Cabalistic Conclusions

LECTORI BENEVOLO SALUTEM

“Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing for the known way is an impasse.” (Heraclitus of Ephesus, b.circa 565 BCE)

Despite the title, these notes reach no conclusion and the reader might even doubt how seriously I take the material under consideration. From my viewpoint as an artist, Cabala and other forms of esotericism have been influential, but the authority of such teachings – sometimes termed ‘The Great Work’, or ‘a Great Art’ – are always going to be secondary to that of my practice as a painter, just as Cabalah must relate to life experience. Regarding Cabala, I feel something akin to William Blake’s statement (1820): “A Poet, a Painter, a Musician, an Architect: The man or woman who is not one of these is not a Christian….”

Blake’s list of the arts is too exclusive of course: everyone is, or should be, an artist in some way, simply because received culture and forms of expression are never quite adequate. As Delacroix wrote, artists are not inspired so much by new ideas as by their obsession that what has already been said simply won’t do (or words to that effect) …

There may be a ‘Perennial Philosophy’, but, whatever the claims of antiquity, teachings have to be tested in one’s own life experience. I take the terms “Christian”, and “artist” to mean anyone who walks a tightrope across an inner Abyss, or who stretches out his or her arms on a cross to embrace the irreconcilable; who do not export or objectify their inner tensions and perplexities in wars and blame. To respond to things totally, subtly and subjectively is ‘at-one-ment’; atonement. Their lives express a dialogue with a ‘transpersonal unconscious’, or what Erich Neuman called ‘The Creative Unconscious’.

The title ‘Cabalistic Conclusions’ is a reference to Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola (1463 – 1494) the Renaissance scholar whose “ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN” has inspired modern philosophic and political ideas on human rights, but whose syncretic, and sometimes obscure, “Conclusions”(1486) were suppressed by the church and never publicly debated as the writer had wished – at least not in his lamentably short lifetime. If some remain obscure, so much the better; to quote Maurice Blanchot (1907 – 2003), “La réponse est le malheur de la question.” (“The answer is the misfortune of the question”) Or, to quote my esoteric teacher, the late Tony Potter “the expression ‘that is’ = EGO”.

Pico, a student of Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 1499) wrote in Neoplatonic terms of a ‘Chain of Being’, and saw evidence of a Perennial philosophy in Kabbalah and Hermeticism. Pico is said to have founded Christian Cabala. The subject of these notes, The Extended Tree or ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, is the Cabalist version of a ‘chain of being’. Less well known than the ‘Tree of Life’ in western Cabala, The Ladder is constructed from four interlaced ‘lesser’ Trees, one for each of the Cabalists’ ‘Four Worlds’. In attempting to elucidate it I assume the reader is already familiar with the Sephiroth and Paths of the more traditional form of the Tree. (If not, please study my preceding articles ‘Art and Reality’ and ‘Esoteric Postscripts’ which are to be found on the page entitled ‘Where the Way Swings Off’ in the menu at the bottom of this page.)

The Extended Tree is perhaps novel, but may also be an ancient product of Tree-of-Life CabalaAnd maybe you shouldn’t take it too seriously. As Barry Long suggested ‘Listen for the ring of Truth’, (See ‘https://johnnpearceartist.com/art-and-realityart-and-reality/) or, as Potter’s own teacher (Holy of Holies!) Alan Bain suggested, listen out for those angels who first taught Kabbalah to Adam and Eve, because they’re still teaching it now.

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, called ‘Malkuth’ – to a level of self-knowledge and individuality in which one approaches absolute being and unity, yet still exists in the world. This is the paradoxical point called ‘Daath’ (דעת), ‘Knowledge’, at which all the Sephiroth are united as one.

