Friday, August 7, 2015

1. Introduction: Sources, mainly in Latin

Author's note: This blog was initially"finished" in 2009. Then I revised it in September 2012, then again (affecting discussion of the Sefer Yetzirah) in June 2015. In July I added more material, from Flavius Mithridates' 1486 Latin translations for Pico della Mirandola, as well as Arthur Lesley's 1976 translation of Yohannan Alemanno's c. 1494 Song of Solomon's Ascents. In August I created new posts from the old ones, so that all the different sections would appear together in one list on the side, as a kind of table of contents. I also added material on Paul Foster Case, the American occultist. On September 17, 2015, I gave a talk to the Hermetic Society of Portland based on this material, after which I made more revisions, finishing them on Sept. 26, 2015. 

Then in November 2015 I added more material, mostly to chapter 5, this time on Oswald Wirth, who wrote on the same subject. So now this blog does two things, focusing on the Kabbalist doctrine of the sefiroth and the tarot trumps or "major arcana": it interprets the actual tarot, of late 15th and early 16th century Italy and 17th century France, in terms of the actual Jewish Kabbalah as it was known to Gentiles at that time; and it situates in that context what Wirth and Case wrote regarding Kabbalah and the tarot in the early 20th century.

The blog is meant to be read from top down. When you get to the bottom, click on "older post" for the continuation.

I begin with the Renaissance. How would the ten sefirot, or spheres, on the Tree of Life have been understood by Christians interested in both Kabbalah and Tarot during the late 15th-early 17th centuries, the time of the early tarot?  More particularly, can any non-arbitrary correlations be made between sefiroth as then understood and the tarot sequence, based on information generally available at that time period? This blog is devoted to pursuing these questions.

I enter this discussion not simply for mental entertainment, but because the sefirotic system that evolved is an important one for the living of life. It was designed as a way to think about how God judges and thinks about us, about what God expects from us and what we can expect from God, as part of a covenant between Him and his people, the Jews. But it can also serve as a framework for thinking about, making judgments, and acting in relation to other people and ourselves. This is a perspective that pertains also to the tarot, and is valuable not only for the suit cards, in various areas of life, but for the trumps (major arcana) as well. With the suit cards, we can contemplate how the messages of the sefiroth apply to the particular areas of life symbolized by the suit objects in a particular system of cartomancy. With the trumps, we can contemplate how these messages apply to the particular images that we see on the individual trumps, and not so much in particular aspects of life but in our lives as a whole, as subjects for meditation as much as in divination..

One starting point for such an investigation might be with the texts, notably, the Jewish Kabbalist texts known to both Christians and Jews during the Renaissance, as well as their Christian counterparts, i.e. those books on Kabbalah written by Christians.

The most famous medieval Jewish Kabbalist text, the Zohar, of Castile in Spain, would not have been accessible as such to non-Jews during this period. For one thing, it was in Aramaic; even Christians who knew Hebrew would have had a hard time with that language. It was not until the mid-16th century that it was published (in Hebrew), and soon after parts of it into Latin. Second, the Zohar was very long and unsystematic. Third, its main body doesn't even use the term "sefira," so it is not easy to figure out when one is being described.

However some of what it had to say would have been known by other means, namely, the extensive quotes from the Zohar, with commentary, in other works, notably those of the 14th century Italian Kabbalist  Menahem Recanati. At least two of his works were available to Pico della Mirandola in 1486, translated by the Jewish convert to Christianity Flavius Mithridates; the most important of these passed among Christian circles until in 17th century Paris it was lost, after it left the hands of Jacques Gafferel. (However the Hebrew original is extant; passages relevant to Pico have been translated by Wirszubski and will be quoted here.) Many other Jewish Kabbalist works were collected by Pico and translated by Mithridates. After Pico's death the translations went to the Vatican, where access was possible to those with the right credentials. The Jewish manuscripts went to a monastery, which parted with some of them for undisclosed sums to a German banking family.

Here the central figure is the "phoenix of the age", Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who in his short life more than anyone else introduced Christian Europe to the Kabbalah. He was by no means the first Christian in the West not born Jewish to have an acquaintance with Hebrew. Medieval debates between Christian and Jews took the form of contrasting interpretations of Jewish texts: Christians were concerned to refute Judaism on its own ground, i.e. the Hebrew Bible and other sacred Hebrew texts. For that they had to know some Hebrew, guided by Jewish converts to Christianity. Toward that purpose, the Universities of Paris and Oxford established professorships in Hebrew, set up  in the early 14th century upon direction of the Church, to aid in the conversion of Jews. These posts were held by Jews who had converted to Christianity, and surely they taught somebody something. Italian universities did not have such official posts (despite the Pope's order that Bologna have one), but there were teachers of Hebrew available in leading centers to perform this function, most notably in Padua, where in the beginning of the 15th century Jewish students were allowed to receive degrees in medicine. There were also, in some parts of Italy, whole Jewish communities to learn from if anyone cared to.


Lodovico Lazzarelli is an example of someone probably as proficient in Hebrew as Pico but 20 years earlier, but much less wealthy. Wouter Hanegraaff, in his book Lodovico Lazzarelli (1447-1500): the Hermetic writings and related documents, notes that Lancillotti, in a 19th century biography, wrote that Lazzarelli learned Hebrew while in Teramo, a city in central Italy, 1464 to 1466. It may have been even earlier, because he grew up in a town with a sizable Jewish community. There is also the testimony of Filippo Lazzarelli, Lodovico's brother (Hanegraaff p. 78):
Filippo writes that he himself was present at the occasion when, in Teramo, Lazarrelli engaged in a private debate with a learned Jewish astrologer and physician: a certain Vitale, about whom nothing more is known. Sacci reasonably suggests that this event must have taken place in the period 1464-1466; since we know that Lazzarrelli was living in Teramo at the time and that Filippo was present as well.
Lazzarelli is said to have confronted the rabbi with a quotation, repeated in his later Crater Hermetis, supposedly from the midrash Bereshit Rabba of Moses Adersan. Hanegraaff adds:
The importance of the Vitale debate is that if it indeed took between 1464 and 1466, and if Lazzarelli was quoting first hand from Kabbalist sources, this would make him a pioneer of Christian kabbalah who precedes Pico della Mirandola's kabbalistic theses of 1486 by twenty years.
Hanegraaff doubts that Lazzarelli's quote comes from an authentic Hebrew source. It cannot be found in the extant manuscript of Bereshit Rabba nor any source that quotes from it (p. 85). It speaks of God the Father and God the Son as being one, conveniently close to Christian doctrine, but unthinkable in a Jewish one, Hanegraaff says (p. 86). Hanegraaff notes that there were many forgeries of Hebrew works at that time.

