CABALISTIC CONCLUSIONS

A possible depiction of Pico della Mirandola in Raphael’s School of Athens

LECTORI BENEVOLO SALUTEM

“The sin of Adam was the separation of the kingdom from the other branches” Pico Della Mirandola, Cabalistic Conclusions IV.

The title of these notes refers to Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola (1463 – 1494) the Renaissance scholar whose “ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN” has been seen as a “manifesto” of Renaissance humanism – and has influenced modern philosophic and political writers on human rights from Hannah Arendt to Erich Fromm. The ‘Oration’ was an introduction to Mirandola’s 900 Theses – which included the ‘Cabalistic Conclusions’

Despite the title, these notes cannot be conclusive. My involvement in Cabala is inseparable from practical experience in my art as a painter, and both are explorative. In what follows I include examples of artwork.

Mirandola’s syncretic, sometimes obscure Theses (1486) were suppressed by the church, and not publicly debated as the writer had wished – at least not in his lamentably short lifetime. They constituted the first printed book to be banned by the Church. If some remain obscure, so much the better; to quote Maurice Blanchot (1907 – 2003), “La réponse est le malheur de la question.”

As a student of Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 1499), Pico wrote in Neoplatonic terms of a ‘Chain of Being’, and saw evidence of a Perennial Philosophy in Kabbalah and Hermeticism. Pico is now considered the founder of Christian Cabala.

The subject of these notes, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, or ‘The Extended Tree’, is the Cabalists’ version of a ‘chain of being’ whereby the world became manifest, also describing ascending stages of consciousness. Less well known than the ‘Tree of Life’ in western Cabala, The Ladder is constructed from four interlaced Trees, one for each of the ‘Four Worlds’. If the reader is not already familiar with the Sephiroth and Paths of the more traditional forms of the Tree, please study the preceding articles ‘Art and Reality’ and ‘Esoteric Postscripts’ before attempting this one. (These can be found on my webpage entitled ‘Where the Way Swings Off’ in the menu at the bottom of this page.) Or, you could treat this writing as the Pelion which an enthusiastic British Cabalist piles upon the Ossa of his thimbleful of knowledge, in a bid to ascend Mount Olympus.

PART I – THE LADDER

1. The Extended Tree

The Society of the Common Life, which developed in London’s Soho in the 1950s, was established by Alan Bain, Tony Potter, Glyn Davies and others. (see http://www.soho-tree.com/) Glyn had been introduced to Kabbalah while serving in the Royal Air Force, by a mysterious John Smith. Alan Bain had survived a shipwreck and in 1956 had an experience of death and rebirth, which led him first to the reading room of the British Museum, then to teaching Kabbalah. Both Bain and Davies developed – or rediscovered – versions of the Cabalist geometry that became known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ or ‘The Extended Tree’.

Tony Potter was a pupil of Bain and established his own Cabala group in Highgate, North London in the 1960s. I became a member of Potter’s group, ‘The Society of the Hidden Life’ in 1964, and in effect I remain a member, though group meetings under Potter’s leadership ceased in the early 1970s.

In expounding the ‘Doctrine of Worlds’, as one of the basics of Cabala, Potter made passing reference to a way of interlacing four Tree of Life diagrams, each representing one of The Four Worlds. This is the rationale of ‘The Extended Tree’.

The Hebrew Kabbalah, (or ‘Cabala’ in its Christianised form) can be termed an oral tradition dedicated to mystical knowledge of Reality passed on from Master to pupil and originating in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve learned it from angels. Alan Bain maintained that this angelic instruction in fact continues.

There is also good evidence that there have been multiple Kabbalistic traditions. Not only had it many branches and significant external, including non-Jewish, influences, but it may even have had more than one origin in the times and areas in which it became established and flourished. (See Moshe Idel‘s article in Appendix 10)

This was certainly the case with the Soho and Highgate Cabala groups in the 1950s and 60s, some of whose adherents also attended Gurdjieff/Ouspensky groups, or learned Yoga meditation from The Maharishi, who became such an influence on The Beatles. There was also the pervasive influence of 20th C philosophy, particularly existentialism, and Jungian psychology.

In 1963, Alan Bain published a very slim volume called ‘World Without End’, described as ‘A Teaching Received’ which conveyed a cosmic vision uniting many levels of spiritual manifestation, implicitly a ‘chain of being’. Even so, the focus in the societies of the Common Life and Hidden Life study groups was more on immediate consciousness, and on offering material or psychological support to other coffee-bar – or saloon bar – misfits.

Study of the cosmogenic dramas that characterised some earlier schools of Kabbalah, including redemptive readings of origin speculations, were not particularly encouraged. The main objective of individual development – called ‘going through The Veil’ – had a certain Christian connotation, but the context was contemporary and equally accessible to both the religious and the secular. Devotion to The Work was and is a quotidian spirituality, seeking a restored, if not unbroken, unity between temporal existence and a timeless ‘I AM THAT I AM’.

Warren Kenton, a pupil of Glyn Davies, was present when Glyn first revealed his version of The Extended Tree. Kenton was to become one of the best known, if not the first, to base a system of Kabbalah teaching on The Ladder. He went on to found the international and widely respected Kabbalah Society, and wrote numerous books under his pen name Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi. His work even gained the attention of the British heir apparent, is acknowledged by Jungian Psychoanalysts and has a multi-faith appeal.

The Poet/scholar Kathleen Raine writes of Warren’s work: “A feature of this author’s system not found in others (although doubtless it is traditional though not universally taught) is the beautiful way in which the interfaces of each ‘world’ overlap with the one above (or below). Thus, the highest experiences of the physical world overlap the lower part of the next world (the psychological): and again psyche’s highest experiences of the individual soul coincide with spiritual regions of the transpersonal world of universal forms. So from illumination to illumination, we reascend the ‘ladder’ by which each of us ‘came down to earth from heaven.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z%27ev_ben_Shimon_Halevi)

In works like Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree (1974) Kenton/Halevi often represents the Tree/Ladder in terms of ordinary human contexts to which readers can relate. In others of his books, such as The Work of a Kabbalist (1993), we glimpse the cosmic drama in which every individual plays a part throughout successive incarnations. Warren had discovered his own vocation when, on a visit to Toledo, he found he already recognised the older parts of the city, having studied Kabbalah there himself in the Middle ages. This indicates the diversity of approaches and contexts in Kabbalah study groups. This essay is quite narrowly focused on some implications of The Extended Tree diagram.

Besides representing both the human psyche and the cosmos, the Tree and the Ladder show stages of ‘individuation’, reaching from the unique point of time and space into which one was born in the material earth‘Malkuth’ – to a level of self-knowledge and individuality in the context of an absolute being and unity – ‘God’, if you will – while still existing in the same world and standing on the same earth as everyone else. This is the paradoxical point called ‘Daath’ (דעת), ‘Knowledge’, a level of consciousness at which all the worlds are seen as one; ‘dasein’ rhymes with ‘star-sign’, and you become a really useful person.

N.B. This diagram also attributes the four Tarot suits, which would not have featured in Judaic Kabbalah. The more accurate translation of the Four Worlds is Assiah – Making, Yetzirah – Formation, Briah -Creation, Atziluth – Emanation.
In a Christian context (Anonymous 14th C. Middle English: The Cloud of Unknowing) these correspond to: Common, Special, Singular, and Perfect.

Diagram ZeroThe Gnostic Ladder

Fig. 1. This is the version of the ladder which is under consideration in this article. It is called ‘Diagram Zero’ because, deriving from Alan Bain’s version, it includes The Three Veils of Negative Existence.
It represents the Four Worlds interlaced as four Trees of Life. As a result of this interleaving, ten ‘Great Sephiroth’ and the ‘invisible sephira’ Daath are located on the central pillar. Variations of this geometric arrangement have been the basis of extensive teachings, including Alan Bain’s, from which this is derived. Bain’s Ladder has 32 nodal points, numbered as shown. Diagram Zero differs from Bain’s in including a ‘Greater Daath’ – hence I also refer to it as ‘The Gnostic Ladder’.
Bain either chose to ignore or did not notice that his Ladder had 22 levels or ‘rungs’, a feature to which I have drawn attention in working on Diagram Zero.

C. G. Jung and the Four Worlds of Cabala.

Both Briah and Yetzirah are felt to be ‘inner’ worlds. Yetzirah – world of Formation, alias the”Special” stage of ‘Christian living’ in ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ – is the natural home of the Ego, of thoughts, feelings, judgements, opinions, logic, imagination, memories, hopes, fears, sense perception, body awareness and instincts; the virtual world model of prospect and retrospect with which it is only human to be constantly engaged because we both depend on its efficacy and sense its uncertainty and proneness to error in terms of the ‘outer world’ of Assiah

Yetzirah is the world of our waking awareness and ‘presence of mind’, our thoughts, feelings, sensations and even dreams. Though within it we represent, model and mirror the ‘outer’ world, for each of us Yetzirah is a highly personal world, which we share rather selectively, typically seeking the esteem of our peers, but in which we are ultimately alone. We may also delude ourselves, fail to accept hard truths, or others’ well-founded opinions, and we can harbour unacknowledged aims or desires which are ‘repressed’ as unacceptable.

In ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ Yetzirah is the state of Christian living in which the Lord of Lords has ‘graciously chosen thee’ among all His flocks to be one of His ‘specials’. Nevertheless, one is exhorted to become ‘meek and loving’ etc. and much of the advice to the would-be contemplative is pretty much the undoing of Yetziratic activity. After all, this is the home of the all too human ego, and, as Alan Bain also intimates, comparable to Purgatory. Yet it would appear that it is precisely here that a ‘darkness’ is felt, a ‘cloud of unknowing’..’thou knowest not what’ except ‘in thy will a naked intent unto God’; in Cabala terms this is ‘Devotion to The Great Work’. It is impossible to penetrate this cloud by intellectualising, and one is advised to cultivate a ‘cloud of forgetting’ over thought and mental imagery.

This is clearly equivalent to ‘being in the present’ rather than in what seems the more usual human state – one of perpetual prospect and retrospect underpinned by a feeling of anxiety. We can have such awareness without being preoccupied with it, and maybe we do have to share ome of our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears to survive in the world of Assiah, the ‘outer’ world of other people, of time and space, and, as we say, of ‘what actually happens’. This enjoins a certain sense of responsibility. Our inner ‘picture’ of ourselves and reality permits artistic license, if not utter distortion, especially if endorsed by our peer group. Yetzirah is also the world of cultural and historical trends, which can develop biased, confused or dangerous tendencies.

Our own bodies, are, of course, also physical, existing in the ‘outer’ world, of Assiah, albeit experienced from a “special”inner point of view inaccessible to others. The fact that our sense of self is so closely attached to the body leads one to refer to it as ‘myself’, though it is part of the ‘outer’ world. The ‘body-mind relationship’ remains a scientific mystery, and, for many people, our limitation in physical space raises the question also of our limited existence in time – mortality.

Despite the ‘otherness’ of much that we, as we say, ‘perceive’ and must in some way relate to, some have gone so far as to assert that ‘You’ – that is to say ‘I’ – are the only consciousness in the universe; or perhaps it’s better to say ‘one with’ that consciousness. Nevertheless, ‘we’ must, at least to begin with, engage with people and things that seem, as we do to them, to occupy time and space outside of the self. It is the relation – some would say ‘identity’ – of this ‘outer’, ‘other’ space with our private ‘inner space’ that is the implicit subject of human culture.

As Raine succinctly describes (above), the upper part of Yetzirah overlaps with the ‘transpersonal’ world of Briah – it is at the point on the Ladder where Greater Tiphareth covers Kether in Assiah, Tiphareth in Yetzirah and Malkuth in Briah.

Briah is also an ‘inner’ world, but not one we can personally manipulate or even be very aware of, so it is experienced as outside of ourselves – or rather, as Erich Neumann observes (The Archetypal World of Henry Moore, 1959) for an artist (such as Henry Moore) an archetypal image is neither inside nor outside, but on a plane beyond both. Manifestations of Briah are ‘numinous’, meaning they have a feeling of supernatural energy, associated with holiness or divinity. They – or it – may communicate spontaneously through an artist’s work, in dreams, visions or religious experiences, often with disruptive and profound effects on culture and ordinary consciousness. In esoteric teaching, it is also said to exert a perpetual, unconscious effect through events in the world of Assiah, which we mistakenly view only in materialistic terms. In Kabbalah, Briah is reflected in and linked to Assiah. On The Laddder (See Figs 1. and 2) the focal point of this link is the Malkuth-Kether-Tiphareth overlap with Greater Tiphareth, and in the center of Yetzirah.

Briah corresponds to what C. G. Jung refers to as the world of ‘The Soul’ – (The ‘Singular’ degree of Christian living) which is one’s being in the Archetypal World of ‘The Collective Unconscious of which, according to Jung, IMAGERY is the native language (though a Kabbalist might regard the Hebrew language and Alphabet in a similar way). For Jung, contemporary human culture – science in particular – displays a remarkable ‘contempt’ for the psyche – the soul – considering that without it knowledge of anything would be impossible.

He writes: “The statements of the conscious mind [Yetzirah] may easily be snares and delusions, lies or arbitrary opinions, but this is certainly not true of the statements of the soul: to begin with they always go over our heads because they point to realities that transcend consciousness.” (Answer to Job 1958) Jung quotes Tertullian (155 CE – c. 220 CE – De testimonio animae) who wrote that ‘testimonies of the soul’ may seem common, or trite, but cannot be considered trifling considering the majesty of Nature from which they are derived. “Nature is the mistress, the soul is the disciple.”

According to Jung, “there is no doubt that there is something behind these images that transcends consciousness and operates in such a way that the statements do not vary chaotically but clearly relate to a few basic principles or archetypes. These, like the psyche itself, or like matter, are unknowable as such.”

In other words, Briah (world of creation) is inaccessible to consciousness except through the images or prophetic utterances it spontaneously produces, which are typically unnerving to the ego view of the world in Yetzirah. As with religious statements, they ‘without exception refer to things that cannot be established as physical facts’. Such statements ‘frequently conflict with observed physical phenomena, proving that, in contrast to physical perception, the spirit is autonomous… ‘

But, as well as these intrusive and perplexing statements and imagery, in terms of The Work ‘it’s what happens that counts. In the Group teachings, what befalls a person can also be deemed a ‘statement of the soul’. As Goethe put it in Faust: “All things ephemeral are seen as symbols; insufficiency becomes meaningful event; The indescribable is accomplished; The Eternal Feminine draws us upward.”

 (Goethe Faust Part II : “Alles Vergängliche Ist nur ein Gleichnis; Das Unzulängliche, Hier wird’s Ereignis; Das Unbeschreibliche, Hier ist’s getan; Das Ewig-Weibliche Zieht uns hinan.”)

Overlapping worlds

From the moment of separation of child and mother at birth, one’s individual existence is experienced as external to other individuals, as they are external to it. This is expressed not only in the linguistic structure of subject and object, but also in the sense of an ‘inner world’, and what Boris Mouravieff described as “the yearning of the human heart secretly lamenting its profound loneliness…the essential goal of esoteric work.” (Boris Mouravieff – ‘Gnosis’ first published in French 1961, See also https://johnnpearceartist.com/esoteric-postscripts/)

Perhaps any cultural expression is an expression of loneliness and separation – the desolation of Orpheus – the question is: from whom or from what?

Any attempt at the expression of what constitutes inner or outer reality must take place in the external space (Assiah) that individual organisms physically share, and in terms of mutually intelligible language, traditions, or conventions. Laboratories, libraries, theatres, and art galleries are places where inner worlds are explored and shared in terms of an ‘outer’ worldwhich, of course, is often a ‘theatre of war‘.

Even in peacetime, there is an ever-present third party in the dialogue of culture – the process of actual events.

A temple, or sacred space – a ‘temenos’, acknowledges experiences of ‘higher’ worlds beyond the scope of normal rational thought or awareness. Yet, even if secret teachings are received from the ‘inner planes’ they usually end up transmitted in Assiah (the world of making), if they are to be of any consequence.

The aim in ascending The Ladder is a rich working knowledge of all levels of reality, and the links between them, as represented by the Four Worlds; the ladder diagram itself is, of course, a reductive framework, somewhat lacking in visual charm, but articulating inner truth.

Assiah is the same thing as Malkuth – ‘The Kingdom’ – our home in time and space, nature and society. Kabbalah characterises the aim of The Work as establishing Malkuth on the Throne of Binah – Binah being the World of Briah (comparable to the Jungian Collective Unconscious). There is a corresponding linkage of a higher and a lower world between the psychological World of Yetzirah and the abstract World of primordial emanation, Atziluth. All four worlds are involved in all activities.

The attached photo shows me drawing someone’s portrait. In each other’s presence, both artist and sitter could be said to experience their own presence directly from within, but can only be aware of each other from the outside. The overlapping of the inner and outer world involves a shared language and a communicative performance that must take place in the space between them and which they occupy; consequently, it is a ‘cultural space’. My sitter may or may not be an artist, but hopefully, he will find my pictorial image intelligible.

The physical presence of both artist and model (who is partly the artist of his own picture, expressing himself through his physicality, his demeanour, choice of costume, as well as what he may say and do) is important. Verbal communication, or wandering thoughts, can take attention away from that presence and even, perhaps, lead one’s drawing astray. That sense of PRESENCE, or existence itself, which, particularly in the ‘Life-Room’ of art colleges, is often felt in an atmosphere of exalted seriousness, is probably the reflection of the world of Atziluth, I AM THAT I AM, in Yetzirah.

For artists, the naked human body has been especially compelling. Apart from the fact that in life-drawing any incompetence is all the more egregious, the value of the unveiled nude model in art education is its human universality, expressing the nobility and dignity of the individual. But it can also express the vanity, secrecy and vulnerability of the human ego, and a clothed figure is no less human.

Drawing – inner and outer worlds overlap in cultural space..

