The Oratio de hominis dignitate (Oration on the Dignity of Man, 1486), by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494) served as an introduction to his 900 Theses, which he presented as a model for mankind’s ascent of the ladder of being. The Theses combine Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism and Hermeticism, and the last 72 were ‘Cabalistic Conclusions’.
Like his friend the scholar Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 1499) Giovanni accepted the belief that Kabbalah was first taught to Adam by angels in the Garden of Eden, and similarly credited the Corpus Hermeticum with authority of antiquity, claiming that an essentially Christian ‘Perennial Philosophy’ had existed from the beginning of time.
This page explores some approaches to the ‘numbering’ of the rungs and nodal points of the Extended Tree, aka Jacob’s Ladder, all of which may or may not be valid and useful in practical contexts.
1. The Hebrew Alphabet.
Mirandola asserted that the Ein – ‘Nothing’, the Kabbalists’ ‘veil of negative existence’ – was not to be counted within Kabbalah’s system of numbering. If Alan Bain’s version of the chain of being is to be credited, Pico was wrong on this point. The Tarot includes THE FOOL as unnumbered – Zero.
Although his Tarot and Path correspondences derive from the Sepher Yetzirah, Bain mentions the Alphabet only infrequently, yet it underlies his attributions. In the Sepher Yetzirah the ten ‘sephiroth of nothing’ correspond to Paths 1 to 10, and Paths 11 to 32 correspond to the Hebrew letters, and are classified as three ‘Mother’ letters, seven ‘Doubles’ (those which have two ways of pronunciation) and twelve ‘elemental’ or simple letters (which have only one sound). This 3, 7, 12 arrangement is still the basis of Cabalist systems of correspondences.
In the version of The Ladder which delineates twenty two rungs, there are various options – one could simply place the letters in Alphabetical order, starting either at the highest or the lowest rung. Alternatively one can sort out the Elementals, Doubles, and Mothers into some meaningful pattern.
2. The Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom.
There are now two ways of linking these to The Ladder. First, there is Alan Bain’s original approach. He attributes the Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom to the 32 nodal points from the top down, in the sequence of the Lightning Flash.
Alternatively, one can attribute the first ten Paths to the rungs with the ten Greater Sephiroth, then Paths 11 to 32 to the Hebrew letters – simply in alphabetical order. This gives the Greater Sephiroth two texts each.
Though references to celestial bodies in the Sepher Yetzirah are quite brief, they are linked to the Hebrew letters, and therefore to the divine process of creating the world. The elements, planets and Zodiac signs, and their astrological significance have become an important part of Kabbalist patterns of associated ideas, particularly in western Cabala traditions.The association of planets with polytheism has meant they are strictly subsumed into the monotheistic communicative power-structure of Kabbalah.
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.
The Zodiac: The Zodiac correspondences are quite consistent in various 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.
The Planets: The Sepher Yetzirah Chapter 4 Verse 7 specifies “Seven planets in the cosmos: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon…”
In most editions of the S.Y. the list corresponds to the alphabetical order of the double letters: Thus Beth: Saturn, Gimmel: Jupiter, Daleth: Mars, Kaph: Sol, Peh: Venus, Mercury: Resh and the Moon: Tau. This is the opposite of the order given in The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, on which so much of contemporary occultism rests. Can they both be correct, or is that beside the point?
The Golden Dawn reverses the positions in the above order, except that it makes Beth Mercury and Gimmel The Moon. The G.D. attribution of planets on the Paths of The Tree adopts Athanasius Kircher’s 1652 depiction, and is also appropriate to the order of the Tarot Trumps Nos (I) and (II), The Magician and The High Priestess. To my mind this does not work well. My preference is for a ‘corrected’ 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. This order has a grain of astronomical validity, in that it reflects the apparent speeds of movement of the objects in the Solar System as seen from Earth, and, except for the Moon and 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 make 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.
Its position at the centre of the Solar System, and the vastness of the planetary orbits, means that The Sun is on average closer to all the other planets, which are most of the time remote from one another. The order in average distance from the Earth should be: Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn.
These considerations would be relevant, assuming there were any truth in the astrological theory. The bodies in the Solar System are of course mutually affected by their constantly changing pattern of angular relationships. In terms of this astronomical pattern every moment and point in space is uniquely defined, and astrology regards this as of practical significance for human individuals and life on earth.
4.The Major Arcana.