Pico was also not the first to commission the translation of Jewish Kabbalist texts. Moshe Idel in Kabbalah in Italy cites an instance in Toledo, Spain, of the 13th century when this was already done. Idel, writes that Alfonso Sabio's nephew, Juan Manuel, testified about his famous uncle (p. 228):
Furthermore, he ordered translated the whole law of the Jews, and even their Talmud, and other knowledge, which is called qabbalah and which the Jews keep closely secret. And he did this so it might be manifest through their own law that it is a [mere] presentation of that law which we Christians have; and that they, like the Moors, are in grave error and in peril of losing their souls. 7
7. Libra de !a caza, ed. J. Gutierrez de la Vega, in Biblioteca uenatoria, 5 vols. (M. Tello, Madrid, 1877-99), 3:4; and Norman Roth, "Jewish Collaborators in Alfonso's Scientific Work," in Alfonso X the Learned of Castile and His Thirteenth-Century Renaissance, ed. Robert I. Burns, S.J. (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1991), pp. 60, n. 7.
That was also Pico's expressed purpose: to confute Judaism using its own texts. This surely was not a unique example.

Nor, probably, was Pico  the first in Florence to be sympathetically interested in the Jewish Kabbalah. In the 1460s, according to some authorities (see Edouardo Lebano's notes to the Tusiani translation of Pulci's Morgante), the humanist poet and educator Luigi Pulci dabbled in Kabbalist magical lore and even stopped going to Mass. Although, under pressure, he returned to the rituals of the Church, when he died he nonetheless was refused burial in consecrated ground. Besides writing a book, Morgante, with a sympathetic demon, he also enjoyed playing a game he called, in a letter, "minchiate" with Lorenzo de' Medici. Minchiate is otherwise known as a game that appeared later in Florence as an expanded tarot deck, with 40 instead of 22 trumps.


What can be said of Pico, however, is that it was he who first spread knowledge of Kabbalah to a wide Christian audience, by means of his famous 900 Conclusiones and his even more popular Oration. When a pope orders all copies of a book, one sent free of charge to most of learned Europe, seized, burned, and not to be read, that is news. When the next pope allows the same book to be distributed freely, one can be sure that some will take advantage of the opportunity.

Although Pico's professed aim was the conventional one of converting the Jews, there was also the converse: one could be a Kabbalist and still be a Christian. So Kabbalah was not merely a way of turning Judaism against itself, but a framework for understanding Christianity in broader terms. Thus the "Christian Kabbalah" was born, which claimed to understand Kabbalah better than its Jewish proponents and to see Christianity itself in its terms.

Pico also did the world an immense service by commissioning the translations into Latin of numerous Kabbalist texts, most of them done by Mithridates. These translations have the merit of being done by someone schooled in the living Kabbalah of the time in Italy. He has been accused by some of giving his translations a Christian slant. But in fact in the case of the three that have been published that I have seen, the modern editors have compared his work to the extant Hebrew manuscripts and not found that to be true. It is true that the Hebrew word "Messiah" is translated as "Christus"; but that was already done in the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek done in Hellenistic Egypt.


I have seen the English versions of five Kabbalist texts done for Pico by Mithridates, which have recently been published in his Latin, an English version of it, and a critical edition of the Hebrew. Of these three are of considerable interest: (a) the Bahir (Torino 2005), the classic work of 12th century Provence; (b) The Great Parchment (Torino 2004), a short work of  early 14th century Italy; and (c) The Gate of Heaven (Torino 1012), a longer work of late 14th century Italy. Two other such works have also been published, for which see the bibliography.

With these works, along with Moshe Idel's 2011 book Kabbalah in Italy,  Italian Kabbalah is finally getting the attention it deserves. In the 14th century, it carried on the synthesis that had been attained by Abraham Abulafia of the two previous achievements of European Jewish mysticism, namely, the "theosophical" Kabbalah of Provence and Spain, and that of the so called "Hassedei Ashkenazi", or "piestistic Germans". Abulafia had been first schooled in the Spanish school, which had developed a rich theosophy of the sefiroth, the palaces of the hekilot, and the Hebrew letters. Then he came upon the work of the Hassedei, in particular Eleazar of Worms' Commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah. The Hassedei method of linguistic manipulations for ecstatic ends gave Abulafia (as I understand it) a means by which, he taught, one could in this life ascend and experience the palaces and sefirot and even attain the power of prophesy. Because of his claims of prophesy, with messianic overtones, his works were banned by the rabbinical councils in Spain. But his influence continued to be felt in Italy, along with that of his student Joseph Gikatilla, whose early works followed Abulafia's perspective. In Italy it and the German works were combined with the teachings of the Zohar by Menahem Recanati and others in Italy of the 14th century. It is these works that Pico mainly received. In addition, valuable as an indication of how Kabbalah was understood by Italian Jews in Pico's time, there is the book The Song of Solomon's Ascents, written in Hebrew 1488-1494 by Pico's friend and colleague Yohannan Alemanmo. Parts of it were translated into English as part of a 1976 Ph.D. dissertation by Arthur Lesley.

After Pico came Johann Reuchlin, who knew Pico and published a work developing further one of Pico's themes, that of the role of the Hebrew letter shin in completing the Tetragrammaton. Then in 1516 Gikatilla's Gates of Light was published in Augsburg, in an abridged translation by another of the Jewish converts who worked for Pico, Paolo Ricci. Ricci's translation influenced Reuchlin's second book, On the Art of Kabbalah. After him--although begun earlier--came Cornelius Agrippa, who included the Jewish magical tradition in his Three Books on Occult Philosophy, published 1530. After that I lose the thread, at least among Christian publications on Kabbalah, until Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptus in 1650-1652.