The four trees are linked such that while Assiah, the material world and Atziluth the transcendental world of absolutes, at the foot and the head of the ladder, partially overlap with Yetzirah and Briah respectively, both of which overlap with three others. The upper half of Briah, the ‘World of Creation’, is linked to the highest spiritual ‘World of Emanation’, Atziluth, while its lower Sephiroth overlap with the World of Yetzirah, ‘The World of Formation’, and its very lowest sphere, Malkuth, is the Kether (top sphere) of Assiah. Both Briah and Yetzirah are ‘inner’, psychological worlds; Yetzirah is the mental world of thoughts, feelings and imagination within which human beings spend so much time and energy, but it also overlaps with Assiah, the outer world which is the home of the physical body. Briah could be described more in terms of a Jungian ‘Collective Unconscious’ – a world of archetypes which addresses the collective as well as the individual through dreams, myths, religion and the arts, and which interlinks with the ‘Spiritual’ world of Atziluth.

Any attempt at ‘representation, or ‘expression’ of reality invariably takes place in the external space that individual organisms share, as well as in the inner space of their minds and memories. This overlapping of inner and outer worlds is ‘cultural space’ and always involves some kind of communicative or demonstrative performance. In the attached picture of myself drawing someone, it’s clear that I, as an artist, look outward from my inner world, but can only see the sitter’s world from the outside. His facial expression, his behaviour, his pose, his choice of costume, and the few words we might exchange during the session convey only a partial glimpse of his inner reality, while my drawing may say something about mine. Apart from those clues, the artist is sensitive to feelings – pressures of reality for which no readily available form of conventional expression, verbal or otherwise, yet exits.

Artist and Sitter

The overlapping and interlinking of the four ‘lesser Trees’ is an apt representation of life’s complexity, but there is also a sublime simplification in the reappearance of the ten Sephiroth and the invisible Sephirah Daath, newly arrayed as a single vertical column of ‘Greater Sephiroth’. This offers new affinities within the system, and new insights.

As an example, in this arrangement, ‘Greater Netzach’ coincides with Daath in the world of Assiah, (Assiah being the physical sphere of earthly life and living.) This is likely to be perplexing, and 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 the path on the Tree which joins Hod and Netzach, I will particularly focus on how one can approach this path in terms of The Ladder. As well as a necessary stage for emerging individuality, this was also seen as critical for wider society and world development.

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. This is the world of thoughts, feelings and imagery in which we are usually engrossed. At the Daath/Yesod point that links the two worlds, one should at least begin to know one’s own mind, (but not get too carried away).

The subsequent step up The Ladder – a critical one – would be from Yesod to Tiphareth in Yetzirah. Significantly, this would involve crossing the path from Hod to Netzach in the Yetzirah Tree, which on The Ladder forms the intermediate rung before that of Tiphareth, at which Tiphareth in Yetzirah AND Greater Tiphareth coincide – also meeting with Malkuth in the ‘Transpersonal’ world of Briah; the archetypal world or ‘World of Creation’. This point is therefore highly significant.

Scaling the Ladder without a personal guide who is already at the Daath level – and has kept his or her feet firmly on the ground – is inadvisable, and as writer and artist I do not take that responsibility. Whether or not one has a personal teacher, one should always keep hand-written notes of any experimentation one makes. This is not only useful for wider discussion or group working, it is also important in focusing one’s attention at ground level.

In addition to the key Kabbalah symbolism of letters, numerology and geometry, and the vast literature of the Zohar and other works, for theoretical elucidation and contemplation of the Ladder, as well as practical work, we have recourse to three main sources 1) the obscurely suggestive texts known as ‘The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom’, 2) the symbolic imagery of the Tarot, and 3) astrology. The texts are a product of Hebrew Kabbalah, but equally a resource for Christian Cabala or Western occultism. Tarot imagery is exclusive to Christian Cabala, or Occult Qabalah, and astrology features to some degree in all versions of Kabbalah.

I suggest that in Tarot symbolism, the same card – XXI LE MONDE – is equally appropriate to the Sephirah Malkuth, at the base of the Ladder, and to the ‘Greater Daath’ point coinciding with Daath in Briah. 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; the physical & sensory world we call ‘ordinary life’, though it’s anything but ‘ordinary’. Pico not only implies that a purely materialistic worldview is unenlightened but that a devaluation or rejection of the material world is equally so. Malkuth is, in a sense, a summation of the Tree, as the terms ‘Scintillating’ and ‘Resplendent’ imply, and is thus comparable to the invisible Sephirah Daath in that it is, in a different way, a unifying point of the whole Tree.

