relationship of the symbolism of the wheel with the Tarot is obvious. Indeed,
the word taro is constituted of a syllabic inversion: this cryptogrammatic
name means simply rota, the Latin for "wheel."1
As we know, the symbolic code of the Tarot has medieval origins (alchemical,
numerological, cabalistic, astrological), although it is but the updated
form-in its space and its time-that is taken by the primordial tradition
with a view to self-expression: as is also the case with the historical
cabala, arising in Spain in the thirteenth century with the apparition
of the schools that give birth to the Zohar, the basic book in cabalistic
The Tarot is also a book that, instead of having pages printed with words,
is expressed through symbols impressed on a series of plates or cards.
In it is ordered a complete cosmology, and it constitutes a model of the
universe, analogous to the same, constructed with its same structure, hence
the magical, initiatory power traditionally attributed to it. In any case,
it is a matter of a language related to knowledge, which is manifested
on sundry levels and in various manners. The Tarot is that language in
the manifestation of knowledge, and therefore the vehicle expressing a
wisdom implicitly contained in it. It is a compendium of active science,
being the messenger of an energy that gives it its raison d'être,
and that of course transcends it. This, without taking into account its
action as promoter of images and fecundator of visions.
It is not our purpose, in this work, to speak of the Tarot in the sense of giving a successive explanation of its parts. Rather we mean to suggest, explain, and order its utterly close relationship with the symbolism of the cosmic wheel. The cabala seeks to do the same: indeed, the latter, as well, through the universal model called-as in other traditions-the tree of life, gives us the view of a structure of the cosmos valid for every time and place, the smallest as well as the greatest. This tree, this diagram, is composed of ten numerals, or "numerations," called sephiroth, which are ten other states of a being-one, or the development of the manifested multiplicity of the entire cosmos from a point of departure in the original unity.
Each thing has nine reflections of itself, says the Cabalistic tradition, and those reflections or aspects of the original oneness, added to itself (1 + 9 = 10), form a whole, or a complete cycle, which is both that of the whole universe, and the particularized cycle of each one of its parts. The symbolic code of the arithmetic of Pythagoras says nothing else, and it calls this cycle of the nine first numbers that of the "natural numbers," to which all possible numbers can be reduced. This basic numerical code is fundamental, for it synthesizes all of the possibilities of the series, and creates a system with which it is possible to enumerate all things. To count all things is to give them life, to name them. And it goes without saying that the arithmetic to which we refer is very different from its exclusively quantitative application, which is almost the only one we know if we have been born into modern society. Quite the contrary, the numerical code expresses universal principles or ideas, which each digit manifests in its manner-and the same difference that obtains among them (for example, the unit with respect to the binarium, the binariium referred to the triad) only signals a conceptual variety, or the distinct modalities of one and the same energy, which is precisely the one described in the numerical series.
This arithmetical symbolical model, which at the same time is analogous and complementary to the geometrical code, grants us our limitlessly many numerical possibilities, through all of the possible combinations of the natural digits with one another, that is, the enumerable universe of the innumerable, or a series of limitlessly many infinitudes. This closed and ordered space, seemingly homogeneous, created by the arithmetical and geometrical system itself, would be the representation or the manner of apprehending and fixing the cosmos through a view that would have or that would reflect characteristics corresponding to those of the cosmos itself-that is, that would be its model. This would be tantamount to asserting that the numbers are originally sacred, hence the "magical" character with which they are invested still today by various bodies of folklore, and, especially, are a different thing from the reading of them that we make today.
