The Spiritual Tarot
By James Clair Lewis
I wrote this article early in 1976 while living on the road, and without access to my reference books.
The origins of Kabbalah & Tarot are difficult to find, because they are older than recorded history. The oldest Tarot decks, we know of come from Egypt, but the Ancient Wisdom from which they are derived, must be older, because all of the symbol systems of the ancient world have direct parallels & correlations with the Tree of Life.
Most of what we know about this Ancient Wisdom, is recorded in a few small rare books. The most important one, I believe, is the Sephera Yetzirah or Book of Formation. Melchizidek of Salem transmitted it to Abraham, & it was passed on orally by Jewish Mystics for centuries, until being written down in the Zohar during the Middle Ages. (see Hebrews chapters 6, 7, & 8)
Tarot cards themselves traveled a much different route, than the system of concepts from which they are derived. Often their meanings have been lost, and they have degenerated into what we now call modern playing cards. However, when the Gypsies migrated into Europe from India, they brought the Tarot with them, and must have had some influence on the magical & Kabalistic circles of their times, rekindling interest in the cards.
Primary to understanding this cosmological system is the Law : As Above, So Below. It is symbolized by the Magician, standing with his right hand in the air, & the left pointing downward. The Law of correspondance tells us that when you have octaves of vibration or conception, that the lower octaves manefest as reflections of the higher. That is, that where you can discern definate levels of existance, you will find parallel characteristics between the levels.
Naturally, you have heard Christians saying that we are created in the Image of God, and from the point of esoteric psychology, this is a great truth. We live in a living universe, a place shaped by the inexortable laws of nature, and filled with a majestic, transcendant beauty. We are products of this universe, and as such, we partake of all the qualities, principles, & laws of our universe.
Thus, we live in a universe, and contain within ourselves, another universe, a reflection of the greater universe. And, all of the potentials of the greater universe can be found within us. It is also true, that our lives in the greater universe are a reflection of what we concieve as being our personal universe. Herein we discover the pivot in the interactions of the macro & micro universes : the creative power of consciousness. Nothing exists outside of consciousness. What we are aware of, shapes our activities in the world.
With these ideas in mind, we can begin to study the archetypal symbols of the Kaballah, with the understanding that these diagrams represent not only schematics of the creation of the universe, but also corresponding maps of the human mind within this universe.
The first is called the Tetragrammaton. In the Bible it is called the Word (Greek Logos, divine reason), and is translated as Lord (see Gospel of John 1: 1-4). It represents a broad classification of the universe into four general planes of existance : 1) the Spiritual 2)the Archetypal 3) the Astral and 4) the physical.
The Spiritual plane is the realm of the absolute, the origin of origins. it cannot be detected by the senses, nor can any material experiment prove or disprove its existance, because it is the grounds for being. We say that the spiritual plane permeates all of reality, but we can only infer that on the basis of our own existance. In the Tarot the Divine Spark is represented by the Kings and the suit of Wands. In a human being, this level corresponds with consciousness.
The Archetypal plane is often called the plane of the Divine Mind. It is a reflection of the first level on a lower octave. Thus, where on the first plane, we considered being, now we consider space and time which are always qualified by that which occupies them. It is upon this plane that the one law of being begins to manefest as "separate" Cosmic laws.
A) Being : consciousness is the creative principle of the universe.
B) Vibration : being manefests through vibration & cycles.
C) Spectrum/Polarity : qualities of vibration differentiate into a spectrum with opposite polarities.
D) Gravitation : things which accord in vibration, gravitate & resonate with each other.
E) Attraction : positive attracts negative.
F) Progression : motion proceeds from negative towards positive. We grow from experience, and we must help others to grow to progress ourselves.
G) Karma : every action brings an equal and opposite reaction. "As ye sow, so shall ye reap."
In Tarot symbolism, this plane is represented by the Queens and by the Suit of Cups. The receptivity of space with respect to being, is mirrored in the human being as attitudes in respect to consciousness. Hence, the Cosmic mind and the subconscious mind are linked together by Queens and the suit of Cups.
