As I continued to look for subtle patterns in the multi-faceted relationship between the cards of the Minor Arcana, I began thinking about the flow of elemental energy on the qabalistic Tree of Life. In the most commonly applied model, that flow follows the top-to-bottom Path of the Lightning Flash or Flaming Sword, with the Ace emerging from the most exalted spiritual level as the purest, least impeded expression (or “root”) of the energy of a suit and the Ten depositing that energy at the base of the Tree in its most concrete and thus most encumbered form. This is a step-wise process that evolves from First Principals to a fully mature state of completion in ten “emanations,” but it is also one of devolution: the “Descent of Spirit into Matter.” (Aleister Crowley had an exquisitely nuanced sense of this interplay of forces; in his telling commentary on the 9 of Disks, he observed “As a general remark, one may say that the multiplication of a symbol of Energy always tends to degrade its essential meaning, as well as to complicate it.”) Going in the opposite direction, the Path of the Serpent offers a way to transcend the bonds of material immersion (the Way of Return) by “rising on the planes,” and a major milestone on that route is achieving communion with one’s Higher Self (in more arcane and mystical terms, the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”) near the midpoint of the Tree.
Obviously, because the Tree is a living model of the Universe and not simply a static theoretical structure (think of it as an unquenchable fountain that constantly replenishes itself), there are energies continuously moving down it that must be negotiated as one attempts to ascend, much like “tacking into the wind” on a sailboat. The way is not intended to be easy. But in considering that one is trying to remold the Lower Self into a more refined form by attuning the mundane nature to the ideal, I’ve been wondering whether there might be a way to “play both ends against the middle.” That the Ten of any suit is also the origin for a cyclical “refresh” of the exhausted elemental energy in the Ace is well known (in my system – arrived at independently of Jodorowsky’s – it resurfaces in the Ace of the following suit; however, that’s a separate topic). But suppose we work in a similar way with the rest of the cards? There could be a less obvious affinity between the Twos and Nines, the Threes and Eights, the Fours and Sevens and the Fives and Sixes that augments convergence upon that central goal, a kind of metaphysical ligature that facilitates “boot-strapping” one’s way up the Tree.
Let’s look first at the “number-theory” model that I’ve developed over the years for my own use from various sources, primarily qabalistic and Pythagorean. It has something in common with Crowley’s “Naples Arrangement” but is less esoteric in tone.
Ace: A period of preparing to begin.
Two: A period of commencement and compromise.
Three: A period of growth and progress.
Four: A period of consolidation.
Five: A period of challenge and upset.
Six: A period of harmony restored.
Seven: A period of pursuing and testing new options.
Eight: A period of adjustment and anxiety.
Nine: A period of re-centering and reconciliation.
Ten: A period of rest and relative inactivity.
In agricultural terms, the Ace represents “sowing” (or at least buying the seed) and the Ten “harvesting;” everything in between is “nurturing.” The next step is to blend the influences of opposing pairs to see what might be gleaned from their interaction:
The Ten resembles a fallow field that awaits replanting while the Ace represents germination of the seed; bringing the two together begins the process of regeneration.
The Nine “reels in” stray energies that have wandered off the path and reconstitutes them, while the Two represents the arc of a moving pendulum that constantly seeks its rest; the common theme is one of conservation of energy by cancelling out or reconciling wasteful extremes.
The Eight responds to and attempts to compensate for the loss of balance inherent in the Seven, while the Three “gets off the treadmill” and departs the monotonous groove worn by the Two; they are similar in that they are both reactionary and remedial in nature.
The Seven vacates the “safe haven” implied by the Six in search of fresh insights and experiences, while the Four represents an earlier version of that sanctuary that has become stuffy and ripe for an “airing-out” by the Five; they both partake of a powerful urge to escape stultifying inertia, one having already left and the other with one foot out the door.
The Six is both redemptive and generative, welcoming and harmonizing the incoming dissonance of the Five and launching the outgoing explorations of the Seven. (As an aside, in playing-card divination, the Six is sometimes called a “path” and Crowley alluded to it as a temporary “rest stop” along the way; I prefer to see it as a “crossroads.”) The Five, on the other hand, is all “push,” furnishing the iron fist to the Six’s velvet glove.
The really interesting thing is that, as I mentioned in a previous post, each of these numerical pairs adds up to 11, which reduces numerologically to 2, the number of the High Priestess. That card occupies the path on the Tree that represents the next phase of direct “spiritual repatriation” once the Higher Self has been engaged, and it is a daunting path indeed. There is a book title by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein that aptly summarizes the role of the High Priestess as gatekeeper to the Higher Mysteries: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. This notion is a far cry from the usual benign personality ascribed to the Priestess, but it is what one might expect in approaching the Abyss and provides a plausible rallying point for the “testing” action of the numerical pairs as agents for sublimation. I also find it instructive that the 11th trump of the Thoth deck, Lust (otherwise known as Fortitude in its original Tarot de Marseille incarnation and later as Strength), when placed on the Tree in Crowley’s system, appears on the first horizontal path crossing the vertical route of the High Priestess in its upward trajectory. It strikes me that this solar card – while it may simply reflect the aspirant’s resolve to succeed – is the first hurdle that the lunar Priestess must surmount on her way to the fount of Spirit, implying a test of Will and the temptations of Ego that may compromise the sanctity of her mission
These connections make little sense if one tries to map them on the Tree, but there are other ways to represent them graphically.
I have no idea whether this adds anything useful to the conversation, but I do know it is absorbing food for thought. If I squint, it looks remarkably like a snowflake . . .