It is unnecessary to insist on the fact that the idea of number is associated with that of the module, and that of the "measure"-as well as with that of balance, and especially, harmony, both latter ideas being closely connected with the universal ideas or concepts expressed by the musical scale. On the other hand, let us add that, in the Jewish cabala, each letter of the alphabet (as in Islamic and Greek esoterism)-has a numerical correspondence-and that together letters and numbers constitute the science of names.3 And just as, in the mutual and reciprocal relations among the nine primary numbers, everything enumerable can be numbered, so also with the twenty-two letters or keys of the Hebrew alphabet, combined with one another, everything namable can be named. Or to put it another way, the entire world can be named, since everything manifest has a name-the very fact of its manifestation is a sign or name-not, of course, what cannot be named, what has no name, the immanifest, that which is beyond the code or language itself. Nevertheless, that which any code, or language, or world, or system does nothing but implicitly express does have a name, since every manifestation is a concretion, or a materialization, of the original immanifestation. This is the case with act in respect of potency.4
The translation of the Hebrew word kabalah is "tradition"--more especially, a "handing down" of something to be "received," a message or legacy that can be "accepted." This inheritance is not referred to a deposit of the dead letter, or to collections of moral aphorisms, or to rites devoid of content, or even to determinate usages and customs, or norms of conduct and forms of life. It is not the preservation of a folklore, nor that of a religion, much less the property of a determinate people or cenacle, whatever the fanaticism they embody. The true traditional axis, and authentic legacy, the treasure that our forebears, the founders of the peoples, have left us, is their conception of the world: the knowledge of other realities, which we children of this era cannot see today, lost as it were in sleep, very confused and annoyed, and completely ignorant. And although the initiatory chain has been maintained uninterrupted to our own days, these cognitions seem almost definitively lost, or preserved in very occult form in little groups. Obviously this legacy-expressed by all of those that the peoples have called wise, or sages, in all eras-has no connection with a literal version of things such as the one that contemporary "science" has inculcated in us. Nor has it anything to do with an obdurately materialized conception suggesting infantile attitudes. Still less does it involve sociopolitical, economic, sentimental, or competitive frameworks of any kind. We can only say that contemporary Western education is designed to exalt the ego. And by way of believing that the dream that is our existence , which we suppose to be a unique, indispensable reality in the universe-just as we suppose our clothes, masks, disguises, and circumstances to be ourselves-we identify with this, and fail to notice that we are conditioned, or solidified, amidst the four walls of a prison, a confusion, an amorphous milieu from which there is no exit. To put an and to this imprisonment of the mind, tradition comes as a messenger or intermediary (god, archangel, angel, active force of tradition itself), in this case under the form of the arithmetical and geometrical code, the alphabetical system, the Tarot, the diagram of the sephirotic tree of life, or the model of the cosmic wheel.
It is important to insist that all of these systems5 are universal models, and therefore analogous to what they represent; and that all of them have been designed as vehicles for emerging from the cosmos itself. Or to put it another way: knowledge of a cosmogony-not in a "rational" form, but assuming that life and ourselves are this knowledge6-the incarnation of this knowledge, identification with the universe (in the sense of being a single world or attaining a state of primordial virginity), are the antecedent steps for arriving at what is beyond the cosmos, the supracosmic. This is precisely what the traditions unanimously affirm: that their legacy has been revealed to them, and that they transmit it; that their cosmic model has been inspired in them; and that knowledge of this model (that is, of all things) is not their own, but on the contrary, has nonhuman origins, and the gods have given it to us as an organized means, a ladder, in order that communication between them and us may be possible. This ladder, this bridge, this axis, would be the tradition itself, which, through its structures, systems, models, rites, and symbols could effect a work of fission or fracture, and unite or bind a profane or ordinary space with another, sacred or significative, one. This is precisely the object adopted by every particular tradition, and its very raison d'être: that of establishing contact between heaven and earth, an imperious necessity that all peoples have experienced and realized in tandem with knowledge of the revelatory secrets of the cosmogony.
