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A Peculiar Deck of Cards

When four people sit down to play a game of Bridge, the dealer selects which suit is to be the trump suit. If you find the foregoing statement startling, no doubt you have become confused because people playing a later game derived from Bridge, the game of Contract Bridge, often just call that game "Bridge" for short, it having so thoroughly eclipsed that of the original (which is also known as Russian Whist). In Contract Bridge, the process is more involved; the player who promises to win the most tricks, should his selection of the trump suit be accepted, gets to make the choice.

Even Bridge is an elaboration of an earlier game, Whist, in which the cards are cut to determine which suit is the trump suit.

If you heard the announcement that a special deck of cards existed, designed to play an earlier and simpler form of Whist in which the cards belonging to a special fifth suit were always the trumps, would you not be interested to learn more about this unusual deck of cards? If it were added that this deck of cards is currently available in many bookstores, and the symbolism of the cards of the fifth suit, greater in number than those of the other suits, conveys the teachings of an early Protestant denomination, the Waldensians, surely the surprise would increase?

Well, perhaps not. By now, most readers will realize that I am referring to the deck of cards used by upscale cartomancers, the Tarot cards. But what is this about the Waldensians? Well, for example, the card known as "The High Priestess" was originally "The Papess", and recalled a rumor which claimed that a woman in disguise not only became a priest, but was elevated to the Papacy, being found out only when she gave birth during a Papal procession. (The paragraph which preceded this one, incidentally, is a parody of the introductory paragraph of the book which introduced the notion of the Tarot deck as having serious mystical significance to the European public.)

Before Champollion and the Rosetta Stone spoiled everyone's fun, it was claimed by occultists that the Tarot cards embodied the lost wisdom of the ancient Egyptians. As the great Egyptian civilization was about to crumble, the sage priests of Egypt, in a stunning display of freedom from ethnocentricity, left behind, as their legacy to the future, a pictorial key to the Kabbalah. (In this connection, an anecdote I once read about harpsichordist and composer Wanda Landowska comes to mind. Yes, it's [one of] the one[s] involving Bach.)

Etteilla was even quite specific about it: in the year 1828 after Creation, 171 years after the flood, 3953 years prior what was presumably the year 1783, and hence in the year 2181 B.C., seventeen illustrious Egyptian mages came together to design the Tarot, twelve of whom were descendants of Hermes Trismestigus himself. (In addition to the Tarot, one wonders if they left behind the minutes of the meeting at which it was designed. Of course, were Etteilla in posession of such a document, it would justify his extensive rearrangement of the order of the Major Arcana...) On the other hand, if Paul Christian (Paul Pitois) is to be believed, the twenty-two keys of the Major Arcana had long been in use in Egypt for the training of initiates.

And indeed, some of the sources for these speculations on the Tarot use the alphabet of Cagliostro (which did pre-date him, having appeared in a book by Vigenére) to argue that the Jews simply stole their alphabet from the Egyptians; since this notion suffers the embarassing lack of a single papyrus in the alphabet in question, it's hard to attribute such a notion to anything but anti-Semitism; although possibly not that of the authors themselves, but instead a pandering to the surrounding climate.

Incidentally, though, I have recently come across the writings of Christine Payne-Towler, from which I have learned that the account of the Major Arcana by Paul Christian is likely based on a document from the Fratres Lucis, and that Etteilla's ordering of the trumps reflects the Pymander.

Of course, it could be that the Egyptian traditions and the Kabbalah simply derived from a common source, in Atlantis, or even Lemuria. Lemuria: that lost continent, located in the Indian Ocean, where it provided an explanation for why lemurs were found in both Madagascar and (as fossils) in Indonesia. Doubtless my readers are all familiar with the Philadelphia Experiment, in which the secret theories of Dr. Albert Einstein (and perhaps the lost notebooks of Nikola Tesla, and scraps of information gleaned from crashed flying saucers) were used in an attempt to develop a cloaking device for U. S. naval vessels. Under somewhat less secrecy, even presented to the public in major newspapers - but in a veiled form - Einstein also experimented with time travel, bringing to the present a primitive man from this ancient continent; from this research, we learned that Lemuria was originally divided into the rival kingdoms of Lem and Mu. These rival kingdoms were eventually united, forming a civilization so advanced that it eventually caused the entire continent to float up into the air and settle down in the Pacific ocean. (On a smaller scale, this technology allowed the Pyramids to be built.)