Art and Myth

The late Jungian analyst and lecturer Julian David (1933 – 2021) wrote”Orpheus was the first musician, the first poet and the first story-teller, that is the first composer of myth, for mythos is story…” (https://juliandavid.co.uk/article/jung-and-the-myth-of-orpheus) “Orpheus is the great figure in myth of consciousness, and it is Natures’s own consciousness that speaks.”

For Julian David, there is “the meaning of logic and the inorganic world, and a meaning of the psyche which seems to it to be nonsense;…both together make the supreme meaning, not one or the other but both.” The myth of Orpheus, an archetypal image of the artist, is also a representation of consciousness itself.

Pygmalion is another mythical artist, who is said to have formed a low opinion of the women he meets in real life. He creates a sculpture of a woman that expresses his ideal and falls in love with it. Venus takes pity and brings the sculpture to life. It’s an apt account of how a human being can relate to a perceived insufficiency of life and society, not so much by accepting it as it exists, but through the projection of a living ideal onto something or somebody capable of accepting, or at least reflecting that ideal.

The artist Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011) wrote ” My object in painting pictures is to try and move the senses by giving an intensification of reality….The painter’s obsession with his subject is all that he needs to drive him to work…” (Lucian Freud; Some Thoughts on Painting,1954)

Freud writes: “A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation but disappears towards the completion of the work. For it is then that the painter realises that it is only a picture he is painting. Until then he had almost dared to hope that the picture might spring to life. Were it not for this, the perfect painting might be painted, on the completion of which the painter could retire. It is this great insufficiency that drives him on.”

Perhaps it is this incomplete attainment of happiness that is conveyed in the Orpheus Myth. His songs could enchant animals, plants and even minerals, perhaps with an elusive glimpse of immortality. As Julian David writes “The trees and animals clustered round, the very rocks moved into circles. The image of Orpheus sitting at the centre of a wall or a tessellated pavement with the whole natural world ranged round him, began to appear in the later Roman Empire, from North Africa up to Gloucestershire. It was a mandala, a symbol of the Self, and it spoke of a different power to that which made the Empire.”

Orpheus encircled, -. Museo archeologico regionale de Palermo
photo G Dall’Orto

Julian David suggests that Orpheus, representing Consciousness, communicates with nature, as The Unconscious, by means of his lyre – which was first made by Hermes (Mercury) – and that his art affords access to all worlds. (In connection with the Orpheus myth, Rod Thorn quotes his Cabala teacher Glynn Davies’ remark: “There is always further to go! “)

In the underworld, Orpheus’ music brings respite to the souls from their punishing tasks. Yet there is a limit. The uniquely tragic, and perplexing, story of Orpheus and Eurydice has particularly inspired musical storytelling, having literally hundreds of operatic versions, beginning with Monteverdi’s Favola d’Orpheo, 1607. In Julian David’s words “Orpheus goes down to find his own soul. He charms his way through the world of shades, and moves Pluto and Persephone to release his beloved Eurydice, but is warned by the gods that he will fail if he turns to look back at her before reaching the daylight world. Perhaps from impatience, doubt, desire, or because Orpheus’s refusal to look at her is so distressing to Eurydice, in most versions of the story, he fails, losing her for the second time. Some versions are kinder: in Gluck’s opera, Eros appears and reunites the lovers, on the grounds that Orpheus was only guilty of an excess of love.

In my opinion, the significance of this story in relation to the artist has not yet been fully explained, though in a sense it is the tacit, indirect nature of the artist’s access to the power of the unconscious which is the point. To quote an artist friend, Gerry Keon “Paintings are long and complicated enterprises. The form, which appears to exist within the materials, has to be discovered through a journey, a sequence of events neither linear nor simple. The result cannot be cajoled or forced.” 

I can only suggest that Eurydice, represents the artist’s relationship with both the artwork and the Jungian Collective Unconscious (rather than his/her personal unconscious as conceived by Lucian Freud’s grandfather) and try to convey this relationship obliquely, with an excerpt from my own painting journal:

Working on a painting [‘Brambles in a North London Garden’] 22nd August 2001

..working in oils, building up from background to foreground, the main structure is emerging. The eye moves between the light foreground and the dark background, following a Z-shaped pathway…..The area of unpainted canvas emphasises a feeling of transition in and out of the darkness.

Brambles painting in progress, J.N.P. 22nd August 2001

While eating my lunch, I happen to glance at the painting, and am suddenly shocked by a glimpse of a superhuman power. Something in it which transcends myself; the Great God Pan? I cannot look at it directly, nor can I capture it or consciously presume to let it influence the way I continue with the painting.

As Bertrand Russel said of Empedocles, “no politician worth his salt ever jumps into a volcano” and the same applies to artists. Nevertheless, that power links the painting and the painter, to the REALITY of nature.

The story of Orpheus is perplexing in all its versions and retellings. Quite apart from the human tragedy, there is also the question of the arbitrary restriction on Orpheus’s actions, and of why he disobeyed it.

As well as its fascination in human and musical terms, the story has attracted psychological interpretations. It presents a picture of implicit contradiction – particularly the motif of indirect engagement in the artistic activity, reminiscent of Barry Long’s objection that art is merely for pleasure and edification, and that the artist does not turn to look directly into the reality of The Unconscious, but backs into it.

https://johnnpearceartist.com/art-and-realityart-and-reality/

Orpheus’s art did have a supernatural power: as one of the Argonauts, he used song to good effect, magically refloating the Argo when it was stranded, or disposing of threatening rocks! But maybe the gods drew the line at undoing death, and, as so often in myth, a human hero bore the brunt of divine inconsistency.

Julian David

To selectively summarise Julian David, in Jungian terms the myth of Orpheus is about the consciousness of the world itself, in all its irreconcilable opposites, of which relations with the opposite sex constitute our closest and most conscious experience.

He writes that we are ‘the agents and victims of cosmogonic love’, i.e. love in the experience of creation: It does what it does anyway, but needs the sentient, self-reflective body to be conscious. In marriage, we unknowingly submit to its service. Thus, marriage is unconditional—for better and worse – spanning also the boundary of life and death. (The archetype includes that too). When we learn that Eurydice has gone straight across that boundary, we know the story will not be the simple search for joy as we like to think of love, but a love story in that full sense.

Cabala

Pluto and Zeus are linked with Kether, and Persephone to Malkuth – the two extremes of the Tree of Life and The Ladder: Kether as the primordial manifestation of the absolute and ultimate limit of consciousness; changeless being; Malkuth, the ever-changing Earthly Kingdom of Summer, winter and springtime. As William Blake put it “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”. Orpheus’s story epitomises this, and his descent and ascent is about the totality of the Ladder or Tree of Life; the relationship between the conscious mind and the unconscious, also symbolised by the light of Apollo and his darkness.

It can also be seen as a quest for “The supreme meaning” (in Julian David’s words) in the interplay of reasonable logic and “a meaning of the psyche which seems to it to be nonsense“. Orpheus seeks the quintessence of Hod and Netzach. After all, deciding to enter the world of shades before one is actually dead wouldn’t appear very logical, but it is sublimely honest and motivated by love.

As can be seen in Fig. 4 (below) Greater Hod and Greater Netzach correspond to the levels of Tiphareth and Daath in the World of Assiah. ‘Supreme meaning’ in Cabalah however, is attained at the level of Greater Daath (= ‘Knowledge’), on the Great Tree or Ladder, a point suspended in The Abyss, six rungs above Greater Tiphareth. This is not quite a mystical union with the absolute being such as might be envisaged by mystics in other traditions; the ultimate state is referred to as ‘Devekuth’ דְבֵקוּת – ‘adhesion’ or ‘adherence to’, rather than ‘union with’ the Divinity. At this point, in Tony Potter’s words, “all four Worlds are seen as one …. Above the Abyss, truth exists only in contradiction.” (See section 7 below)

Harmony, light and beauty are the gifts of Apollo, yet these are in themselves mysterious even if commonly identifiable; Apollo’s realm is also the sacred dark of the underworld and prophecy. Orpheus’s mother was said to be Calliope, chief of the Muses. Could it be that in conflating Eurydice with the dark places of creativity, which Cabalistically relate to the Great Mother archetype and the creative world of Briah, Orpheus overreached himself; or was it his apotheosis? In the aftermath of what seemed his desolating failure, according to Aeschylus, he was torn apart by Maenads for preferring the worship of Apollo to Dionysus, who, according to his own myth, had himself been torn to pieces. Orphic cult followers had revered Dionysus and Persephone, both of whom had descended into the underworld and returned, but in later years they increasingly revered Apollo.

 In Cabala Apollo corresponds to Tiphareth, the sphere at the center of the Tree of Life. Yet to attain that level, one must do exactly as Orpheus had done – enter the realm of death while still living. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphism_(religion)) Orpheus was thereby an initiate of the mysteries. His dismemberment represents the death of the ego, and he had a transformed (re-membered) afterlife among the constellations and as an oracle rivaling his father Apollo. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Orpheus-Greek-mythology.)

In Monteverdi’s operatic version, the chorus seems to admonish the hero with a platitude: “Eternal fame is deserved only by him who has overcome himself.” But there is no violent encounter with Maenads. Orpheus and Apollo ascend Mount Parnassus together: “We rise singing to Heaven where true virtue has its worthy prize: joy and peace.”

Despite the evocation of the deathly darkness of the underworld, desolation and lost love, as opposed to the Apollonian glories of the arts, music and poetry, the significance of these myths in our own time is a ‘great split’ in culture, like that encountered on the 27th Path (considered in section 6 below.) This could be crudely summarised as our failure to resolve conflicts of logical formality and values; analytical honesty and human compassion. In Keats’s phrase, ‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty’ and that’s all you need to know. The morality of the gods of Olympus, is inconsistent, despite their natural bias towards mortal heroes. (As Wagner realised the gods of Valhalla were no better): which is to say that conflicts are resolved through ordeals on the Paths which join the sephiroth of the Tree of Life, not in the sephiroth themselves, whose opposites are not easy to reconcile yet must nonetheless be honoured.

Parmenides

I’ve been aware of Peter Kingsley’s work for some years. He combines impeccable scholarship with intuition in a lifetime’s engagement with the esoteric roots of western civilisation, which he finds hidden within misinterpreted writings of Parmenides and Empedocles. (Described by Kingsley in a video extract, APPENDIX 11) There is archaeological evidence that both were initiates of Mystery cults, and that Parmenides was a priest of Apollo and a practicing healer.

It’s pretty clear, though, that, as Dion Fortune comments (The Mystical Qaballah 1935), the philosophers of antiquity were ‘to a man’ initiates of esoteric orders – mystery cults such as the Orphic, Dionysiac or Eleusinian. That was probably true of any upper-class male in that era, and doubtless, there were female cults too.

What the philosophers were seeking wasn’t so much unanswerable knock-down arguments, it was wisdom obtained from changed states of consciousness. Many were public figures and rulers, whose law-making came directly from a state of inner stillness and contact with the gods – an aspiration possibly comparable to the Kabbalist’s aim of setting Malkuth upon the throne of Binah. (Assiah to reflect Briah)

The stillness taught in the schools of Pythagoras or Parmenides involved a technique of ‘incubation’; a prolonged retreat into lairs like wild beasts, or into tomb-like places of darkness – one might call it ‘sensory deprivation’ – opening into a world “unlike anything we’re used to.” Those who attained it could be amazed to find the state persisted whether or not they were asleep or awake. (Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom 1999)

Kingsley writes that consciousness itself is a unifying, changeless state – ” once you experience this consciousness you know what it is to be neither asleep nor awake, neither alive nor dead, and to be at home not only in this world of the senses but in another reality as well”. ( Cf. Tony Potter’s note on ‘Greater Daath’. in section 7. Also to the ‘permanent Stop state’ which was the aim of The Society of the Hidden Life – see part two of Art & Reality: https://johnnpearceartist.com/art-and-realityart-and-reality/)

The single central pillar of the Cabala Tree, and in particular the single vertical array of the Greater Sephiroth of The Ladder, in fact represents the Tree of Knowledge – the ‘knowledge’ that the only thing that truly exists, and of which one can become conscious, is existence.

Did Orpheus already know that in reality light and dark are the same thing – before he descended into the underworld to rescue Eurydice? If so, how does it relate to his art? The Underworld, into which both Orpheus and Parmenides descend, “isn’t just a place of darkness and death… Right at the roots of western as well as eastern mythology, there’s the idea that the sun comes out of the Underworld and goes back to the Underworld every night. … The source of light is at home in the darkness.” (ibid 1999) And in his poem, Parmenides’s own descent to the underworld is guided by the youthful daughters of Apollo.

In the earliest versions of his myth, Orpheus, like Parmenides, was both a poet and a priest of Apollo and the Sun; Apollonian light and descent into the darkness, the source of art’s truth, seriousness, and beauty.

In ‘Catafalque – Carl Jung and the End of Humanity’ (2018) Kingsley portrays Jung as a misunderstood and unheeded prophet for our own times – by which he means Jung gives voice to what doesn’t have a voice, acting ‘as a mouthpiece for the divine’ – or our own psyche with which we have lost contact – yet doing so in the name of science. I didn’t properly engage with Catafalque until I read a response to it by the poet and Jungian analyst John Woodcock, who, by the way, claims that Jung based all of his science on visionary experiences. (APPENDIX 12: RESPONSE TO PETER KINGSLEY’S CATAFALQUE in seven parts – John Woodcock, 2018)

Woodcock comments that in the two volumes of Catafalque “Kingsley wisely separates his literary voice, which, as a mouthpiece of the goddess, carries Her wisdom and withering scorn for fools (i.e., all of us), from the scholarly references and endnotes that must be said in the voice of the Academy, or tradition.” Jung, too, was said to speak and write in two voices; something of which, as Kingsley observes, Jung’s translator R. F. C. Hull was well aware; Jung’s two personalities invariably contradict each other and could “switch places at the blink of an eye.” (See section 6 below on the ‘split’ in contemporary culture)

In Catafalque, Peter Kingsley represents Jung as a comparable case to Parmenides, who, as one of the earliest founders of modern culture, has been unsubtly misrepresented as the first logician, whereas Jung may seem to have wanted it both ways – to be heeded in terms of his prophetic revelations precisely because of his scientific authority.

It’s true that as an art student in the 1960s I was vastly impressed by Jung’s assertion (ibid 1958) that a fantastical vision or belief in a physical impossibility should have scientific status as a “psychological fact“. Some failed to grasp this and have criticised Jung as a Gnostic, an occultist, or even as a schizophrenic, while others have indeed revered him as a spiritual teacher in the manner of Gurdjieff (The psychiatrist and writer Maurice Nicoll, for example,studied with both Jung and Gurdjieff.) But mainstream 20th Century culture in particular tended to be suspicious of anything that smacked of introversion. Ironically, art students were and are typically ‘into everything’after all, nothing is more physically consequential for humanity and life on Earth than a ‘psychological fact’.

Maurice Blanchot; The Gaze of Orpheus

“When Orpheus descends to Eurydice, art is the power which causes the night to open.” In a piece entitled ‘The Gaze of Orpheus’ (which one online reviewer characterises as ‘beyond baffling’) Maurice Blanchot seems to argue that Orpheus both fulfills and negates his own art in seeing in the object of its inspiration, Eurydice, the quintessence of the sacred darkness into which the artist descends. He desires her darkness as well as her light. To slightly adapt what Blanchot writes, “The act of art begins with Orpheus’ gaze, and that gaze is the impulse of desire which shatters the song’s destiny and concern, and in that inspired decision reaches the origin, concentrates the song…But Orpheus already needed the power of art in order to descend to that instant…” (Blanchot The Gaze of Orpheus 1943, tr. Lydia Davis, 1981) Does Blanchot mean that Orpheus really had no need of Eurydice? Or, if it was an impulse of desire, wasn’t it also one of artistic self-doubt?

But what each artist has to learn, or may know only too well, is “IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!In another essay – (“The Essential Solitude”) Blanchot writes that the work of art itself “excludes the self-satisfied solitude of individualism”, and constitutes “an essential solitude”. The creator of the work is “thrust to one side”; the artist who has completed it “is dismissed.”

Notwithstanding an artist’s native genius or acquired technical mastery, the myth indicates that the artwork is a dialogue in the darkness of the unconscious, which the artist – who is, like Orpheus, an initiate; ‘One Who Knows’ – enters, participates in, facilitates, and is changed by, but cannot own or dominate. As Blanchot says – he/she “is dismissed.”

C. G. Jung

Put more simply, an artist’s work is like his/her child which outgrows its parents and may not be owned or understood by them. Or, in Jung’s words, ‘Being essentially the instrument of his work [the artist] is subordinate to it….. He has done his utmost by giving it form, and must leave the interpretation to others and to the future.’ (C. G. Jung, ‘Modern Man in Search of a Soul’, tr. Cary F. Baynes 1961.)

This was well illustrated when Erich Neumann – an eminent psychoanalyst whom C. G. Jung had hoped would be his successor – sent Henry Moore a copy of his study ‘The Archetypal World of Henry Moore’. The artist perused the early chapters and then stopped because he didn’t want his motivation explained. In 1959 He wrote that he thought it might stop him being a sculptor.

This suggests that both an artist’s unwillingness to analyse or define what she or he is doing, and the autonomy of the archetype are contributory factors of the creative process. Neuman even refers to the archetype’s ‘self-incarnation’, with the artist as a sort of midwife.

Personally, in my early art school years, I found Jung’s ideas of archetypes and introversion etc. a great source of inspiration and artistic self-belief – though there was plenty to mitigate against any tendency to self-importance. I felt and recognised an archetypal quality in Henry Moore’s work. I did not analyse it, but can now see that, as I think Neumann argues, Moore’s art somehow personified the landscape in images of The Great Mother. This is remarkable, as public sculptures were hitherto typically historical monuments to famous men.

