All religions have preserved the remembrance of a primitive book, written in types, by the sages of the earliest ages of the world; simplified and vulgarised in later days, its symbols furnished letters to the art of Writing, characters to the Word, and to occult Philosophy its mysterious signs and pantacles.
This book, attributed by the Hebrews to Enoch, seventh master of the world after Adam; by the Egyptians to Hermes-Trismegistus; by the Greeks to Cadmus, the mysterious builder of the Holy City; this book was the symbolical summary of primitive tradition, called subsequently Kabbalah or Cabala, meaning reception.
The tradition in question rests altogether on the one dogma of magic: the visible is for us the proportional measure of the invisible. Now the ancients, observing that equilibrium is the universal law in physics, consequent on the apparent opposition of two forces, argued from physical to metaphysical equilibrium, and maintained that in God, that is, in the prime living and active cause, there must be recognised two properties which are necessary to one another—stability and motion, necessity and liberty, rational order and volitional autonomy, justice and love, whence also severity and mercy.
Now, these two attributes were personified, so to speak, by the Kabbalistic Jews under the names of Geburah and Chesed. Above Geburah and Chesed abides the supreme crown, the equilibrating power, principle of the world or equilibrated kingdom, which we find mentioned under the name of Malchuth in the occult and kabbalistic versicle of the Pater-noster to which we have already referred.1
But Geburah and Chesed, maintained in equilibrium by the crown above and the kingdom below, constitute two principles, which may be considered from an abstract point of view, or in their realisation. In their abstract or idealised sense, they take the higher names of Chochmah, wisdom, and Binah, intelligence. Their realisation is stability and progress, that is, eternity and victory—Hod and Netsah.
Such, according to the Kabbalah, is the groundwork of all religions and all sciences—a triple triangle and a circle, the notion of the triad explained by the balance multiplied by itself in the domains of the ideal, then the realisation of this conception in forms. Now, the ancients attached the first notions of this simple and impressive theology to the very idea of numbers, and qualified the figures of the first decade after the following manner:—
- Kether.—The Crown, the equilibrating power.
- Chochmah.—Wisdom, equilibrated in its unchangeable order by the initiative of intelligence.
- Binah.—Active intelligence, equilibrated by Wisdom.
- Chesed.—Mercy, which is wisdom in its secondary conception, ever benevolent because it is strong.
- Geburah.—Austerity, necessitated by Wisdom itself, and by goodwill. To permit evil is to hinder good.
- Tiphereth.—Beauty, the luminous conception of equilibrium in forms, intermediary between the Crown and the Kingdom, mediating principle between Creator and creation. (Sublime conception of poetry and its sovereign priesthood!)
- Netsah.—Victory, that is, eternal triumph of intelligence and justice.
- Hod.—Eternity of the conquests achieved by mind over matter, active over passive, life over death.
- Jesod.—The Foundation, that is, the basis of all belief and all truth what we term the ABSOLUTE in philosophy.
- Malchuth.—The Kingdom is the universe, entire creation, the work and mirror of God, the proof of supreme reason, the formal consequence which compels us to have recourse to virtual premisses, the enigma which has God for its answer supreme and absolute reason.
These ten primary notions attached to the ten first characters of the primitive alphabet, signifying both principles and numbers, are called the ten Sephiroth by the masters in Kabbalah. The sacred tetragam, drawn in the following manner, indicates the number, source, and correspondence of the divine names.
To this name of Jotchavah, written by these four-and-twenty signs, crowned with a triple flower of light, must be referred the twenty-four thrones of heaven, and the twenty-four crowned elders in the Apocalypse.
In the Kabbalah the occult principle is called the Elder, and this principle, multiplied, and, as it were, reflected, in secondary causes, creates images of itself—that is to say, so many elders as there are diverse conceptions of its unique essence.
These images, less perfect in proportion as they are further removed from their source, project upon the darkness an ultimate reflection or glimmer, representing a horrible and deformed elder, who is vulgarly termed the devil.
Hence an initiate has been bold enough to say: “The devil is God, as understood by the wicked”; while another has added, in words more bizarre, but no less energetic: “The devil is composed of God’s ruins.”
We may sum up and explain these strikingly novel definitions by remarking that in symbolism itself the demon is an angel cast out of heaven for having sought to usurp divinity. This belongs to the allegorical language of prophets and makers of legends. Philosophically speaking, the devil is a human idea of divinity, which has been surpassed and dispossessed of heaven by the progress of science and reason.
Among primitive Oriental peoples, Moloch, Adramelek, Baal, were personifications of the one God, dishonoured by barbarous attributes. The god of the Jansenists, creating hell for the majority of human beings, and delighting in the eternal tortures of those he was unwilling to save, is a conception even more barbarous than that of Moloch; hence the god of the Jansenists is already a veritable Satan, fallen from heaven, in the sight of every wise and enlightened Christian.
In the multiplication of the divine names the kabbalists have connected them all, either with the unity of the tetragram, the figure of the triad, or the sephirotic scale of the decad. They arrange the scale of the divine names and numbers in a triangle, which may be presented in Roman characters as follows:
The sum of all these divine names formed from the one tetragram is a basis of the Hebrew Ritual, and constitutes the occult force which the kabbalistic rabbins invoke under the title of Semhamphoras.
We have now to concern ourselves with the Tarot from the kabbalistic point of view, and have already indicated the occult source of the name.1
This hieroglyphic book is composed of a kabbalistic alphabet, and of a wheel or circle of four decades, distinguished by four symbolical and typical figures, each having for its radius a scale of four progressive figures, which represent Humanity: man, woman, youth, child master, mistress, knight, esquire. The twenty-two figures of the alphabet represent, in the first place, the thirteen dogmas, and secondly, the nine beliefs authorised by that Jewish religion which is so strong and so firmly established in the highest reason.