But a chunk of the continent proved a home to separatists who wanted to divide the ancient kingdom of Lem from Lemuria, and thus they floated a chunk of the continent to the Atlantic ocean, where it became known as Atlantis; this explains how Atlantis and Lemuria managed to exist while blatantly contradicting the facts of plate tectonics.

However, this story, however comical it may seem, is not entirely false. In early times in America, many board games for children were designed with educational themes, particularly leaning towards the religious. Our game of Snakes and Ladders is said to be derived from a game in India that helped to expound the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation, and in Tibet, a somewhat more complicated game is played to illustrate the progress of souls according to Buddhist belief. And in ancient Egypt as well, the game of Senet was meant to illustrate the difficulties of earning a good place in the afterlife.

And this game survives, in an altered form, to the present day. We call it backgammon, with Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum as its intermediate ancestor.

Also, as the title of Papus' book Le Tarot des Bohémiens recalls, it was believed that the Tarot cards not only came to Europe from Egypt, but were brought there by the Romany, known as Gypsies precisely because of their reputed Egyptian origin. As we know now, their ancestors came from India; but then, playing cards also came to us from India as well, after having been invented in China. But the Tarot trumps were still a European invention.

Since the Tarot deck consists of four regular suits of cards, cups, coins, batons and swords, each with cards from Ace to 10 as well as Knave, Knight, Queen and King, as well as 21 trumps, and one additional card, the Fool, that can be played to a trick in any suit, but which always loses the trick, those claiming an ancient mystical meaning for those cards, quite naturally, speculated that the 21 trumps and the Fool correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. An "Egyptian" alphabet, also called the Alphabet of the Magi, used by Count Cagliostro, and following the pattern of the Hebrew alphabet, was associated with the Tarot trumps in Paul Christian's History of Magic without even mentioning the Hebrew alphabet; this alphabet is presented in the fourth column following the Hebrew alphabet in the chart on the left. This was originally recorded as a Chaldaean alphabet by the Christian scholar Theseus Ambrosius, who is famed for providing the Western world with its first grammar of the Syriac language. It is preceded by actual Egyptian hieroglyphs which vaguely correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The letter L is represented by a biliteral hieroglyph whose value is "rw"; it was originally thought to be the Egyptian letter L because it was used to spell Cleopatra's name. Many people are aware that Her Majesty Cleopatra the Seventh was one of the Ptolemies, belonging to a Greek dynasty that ruled Egypt in consequence of the expeditions of Alexander the Great; but perhaps few realized that she was so alien to Egypt that the Egyptians could not even pronounce her name. Note also that, since these hieroglyphics are presented in association with the Hebrew alphabet, they are presented in the orientation they would have when used for writing from right to left, which is the more common writing direction for ancient Egyptian.

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet are associated in the diagram with letters from our alphabet in a traditional way which reflects the descent from the original Phoenician alphabet of our alphabet. But while Aleph is the ancestor of the letter A, and Ayin is the ancester of the letter O, these characters represented consonants and not vowel sounds in ancient Hebrew. Information on the actual use of the Hebrew alphabet in writing is given here.

The Tarot trumps have been ordered in three ways in decks designed for fortune-telling or occult study. In the first column below, I give the ordering due to Eliphas Lévi, which is the same as the conventional order of the trumps, except that the Fool is placed between the 20th and 21st trumps. In the second, I give the ordering used in the deck drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith for Arthur Edward Waite, in which the Fool is the first of the trumps, and Justice and Strength are exchanged. In the third column is given the ordering of the trumps used in the deck by Etteila. While several cards in Etteila's version of the Tarot do not resemble any card in the conventional Tarot closely, before Etteila's own deck was published, he had written a book on fortune-telling with the Tarot cards in which he described how the cards in a conventional deck should be renumbered; the entries depending on this source, and not obvious from the appearance of the cards in his deck are put in parentheses. A version of Etteila's deck first designed in Italy, the Tarocco Egizio, and more recently reprinted in Mexico as the Tarot Egipcio, assigned the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to the cards of that arrangement in alphabetical order, and the correspondence of those letters to the Major Arcana in the other decks is also held to be that of the cards in their given order with the Hebrew alphabet in its order. One might also mention an exception to placing the Hebrew alphabet in order alongside the cards: in Liber al vel Legis, Aleister Crowley, who otherwise used the ordering of the Rider-Waite deck shown in the second column, maintained the ordering of the cards, but noted that Tzaddi was not the Star, and followed through by interchanging it with Hé, the letter associated with the Emperor. It is not recorded if that means that The Emperor is the heart of the Major Arcana.