Diagram Zero

This is the version of the ladder which is under consideration in this article, and consists of the Four Worlds interlaced as four Trees. Different variations of this 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, There are eleven nodal points on the central pillar, representing the Greater Sephiroth, and my version differs from Bain’s in including a ‘Greater Daath’. Bain either chose to ignore or did not notice that his version also has 22 levels or ‘rungs’

1. The Chain of Being in Kabbalah and Neoplatonism.

The idea of the chain of being was first systematized by Plotinus, from concepts derived from Plato and Aristotle. Plotinus, wrote (Enneads) “The One is perfect because it seeks for nothing, and possesses nothing, and has need of nothing; and being perfect, it overflows, and thus its superabundance produces an Other.” Medieval Kabbalists, even more than Christian Scholastics, were influenced by Plato and Aristotle. The attached diagram of a Platonic chain of being has ten links. The ‘Noetic Kosmos’ is similar to the Kabbalah World of Briah, the ‘Psychic’ to Yetzirah, and the ‘Generative’ to Assiah

“This generation of the Many from the One must continue until all possible varieties of being in the descending series are realized.” See – https://www.britannica.com/topic/Great-Chain-of-Being

In Kabbalah/Cabala the four Worlds which overlap and unite in the Ladder diagram, correspond to the four letters of the divine name, and – more particularly in western occultism – to the four elements. The ‘Extended Tree’, or Jacob’s Ladder diagram is found to reiterate the ten Sephiroth, including the invisible Sephirah, Daath, of the Cabala Tree on one central vertical column.

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 Atziluth – Emanation, Briah -Creation, Yetzirah – Formation, Assiah – Making.

The Cabala Chain of Being

There have been and continue to be various versions of this, though the most widely accepted seems to have been that originally synthesised by Glyn Davies around 1969, though not seeing the light of day till he revealed it in a Group meeting in 1972 ( https://johnnpearceartist.com/esoteric-postscripts/ ) The late Warren Kenton, a.k.a. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, one of Glyn’s students, adopted this version in his subsequent teaching and publications on Kaballah.

(a) Alan Bain’s version of the Ladder – Bain includes the Three Veils of negative existence so that in his version there are 32 Sephirothic points. He then attributes these to the Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom.
(b) This ‘Hermetic’ version of the Ladder is adapted to the Golden Dawn system, but may well derive from the Warren Kenton/Glynn Davies version.
(c) This Wikipedia version is peculiar in adding three Sephiroth below Assiah. This could be a mistake, though, as with Bain’s Ladder, it means there are 32 Sephirothic points. The article is vague as to its sources.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Worlds

2. Diagram Zero – The Gnostic Ladder

(a)Diagram Zero ‘The Gnostic Ladder’ – unlike Bain’s version, this includes a Greater Daath and makes Greater Malkuth coincide with Malkuth in Assiah. Tiphareth in Yetzirah coincides with Greater Tiphareth, and Greater Daath coincides with Daath in Briah.
(b)Zero K. The Gnostic Ladder with the 32 Paths texts as given by Ariah Kaplan (1997 Weiser), and quoted by Alan Bain and Tony Potter in their notes on The Ladder as given by Michael Grevis 2017.
(c) Zero 1. A version of the Gnostic ladder, showing 22 rungs. The first 10 of the 32 Paths are linked to the Greater Sephiroth, and the remaining 22 are linked to the rungs. The texts are those given in A. E. Waite, 1960

The Gnostic Ladder – or ‘Diagram Zero’ – summarises the structure I am proposing as distinct from Alan Bain’s version, from which it derives. (A very clear account of Bain’s Extended Tree is given in APPENDIX 2.) Like the other versions of ‘The Extended Tree’ (also called ‘Jacob’s Ladder’) Diagram Zero consists of four overlapping Trees of Life, one for each of the Four Worlds (See ‘Esoteric Postscripts’) but, unlike Alan Bain’s or other arrangements, this version of The Ladder identifies 22 Rungs on the Ladder, attributing to them the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet. (It would also have been possible to draw 22 rungs on the ‘Wikipedia version’ given above, but, once again, no one seemed to have noticed).

