Please note, this page is and will probably remain work in progress and, despite the title, an inconclusive commentary on a seemingly novel, but possibly ancient, version of Tree-of-Life Cabala. I advise the reader not to attempt the ten sections all in one go. Also, not to attempt to scale the Ladder without the guidance of someone who has already done so and yet kept his or her feet on the ground.
The Oratio de hominis dignitate (Oration on the Dignity of Man,1486), by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494) has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”. (See Appendix 1.) The Oratio was an introduction to 900 Theses which were to be presented as a model for mankind’s ascent of the ladder of being. The Theses combined Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism and Hermeticism, and the last 49 were ‘Cabalistic Conclusions’. Most are provocatively obscure, and since they were never debated as intended, many remain so. However they are not meaningless:
“The ways of the eternal are thirty two”
“The sin of Adam was the separation of the kingdom from the other branches.”
This article is a speculative study of the attributions of the 22 rungs and 32 intersections on the late Rev. Alan Bain’s version of the Extended Tree, a.k.a. Jacob’s Ladder (Appendix 2.) with regard to ‘the Dignity of Man’.
Alan Bain’s teaching, and that of Tony Potter and the other Cabalists mentioned in my preceding article “Esoteric Postscripts”, is in a line of oral tradition, and must be validated in one’s own life and experience in the present. It is said that the first humans received the Kabbalah from angels in the Garden of Eden. Alan Bain believed this angelic instruction to be ongoing, and it’s possible that the discovery – or rediscovery – of Jacob’s Ladder could unify and elucidate some ancient mysteries.
You might see the word קַבָּלָה ‘Kabbalah’ written over the reception desk of a hotel in Tel-Aviv, but in an esoteric context it means a teaching received. Alan Bain claimed to offer it “…as received, without placing unnecessary emphasis on ‘from whom’ or ‘from where.” Yet, with written source material, some such emphasis may well be necessary. The anonymous, gnomic texts of The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom, which Bain considers to be ‘The Keys to Kabbalah’ in his book of that name (1972) are surely the product of such an oral tradition, predominantly medieval Jewish Kabbalah. One might wonder what could have been the motivation to setting such a secret, even personal, teaching in writing, and how does one evaluate competing versions of an arcane mystical teaching in a 21st century context?
There are certainly difficulties with attributions of meanings and symbolism to Kabbalist, (or Cabalist) glyphs (=diagrams). Texts from often unattributed or pseudonymous sources may well have been altered on every occasion they were written down. Although the Sephirothic structure of the Tree of Life in Hebraic Kabbalah, and in what I shall call British Cabala (meaning that originating with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn established in the 1890s), is relatively consistent, when it comes to the paths, British and Hebraic Tree of Life structures seem irreconcilable.
The Sepher Yetzirah’s notes on planetary influences also differ from the attributes of the Roman pantheon, and its notion of astronomy is at best that of Claudius Ptolemy in 2nd C Alexandria. Different available versions of the Sepher Yetzirah are inconsistent regarding attributions of the planets to the letters, and can also be inwardly inconsistent, which suggests some chapters could be later additions. There is more consistency when it comes to the ‘fixed’ constellations of the Zodiac, though the meanings they ascribe are hardly those of modern astrology. I shall try to be clear, but you, the reader, must be discriminating:
A fructibus cognoscitur arbor!
1. The Veiled Deity, The Sephiroth, and The Hebrew Alphabet.
The Sepher Yetzirah describes The Deity as enthroned, and separate from His creation. The idea of Ein Soph, and that of the ‘Three Veils’ of negative existence: Ein (Nothing), Ein Soph (No Limit) and Ein Soph Aur (Limitless Light), are later Kabbalistic expressions of sublime agnosticism, and the Three Veils do not usually feature in its scale of numbering. The Sepher Yetzirah (‘Book of formation’ henceforward S.Y.) states; “the Lord is One, and there is no second, and before one what are you to count?” Though the Sephiroth in The S.Y. are numbered 1 to 10, their numerical sequence seems relatively unimportant in the topography of the five-dimensional hypercube which emerges.