The fourth column gives the ordering of the Trumps in the Revived Tarot, due to a webmaster with the username Psyche, and inspired by the work of Carlo Suárez.

In this system, the Major Arcana represent not twenty-two, but twenty-seven symbols, with the fact that the final forms of five Hebrew letters are placed at the end of the Hebrew alphabet when it is used to represent numbers being taken as important.The same trump corresponds to the regular and final form of the five Hebrew letters with final forms.

Donald Tyson, co-author of a book about the Necronomicon of H. P. Lovecraft in popular culture, has also proposed a revised order for the Tarot Major Arcana, based on the astrological significance of the Hebrew letters (which is what prompted the exchange of Strength and Justice by the Golden Dawn as seen in the popular Waite deck).

Also, the Comte de Mellet - and perhaps Court de Gébelin himself as well - ordered the trumps in reverse, beginning with The World, and ending with The Magician followed by The Fool.


There is something one must give Aleister Crowley credit for, however. He is also the inventor of Pirate Bridge, which for a time was considered by many respected Bridge experts to possibly be the next major advance in the Whist family of games after Auction Bridge.


Papus                 Waite                  Etteilla              Psyche                Donald Tyson

The Magician          The Fool              (The High Priest)      The Fool              The Fool              Aleph       Justice                  Athoïm
The High Priestess    The Magician           The Sun               The World             The High Priestess    Beth         The Star                Beïnthin
The Empress           The High Priestess     The Moon              The Wheel of Fortune  The Magician          Ghimel       The Moon                Gomor
The Emperor           The Empress            The Star              The Tower             The Empress           Daleth       The Empress             Dinaïn
The High Priest       The Emperor            The World             The Emperor           The Emperor           Hé            The Hanged Man         Eni
The Lovers            The High Priest       (The Empress)          The High Priest       The High Priest       Vau           The Lovers             Ur
The Chariot           The Lovers            (The Emperor)          The Lovers            The Lovers            Zain          The Devil              Zaïn
Justice               The Chariot           (The High Priestess)   The Chariot           Temperance            Heth          The Magician           Heletha
The Hermit            Strength               Justice               Strength              Strength              Teth          The Judgement          Théla
The Wheel of Fortune  The Hermit             Temperance            The Hermit            The Hermit            Yod           Death                  Ioïthi
Strength              The Wheel of Fortune   Strength              The Sun               The Wheel of Fortune  Caph         The High Priestess      Caïtha
The Hanged Man        Justice               (The Hanged Man)       Justice               Justice               Lamed         The Hermit             Luzain
Death                 The Hanged Man         The Lovers            The Hanged Man        The Hanged Man        Mem         Temperance               Mataloth
Temperance            Death                  The Devil             Death                 Death                 Nun           The Tower              Naïn
The Devil             Temperance             The Magician          Temperance            The Chariot           Samech        The Wheel of Fortune   Xirön
The Tower             The Devil              The Judgement         The Devil             The Devil             Ayin          The Chariot            Olélath
The Star              The Tower              Death                 The Empress           The Tower             Phe          The Emperor             Pilôn
The Moon              The Star               The Hermit            The Star              The Star              Tzaddi        The Fool               Tsadi
The Sun               The Moon               The Tower             The Moon              The Moon              Quoph         The World              Quitolath
The Judgement         The Sun                The Wheel of Fortune  The Magician          The Sun               Resh         The Sun                 Rasith
The Fool              The Judgement          The Chariot           The Judgement         The Judgement         Shin        Strength                 Sichen
The World             The World              The Fool              The High Priestess    The World             Than         The High Priest         Thoth
                                                                   The Sun                                     final Yod
                                                                   The Hanged Man                              final Mem
                                                                   Death                                       final Nun
                                                                   The Empress                                 final Phe
                                                                   The Star                                    final Tzaddi

