As many of you know, the 78 cards of the tarot were assigned to the 32 paths on the qabalistic Tree of Life by the esoteric thinkers of the 19th Century, beginning in earnest with Eliphas Levi and culminating with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and several of its alumni at the end of the millennium. Their main preoccupation involved relating the 22 tarot trump cards (aka Major Arcana) to the 22 paths joining the ten Sephiroth (“emanations” or “points of light”) on the Tree, which is an Hebraic metaphysical model of the interior or concealed Universe. These 22 mystical repositories of occult wisdom (later termed “archetypes” by C. G. Jung) describe the progression by which spirit descends from the most subtle levels of reality accessible to the initiated and illuminated human consciousness, eventually reaching its fullest expression in material form (sometimes described as the “Descent of Spirit into Matter,” or the “Fool’s Journey”). While this model makes for a rewarding philosophical pursuit, I haven’t found it to be of much practical use in divination. Many of the card-to-path attributions seem forced (to the point that I finally created my own alternate version), and the “piling on” of iterations becomes much too complex for easy assimilation into a reading. The orderly treatment of the ten “paths” symbolized by the spheres of the Sephiroth is another matter entirely.
Conveniently, there are ten emanations or spheres (the “points of light” of the title) and four sets of ten numbered “pip” (aka Minor Arcana) cards with which to populate them: one number to a sphere in each of four distinct sub-worlds for a total of 40; the Aces (Ones) through Tens are placed in consecutive order from top to bottom on the Tree as shown in the diagram. Each suit thus begins with the Ace in a formless state of raw potential and ends fully formed but also exhausted of its original creative impulse in the Ten. Along the way they gradually shed their shapeless fluidity and take on the heft and structure of concrete manifestation. The point is that as buoyancy decreases, mobility also declines, until the spark of spirit is essentially “fixed” in matter like a fly trapped in amber. (The court cards are placed on the Tree in different ways that are outside the scope of this article.)
In what I see as the “spiral” evolution of the suits, the Ten of one suit holds the seed of the Ace of the next suit in the series, and it invites the inevitable collapse that makes way for emergence of that subsequent Ace from the ruins. The traditional qabalistic understanding of this progression is that the Wands, representing elemental Fire, are the most numinous or spiritual, while at the other end of the spectrum the Pentacles, signifying Earth energy, are the most solidly material; between the two, the Swords as the second most fluid element, Air, portray the intellectual constructs of the rational mind, while the Cups, as Water, introduce the ideas of friction and hydraulic tension that slow things down and let feeling infuse hard-edged reason with the balm of compassion. The classical Greek version of the chain of elements (which is often under attack by tarot revisionists) is the one that most modern decks follow: Fire/Wands, Water/Cups, Air/Swords and Earth/Pentacles. In practical terms, Wands suggest initiative, enthusiasm and ego; Cups show patience, empathy and emotional depth; Swords are quick-witted, decisive and argumentative; and Pentacles are pragmatic, methodical and saturnine.
Here is a brief keyword summary of the progression of the numbers from One to Ten:
Ace: The urge to begin something.
Two: A period of give-and-take.
Three: A period of growth or progress.
Four: A period of consolidation.
Five: A period of challenge or upset.
Six: A period of harmony restored.
Seven: A new direction or test.
Eight: A period of adjustment or anxiety.
Nine: A period of re-centering or reconciliation.
Ten: A period of rest and relative inactivity foreshadowing a new beginning .
In The Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley presented the “Naples Arrangement, a much more esoteric narrative detailing the progress of the Point as it confronts the exigencies of manifestation