The Hebrew Alphabet also has an ordered sequence related to number, and the S.Y. gives the letters various attributions, but the characteristically Kabbalistic idea of the Tree of Life as a series of successive emanations from the Ein Soph, such that each Sephirah contains all the others, and the now relatively familiar names of the Ten Sephiroth, evolved at a later stage of the tradition. (The Tree diagram is described in Part Two of ‘Art and Reality’, and the doctrine of the Four Worlds in ‘Esoteric Postscripts’)
Kabbalists in the later school of Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572) speak of the trans-Aziluth character of the One, and Kether, usually seen as the beginning of manifestation, occupies a pre-creation intermediate position above the highest world of Atziluth, transcending the sephiroth but not identified with the Ein Soph.
In ‘The Keys to Kabbalah (1972) The Rev. Alan Bain states “Kether is half unmanifest and half in Atziluth”, but Instead of following Luria by removing or concealing Kether, Bain includes the ‘Three Veils’ in ‘Greater Kether’ as the first three links in the chain of being. The resulting total of 32 points on the ladder then accords with the ‘paths of wisdom’ expounded in the S.Y. – which other versions of the Extended Tree do not do.
It is noteworthy that Bain’s 32 ‘paths’ are the sephiroth of the linked lesser Trees, not the linear channels joining them. In practice the lesser Trees retain a traditional symbolism and structure. Alan Bain’s teaching system of 7 ‘Steps’ comprising 21 ‘Stages’ does include both the sephiroth and the linear links normally seen as paths. It ascends the Tree in Yetzirah as far as the Daath point (which coincides with Yesod in Briah) and uses the complete set of Tarot Trumps to symbolise the stages. The teaching course is detailed at length in Alan Bain’s The Keys to Kabbalah (Appendix 3) and summarised by Margaret Bain (Appendix 4) who was in fact the co-discoverer of the system.
In Kabbalah the ‘Ten Sephiroth of Nothingness’ which emanate from the Ein Soph, define both the terms of divine expression, and the limits of human knowledge. Though regarded as holy, and mystical, the sephiroth are not objects of worship. Kether, (The Crown), is the first sephirah – defined as a dimensionless point within the 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: Ein – no-thing. The letters of ‘unity’ meaning ‘together’ (יַחַד) do indeed add to 22.
3. Two Possible Systems
Alan Bain’s inclusion of the Three Veils results in 32 nodal points, to which he attributed the ‘Thirty-two Mystical Paths of Wisdom’ as described above. The S.Y. and the Hebrew Alphabet underly his system of correspondences to the Tarot, astrology and the Paths. However, Alan Bain does not appear to have noticed that his ‘ladder’ also has 22 levels, or ‘rungs’. He would surely have seen this as a further validation of his version of Jacob’s Ladder.
This insight suggest an alternative arrangement, of allotting the 22 Hebrew letters to the ‘rungs’, as a separate, underlying structure to the ‘Greater Sephiroth’, comparable to the way the classic Tree of Life diagram distinguishes alphabetic paths and numerical sephiroth. On the ladder, the letters could be placed on the rungs in alphabetical order, or alternatively sorted out as Elementals, Doubles, and Mothers in a meaningful interrelation.
So long as geometric and alphabetical rules are observed, different arrangements can and should lead to new and valid insights. I describe the two systems as System (1) – The 32 paths – and System (2) – The Ten Greater Sephiroth and 22 rungs.