It may also be noted that the Tarot cards of the Major Arcana depicted by Papus (Gerard Encausse) in his Le Tarot Divinatoire, following the order of Eliphas Lévi, bear on them, in addition to Hebrew letters, Sanskrit letters and Egyptian Hieroglyphs, symbols labelled "Archéomètre Saint-Yves". These are from a little-known book, Archéomètre, written by the Marquis Joseph-Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, which contained charts giving mystical correspondences for the letters of several different alphabets. These symbols are shown in the diagram above in the first and second column following the Hebrew alphabet, between it and Cagliostro's Alphabet of the Magi. The first column shows how they appeared on the Divinatory Tarot of Papus, and the second column shows how they appeared in the actual Archéomètre; in fairness to Papus, some of the symbols appeared in multiple forms in that work, and some alternates are shown in that column.

Note that the interchange of the last two symbols is substantive: the correspondence given in Archéomètre is between the characters of this primitive alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet, not the Tarot trumps; thus, this is not due to a dispute over whether The World should be numbered 21 or 22, although the placement of The Fool by Papus could have been the reason for an error in associating these symbols with the Hebrew alphabet.

Also of interest is the fact that of the five unrecognizable cards in the Eteilla deck, the first four are also the cards which were temporarily replaced with the images of four Moors in Tarot decks produced in some parts of Europe.

In Etteilla's deck, the trumps from The High Priest to The Chariot had the numbers from 1 to 21, while The Fool had the number 78. The Minor Arcana were numbered in reverse order, from the King down to the Ace, with the King of Wands as 22, the King of Cups as 36, the King of Swords as 50, and the King of Coins as 64.

If the unusual ordering of the trumps of Eteilla were due to a re-ordering of the Hebrew letters into the separate categories of double, mother, and simple letters, could that unusual ordering conceal a more conventional ordering? One possibility thus suggested is shown in the fifth column above.

In the seventh column are the names of the letters of Cagliostro's Alphabet of the Magi.

The starting point for the sequences above is, of course, the order of the Trumps in the Tarocchi deck as it was in existence for the purpose of card-playing. But that, also, had variations:

     The Fool                  The Fool                  The Fool

 1. (The Magician)            (The Magician)            (The Magician)
 2. (The High Priestess)      (The High Priestess)      (The High Priestess)
 3.  The Empress               The Empress              (The Empress)
 4.  The Emperor               The Emperor              (The Emperor)
 5.  The Pope                  The Pope                 (The Lovers)
 6.  The Lovers               (The Lovers)               Temperance
 7.  The Chariot               The Chariot               Strength
 8.  Justice                   Temperance                Justice
 9.  The Hermit                Justice                   The Wheel of Fortune
10.  The Wheel of Fortune      Strength                  The Chariot
11.  Strength                 (The Wheel of Fortune)    (The Hermit)
12.  The Hanged Man           (The Hermit)               The Hanged Man
13.  Death                     The Hanged Man            Death
14.  Temperance                Death                     The Devil
15.  The Devil                 The Devil                (The Tower)
16.  The Tower                (The Tower)
17.  The Star                  The Star                  The Star
18.  The Moon                  The Moon                  The Moon
19.  The Sun                   The Sun                   The Sun
20.  The Last Judgment         The World                 The World
21.  The World                (The Last Judgment)

the first column being the sequence we are most familiar with, from the Tarot de Marseilles and many others, and the second being that of the Tarot of Bologna. Of course, that the subject of the page is reasonably thought of by many as being baloney is another matter. The third column shows those portions of the forty-one trumps of the Minchiate deck which appear to correspond to the conventional Tarots. Between The Devil and The Star are Hell, followed by the three virtues Prudence, Faith, and Charity, the four elements Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, and then the signs of the Zodiac in an irregular order: Libra, Virgo, Scorpio, Aries, Capricorn, Sagittarius, Cancer, Pisces, Aquarius, Leo, Taurus, and Gemini. Following The World is one additional card, Fame.

