We first see these ideas being used together in the 1800’s when Eliphas Levi published a book describing the relationship of the 22 cards of the Major Arcana with the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, and the 4 suits of the tarot corresponding to the Tetragrammaton (the 4 lettered, Hebrew name of God). This article is going to be an attempt to briefly explain the connections between Kabbalah, and specifically the Tree of Life, with the Tarot.
What is the Tree of Life?
To put it in somewhat simple terms, the Tree of Life is a diagram that describes the universal laws of reality. Like a fractal, the Tree of Life is an eternal emanation of the divine principle: it is macrocosm and microcosm. It lives and breathes within each and every human being, and together, we all form the branches of its tree. Its echo exists both within us and without.
The sinewy pathways woven by its branches and its roots is how spirit and energy travels in order to make itself manifest as matter. If you follow its path downwards, you find the body and our unconscious, and if you follow it upwards, you find the divine source of the soul and our higher selves. It is the blueprint for creation; and it is a metaphor for the richness of our inner lives.
The entire diagram consists of 10 nodes and 22 paths that connect each of the nodes. There are many correspondences between each and every one of these nodes and paths, but we will keep our discussion of them limited to the tarot. We humbly admit that whatever attempt we make to explain and decipher the Tree of Life, a deeply complex occult subject, will always come short.
In the following article, we're going to be using the Arcana Iris Sacra to illustrate the relationship between the tree of life and tarot.
The Major Arcana: The 22 Paths of the Tree of Life and the Tarot
The Tree of Life consists of 10 nodes and 22 pathways between the nodes. For the Major Arcana, we’ll focus on the 22 pathways. We’ll discuss the nodes in the next section of the article, when we talk about the Minor Arcana.
The paths connecting one node to another are paths represent the lessons learned on one’s journey or the spiritual requirements needed to traverse to the next node. Collectively, these 22 paths are known as the Path of the Serpent, and represents the journey of the seeker that longs to return to the divine. As the serpent travels along this path, it also undergoes the healing of the spirit. One treads the Path through conscious self development of one’s internal world.
If you’re already well versed in tarot, you may already know that the Major Arcana reflects something known as the Fool’s Journey. The 22 paths of the Tree of Life are just another lens through which to see the Fool’s Journey. These cards tell the story of humanity’s spiritual evolution into enlightenment and individuation, or in allegorical terms, they represent the return of the soul from matter to the divine through conscious cultivation of the self. If you're familiar with Labyrinthos' philosophy regarding tarot, this will all sound very familiar to you.
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The Tree of Life and Tarot: Major Arcana Diagram
The Paths of the Tree of Life and Tarot Major Arcana
The Major Arcana and the Path of the Serpent Correspondences is detailed in this table below.
|Tarot Card||Letter||Meaning||Symbolic Meaning|
|High Priestess||Gimel||Camel||Lifting Up, Unconscious|
|Hierophant||Vau||Hook, Nail||Connections, Secure|
|Lovers||Zayin||Sword||Discernment, Cut Off|
|Chariot||Chet||Field, Fence||Separate, Enclose|
|Hermit||Yod||Closed Hand||Deed, Work|
|Wheel of Fortune||Kaph||Open Hand||Cover, Grasp|
|Justice||Lamed||Goad, Staff||Prod, Tongue|
|Hanged Man||Mem||Water||Overpower, Reversal|
|Death||Nun||Fruit, Fish||Sprouting, Activity, Life|
|Temperance||Samech||Tent, Prop||Support, Doctrine|
|Tower||Phe||Throat, Mouth||Speak, Word|
|Moon||Quoph||Back of Head||Hidden, Behind|
|World||Tav||Sign, Cross||Covenant, Seal, Truth|
The Tree of Life and Tarot: The Major Arcana Correspondences Infographic
The Minor Arcana: The Four Letters and Four Worlds
In the Kabbalah, there are four worlds, each of which correspond with a letter in the name of god, as well as a suit in the minor arcana of the tarot. Each of the Worlds are connected with one another, so that the nodes of one world interlock with another in order to create a ladder structure that connects the material world and the world of the divine. This is called Jacob’s Ladder, a staircase from earth into heaven, which came to the biblical Jacob in a dream. Together, these four worlds are represented by the Minor Arcana. At the bottom of this ladder, is the element of earth as the pentacles, and at the top of the ladder is the element of fire and the wands.
The 10 Nodes of the Tree of Life and Tarot
The nodes of the Tree of Life represent different aspects of God, the self, or the psyche. They are known in the Kabbalah as the sephiroth, individually as the sephirah. The top of the Tree of Life is closest to God, and as one travels down the Tree of Life, we come closer and closer to manifestation. If it helps, we can imagine the sephiroth as a series of mirrors, reflecting light from the top to the bottom. The light itself is not changed, but it shines just a bit more dimly at the bottom than it does up top.
You’ll see that the numbers on each world correspond with a card in the minor arcana. Starting with the world of emanation, we travel through the cards, and go from the aces to the tens. Then, we start all over again, but in the ace of the next world. So from the 10 of wands, we move to the ace of chalices. From the 10 of chalices, we move to the ace of swords. And from the 10 of swords, we move to the ace of disks.
This ends at the 10 of disks, where matter has found its home. Simultaneously, the ace of wands is closest to the divine.
The Nodes of Tree of Life and Tarot Minor Arcana Numbers
The Sephiroth and their numerical correspondences are listed below.
|Kether||Ace||Crown||closest to god, unity, eternal source, pureness, potential|
|Chokmah||2||Wisdom||divine masculine, expression of full power of their suit, insight|
|Binah||3||Understanding||divine feminine, harmony, contemplation|
|Chesed||4||Mercy||stability, discipline, structure, form|
|Geburah||5||Severity||destruction, motion, change, upheaval, chaos|
|Tiphareth||6||Beauty||consciousness, balance, integration, connecting divine and physical|
|Netzach||7||Victory||strength, determination, concentration|
|Hod||8||Splendor||communication, expression of energy, reasoning, action, movement|
|Yesod||9||Foundation||refinement, reflection, imagination|
|Malkuth||10||Kingdom||the physical world, energies manifest, tangible form of all emanations|
The Tree of Life and Tarot: The Minor Arcana Infographic
The Court Cards and the Tree of Life
You may be wondering where the court cards are. In short, they are more connected with astrology, and we’ll cover them in another post. In fact, the entire tarot deck, and especially the Minor Arcana have deep astrological correspondences that we’d like to discuss. Stay tuned!