Both systems arrange the Greater Sephiroth on a single central column, instead of separating them onto the three pillars of Mercy, Severity and Mildness as in the lesser Trees. This does not defuse or short-circuit the energy system of polar opposites conveyed in the geometry of the Tree of Life. The Greater Sephiroth overlap with each other and lesser Sephiroth are subsumed into them. In both systems the Ladder is composed of the four interlaced ‘lesser’ Trees, one in each of the Four Worlds, (and each having the Four Worlds within them). These maintain the ‘classic’ three-column arrangement of sephiroth linked by paths attributed to numbers, letters etc. The ascent of the ladder requires the groundwork of first-hand practical knowledge in the ‘lesser’ Trees, which form, as it were, the batteries that light up the unified array of the Great Sephiroth. Alan Bain’s system of teaching particularly focuses on the Leser Tree in Yetzirah, that being the realm of psychological activity we crucially inhabit.
The overall system of Worlds is said to be sevenfold, in that the first sequence consists of the four ‘worlds of emanation‘, with Malkuth as the culmination in the physical world of Assiah. However, ascending the ladder from the level of Assiah requires an initial psychic awakening; a turn-around, whereby the ascent of the ladder in effect adds three more worlds, the ‘worlds of return’ – bringing the total to seven.
This all sounds highly complex, but the same system of sephiroth and paths – meaning the same psychological and cosmic principles are, consciously or unconsciously, involved and interactive at all points. The ascent is the growth of consciousness and individuation, swimming upstream against the downward current.
The question remains as to how to attribute the numbers, letters and other material onto the different ‘architectural’ or ‘arboreal’ structures. There have been alternative traditions and this remains an open field for speculation and practical research. The suggestions made here attempt to maintain the same principles as those applicable to the so-called ‘lesser’ Trees.
4. The Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom.
We are here not talking about the Sepher Yetzirah text itself, but of a later document describing the ‘Intelligences’ or ‘Consciousnesses’ of the 32 S.Y. Paths. This is usually published as a pendant to the original text. A.E. Waite comments that the texts of the Thirty-two Paths show Kabbalah was more than formal & theoretical, and had psychological and practical relevance. Aryeh Kaplan points out that the word used for ‘paths’, נתיבות (Netivot) is unusual and means a personal route, one without markers or signposts and which each of us must tread by means of our own devices. Each individual must discover his or her own path.
This perhaps explains the uniquely veiled tone of the ‘Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom’ texts. If they were originally in Hebrew, perhaps deeper significance would be unlocked by Kabbalah techniques such as Gematria, Notaricon or Temura – if the individual had such skills.
The origin of the work is unknown, though it is beloved of modern Cabalists such as Dion Fortune and Gareth Knight. W. Wynn Westcott, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, offers a translation: “from the Hebrew Text of Joannes Stephanus Rittangelius, 1642: which is also to be found in the “Oedipius Aegyptiacus” of Athanasius Kircher, 1653, adding: “These paragraphs are very obscure in meaning, and the Hebrew text is probably very corrupt.” Dion Fortune, in her masterpiece ‘The Mystical Qabalah’ (1935) cites these texts, but writes “These descriptions are exceedingly cryptic, but they will from time to time yield flashes of inspiration, and undoubtedly contain the essence of the Qabalistic philosophy”. It should also be noted that Fortune never credits her sources, simply mentioning that they are ancient or traditional, or using phrases such as ‘we are told that…’ implying a hierarchic structure of wise teachers and adepts, or, as with the Theosophical Society, ‘Secret Chiefs’. I think she considered ‘The Lord Jesus’ her personal trainer.
Aleister Crowley not only made fun of the secretiveness of the Golden Dawn, (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 also wrote (in 777 1909) that he personally found the texts of the Thirty-two Paths of little use in magical operations.
Anonymity can be an open goal for irresponsibility and corruption; but there could also be genuine scribal error or mistranslation, or deliberate alteration to fit a particular thesis or pet theory, to mislead rival secret societies, or perhaps to protect genuine secrets from the uninitiated. And we can also expect well-meaning editing, comparable to the selection of 2nd C Hermetic texts transcribed by Christian scholastics. Even in the 10th C the S.Y. itself had many variants and The Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom have evidently fared no better.