The vexing question of the order of the Tarot trumps might be felt to be solved, or at least to have taken a giant step on its way towards a solution, if there were any authoritative source of the meanings of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. And there is one with, at least, the weight of tradition behind it: the Sepher Yetzirah, or the Book of Formation.


Aleph     Air                                   11 Scintillating Intelligence                          curtain before disposition
Beth       Life (/Death)          Wisdom        12 Intelligence of Transparency                        visions, apparitions
Gimel      Peace (/War)           Health        13 Uniting Intelligence                                Essence of Glory, consummation of truth of individual things
Daleth     Wisdom (/Folly)        Fertility     14 Illuminating Intelligence                           founder concealed ideas of holiness & stages of preparation
He          Sight                  Speech       15 Constituting Intelligence                           substance of creation in pure darkness
Vau         Hearing                Mind         16 Triumphal or Eternal Intelligence                   pleasure of the Glory
Zain        Smell                  Movement     17 Disposing Intelligence                              provides faith to the righteous, foundation of excellence
Heth        Speech                 Sight        18 House of Influence                                  increases influx of good things, draws forth arcana and hidden senses
Teth        Taste                  Hearing      19 Int. of All the Activities of the Spiritual Beings  diffuses affluence and exalted sublime glory
Yod         Eros                   Work         20 Intelligence of Will                                means of preparation of each created being, existence of Primordial Wisdom becomes known
Kaph       Riches (/Poverty)      Life          21 Intelligence of Conciliation                        receives divine influence from benediction
Lamed       Work                   Desire       22 Faithful Intelligence                               increases spiritual virtues
Mem       Water                                 23 Stable Intelligence                                 has virtue of consistency among all numerations
Nun         Movement               Smell        24 Imaginative Intelligence                            gives likeness to all similitudes similar to its harmonious elegancies
Samech      Anger                  Sleep        25 Int. of Probation or Tentative Int.                 temptation by which righteous are tested
Ayin        Mirth                  Anger        26 Renovating Intelligence                             changing things renewed by it
Pe         Grace (/Indignation)   Power         27 Exciting Intelligence                               intellect and motion of every created being
Tzaddi      Imagination            Taste        28 Natural Intelligence                                nature of every existent being consummated and perfected
Quoph       Sleep                  Mirth        29 Corporeal Intelligence                              forms every body beneath worlds and their increment        
Resh       Fertility (/Solitude)  Peace         30 Collecting Intelligence                             judgement of stars and signs deduced from it by astrologers
Shin      Fire                                  31 Perpetual Intelligence                              regulates the motions of the Sun and Moon
Tau        Power (/Servitude)     Beauty        32 Administrative Intelligence                         directs and associates operations of the seven planets in their courses

In the first column are the letters. The second gives the meanings as listed in the body of the Sepher Yetzirah, in the order they are listed. But the meanings are not explicitly connected to the letters, a later source which gives an explicit connection, gives a different order, noted in the third column.

Then, at the end, the meanings assigned to the paths from 11 to 32, the first ten paths being the Sephiroth, which we shall see below, in the essay The Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom by Joannes Stephanus Rittangelius in 1642 are noted.

With the Intelligence of Probation assigned to the letter Samech, being the twenty-fifth path, this would seem to decisively favor the traditional order, where The Devil is the fifteenth card, as opposed to the Rider-Waite order.

However, while Administrative Intelligence, associated with Tau, makes the association of that letter with The World at least plausible, there is not really that much else in the sequence which is that closely related to the Tarot cards. However, Perpetual Intelligence, associated with Shin, suggests that the mystery trump for that position, for which The Fool only fills in, might have a calendar as its symbol, since calendars are based on the cycles of the sun and the moon (and, while The Sun and The Moon are two individual Tarot trumps, none of the arcana seem to be associated with both the sun and the moon together).

In the sequence of trumps as given by Papus, Aleph, corresponding to the element of air, corresponds to The Magician (or The Juggler); Mem, corresponding to the element of water, corresponds to Death. If The Fool, standing in for Shin, which corresponds to the element of fire, is taken out of the sequence of trumps, would it really correspond to the element of earth, the classical element left over from the three assigned to the three Mothers in the Hebrew alphabet?