Moore’s works are equally at home in cities and open landscapes. The landscape-like forms of his figures are in some ways exemplary of early 20th C. British modernism, in which the tendency to abstraction never quite lost touch with a sense of the land. But Moore was, or became, consciously aware that there were “universal shapes to which everybody is subconsciously conditioned…” (ibid) In the context of his wartime drawings, Neumann remarks that Moore “…saw that art was the manifestation of the universally human…the first step towards the conscious realisation of a unitary culture beyond race, nation and time”.

Photo by Matt Brown – Henry Moore: Two Piece Reclining Figure 5, Hampstead Heath, London.

THE CREATIVE UNCONSCIOUS

It is true that Neumann sees the artist as being more in touch with an inner feminine – a ‘transpersonal’ Collective Unconscious that art tunes into. In ‘Art and the Creative Unconscious’ (1959) and in particular, in his chapter on ‘Leonardo and the Mother Archetype’, Erich Neumann describes the Archetypal Feminine as “the all-generative aspect of nature… and also the creative source of the unconscious”.

In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs were seen as divine intermediariesboth heads of state and the religious leaders of their people. Neumann quotes an ancient pharaonic prayer in praise of the Mother Goddess: “may she set her breast to my mouth and never wean me…” He sees a close relation to the creative unconscious – the world of the Archetypes – as normal in a child’s development and in society and culture as a whole. Infantility can have its pathological manifestations, but never being quite weaned from the creative unconscious is a perfectly normal characteristic of creative individuals.

In terms of Cabala, the feminine archetype is the third sephirah, Binah, also equivalent to the World of Briah, which, indeed, means ‘The World of Creation’. Neumann suggests, as does Jung, that “The representatives of the cultural canon have lost contact with the primal fire of direct inner experience” but that the Collective Unconscious still finds expression through the arts or other cultural areas not overly constrained by rationality, and has a positive, compensatory role in dialogue with the conventions of an existing culture. This is in contrast to Freud’s largely negative and personalised view of unconscious intrusion.

In ‘Art and Time’ Neumann writes that an artist may develop such that “…It is no longer his function to express the creative will of the unconscious or to depict a section of the archetypal world, or to regenerate or compensate for the existing culture out of the depths of the creative unconscious….the creative struggle with the numinosum has fallen to the lot of the individual, and an essential arena of this struggle is in art, in which the relation of the creative individual to the numinosum takes form”. (Neumann: Art and the Creative Unconscious 1959).

It seems that, for Neumann, the state of conscious manhood or womanhood is a rare development in the context of both the Collective Unconscious and the insufficiently questioned mores of his or her received culture. He or she grows from a point which is predetermined by a ‘true self’ which is a unique potentiality in everyone even if realised by relatively few, but the statement ‘an essential arena of this struggle is in art‘, means that creativity comparable to that of an artist is essential to that development, and to that of ‘the Great Individual’.

As an example, Neumann cites a painting, attributed to Hieronymous Bosch, ‘Christ Bearing the Cross’. The attribution to Bosch has been disputed, but it makes no difference to Neuman’s argument – maybe even strengthens it – that this work (painted around two decades after Mirandola’s ‘Oration’) “discloses nothing medieval, but on the contrary points to the most modern problem of future generations: The Great Individual with his soul, alone in the mass of men.”

One can somehow sense the inner relationship that Christ, at the center, has to the egoistic human riff-raff of common or garden ‘sinners’. In the four corners of this cruciform composition are Simon of Cyrene – just doing his job within a momentous drama, – the penitent and impenitent thieves top and bottom right, and St Veronica with the image of Christ, bottom left.

2. The Greater Sephiroth

The Gnostic Ladder – or ‘Diagram Zero’ (Fig. 1) – summarises the structure I am proposing as distinct from Alan Bain’s version, from which it derives. (A clear account of Bain’s Extended Tree is given in APPENDIX 2.) Like the other versions of ‘The Extended Tree’, Diagram Zero consists of four overlapping Trees of Life, one for each of the Four Worlds. Adapting Alan Bain’s version, one can identify 22 Rungs, attributing to them the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.

“Spiritual friend in God, thou shalt well understand that I find, in my boisterous beholding, four degrees and forms of Christian living: and they be these, Common, Special, Singular, and Perfect. Three of these may be begun and ended in this life, and the fourth may by grace be begun here, but it shall ever last without end in the bliss of Heaven.”[The opening words, adapted from “The Cloud of Unknowing,” edited by Evelyn Underhill (London, John M. Watkins, sixth edition, 1956), Quoted by Alan Bain in THE KEYS TO KABBALAH 1972 The ‘four degrees and forms of Christian living’ correspond to the Four Worlds of Kabbalah interlaced in The Extended Tree.]

The overlapping and interlinking of the ‘lesser Trees’ representing the Four Worlds is an apt representation of life’s complexity, but there is also a sublime simplification in the reappearance of the ten Sephiroth together with the invisible Sephirah Daath, newly arrayed as a single vertical column of ‘Greater Sephiroth’. As a result of its geometry, the Greater Sephiroth, some of which correspond to those on the side pillars of the familiar Tree arrangement, all now coincide with middle pillar sephiroth of ‘lesser’ Trees.

This suggests new affinities within the system and new insights, as certain patterns repeat with variations at different levels; each of the Greater Sephiroth must always center on at least one, but sometimes two or three, of the five middle pillar positions: Malkuth, Yesod, Tiphareth, Daath and Kether, and the step from one to another is therefore analogous to the relationship on the lesser tree.

The transitional points from one World to the next higher World are evidently important psychologically. For example, the point at Tiphareth in Assiah is also Malkuth in Yetzirah, and the step from Malkuth to Yesod in Yetzirah is also Tiphareth to Daath in Assiah. A corresponding pattern occurs between Yetzirah and Briah, and again between Briah and Atziluth, and each marks a significant development of individuation. In the first case – that of the Tiphareth – Daath, Malkuth – Yesod step between Assiah and Yetzirah, there is a further significance indicated by the coincidence with Hod and Netzach on the Greater Tree.

The arrangement of the Greater Sephiroth on the central vertical column instead of the right, left, and center pillars as in the lesser Trees does not defuse or short-circuit the energetic system of polar opposites conveyed in the geometry of the Tree of Life, because the Greater Sephiroth overlap with each other and subsume the ‘lesser’ Sephiroth. Between each of the Greater Sephirothic rungs is a dualistic rung corresponding to a path on a Lesser Tree. The lesser Trees act like batteries lighting up the unified array of the Greater Sephiroth.

The triangles of sephiroth on the lesser Trees and the polarity in the lesser sephiroth of the side pillars remain an important factor. As remarked in “Esoteric Postscripts” this involves what Gurdjieff called “The Law of Three”. The subjective movement to an upper apex opposes the gravitational pull of material objectivity, by re-uniting seemingly irreconcilable opposites in an ‘impartial third’ position that combines the essence of both. Whereas a movement towards the apex on the more familiar lower rung would be easier, it would be a temporary compromise, while the upward movement would constitute an irreversible ‘realisation’.

Fig. 2 The Ladder is composed of overlapping ‘Greater Sephiroth’ Note that there is one exception; there is no overlap linking Chesed and Binah except ‘Greater Daath’, which is not a sephirah. This means that without a ‘Greater Daath’ as a human bridge across the Abyss – The ‘Great Individual’ in the form of a great world teacher or adept – the topmost triad of Greater Sephirot of the ladder, Binah, Chockmah and Kether, are isolated from the rest of the Ladder.

In this arrangement, ‘Greater Netzach’ coincides with Daath in the world of Assiah – also coinciding with Yesod in the next higher world of Yetzirah – the world of the formative psyche. Since Assiah is the physical sphere of earthly life and living, consciousness at this level would be one of the unified totality of one’s body as a part of the natural world, and a consciousness of that consciousness – He or she would be aware of their place in natural cycles of dusk and dawn, seasons of the year and seasons of youth, maturity and age. Also a state of knowledge accessible through a practice of mindfulness meditation.

Symbolic of Greater Netzach & Daath in Assiah?

On the familiar, ‘unextended’ form of The Tree, the step up from Yesod would be a 60-degree left turn onto the path from Yesod to Hod, and then the horizontal path running from Hod to Netzach. Because Tony Potter’s teaching in The Society of The Hidden Life, of which I was a student in the 1960s, attached particular importance to this path, I want to clarify how to approach the vertical arrangement of Greater Hod and Netzach on The Ladder. As well as a necessary stage for the individual, the path between Hod and Netzach was also seen as critical for wider society and the world.

The step from Greater Hod to Greater Netzach corresponds to the step from Tiphareth to Daath in the lowest World of Assiah, but also to the step from Malkuth to Yesod in the next higher World of Yetzirah, in which we are typically, often anxiously, engrossed. At the Daath/Yesod point that links the two worlds, one should at least begin to know one’s own mind in the wider context of Greater Netzach, a dimension of ‘Hidden Intelligence’, and ‘Natural’ or ‘Palpable’ Intelligence. This is the ‘intelligence’ of the body in all its marvelous complexity that we are only indirectly and superficially aware of through its sensations and its functionality, even, dare one say, its aesthetic sensibility. One could regard it as nature’s crowning achievement, or Kabbalistically as the perfection of God’s creation. Its magical image is ‘The Vision of Beauty Triumphant’.

Aspects of the 27th Path in contemporary culture and esoteric teaching are analyzed below in section 6. On The Ladder, the developmental step from Greater Hod to Greater Netzach coincides with the overlap of the Trees in Assiah and Yetzirah (See Fig. 2 above and 2a below).

Greater Hod is at the Tiphareth point of the Tree in Assiah. This would seem to be the first point in a human being’s youth at which the body no longer functions in a purely automatic or instinctive way, but makes reasoned decisions. Freusd said (somwhere) that ‘the fist ego is a body ego’. Self-awareness at this level transcends purely instinctive and reflex responses with rational objectivity and active experimentation, albeit closely in tune with sensation.

In the childhood pre-linguistic phase, distinguished by the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) as the ‘sensorimotor’ phase, the child separates the sense of self from the physical environment and explores the relationship of his/her body with and within it. Jerome Bruner (1915 – 2016), also a developmental and educational psychologist, defined three early learning stages as ‘enactive’, iconic’ and ‘theoretical’ – i.e. a phase of physical, tactile exploration succeeded by a phase utilising imagery, leading on to a linguistic, ‘symbolic’ or ‘theoretical’ ability to combine hypothesis and experiment. In Cabalistic terms, this would be consciousness in Hod, and the development of this continues throughout life.

Bruner focused on classroom teaching with young children, including those already quite competent in language. He found that new ideas, particularly in mathematics, should not be introduced in abstract theoretical terms, but through practical involvement, initially using the child’s own language resources rather than specialised terminology. The stages can be seen in early infancy, but following the same sequence of ‘enactive’, iconic’ and ‘theoretical’ is the best approach for any age-group learning a new subject. In approaching the Tree, or Ladder, one must also start from a practical level of self-observation in ordinary life circumstances, and with the tree in Assiah.

The ‘symbolic’ (or ‘theoretical’) stage corresponds to the Hod stage of the Tree in Assiah, but is the Malkuth rung of the Tree in Yetzirah. At this level mental and physical activity still have a physically oriented mechanical quality – one which is to a degree usefully maintained throughout life – one should always be ‘down to earth’! Nevertheless, though still in the context of the sensory world of Assiah, the step up to Yesod in Yetzirah is a move away from the purely ‘enactive’, body-centered exploration of the world, through the iconic stage of visual imagination to that of language acquisition, which Bruner called the Symbolic phase.

Once again these stages can be appropriately applied to any circumstance of new experience throughout life. Even a highly intelligent adult who is learning to sing, or to paint, or the first principles of plumbing for the first time, would benefit from a practical experiential approach rather than a theoretical explanation. (The same applies, of course, to Cabalah and the ladder. One must actually experience the practical relevance of its linguistic and diagrammatical manifestations.)

The level of Tiphareth in Assiah/Malkuth in Yetzirah is a more objective and potentially altruistic form of mental reflection, although as is discussed below, literacy and the capacity of language for remote reference and the detachment of words from the reality they evoke is an intrinsic danger. The neo-Freudian Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981) makes much of the issue that for the infant, the word ‘Maman’ is equally evocative of the absence or loss of the mother as of her presence.

On the Ladder, these stages correspond (1) to Malkuth, (2) Yesod and (3) Tiphereth levels of the Tree in Assiah. A child’s instinctive development of physical independence from the mother’s body is further developed through physical exploration of its surroundings, and as mental self-identity. This is shown at level (3) by the coincidence of Greater Hod with Tiphareth in Assiah and Malkuth in the psychological world of Yetzirah. Tiphareth, as the heart and solar plexus, sustains the interaction of mind and body in physical existence.

Fig. 2a The Ladder, composed of ‘Greater Sephiroth’ and ‘Lesser’ Trees, showing the early stages of ascent

Between each of the Greater sephiroth on the vertical, are rungs corresponding to horizontal paths of the ‘lesser’ trees uniting binary oppositions. Between levels (3), Greater Hod, and (4) Greater Netzach, is the rung linking Chesed and Geburah in Assiah. These have no correspondence or overlap with sephiroth in the next world of Yetzirah.

Step (4), at which Daath in Assiah, Yesod in Yetzirah and Greater Netzach, all coincide, would demand that Chesed and Geburah – at this level the origins of permission and forbiddance in one’s early bachground – the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ of parental rule as well as physical pleasure and pain – must become one’s own independent responsibility against a more complex background involving other people.

The Ladder shows how a sense of isolation and independence at the Yesod level is a development of individuality. In this case Daath (4) is the unifying point of the Assiah Tree, paradoxically bringing with it a more sophisticated sense of both one’s ability and vulnerability as a physical organism, and, because it is also Greater Netzach, greater empathy for one’s fellow beings and consciousness of the impersonal universality of nature.

Notice that the steps 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 etc up the ladder each correspond to the step from Malkuth to Yesod in one of the worlds, and/or the step from Tiphareth to Daath. This means that each is a level away from automatic reflex responses towards greater independence, individuality and consciousness.

The step up from Yesod to Tiphareth in Yetzirah (5) is a key point on The Ladder (implicit in the teachings in The Cloud of Unknowing as cited above) as it enters Greater Tiphareth. Significantly, this would involve crossing, or that one had already crossed, the path from Hod to Netzach in the Yetzirah Tree (Binah and Chockmah on the Assiah Tree) which on The Ladder forms the intermediate rung before that of Tiphareth, and the dichotomy of ‘Thinking and Feeling’ (the ‘split’ in contemporary culture on The 27th Path – see section 6 below). At this point (5) Tiphareth in Yetzirah and Greater Tiphareth coincide – also meeting with Malkuth in the ‘Transpersonal’ world of Briah.

3. Scaling the Gnostic Ladder

The Ladder is another way of drawing the Tree of Life, geometrically and symbolically consistent with it. The symbolism is restructured and juxtaposed in ways that offer new insights and realisations, while remaining consistent with the familiar Tree diagram and The Sepher Yetzirah.

In addition to the key Kabbalah symbolism of letters, numerology, geometry and the vast literature of the Zohar and other works, for theoretical elucidation and contemplation of the Ladder, as well as practical work, there are three main sources: 1) the texts known as ‘The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom’, 2) the imagery of the Tarot, and 3) the symbolism of astrology.

  • The ‘Yetziratic texts’ and Hebrew letters of the first 5 rungs discussed above are:
  • (1) תּ Tau (Tau cross) Resplendent/Assisting
  • (2) שׂ Shin (Fire/Spirit) Purified/Perpetual
  • (3) ק Qaf (Back of the head) Perfect/Absolute,
  • (4) פ Pe (Mouth) Hidden/Natural (Palpable)
  • (5) ס Samesh (A Prop) Mediating/Temptation or Trial.

One should look for symbolic insight oneself – e.g. “ק Qaf (Back of the head) Perfect/Absolute” – this is Tiphareth in Assiah and Greter Hod; The back of the head is the location of the Cerebellum, which links the Brainstem and Thalamus to the rest of the nervous system. It both controls the traffic of physical sensation and the body’s automatic and intentional actions. The Magician of the Tarot is also suggestive of harmonious control.

On the ladder Greater Hod overlaps and merges with Greater Netzach, suggesting that Feeling is a development and a refinement of thinking (’emotional ntelligence; ?) פ Pe, meaning the mouth – the form of the letter suggests the tongue and the lips – carries the implication of both intellectual and emotional intercourse. Tarot imagery is exclusive to Christian Cabala and Occult Qabalah, while astrology features to some degree in all versions of Kabbalah, but particularly in contemporary ‘Occult’ or ‘Mystical’ Qabalah. This is one possible set of correspondences with the Tarot and the 5 rungs:

  • (1) THE WORLD (XXI) (Saturn/Earth)
  • (2) THE HIGH PRIESTESS (II) (Moon)
  • (3) THE MAGICIAN (I) (Mercury)
  • (4) THE EMPRESS (III) (Venus)
  • (5) THE SUN (XIX) (Sol)

Stages 5 to 6 and 7 to 8 each involve Daath/Yesod rungs and crossing a Geburah-Chesed rung as was the case between stages 3 and 4. The Rungs at 6 and 7 are themselves those of Greater Geburah and Greater Chesed respectively, and these being the primordial spheres of Severity and Beneficence, considerable conscious clarity and stability would be required. The fact that Daath in Yetzirah/Yesod in Briah coincide with Greater Geburah suggests considerable austerity or rigour. Perhaps this is what Christ refers to in Matthew 10:34-36? ‘I have not come to bring peace but a sword’. Even though Tiphareth is a point of sublime stability in dedication to The Work, this inevitably brings opposition from some directions. The Yetziratic Text is “Stable Intelligence” and, if the Golden Dawn System is to have its say, the letter Mem is ascribed to this rungmeaning the mighty element of water with its cleansing or destructive power and level surface.