In view of what Kaplan said about their personal nature, perhaps there were indeed ‘personal’ versions of the Thirty-two Paths. At any rate versions in English can differ quite widely, and can be difficult to reconcile, let alone understand. They could at best unlock one’s own intimations and insights, or at worst remain a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Make of them what you will, there are now two possible ways of allotting them on the Extended Tree: System (1) is Alan Bain’s original attribution to the 32 nodal points from the top down, beginning with Ein and following the zig-zag sequence of the Lightning Flash. (See Appendix 2. for a succinct and lucid account of this.) System (2) attributes the first ten Paths to the rungs on which the Greater Sephiroth are centred, then Paths 11 to 32 to the Hebrew letter Paths, in alphabetical order. Both systems include the Three Veils of Negative existence in the sequence, allotting each an ‘Intelligence’ or ‘Consciousness’, counter-intuitive as that may seem.
In System (2) rungs with two sephiroth and one text alternate with rungs having one sephirah and two texts. The two exceptions are at point 13 (in Bain’s numbering), i.e. path/rung (XIX) ‘Secret Intelligence’, which coincides with Greater Daath – not being a sephirah, this has no sephirotic text – and Between points 31 & 32 where there is no ‘dual’ path.
System (2) attributions of sephiroth and letters to paths:
5. Examples of Paths allotted to the Ladder:
The entire ladder can be explored in terms of Systems (1) and (2), and such a detailed study, which would need to be related to recognisable, or at least plausible, human situations, has yet to be made. Michael Grevis’ book “Unlocking Reality – Universal Kabbalah Keys” 2017 does quote detailed teaching notes on ascending the ladder, from the Revs. Alan Bain and Anthony Potter, though these are based on the version of the ladder without Daath. Although this could be said to distort the ladder, some of Potter’s observations are apposite, and the texts are a rare instance of Potter committing a teaching to the written word.
Using A. E. W.aite’s version (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.
Most readers refer this text to Kether, for obvious reasons, as I do in System (2). (fig. 3 above) Alan Bain’s System (1) 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.
Most Cabalists would refer this to Chesed, the fourth sephirah. However in System (1) 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 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.
If arranged in System (2), 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. 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, as well as by path (I) quoted above for 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.Yes – the mention of the veil and being face to face with the Cause of Causes does ring true. So does the next rung (XII) Intelligence of Light… 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. Paths (I), (IV) and (XIII) all have something to say about the nature of Kether consciousness.
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 System (2) attribution of the 22 rungs, there is a second text at this level, rung 25, letter Samech ס: (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 (Fig. 12).
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 to this path (21 in Bain’s numbering & quoted in Grevis 2017) 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…” 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 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)
Bain’s attribution for this path seems acceptable enough: (XXII) The Twenty-second path is called the Faithful Intelligence, because spiritual virtues are deposited and augment therein, until they pass to all who dwell under the shadow thereof. Is this ‘The’ archetypal Shadow – in the Jungian sense? Or is it the Platonic view that the unenlightened only see reality indirectly as shadows? Wynn Westcott’s version reads ‘…and all dwellers on earth are merely under its shadow’ which, A. E. Waite dryly remarks, lacks discernment. The online version of Westcott’s text is even worse, giving ‘nearly’ instead of ‘merely’.
Alan Bain does not include a ‘Greater Daath’. There might be some precedent for this in the complexity of 17th C. Lurianic Kabbalah, which includes either Kether or Daath on the Tree, but not both. 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, and a human reality within the Tree of Life. Alan Bain’s logic of excluding the Daath point seems all the more odd when describing the 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 that there are in effect seven worlds. In the version I call ‘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. One of its Mythic correspondences is the story of Perseus and the Medusa – read into that what you can! Another is the story of Sir Galahad, though Victorian mawkishness has overplayed his purity and understated his indomitable valour. Frankly, both are somewhat chilling.
