Learn Tarot – The Hermetic Qabalah (Tree of Life)
This is a difficult topic to cover as the terminology used can be unfamiliar and discouraging to newcomers. However, here I try to present this in an accessible form. If like me you struggle with the terminology, ignore the unfamiliar names and instead view the tree, numbers, associations and card positions. This will enable anyone to start drawing on the Hermetic Qabalah to deepen their understanding of Tarot.
So, let’s get started!
Tarot consist of 78 cards: 22 Major arcana, 4 suits of 10 cards plus court cards (1-10 plus page, knight, queen and king).
The hermetic tree of life has 10 Sephiroth, correlating with the minor arcana numbers 1-10. It also has 22 paths connecting these Sephiroth, which correlate with the Major Arcana (from 0 The Fool to 21 The World). If the terminology and amount of numbers is already becoming difficult to absorb, take a look at the attached image (below).
Each Sephiroth (numbered 1-10) is considered an ’emanation’, or unique quality. One may notice a certain similarity between the following list and the number associations we covered in previous tutorials; This is not a coincidence!
The Sephirah, in order:
- Kether (Deity) – The divine will to create, beginnings, inspiration
- Chokmah (Wisdom) – Partnership, change, options
- Binah (Understanding) – Groups, celebration, accolades, arts, crafts
- Chesed (Mercy) – Expertise, foundations, state of unity, power
- Geburah (Strength) – Severity, discipline, obstacles, Conflict
- Tiphareth (Beauty) – Victories, harmony, communication, compromise, compassion
- Netzach (Victory) – Introspection, research, creativity, endurance
- Hod (Splendour) – Energy, mastery, success, sincerity
- Yesod (Foundation) – Accomplishment, success, knowledge
- Malkuth (Kingdom) – Completion, strength, final revelation
The attached image demonstrates the placing of both the major and minor arcana (1-10) on the tree of life.
Whilst the minor arcana can be easily placed on the tree (Sephirah 1-10), it’s worth considering the connections between these emanations. Take the number 4; We associate 4 with strong foundations and power, but from the tree we also see links to 2 (Wisdom: options, decisions), 5 (Strength: obstacles, conflict), 6 (Beauty: victory, communication, compassion) and 7 (Victory: introspection, endurance). Combining associations in this way can deepen our insight into the foundations we’ve built, the path we’ve taken to reach this point and perhaps our ideal future direction.
Now, let’s view the Major arcana which represent the 22 paths. These inherit the qualities of the connected emanations. Take for example The Magician, connecting the divine (Kether, Deity) to understanding (Binah). Or, perhaps The Lovers, connecting understanding (Binah) and Beauty (Tiphareth). Again, we know the major arcana associations but we can draw additional associations from the sephirah they share on the tree.
As we can see from above, these associations not only strengthen, but deepen the meaning of tarot. The natural elements, numerology, astrology and the Qabalah are all pulled together so beautifully in Tarot.
Some say the associations have been mashed together by early esotericists in order to fit the tree. Others claim the fact these systems complement each other so perfectly is evidence the same understanding/knowledge has appeared across multiple civilisations, each with their own unique way of expression. I prefer to think the latter; a universal wisdom recorded through the ages.
Many more detailed guides exist online covering the QBL, complete with full astrological associations. However, I hope this guide has at least made a complex and potentially confusing subject accessible.
I recommend this video from Ellen Goldberg who provides a little more detail on the sephiroth and minor arcana mappings:
Esotericist with particular interest in tarot and the underlying magical traditions/systems.