Stage 8, at Daath in Briah/Greater Daath is possibly as high as one would usefully venture under supervision, after which the motivating impetus would be one’s Karma in relation to higher powers. (In the Golden Dawn system, one would have taken ‘The Oath of th Abyss – which is to accept everything that happens to you as ‘a dealing of God with your soul.’) In Tarot symbolism, the same card – (XXI) LE MONDE – (THE WORLD XXI) is, like the ‘doh’ that begins and ends the musical octave, equally appropriate to Malkuth, at the base of the Ladder, and to the ‘Greater Daath’ point which coincides with Daath in Briah. The design suggests a harmonious summation of all four worlds.

Fig. 3 The Ladder, showing the twenty-two rungs. (The Path names are as given by Arthur Edward Waite 1960). The attributions above are based on Tarot and astrology linked to each rung/letter, following the scheme in the Sepher Yetzirah, such that the so-called Three Mother Letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are allocated to Fire, Air and Water, the seven ‘double’ letters to the seven traditional planets, and the twelve ‘single’ (or elementary) letters to the signs of the Zodiac.

One of Mirandola’s enigmatic ‘conclusions’ is very apposite: “The sin of Adam was the separation of The Kingdom from the other branches.” By ‘The Kingdom’ Pico meant ‘Malkuth’, the lowest sphere on the Tree; and thus also Assiah, the physical & sensory world we call ‘ordinary life’, though it’s anything but ‘ordinary’. Since the ‘sin’, there has indeed been a tendency to prioritise the physically tangible.

In offering his ‘Conclusions’ for public debate, Pico may well have invited the question: “If a purely materialistic worldview is unenlightened, is not a devaluation or rejection of the material world equally so?” After all Malkuth, as the completion of the created world, is a summation of the Tree of Life, and the terms ‘Scintillating’ and ‘Resplendent’ imply nothing disdainful. It is comparable to the invisible (intangible?) Sephirah Daath in that it is, albeit in a different – but indispensable – way, a unifying point of the Tree.

Arranging the Hebrew letters in alphabetical order from Aleph at the top to Tau at the foot of the ladder, the level of Daath, (‘Knowledge) i.e. Rung 19, see fig. 3 above (Path 19, ‘Secret intelligence’) is allocated to the letter Teth, which, (see ‘Esoteric Postscripts’) has its place not in the created world, but in ‘The World to Come’, because her ‘two faces’ – implicitly male and female – look inward towards each other. The ‘World to Come’, as remarked, “…refers, not to a ‘hereafter’, but to a world existing outside of time, the world of return (by way of ‘rungs’) – a Kingdom ‘not of this world.’ Teth also means ‘A Serpent’, which also happens to be a symbol of Daath.

So, too is a Janus head of two faces, although they look opposite ways, no doubt in keeping with Daath’s truth within contradiction. Janus, though, is a Roman god of doorways, looking both forward and backwards. This is appropriate to the Daath point at which ‘knowledge’ is the product of a unique experience of the paths – as Kierkegaard said, life is understood backwards but must be lived forwards. The quality of this ‘knowledge’ is not so much a collection of possibly hypothetical, partial and temporary information; it means irreversible knowledge: ‘realisation’. At the point of Daath, the individual is receptive to the higher influences of Atziluth and Briah, and experienced in the rungs by which he/she has ascended. Such a person, if they had kept real, would be an Initiate able to transmit occult philosophy to other individuals, and even bring the wider world to its senses.

THE WORLD

 Figure 4. below allocates the Tarot Trumps to those rungs which accommodate The Greater Sephiroth, and it will be noted that The World – Tarot Trump XXI – occupies the same position as Teth, that is to say, Daath in Briah, coinciding with ‘Greater Daath’, on the Great Tree that the Ladder represents. The card is also a summation of the Ladder; the four evangelists’ symbols represent the four worlds, while the dancing figure, seen by some occultists as androgenous, refers to the union of opposites on the Middle Pillar of the Great Tree (Ladder); an image of the individuated Self. As Tony Potter puts it, “all four Worlds are seen as one”(see section 12.below.)

Fig. 4. Using Diagram Zero K., Tarot Trumps corresponding to the Three Mothers and Seven planets are placed on the Greater Sephiroth Rungs, following the (“corrected”) Golden Dawn attribution. Trump XXI LE MONDE has been placed both on Malkuth – as The World – and on Greater Daath, at which point if seen as representing the Earth element, it completes the quaternity of elements here attributed as Fire: Kether, Water: Chockmah, Air: Binah and Earth: Daath. In the Golden Dawn attribution, LE MONDE is also attributed to Saturn. (The Path attributions are as given by Aryeh Kaplan 1997 and differ from Waite’s which are given in Fig 3.)

THE BOOK OF FORMATION.

The Sepher Yetzirah, (‘The Book of Formation’ – hereinafter referred to as ‘S.Y.’) is a pre-Kabbalistic work originating in Alexandrian Egypt that became a foundation work of later Kabbalah. It describes how the ten numbers – ‘Sephiroth of nothing’ and the twenty-two Hebrew letters were the means by which the Deity created the universe, and are also thirty-two keys to understanding humanity, the universe, and what can or cannot be said or known of Deity. 

A subsequent book, ‘The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom’, intended to follow The S.Y., presents a series of thirty-two short texts, one for each of the ten Sephiroth and twenty-two Hebrew letters, each describing an ‘Intelligence’ or state of consciousness.

‘Rungs’ are mentioned in The Zohar, in connection with the Hebrew Alphabet, and one might speculate that ascending a rung is a more decided move than finding one’s way along a path, and that ascent of The Ladder requires an initial familiarity with the Paths or Channels joining Sephiroth on the ‘lesser’ Trees – particularly the Tree in the archetypal World of Briah, which, at least in Western esoteric traditions, is often the main focus of the teaching.

In ascending the ladder as a sequence of Greater Sephiroth, it becomes clear that the intervening rungs coincide with horizontal paths of ‘lesser’ Trees, meaning paths that join Sephiroth on opposite pillars of the Tree, have also to be negotiated before the step up from one Greater Sephirah to the next can be taken. This will always mean that the ‘marriage’ of two opposites will be in the Greater Sephirah on the rung above. Such a step constitutes a ‘realisation’, meaning that it is permanent. A compromise could be found in the Sephirah below, but it would be temporary.

The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom exists in various editions and translations, and are a guide to the Paths. I have adopted the version in English given by A.E. Waite, but others, which, not surprisingly considering their long history, can differ quite significantly, may be equally useful. I shall comment on these and other inconsistencies below. On Diagram Zero, since each Sephira also occupies a Rung, it has two corresponding ‘ texts.

A fructibus cognoscitur arbor!

4. Basic Kabbalist structure in The S. Y. (Book of Formation).

Fig. 5. The 3, 7, 12 arrangement.

The ‘Ten Sephiroth of Nothing’, which emanate from the Ein Soph (The Limitless), and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, define both the terms of divine expression and the parameters of human experience. The Sephiroth are not in themselves objects of worship. Kether, (The Crown), is the first of the Sephiroth, described in later Kabbalah as a dimensionless point within a Limitless Light.

In the S.Y., Paths 1 to 10 are the ‘Ten Sephiroth’, and Paths 11 to 32 correspond to the Hebrew letters: “Three Mothers” (so-called because they are the first letter Aleph, the middle letter Mem, and the second-to-last letter Shin) “Seven Doubles” (those which can express two sounds) “And Twelve Elementals” or ‘simple’ letters (which each express one sound). The S.Y. Chapter 6 verse 8 says: “One is above three, three are above seven, seven are above twelve and all are devoted to one another.” This 3, 7, 12 arrangement of the letters, together with the 10 Sephiroth, is the basis of Cabala systems of correspondences.

The addition of the ‘One’ to 3, 7 & 12 would total 23, so the ‘one’ here isn’t another letter, it is the One from which they all spring and which unites them. The letters of ‘unity’ meaning ‘together’ (יַחַד – yachad) do indeed add to 22.

5. Experimenting with attributions to the Rungs

Fig. 6

In Diagram Zero 1. (left) the Hebrew letters are placed centrally on the rungs in alphabetical order. Arrangements, separating them as Elementals, Doubles, and Mothers can also be explored, placing the seven planetary letters – the Doubles – and Three Mothers on rungs which join two lesser sephiroth. The remaining twelve Simple letters linked to the Zodiac, on the rungs with a single Sephirah. But it may be illuminating to attribute the planetary letters and corresponding Tarot Trumps to the Greater Sephiroth, as was shown in Fig. 4. (above), but maintain the alphabet in order with Aleph at the head and Tau at the foot of the ladder.

PART II – RUNGS

Not the S.Y. text itself but a later document describing ‘Intelligences’ or ‘Consciousnesses’ of the 32 S.Y. Paths, The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom is now often published with the S.Y.. The ten Sephiroth are included in the system as ‘Paths’, but the lines joining them in the more familiar Tree diagrams – sometimes called ‘channels’ – are said to differ from the Sephiroth in having greater subjective and personal significance. As A.E. Waite remarked, they show that Kabbalah is something more than a pious formal study and was regarded as having practical psychological relevance. The paths denote an individual’s emergence in the context of the Sephiroth. Aryeh Kaplan points out that in the S.Y. and The Thirty-two Paths, the word used for ‘paths’, נתיבות (Netivot) is unusual and means a personal route without markers or signposts. The texts for each path offer – somewhat obscure – intimations, but each individual must discover – or perhaps one should say ‘remember’, ‘rediscover’ or even ‘create’ – his or her own path.

A detailed exploration of the Ladder, in terms of whatever system one chooses, should be related to recognisable, or at least plausible, human situations. The late Warren Kenton’s writings, mentioned above, certainly aim to do this. Michael Grevis’ book “Unlocking Reality – Universal Kabbalah Keys” 2017 quotes detailed teaching notes on ascending the ladder, from the Revs. Alan Bain and Anthony Potter. Though based on Alan Bain’s version, which might be said to distort The Ladder, Potter’s observations are apposite and also a rare instance of Tony Potter committing a system of teaching to the written word. Because of its contemporary relevance, and its importance in Potter’s teaching, I want to give a more detailed analysis of the 27th Path before any of the other Paths.

It is highly likely that most students will not approach Cabala from a state of adepthood that meant they had passed through the veil in Tiphareth; the ego will still have the upper hand rather than a state of ‘devotion to the Great Work’. Issues of tthe path between Hod and Netzach are therefore of considerable importance to most people. It also seems very apparent that the issues of this path are also unresolved at the level of humanity as a whole, and that, in terms of the Ladder, the collective psyche is still, at best, at the overlapping section of the two lower worlds of Yetzirah and Assiah. and would be incapable of meeting challenges above the level of Greater Tiphareth.

In the Golden Dawn Tree arrangement adhered to by Dion Fortune, Gareth Knight, Aleister Crowley and others, the 27th Path joins the Sephiroth of Hod and Netzach – for which the shorthand in Tony Potter’s group was ‘Thinking and Feeling’. It was called The Path of Mars, symbolised by The Tower in the Tarot deck, and was a particular focus of Potter’s teaching.**

‘THE TOWER STRUCK BY LIGHTNING’

In terms of The Greater Sephiroth, the transformative stage between Greater Hod (‘Perfect and Absolute’) and Greater Netzach (‘Hidden Intelligence’) corresponds to the move from Tiphareth to Daath on the Lesser Tree in Assiah. Daath coincides with Yesod on the Tree in Yetzirah, and at each level, the Daath point marks a step from one world to the next and a corresponding expansion of consciousness. The step is from the ‘Corporeal’ (passive?) Rung, through the ‘Active’ Rung to the ‘Natural’ (ethical?) Rung, characterised by the 27th Path. One could conclude that on the Ladder, the 27th Path represents a key moment of self-knowledge. (As noted below** Kaplan offers ‘Palpable Intelligence’ on the 27th Path and ‘Natural’ on the 28th)

** (In Alan Bain’s system (Grevis 2017) The 27th Path corresponds to Geburah in Assiah, (and therefore to Mars in the G.D. system) but both Potter and Bain follow Kaplan’s (1997) attribution of ‘Palpable Intelligence’, rather than Westcott’s ‘Exciting Intelligence’. Potter particularly observes that (see note*) the Geburah & Chesed points on The Ladder are isolated and not linked to Trees in adjacent worlds. As with the corresponding levels in Yetzirah and Briah, he sees this as a challenging area of instability. There are elements in common with the earlier Group teaching on the 27th Path, in that the implication there was also one of possible imbalance.)

It is possible that the Tarot Trump ‘THE TOWER’, which in the Golden Dawn system pertains to this Path, actually symbolises The Ladder, and therefore the whole enterprise of the Great Work. This would imply a reference to the Lurianic doctrine of the shevirat-ha kelim (The ‘breaking of the vessels’) which followed upon the initial emanation of a pure ray of divinity into the void created by divine withdrawal (There is a very clear account of this in Joseph Dan’s KABBALAH A Very Short Introduction O.U.P. 2006) At least one of the designs depicts the Tower with twenty-two lines of what appears to be brickwork. At the same time, Trump XVI has also been seen as The tower of Babel (Genesis 11; 3 “And they had brick for stone and bitumen for mortar”) implying international misunderstanding.

Gareth Knight is rare among modern occultists in attempting a comprehensive guide to the linear paths on the Tree of Life, as well as to the Sephiroth. He considers the 27th Path to be ‘the main girder of the personality’ (A Practical Guide to Cabalistic Symbolism Vol. 2. 1965). Knight mentions The Tower of Babel, but also cites an alchemical text ‘The Chemical Marriage of Christian Rosencreutz’, (published in English in 1690 and in an abridged version in A.E. Waite’s ‘Real History of the Rosicrucians’ 1887). According to Knight, the engagement of a king and queen, representing Hod and Netzach (Thinking and Feeling) as different aspects of the personality, takes place on the 27th Path which unites them. The aim is the higher synthesis of a marriage of opposites.

The story of Orpheus, discussed above in the section on ‘Art and Myth’, has many features of the path between Hod and Netzach, especially if one takes Hod to represent the faculties of materialistic science or logic, and Netzach to represent dimensions of meaning and value transcending logic. Deliberately descending into the Underworld is not something anyone would normally advise as a practical course of action, but creativity and the ability to take a chance with an unpredictable or seemingly illogical course of action is often seen, at least with hindsight, as a virtue of leadership.

Knight doesn’t point out that the term ‘engagement’ is also used in warfare. The lightning bolt and downthrown figures in the Tarot Trump symbolise the sacrifice of personality, the discarding or no longer identifying with former roles. An early ‘distillation’ process results in an egg, the germ of individuality. The complex alchemical procedure ascends seven levels culminating with the Cosmic Atom of the Self and the Divine Spark. (See Appendix 7 for a fluent synthesis of related ideas in Hermetic Cabala, Alchemy and Jung.)

The conjunction of opposites, symbolised in alchemy as a king and queen, is also the issue at every stage in ascending the Tree of Life, and therefore of the Ladder; the alchemical term is “solve et coagula”: “dissolve and conjoin”.

The polarisation at the level of the 27th Path of Thinking and Feeling pervades contemporary culture at every level, for example when ‘advanced’ technology and its exploitation are opposed to the unquantifiable values of the Earth, love and humanity, but also in everyday personal contexts.

The planet Mars and the Tarot symbolism are suggestive of shock and radical change. The male and female figures falling from the stricken tower could indicate radical revision of gender issues. Not all versions of the Tarot show the falling figures as clearly male and female, but in most there are two, suggesting duality or division.

On the familiar Tree diagram, Hod and Netzach are at the roots of the two side pillars of the Tree of life – paradoxically ‘Thinking’ (Hod), often seen as a manly quality, is on the feminine pillar and ‘Feeling’ (Netzach), more often associated with femininity is on the masculine side. In fact ‘home science’, (‘domestic science’) in which the lady of the house was more expert, was arguably a field of genuine scientific progress. Apart from a possible devaluing of ‘women’s work’ the development of science was held back by its association with hands-on practicality, and experiment. The intellectual product of scientific research is essentially analytical, descriptive and formal – useful information as distinct from the ‘certainties’ or the ‘higher’ values that motivate action. While being typically unclear in terms of language, these are all the more undeniable for being felt.

The 27th Path between these two opposites was a particular focus of The Work in Anthony Potter’s Highgate Group, The Society of the Hidden Life. Artists have tended to express the polarity of the underlying issues because intuitive dialogue with what Erich Neuman called The Creative Unconscious finds expression in the arts and culture.

I have written and spoken elsewhere about how an artist drawing or painting a person sitting for their portrait is a human interaction unlike any other; a semi-silent dialogue. Separating and containing artist and sitter is ‘a cultural space’, as with all circumstances of inquiry or performance where outward appearances and inner worlds meet and interact.

6. The 27th Path in Art and Literature

My ‘Brambles’ painting, completed in September 2001, (already cited earlier in this essay) and Xavier Gonzàlez’s ‘Invading Artifact’ installation at Bouillons Kub, May 2022 are, I suggest, two different examples of such inquiry and interaction, each treading the path relating Thought and Feeling.

In “Brambles in a North London Garden” I present the ineluctable intrusion of the uninvited plant species centre-stage. I explore the interplay of cool grey greens of reflected light and the warm greens of transmitted light in the leaves and grasses. This reflects the ‘alchemy’ of photosynthesis taking place there. For me, it also symbolises the interplay of detached thought and involved feeling in the process of painting – seeking harmony and reassurance in a world that is constantly being destroyed or threatened; an ‘Amor Mundi‘. (The 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers happened even as I was working on this picture)

Notes extracted from Bouillons Kub Journal 28th May 2022: “Designed and produced for the venue,’Invading Artefact’ is a new production by Xavier Gonzàlez. This stone and metal installation plays with the cube, its floor, its walls… Two oblique metallic-like darts or blades cut the volume…the piece modifies the space, disturbs, involves the visitor in its movement...two lightning bolts seem to have struck the immaculate walls of the KUB and darted, into the heart of this “metaphysical box” designed for art… In their dynamic propulsion, they embrace and appropriate the space as if container and content constituted a single indivisible work... The oblong shape of the “projectiles” symbolises for the artist the momentum of an industrial world in motion…This minimalist construction sees its harmony disturbed by the incongruous emergence, here and there, of ‘polyps’ of marble, formless and dissonant which, according to the artist, express the resilient force of nature in always reconquering a space we would like to steal from her... Modern and baroque Janus, Xavier Gonzàlez nevertheless reconciles the contradictions of his artistic purpose by assuming their complementarity: if he has faith in the spiritual and constructive man, he recognises the existence of a nature as essential as it is unpredictable, of which man himself is the product.