Most Cabala systems in the western world base their teaching on the Tree of Life as it appears in the world of Briah – sometimes called The Archetypal World. On Diagram Zero K (above) the World of Briah includes rungs/Paths 17 to 23, and 25.

The level of Daath, (‘Knowledge) i.e. Path 19, (‘Secret intelligence’) is allocated to the letter Teth, which, as mentioned in ‘Esoteric Postscripts’ (https://johnnpearceartist.com/esoteric-postscripts/) has its place not in the created world, but in ‘The World to Come’, because its ‘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. And, as Kierkegaard said, life is understood backwards but must be lived forwards.

 Figure 4. below allocates the Tarot Trumps to The Ladder, 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 Self. As Tony Potter puts it, all four Worlds are seen as one(see section 12.below.)

The astrological symbols can also be 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. Within these categories, the attributions are based on those of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, in the case of the planets the reverse of their order in the Sepher Yetzirah, though with some adjustments.

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, has become the main focus of the teaching.

The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom exists in various editions and translations. I have adopted the version in English given by A.E. Waite, but others, which, not surprisingly considering their long history, can differ significantly but 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 ‘Yetziratic’ texts.

A fructibus cognoscitur arbor!

3. Alan Bain’s Ladder

Alan Bain’s teaching was based on his unique version of the Extended Tree diagram. In ‘The Keys to Kabbalah’ (1972) Bain states “Kether is half unmanifest and half in Atziluth” and he includes the ‘Three Veils of Negative Existence’ in ‘Greater Kether’ as the first three links in the chain of being. This is convincing because, as Aryeh Kaplan puts it, “The creator Himself is absolutely simple, containing no plurality whatsoever. He is the most absolute unity imaginable.” The Three Veils, therefore, are the advent of plurality, and thus of creation. Bain’s unorthodox decision is also plausible in that it gives a total of 32 points on the ladder, which accords with the Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom, thus differing from the Extended Tree versions developed by Glyn Davies and Warren Kenton (See ‘Esoteric Postscripts‘) and of most Cabalists.

Bain makes the 32 ‘paths’ correspond, not to the lines joining the Sephiroth – usually denoted as ‘Paths’ or ‘Channels’ – but to the Sephiroth of the linked ‘lesser’ Trees of the Four Worlds. The traditional symbolism linked to the ‘lesser’ Trees that constitute The Ladder retains its validity, but Alan Bain and his wife Margaret developed another pattern of symbolism centred on the Tree in the World of Yetzirah. This describes 7 ‘Steps’ comprising 21 ‘Stages’ which include both the Sephiroth and their linear links, the Paths. The course ascends the Tree in Yetzirah as far as the Daath point (coinciding with Yesod in the Briah Tree) and makes use of the complete set of 22 Tarot Trumps, as well as the Yetziratic Texts. The course, which Bain sees as comparable to the Christian idea of Purgatory, is fully expounded in The Keys to Kabbalah (Appendix 3) and summarised by Margaret Bain (Appendix 4).

Basic Kabbalist structure in The Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Formation).

Fig. 1. The 3, 7, 9 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.

4. Attributions

In Diagram Zero 1. (above) the letters are placed on the rungs in alphabetical order. Alternative arrangements, separating them as Elementals, Doubles, and Mothers in a meaningful interrelation, can also be explored.

Fig 2. An arrangement of the Tarot Trumps said to correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac and therefore linked to the single letters, ‘Ein’ and to the Greater Sephiroth.
Fig. 3 An arrangement of Tarot Trumps, said to correspond with the Double Letters and the Mother letters; i.e. the seven planets and Fire, Air and Water. They coincide with the paths joining two lesser Sephiroth
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.

