The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life, with its ten spheres and twenty-two pathways, is the central organizing schematic (right) of a profoundly durable symbol system known as Kabbalah. It comes to us by way of the revealed observations of 12th century CE Jewish mystics. To study Kabbalah is to apprentice to the tradition of mystics. What does this imply?
Answer: Mysticism begins with a revealed truth–not reasoned argument. The language of Kabbalah‘s Tree of Life relies upon association and correspondence (the language of symbols)–not the rules of a transformational grammar (like English). At a very deep level, we yearn for reunion with Original Light–a source of origin anticipating Creation itself; a state of being that is equal parts miraculous and beyond words. Meanwhile, in the company of a physical body guided by Waking and Non-Waking experience, we live and ponder under the Created Light of a Sun and a Moon. Like mysticism, there is little that may be termed “linear” in the wanderings of the Kabbalah; it is a unique category of subjective incarnate experience–beyond the purview of science and religion. One is cautioned to prepare accordingly. This may explain the admonition to students–“best to wait until age 40 before studying Kabbalah!” [The requisite age 40 for Kabbalah studies can be found in rabbinical literature as early as the 17th century.]
Since its 12th century emergence in Spain and Southern France, the Kabbalah has become the strategic destination of Western Mystery Tradition wisdom studies. The outer form of Kabbalah is a late arrival compared to Spiritual Alchemy and Astrology which anticipated the codification of the Kabbalah by centuries. The Tarot is a contemporary of medieval Kabbalah. These esoteric communities, especially Astrology and Tarot, are integral to Kabbalah.
This characterization of Kabbalah, with its acknowledgement of hermetic traditions beyond Jewish scholarship, is Theosophical in form. Meaning? Sources of hermetic inquiry (Astrology, Spiritual Alchemy and Tarot) join the orthodox contributions of the Torah and the Zohar to underwrite a latter day Kabbalah that now forms a central part of the Western Mystery Tradition canon. Freemasons in the West have known about Kabbalah for centuries. As many as (14) US presidents have been Masons. As many as (39) signatories to the U. S. Constitution were Masons. (9) of the original (56) signatories to the Declaration of Independence were Masons. Knowledge of the Kabbalah is part of Masonic training.
Today we eschew cultural memory–as we deny power to our institutions. The reasons are legion. Guess what gets lost along the way? Kabbalah–for one. In its place? Kabbalah–re-emerges by another path–this time, beyond the walls once traveled by Caesar.
If today’s social and political malaise, in part, reflects a growing concern for human determined Climate peril–another peril may loom: the hollowing out of heaven! Mass extinctions may not be limited to the natural kingdom on Earth.
Connecting Kether, the Ascendant and The Fool
Ascendant. This astrological term refers to a specific point on the circle of the horoscope. If the horoscope were a clock, the exact placement of the Ascendant would be 9:00. If the horoscope were a compass, the Ascendant would represent East. [Really? In the West don’t we associate 9:00 with West, not East? We do. A great topic for another day.] At the moment of one’s birth the sign of the Zodiac to appear on the Eastern horizon at sunrise defines one’s natal Ascendant.
A horoscope as a circle is also divided into “houses”. There are (12) houses in a horoscope–which happens to correspond with the number of hours of the clock face–and the months in a year. There are also (12) signs in the mythic Zodiac. The word “horoscope” translates as horo-scope—or hourly view. All this attention to Time is unique to Astrology when compared to Tarot or Spiritual Alchemy—or the Tree of Life. What to infer? Earth! Our incarnation into Earth history is all about Time–atomic, subjective, geological, dream, objective– Time.
The Ascendant also marks one boundary of the 1st house of the horoscope–a boundary separating the 1st house from the 12th house of the horoscope—endings and beginnings. The 1st house, by tradition, is associated with Aries, and by extension, Mars—the planet identified as the ruler of Aries. Given Mars–the element we can associate with the Ascendant is Fire.
Summary: the Ascendant of astrology and the 1st house of the horoscope, is one key association. Other correspondences include East, the first light of day, Aries, Mars, Fire and Earthbound Time.