The Astral Plane is the plane of form & motion within space. It is on this plane that the field energies of aether become definately recognisable. The auras of plants, animals & people manefest here., and one who is truly sensitive can sense the etheric activities of the four elements in the formation of the material plane. This is also the level of the 12 astrological energy currents. In Tarot symbolism, this level is seen in the Knights, and in the Suit of Swords., which in human consciousness, it represents the objective, "thinking" part of the brain which deals in words & logical reasoning. The Astral plane is duration through time.
The material plane is the outcome of what has gone before. The Divine Spark is reflected in space through the qualities of form, motion, and duration. Thus is matter crystalized out of nothing. Herein is the great illusion of physical life : our senses tells us that the world is solid & that it is filled with distinctly recognisable objects. Yet matter is not solid. Matter is the appearance. The field energies that compose the elementary particles blur all edges. It is all one. There are not separations that we have not created in our minds.
In Tarot, the material world is represented by the Suit of Pentacles and material activities by the Pages of each Suit. The Suits of the Tarot correspond with the four levels as do the persons of the Court cards. Thus we can create a matrix to show these 16 interrelationships of the Tetragrammaton.
The King of Wands is a spitiual teacher, creative in the realm of consciousness. Anyone who is an embodiment of their awareness is a catalyst. When reversed, this card shows someone who is on the Pathh, but still has much to learn.
The Queen of Wands is an extremely sensitive psychic. She always knows what is going on. When reversed, the card indicates someone who will not listen to others, and has a fixed worldview, as if persistance has changed into stubbornness.
The Knight of Wands seeks spiritual knowledge, & has clear conceptions of metaphysics, philosophy, psychology, and the sciences. When reversed, a muddier state of mind is indicated, or the person does not grasp the significance of their knowledge, possessing only a rote surface understanding.
The Page of Wands is a karma yogi, one who grows from doing good works. When reversed, a selfish person is indicated, one who takes, rather than creates.
The King of Cups has great psychological insight. With awareness of the subconscious realm comes the ability to create art, music, & literature. When reversed, these abilities are present in an undeveloped state.
The Queen of Cups understands the power of listening, and all the subtle influences of attitudes.. However when reversed, we have an unresponsive, immature person, who cannot blend.
The Knight of Cups represents contemplation and analysis of attitudes. When reversed, there is inner turmoil, & contradiction.
The Page of Cups brings harmony into the world through the ability to flow with the currents of energy. When reversed, you have someone who is obstinate and exclusive.
The King of Swords recognises the power of ideas, and how to use them brilliantly. When reversed, he is an implacable enemy.
The Queen of Swords is intellectually receptive, and quick to reflect upon ideas. However, when reversed, she destroys everything she touches.
The Knight of Swords controls logic, the analysis of ideas, & semantics. When reversed, he is confused, & apt to be led astray.
The Page of Swords puts ideas into action, makes things happen, & take form. When reversed, he has a mental block, and can get nothing done.
The King of Pentacles represents material wealth & power. He organizes & coordinates activities. When reversed, he uses his power to oppress.
The Queen of Pentacles is aware of her environment, and knows how to get what she wants. When reversed, she destroys harmony, and blocks others from advancement.
The Knight of Pentacles is a practical thinker, like an engineer or a mechanic or any field of appied thought. When reversed, he makes everything complicated, is clumsy & inexperienced.
The Page of Pentacles represents material harmony, & comfort : work, heath, exercise, farming & gardening : the ability to stick to a job, and get it done right. When reversed, there is indolence, laziness, disapation, & immobility.
The Tree of Life is a mandala worthy of deep contemplation. Its ten spheres, and 22 links reveal a most comprehensive diagram of the levels of reality. Like the Tetragrammaton, the Tree of Life is both a map of the unfolding creation and a diagram of human development. Its detail allows a great flexibility in definition, so that the concepts of other metaphysical cosmologies can be cross-corelated with each other across the Tree of Life. For example, astrology, numerology, yoga chakras, and the hexagrams of the I Ching. It also has parallels with modern particle physics.