A concern with Hod/Netzach dissonance is also identifiable in contemporary academic literature. In his 1959 lecture ‘The Two Cultures’, C. P. Snow represented science and the humanities as forming a split “in the intellectual life of the whole of western society”, a theme similarly pursued in Robert M. Pirsig’s bestselling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). Both Snow and Pirsig tend to see the issue in terms of a snobbish misunderstanding of science and technology, rather than a lack of poetry among scientists and technicians. Pirsig sees the division in terms of a ‘dialectic’, ‘classical’, ‘formal’ or ‘objective’ approach as opposed to a ‘romantic’ or ‘subjective’ feeling-based attitude that holds aloof from technology as ugly and inhuman. Pirsig suggests that motorcycle maintenance can be seen as an art. (At one point an artist, discouraged by an instruction booklet, is persuaded by Pirsig to approach the assembly of a barbecue set as a work of sculpture.)

The thinking of the English philosopher and educationalist James Britten (1908 – 1994) has obvious, if coincidental, correspondence with Pirsig who, as well as being a motorcyclist familiar with offputting technical language, was also a teacher of creative writing. Britten looked at educational theory and language in terms of social context and defined ‘Transactional’ as opposed to ‘Poetic’ forms of language use, and ‘Participant’ as opposed to ‘Spectator’ rôles of the language user – or writer. The Spectator role is typical of the arts, literature and what is called ‘high culture’, though also of mundane gossip, reminiscing or telling jokes. By contrast, Transactional language use, and the ‘Participant rôle’ of the speaker, pertain to immediately shared contexts, as in table manners, recipes or instruction manuals. It is characteristically functional, sometimes highly specialised, and reliant on a shared familiarity with a particular context or professional discipline, rather than change or originality. Transactional language can be dry, conventional, unemotional, formulaic or banal. It is obviously essential and practical, and though technical terminology may be involved in the artwork, it is not in itself innovative.

People use both forms of language naturally and appropriately in everyday behaviour, but when decision-making and change are required tensions arise from unspoken assumptions and unexamined implications and subtexts. People who take responsibility, become prominent or influential or innovative will use language creatively or poetically, and no doubt studies in the ancient arts of rhetoric constituted an early form of sociolinguistics.

Britton’s classification may not always be clear-cut. The psychologist Jerome Bruner gives the example of people in a bus queue, one of whom, when the bus finally heaves into view, might say ‘At last!’ It would sound very odd if someone were to declaim (I forget Bruner’s actual words so have adapted a friend’s poetry)’The friendly red bus, for which we have waited so long in the cold, has now appeared, with its promise of home and hearth and supper’s cheer…’ It is superfluous to evoke the scene, with a ‘poetic’ utterance. True, ‘At last!’ might seem equally needless, but it has a modest, formulaic quality. Perhaps the speaker tactfully took it upon himself to endorse positive fellow-feeling, possibly to forestall further delay from an impatient passenger having a go at the driver.

Economy goes with functionality, but can also have an aesthetic aspect, particularly in 20th C design, now sometimes characterised as ‘brutalist’. Ben Judah, in his book ‘This is London’ (2016) interviews a Nigerian psychiatric worker, nicknamed ‘The Plato of Edmonton’, who gave talks on immigrant life in London, using the metaphor of two contrasting buildings, one a tower of gleaming modernity, dedicated to cutting-edge science and technology. The other, dedicated to the subtle feelings and values of human interaction, is a rude stone structure, still at the foundation level, staffed by cavemen working in candlelight. The image is pretty apposite.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) famously defined a cynic as someone who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The economist Yanis Varufakis’ makes a similar distinction when he contrasts exchange value (i.e. market value) with experiential value. One example of the latter might be the joys of a swim in the Adriatic. This might be physically pleasurable, but another example, blood donation, usually isn’t. According to Varufakis, in countries where people are paid to donate there are proportionally fewer donors. Maybe an unselfish act is felt to be sullied by financial gain, or people are suspicious of being duped. People do not give blood to honour themselves or for money, but to save the lives of other human beings unknown to them. (Talking to My Daughter – A Brief History of Capitalism – 2017)

Sing a song of sixpence? What exactly is a Blackbird worth?

It is interesting that Pirsig’s book proposes something called “Quality”, which precedes, transcends or unites the formal and romantic attitudes; it is perhaps indefinable, yet always recognisable. Most people – maybe not everyone – would recognise that a nightingale’s song is superb. Quality is manifest in surpassing excellence, virtuosity or mastery, and typified by the identity of object and subject, as in “Tiphareth” in Kabbalah, or in the state of Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That) of Eastern religion.

Morality

The Tree of Life teaching of Tony Potter in 1965 might have still carried a whiff of 1950s ‘Moral Re-armament’. The challenges of treading a path on the Tree would always involve the positive and negative moral aspects of the Sephiroth at each end of a Path, as well as the Path’s particular symbolism. Every path would offer four alternatives 75% of which involved a negative. In the case of ‘Thinking and Feeling’, assuming their virtues to be honesty and unselfishness, it is quite possible to be selfish and dishonest, honest but unfeeling and selfish, or unselfish but not honest. To be both unselfish and completely honest is difficult, yet that is the requirement. Honesty and unselfishness can indeed coexist in an individual – a self – despite being potentially mutually exclusive in terms of external action. The STOP, as taught by Potter, is an exercise that in effect resolves or unifies dichotomies – subjectively.

Regarding the 27th Path, Potter had in mind not only cultural disjunctions, such as art and science or relations between the sexes but also political diplomacy. It is not difficult to see the negative aspects of the four lower sephiroth of the Tree – Selfishness, Dishonesty, Idleness, and Inertia – at work in public life. Some individuals in positions of leadership do not even bother to be hypocritical; hypocrisy at least acknowledges a moral code, but it has become all too easy to see misconduct as forgivably human and to dismiss a virtuous person as hypocritical. Potter pointed out that in discussion one should argue ‘from one’s highest attainable psychology’, giving, what he called ‘a righteous answer’.

“Where’s the money going to come from?” By a spurious appeal to common sense, the price of everything – exchange-value – has usurped morality, giving facile answers to conflicts of duty and moral dilemmas.

The positive, transformative side to the inertia of the human ego is the Stop exercise. Paradoxically it is the key to progress at any level of the Tree/Ladder. At least art is still respected, and what is art about if not heightened attention in place of endemic negligence, complacency and insensitivity? We talk about ‘paying attention’ – indeed, Barry Long pointed out that your attention is your most precious currency, which should not be squandered. Nowadays ‘mindfulness’ meditation has become popular. Where the ‘Stop’ exercise might seem to be a ‘self-remembering’ reminder to BEHAVE YOURSELF – early 20th C esoteric teachers like Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti encouraged a highly critical and self-critical attitude – mindfulness is a particularly useful exercise in relaxation, physical self-awareness and unjudgemental observation of mental contents.

In the Highgate Group, the 27th Path was seen as an essential stage in approaching Tiphareth. In connection with the Stop exercise, Potter’s teaching quoted the following (of which I have been unable to find the source)

If, in the midst of troubled time, we stand aside,
And wait until the seeming storm subside,
We stand, though unawares, upon
a hallowed ground,
For we have found,
Eternity.

Applying this to the path joining Hod and Netzach on the lesser Trees that make up the Ladder, in Assiah this path is Collective Intelligence, In Yetzirah it is Renewing Intelligence, in Briah it’s Faithful Intelligence and in Atziluth, House of Influence.

As to the 27th Path itself, (‘Natural Intelligence’ or ‘Palpable’, depending on whether you accept Waite or Kaplan) on the Gnostic Ladder, it coincides with Greater Netzach as Path 7, ‘Hidden Intelligence’, and with Daath in Assiah. The symbolic complexity is potentially enriching rather than a confusing resource for the individual treading this path.

Hawthorn, oil on panel, painted from observation at Tregeare Rounds, Cornwall, England (J.N.P.)

7. ‘Greater Daath’

Alan Bain does not include a ‘Greater Daath’. There might be some precedent for this in the complexity of 16th C. Lurianic Kabbalah, which includes either Kether or Daath on the Tree, but not both. Dion Fortune (Mystical Quabala 1935) while commenting on its position ‘astride the Abyss”, adds that it is never shown on the Tree diagram. Daath (‘Knowledge’) cannot exist before The Creation. It is not part of the stream of emanation so does not count as a sephirah, but it exists as an invisible focal point of the universe as represented by the Tree of Life, and human potential within the Tree. Alan Bain’s logic of excluding the Daath point seems all the odder considering he is describing a ladder of return or ascent.

As already remarked, the three ‘worlds of return’, representing what Jung calls The Individuation Process, are significantly different from those on ‘the ladder of emanation’, so there are in effect six. Atziluth, the highest world, presumably remains what it is, as does Assiah, the lowest world. The other two worlds – Yetzirah and Briah – differ on the descending (‘involutionary’) and ascending (‘evolutionary’) arcs. This sixfold scheme is represented in the diagram (Fig. 7) below, which interlaces six Tree of Life diagrams around the pivotal Daath point.

Fig. 7. Daath at the centre of a hexagonal arrangement of six Worlds.

Unlike on the Ladder, Atziluth and Assiah overlap, each the reverse of the other as the upper and lower points of a hexagon. Briah is similarly the reverse of Yetzirah in the other four vertices representing the involutionary (descending) and evolutionary (ascending) worlds of Briah and Yetzirah. (N.B. This is only one of many possible geometrical representations which link Trees of Life in a Hexagonal pattern. For instance, one could make them all centre on one Malkuth point, or, conversely, all emanate from one Kether point. Different ‘teachings’ – i.e. theoretical conclusions – could be read into them. (Leonora Leet – The Universal Kabbalah 2004; Buckminster Fuller – The Diamond Body, Iona Miller, 1992; and Frater Achad – The Anatomy of the Body of God 1969 have each explored hexagonal diagrams in connection with Cabbala.)

In the Diagram Zero version of the Ladder – otherwise called ‘The Gnostic Ladder’, Greater Daath coincides with Daath in Briah and Yesod in Atziluth. Daath, like Tiphareth, is a psychologically dangerous point on the Tree or Ladder. According to Gareth Knight (1965), one of its Mythic correspondences is the story of Perseus and the Medusa, suggesting Medusa’s head is “a good symbol of the dark side of Daath”. Another is the story of Sir Galahad. Victorian mawkishness has overplayed his purity and understated his indomitable valour. Frankly, both are somewhat chilling.

IMAGES OF DAATH

Purity – or chastity – figures both in the Grail legend and that of the Medusa. In Ovid’s 8C CE reworking of the myth, Medusa was a virgin priestess in the temple of Athena/Minerva – the tutelary goddess of heroes, herself both warlike and chaste – but Medusa was seduced, or raped, by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, so defiling the sanctuary.

Medusa’s terrifying appearance, which would petrify any man who met her gaze, was inflicted on her by Athena. A neat, if horrific reversal of man’s objectification of woman, this has been interpreted either as Athena protecting Medusa from a further violation or a case of punishing a female victim rather than the male oppressor.

Socrates, according to Plato, speaks of having been taught and enlightened by a woman. But possibly this was part of his originality – in Greek masculine society, feminine power was quite possibly a dubious but not fully examined issue. The gaze of Medusa was a powerful symbol of potentially terrifying divine power. 

The Swiss draftsman and painter Henri Fuseli (1741 – 1825) became a Professor of Fine Art at the Royal Academy and had considerable influence on British artists – particularly William Blake. Both were friends with Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797), the philosopher and writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

Fuseli’s drawings show a particular and palpably subjective awareness of women’s power, including a fascination with female fashion, behaviour and hairstyles. It was perhaps natural that he should depict his wife Sophia Fuseli seated in front of a bust of Medusa (1799). (‘Sophia’ means ‘wisdom’ in Greek, and was its personification in Christian Gnosticism). In his picture, Fuseli modified the bust to mimic his wife’s high collar and modern earrings. Her gaze is similarly direct, but Sophia’s manner and extraordinary hairdo show that her effect is conscious and intentional – unlike that of Medusa. The proximity of the fireplace, the symbol of female virtue and domesticity, is ironic.

The snake-haired Medusa of myth was derived from a common Greek apotropaic device – the Gorgoneion – used on buildings and shields to ward off evil spirits or terrify enemies. According to Ovid, the warlike Athena attached Medusa’s severed head to her own shield.

Gorgoneion featuring the head of Medusa; fourth century BC

Reworkings of the motif continue. In May 2022 the artist Serena Korda exhibited a ceramic head of Medusa with seven faces and 47 snakes. As she wrote to me: “the idea was that of a divinatory pendulum adding to a series of giant jewellery I have been making for an amazing giant goddess, the protagonist of my imaginative landscape. The pendulum forms the shape of a giant teardrop as the tear motif is carried through the work on two of the seven faces, considering a collective grief that we all seem to be living with. Yes, those Greek gods were scandalous. Poor Medusa has a rough ride of it or at least that’s the way I am interested in thinking about this story. She seems to represent trauma in many ways.

The 7 faces are each a cast of Serena’s own face and there are 47 snakes, though Korder did not consciously enumerate them. Just to give the numbers Kabbalistic treatment: 47 is a prime number, and 4+7=11, also prime. Daath can be described as an ‘invisible’, 11th Sephirah. Hebrew: בכייה, ‘A weeping’, is numerically equal to 47. בכי, ‘Weeping’, is equal to 32, the number of Paths in the Sepher Yetzirah.

It seems an unlikely topic for the medium, but Korda’s recent ceramic modeling suggests headgear and hairdos. Quite what that has to do with Daath may not be immediately apparent…Daath’s location is equidistant from Chockmah and Binah, the primordial sexual opposites, and directly below Kether (The Crown) as the ultimate point on the Tree. The male bias in all three Abrahamic religions has associated evil with Eve, and felt a need to legislate about a ladies’ ‘crowning glory’, presumably as being a dangerous source of feminine allure.

Male evasion of sexual responsibility is clear from the Gorgon myth; not only in Medusa’s victimisation, but also in Athena’s unquestioning support for male heroics. Daath is an invisible position on the middle pillar between the sexual polarities of the Tree of Life, where the vast creative energies of the psyche and the destructive capacity of imbalance are concentrated. Medusa is a reminder of how things can go horribly wrong.

Later Kabbalah’s pre-creation myth of the Tzimtzum and The Breaking of the Vessels is reminiscent – at least to anyone who studied zoology – of a protozoan excretory vacuole. The deity may have sought to separate a certain ‘otherness’ from Him/Herself. Whether foreseen or not, humanity became duty-bound to ameliorate a problematic course of primordial events, which Adam and Eve’s later disobedience merely prolonged. The symbolic Tree of Kabbalah is rooted not in the Earth but in the Ein Soph, and the Ladder, consisting of a hierarchy of Four Worlds, was surely extended downwards from above so that humanity could collaborate with deity to bring about a correction, or restitution (‘Tikkun’).

Adam and Eve’s apple-centred temptation resulted in the mortal state of humanity – and, according to Jewish folk legend, the animals also lost their original immortality since Eve shared the apple with them too. Presumably, all this would be reversed by ‘The Accomplishment of the Great Work’, or in other words ‘Tikkun olam’ (Hebrew: תִּיקּוּן עוֹלָם, lit. ‘repair of the world‘) when immortality will be restored.

A divinatory pendulum as a means of enlightenment, like LE PENDU in Tarot Trump XII, swings from a fixed point above. The upside-down position is that of an unborn babe, but Le Pendu appears both mature and awake, as though enlightened by seeing things from a new angle. A. E. Waite intimates (1960) that the card expresses the relation between the Divine and the Universe. (Cf. Daath diagram above: Atziluth and Assiah overlap, each the reverse of the other.)

As for Serena Korda’s “amazing giant goddess” she is surely the ‘Who?’ mentioned in the introduction (Haqdamat) to the Zohar – The Sephirah Binah (The Goddess) is the Great Mother and Feminine archetype, which from the position of Daath is the step beyond the Abyss. Binah also corresponds to The World of Briah – the ‘archetypal world’ of the transpersonal unconscious, with which any artist of significance is engaged.

Serena Korda with her weeping Medusa of 7 faces and 47 snakes.

Other symbols associated with Daath are The Empty Room, The Condemned Cell, The Upper Room – said to be the place wherein Christ’s Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, their speech being intelligible in numerous languages – like a prism (another Daath symbol), which splits pure white radiance into the spectrum.

THE EMPTY ROOM – a symbol of Daath
The interior of Bouillons Kub – art gallery/performance space
– “a metaphysical box”,

The pendulum may swing between extremes but its pivotal truth is the centre, the paradox; knowledge between the seemingly opposed pillars of Mercy and Severity: “Consciousness of The Mystery of All Spiritual Activities.” The Hebrew letter of this Path/Rung 19 is Teth ט, the meaning of which is ‘a serpent‘.

The Rev. Anthony Potter’s commentary (Path 13 in Bain’s system, 19 on Diagram Zero Fig. 12) is entirely appropriate to this ultimate stage of paradox: “It is rather as if, when operating at this level, one is neither alive nor dead as far as this world is concerned. Thus, while one is more fully alive than can possibly be the case when existing purely in the world (“My Kingdom is not of this world”), that aliveness is not of this world though taking place in it… it is a meeting point between God and manwhether viewed as an internal experience or as an external phenomenon…at this level of perception, there is no difference. All that can really be said about it is that the reality of the human spirit being one with, part of, or co-existent with the Holy Spirit, in (not throughout) time and in (not over) all space, is perceived in full consciousness. There is thus no then and now, nor is there a here and there. The duality of Christ is experienced as a unity. Similarly, all four Worlds are seen as one …. a further and final example of the paradox experienced at all Daath points on the Ladder: Above the Abyss, truth exists only in contradiction.” Potter wryly adds “Many are called but few are chosen”

It seems fairly clear that, despite Bain’s exclusion of Daath from The Ladder, Potter considers this Path (Rung) to be The Daath point on the ladder and the key point in the work of restitution and individuation. I’d just like to add that there’s an important difference between being ‘in the world but not of it’ and being ‘of the world but not in it’. The latter can have serious consequences.