In Hebrew, of the works of importance here, the Zohar in Hebrew translation (from Aramaic) was printed in 1558 Mantua and Cremona (source: WorldCat). The Sefer Yetzirah was printed in two versions, the Short and the Long, plus commentaries, in 1562 Mantua. Other versions of the Sefer Yetzirah weren't published until 1680, according to its English translator Ariyeh Kaplan. The Bahir, according to Kaplan, had its first printed edition in 1650 Amsterdam. However WorldCat online shows a "Bahir" with the Zohar in Cremona, 1558 and a Latin translation, with a selection of the Zohar, by Guillaume Postel (the whole book amounts to 56 pages) as early as 1548 Venice. Moses Cordovero's Kabbalist works, written in Egypt or the land of Israel in the mid-16th century, were published in 1587 and 1597 Venice. Of these latter works, the one published in 1587 has been translated into English: the Or Ne'erav, meaning "The Pleasant Light" (in Ira Robinson, Moses Codovero's Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of His Or Ne'erav, 1994).

In this blog I will mostly be dealing with the works so far published that Pico, Reuchlin, or Agrippa knew. I will discuss Cordovero only once, in relation to "paths" between sefirot, so as to suggest a tradition that might also have been known to them but not articulated in the works so far translated. For the most part writers before Cordovero, as we shall see, were rather vague about where the paths were or even how many there were. The emphasis was on the sefiroth themselves, as will be mine.

2. My hypothesis

I might have saved my conclusions until the end, but then they would be easy to miss, and some people might not get that far. Also, it is not easy to find one's way around in the mass of details. So I will say what I make of the multifarious data now. 

My hypothesis is that the imagery of the tarot trumps fits the sefirotic system in the following way. (1) the Fool is seen in terms of the En Sof: (2) the first 10 triumphs are seen starting from the highest sefira and ending with the lowest. (3) the next 10 trumps are seen as reflecting, in sequence, the lowest sefira up to the highest sefira. and (4) the 21st trump is seen in terms of the highest sefira leading beyond it to the En Sof again. In other words, it is the conventional descent of the soul before birth through the ten spheres of the medieval cosmos, followed by the ascent of the soul after birth, but applied to the Tree of Life.

Such a descent is the basis for the so-called natal horoscope; the soul at birth enters the visible universe at the sphere of the fixed stars at a particular point and then the planets in a particular way, picking up particular characteristics associated with each one.

The Neoplatonists were more concerned about the other half of the journey, after death. In that tradition, e.g. Macrobius's Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, one retraces one's path through the spheres until either descending again, for a new incarnation, or going beyond the visible universe. Assuming that the Jewish idea of the sefiroth as a hierarchical sequence developed in this same Platonic milieu during the time of the Roman Empire, the same process would apply there. During the Renaissance, Pico explicitly correlated the seven lower sefiroth to the seven planets, thus making the comparison a natural one. Agrippa did so as well, but in a different way, correlating the planets with sefiroth 3-9.

My idea is that, just as the soul descends through the spheres, it descends through the sefiroth at birth and ascend at death, with the goal of returning to the One and then the Nothing, stepping off the Tree to join the En Sof again. This journey after death could be facilitated by meditative explorations before death, with consequent revelations. An example of such meditation, in terms of the conventional ten spheres of the ancient Ptolemaic/Christian universe, is at the end of the Poimandres, the first book of the Corpus Hermeticum, a work much read in the Renaissance, starting in the late 15th century. Gikatilla's Gates of Light, of which the Portae Lucis of 1516 is a condensed version, does something similar, but starting with the 10th sefira, Malkhut, and moving step by step to the top. specifically referring to the Kabbalists' meditative ascent. At left is Fludd's early 17th century diagram of the soul's progress. Although rather late, it merely diagrams what was generally understood for centuries.

The fit of the sefiroth to the tarot is not perfect. This is only to be expected, as the Tarot surely originated independently of any contact with Kabbalah. Yet the correspondences that do exist give some reason for thinking that during the period of the tarot's development, Kabbalistic considerations may have played some role, at least after 1486, as reflected in the tarot sequence in Lombardy and France.

In any case, the parallels give us a way of using the sefiroth themselves, as opposed to the paths between them, in understanding the tarot trumps, and thereby benefiting from whatever wisdom they contain. .

In the 19th century, Eliphas Levi explicitly correlated at least two of the trumps with the sefirot. He associated. the 6th trump, the Lover, "the man between vice and virtue", with Tiferet (Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, translated by A.E. Waite, p. 366 at; in the original French, it is p. 348, at He also associated the last trump, the one with the "four mysterious animals" (translation p. 368, original p. 354), with Kether. (Wicked Pack of Cards, p. 188, says that he correlated the first trump, the Magician, with Kether; that may be, but I cannot find it said in Waite's translation.)

I would propose that all of the trumps be given such correlations, depicting the path of the soul in its journey from God to this world and back up again, so that indeed the 6th trump is Tiferet and the 21st Kether. Many of them are straightforward enough; therefore I see no reason why these wouldn't have been made relatively soon after the necessary Kabbalist sources became available in 1486 and before. For the first 10 cards, these correlations also fit the letter assignments that Levi made, if they are correlated to the sefiroth in the manner stated in the Bahir, which gives aleph to Kether and so on down to Teth as Malkhut. This of course is not the whole of the tarot cards' meaning. Levi, for example, saw numerological associations to the tarot subjects; that of course is another story. There are more such stories.