In studying this material in a purely intelectual fashion, it would become easy to think of the world as fitting into neat patterns. The truth is that these are dynamic patterns extending between ourselves and the reality of life itself. All of the levels of existance exist simultaneously right here. Our sense of separation from the universe comes from basing our apprehension upon the appearances of the material world.
Tarot symbols, when seen as dynamic archetypes, serve to integrate the conscious & unconscious, and thereby reveal a new type of language for understanding the nature of transformation and change.
The first three spheres of the Tree of Life correspond with the Spiritual plane and the Kings of the four Suits. Colectively, they are a trinity, but when seen as one, they are known as Daath (knowledge, truth). The first sphere is known as Kether, the Crown. Its origin is unknowable. It is said to be a circle whose center is nowhere, and whose circumfrance is everywhere. It is transcendental beyond infinity, yet it lies between nothingness and reality, which are undiferentiatable in Kether. The Chinese call it the Tao. The Ace of Wands represents the ultimate reality and Divine impulse of Creation. The Ace of Cups symbolises the influence of the Divine within the soul : enlightenment. The Ace of Swords demonstrates truth in action, as brilliance & knowledge, but when reversed can sever any tie, boundary, or obstruction. The Ace of Cups symbolizes the influence of the Divine withing the Soul : Enlightenment. The Ace of Swords demonstrates truth in action as brilliance & knowledge, but when reversed can sever any ties or boundaries or obstructions. The Ace of Pentacles is manefest as the laws of nature, but when reversed shows the destruction of the balances.
The second sphere is known as Chokmah, wisdom. All of the manefestations of polarity, balance, and reflection, develop here. The Two of Wands demonstrates the reflection of consciousness upon itself, mediation. Wisdom is more a function of self-knowledge than it is of experience. The Two of Cups is known as a card of love, because it shows the polarity of relationships, neither complete without the other. The Two of Swords is a card of decisions and discrimination. The Two of Pentacles demonstrates the need for balance through the visitudes of life.
The third sphere is called Binah, the root of differentiation. This sphere corresponds with the three Gunas or modes of life in the Bhagavad Gita, the material sluggish mode, Tamas, the speedy intellectual mode, Rajas, and the spiritual balanced mode, Satva. It is the realm of mood, general tendencies & flow of basic subjects & patterns. The Three of Wands symbolises prophetic insight through awareness of the forms. The Three of Cups demonstrates the mode of subjective relationships, as friendship. The Three of Swords shows the heartbreak of a decision with diverging consequences. The Three of Pentacles illustrates that work, done with great care is the key to success in the material work.
The next three spheres correspond with the Cosmic Mind in relationship to the underlying attitudes of the unconscious mind. It is written that, "And the thing he feared came upon him". Our hopes and fears are like magnets attracting conditions of experience. We need to fully comprehend & appreciate reality & the processes of evolution. "Be not sad; be like the Sun at mid-day : illuminating & gladening everything under the Sun." (I Ching)
The fourth sphere of the Tree of Life is called Chesed. It is the life principle of expansion and growth, much like the I Ching hexagram, the Gentle Wind. The Four of Wands symbolises spiritual growth, the expansion of consciousness. The Four of Cups represents the fulfillment of desires and contentment. The Four of Swords indicates the process of intellectual growth through study, but when reversed, represents collapse brought about by too much expansion. The Four of Pentacles shows material progress, but when reversed, indicates theft, selfish acquisitions.
In order to balance the expansion of the fourth sphere, there is the contraction of the fifth sphere, Geburah. Linked with the hexagram of the Arousing Thunder, it is like Kali and Shiva : very difficult to deal with, but essential to comprehend the universe. The Five of Wands is symbolic of limitations imposed upon the spirit. This spiritual strife strengthens character. The Five of Cups shows subjective limitations, hence the ideas of disappointment and inhibition. The Five of Swords is a card of outright conflict. When reversed, it may mean physical violence. Notice that this concept arises from limitations (5) imposed upon the mind (swords). Conflicts develop when we fail to use our heads. The Five of Pentacles represents poverty, and material limitations. But, consider this : energy goes where consciousness flows. If we allow ourselves to be overcome by circumstances, then how are we to recognise a good turn of fortune when one comes our way?