This reality touches us most surely, for, being entirely learned, and furthermore it being ourselves who know it, the cultural models in which we have been brought up-and which have come to be our personality by identification with them-are a limit and a condition, on one side, and a way out on the other, for they constitute originally a ladder for transcending profane space and arriving at the knowledge of another, different space. The difference to which we refer is great-as great as between what is "on this side" and what is "beyond." Hence too, it has always and unanimously been affirmed that cultural origins, that is, the civilization of the peoples (including usages and customs, plastic arts, dance and architecture, craft, poetry, agriculture, rites, clothing, morals, norms of behavior, taboos, and so on) recognize a direct filiation with the "beyond," with the nonhuman, with the mysterious gods who people and re-create the universe, as if they were a divine troop.
This militia of invisible energies nevertheless carries names. The investigation of these names leads us to a knowledge of the beings that have them: that is, to identification with the energies they represent. The science of names, then, would be the knowledge of these invisible, specific energies that shape the world. And through this knowledge we would arrive at the sublimation of these energies, all the way to their identification with what has no name (from the audible to the inaudible), that which no one has ever seen, or will ever be able to see-since its appprehension has nothing to do with the senses-and of which there can never be an image: and not because of any difficulty within the one enunciating it, or because of any incomprehension on the part of the one hearing it, but by its very nonhuman (if we might so say) nature, which assures it that every translation brought to the human plane be merely a reflection, and accordingly an inversion as well, or even more or less of a distorted projection. In reality, these gods or divine names are nothing other than the expression of universal principles. And their knowledge would be simultaneous with identification with the energies that they symbolize; or, to put it another way, with the incarnation of the emanations that they name or list.
This process of knowledge, or initiation into science, or into art, transforms the subject. And by the way of this transmutation of energies, it ascends the rungs in the cognoscitive ladder, in ordered sequence, making stops along the ascent that symbolize determinate cosmic energies which are broader and broader along the lengthy path leading to evolution itself, by means of a new apprenticeship. After all, if everything is learned, we must demolish that which has constituted our illusion concerning the "personhood" that we possess-extracted from here and there, the fruit of chance, and absolutely conditioned by geographical, historical, political, religious, racial, economic, social, cultural, physical, national, provincial, family, and so on, situations-and build a new structure (put off the old person and accept the new person) through which knowledge may be grasped. Destroy in order to build. Actually, this double process is simultaneous, since in giving up certain things we clear out the mental space necessary for learning other, new things, or to put it in a different way: we assume the fact that a reaction always follows an action, and that this is the fundamental rite of life. This gradual process of the deconditioning of a culture, or better, of the way we see that culture, in order to learn another reading of the same-in any case, much more bound to its original prototype, the reflection of an eternal archetype-is tantamount to the quest for and attainment of liberty. And this is the goal aimed at by all of the traditions, through their esoteric models. Nothing else is symbolized by the Tarot, the cabala, and the cosmic model of the wheel.
As for the Tarot, it consists of seventy-eight symbolic plates or cards, models that, in combination and mixture, create a plane or focus of reality. This point of view is variable because it is limitless, inasmuch as the various combinations of card configure, each time, a particularized situation, analogous to that of each point on the periphery of our model of the wheel in relation to the central immobility. These images, simultaneously created with the plane of a combination, shape diverse situations, or articulate a language in which those situations are expressed, and which any person disposed to hear will listen. For this, antecedently, the patient, tedious apprenticeship of this code is necessary; but that code is revealed in proportion to our sounding the depths of its interior.
With respect to the sephirotic tree of the cabala, the same thing happens: the relations and transpositions, the combinations and articulations of the sephiroth7 that constitute the diagram of the tree of life, produce a horizontal field or space appropriate for the vertical transcendent energies, existing in immanent form in every code or manifestation, to be scattered, and to produce a reaction that returns upon the person who is realizing a task or is dedicated to the study, apprenticeship, and knowledge of these prototypal energies or universal ideas, expressed by the numbers, the letters of the alphabet, and the sephiroth.