In all Ladder arrangements systems, the Greater Sephiroth occupy a single vertical column, instead of the right, left, and centre pillars as in the lesser Trees. This does not defuse or short-circuit the energetic system of polar opposites conveyed in the geometry of the Tree of Life. The Greater Sephiroth overlap with each other and subsume the lesser Sephiroth. The Ladder is composed of the four interlaced ‘lesser’ Trees, one in each of the Four Worlds which all maintain the ‘classic’ three-column arrangement of sephiroth linked by paths, and the ascent of the ladder requires practical familiarity with 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 ‘Lesser’ Tree in Yetzirah, that being the realm of psychological activity we crucially inhabit.

Fig. 5 The Ladder is composed of overlapping ‘Greater Sephiroth’

This may look complex, but the same system of Sephiroth and paths – meaning the same psychological and cosmic principles – are involved and interactive at all points. The ascent is the growth of consciousness and individuation.

The question remains as to how to attribute the numbers, letters and other material to the different 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.

5. The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom.

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 has 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.

[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, says 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)]

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 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, even 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.

6. Commentators on The Thirty Two Paths of Wisdom

Dion Fortune, in her masterwork The Mystical Qabalah (1935) 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…” Fortune never credits her sources, simply mentioning that they are ancient or traditional, or using phrases such as ‘we are told that…’ implying a hidden hierarchic structure of wise teachers and adepts, or, as with the Theosophical Society, ‘Secret Chiefs’. She was, however, a Christian, even to the extent that she regarded 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 his book 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. 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.

In System Two, 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, centres Greater Malkuth on Yesod in Assiah, and subtly avoids the two extra points – the ‘Wikipedia version’, cited above, actually adds sephiroth of some kind to these points. Nevertheless, rungs 28, 24 and 20, and also rung 16 in Atziluth are similar instances of relatively isolated rungs. Chesed and Geburah are never overlapped by parts of the higher or lower trees in 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 figs.5.above and Zero K below). This means 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, and also explains why the first step in The Work – leaving home and becoming independent of one’s 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 …”)

7. Examples of Paths allotted to the Ladder:

A detailed exploration of the Ladder, in terms of whichever system, is necessarily related to recognisable, or at least plausible, human situations. Such exploration has probably yet to be made, though. 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, but based on the Ladder version without Daath. This might be said to distort The Ladder, yet some of Potter’s observations are apposite. The commentary is also a rare instance of Potter committing a system of teaching to the written word, though it may have been directed at one particular student. Because of its contemporary relevance, I want to give a more detailed analysis of the 27th Path before any of the other Paths.

The 27th Path

‘THE TOWER STRUCK BY LIGHTNING’

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, and symbolised by The Tower in the Tarot deck. It was a particular focus of Potter’s teaching.**

** ( 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 attribution of ‘Palpable Intelligence’, rather than Westcott’s ‘Exciting Intelligence’. Potter particularly observes that (as noted above*) the Geburah & Chesed points on The Ladder do not link to points on Trees in the next higher 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, as the implication is 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 the Sephiroth. He considers the 27th Path to be ‘the main girder of the personality’ (A Practical Guide to Cabalistic Symbolism Vol. 2. 1965), 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.

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. An early ‘distillation’ process results in an egg, the germ of individuality. The complex alchemical process 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, biut 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. The latter was held back by the association of scientific method with practicality, experiment and getting one’s hands dirty. The content of thinking is essentially analytical, descriptive and formal – useful information as distinct from the ‘higher’ values and ‘eternal verities’ that motivate action. While being typically unclear in terms of language, they 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 its polarities because they intuit the underlying issues and because an intuitive dialogue with what Carl Gustav Jung 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.

My ‘Brambles‘ painting, completed in September 2001, 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 in foliage. For me, this also symbolises the interplay of detached intellect and involved feeling in the process of painting – finding 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 literature. For example in C. P. Snow’s 1959 lecture entitled ‘The Two Cultures’., 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 see the issue more in terms of a snobbish misunderstanding of science and technology. Pirsig sees a division between the ‘dialectic’, ‘classical’, ‘formal’ or ‘objective’ approach and a ‘romantic’ or ‘subjective’ 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. He 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 arts, literature and what is called ‘high culture’, though equally 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 and are characteristically functional, specialized, and reliant on a shared familiarity with a particular context or discipline, rather than change or originality. Transactional language can be dry, conventional, unemotional, formulaic or banal. It is obviously essential and practical, and though it may be involved in the artwork, is not in itself creative or 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.

