Tree of Life

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Tree of Life
Athanasius Kircher's version
based on Philippe d'Aquin's 1625
Tree of the Kabbalah

The Tree of Life is perhaps the most widely recognized symbol or glyph of the Kabbalah. Its relationship to Tarot appears as a late innovation dating from the second half of the 19th century. For many students of Tarot, especially for those who take on board the differently suggested correlations made by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (GD) and its derivatives, or the Ordre Kabbalistique de la Rose Croix (OKRC), such attributions are considered of great importance.

Most books in the English language tend to take as a basis the correlations and glyph presented by the GD. The Glyph of the Tree of Life as presented to the right is itself the most common rendition in books on Tarot. It appears to have been derived from the work of Anathasius Kircher, which was itself apparently based on a depiction of the Tree of Life by Philippe d'Aquin in his 1625 Interpretation of the Tree of the Kabbalah, itself having precisely twenty connections or 'paths'. Other early and later glyphs of the Tree of Life similarly have various numbers of connections or, when these number twenty-two, placed differently to the manner commonly accepted by Tarot authors.


The Tree of Life is constructed from ten sefirot (at times adding another, not consistently accepted as a sefirah, Da'at).

Sometimes, a number of joining lines or 'paths' link these Sefirot, the number varying with authors, though popular versions often include, in different representations, twenty-two such 'paths'. The number twenty-two is often chosen as it can then reflect the number of letters in the Hebrew alef-beit (alphabet).

Various attributions to these 'paths' have been made in quite distinct ways by various individuals. Many of these have usually included Hebrew letters, and some have added Tarot cards, astrological, alchemical, and various other concepts, imagery, myths and thoughts.

Ten Sefirot

The sefirot are spheres on the Tree that can represent different states of being. At the top of the tree is Keter (the Crown), having its roots in what Kabbalists refer to as the Ain Sof (literally: 'without limit'). At the bottom is Malkut (Kingdom), at times described as a matrix out of which the physical manifests. Between these two are the remaining spheres: Hokmah (Wisdom); Binah (Intelligence or Understanding); Hesed (Loving-Kindness, Covenant or Mercy); Geburah (Severity or, as Pahad, Awe); Tifaret (Beauty); Netzah (Reverberation or ); Hod (Splendor); and Yesod (Foundation).

The sefirot are usually depicted in three pillars and four worlds. The rightmost pillar is the pillar at times named by its central sefirah Mercy or Loving-Kindness (Hesed) and attributed a male quality. The leftmost pillar is at times similarly named by its central sefirah Severity or Awe (Geburah) and attributed a female quality. The middle pillar is attributed a neutral quality.

The Tree of Life

כחר (Keter)

Zoom in of Keter

חחמה (Hokmah)

Zoom in of Hokmah

בינה (Binah)

Zoom in of Binah

חסד (Hesed)

Zoom in of Hesed

גברה (Geburah)

Zoom in of Geburah

תפארת (Tiphareth)

Zoom in of Tifaret

נסח (Netzah)

Zoom in of Netzah

הוד (Hod)

Zoom in of Hod

יסוד (Yesod)

Zoom in of Yesod

מלכות (Malkut)

Zoom in of Malkut

דעת (Da'at)

Zoom in of Da'at

Inter-Sefirah connections

The lines that are at times used to connect the sephiroth to each other have at times been referred to as 'paths' from one sephirah to another. Some versions of the Tree of Life have no such connections, and other representations have less than the more common depictions showing twenty-two of these. Even with representations having twenty-two connections, various renditions place these in different ways.

It is from a combination of these paths and Golden Dawn popularity that the term 'path-working' derives, where often the correlations suggested by the suggestions of the Golden Dawn are taken as central.

