that the Minor Arcana represents the attributes of the individual soul below-the-veil. These cards indicate your state of affairs in the material plane and life lessons which are more mundane and earthly. Out of the 14, the four court cards and the Ace represents attributes of the soul that stirs the will in Hochma and the rest of the cards pertain to the remaining sefirots corresponding to their number.
The Suit of Pentacles : Rider Waite Tarot
Essentially, when you pick cards for yourself, you are projecting. Anything in your awareness is a frequency you are a match to. And the Tarot just transfers the same to the cards. The principle of synchronicity is at play here. A draw of cards casts a die of your individual soul’s tree of life. It show you through a combination of cards where you are on your path and the lessons you might be internalizing in that particular stage. Building a relationship with the cards is thus a tool to dialogue with the inner world and understand the projections that you are manifesting in your outer world. The cards have multiple universal archetypes which you integrate over the course of your engagement with them. Meditating on the cards and journaling are the two most effective ways of becoming fluent with the Tarot.
Our lives are so much more than the corporeal world we are forever engaging and entangling with. It’s the journey of our soul replete with multiple lessons that helps us bridge the gap between the lower realms and upper realms. We keep returning to the same obstacles in different forms until we learn the inherent lessons that eventually allows us to step up on this cyclical ladder of evolution. As mentioned before, the Minor Arcana depicts the journey of the soul on the material realm and the Major Arcana depicts the journey of the soul through the upper realms. As we bridge this gap, we experience heaven on earth. The Tarot is fascinating. But you need to uncover the rich legacy it carries to actually appreciate the beauty that’s been hidden beneath the Divinatory pile of when-will-I-meet-the-love-of-my-life and Is-he-cheating-on-me variety of Tarot that people get stuck on. Hopefully the connections I have made here is enough to simply spark your interest in understanding and hopefully exploring this interconnectedness that is larger in its depth and scope than you might have thought previously. Although I am very new to the whole thing, I appreciate its subtler value. The Tarot opened me up to the wisdom of Kabbalah which I am now familiarising myself with. Kabbalah, in turn, opened up a peer group of modern men and women from around the world who are on the leading edge of evolution and supremely chill about it. Wonder what portals of opportunity the Tarot might open up for you? Well, they say, wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Keep on keeping on!