The Qabbala and the Tarot
in Tolkien's Middle-earth
In the earliest days of my attempts to unlock the secrets of the Occult one of the first lessons I learned was this: that to manifest on a given plane any concept must have three points of reference on either the plane below or the plane above.
When much later the Qabbala came to my attention I was baffled by its apparent uniqueness; later I began to wonder about the Tarot and after much searching I decided to purchase from among over a hundred different systems The Witch's Tarot (Ellen Cannon Reed published by Llewellyn). I then began to see the possibility of enlightenment. A better choice I never made!
For when I began to study the two books (The Goddess and the Tree and The Witch's Tarot) that accompanied the card pack I found that they seemed to me to combine the Qabbala, the Tarot and Astrology into an integrated system, (the stated intention of the author) a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. "The Qabbala - the filing cabinet of the Universe; it contains all that ever was, is, shall be, can be, should be, could be and might be." So say the Adepts, of whom I am not one.
The Qabbala represents states of being, the Tarot in contrast represents states of becoming, and Astrology offers the presentation of the state of the Tides of Life, at any given time, date and geographical position in exactly the same way as the tide tables indicate the state of the tides of the ocean. None of these dictate the fortunes of any particular individual, as John Masefield says: Fate that is given to all men partly shaped is ours to alter till the day we die.
As the Sephiroth (plural, singular Sephira) of the Qabbala represent states of being it seems logical that they represent the Divine entities in Middle Earth [sic], that is the Ainur and the Maiar. Equally as the Major Arcana of the Tarot represent states of becoming it seems that they represent the Children of Eru, the Elves and Men. JRRT almost certainly had little knowledge of any of these three subjects.
The Roman Catholics are said to regard the Tarot as the Devil's picture book; the Qabbala, although evident throughout the Christian/Judaic Old Testament, has been limited to Judaism and sometimes disregarded there; Astrology during JRRT's time was, and still is, regarded by the ignorant as little more than a joke. Therefore an apparent correspondence between the Valar and the Maiar with the Sephiroth of the Qabbala, and the Children of Eru with the paths of the Major Arcana, seems to me to be rather remarkable. But I hope to show that such correspondences are justified.
It seems significant to me that JRRT so accurately used the symbolism of both the Qabbala and the Tarot, at least as I understand them, when there is no record of him being a student of either system. This alone can raise many questions and cause much speculation.
The descent of the Sephiroth from Kether to Malkuth represents the process of Creation, and the ascent the process of Evolution. The system of colours reinforces these processes.
The brilliant white of Kether is degraded to grey by the concept of Force, and to matt black by the concept of Form, at Chokmah and Binah respectively.
The primary colours then appear, blue at Chesed, red at Geburah and yellow at Tiphareth.
Blue moves to green and red to orange at Netzach and Hod respectively under the influence of Tiphareth, blue and red merge to give the purple of Yesod.
Malkuth is quartered; the top quarter ochre (all the primary colours with yellow [Tiphareth] predominant), on the right olive (all the primary colours with blue [Chesed] predominant) and on the left russet (all the primary colours with red [Geburah] predominant). The bottom quarter is glossy black echoing Binah which is the location of the Lords of Karma, who have their Mandate fulfilled on Earth, hence the gloss.
The three points of reference are further reflected by Netzach (the base of the male/air pillar of Force) and Hod (the base of the female/water pillar of Form) being concentrated by Yesod as through a lens on to Malkuth (Earth) where the two sexes find their fulfilment.
Similarly Air (Chokmah) and Water (Binah) and Fire (Tiphareth) find their fulfilment in Malkuth (Earth) where we live and breathe and have our being, and where the four elements (air, fire, water and earth) and the three states of mind (Netzach the subjective, Hod the objective and Yesod the subconcious) find their fulfilment on Malkuth (Earth) in Homo Sapiens - Thinking Man.
The first five divisions refer to the Qabbala, the remaining 2 divisions refer to the Vala(r) or Maia(r) which at the present time I associate with the Sephira:
Sephira the First
Sephira the Second
Sephira the Third
Sephira the Fourth
Sephira the Fifth
Sephira the Sixth
Sephira the Seventh
Sephira the Eighth
Sephira the Ninth
Sephira the Tenth
Christians might care to meditate on Malkuth, Netzach and Hod as the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, with its centre on Yesod, the Foundation. The path of Creation between Yesod and Malkuth is the only vertical part of the whole path, and for the Christian represents the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden, where they had only astral bodies, to Earth, where they became incarnate, and to the Ainur their decision to quit the Realm of Eru the One and go down into and become part of the Earth (The Ainulindalë).
In both cases it was of necessity that this occurred in order that Creation was completed so that the process of evolution could begin. The concept of 'sin' at this point is a misunderstanding.
The Major Arcana of the Tarot
Tabulated as follows:
Card / card title/ corresponding path number*
* see diagram at right
0 / The Fool / 11
1 / The Magician / 12
2 / The High Priestess / 13
3 / The Empress / 14
4 / The Emperor / 15
5 / The High Priest / 16
6 / The Lovers / 17
7 / The Chariot / 18
8 / Strength / 19
9 / The Seekers / 20
10 / Justice / 21
11 / The Wheel of Life / 22
12 / The Student / 23
13 / Death / 24
14 / Temperance / 25
15 / The Lord & Lady of the Wildwood / 26
16 / The Tower / 27
17 / The Stars / 28
18 / The Moon / 29
19 / The Sun / 30
20 / Judgement / 31
21 / The Universe / 32
* These pictures already exist on the pictorial plates issued by Danbury Mint which I have and greatly value.