Levi in his early writings imagined the last 11 cards as a descent through the "heavens" from above Saturn down to the vegetative and sensitive soul. He identified card 13, death, with  "the heaven of Jupiter and Mars". So 12 would be Saturn. 11 is a woman "crowned with the vital oo", meaning infinity; that would seem to put her rather high up in the sky. Then 14 is "the heaven of the Sun", 15 is Mercury and magic, 16 the Moon and changes, 17 "the soul", but meaning the rational soul, 18 "the elements" of the visible world, 19 "composites" and the head, 20 the "vegetative principle" and generation, 0 the Fool as the "sensitive principle" and the flesh, and 21 "the microcosm", "all in all" and "Kether". These all can be read online at, pp. 368-369 and in the original pp. 351-354. In later writings Levi abandoned this idea and instead proposed the paths (Wicked Pack p. 189), the course followed by most later occultists.

Oswald Wirth, however, in his 1927 Le Tarot des Imagiers de Moyen Age (in English, 1985, as Tarot of the Egyptians, pp. 28-29, online here), identified all of the first 10 trumps, in the "Marseille" order, with the correspondingly numbered sefira and incorporated these associations to the sefiroth into his interpretations of the individual cards. He gave no sefira-trump correlations for the cards from 11 to 21, but associated the En Sof to the Fool.  These accounts were all very short.

In 1934 Paul Foster Case picked up the idea in his Book of Tokens. He assigned at least eight, and perhaps twelve, cards to sefiroth, starting with the Fool as the En Sof, the Magician as Kether, the High Priestess as Hochmah, and so on until the Lovers at Tiferet; after that the only one for sure is the Hanged Man, which he gives to Yesod. (However, as we will see, there is some suggestion that he assigned both the Hermit and the Moon to the En Sof, the Sun to Kether, Judgment to Hochmah, and World to Binah. These of course are not in keeping with my hypothesis. In his 1947 The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, Case added Chariot, Strength, and Wheel--assigned to the 7th, 8th, and 10th sefiroth--but stopped there.

What I want to do is to go back to the earlier cards, of the 15th-18th centuries, and see whether assignments of  sefiroth to cards might have made sense even then, for all 22 of the special cards ("major arcana"). That would be accomplished if each card was assigned a sefira--including the En Sof, not technically a sefira--twice, once for the descent of the soul into matter and once for the ascent into spirit. Such an extension of Levi's, Wirth's, and Case's idea would actually incorporate Case's assignment of the Hanged Man to Yesod, as the second from the bottom on the ascent, as well as all the others (except Moon-World etc.). The 21st could either be assigned to En Sof or again to Kether, but going into the En Sof.

Since this procedure is different from that of the later Levi and most of those who came after, Papus and the Golden Dawn, which assigned the 22 special cards of the tarot to 22 "paths" between sefiroth, I will say what I think about these assignments in regard to the 15th and 16th centuries. But first I need to describe how the ten sefiroth themselves were understood. We cannot assume that they were always understood as they are presented on Internet sites and books today. Then I can start looking at "paths" and also the astrological correspondences that historically were made in various Jewish texts before the 16th century.

Then, in two further chapters, I will summarize, card by card through all 22, the results of seeing the cards in terms of the sefiroth as understood in the late 15th-early 16th centuries, and comparing that result with what Wirth had for the first ten plus the Fool, and what Case had for most of those plus a few more.. For a more complete reporting of what was said about the sefiroth, the reader is referred to an Appendix, which quotes in some detail the descriptions of the sefiroth in 10 texts, 9 available in Latin and one, by the late 15th century Kabbalist Yohanan Alemanno, in Hebrew. Alemanno was a close associate of Giovanni Pico from 1487, if not earlier, until the latter's death. Although Pico would have been able to make out the Hebrew, perhaps with help, Alemanno would surely have communicated the substance orally as well.


Why is it of value to see the tarot in terms of the sefirot? It is a question of whether the sefirotic system itself is of value, for learning about the future beyond what can be known by normal means, The sefiroth were in a realm beyond the visible universe; but they also put their stamp on a part of the mind normally inaccessible to consciousness.

The mechanism was described by Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy, in the chapters on divination by lots. The drawing of cards for a "reading" is essentially just a form of drawing lots. From a thoroughly shuffled deck, one draws a card face down at random. Then the process repeats, until the requisite number of cards are drawn. It is like "drawing straws", except that there are 78 of the randomly arranged objects, and a person draws more than one.

According to Agrippa, however, the drawing is not as random as it seems. He says (Book II, ch. LIV):
Now that there is in man's soul a sufficient power and virtue to direct such kind of lots, it is hence manifest, because there is in our soul a divine virtue, and similitude, and apprehension, and power of all things...
There is a connection between the mind and the hand that is determined by the connection between our mind and something higher, the divine mind, which knows much more than our own conscious mind. It knows not only what is on the other side of the cards that the hand picks, but also future circumstances that one will have to face, and things about oneself that are not part of one's conscious awareness. It picks cards that reveal these unknown facts, in accordance to what we have a strong desire to know.

Robert Fludd in one of his books (Tomus secondus de supernaturali, naurali, praeternaturali et contranaturali microcosmi historia, 1619, reprinted in Tyson's edition of Agrippa, p. 195) illustrated Agrippa's point by means of a diagram, at right. You can see the connection between the divine mind and the mind of the man. Oddly enough, Fludd's divine mind has the appearance of the sefirotic tree, except that there are not as many paths between spheres, and the spheres are labeled "seraphim",
"cherubim", "thrones", "dominions", "archangels", "angels", etc.  It would appear that he thought that these  choirs of angels were the Christian equivalent of the sefirot. He also fits in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (click on the image at right to make it bigger).

Another part of the mechanism is explained in terms of the Ars Brevis, a short text written near the end of the 13th century by the Catalan mystic and philosopher Raimon Llull. He presents a series of interconnected wheels, each with 9 letters on it. The letters correspond to 5 sets of 9 concepts each, as seen below.

The concepts in turn correspond to certain axioms and postulates that he thinks are at the basis of all three of the major religious systems of the time, Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. One starts with a question--column 2--pertaining to a particular aspect of God--column --further qualified by some concept in remaining 3 columns. Combining all five, he maintains, will answer any theological question, so that the answer may be compared to what is taught in the three religions. If an answer turns out to be contrary to Christianity but in harmony with one of the other two, he pledges embrace that religion, Llull says. And by the same token, people of the other religions should leave their religion if it is contrary to reason. Reason plus postulates shared by all three religions will be the arbiter for all.