Tony Potter’s commentary on path (13) is entirely appropriate to this profoundly significant stage of paradox and uncertainty: “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 man…whether 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 [seven] 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 Potter considers path (XIII) 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 has serious consequences.
The relevant text, (in Aryeh Kaplan’s version) describes path (XIII) (on rung 19) as “Unity Directing Consciousness. It is called this because it is the essence of the Glory. It represents the completion of the true essence of the unified spiritual beings.” In Waite’s version it is “…the Inductive Intelligence of Unity. It is the substance of Glory and it manifests truth to every spirit.” In the System (2) arrangement, path (13) is allotted to Kether in Atziluth, indicating that the connection between Daath and Kether is unity within paradox.
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.”
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. It is also the path joining Yesod and Malkuth on both the Hebraic and the British Tree of Life, but 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. 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 commentator sees in this a warning against the consequences of a 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) 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 priciple of forms. In Bain’s ordinance, path (X) is allotted to Tiphareth in Atziluth, and does indeed coincide with (‘have its seat in’) Greater Binah.
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 (See Fig. 4. below). In the converse direction, it is the path of realistic practicality, ‘directing operations’ from the hypothetical or ideal to the actual.
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, but retain the unknowability of the Ein Soph, while the paths are the loci of personal action and the complexities of subjective experience. The texts’ elusive and nuanced quality highlights the sense of walking on hallowed ground, as a limited ego in the presence of a vastly greater & all-encompassing unknown ‘self’.
Three different ways of relating paths to sephiroth
The different ways of relating the Hebrew letters 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. Fig. 5. is supposed to correct the presumed illogicality of the Kircher arrangement (Fig. 4.) which may be more subtle than it appears in that respect, while the arrangement of paths on the Lurianic Tree (Fig. 6.) has little connection with the sequence of emanations. 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. The allocation of the Hebrew letters and paths to the Ladder may resolve some of these issues.
Fig. 4. Golden Dawn order and attribution of the paths, following Athanasius Kircher’s arrangement.
Fig. 5. Paths following the ‘lightning flash’ order of sephiroth, on the principal that a sephirah must exist before a path can go to it.
Fig. 6. The Ari (Isaac Luria) Tree: On horizontal paths are the Three Mother letters, on vertical paths the seven Doubles, on diagonal paths are the Twelve Elemental letters.
The 27th Path
In the Tree arrangement (Fig. 4.) 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 can suggest the conflicting interests of ‘advanced’ science, technology and its exploitation, as opposed to the non-mercenary values of the Earth, love and humanity, and was a particular focus of The Work in the Highgate Group.
In the Tree of Life teaching of Tony Potter back in 1965, which might well have carried a whiff of 1950s ‘Moral Re-armament’, the challenges of treading a path would always involve the positive and negative moral aspects of the sephiroth at each end, as well as the symbology of the path itself. Every path would offer four alternatives 75% of which would be 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. There will be times when it would be unkind to speak the truth, or kinder not to. Honesty means honesty with oneself primarily, and kindness is seeing things from another person’s shoes. It is rare, because difficult, to be both unselfish and completely honest, yet that is the requirement. Potter had in mind relationships, not least between man and woman, but also a political dimension and diplomacy in general. Deceit may be an appropriate strategy in warfare, but resort to violence is intrinsically regressive and repetitive.
Anyone might be glad if the Yetziratic text offered some insight as to how to reconcile the 27th path’s difficult antitheses and to avoid both conflict and compromise. The Golden Dawn attributes the path to the planet Mars and the letter פ (Pe), as if confrontation and conflict is to be expected. If so, should we not look for virtues such as moral courage, energy & standing one’s ground?
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”. On the Ladder, this appropriately coincides with Greater Netzach (path 7). This is suggestive of the beauty of nature, but seems not to reflect Mars, although I suppose you could make an argument about the harsher aspects of natural selection. Reference to the Sun suggests the quintessential integration of Hod & Netzach in Tiphareth.
