Hebrew Alphabet - AlefBeit
Number of Hebrew letters
At the more obvious and literal level, there are of course precisely twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, beginning with Alef, and ending with Tav. It is, it may be of interest, precisely the common opening and the various endings of the three alphabets of the educated European from earlier times - namely the common (vulgar) Latin, the philosophical-scientific Greek, and the spiritual Hebrew, that combined formed that most wonderful word 'AZΩTh'.
The Hebrew letters are transliterated in various ways, such as the first letter being 'named' as either Alef or Aleph. The letters are named below, in sequence, according to the most standard Jewish transliteration fashion. A number of books on Tarot use the earlier common form also adopted by the Golden Dawn.
Alef, Beit, Gimel, Dalet, Heh, Vav, Zain, Heth, Tet, Yod, Kaf, Lamed, Mem, Nun, Samek, Ayin, Peh, Tzadi, Kof, Resh, Shin, Tav.
Each of these has three aspects of central importance also mentioned in the Sefer Yetzirah: their shape or image; their voiced sound; and their number value.
Mother, Double, and Single letters
Hebrew letters, in addition to also being used as numerals, have long been divided into three sections. Some of these divisions are made on linguistic grounds (or, rather, phonetic). For example, the letter Bet has two vocalisations, corresponding to our 'B' and 'v'. Both of these are bilabial - the sound arises from the two lips - one being plosive (B), the other fricative (V).
There are seven such letters that have a plosive and fricative form (see green arrows below). One of these, Resh, tending to have 'lost' its plosive aspect. As its plosive form is included in written form in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Old Testament), it remains a sacred and utilized letter.
Of the remaining letters, three have been designated mother letters (see red arrows below), reasons for which are only suggested by various exegesis. This leaves twelve letters to be deemed 'single'.
Letters of the Hebrew Alphabet:
Some interesting characteristic of showing all the possible letter-form is that we can easily see not only that there are twenty-two, but that these are increased in number to twenty-seven when we consider their final form (ie, if the letter occurs at the end of a word, it changes shape to the from below the dotted line), and a total of thirty-six letter-images arises when we list all their dageshed (the plosive dot) renditions. For those who are Hebrew literate, it may be worth noting that the various depictions of Shin not here included
Hebrew letters as numbers and the AIK BKR
There are two important numerical aspects related to Hebrew letters. One if these is their ordinal value. This refers to the value of each letter's relative position in the sequence. For example, Peh is 17th letter.
The other is the cardinal value of the letter. In other words, its value when the letter is used as number. In this case, Peh (to use the same example) has a value of 80.
The Nine Chambers (so called due to its nine cells) or AIK BKR, named after the first six letters in these chambers (remembering that Hebrew is read right-to-left) easily shows the cardinal value of each letter and its relation to others.
For the sake of clarity, the mother letters are here depicted red, and the double letters are each shown in their plosive form - with the dagesh of central dot.
Shin • Lamed • Gimel
300 • 030 • 003
Resh • Kaf • Beit
200 • 020 • 002
Kof • Yod • Alef
100 • 010 • 001
600 • 060 • 006
500 • 050 • 005
400 • 040 • 004
900 • 090 • 009
800 • 080 • 008
700 • 070 • 007
AIK BKR - Table of Nine Chambers
These two numerical methods can at times lead to some confusion. Is Kaf eleven or twenty? This is, however, in practise not as confusing as may at first appear. The value of the letter is in every case taken as its cardinal value (Kaf is 20), and in eleventh place.
Hebrew letters and Tarot
Hebrew letters have explicitly been linked in some way or other to Tarot since M. Le C. de M.*** (Monsieur le Comte de Mellet) noted that the Atouts and the Hebrew alphabet have the same number.
It was not, however, until Eliphas Levi that specific correlations were attributed. Since then, various correlations have been made, one of the popular ones discussed on Hebrew letters: Golden Dawn-type correlations.
It may also be worth mentioning that in Mark Filipas's Alphabetic Masquerade is suggested that the sequence forms an abecederium reflecting the illustration of words and concepts in late mediæval Hebrew and, in some cases, an isomorphism between card and image of the Hebrew letter, suggesting that perhaps the alphabet were instrumental in both the sequencing and design of the cards. This thesis has not met with general approval, with some as-yet-to-be substantiated claims that alternate sequences may be reached for the whole trump sequence by similar procedures.