ALAN BAIN’S SEVEN STEPS. Bain’s teaching of 7 Steps, comprising 21 stages, all happens on the Tree in the World of Yetzirah, beginning at Path 28 on the Ladder and culminating at Path 19. According to him, Yetzirah is where The Work largely takes place, and it corresponds to the Christian idea of Purgatory.
The order of the 21 stages nevertheless retains the order of Trumps adopted by The Golden Dawn, commencing with THE FOOL, though their positioning in the architecture of the Tree is different in this context. The sequential stages involve not only the sephiroth, but also the paths of the lesser Yetzirah Tree. It would be fair to say the other G.D. correspondences to the Hebrew Alphabet and astrology are implied, and would be similarly rearranged and reinterpreted.
THE WHOLE OF THE LADDER system of correspondences is still a matter of conjecture. It would seem appropriate to place the Trumps that have planetary attributions on the Greater Sephiroth, though this leaves five spaces for Those attributed to the Three Mother letters ( G.D. The Fool – Aleph; The Hanged Man – Mem; Judgement; Shin) and two unoccupied points.
The mathematician and esotericist Rod Thorn noted that there are in fact 12 rungs at nodal points on the central pillar, to which can be attributed the 12 elemental letters, and Tarot Trumps which correspond to them. That then leaves ten ‘dual’ rungs, each linking two of the ‘Lesser’ sephiroth on the side pillars, to be shared among the seven ‘double’ (planetary) letters and the Three Mothers, with their Tarot attributions. The question remains should they go from top to bottom or the reverse – possibly either way as appropriate.
5. The Minor Arcana.
The attribution of Minor Arcana is simple, as the cards are numerical and correspond to the sephiroth. The Waite and Crowley Tarot designs also have striking imagery, and helpful titles, such as ‘Ruin’, ‘Blended Pleasure’, ‘Success Unfulfilled’ etc.
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 thus obvious, but because of the overlapping of the Trees in the Four Worlds, in practice some of the locations get a bit crowded, giving highly paradoxical imagery.
One can look at the situation in two ways:
1. The simplest is in terms of RUNGS: each rung is then accorded either one or two Minor Arcana. Where trees overlap this produces interesting combinations.
2. In terms of GREATER SEPHIROTH: Greater Malkuth only comprises two lesser sephiroth, Greater Yesod has five, and Greater Kether four. The other Greater Sephiroth each comprise seven lesser sephiroth, and these overlap, leading to an interesting complexity.
For instance, ‘Path 22’ (in Bain’s numbering, but on the Gnostic Tree) corresponds to Greater Tiphareth, and also to Tiphareth in Yetzirah. Thus, besides whichever of the Greater Arcana one has decided upon for Greater Tiphareth (in one of our arrangements it is THE SUN) one would also have the Six of Swords – “Earned Success” (for Tiphareth in Yetzirah), the Ten of Cups – “Perfected Success” (for Malkuth in Briah), and the Ace of Pentacles – “The Root Powers of Earth” (Kether in Assiah).
However, Greater Tiphareth also comprises Paths 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25, of which 19 to 22 are shared with greater Geburah and 22 to 25 are shared with Greater Netzach. The card for Greater Geburah itself (in the same arrangement as produces THE SUN) is THE TOWER. The additional lesser arcana are Path 19, 9 of Cups – “Material Happiness”, Path 20, 4 of Swords – “Rest from Strife”, Path 21, 5 of Swords – “Defeat”. Path 23, 7 of Swords – “Unstable Effort”, Path 24, 8 of Swords – “Shortened Force”, Path 24, 9 of Swords – “Despair and Cruelty”.
One can see from this analysis that, though the cards for Greater Tiphareth itself show stability, harmony, and success, apart from the “Material Happiness” of the 9 of Cups, the peripheral cards of Tiphareth in Yetzirah are appropriate for Purgatory.
6. The Court Cards.
These are also simple to attribute, though Crowley’s ‘Book of Thoth’, has improved on the traditional Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages by making them Knights, Queens, Princes and Princesses – perhaps more in the spirit of courtly romance.
I would suggest Kings go on Kether, Queens on Malkuth, Knights on Tiphareth and Pages on Yesod in Traditional packs. With the Crowley pack, Knights are equivalent to Kings (Kether), Queens (Malkuth), Princes (Tiphareth) and Princesses (Yesod).
However, Crowley attributes the Knights to Yod, Queens to He, Princes to Vau and Princesses to second He of YHVH. The four letters of The Name also apply to the four suites, elements and worlds, suggesting permutation, which is of the essence. Following my simple middle-pillar attribution, again there will be overlaps, though at Daath/Yesod points there are only Pages or Princesses.