This system could easily have been adapted to card-reading. Instead of columns, we have, say, five cards in a certain order. Each has a particular title, representing a particular concept, as well as other associations suggested by that title and the imagery on the card. In a work of 1527, The Chaos of Triperuno, Teofilio Folengo gave some examples of how these concepts could be combined to result in a "fortune" (in Italian, sorte, lot) i.e. something about the person's future not clear before. Folengo's card-interpretations, since they are in a literary work, do not go beyond what any literate person of the time would know. It is the procedure that is of interest. It is a demonstration of the skill of one of Folengo's characters, named "Limerno" (a permutation of the letters in "Merlino", the famous magician).  For his first example, his character Limerno takes 5 cards that the subject drew at random from the 22 and combines their ideas in four different ways, each corresponding to the stanzas of a sonnet. All come to the same conclusion. For example, one man draws the cards Love, Fire (now often called the Tower), Angel (now Judgment), Devil, and Justice. Love of a woman is no Angel for you, but the Fire of a Devil with no regard to Justice, the sonnet advises the man.

Here is the sonnet:
Quando ‘l Foco d’Amor, che m’arde ognhora,
Penso e ripenso, fra me stesso i’ dico,
Angiol di Dio non è, ma lo Nemico
Che la Giustitia spinse del ciel fora

(When I consider and reconsider the Fire of Love, which burns me even now, to myself I say, “This is not the Angel of God, but the Enemy whom Justice pushed out of heaven.”)

Et è pur chi qual Angiolo l’adora,
Chiamando le sue Fiamme dolce intrico,
Ma nego ciò, ché di Giustitia amico
Non mai fu, chi in Demonio s’innamora.

(And there are still those who adore him as an Angel, calling his flames sweet intrigue. But I refute that, because no one was ever a friend of Justice who falls in love with a Demon.)

Amor di donna è Ardor d’un Spirito nero,
Lo cui viso se’n gli occhi un Angiol pare,
Non t’ingannar, ch’è fraude e non Giustitia.

(Love of a woman is the fervor of a black Spirit, whose face if it appears in the eyes to be an Angel, don’t be fooled, because this is deception and not Justice.)

Giustitia esser non puote, ove malitia
Ripose de sue Faci il crudo Arciero,
er cui Satan Angiol di luce appare.

(This cannot be Justice, where the cruel Archer sets the malice of his Torches, so that Satan appears the Angel of light.)
So we have:
First stanza: Fire, Love, Angel, Devil ("Enemy"), Justice
Second stanza: Angel, Fire ("Flames"), Justice, Devil ("Demon"), Love.
Third stanza: Love, Fire ("fervor"), Devil ("black Spirit"), Angel, Justice
Fourth stanza: Justice, Love ("Archer"), Fire ("torches"), Devil ("Satan"), Angel.)
In terms of Agrippa, the five cards correspond to five ideas in the mind of God. activated by the man's desire to know his fate. In Fludd's diagram, this mind has the shape of the sefirotic tree. It is the sefiroth which have been activated, and which guide the hand to the cards. It is thus in terms of the sefiroth that the cards selected need to be understood.

If the cards can be understood in terms of the sefiroth, it is not likely mere coincidence. Llull, whose method is similarly combinatory, himself formed his ideas in Barcelona at the time that Abulafia was teaching his method of ascending into the invisible world by means of permutations and combinations of letters in divine names. Then Abulafia went to Italy and taught his method there, where it took a Neoplatonist direction in the texts that were translated for Pico. The main difference is one that Pico noticed in 1487: Llull used words while Abulafia and other practitioners of the so-called "ecstatic" Kabbalah used letters. In the Apologia that he wrote in defense of his 900 Theses he says (Harvey J. Hames, The Art of Conversion: Christianity & Kabbalah in the Thirteenth Century, 2000, p. 1, in Google Books):
Unam quae dicitur hohmat ha-zeraf  id est ars combinandi et est modus quidam procededendi in scientiis et est simile quid sicut apud nostros dicitur ars Raymundi, licet forte diuerso modo proceda...

that which is called hohmat ha-zeraf [revolution or combination of letters] is a combinatory Art and it is a method for gaining knowledge, and it is similar to that which we refer to as the ars Raymundi, although it proceeds in a very different manner.
Abulafia's method, as people like Alemanno understood it, was to combine letters in different ways so as to ascend to the realm of the sefiroth and thereby be able to prophesy. Idel writes (Kabbalah in Italy p. 253):
 Thus, when dealing with the moment of revelation, Alemanno combines elements found in ecstatic Kabbalah, especially the concept of a "science of prophecy" and the "sphere of letters," with an Avicennan and Ibn Tufayl's theory of "sudden vision," a form of intuition that is sometimes also called prophecy, and with a concept of nature.
The same can be done with words or even pictures, toward the end of seeing them from the perspective of the sefirot, as a message from that realm. Llull's method was meant to be purely rational; Abulafia's method is purely ecstatic; the two could be combined to the same end of prophecy.

In fact the Ars Brevis was translated from Latin to Hebrew in Central Italy of 1474; the manuscript is still extant (Hames, "Jewish Magic with a Christian Text" Traditio 1999, pp. 286-300). And in 1518 Venice, an explicitly "Cabalist" application of Llull, De Auditu Kabbalistico, was published in Latin by Pietro Mainardi, a member of the medical faculty at Padua (Paola Zambelli, L’Apprendista Stregone [The Sorcerer’s Apprentice], Venezia 1995). There is nothing of the Jewish Kabbalah there, however, at least judging by Zambelli's account. By then the Lullian "ars combinatoria" itself was considered part of "Cabala".