By contrast, Wynn Westcott’s version 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”, but this seems to be the only version in English that mentions action and excitement, suggesting all things masculine and Martial from brass bands to the rugby pitch.
Aryeh Kaplan’s variations on the same theme (in Sepher Yetzirah The Book of Creation 1997) ascribe ‘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.”
These different readings presumably derive from one ur-text. If one is indeed honest with oneself, one might feel rational argument in support of any one version and rejection of another is sawing through the branch it is sitting on. Bear in mind, however, that the ascent of the ladder may have features the inverse of those of the downward flow of manifestation.
The most consistent order of attribution of letters to planets given in the S.Y. is in fact the exact reverse of the Golden Dawn’s. The result is that the 27th Path, פ (Pe), is attributed to Venus instead of Mars. The Golden Dawn attributes Tarot Trump XII, The Hanged Man, to מ (Mem) – could his upside-down view of things have anything to do with this? If one compares the Golden Dawn Tree of Life (Fig. 4.) with the Hebraic Tree (Fig. 6.) it becomes apparent that פ (Pe) on the Ari Tree is in the position of מ (Mem) on the G.D. Tree and vice-versa.
Interestingly, when placed on the ladder (see Fig. 3 ladder diagram above) the position of מ (Mem) does indicate an association with Geburah, the sephirah of severe judgement, usually associated with Mars. The Yetziratic text (23) reads: “Stable Intelligence, it is the source of consistency in all the numerations.” One can understand this only if one remains calm and applies Geburah’s severity to oneself rather than exporting it! Bain’s Ladder attributes the 27th path to Geburah in Assiah, which is a hit for the Golden Dawn, being a position which implies the Martial influence at a physical level.
Different paths can lead to the Truth, and each of these alternative versions and attributions can be suggestive and shed light. But the first rule on the Tree is Discrimination. At times it’s difficult not to suspect a Procrustean tendency, outright forgery or deliberate mystification in some of the versions and translations. Even in the 12th Century Kabbalists were criticised for basing their assertions on unverifiable claims of ancient wisdom. Modern esoteric teachers usually try to nod towards science by insisting their students take nothing on trust and test everything in their own experience and in the present moment.
6. Time & Eternity- The Power of Now.
A premise of Kabbalah tradition is that its numerical, linguistic and geometric structures are timeless, and explorations within them will always yield relevant truth in the present moment. John Barton, in his recently acclaimed ‘History of the Bible’ (2019) observes that Medieval rabbinic commentary, which holds the Torah as sacred, finds mystical lessons in the minutiae of script and punctuation as well as in seeming irrationalities or paradoxes, and often ignores context or narrative. 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 studiously avoids ever mentioning 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 sephirothic structure to vessels each overflowing into those below, like a champagne tower at a wedding. The bottom level is un-fillable. 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 did not devalue physical nature and was not dualistic. In the 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”.
Kabbalah avoids the classical association of planets with gods of Olympus, subsuming them instead to its strictly monotheistic power-structure. Though the Sepher Yetzirah’s references to celestial bodies are typically laconic, it links them to the Hebrew letters, and so to the divine work of creation. The elements, planets and Zodiac signs, and their astrological significance, have become an important part of Kabbala’s system of associated ideas. In western occult traditions particularly, this acquires significance in terms of 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 are quite 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: Thus Beth: Saturn, Gimmel: Jupiter, Daleth: Mars, Kaph: Sol, Peh: Venus, Resh: Mercury and Tau: the Moon. Later in the text, different versions depart from this order.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, on which so much of contemporary western occultism is based, accepts the same order of the planets, but in reverse. It places the Hebrew letters on the paths or ‘channels’ of the Tree of Life exactly as in Athanasius Kircher’s 1652 depiction (see Fig. 7. below) and attributes the planets to the order of the double letters, starting, however, with Mercury (Beth) and attributing Gimmel to the Moon, whereas the S.Y. starts with Saturn (Beth) and Gimmel is Jupiter, etc. Can both arrangements be correct, or is that beside the point?