Various associations between these 'paths' and Hebrew letter have been suggested and, further, a trump correlations, via the Hebrew letter, have also been made in various ways. Furthermore, there are a variaty of ways in which letters (and cards) have been allocated to the Tree with 'and without' inter-connecting 'paths', reflecting different approaches. For example, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in his book Sefer Yetzirah, shows the letter associations used by Arizal (1534-1572) and the Vilna Gaon (the Gra) (1729-1797). In these attributions, the three mother letters are on three horizontal lines, the seven double letters are on the vertical lines and the 12 simple letters are on the diagonal lines.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as many its offshoots (such as the 'Servants of Light' and the 'Builders of the Adytum'), have an arrangement, though especially popular in English-speaking countries, is neither universally accepted nor, indeed, accepted by many within regions this view dominates. It reflects its own specific views with regards to letter-to-trump correlation, its re-numbering of trumps, and its trump placement on the inter-connecting 'paths'. Some authors influenced by the Golden Dawn's suggestion have considered that 'errors' remained in their system. As examples, A. Crowley interchanged the Hebrew letter correlation between the Emperor and the Star, and W. Gray (See his Concepts of Qabalah, vol.3) re-worked his placement of the cards on the Kircher version of the Tree of Life's inter-connecting 'paths', resulting in an entirely different pattern (for which his arguments are on a par with those who developed the Golden Dawn in the late 19th century).

The following table shows the Golden Dawn's and Gray's arrangements. Note that: the Fool has been assigned the number zero (instead of remaining without number); and the interchanged position of two cards result in Justice being re-numbered eight and Strength eleven. For an overview of various Hebrew letter correlations with trumps, see also: Hebrew Letters

Inter-Sefirotic connecting 'paths' and Letter-and-Trump Attributions

Hebrew Letters and Trumps on to the Tree of Life according to the Golden Dawn and to Gray.
Sefirot Sefirotic names in combination Golden Dawn W. Gray
Letter Card Letter Card
Kether Chokmah Crown of Wisdom Wisdom of Crown א Aleph 0 - The Fool B 5 - The Hierophant
Kether Binah Crown of Understanding Understanding of Crown ב Beth 1 - The Magician C 9 - The Hermit
Kether Tiphareth Crown of Beauty Beauty of Crown ג Gimel 2 - The High Priestess D 17 - Star
Chokmah Binah Wisdom of Understanding Understanding of Wisdom ד Daleth 3 - The Empress F 20 - Judgement
Chokmah Tiphereth Wisdom of Beauty Beauty of Wisdom ה Heh 4 - The Emperor G 4 - The Emperor
Chokmah Chesed Wisdom of Mercy Mercy of Wisdom ו Vav 5 - The Hierophant H 14 - Temperance
Binah Tiphereth Understanding of Beauty Beauty of Understanding ז Zain 6 - The Lovers J 13 - Death
Binah Geburah Understanding of Severity Severity of Understanding ח Cheth 7 - The Chariot K 12 - The Hanged Man
Chesed Geburah Mercy of Severity Severity of Mercy ט Teth 8 - Strength L 11 - Justice
Chesed Tiphereth Mercy of Beauty Beauty of Mercy י Yod 9 - The Hermit M 8 - Strength
Chesed Netzach Mercy of Victory Victory of Mercy כ Kaph 10 - The Wheel of Fortune N 3 - The Empress
Geburah Tiphereth Severity of Beauty Beauty of Severity ל Lamed 11 - Justice P 16 - Blasted Tower
Geburah Hod Severity of Glory Glory of Severity מ Mem 12 - The Hanged Man Q 15 - The Devil
Tiphereth Netzach Beauty of Victory Victory of Beauty נ Nun 13 - Death R 6 - The Lovers
Tiphereth Yesod Beauty of Foundation Foundation of Beauty ס Samekh 14 - Temperance S 7 - The Chariot
Tiphereth Hod Beauty of Glory Glory of Beauty ע Ayin 15 - The Devil T 19 - The Sun
Netzach Hod Victory of Glory Glory of Victory פ Peh 16 - Tower V 10 - The Wheel of Fortune
Netzach Yesod Victory of Foundation Foundation of Victory צ Tzaddi 17 - Star W 2 - Priestess
Netzach Malkuth Victory of Kingdom Kingdom of Victory ק Qoph 18 - The Moon X 21 - The World
Hod Yesod Glory of Foundation Foundation of Glory ר Resh 19 - The Sun Y 1 - The Magician
Hod Malkuth Glory of Kingdom Kingdom of Glory ש Shin 20 - Judgement Z 0 - The Fool
Yesod Malkuth Foundation of Kingdom Kingdom of Foundation ת Tav 21 - The World Th 18 - The Moon

See Also

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