In that case, two possibilities suggest themselves for the 21st Arcana; Time, as a complement to Death, or an accomplished magician, as a complement to both The Fool on the one hand, and The Magician - generally believed to represent a neophyte - on the other. The latter, though, is already represented by The High Priestess; while the former ties in well to the previous suggestion of that trump being The Calendar; as well, Time being an abstraction, it might have been difficult to properly depict, making its card appropriate to leave out as an impediment to those unworthy of initiation into the Mysteries.

Above is a diagram illustrating the plan of the Tarot according to a scheme given in The Tarot of the Bohemians by Papus, and also used in The Tarot, a Contemporary Treatise on the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism by Mouni Sadhu.

Each triangle represents a relationship between four cards patterned after the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, the Name of God.

Yod represents an active element, the first Hé a passive element upon which the active element acts, Vau represents the neuter result of the action, and the second Hé the overall system. Thus, one simple analogy to this is a father, a mother, a child, and the family. The overall system then functions as an active element on the next plane.

This pattern is repeated through the 22 cards of the Major Arcana; for each of the suits of the Minor Arcana, the King, Queen, Knight (represented by N in the diagram) and the Knave (represented by J in the diagram) represent one instance of the pattern, and the cards from Ace to 10 represent three repetitions of the pattern. The four suits of the Minor Arcana are ordered as they are because they also represent one instance of the pattern. Note that the last card in the Minor Arcana, the ten of coins, represents a transition to the Major Arcana, and the last card in the Major Arcana, The World, represents a transition to the Major Arcana.

Also, recall that The Fool, represented by 0, is simply a placeholder for the 21st position in the sequence - the actual card, the 79th card of the Tarot, being something one is to discover for oneself when one is ready, according to this system of understanding the Tarot.

The book The Tarot by Mouni Sadhu is based on the Encyclopedic Course of Occultism by Grigory Ottonovich Mebes. While that work is referred to as unavailable in Mouni Sadhu's book, in fact it was published in Russia in 1913. Naturally, due to first the Great War and then the Bolshevik Revolution, it may well not have been available until a copy turned up after the fall of the Soviet Union. There was even another edition published in 1937 in Shanghai.

Although his day job was as a mathematics professor, and his esoteric activities were known to but a few, he was eventually discovered and sent to a labor camp in which he perished.

Despite this, he wrote a sequel to his earlier work, which dealt with the Minor Arcana. Editions Pensamento, in Brazil, published a Portuguese translation of this book.

In this book, a correspondence between the pip cards of the Minor Arcana and the Sephiroth (discussed below) is given which seems to conflict with the plan of the Minor Arcana shown in the diagram above.

The two "red" suits - Coins (corresponding to Diamonds) and Cups (corresponding to Hearts) correspond to the ten Sephiroth in forwards order. Swords (corresponding to Spades) correspond to the ten Sephiroth in reverse order; Wands (corresponding to Clubs) correspond to the ten Sephiroth in both orders together.

The traditional rulerships of astrological signs create a correspondence between the five planets and two luminaries known in antiquity, and the ancient four elements of air, earth, water and fire, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Note that while the twelve signs of the Zodiac correspond to the simple letters in the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order, the order of the planets is not regular.


The Kabbalists did not merely assign meaning to the individual letters of the Hebrew alphabet. One of the central concerns of Kabbalism was with the nature of God and His relationship to His Creation. The absolute perfection of God implied that He was utterly transcendent, and, thus, for Him to deal with a Creation that was so completely beneath Him seemed inconsistent.

Thus, a construct called the Tree of Life was derived from attempts to read between the lines of the Old Testament. It constituted an arrangement of ten Sephiroth, these being attributes or emanations of God. While God Himself, as the Ain-Soph, still remained completely untouched and untouchable above the diagram, it still was held to illustrate the link between the divine and the material.

The traditional version of the Tree of Life is illustrated on the left. The ten Sephiroth are:

 1 Kether     Crown
 2 Chokmah    Wisdom
 3 Binah      Understanding
 4 Chesed     Mercy
 5 Geburah    Severity
 6 Tiphereth  Beauty
 7 Netsach    Victory
 8 Hod        Glory
 9 Yesod      Foundation
10 Malkuth    Kingdom

and 22 paths, corresponding to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, are shown which link them together.

The letters are arranged on these paths in a manner based on alphabetical order, thus, each letter is accompanied by the number of its position in the Hebrew alphabet to make this clearer.