Greater Daath is on rung 19. The text reads: “The nineteenth path is called the intelligence of the Secret of all spiritual activities. The fullness which it receives derives from the highest benediction and the supreme glory.”

8. Other Paths on the Ladder, with occasional reference to Tony Potter’s notes:

Kether

Using A. E. W.aite’s version of the 32 Paths of Wisdom: (I) The first path is called the Admirable Intelligence, the Supreme Crown. It is the light which imparts understanding of the beginning which is without beginning, and this also is the First Splendour. No created being can attain to its essence. Aryeh Kaplan gives Mystical Consciousness (Sekhel Mufla) This is the Light which was originally conceived, and it is the First Glory. No creature can attain its excellence.

Most readers refer this text to Kether, for obvious reasons, as I do in the context of Diagram Zero. Alan Bain’s System refers it to Ein, which is number one in his arrangement on the ladder, meaning ‘The Supreme Crown’ is ‘Ain’ – Nothing. “No created being can attain to its essence” is spot-on. In Bain’s arrangement, Ain is the topmost point in Greater Kether; the centre of Greater Kether then corresponds to number four, the text of which reads:

(IV) The Fourth path is called the Arresting or Receiving Intelligence because it arises like a boundary to receive the emanations of the higher intelligences which are sent down to it. Herefrom, all spiritual virtues emanate by way of subtlety, which itself emanates from the Supreme Crown.

The central point of Greater Kether is properly defined as ‘Arresting or Receiving‘. The entity which precedes it, Ain Soph Aur (Limitless Light) is an abstract condition devoid of form, and the next step in emanation is, therefore, the point, which has neither parts nor magnitude and is defined – arrested – only by location. It follows from this that path (III) Sanctifying intelligence, usually attributed to Binah, here refers to The Limitless Light. The need to define a location in relation to further points follows on from this, and the fifth path, which must refer to Chockmah in Atziluth, …is more akin than any other to the Supreme Unity and emanates from the depths of the Primordial Wisdom. The name “Chockmah” of course means “Wisdom”.

To appreciate the complex subtlety of Bain’s system, one has to take all the paths from (I) to (VII) as constituting Greater Kether, and sharing paths (IV), (V), (VI) & (VII) with Greater Chockmah, which in turn shares paths with Greater Binah, and so on down the ladder.

In “DiagramZero”, Kether has a second text pertaining to Path 13 as well as the text for Path 1. In Kaplan’s version, this is “Unity Directing”, whereas in Waite’s it is “Inductive”. Both are consistent with the idea of Kether emerging within “The Limitless Light” as a focal point or ‘crystallisation’.

Ein

In The Sepher Yetzirah, which dates from some time in late antiquity, The Deity is implicitly separate from His creation. Subsequently, Medieval Kabbalah expressed a proper humility in a form of pious agnosticism: nothing at all can be predicated about (The) Absolute Being, who is hidden from the manifest universe by Three Veils of Negative Existence: Ein (Nothing), Ein Soph (No Limit) and Ein Soph Aur (Limitless Light). Alan Bain includes these three entities as points at the top of his version of The Ladder. This implies that our manifest existence is not only continuous with but totally dependent on the limitless and unknowable. Gershom G. Scholem (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism 1955) quotes an unnamed Kabbalist: this “Nothing… is infinitely more real than all other reality”.

The separation of the first Sephirah, Kether, from the unknowable ‘Negative Existence’ of its origin, is a similar notion to that of the German theologian Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328) who distinguished Godhead from God, saying they were as different from each other as God and the created world. Eckhart described Godhead as “poor, naked and empty as though it were not. It is God who has the treasure and the bride in him, the Godhead is a void as though it were not”  (quoted in Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy 1946)

“Poor, naked and empty as though it were not” conveys in more human terms the imponderable divine essence in Kabbalah, yet one can accept that ‘our world’ is continuous with the unknowable Ein Soph. The same applies to the first sephirah of manifestation, Kether which, as Dion Fortune describes (The Mystical Qabalah 1935) can be visualised as a point of crystallisation within The Limitless Light (Ein Soph Aur).

Kether is also the divine spark of human being’s existence, to be visualised anatomically as above the crown of the head. Far from any notion of union with the Divine, this is simply a way of entertaining a bit of hearsay about reality beyond human experience while alive in this world. Scholem quotes another Kabbalistic text ‘The Ladder of Ascent’ (i.e. ascent to the divine) which uses the term ‘Devekuth’ meaning ‘adhesion’ – to describe the ultimate ecstatic experience of the Divine available in this world.

If arranged according to the suggested ‘Gnostic’ arrangement (see Figs. 1 above & 12 below), the first ten paths are allotted to the Greater Sephiroth on the ladder of 22 rungs, and paths 11 to 32 also have a rung each, meaning path eleven applies to Ain (‘Nothing’ or ‘Negativity’). Does this ring true? The difference from Bain’s system is that here Greater Kether is described by the paths allotted to the first five rungs, including the Three Veils and the first path pertaining to Greater Kether.

(XI) The eleventh path is called the Fiery Intelligence. It is the veil placed before the disposition and order of the superior and inferior causes. Whosoever possesses this path is in the enjoyment of great dignity; to possess it is to be face to face with the Cause of Causes. Or, according to Kaplan Glaring Consciousness (Sekhel MeTzuchtzach). It is called this because it is the essence of the Veil which is ordered in the arrangement of the system. It indicates the relation of the Paths (netivot) whereby one can stand before the Cause of Causes. Yes….the mention of the veil and being face to face with the Cause of Causes suggests ‘devekuth’ and has the ring of truth. So does the next rung (XII) Intelligence of Light… (Kaplan Glorious Consciousness), and the next, (XIII) which again refers to Kether: the Inductive Intelligence of Unity. It is the Substance of Glory, and it manifests truth to every spirit.

These notes are merely fleeting glances – the texts themselves reward more sustained contemplation.

Tiphareth

Another important example would be the sixth path, which is usually referred to Tiphareth, and would be appropriate to Greater Tiphareth on the Extended Tree: (VI) The sixth path is called the Intelligence of mediating influence because the flux of the emanations is multiplied therein. It communicates this influence to those blessed men who are united with it. Following the attribution of the 22 rungs (Fig 12), there is a second text at this level, rung 25, letter Samech: (XXV) The twenty-fifth path is called the Intelligence of Temptation or Trial because it is the first temptation by which God tests the devout. This is not inappropriate to Tiphareth and should be compared with the Tarot attributions for this part of the Ladder, demonstrated below.

Alan Bain’s note on ‘Step Four’ (in The Keys to Kabbalah 1972)) which is centred on Tiphareth, states: “The voice of Self is heard, the impulses of Self become known, and we are gradually given the opportunity to see ourselves as we are.”

The Rev. Anthony Potter’s commentary on this path – 22 in Bain’s numbering & quoted in Grevis 2017,) but equivalent to rung 25 on the Zero ‘Gnostic system (Fig. 12) – reads “This Path is the first on the upward journey on the Ladder at which it is possible to perceive reality…” and goes on to state that the aspirant is at first awakened to the imperfection of his or her surroundings. It continues “Due to the double Tiphareth attribution…[the overlapping effect, though in terms of the ‘Gnostic Ladder’ this path is indeed at the centre of Greater Tiphareth and also Tiphareth in Yetzirah]...this observation may well give rise to extremely altruistic and self-sacrificing concepts regarding the ways in which the situation may be rectified…” no doubt involving the ‘Temptation or Trial’ mentioned in the text; Potter goes on to say that pride will lead to failure unless countered by the recognition that “It is not I but my Father in Heaven that doeth these things”.

Every step on the path/ladder involves dilemma, conflicts of duty or irreconcilable opposites, and at Tiphareth in particular, this is symbolised by The Cross. The central sephirah of Tiphareth involves the notion of ‘going through The Veil’, a critical – and dangerous – point in one’s awakening; death and rebirth and loss of identity with ego, howbeit brilliant – a reconstruction of the relation between ego and Self such that object and subject, conscious and unconscious are flipped into a state where ‘you are everything, everything is you’. The veil is that of illusion, symbolised by the Veil of the Temple rent from top to bottom at The Crucifixion. (According to Tony Potter, Christian resonances in Kabbalah merely indicate that the Jews had no need of Christ.)

Nevertheless, one might have hoped for something a bit more dramatic from the Yetziratic texts. Perhaps, though, they reflect a tradition in which newborn Hebrew babies differ from Gentiles in being already at the level of Tiphareth. (I can’t attribute this statement, but came across it in The Highgate Group in 1964)

Kaplan’s attribution for this path seems acceptable enough: Faithful Consciousness (Sekhel Ne’eman) It is called this because spiritual powers are increased through it, so that they can be close to all who “dwell in their shadow”. Is this ‘The’ archetypal Shadow – in the Jungian sense? Or is it the Platonic view that the unenlightened only see reality indirectly as shadows? According to A. E. Waite, Wynn Westcott’s version reads ‘…and all dwellers on earth are merely under its shadow’ which, Waite dryly remarks, lacks discernment. The edition I have of Westcott’s text (2nd Edition) is even worse, giving ‘nearly’ instead of ‘merely’.

Still, the mention of ‘Shadow’, and the connection of Tiphareth with harmony and sunlight, as well as death – death and resurrection or rebirth – as conveyed in the stories of Orpheus, Apollo, and Christ, are significant of this all-important rung.

Malkuth and the 32nd Path

The last or first point in both versions of the ladder, the 32nd, is the path of ת (Tau), the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. Said to refer to a Tau Cross, ie shaped like a capital letter T, it has meanings and religious resonances dating to antiquity. In Kabbalah it symbolizes the completion of the revealed Word of God manifest in creation – that’s to say, REALITY. (see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tau_cross).

The path joins Yesod and Malkuth on both the Hebraic and the British Tree of Life, but is nevertheless the scene of some uncomfortable disagreement. Waite’s version is (XXXII) The Thirty-second path is called the Assisting Intelligence, because it directs all the operation of the seven planets, with their divisions, and concurs therein. (Note that planetary influences were linked to hours of the day and night, not their astronomical positions, and the phrase ‘their divisions’ refers to time passing.) Their order from the most remote (Saturn) to the closest (Luna) corresponds to their order of creation on the fourth day (Genesis 1, 14). The version given by that highly influential and respected authority on the Sepher Yetzirah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, reads Worshipped Consciousness (Sekhel Ne’evad). It is called this because it is prepared to destroy all who engage in the worship of the seven planets.

One recent commentator sees in this a warning against a superficial faith in science, unmoderated by deeper ethical and spiritual concerns. Though it has been open to unethical exploitation, science is, by its nature, modest, neutral and descriptive, though to dismiss its peer-reviewed findings in favour of revealed dogma is, in my opinion, highly dishonest. As a scientist himself Kaplan doubtless understood the danger of overestimating the scope of scientific statements, but this text, genuine or not, is more likely a warning against polytheism.

In the classic arrangement, not the 32nd path but the tenth (Resplendent Intelligence, or Scintillating Intelligence) applies to Malkuth. Waite’s version reads: The tenth path is called the Resplendent Intelligence because it is exalted above every head and has its seat in BINAH: It enlightens the fire of all lights and emanates the power of the principle of forms. In Diagram Zero, as with the other Greater Sephiroth, Greater Malkuth has two Yetziratic texts, in this case Numbers 10 and 32, ‘Resplendent’ and ‘Worshipped’.

One should not lose sight of the Ladder’s composition from linked Trees in their distinctive geometric structure, in which the first ten (numerical) paths are sephiroth, and paths 11 to 32 are ‘channels’ or paths each joining two of the sephiroth. The Sephiroth are comparatively simple and objective retaining something of the unknowability of the Ein Soph, while the paths are the loci of personal action and the palpable complexities of subjective experience. The elusive and nuanced quality of the texts highlights the sense of walking on hallowed ground, as a limited ego in the presence of a vastly greater & all-encompassing unknown ‘self’.

The 32nd path (Tau ת) represents the first upward step in individual consciousness, that of separation and independence from the mother. It leads from Malkuth to the ‘mirror’ sephirah of Yesod. In the converse direction, it is the path of realistic practicality, ‘directing operations’ from the hypothetical, ideal or visualised to the actual.

The different ways of relating the Hebrew letters (see diagrams in No 16 below) to the pattern of paths on the Tree, as well as the G. D’s reversing of the S. Y. order of the planetary attributions, adds understandable confusion to the obscurity of the Yetziratic texts, assuming they are a product of the Hebraic Kabbalah, especially as the significance of each path must relate to the sephiroth they join and there is no consistency between the different arrangements. The second version (below) is supposed to correct the presumed illogicality of the Kircher arrangement, which may be more subtle than it appears in that respect, while the arrangement of paths on the Lurianic Tree has no sequential order linked to the Sephirothic, but has its own geometric and alphabetical logic. The difficulties arising seem particularly marked in the case of the 27th path. What may, for all I know, make excellent sense in the Hebraic Kabbalah may prove difficult to appropriate in Christian Cabala. Future allocation of the Hebrew letters and paths to the Ladder could resolve some of these issues.

9. Tarot Symbolism

Western Cabalah, since the Renaissance, has had recourse to imagery which does not appear in Judaic tradition but commends itself because there are twenty-two Tarot Trumps. Traditions may vary as to how these are attributed to the Hebrew letters, and by its nature, any attribution of Tarot symbolism to any circumstance or coincidence of imagery can be usefully suggestive in a context of sincere psychological inquiry.

In The Minor Arcana, the four suites correspond to the Four Worlds: Wands (Fire) ATZILUTH; Cups (Water) BRIAH; Swords (Air) YETZIRAH; Pentacles or Discs ASSIAH (Earth). Their positions on the Ladder are obvious, but the overlapping of sephiroth on the ladder suggests nuanced or paradoxical imagery.

The attribution of Minor Arcana is quite straightforward as the cards are numerical and pertain to the sephiroth. Waite’s and Crowley’s Tarot designs also have striking imagery, and helpful titles such as ‘Ruin’, ‘Blended Pleasure’, ‘Success Unfulfilled’ etc. In Crowley’s deck, the titles are printed on the cards.

Fig. 8. The Tarot Trump THE SUN attributed to Greater Tiphareth, coinciding with Tiphareth in Yetzirah, Six of Swords
Fig. 9. Analysis of Greater Tiphareth in terms of minor arcana attributions to lesser sephiroth in Briah, Yetzirah and Assiah.

Attributions to Greater Tiphareth, coinciding with Tiphareth in Yetzirah. Greater Tiphareth shares minor Sephiroth points with Greater Geburah and Greater Netzach. The card for Tiphareth in Yetzirah is the 6 of Swords: “Earned Success”. The additional lesser arcana are 9 of Cups: “Material Happiness”, 10 of cups “Perfected Success” 4 of Swords: “Rest from Strife”, 5 of Swords: “Defeat”, 7 of Swords: “Unstable Effort”, 8 of Swords: “Shortened Force”, 9 of Swords: “Despair and Cruelty”. There are also the two and Three of Pentacles: “Harmonious Change”, and “Material Works”, from the overlap with Assiah.

The cards for Greater Tiphareth itself show the possibility of stability, harmony, and success. Apart from the “Material Happiness” and “Perfected Success” of the 9 & 10 of Cups, and some intimations of sensible practicality with the ace, two and three of pentacles, the peripheral cards of Tiphareth in Yetzirah do indeed suggest ‘Testing’, and even ‘Purgatory’.

The Court Cards.

These are also simple to attribute, though because they represent human types active in real-life dramas, in terms of divination there is always room for flexibility. Crowley’s ‘Book of Thoth’ has improved on the gender imbalance of traditional Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages, substituting Knights, Queens, Princes, and Princesses in the spirit of courtly romance. They represent the series Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter.

Fig. 10. Court cards of the Waite-Rider-Smith deck.

In traditional Tarot decks, Kings can symbolise Kether, Queens Malkuth, Knights Tiphareth, and Pages Yesod. Again the suites correspond to the Trees in four worlds, so on the ladder there will be overlapping – King with knight and knight with Queen, though at Daath/Yesod points there are only Pages. (See Fig.10.) For example at rung 11, Greater Chesed, there is the Queen of Wands, The Knight of Cups and The King of Swords. The gap between the King and the Knight represents the Abyss & Daath (i.e. On the ladder, the Daath point of a lower Tree – the gap – is the Yesod of the next higher world – the Page.) With the Crowley pack, Knights are equivalent to Chockmah, Queens to Binah, Princes to Tiphareth and Princesses to Malkuth.

Crowley also attributes the Knights to Yod, Queens to He, Princes to Vau and Princesses to second He of TETRAGRAMMATON. (Fig.11.)

The four letters of The Name also apply to the four suites, elements and worlds, implying permutation. He further remarks that they typify certain human types and their interaction in myth & legend, adding

“It is hardly possible to disentangle these complications, but for the student, it is sufficient if he will be content to work with one legend at a time.” A good principle for the whole of this type of study, and clearly there’s wide scope for intuition.

Fig. 11. Court cards from ‘The Book of Thoth’, Crowley-Harris Tarot deck.

PART III – Random Remarks

The following sections are random paragraphs; fragmentary, repetitive, tangential and periphrastic; you may even think platitudinous. They follow no sequential order or agenda, apart from informing the reader with observations and instances – possibly of use to a very few. Please ignore or peruse them at leisure.