Quartered colours in Malkuth are: top ochre, (primary colours yellow predominant); right olive (primary colours blue predominant); left russet (primary colours red predominant); bottom glossy black, reflecting the Lords of Karma situate in Binah who find their Mandate fulfilled in Malkuth. Primary colours here are red, yellow and blue.
The picture should also indicate the colours of the Sephiroth joined by the Path indicated by this card. This should appear as a quarter circle in opposite corners, or a half circle central on opposite sides or central top and bottom, and its direction, either vertical, horizontal or diagonal, according to the direction of the Path concerned. In the case of Malkuth a complete circle on a smaller scale should be shown. For instance the 28th Path - Yesod to Netzach - would have a purple quarter circle bottom left corner and a green quarter circle top right corner. This is as in The Witches Tarot. Some card titles have been altered to suit different traditions, this does not alter the symbolism.
There are over a hundred different Tarot packs in existence. The only pack that is any use to you is one that talks to you, this will become evident immediately you see the pictures especially the Major Arcana and it will be the right one for you, provided you have a genuine interest in the system. The Rider-Waite pack is related to the mythology of the Western religious cults, card 15 is titled the Devil. In the Witch's pack this becomes The Hornéd One and depicts a human couple being blessed by a Pan-like figure to suit the Pagan Tradition. I have chosen to title it The Lord and Lady of the Wildwood and allocated it to Tom Bombadil and Goldberry to suit the mythology of Middle Earth. None are wrong, all are right in their own setting. The judgmental ideas of right and wrong so beloved by some religious cults have no place in the world of Symbols. They are neither right nor wrong, only different.
Final comments on the Major Arcana
The observant may have noticed that there is no Tarot path which coincides with the Creation Path from Chesed to Binah. This is because there exists between the Supernal Triangle (Kether, Chokmah and Binah) and the remainder of the Sephiroth an abyss which cannot be crossed by the incarnate being.
The shortest route available to those for whom this evolutionary step is permitted is via the 14th Path (The Emperor), the 6th Path (The Sacrifice) and the 16th Path (the Lovers), which may well symbolise the final and irreversible union of the Personality with the remainder of the Individuality.
It seems to me likely that this was the Path followed by Gandalf in his encounter with the Balrog and by the principals of other faiths. There would be no difficulty in Gandalf or any other Adept being returned to Incarnate form by the Path of Creation as in Binah he would have an almost weightless Astral body, as his account; Light as a swan's feather in my claw you are tells.
This is not a bit of author's invention; an experiment was carried out in the United States some time ago, when the beds of dying patients were placed on a highly sensitive weighing machine, and on body death a loss of weight of up to a couple of ounces was recorded. The raises the thought that the Astral body might be composed of particles like neutrinos which have virtually no mass and can pass through the earth with no loss of velocity and might explain the inability of the Astral body to contact the physical world, quite a thought!
The Minor Arcana of the Tarot
I have not concerned myself with the Minor Arcana as they are used solely for divination, in which I have at present no interest. However according to The Witch's Tarot, the four suits refer to the four elements, the ten numbered cards refer to the Sephiroth of the Qabbala (the Ace to Kether), and the four Court cards refer to the four Worlds, namely to Archetype (the King), Concept, Formation and Manifestation, the Court cards give indication to the status or energy in the following (numbered) card, for instance the Princess followed by the ten cups would indicate manifestation in the water element on the earth (Malkuth) plane. Much as I would like to explore these realms I fear that time is short and there are more pressing duties, but it is a fascinating subject!
Finally, may I repeat, I am not an evangelist, I do not proselytise, I seek only to inform; what my informees do with this information is their responsibility and theirs alone. They may not, and probably will not, agree with me, I only ask that they read trying to keep an open mind. They are fully entitled to their own opinions but in all fairness and for their own satisfaction an open mind is at least desirable. But in any case I doubt whether the closed mind will be reading this, though s/he is most welcome.
May you ... Walk in the Sunlight,
Acknowledgements and references
Many thanks to Ellen Cannon Reed (Llewellyn publishers) for The Witches Tarot and the accompanying books The Goddess and the Tree and The Witches Tarot on which this discussion is based. The colour correspondences are taken directly from The Goddess and the Tree.
The statement We live and breathe and have our being comes from I know not where but it is not entirely mine. The quote The Ruler of the Tides of Life, of Birth and Death and of Man's Destiny comes from the writings of Dion Fortune. The quote The Mender of the Wounds of Life, the Sustainer of All comes from the music cassette Mender of Hearts by Invincible Productions, Phoenix, Arizona.
Amongst the many others who have contributed to my general understanding are Joan Grant (Winged Pharaoh) and Marian Green (various). One is One and all alone and ever more shall be so comes from the folksong Green grow the Rushes O which we used to sing in the lamplit twilight of the family fireside, echoing the Hall of Fire at Imladris (of which we had no knowledge) in the days before electricity and central heating, television and radio destroyed the magic of the close of the day.