Of course, even if this intense approach to Scriptural exegesis is suspect in the eyes of more orthodox followers of either the Bible or the Old Testament, known as the Tanakh (short for Torah, Nevi'im, u-Ketuvim, The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) to those who do not recognize it as having been updated with a supplement, the mystics who pursued Kabbalistic study cannot be held responsible for the occult dabblings of those who appropriated their tradition to apply it to the Tarot cards.

It may be also be of interest to note that, in Hebrew, Kabbalah is spelled Quoph Beth Lamed Hé, which letters have the respective numerical values of 100, 2, 30, and 5. These add to 137, and this is the integer which is approximated by the inverse of the fine-structure constant, which is the ratio between the speed of an electron orbiting the nucleus of a hydrogen atom in its lowest energy state (in a classical model) and the speed of light.


Later thinkers in the mystical tradition of the Kabbalah eventually proposed other arrangements of the Tree of Life. Isaac ben Solomon Luria developed the arrangement shown at the right. Here, the fact that three paths are horizontal, and seven paths are vertical, has been noted, and the three mother leters and the seven double letters have been placed into correspondence with those paths.

To make this clear, each Hebrew letter has been accompanied by the element, planet, or sign that was placed into correspondence with it, since those correspondences followed this division of the letters.

In addition to a different correspondence of the letters, note that two of the diagonal paths in the diagram are different.

It may be noted that much later, molecular biologist Salvador Edward Luria, who, with Max Delbrück and Alfred D. Hershey won the 1969 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of how viruses caused infection and reproduced themselves, was known for his studies of one group of viruses in particular, bacteriophages, some of which looked like the drawing on the left.



This arrangement, an even later one due to Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna (Vilnius, Lithuania), is depicted here on the left in a form intended to facilitate direct comparisons. Normally, this arrangement is depicted, as on the right, with the circles representing the Sephiroth numbered 6, 9, and 10 moved up one position to highlight the inherent symmetry of the arrangement.

One discussion I recently came across refers to this arrangement as the "Gra" form, and claims it to have been the original form of the Tree of Life.

While it is not the earliest known form, a view held by many modern Qabalists is that this was the original pure form of the Tree of Life before the Fall of Man, with the current effective form being that of Luria.


In the Sepher Yetzirah, one chapter discusses the six permutations of the three distinct letters found in the Tetragrammaton, Yod, He, and Vau, and then the next one discusses the six permutations of the three "mothers" in the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, Mem, and Shin. As we've seen above, the three letters of the Tetragrammaton are used in one scheme of analyzing the Tarot cards, and the three mother letters are significant in some versions of the Tree of Life.

Could these be linked together by finding an equivalence between the three "mothers" of the Hebrew alphabet, and the three letters represented in the Name of God?

One obvious stratagem is foiled, because not only are these two sets of three letters spaced differently in the Hebrew alphabet, but the three "mother" letters are all in odd-numbered positions. This is significant because there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, or 2 times 11, just as in our own alphabet, there are 26 letters, or 2 times 13; in each case, two times a prime number. Thus, a new sequence of letters, in which each letter appears only once, can be generated with decimations of the alphabet by any odd factor modulo the length of the alphabet, except the one equal to half its length.

But multiplying by such a number leaves all the letters in odd positions still in odd positions, and all those in even positions still in even positions. Thus, no linear transformation modulo 26 will bring the three "mother" letters (shown in red in the diagram), all in odd positions (the ones with yellow backgrounds), into coincidence with the three letters of the Tetragrammaton (shown in blue in the diagram), one in an odd position, and two in even positions (the ones with green backgrounds).


On the other hand, if we set The Fool and the Hebrew alphabet aside, it may be significant, and no mere coincidence, that there are 21 visibly different rolls of two identical dice, and 56 visibly different rolls of three identical dice.

Certainly, this is highly encouraging to those who would connect the Tarot to Chess, Checkers, board games with dice such as Backgammon, Snakes and Ladders, and Pachisi and perhaps even Go (Wei Ch'i), Tablut, and Nine Men's Morris together in an interconnected web of shared symbolism.


Another form of divination that involves mathematical patterns is described in a page about Geomancy.


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