The psychologist Jerome Bruner (1915 – 2016) gives the example of people in a bus queue, one of whom, when the bus finally heaves into view, might say ‘At last!’, but would be unlikely to declare (I forget Bruner’s actual words)‘The friendly red bus, for which we have waited so long in the cold, has, at last, appeared, with its promise of comfort and reunion…’ It is superfluous to evoke the scene, and would doubtless seem presumptuous or pompous – in Britten’s terms a misplaced ‘spectator role’ utterance. But the example does illustrate the complexity and tensions that arise on the 27th path. After all, ‘At last!’ is equally needless, unless it is to tactfully endorse positive fellow-feeling and avoid further delay from an impatient passenger cutting up rough and berating the driver.

Economy goes with functionality but also has – or had – 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, and who used the metaphor of two contrasting buildings, one a tower of gleaming modernity, housing advanced scientific and technological research. The other, dedicated to the subtleties and conflicting values of social interaction, is a stone structure, still at the foundation level and staffed by cavemen working in candlelight. 

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 the quality of an unselfish act is felt to be sullied by financial gain, or people are suspicious of being duped. In my experience, people do not give blood to honour themselves but to save the lives of persons 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 sees this cultural division, which one could paraphrase as objective and subjective, as originating with Plato and Aristotle, rather than with the pre-Socratics such as Heraclitus and Parmenides. His 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. (Pirsig doesn’t mention the poet John Keats’ ideas of truth, beauty, and ‘negative capability’ but these also appear relevant.) Quality is manifest in any sort of 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 recognise 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 bout ‘paying attention’ – indeed, Barry Long pointed out that your attention is your most precious currency, which should not be squandered.

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 terms of System 2, 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, on the Gnostic Ladder, it coincides with Greater Netzach – ‘Natural Intelligence‘ and with ‘Hidden Intelligence‘.

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 in individuation. 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 above** Kaplan offers ‘Palpable Intelligence’ on the 27th Path and ‘Natural’ on the 28th)

8. 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’ invariably entails 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. The 7th path also pertains to Netzach at this point, as Hidden Intelligence.

Wynn Westcott’s version of the Yetziratic text 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 The Gnostic Ladder, the 27th Path coincides with rung 17 at the centre of Greater Netzach (‘Hidden Intelligence’), and also with Daath in Assiah/Yesod in Yetzirah. 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 but 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. Nevertheless, 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, or, one might say, ‘mentality’, meaning the natural endowments of the personal psyche. 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, his 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.” In the context of The Ladder (System 2), this 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 one’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions and choose how to act.’Palpable Consciousness’ is the subjective somatic manifestation of consciousness, with the realisation that one’s responses need not be predetermined and automatic.

It is all too easy to become an irresponsible automaton by one’s ability to delegate – and thereby fragment – one’s decisions and actions at more automatic and habitual levels, instead of 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 get anywhere.

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.

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 says Abraham ‘went on his journeys’ rather than ‘journey’ singular. The passage has an obvious 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 the 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.

Taking the Step

With the vertical arrangement on the ladder, the ‘great split‘ in western culture is expressed both horizontally in the lesser Trees, but also on the Great Tree, on which 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 entails 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. (As with the corresponding levels in each of the Worlds, there is no overlap of these two Sephiroth with another Tree, which may mean the individual at this point must find one’s own balance.) The corresponding text, ‘Active Intelligence’, could, for example, mean paying heed to one’s own physical energy and physique – 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 physical 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 – 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 in section 4 (above) about Embodiment, Reconciliation & Belonging.

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 would not only be a significant move in terms of personal independence as both biological and social survival, 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 – that which 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”.

9. 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 in Bain’s arrangement. The texts seem to work rather well with the 22 Paths on Gnostic Ladder, so here is Diagram Zero K.

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.

10. 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.