10. Zero K

In Aryeh Kaplan’s version, the Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom have a certain clarity and seem to have been cited in Bain’s & Potter’s notes, albeit on Bain’s version of The Ladder. The texts seem to work rather well with the 22 Paths on Gnostic Ladder, so here is Diagram Zero K. As an example, note that Path 19, “Consciousness of the Mystery of all Spiritual Influences” is attributed to Rung 19, the position of Greater Daath.

Fig. 12. Note rung 19 (DAATH)- Consciousness of the Mystery of all Spiritual Activities; Rung 25 (Kether in Assiah/Tipareth in Yetzirah & Greater Tiphareth) transcendental Influx & Testing Consciousness.Tiphareth in Assiah ‘Perfect’ and ‘Physical’. The complete texts (Kaplan 1997) reward study.

11. Literacy and The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom

Kabbalah is an oral tradition within the highly literate and anthropocentric teachings of Judaism, which underlie all three Abrahamic religions. Our contemporary culture has grown from these roots and has now become dangerously detached from the earth and cosmos of which we are part. The need to retain an ‘inner’ ear could explain the uniquely veiled tone of The ‘Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom’, the texts of which must be read – one should perhaps say ‘felt’ – in a personal and somatic as well as cosmic context.

[It is worth noting that pre-literate societies had oral esoteric traditions which were taught to initiates and memorised – if that is the right word for such total assimilation and self-identity. In some ways, the development of literacy can be seen in terms of loss (of the self) and ecological separation. In Secrets of the Talking Jaguar (1999) the writer, artist and teacher Martin Prechtel, makes the point that writing things down is not so much to remember, as ‘to enable one to forget’ – or to remember only when one feels like it. According to Pretchel (himself a half-blood Native American) to the pre-literate Shaman, ‘to forget something sacred was to dishonour it’, consequently ‘nothing that was real was permitted to be written down’ (See ‘Embodiment, Reconciliation, Belonging: Writing to remember the ‘Paranormal’, by Maya Ward, a ‘teacher of the intimate art of embodied ecology’. In ‘Greening the Paranormal’ by Jack Hunter, Foreword by Paul Devereux, 2019)]

It is not only the words, but the deeper resonances within letters, particularly if they were Hebrew, which would unlock deeper significance. Techniques such as Gematria, Notaricon or Temura would be relevant if the individual had such skills, but such texts may remain incomprehensible, let alone untranslatable, if one has lost the ability to listen, see, and feel within one’s physical and psychic (cosmic) body.

On the other hand, the advantage of the written word is its democratic availability, out there in the marketplace: “Litera scripta manet in aeternum”.

The downside of language’s capacity for detachment, remote reference and easy fluency can be a built-in sense of absence, separation (subject and object) alienation, loss, lack of connectedness, or simply unreality – let alone intentional falsehood. The extent to which words are in fact conventional, and not magically at one with what they signify, is essential to the way language works. At the same time, Kabbalah reveres the Hebrew language – or at least its alphabet – as sacred and archetypal, and as timelessly pre-existing the creation. Words, and more particularly the letter shapes, sounds and numerical values actually have the power to evoke the truths which they symbolise. True, Hebrew letter sounds are not wholly unique and have their equivalents in other languages which can resonate with inner meaning and universal truth for those with ears to hear.

12. Various Commentators on The Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom

TREADING A PATH

In Zohar The Book of Splendour ‘Basic Readings from the Kabbalah (1963) Gershom Scholem cites a passage in which Rabbi Simeon discourses on Genesis 13, 3, which states that Abraham ‘went on his journeys’ rather than ‘journey’ singular. The passage has significance in the context of path-work on the Tree and its universal polarities. R. Simeon takes the plural to indicate that The Divine Presence accompanied Abraham:

“It behoves a man to be “male and female” so that his faith may remain stable, and so that the Presence may never leave himbefore leaving he must pray to God to draw to himself the Presence of his Master. When the Presence is resting on him, then he may go, for by virtue of his union with the Presence, he is now “male and female” in the country as he was male and female in the town…He must heed well all his actions, lest the holy union break off, and he be left imperfect, deprived of the union with the female…”. All this is aside from, or rather hidden within, the Biblical narrative with which a devout Rabbi would be familiar – that of returning to the place “between Beth-el and Ai where Abraham had made an altar at the first and there called upon the name of the Lord.”

It seems that The Master’s Presence entails ‘the female’. Jung regarded the self – as opposed to the ego-personality – as a union of conscious (masculine) and unconscious (feminine), which stands for psychic totality (Jung 1968).

In Rabbinic mysticism, particularly in The Zohar, the Shekina is constantly mentioned. It is The Presence, which may be manifest in The Holy of Holies in the Temple, and particularly on The Sabbath. Although Western Cabalism, such as that of The Golden Dawn, barely mentions it/her, She is the feminine manifestation of Deity, and equivalent to The Unconscious as proposed by C. G. Jung. Treading the Paths of the Tree of Life – leaving the town, (ego-consciousness) – is a step into the unknown.

Dion Fortune, in her masterwork The Mystical Qabalah (Ibid) expresses high regard for the ‘Yetziratic texts’. Though she acknowledges they are often extremely obscure, she typifies them as ‘the essence of Qabalah’. She states ” The Thirty-two Paths of the Concealed Glory are ways of life, and those who want to unravel their secrets must tread them…” (That is, don’t just ‘read’, begin with the letter ‘Tau’ and experience the path as reality! )

Though she mentions in passing such writers as Macgregor Mathers, Annie Besant or Arthur Edward Waite, Fortune seldom details her sources, simply mentioning that they are ancient, traditional, or teachings she personally received in an esoteric context. Even in the aftermath of other writers’ revelations, she remains tactful. Phrases such as ‘we are told that…’ imply a hidden hierarchic structure of wise teachers and adepts, or, as with the Theosophical Society, ‘Secret Chiefs’. Fortune was also a Christian and acknowledged Christ as her personal guide.

Aleister Crowley, by contrast, famously made fun of the Golden Dawn secrecy, (swearing a man to the most horrible penalties if he betray… etc. and then taking him mysteriously apart and entrusting the Hebrew Alphabet to his safe-keeping) he was also sceptical (in 777, 1909) of the usefulness of the Thirty-two Paths texts, having mainly ceremonial magic in mind.

In 777, which he claimed to have written in just two weeks (surely an admirable demonstration of The Art of Memory!) Crowley revealed all of the Golden Dawn’s secret systems of correspondence. In its original form, 777 consisted of Crowley’s drawing of the Tree of Life diagram, followed by six interrelated tables of correspondences: (I) the ‘Key Scale’ of thirty-two, being the sephiroth and paths of the Tree, (II) The five letters of The Name; the five elements (III) The Seven Planets, (IV) The Ten Sephiroth, (V) The 12 Zodiac Signs and (VI) The 22 Hebrew Letters.

Such tabulation would be quite applicable to the ladder, though no ladder diagram ever appears in Crowly’s or the Golden Dawn teaching.

Paradoxically, the important thing in the Golden Dawn ‘secrets’ was their universality and equivalence in different cultures, languages, religions and esoteric teachings, to which it was claimed the Cabalist Tree of Life was the key. Crowley knew very well that 777 hardly made esoteric ‘secrets’ more easily accessible to the casual enquirer. Later editions included relevant essays and explanatory material, all meticulously faithful to the Golden Dawn systems of correspondences, which at that stage Crowley saw no reason to question.

Transcription of Crowley’s Tree of Life Illustration from 777J.N.P.

As a development of a masonic lodge, the Golden Dawn had comparable theatricality, rituals, rules, oaths and grades, and claimed a secret lineage of great antiquity. Whether its claims were fraudulent or not is almost beside the point – those of us who joined the Wolf Cubs at an impressionable age didn’t ask whether its investiture and badges, the Grand Howl, the Cub Law and Promise or ‘The Jungle Dance of Kaa’ really had much to do with Kipling – or even Baden Powel – the experience was its own justification.

But in contexts where it matters, the anonymity of a written text can be an open goal for irresponsibility and corruption. There may be genuine scribal error or mistranslation, but also deliberate alteration to fit a particular thesis or pet theory, to mislead rival secret societies or even protect genuine secrets from the uninitiated, all of which can make texts untrustworthy. Even in the 10th C the S.Y. itself had many variants and The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom have fared no better. This only serves to emphasise the importance of finding a trustworthy guide with a ‘genuine’ esoteric teaching – whatever that means; lineage may or may not be important. (Alan Bain maintained that angelic instruction, as received by Adam and Eve, was ongoing).

In view of what Kaplan has written about their personal nature, perhaps there were indeed ‘personal’ versions of the Thirty-two Paths. Versions in English differ widely and can be difficult to reconcile, let alone understand. As Barry Long would say, one must “listen for the ring of truth”. When not a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, they can unlock one’s own intimations and insights.

On the Zero Ladder (Figs. 1. & 13), rungs with two (lesser) sephiroth and one text alternate with rungs having one (Greater) sephirah and two texts. The two exceptions are at rung 19 ‘Secret Intelligence’, which coincides with Greater Daath – not being a sephirah, this has no sephiroth text – and Between rungs 31 & 32 where there is no ‘dual’ path*.

*(Geometrically there are in fact two intersections at this level. They do not coincide with any identifiable point on the tree, so I have ignored them, but they could seem to imply a 23rd ‘rung’. Could it refer to one’s physical parents? Alan Bain’s version, which excludes Daath from the Ladder, centers Greater Malkuth on Yesod in Assiah, and thus subtly avoids the two extra points.

Other versions in fact add two sephiroth to these points, and a third ‘physical world’; below Malkuth, “Assiah Gashmi”. Unlike Bain’s this version of the ladder does not include the Three Veils osf Negative Existence at the top, but, like Bain’s, it results in 32 nodal points on the Ladder. It would also be possible to identify twenty-two rungs, as in Diagram Zero.

Interestingly, because rungs 28, 24 and 20, are aligned with the same vacant position between Yesod and Malkuth on an adjacent lesser Tree, Chesed and Geburah never coincide with parts of the higher or lower trees on the Ladder in the way that, for example, Binah and Chockmah of a lower Tree coincide with Hod and Netzach of the next higher Tree (See Fig. 12, Zero K above).

One might well meditate on what this implies. It would perhaps suggest that the step up from one World to another – the Daath/Yesod point – must always be from the Tiphareth/Malkuth level by way of the Middle Pillar. It could also explain why the first step in The Work – leaving home and becoming independent of one’s physical parents, as remarked by Tony Potter in the early 1960s, can feel like a step into the abyss. A similar experience is possible at all of the corresponding levels, where the step from Malkuth to Yesod on the next higher Tree is Tiphareth to Daath on the lower World. As Rabbi Simeon put it “It behoves a man to be ‘male and female’ so that his faith may remain stable, and so that the Presence may never leave him …”)

13. Comparative Attributions

Anyone might be glad if the relevant Yetziratic texts offered insight as to how to reconcile the 27th path’s antitheses and to avoid both conflict and compromise – though here ‘avoiding’ would entail some form of confronting or accepting. The Golden Dawn attribution to the planet Mars and the letter פ (Pe), implies conflict and confrontation. If so, should we not look for virtues such as moral courage, energy & standing one’s ground? On the Ladder, we actually find the 27th Path at Greater Netzach, coinciding with Daath (Knowledge) in Assiah, and Natural Intelligence (or should it be ‘Palpable?). The 7th path also pertains to Netzach at this point, as Hidden Intelligence.

Wynn Westcott’s version of the Yetziratic text – i.e. that of The Golden Dawn and 777 – reads “The Twenty-seventh Path is the Active or Exciting Intelligence, and it is so called because through it every existent being receives its spirit and motion” This seems to be the only version in English that mentions action and excitement, suggesting all things masculine and Martial from the rugby pitch to brass bands.

As mentioned above, in Diagram Zero – The Gnostic Ladder ( see fig 12 Zero K above) – the 27th Path coincides with rung 17 at the centre of Greater Netzach (‘Hidden Intelligence’), and also with Daath in Assiah/Yesod in Yetzirah. This would mean the aspirant on the Ladder had successfully transited the path on the Lesser Tree below between Hod and Netzach which coincides with the rung immediately below Greater Hod. Waite’s translation is: “(XXVII) The twenty-seventh path is called the Natural Intelligence, whereby the nature of everything found in the orb of the sun is completed and perfected”. This is suggestive of the beauty of nature and seems not to reflect Mars – unless one makes an argument about the harsher aspects of natural selection. Reference to the Sun suggests the harmonious integration of Hod & Netzach in Tiphareth.

The linking of Greater Netzach with Daath (in Assiah) and Yesod (in Yetzirah) suggests that the linking of Assiah to Yetzirah at this point represents a psychological transition towards independence and individuality within a pervading ‘Natural intelligence’ derived from the Tree in Yetzirah – the World of Formation. At this point ‘mentality’, means the universal natural endowments of the psyche in the form of individual gifts and deficiencies. Greater Netzach thereby includes five rungs, corresponding to (29) Corporeal Intelligence, (28) Active intelligence, (27) NATURAL INTELLIGENCE, (26) Renewing Intelligence, and (25) Intelligence of Temptation or Trial.

Aryeh Kaplan, (in Sepher Yetzirah The Book of Creation 1997) offers a translation of The Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom as an appendix, and pointedly declines to comment on them. Unlike all other versions, he ascribes ‘Natural Intelligence’ to path 28, whereas the 27th becomes “Palpable Consciousness (Sekhel Murgash). It is called this because the consciousness of all things created under the entire upper sphere as well as all their sensations, were created through it.” This rung coincides with Greater Netzach as well as Daath in Assiah and Yesod in Yetzirah, implying the possibility of a sense of union with all life.

It also suggests implies relating the constraints and necessities of the physical world to personal independence in the psychological world. Physical human presence in the world is the palpable expression of the psyche. Instead of simply acting instinctively, one can own and express one’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions. ‘Palpable Consciousness’ is the subjective somatic manifestation of consciousness, with the realisation that one’s responses need not be predetermined and automatic.

Research is said to have demonstrated that actions we thought we chose to initiate were neurologically under weigh before any conscious decision was made. Perhaps this has something to do with one’s ability to all too easily become an irresponsible automaton by internally delegating – and thereby fragmenting – one’s decisions and actions at more automatic and habitual levels, rather than being present in them. It has its useful aspect in such contexts as walking or driving, but – idleness being the vice of Yesod – one has to keep one’s eye on things if one is to progress.

When it comes to ascribing paths to the Tree diagram, Kaplan naturally follows the Judaic pattern in which the planets are attributed to the seven vertical paths. The 27th path corresponds to Pe, but on the path joining Hod to Geburah rather than Hod to Netzach. And yet how appropriate it would be to a path joining the two sephiroth at the base of the female and male columns! Any path in psychic development is a step towards the unknown, in which fear, the expression of Geburah, is entirely natural, even to the extent of becoming a friend and guide. Fear is not so much ‘cast out’ as transmuted by love; even (as Dion Fortune avers in her chapter on Geburah in MQ) an essential aspect of love.

14. More about Stepping up.

With the vertical arrangement on the ladder, the ‘great split’ in western culture is expressed horizontally in the lesser Trees, in the polar energis of the the side pillars. On the Ladder, The Greater Sephiroth of Hod and Netzach are vertically arranged, and the step up from Greater Hod to Greater Netzach is also Tiphareth to Daath in Assiah and Malkuth to Yesod in Yetzirah.

The vertical move presupposes, not only the Hod/Netzach path of the Assiah Tree, but also the experience of the horizontal path joining Geburah and Chesed on the Assiah Tree, symbolised by the letter Tzaddi – whose two faces look outwards (see Esoteric Postscripts) suggesting extraversion – unlike the letter Teth on rung/path 19 at ‘Greater Daath’. Could it be that a characteristic of this path is experiencing a painful incompatibility between expansive creativity and judgemental austerity; primordial Mercy and Severity?

As with the corresponding levels in each of the Worlds, there is no overlap of these two Sephiroth with the Tree in another world, which may mean the individual at this point must find one’s own balance. The fulcrum could be Tiphareth below – in the body, centred on the Solar Plexus, but the source of balance or union must also come from above this level, meaning an independent act of faith – centring on Yesod in Yetzirah – and taking a chance. The corresponding text, ‘Active Intelligence’, could mean paying attention to one’s own energy and physique in action – the outward effects of the hidden anabolic and catabolic processes in the body.

The step from this rung to that of Greater Netsach entails that some external conflict of duties, symbolised by the opposites of expansiveness and radical restriction, is transcended. Since it is in the material world of Assiah, it could be a matter of managing one’s worldly affairs, such as work, finances, or sexual responsibility, and can only be resolved in terms of inner knowledge – subjective independence.

The symbolism of ‘Hidden Intelligence’ at Greater Netzach implies a palpable sense of life – experiential value – ‘feeling’ – both in a human context and as part of nature. In terms of ‘occult’ Qabalah, it could mean a transcendent vision of feminine beauty (‘Beauty Triumphant’). It would also mean treading the path between Malkuth and Yesod on the Tree in Yetzirah. Since this would mean knowing one’s own mind, it would be a significant step in individuality. Both suggest the issues mentioned (above) about Embodiment, Reconciliation & Belonging.

15. The Golem

Brian Les Lancaster (a lecturer in transpersonal psychology and former associate of the Saros group instituted by Cherry Gilchrist and Rod Thorn) has written a very lucid paper on an aspect of the S.Y. which tends to be passed over by Western esotericists, i.e. its significance as a recipe for creating a golem. (APPENDIX 8) Lancaster suggests that the golem in Kabbalah is analogous to the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists:

“The golem might then be regarded as a means whereby the mystic engages with the formative power of the divine, unconsciously retracing his own constitution to a more primordial, and therefore more open, state. I am reminded again of Jung’s conception of the self, which, in addition to its status as goal of individuation, carries a primordial quality: ‘The beginnings of our whole psychic life seem to be inextricably rooted in this point, and all our highest and ultimate purposes seem to be striving toward it’ (Jung, 1977, p. 236).