The symbolico-cosmic system of the Tarot, its seventy-eight cards, is subdivided into three packets called greater arcana, lesser arcana, and court cards (which we could call groups a, b, and c; and the respective numbers of these cuts are twenty-two, forty, and sixteen. The greater arcana themselves constitute an introduction to and synthesis of this system. Its twenty-two figures are numbered successively from one to twenty-one,8 with one final card remaining without a number (called "wild"), which can be ranged at the beginning or at the end of the series, and which for some persons plays the role of zero, and in any case that of the beginning and the end: the alpha and omega of every circular schema, closed upon itself, as is the model of the cosmic wheel. Each of these cards has a different name and graphic symbol.
Then come the lesser arcana, which also constitute a separate whole, despite their reference to the other two cuts of cards. Their number is forty, in a series that goes from one to ten in each of four colors or signs, called clubs, spades, bowls (equivalent to hearts), and coins (gold coins, equivalent to diamonds). This series from one to ten must be related with Pythagoras' system, and with the ten sephiroth or divine emanations of the cabala.9 As for the four "colors," they are closely bound to any quadruple view of the cycle, whether it be that of the apparent movement of the sun in the course of the day, or of the year, or the entire course of a manvantara or cycle of a humanity. Likewise they are to be linked with the four elements, and with the three initiatory degrees (apprentice, companion, and master) in the process of knowledge, which degrees, added to the ordinary or profane state, will constitute an intervaled circuit, analogous, as we shall see presently, to the quadruple (in planes or worlds) division applied to the sephirotic diagram.
Finally, there remains a cut of sixteen cards, divided into the same four colors as the lesser arcana: clubs, spades, bowls, and coins, but also differentiated by a quadruple hierarchy, symbolized by the king, the queen, the horse or knight, and the jack or valet. The four colors and four hierarchies must be related with the cabalistic worlds or planes, just as with any reference to the number four, to the cross and the square, which are what mark off and delimit a plane or world in fixing it, manifesting it, creating in in this way. Let us now look at other mutual relations between the Tarot and the cabala.
|1||The final t is added for the sake of circularity, a return to the beginning.|
|2||It is very important to notice that, while the cabala is the esoteric expression of Judaism and as such has no connection with the Hermetic tradition, Hermetism, on the contrary, "utilizes," if we may so speak, numerous cabalistic elements, which has given rise to what is called the Christian cabala. On the other hand, one meets antecedents to the cabala from the third centry onward, and just so, it is thought that the Zohar began to be redacted at that time. The Pythagoreans and other Greek schools used transposition of letters and numerical calculations, and have been considered as forerunners of the cabalists. This way of working has passed from antiquity to today, and is performed by various gnostic groups. We should also say that the "Hermetic initiation" corresponds to the minor or lesser mysteries, a step where the idea of an instruction and order is really necessary, and which must be completed with the coronation of the greater mysteries, coincident with the effective apparition of the internal master, and the return to the primordial state, which is equivalent to the "earthly Paradise," that is, to the return to the center, and to the actualization of the potential concealed in the human state.|
|3||Which, according to Plato in the Cratylus, is "no light task."|
|4||The cosmos, and entire manifestation, constitute a language, and accordingly, a poetics. Also a code to be deciphered, which is tantamount to saying: an adventure. A deed in which everything is included. The dance that Shiva everlastingly dances.|
|5||Having no connection with philosophical rational classification, which by its very origin and structure is antimetaphysical.|
|6||Nothing is more certain than the sentence that says: "One is what one knows."|
|7||The translation of sephirah, whose plural is sephiroth, is "number," or "determination." Ophan is "wheel," as archetype of the worlds. We must recall that this latter is also the designation of the angel Metatron, as universal mediator and messenger of the plenitude of God or of the divine energies, and thereby as symbol of the universal soul.|
|8||It is also said that each of them corresponds to a century of our era.|
|9||The Sepher Yetsirah ("Book of the Formations"), which together with the Zohar (Book of Splendor) constitutes the fundamental sacred book of the cabala, says expressly on this point: "They are not eleven, they are ten, they are not nine, they are ten."|