The general project of ascending into realms beyond the physical universe by means of the divine names was one common to both Christians and Jews. Among Christians, interest had been fostered by the translation into Latin of pseudo-Dionysius's works. This is Christian writer of the sixth century who applied the Neoplatonism of Proclus to Christianity, so that for example the "henads" of Proclus became the "choirs of angels" of pseudo-Dionysius. He is called "pseudo" because he was thought then, and for several centuries thereafter, to have been the Dionysius the Areopagite mentioned in the Book of Acts as a disciple of Paul. The French considered him to be the same St. Denis who brought Christianity to Paris. The Greek Emperor gave a copy of his works to the French king in the ninth century, and John Scotus Eriugena made a passable translation into Latin. It influenced many French monks.
One 12th century manuscript of particular interest, because of an illumination, was collected by the Visconti rulers of Milan and listed in the 15th century inventories of their library at Pavia (left, the scan of a page in Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism). It shows monks helping each other ascend the spheres, apparently an activity that could be accomplished in this life. Manuscripts of Llull contained similar imagery, usually in the form of ladders or ropes to be climbed (one is at

In c. 1436 Florence, the monk Ambrogio Traversari, head of the Camaldosean order, published a new translation of pseudo-Dionysius. So he would have been of much interest at the time of the early tarot. Although no one knows when the tarot was invented, the first record of a deck of "triumphs", as the tarot deck was then called, is 1440 Florence, done for Florence's hired military leader Sigismundo Malatesta. However it is not certain that tarot originated in Florence. For one thing, another military leader of Florence at the same time was Francesco Sforza, who had earlier served Filippo Visconti in Milan. The earliest extant tarot cards date from the early 1440s, done for Filippo or some other Visconti in Milan. For another thing, a game similar to tarot, but whose trump suit consisted of Greco-Roman gods, had been made for Filippo sometime before 1425, when it is known that the designer, named in documents, died.

As I have said already, I do not expect the tarot's fit to the sefiroth to be perfect. I do not believe that the tarot was invented with the sefiroth in mind. It isn't known when the tarot was invented, but it was sometime before 1440, and Kabbalah just didn't have enough popularity then among potential card-players. As for the Ars Brevis, the evidence suggests that it wasn't known in Italy before 1440 (although it was after after that date, in Padua). But the relevant groups of concepts were in the general consciousness; it was just the combinatorial aspect that was new, and that, for the tarot, could come later. I even doubt if there were 22 special cards at first. The evidence for 22 isn't until late in the 15th century. Early on, there is more evidence is for 14-16. 

With these provisos, in the two sections that follow, I will be looking at each of the tarot special cards in terms of the sefiroth as understood by Christian students of the Kabbalah at that time, to try to show that there are enough correspondences to have provided a basis for using tarot cards as a source of advice in the hands of someone knowing the correspondences, whether by means of deduction from general truths symbolized by the cards or of a sefirot-structured unconscious mind, or both.

3. The names of the sefirot

The names of the sefirot, at least most of them, are imbedded in the words of certain verses of the Hebrew Bible. One of them is I Chronicles 29:11, cited by Joseph Gikatilla in his late 13th century Gates of Light. It is one of the Kabbalist texts translated by Mithridates for Giovanni Pico in 1486. A condensed Latin version, perhaps the same or perhaps not, was published under the name of Paulus Riccius in 1516, another convert to Christianity who worked for Pico. A literal word-for-word translation of the verse is at, which I give below together with the transliterated Hebrew. Since Christian readers at the time would have also known this verse in the Vulgate's Latin, I give after the Hebrew the relevant words from it as well (
I Chron. 29.11, Interlinear: To the Lord (is) the greatness [Heb. gə·ḏūl·lāh, Vulg. magnificientia], and the power [gə·ḇū·rāh, potentia], and the glory [tip̄·’e·reṯ, gloria], and the victory [nê·ṣaḥ, victoria] and the majesty [hō·wḏ, laus = praise]: for all [ḵōl, enim] in the heaven and in the earth is to the Lord; your the Kingdom [ham·mam·lā·ḵāh, regnum], O Lord, and you exalt over all as head.
I Chron. 29:11, Vulgate: Thine, O Lord, is magnificence, and power, and glory, and victory: and to thee is praise: for all that is in heaven, and in earth, is thine: thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art above all princes.
The word "Tiferet" in this passage is translated as "glory" in most of its English translations; but the word also means "beauty" in other verses, according to the online concordance ( "Nesah" or "netzach" is "victory" here, but also "majesty", "splendor", "eternity", "endurance", "magnificent", and "glory" in other translations of the same verse . In the concordance for "nesah" and cognates, in fact, it is "victory" in only that one verse; the word mostly occurs as "lanesah", meaning "forever". In the translations done for Pico, Mithridates renders it "aeternitas". Finally, Hod, besides "majesty" is also "splendor" and "honor" ( In the translations for Pico, it is usually "orna" and "ornata", meaning "splendour" or "ornament", or "decor" and "decorem", meaning "beauty" or "honor"".

The 9th sefirot, Yesod=Foundation, is not there explicitly, but Aryeh Kaplan (The Book Bihar, p. 101) says that it is in the word "all", in Hebrew kol. It seems to me that the phrase following might be important, too, "in the heaven and in the earth", in that Yesod is the connection between the two realms. Gates of Light explains the word "all" in relation to Yesod by saying (p. 101, Weinstein translation):
Gikatilla:...this attribute draws all that can be drawn from the upper Spheres and brings them to the attribute Adonay; because all relies on this attribute, it is called Kol (all).
Here "Adonay" is a name of the 10th sefira.

The name "Yesod" seems to be from another quotation, cited in Gates of Light as well as other works: "The righteous is the foundation of the world" (Weinstein translation p. 59). This sentence does not exist in the Hebrew Bible. The closest is Proverbs 10:25, which says, first word-for-word and then in the Vulgate (,
Prov. 10:25: passes As the whirlwind and no [is] so the wicked [more] But the righteous foundation [yə-sō-wḏ, fundamentum] [is] an everlasting.

quasi tempestas transiens non erit impius iustus autem quasi fundamentum sempiternum

Prov. 10:25, Douay-Rheims: As a tempest that passeth, so the wicked shall be no more: but the just is as an everlasting foundation [[yə-sō-wḏ, fundamentum].
In the concordance, this "yə-sō-wḏ" almost invariably is translated as "foundation".