The Tree of Life, The alphabet, and (by extension) The Ladder, is a way of uniting conscious and unconscious polarities, through a symbolic mechanism Jung calls The Transcendent Function (analogous to the transcendental function in mathematics).

Attaining the level of consciousness of Greater Netzach and thus ‘marrying’ it with Hod (in Tiphareth) would not only be a significant move in terms of personal independence as both biological and social survival, but it would also mean transcendence of the ‘great split’ in the intellectual life of western society mentioned above. In terms of the ‘lesser’Tree in Yetzirah, the individual’s position would now be one of physical and mental independence, as symbolised by Yesod in Yetzirah, but also one of recognising ‘experiential value’ – in something that cannot be bought.

The ‘lesser’ Tiphareth in the Yetzirah Tree is at a key point which unites three worlds, coinciding with the Great Tiphareth of the Ladder, which again, is Kether in Assiah and Malkuth on the Briah Tree. The step from Greater Netzach (“Hidden Intelligence”, Daath in Assiah/Yesod in Yetzirah) to Greater Tiphareth (“Mediating Intelligence” and “Intelligence of Temptation or Trial”) would thus be momentous in the journey of individuation, whereby the ‘self’ is no longer defined in terms of the mental and physical worlds of Yetzirah (“Formation”) and Assiah (“Making”), but in the context of Briah, the archetypal world of transpersonal psychology – in Jungian terms The Unconscious.

The next rung up from Greater Netzach is (again) that which joins the opposing spheres of Hod and Netzach in the World of Yetzirah. The single text of this rung is ‘Renewing Intelligence’, with the symbolism of the letter Ain, Capricorn and, in G.D. symbolism, The Devil Tarot Trump, the design of which depicts a naked man and woman chained at the foot of the Devil’s throne. The Devil is The Shadow in Jungian psychology. Greater Tiphareth has two texts: “Intelligence of Temptation or Trial”, and “Mediating Intelligence”.

16. Three different ways of relating paths to sephiroth:

At best, Kabbalah/Cabala aspires to clarify words, concepts and values and make them universally intelligible. In fact, the tradition is so old and so widespread, that different systems of path attributions (illustrated below) can seem to do the opposite. Ideally, Kabbalah looks to mathematics as a universal language, as expressed in the ten sephiroth and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, with their numerical values and relationships. It should be possible to accommodate different Tree attributions, but it’s difficult.

The word ‘Hod’, is often rendered as ‘Glory’ in Western Cabala, and, from the attribution of Mercury, associated with the principle of Thinking. The English, ‘hod’ is for carrying bricks. Is this a reminder of the Tower of Babel story, in which the Bible states they substituted bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar – presumably not a good idea? As Lewis Carol’s Humpty Dumpty said “There’s Glory for you!” meaning “a nice knock-down argument”.

I am prejudiced by the Cabala system I was introduced to in the decade between 1964 and 1974 – basically the Golden Dawn system as conveyed by Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley. Though I greatly respect the cabalists who looked for enlightening new patterns, I find it hard to accept an arrangement, such as that in Fig 15 (below) which does not locate the 32nd Path with the letter Tau on the lowest section of the Middle Pillar of the Tree – or, as in Alan Bain’s system, in Malkuth itself.

On the other hand, Glyn Davies and Cherry Gilchrist adopted this arrangement in the Tree of Life Oracle, a Kabbalah game of divination originally called ‘Galgal’ – meaning a wheel – in which case the letter Resh at the foot of the Tree would be appropriate if one accepts that Resh corresponds to Jupiter and the Tarot Wheel of Fortune, and the foot of the Tree as the material outcome. [This is the Tarot attribution I personally find most convincing and therefore adopt, as in Fig. 4 above. It follows the sequence of attribution of planets to The Sephiroth and their order in The S.Y. The Golden Dawn, however, adheres to the logic of Tarot Trumps, grouping together The Sun, The Star and The Moon, and attributing Resh to The Sun and Kaph to Jupiter.]

Fig. 13. Golden Dawn order and attribution of the paths, following Athanasius Kircher’s arrangement. The order of the paths is sometimes shown by adding the serpent to the diagram (See Fig 18 below).

Fig. 14. This system probably originated with Glyn Davies. It is given by Warren Kenton in Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree’ (1974) and also by Eldon Templar, in ‘The Path of the Magus’ (1986) and ‘The Tree of Hru’ (1990).

Fig. 15. The Ari (Isaac Luria) Tree: The Three Mother letters are placed on the horizontal paths, the seven Doubles on vertical paths, and the Twelve Elemental letters on diagonal paths.

No one has spelled out any logic in Kircher’s attribution of Paths to letters (Fig 13) though it is widely adopted by esotericists through the influence of The Golden Dawn’s system which adopted it. Maybe it works in exploring the tree from the ground up. The order of ascent is conveyed by the sequence from the tail to the head of the serpent as shown on the Tree in Fig 18 at the end of this article.

Fig 14 is based on the sequence of emanations, and on an argument that a Sephirah must exist before a Path can go to it, as if the Tree was constructed like scaffolding, but from the top down. Although geometry is not to be dismissed, this rather overlooks the fact that The Sephiroth are the means by which the world of space and time were created, and need not themselves share its constraints. There’s also the fact that in the S.Y. the 10 sephiroth – which are abstract; ‘of nothing’ or ‘ineffable’ – precede the 22 Paths attributed to the letters.

Meanwhile, there’s the teaching that the 32 paths correspond to the 32 times the name Elohim occurs in Genesis 1. ‘God said’# occurs 10 times, ‘God made’ occurs 3 times, ‘God saw’ 7 times. These are allocated to the Sephiroth, 3 Mother letters, and 7 Doubles; the remaining 12 occurrences to the elemental or simple letters. This sequence puts the letters in a non-alphabetical order. However, Fig 15, which shows the arrangement adopted by contemporary Jewish Kabbalists, neatly matches the 3, 7, 12 grouping of letters to the 3 horizontal, 7 vertical and 12 oblique paths on the glyph.

Different paths can lead to the Truth, but at times it’s difficult not to suspect a Procrustean tendency. Even in the 12th Century Kabbalists were criticised for basing their assertions on unverifiable claims of ancient wisdom. Modern esoteric teachers usually nod towards science by insisting their students take nothing on trust and test everything in their own experience and in the present moment.

17. Time & Eternity- The Power of Now.

A premise of the Kabbalah tradition is that its numerical, linguistic and geometric structures are timeless, and explorations within them will always yield truth relevant in the present moment. The Torah itself was primordial, pre-existing the creation. John Barton, in his acclaimed ‘History of the Bible’ (2019) observes that Medieval Torah commentary finds mystical lessons in the minutiae of script and punctuation as well as in seeming irrationalities or paradoxes, and often ignores narrative context. It treats the Bible as “a database of interrelated texts; questions of ‘before and after’ simply do not arise”. This sounds very much like Kabbalah, though Barton does not mention that word.

From Hellenic late antiquity to the middle ages and beyond, Christian and Jewish, as well as Islamic scholarship, is influenced by Greek philosophy, in particular, that of Pythagoras, Plato, Neoplatonism and Aristotle. The Kabbalist likens the sephiroth to vessels each replenished from above and overflowing into those below, like a champagne tower at a wedding. The bottom level is unfillable. Neoplatonic metaphysics similarly sees everything as rooted in an inexhaustible source that continually overflows, divides, and reveals itself in the phenomenal world, each aspect of which mysteriously reflects and reveals the hidden source.

According to Gregory Shaw (Demon est Deus Inversus: Honouring the Daemonic in Iamblichean Theurgy 2016), “the later Platonists were ‘mystical existentialists.’ They recognised the value of embodied life and believed that only mortal existence allowed human souls to experience immortality.” They argued that Plato was not dualistic and did not devalue physical nature. In Timaeus, Plato himself wrote that we should not say of the Eternal Being “that it was and shall be, but on a true reckoning we should only say is.” (Plato Timaeus Tr. H.P. D. Lee 1965) The created world exists as an ever-changing expression of the eternal in terms of number and geometry, and also in the patterns of sun, moon and planets, the “music of the spheres”.

18. Astrology

Kabbalah avoids the classical association of planets with the gods of Olympus, subsuming them instead to its strictly monotheistic power structure. Though the Sepher Yetzirah’s reference to celestial bodies is typically laconic, it links them to the Hebrew letters, and thus to the divine work of creation. The elements, planets, Zodiac signs and their astrological significance, have become an important part of Cabala’s system of associated ideas, and this links to astrological interpretation.

The Elements: The Sepher Yetzirah attributes Aleph, Mem and Shin, the Three ‘Mother’ letters, to Air Fire and Water. It is perplexing that there is no Earth element, as in modern astrology the twelve zodiac signs are classified into triplicities of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. In the attribution of the Four Worlds, Assiah obviously pertains to Earth as the weightiest element, and also to the mechanical, tangible and sensory aspects of Malkuth. There has also been a tendency, as in The Hermetic system of the Golden Dawn, to make Saturn and Earth equivalent for all practical purposes. The realistic Saturnine virtues of keeping one’s feet on the ground, patience and determination, are applicable at every level.

The Zodiac: The Zodiac correspondences, unlike those of the planets, are consistent across different versions of the Sepher Yetzirah: He: Aries; Vau: Taurus; Zain: Gemini; Cheth: Cancer; Teth: Leo; Yod: Virgo; Lamed: Libra; Nun: Scorpio; Samech: Sagittarius; Ayin: Capricorn; Tzaddi: Aquarius; Qoph: Pisces, and the Golden Dawn system follows them too.

The Planets: The Sepher Yetzirah Chapter 4 Verse 7 specifies “Seven planets in the cosmos: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon…”

The initial list given in the S.Y. corresponds to the alphabetical order of the double letters, also matching their supposed order in distance from the Earth and their creation in the same order: Thus Beth: Saturn, Gimmel: Jupiter, Daleth: Mars, Kaph: Sol, Peh: Venus, Resh: Mercury and Tau: the Moon. Later in the texts, different versions depart from this order, and attributions of planetary significance and virtues seem almost arbitrary, astronomically meaningless and mostly unrecognisable to modern astrology.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, on which so much of contemporary western occultism is based, accepts the S.Y. order of the planets in their attribution to the sephiroth in reverse, and following the Hebrew letters on the paths or ‘channels’ of the Tree of Life exactly as in Athanasius Kircher’s 1652 depiction (see Fig. 17. below). The planets thus follow the order of the double letters, starting, however, with Mercury (Beth) and attributing Gimmel to the Moon.

Fig. 17. The Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher’s 1652 depiction of the Tree of Life, based on a 1625 version by Philippe d’Aquin, a Jewish Christian convert. This is still the most common arrangement of the Sephiroth and paths on the tree in ‘Hermetic Qabalah’The Golden Dawn’s attributions of Paths to Hebrew letters is the same as Kircher’s, but not the attributions of planets to the Sephiroth. Kircher seems to have embroidered the Tree from hearsay or speculation, and not to have known that the singular of ‘Sephiroth’ is ‘Sephirah’.

If one ‘corrects’ the G. D. order, so that Beth, Gimmel & Daleth correspond to the Moon, Mercury and Venus, and Kaph, Peh, Resh and Tau to Sol, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn there is a grain of astronomical validity, in that it reflects the apparent comparative speeds of movement of the visible objects in the Solar System as seen from the Earth against the Zodiac background. Not counting the Sun, it also reflects the average distance of each planet from the earth.

This latter statement may require some explanation: Of the bodies we now term planets, Venus makes the closest approach to the Earth, but in the vast scope of its orbit its average distance is greater than that of Mercury, whose average distance makes it the closest object to the Earth in the Solar System, apart from the Sun and Moon.

The position of the Sun at the centre of the Solar System, and the vastness of the planetary orbits, means that it is on average closer to each of the planets than they are to each other. The order in average distance from the Earth is thus: Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.

These considerations would be relevant to the art of astrology, assuming there was any truth in it. The bodies in the Solar System are mutually affected in their ever-changing pattern of angular relationships, and every moment and point in space is uniquely reflected and mutually affected in terms of the celestial pattern, which of course looks different from every point within it. Astrology regards this as significant for human individuals and life on earth.

The planets closest to earth, and which change their relative positions most rapidly, have come to be linked with the most familiar aspects of the personality – Luna with habits, moods, instincts & imagination; Mercury with wit, intellect, learning, travel and commerce; Venus with aesthetics, nature, beauty & feelings … etc. These are attributed to the lower sephiroth of the Tree of Life. The remoter planets are more associated with collective concerns, political power, the zeitgeist and social change, and the upper triangles on the Tree.

The diagram below (Fig 18) uses an image of the serpent to indicate the order of treading paths in ascending the Tree, from path 32 joining Yesod and Malkuth to Path 11 joining Chockmah and Kether. The order is that of Kircher and was adopted by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The image of a sword – referring to the ‘flaming sword’ of Genesis, shows the order of emanation of the Sephiroth from 1 to 10. This zig-zag is also called ‘The Lightning Flash’.

Fig. 18, The Sword and The Serpent on The Tree of Life. In the G.D. serpentine arrangement, the paths to be trodden in ascending the Tree follow the zodiacal order and that of planetary distance in reverse.

© John N. Pearce September 2022

APPENDICES

APPENDIX 1. ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN – Giovanni Pico, Count of Mirandola:

http://courses.washington.edu/hsteu401/Pico.pdf

APPENDIX 2. Alan Bain’s Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom

https://esoterichistory.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/alan-bains-thirty-two-paths-of-wisdom/

APPENDIX 3. The Keys to Kabbalah – Alan Bain

http://m_euser.tripod.com/articles/keys_to_kabbalah.htm

APPENDIX 4. A Journey up a TreeMargaret Bain

https://esoterichistory.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/a-journey-up-a-tree/

APPENDIX 5. (Wikipedia) Ein Soph

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ein_Sof

APPENDIX 6. The Metaphysics of Malkhut – Malkuth as Eyn Sof in the Writings of Ya’akov Koppel of Mezritch – Shaul Magid https://www.academia.edu/41218374/Shaul_Magid_The_Metaphysics_of_Malkhut_Malkhut_as_Eyn_Sof_in_the_Writings_of_Ya_akov_Koppel_of_Mezritch_Kabbalah_vol_27_2012_245_268

APPENDIX 7. The Great Work of the Golden Dawn C.G. Jung’s Alchemical Psychology in the Initiatory Path of an Adept Ian Ford-Terry https://www.academia.edu/20143756/The_Great_Work_of_the_Golden_Dawn_C_G_Jung_s_Alchemical_Psychology_in_the_Initiatory_Path_of_an_Adept

APPENDIX 8. The Golem as a Transpersonal Image: 2. Psychological Aspects in the Mediaeval Golem Ritual – Brian Les Lancaster
https://www.academia.edu/20769482/The_Golem_as_a_Transpersonal_Image_2_Psychological_Aspects_in_the_Mediaeval_Golem_Ritual

APPENDIX 9. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z%27ev_ben_Shimon_Halevi

APPENDIX 10. THE KABBALAH IN BYZANTIUM: PRELIMINARY REMARKS Moshe Idel https://www.academia.edu/8642984/_The_Kabbalah_and_Byzantium_Preliminary_Remarks_in_Jews_in_Byzantium_Dialectics_of_Minority_and_Majority_Cultures_Edited_by_Robert_Bonfil_et_al_Leiden_Brill_2012_pp_661_710?email_work_card=view-paper

APPENDIX 11. YouTube Interview with Peter Kingsley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow-_G26lpOk&t=8s

APPENDIX 12. RESPONSE TO PETER KINGSLEY’S CATAFALQUE in seven parts, John Woodcock http://johnwoodcock.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/catafalque7a.pdf

Bibliography

  • Alan Bain: World Without End (1963)
  • Anonymous: The Cloud of Unknowing, 14th C. edited by Evelyn Underhill (London, John M. Watkins, sixth edition, (1956,)
  • John Barton: History of the Bible (2019)
  • Maurice Blanchet: The Gaze of Orpheus (1943) Tr. Lydia Davis (1982)
  • James Britten: Language and Learning (1976)
  • Jerome Bruner: Towards a Theory of Instruction (1978)
  • Aleister Crowley: 777 (1909), The Qabalah of Aleister Crowley (1973), The Book of Thoth (1969)
  • Dion Fortune: The Mystical Qabalah (1935)
  • Lucian Freud: Some Thoughts on Painting (1954)
  • Goethe: Faust Part Two (1832 )
  • Michael Grevis: Unlocking Reality, Universal Kabbalah Keys (2017)
  • Jack Hunter (Ed.) Foreword by Paul Devereux: Greening the Paranormal (2019)
  • Aldous Huxley: The Perennial Philosophy (1946)
  • Ben Judah: This is London (2016)
  • Carl G. Jung Answer to Job (1958), Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933)Tr. Cary F. Baynes (1961).
  • Boris Mouravieff: Gnosis 3 Vols. Tr. Published by Praxis, Newbury, (1992)
  • Aryeh Kaplan: The Sepher Yetzirah (1997)
  • Warren Kenton (Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi): Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree (1974), The Work of a Kabbalist (1998)
  • Peter Kingsley: In the Dark Places of Wisdom (1999), Catafalque, 2 vols (2018)
  • Gareth Knight: A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, 2 Vols. (1965)
  • Leonora Leet: The Universal Kabbalah (2004)
  • Erich Neumann Tr. Ralph Manheim: Art and the Creative Unconscious (1959), The Archetypal World of Henry Moore (1959). The Great Mother (1974)
  • Robert M. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)
  • Gershom G. Sholem: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1955), Zohar The Book of Splendour ‘Basic Readings from the Kabbalah (1963)
  • C. P. Snow: The Two Cultures (1959)
  • Yanis Varufakis: Talking to my Daughter – A Brief History of Capitalism (2017)
  • Arthur Edward Waite: The Holy Kabbalah (1960) The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1959)