The Fool. The Tarot is a deck of cards comprised of (78) cards and two groups– Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. [The term, Arcana, is often translated as “mysteries”.] The Major Arcana are (22) in number; there are (56) Minor Arcana. The first card of the Major Arcana is titled “The Fool”. Each Major Arcana is also associated with a number and a Hebrew letter. The Fool is associated with the number Zero, and the Hebrew letter Aleph–which happens to be the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see lower right region of The Fool).
The first house in the horoscope, the house defining the Ascendant, is associated with One–not Zero. The Fool—while the “first” Major Arcana–is linked to Zero (see lower left region of the card above). We will see in a moment, Kether–the “first sphere” on the Tree of Life is associated with One–not Zero. Ascendant: One. The Fool: Zero. Kether: One.
Summary: The Fool is associated with the number Zero, the planet Uranus and the element Air. Contrast the Ascendant: the number One, the sign Aries, the planet Mars–and Fire.
Kether is the first sphere at the top of the Tree of Life and it is often translated as “Crown”. We associate “Crown” with adornment–to the top of one’s head.
Chakras may come to mind. The topmost Chakra, like Kether, is also known as “Crown”. The Crown Chakra (“Sahashara”) is located at the top of the head (just above the Third Eye Chakra). Are the spheres of the Tree of Life similar to Chakras?
Chakras represent the energy centers of one’s astral body–located along the spine. The spheres upon the Tree of Life do not correspond to the body.
The Tree of Life is an energetic map of the Cosmos. There are material and metaphysical components to Cosmos, of course. And the physical dimension of Cosmos appears on the Tree of Life–but not as Kether. Time and Matter–are depicted as the bottom most sphere—as Malkuth.
If we wanted to explore Chakras on the Tree of Life we would look to Malkuth, not Kether.
Does this mean (9) of the (10) spheres on Tree of Life are metaphysical (weightless and invisible) in nature? Yes.
What role for Kether? Answer: Original Light! Kether is aboriginal–it anticipates Creation. The term “Crown” is too anthropomorphic. One does not aspire to Kether–anymore than the butterfly aspires to the caterpillar. Kether is a mystery. Its placement on the Tree of Life is a hint: before we encounter Wisdom (sphere (2) Chokmah) or Understanding (sphere (3) Binah)–Kether reigns.
There is an astrological and elemental legacy to Kether—the planet Uranus (sometimes Pluto) and the element Air. In these simple terms, The Fool, more than the Ascendant of the horoscope–corresponds to Kether. In the Old Testament, we learn Moses could not look upon G-d* directly. We can see in the Tarot, The Fool is facing away from a light source in the upper right region of the card. We may infer–the “Sun” depicted in The Fool arcanum is “Original Light”— it is not yellow light, but brilliant white signifying Kether. Throughout the Major Arcanum the Sun is otherwise portrayed as yellow light (refer to Major Arcana 6, 13, 18 and 19). [Note: All Tarot images mentioned in the Astrologers’ Folio draw upon the Tarot deck published by B.O.T.A. (Builders of the Adytum).]
*Omitting the letter “o” to complete the spelling of “God” at one time was deemed an act of hubris and thereby to be avoided. The humbler abbreviation, “G-d”, for millenia–has been the more modest convention.
Summary: Kether is not an objective or a place to land. It is a treasured mystery. And like good treasure it is well hidden–it cannot be known or apprehended directly. The associations with the planet Uranus and the element of Air, even the number One–on some level, is likely gratuitous. It implies a proximity with human experience that is not possible nor was it intended by the first Rabbis to contemplate Kabbalah.
We close this refelction with a verse from Ecclesiastes–a Wisdom Book of the Old Testament.
“That which has been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and G-d requires that which is past.” Ecclesiastes 3:15
Beyond the beckoning of science and religion Kabbalah is all about becoming—not arriving!
We bid you peace through practice,
To accompany this post we refer you to a beautiful musical meditation produced by Ana B’Ko’ach (A Kabbalistic Prayer) (2 Versions – Music & Acapella). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EdL_TLbHsg
A Reference of symbols, charts and definitions important to Western Mystery Tradition studies is listed as Post No. 900. Enter “900” in the Search box to be directed to this location.
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