Figure 4 (above) is a suggested arrangement of the Tarot Trumps. 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.

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

Fig. 6 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 Succss” 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.7. 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. 7 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 intuition.

Fig. 8. Court cards from ‘The Book of Thoth’, Crowley-Harris Tarot deck.

11. 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 diverse 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. 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 10, 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. That is, if one accepts that Resh corresponds to Jupiter and the Tarot Wheel of Fortune, and the foot of the Tree as material outcome.

Fig. 9 Golden Dawn order and attribution of the paths, following Athanasius Kircher’s arrangement.

Fig. 10 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. 11 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 spelt out any logic in Kircher’s attribution of Paths to letters (Fig 9) though it is widely adopted by esotericists who follow The Golden Dawn’s system. Maybe it works in exploring the tree from the ground up.

Fig 10 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 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. However, Fig 11, 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.

The attribution of letters to planets given in most versions of the S.Y. is (with the exception of the Moon and Mercury) the 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. 5.) with the Hebraic Tree (Fig. 7.) 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 (Diagram Zero) the position of מ (Mem) does coincide with Greater 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.” True, water finds its own level. One can remain calm and apply the weight of Geburah’s severity to oneself rather than exporting it! 

They that have power to hurt and will do none, That do not do the thing they most do show,

Who, moving others, are themselves as stone

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.

12. Notes on some 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 System (2). (fig. 4 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 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.

Ain

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. 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 has a 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. Paths (I), (IV) and (XIII) all have something to say about the nature of Kether consciousness. 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 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. 13).

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 (22 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…” 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)

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? 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’.

‘Greater Daath’

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 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 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. 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.

Purity – or chastity – figures both in the Grail legend and that of the Medusa. In Ovid’s 8 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.

The snake-haired Medusa 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 tear drop 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. There are 47 snakes, though Korder did not consciously enumerate them. 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 S.Y.

Isaac Luria’s pre-creation myth of the Tzimtzum and The Breaking of the Vessels, is reminiscent of a protoplasmic excretory vacuole – at least to anyone who did A-level zoology. The deity may have sought to separate a certain ‘otherness’ from Him/Herself. Whether foreseen or not, humanity became duty-bound to ameliorate an apparently unforeseen and problematic course of 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 the ‘fallen’ could bring about a correction, or restitution (‘Tikkun’).

The symbolism of the divinatory pendulum, has somewhat in common with Tarot Trump XII LE PENDU, in being suspended from above. The upside-down position, that of the babe in the womb, could offer a more enlightened and accurate insight into a fallen world. Kabbalistically, one can also understand Serena Korda’s “amazing giant goddess” as the ‘Who?’ mentioned in the introduction (Haqdamat) to the Zohar – The Sephirah Binah, which from the position of Daath is the step beyond the Abyss. Binah (The Goddess) 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 (where the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit), a prism, which splits pure white radiance into the spectrum, suggesting the point of nascent form whatever the medium.

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) 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 has 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.”

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 the path joining 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’ possibly refers to this.) 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.

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. 9 above). 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 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 different ways of relating the Hebrew letters (see the above diagrams) 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 (above) 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.

13. 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 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 was not dualistic and did not devalue physical nature. 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”.

14. 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 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. 12. below). The planets thus follow the order of the double letters, starting, however, with Mercury (Beth) and attributing Gimmel to the Moon.

Fig. 12. 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 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 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 – 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.

On the other hand, in the G.D. arrangement, the paths to be trodden in ascending the Tree follow the zodiacal order and that of planetary distance in reverse. The logic of this is that the sephiroth highest on the Tree are most universal, fundamental and powerful in the individual psyche, and thus anchor it most closely to the earth, so that initial steps taken are in the most physically practical terms, becoming more intellectual, individualised, psychic and spiritual on the higher rungs. It is for this reason that a teacher and guide familiar with the upper reaches is most necessary to the aspirant on the first steps of the ladder.

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 innate if overlooked or forgotten 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, astrology also offers a typology that uniquely marries the universal and the individual.

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

© John N. Pearce 8th May 2022

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