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 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 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.
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 were 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 affected in terms of this celestial pattern. Astrology regards it as also 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 – The moon 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.
According to the 16th C physician and occult philosopher Paracelsus, the human being is double: the visible, corporeal aspect of every individual is grounded in a hidden, sidereal body which has an implicit knowledge of the universe within which it has arisen. C. G. Jung has called astrology ‘the summation of the psychological knowledge of antiquity’, and in making the universe the mirror of the psyche, it is also a typology which uniquely marries the universal and the individual.
8. The Major Arcana.
ALAN BAIN’S SEVEN STEPS. Bain’s systematic teaching of 7 Steps, comprising 21 stages, all relates to the Yetziratic Tree. It begins at Path 28 (the ‘Active intelligence’) on the Ladder (Malkuth in Yetzirah) and culminates at Path 19 (Daath in Yetzirah, ‘Intelligence of the Secret of all spiritual activities). According to him, Yetzirah is where The Work largely takes place, and 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 on 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 also implied, and would be similarly reinterpreted.
THE WHOLE OF THE LADDER system of correspondences is still a matter of conjecture. It might 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, Ain and Malkuth at points 1 and 32. (See Fig. 8.)
The mathematician and esotericist Rod Thorn noted that there are in fact 12 rungs with nodal points on the central pillar, to which can be attributed the 12 elemental letters and the Tarot Trumps & Zodiac signs which correspond to them. (Figs. 9 & 10) The ten ‘dual’ rungs, each linking two of the ‘Lesser’ sephiroth on the side pillars, are shared among the seven ‘double’ (planetary) letters and the Three Mothers, with their Tarot attributions. This is rather neat, though questions remain as to whether they should go from top to bottom or the reverse – possibly either way as appropriate – and what this arrangement can mean or reveal.
9. The Minor Arcana.
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 pack the titles are printed on the cards.
The four suites correspond to the four worlds, the four elements, and the four letters of Tetragrammaton: 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 the overlapping of sephiroth suggest nuanced or paradoxical imagery.
One can look at the situation in two ways:
1. In terms of RUNGS: which are accorded either one or two Minor Arcana, with additional cards where trees overlap, producing 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 more complexity.
For instance, ‘Path 22’ (retaining 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 (see Fig. 11)) 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) – see Fig 12.
However, the seven points in Greater Tiphareth are 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. (Note that Greater Geburah and Greater Netzach coincide with two Daath/Yesod points.) The card for Greater Geburah itself (in the same arrangement as produces THE SUN for G. Tiphareth) 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”. There are also the two and Three of Pentacles – ‘Harmonious Change’, and ‘Material Works’, from the overlap with Assiah ( Fig. 12.).
One can see from this analysis that the cards for Greater Tiphareth itself show the possibility of stability, harmony, and success. However, 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 Purgatory.
10. 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 traditional Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages, which has a certain gender imbalance, by making them Knights, Queens, Princes and Princesses in the spirit of courtly romance. They represent the series Father, Mother, Son, Daughter.
In traditional Tarot decks, Kings can symbolise Kether, Queens Malkuth, Knights Tiphareth, and Pages Yesod. 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.13. above.) For example at point 16 on the ladder (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.
However, Crowley himself attributes the Knights to Yod, Queens to He, Princes to Vau and Princesses to second He of TETRAGRAMMATON.
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 imaginativeness and intuition.
APPENDIX 1. ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN – Giovanni Pico, Count of Mirandola:
APPENDIX 2. Alan Bain’s Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom
APPENDIX 3. The Keys to Kabbalah – Alan Bain
APPENDIX 4. A Journey up a Tree – Margaret Bain
© John N. Pearce 1st June 2021