Here follows the religious and kabbalistic key of The Tarot, formulated in technical verses after the mode of the ancient lawgivers:
- א A conscious, active cause in all we see.
- ב And number proves the living unity.
- ג No bound hath He who doth the whole contain.
- ד But, all preceding, fills life’s vast domain.
- ה Sole worthy worship, He, the only Lord,
- ו Doth his true doctrine to clean hearts accord.
- ז But since faith’s works a single pontiff need,
- ח One law have we, and at one altar plead;
- ט Eternal God for aye their base upholds.
- י Heaven and man’s days alike his rule enfolds.
- כ In mercy rich, in retribution strong,
- ל His people’s King he will upraise ere long.
- מ The tomb gives entrance to the promised land,
- Death only ends; life’s vistas still expand.
- These doctrines sacred, pure, and stedfast shine;
- And thus we close our number’s scale divine.
- נ Good angels all things temper and assuage,
- ס While evil spirits burst with wrath and rage.
- ע God doth the lightning rule, the flame subdue.
- פ His word controls both Vesper and her dew.
- צ He makes the moon our watchman through the night.
- ק And by his sun renews the world in light.
- ר When dust to dust returns, his breath can call
- (or 0) ש Life from the tomb which is the fate of all.
- (or 21) ת His crown illuminates the mercy seat,
- And glorifies the cherubs at his feet.
By the help of this purely dogmatic explanation we shall already understand the kabbalistic alphabet of the Tarot. Thus,
Figure I., entitled the Buffoon, represents the active principle in the economy of divine and human autotelia.
Figure II., vulgarly called Pope Joan, represents dogmatic unity based upon numbers, and is the personification of the Kabbalah or the Gnosis.
Figure III. represents divine Spirituality under the emblem of a winged woman, holding in one hand the apocalyptic eagle, and in the other the world suspended from the end of her sceptre.
The other emblems are equally clear, and can be explained as easily as the first.
Turning now to the four suits, namely, Clubs, Cups, Swords, and Circles or Pantacles, commonly called Deniers—all these are hieroglyphics of the tetragram.
- Thus, the Club is the Egyptian Phallus or Hebrew jod;
- the Cup is the cteis or primitive he;
- the Sword is the conjunction of both, or the lingam, represented in Hebrew preceding the captivity by vau;
- while the Circle or Pantacle, image of the world, is the he final of the divine name.
Now let us take a Tarot and combine all its emblems one by one into the Wheel or ROTA of Guillaume Postel; let us group the four aces, the four twos, and so on, together; we shall then have ten packs of cards giving the hieroglyphic interpretation of the triangle of divine names on the scale of the denary, as previously tabulated. By referring each number to its corresponding Sephira, we may then read them off as follows:—
Four signs present the name of every name.
- The four Aces.
- Four brilliant beams adorn his crown of flame.
- The four Twos.
- Four rivers ever from his wisdom flow.
- The four Threes.
- Four proofs of his intelligence we know.
- The four Fours.
- Four benefactions from his mercy come.
- The four Fives.
- Four times four sins avenged his justice sum.
- The four Sixes.
- Four rays unclouded make his beauty known.
- The four Sevens.
- Four times his conquest shall in song be shewn.
- The four Eights.
- Four times he triumphs on the timeless plane.
- The four Nines.
- Foundations four his great white throne maintain.
- The four Tens.
- One fourfold kingdom owns his endless sway,
- As from his crown there streams a fourfold ray.
By this simple arrangement the kabbalistic meaning of each card is exhibited.
- the five of clubs rigorously signifies Geburah of Jod, that is, the justice of the creator or the wrath of man;
- the seven of cups signifies the victory of mercy or the triumph of woman;
- the eight of swords signifies conflict or eternal equilibrium;
and so of the others. We can thus understand how the ancient pontiffs proceeded to make the oracle speak.
The chance dealing of the lamens invariably produced a fresh kabbalistic meaning, exactly true in its combinations, which alone were fortuitous; and, seeing that the faith of the ancients attributed nothing to chance, they read the answers of Providence in the oracles of the Tarot, which were called Theraph or Theraphim by the Hebrews, as the erudite kabbalist Gaffarel, one of the magicians employed by Cardinal Richelieu, was the first to perceive.
As to the figures, a final couplet will suffice to explain them:—
KING, QUEEN, KNIGHT, ESQUIRE.
The married pair, the youth, the child, the race;
Thy path by these to Unity retrace.
At the end of the Ritual1 we shall provide further details, together with full documents, concerning the marvellous Tarot book, which is of all books the most primitive, the key of prophecies and dogmas, in a word, the inspiration of inspired works, a fact which has remained unperceived equally by the science of Court de Gebelin and by the extraordinary intuitions of Eteilla or Alliette.
The ten Sephiroth and the twenty-two Tarots form what the kabbalists term the thirty-two paths of absolute science.
With regard to particular sciences, they distinguish them into fifty chapters, which they call the fifty gates—among Orientals the word gate signifies government or authority. The rabbins also divided the Kabbalah into Bereschit, or universal Genesis, and Mercavah, or the chariot of Ezekiel; then by means of a dual interpretation of the kabbalistic alphabets, they formed two sciences, called Gematria and Temurah, and so composed the notary art, which is fundamentally the complete science of the Tarot signs and their complex and varied application to the divination of all secrets, whether of philosophy, nature, or the future itself. We shall recur in our twentieth chapter to this work.