The name for "kingdom" in this verse is not "malkhut" but "ham·mam·lā·ḵāh". "Malkhut" is another word for "kingdom", which first occurs in 1 Chronicles 12:23-24 and in many contexts thereafter ( Gates of Light cites only two verses containing the word: Daniel 10:13 (Weinstein trans. p. 258), referring to the kingdom of Persia, and Esther 2:17 (Weinstein p. 363). Neither is in the section on Malkhut, but here they are:
Esther 2:17, Douay-Rheims: ...he set the royal [ mal·ḵūṯ, regni] crown [ke·ṯer-, corona] on her head, and made her queen instead of Vasthi. :
 Daniel 10:13, Douay-Rheims: But the prince of the kingdom [mal·ḵūṯ] of the Persians resisted me one and twenty days... 
As for the first three sefirot, Gates of Light, p. 330, quotes Isaiah 11:1-2. These verses would have been well known to Christians, as containing one of the alleged predictions of Christ's birth. I give first the literal translation, with the Hebrew words in brackets ( and the next), and then the Vulgate together with the Douay-Rheims translation (
And there shall come forth from the stem of Jesse and a Branch from his roots shall grow shall rest on the spirit of the Lord him the spirit of wisdom [hakmah, sapientiae] and understanding [binah, intellectus] the spirit of counsel [sah, consilii] and might [geburah, fortitudinis  = fortitude] the spirit of knowledge [da'at, scientiae] and of the fear of the Lord [yir'at, pietatis]
et egredietur virga de radice Iesse et flos de radice eius ascendet et requiescet super eum spiritus Domini spiritus sapientiae et intellectus spiritus consilii et fortitudinis spiritus scientiae et pietatis
Isaiah 11:1-2: And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom [ḥāḵ·māh, sapientiae], and of understanding [ū·ḇî·nāh, intellectus], the spirit of counsel [‘ê·ṣāh, consilii], and of fortitude [ū·ḡə·ḇū·rāh, i.e. might; fortitudinis], the spirit of knowledge [da·‘aṯ, scientiae], and of godliness [wə·yir·’aṯ Yah·weh, i.e. fear of the Lord; pietatis].
The conventional names of the first three sefirot are here. There are also words that mean something similar to the next lower sefirot, at least in the Hebrew ("fortitude" is not the best translation of "geburah", nor "pietatis" for "yir'at", meaning "fear").

Another source is Exodus 31:3 (,
Exodus 31: 3: And I have filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom[bə-ḥā-ḵə-māh, sapientia] and in understanding [ū·ḇiṯ·ḇū·nāh, intellegentia] and in knowledge [ū·ḇə·ḏa·‘aṯ, scientia] and in all manner of craftsmanship [mə·lā·ḵāh, opere =  works].
Exodus 31:3 (Vulg.) et implevi eum spiritu Dei sapientia intellegentia et scientia in omni opere.
Exodus 31:3 (Douay-Rheims): And I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom  [bə-ḥā-ḵə-māh, sapientia] and understanding [ū·ḇiṯ·ḇū·nāh, intellegentia], and knowledge [ū·ḇə·ḏa·‘aṯ, scientia] in all manner of work.
This verse is not cited in Gates of Light, but the same three names are there. Both passages, besides the three sefirot, also mention knowledge, da'at, a term that occurs frequently in the Kabbalist discussions of the tree. In Gates of Light it is a name for the middle line or pillar.

Although Mithridates' translation of Gates of Light has not been published, three others, plus English translations, have been. So I look there for more information about how the names of the sefirot were understood at that time.

The first of these, and the only Kabbalist work that Pico actually mentions by name, is the Bahir, in Mithridates' Latin translation and numerous Hebrew manuscripts in Italy of the time (Torino 2005). It derives from 12th century Provence. In this work, the ten sefirot are designated by the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet, from Aleph to Thet. They are said somehow to form a tree, which is watered from the top down. There are some indications of what these sefirot are called. "Aleph is the supreme crown" (Sect. 141, p. 326). "Beth is wisdom" (sect. 142, p. 326). "Gimel is the engraving of the law", i.e. the written law. Daleth is "the justices of the Lord, his graces and mercies" (sect. 144, p. 427). He is "his great overwhelming fire", at God's left (sect. 145, p. 427). Zain is in the middle, between water on its right and fire on its left  (sect. 153, p. 332). It brings peace and truth. The seventh (sect. 155, p. 333) I could not find named; it has to do with producing souls and seems to be female. Heth is the righteous one, the sadich, who "sustains the world and he is its foundation" (sect. 357, p. 334). Theth and Yod "are together, like nine and ten", one in the north and one in the west (sect. 169, p. 346). They are both "eternities" (sect. 170, p. 347). The 7th must be Malkhut, as Kaplan asserts (p. 176). (The matter is somewhat obscured by the fact that in Hebrew letters are also numbers. Thus for example Kaplan translates "alef" as "first" in sect. 141; Mithridates leaves it as "alef"; and the same for "bet" in sect. 142. But see Kaplan's discussion of sect. 16, where he explains that "bet" represents Wisdom, and "alef" Crown already there.)

From that perspective, we can see the word "wisdom", sapientia, as the 2nd sefira. For what comes next, the text quotes Proverbs 4:7: "Acquire wisdom, and with your possessions acquire understanding". So perhaps "understanding" is the 3rd, then "mercy" the fourth, and "power" the 5th, After that, the 6th is "peace" and "truth". Other names known later are mentioned,obscurely. For example, Abraham is associated with mercy, Isaac with fear, and Jacob with truth (sect. 137, p. 323). Since kindness is the 4th and truth the 6th, fear must be the 5th. The 8th is "foundation", and "eternity" the 9th and 10th (or perhaps "of eternities" for the 10th). The Bahir does not follow the usual order. The idea seems to be to associate the 8th, normally 9th, with circumcision, which was performed on the 8th day after birth, and the 7th, normally 10th, with the Sabbath.