The sixth sphere of the Tree of Life is Tipereth corresponds with the Heart chakra. it is the sphere of intuition, and its central position links it directly with all of the other spheres, except Malcuth, the material universe. It is consciousness alone, that can see beyond good & evil, the expansions and contractions of life. Thus, it is connected with the hexagram of Brilliance. The Six of Wands represents the unobstructed flow of psychic power through the unfolding of the evolutionary life force. The Six of Cups has the attribute of psychic perception, but also carries the ideas of subconscious harmony and the attraction of the sexes. The Six of Swords is called Science by Crowley, because of the quality of being aware of ideas. However, when reversed, it can mean psychic conflicts. The Six of Pentacles shows understanding of the material world through generousity. Success comes, if one is carful to distribute while accumulating.
The next three spheres represent the Astral plane on the macrocosmic level, and the nexus of personality on the human level. The knights, the sword suit and the seventh, eighth, and ninth spheres, all share common threads of meaning together. The seventh sphere is called Netsah. It represents the subjective mind, the right side of the brain, and the symbolic realm of our attitudes. In the Seven of Wands, we are aware of our attitudes and their effects, so we onsciously choose them. In the Seven of Cups we see the concentration of the subconscious mind upon itself. This is creative imagination. When we imagine an experience our bodies go through the same changes, as if we were going through that experience. The Seven of Swords pictures attitudes under scrutiny. Here we rid ourselves of illusions through the ordeal of criticism. When reversed, we are resisting this process. The Seven of Pentacles represents attitudes in harmony with the environment, and conventionality. When reversed, a person whose concerns do not go beyond the material is indicated.
The eighth sphere, Hod, is the home of the objective mind, the left side of the brain, and the seemingly unstopable flow of words in our minds : the intellect. The Eight of Wands symbolises "right knowledge" & "right thought". This is clear & informed knowlege of life, and the open logical mind that results from familiarity with truth. The Eight of Cups pictures the intellect being guided by the subconscious mind. A retreat is shown on the card, but this is merely the means towards a deeper integration. When reversed, you are working at cross purposes with yourself, saying one thing, and doing another. The Eight of Swords exemplifies the process of analytical thought. However, when reversed, the problems indicated have not been comprehended in their real nature & significance. The Eight of Pentacles represents work. When reversed, the avoidance of work or the use of the mind for purely materialistic purposes.
The ninth sphere, Yesod, corresponds with the Mulahara chakra. It represents the activities of the emotions. Its central position between Tipereth & Malcuth, and between Netsah & Hod, shows the importance of emotional stability in the integration of the personality. In the Nine of Wands, the emotions are neither dominant nor repressed (unless the card is reversed). Rather this is a consistant, honest, and serene state of expression. The Nine of Cups shows harmony between emotions and attitudes, happiness. When reversed, the physical side, rather than the spiritual side is dominant. The Nine of Swords shows that passion & reason can never be really comfortable together. The Nine of Pentacles represents emotions in harmony with the surroundings, well-grounded stability. When reversed, this is a card of disruption.
The consumation of the universal unfoldment is symbolised in the tenth sphere, Malcuth, the material world. This sphere corresponds with the last letter of the Tetragrammaton. The Ten of Wands symbolises Heaven on Earth, the material world guided by wisdom, cooperation, & freedom. When reversed, it shows the spirit encased & bound by materialism, & drudgery. The Ten of Cups shows harmony of attitude and environment, with indications of romance. When reversed, all has changed to disharmony. The Ten of Swords represents information and practical applied knowledge. The Ten of Pentacles illustates the world of nature, health, prosperity, and groundedness.
The Magician represents the influence of the Divine upon your image of yourself. When these two become one, you have the power to shape the universe in accordance with Divine Law. The truth symbolized here is that the world you believe you live in, is largely a reflection of your inner self. Through the cultivation of character, and comprehention of the Cosmic Laws, you can change the world you live in.
The High Priestess symbolizes the Divine taking form, through Cosmic & Natural Law, always a bit beyond your most profound conceptions...
The Empress shows a channel coming from the One into your soul consciousness. She is the Holy Spirit, enlightening & teaching through you, her channel.
The Emperor symbolizes the interaction of Yin & Yang, between your self-image and your way of life. The basic patterns of your destiny are decided by the Emperor.
The Hierophant shows the influence of your self-image upon the psychic atmosphere surrounding you. If well aspected, this brings dignity, respect, and even reverance to you. When reversed, it indicates a controling person who uses others as pawns.
The Lovers indicates harmony of consciousness and the way of life, also poise, balence and love. When reversed, it means that you are striving for these things, and that their approach is immanent.
The Chariot is dynamic, showing progress wherever it appears. Basicly, it represents a time when wisdom is expressing itself, & guiding developments in the world. When reversed, you are seeking the key to how this can be done.
Justice shows a person who follows the way of life, coming upon obstructions, & indicates that a re-alignment of energy, actions, or goals is required. When reversed, then one is about to be brought to justice.
The Hermit is balanced, and can see beyond good & evil, recognising that time & truth are more powerful than chace or circumstances. He can see into the past or future by the light of the lamp that he carries. When reversed, you are not a hermit, you are hiding.
The Wheel of Fortune represents all of the possibilities that are open to you, if you would only see them, and act. When reversed, then these possibilities are internal rather than external.
Strength is the lust for life and health. It is the satifaction of good sex and hard work. It exudes warmth radiating from the subconscious mind.
The Hanged Man represents the way to untie the knots of Karma through acceptance & non-resistance. It is what Ghandi called Ahimsa. this is the self-sacrifice that leads to abundance. When reversed, a selfish, hypochondriac is indicated, deliberately bringing troubles upon himself for sympathy which he uses to manipulate others.
Death is change and transformation. You must die to be reborn. Cast away what you do not need, in order to recieve what you do. Let go of the lower rung of the ladder, so that you may reach up for the next higher one. When reversed, Death is stagnation.
Temperance is the interaction of intuition and feeling, the source of true Art. When reversed, some delicacy is required to attain balance & poise.
The Devil lies between intuition and the subconscious mind. Here are all the things that we hide from ourselves. Learn these secrets & you will understand why you do the things that you do.
The Tower shows the interaction of your intuition and your intellect. great things can happen when they work together. When reversed, this card symbolizes the ivory tower, an intellect that cannot see beyond itself.
The Star shows the relationship between the objective and subjective minds. When ntellect and attitude operate in harmony, there is great clarity of purpose, and insights will be realised.
The Moon shows the interaction of attitude and emotion. Learn to recognise the cycles of your emotions to understand your attitudes.
The Sun governs the autonomic nervous system, health, and the influence of your subconscious mind upon the body.
The Judgement represents the triumph of reason over emotion, of light over darkness. When reversed, then the emotions have become ascendant, and disaster must follow.
The World is symbolic of the relationship of mind & body, of you & the world. It is the whole problem of phenomenology.
The Fool represents the interactions of emotions and the environment. The Fool is that state of awe, wonder, bliss, you feel when you are totally receptive to your environment without plans or preconceptions, you are in the moment. meditate : when you know you know nothing, you have taken the first step upon the Path. If reversed, then the emotions are out of control, have no relationship with what is actually going on around you. This is truly foolish.
Have the person for whom you are doing the reading shuffle the cards, and cut. Then lay out the cards in the pattern of the Tree of Life. View the cards as representing the kind of activity occuring within each sphere. Reversed cards need not always be negative. Often they indicate a quality that is still developing or is less significant that the surrounding cards. look for patterns of mutual influence between the spheres. Be flexible, use your intuition, and also, some common sense.
To Voyage Beyond Space and Time