The chronologically next manuscript is the Great Parchment, early 14th century.  Here, however, the sefirot are actually listed by name and in order. I will be quoting from the edition of Giulio Buso, Simonetta M. Bondoni and Saverio Campanini, Torino, 2004.

This is the first text with recognizable names. Its first sentence (p. 53) begins: "Prima est corona", i.e. "The first is the crown" (p. 195; however "prima" is not in any Hebrew manuscript, the editor tells us; it might be Mithridates' addition for clarity). It imagines a pool that becomes a river that divides into the four rivers of Paradise, now given the names of the four next sefirot. I put these words in bold.
Prima est corona que dicitur piscina superior in campo agri vel via cambifullonis et hoc exit ex heden ad irrigandum agrum paradisi unus fluvius et exinde separatur et fit in quatuor capita que sunt secunda tertia quarta et quinta numerationes que dicuntur sapientia intelligentia magnitudo et potentia nomen autem primi capitis fluvii pison.

The first [numeration] is the crown, called upper pool in the field of the garden or highway of the fuller's field. As a single river, it goes out from Eden to water the garden of paradise. From thence it is parted, and becomes into four heads, which correspond to the second, third, fourth, and fifth numerations, called wisdom, intelligence, greatness, and power. The name of the first riverhead is Pison.
These correspond precisely to five of the conventional names for the first five sefirot: Keter means "crown", Hochmah means "wisdom", Binah means "intelligence" or "understanding", Gedullah means "greatness", and Gevurah means "power".  There are, to be sure, other names for the fourth and fifth sefirot, but these are clear enough.

The rest of the sefirot are named in a later section of The Great Parchment, which describes in Kabbalistic terms Noah's sending of the dove to look for dry land (p. 59, p. 205):
...expectavit septem dies regnum fundamentum decorem eternitatem gloriam potentiam magnitudinem...
He waited yet other seven days: kingdom, fundament, ornament, eternity, glory, power, greatness.
These of course are listed from the bottom up. Some of these last seven sefirot are not quite what they are called in the Kabbalah translations we are familiar with today.

There are discrepancies here between the names in Mithridates' translation of the Great Parchment and the names given in the 1 Chronicles quote. Namely, Mithridates' calls the 7th sefira "eternity", while it is "victory" in most translations of the 1 Chronicles, and he calls the 8th "ornament", which is "majesty", or the Vulgate's "praise", in 1 Chronicles. (Translations of 1 Chronicles 29:11 can be compared at

Mithridates did not have, at least in the three texts at our disposal, a citation of the two bible verses from Gates of Light. That text was translated by Ricci. Mithridates was going by how the words were understood in the Bible verses quoted in the works he translated. These are not in The Great Parchment, and not in any systematic way in the Bihar, but are in the third work of Mithridates so far published, a late 14th century work called The Gate of Heaven (Torino 2012).

For the 8th sefira, Gate of Heaven (p. 514) quotes Deut. 33:17. Mithridates renders it "The firstborn of a bull is the ornament [decor]", explaining that this is adar, firstborn of power, i.e. Gevurah. On the left pillar of the "tree", Hod is directly below Gevurah. From and I get:
As the firstborn of his bull his glory [hadar] is to
quasi primogeniti tauri pulchritudo eius
His beauty as of the firstling of a bullock...
Here the Vulgate  translates "hadar" as "pulchritude", i.e. beauty. That is similar to the Latin term "ornament" of Mithridates. To be sure, this is "hadar" and not "hod". But Gate of Heaven insists (p. 514):
in fact hod is not different from hadar, just as it is well known in the secret of the verse saying "Hod vehadar paholeo, i.e. the ornament  [decor] is his work (Ps. 111.3).
Here is that verse (,
honorable [hod] and majestic [hadar] is his work
he gloria et decor opus eius
His work is praise and magnificence:
We can see here Hod as "to be praised" or "honorable" and Hadar as "magnificence" and the first translation's "majestic", 

A verse cited in Gates of Light (p. 124 of Weinstein translation) quotes Psalm 104:1 (,
Great [gadalta] you are very with honor [Hod] and majesty [hadar] you are clothed
magnificatus es nimis gloria et decore indutus es
...thou art exceedingly great. Thou hast put on praise and beauty
Here Douay-Rheims oddly renders "gloria" as "praise" rather than "glory"; the other is "decore", now called "beauty". That last would seem inappropriate to the context, as opposed to "majesty".

Also in Gates of Light, there is Psalm 107:8 (, 106:8 in the Vulgate,
O that would praise [yodu] the Lord his covenant loyalty and his wonderful works to men.
confiteantur Domino misericordiam eius et mirabilia eius in filios hominum
Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him: and his wonderful works to the children of men.
According to Weinstein, "yodu" is a form of "Hod". The Vulgate's "confiteantur" means "give thanks" or "give praise".

I think this is the explanation for why Hod is translated "decorum", i.e. "beauty" or "elegance", which the 2004 translation renders as "ornament". It has to do with the second name, "hadar".  We can also see here why "praise", "glory", and "majesty" are also appropriate.

"Beauty" and "elegance" still seem to me strange. Reading Kristeller on Ficino, I found the Latin words "decor" and "decorum" in a Renaissance context. Speaking of God's acts in this world, to cause what we see around us, Ficino says (quoted in P. A. Kristeller, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, p. 69, with the Latin in a footnote)
God does nor exist and act by chance (ut contingit), otherwise there would be no order anywhere or at any time, but as it is convenient or, better, as it is meet (decet). It is meet because it is decorous [decorum]. Decorum itself [Ipse vero decor] is God Himself, from whom and through whom all decorous things [omnia decentia] come to being.
Here "decorous" means "appropriate", specifically, appropriate to God, reflecting God's hand, who gives existence to everything that is. I think the same is meant by "decor" in Mithridates' context. It is like the first-born of the bull, if the bull is God. In this case, the bull is the 5th sefira, God's power, Gate of Heaven tells us, and also that which, as we learn there and elsewhere, stands in judgment, and is the one we should fear. The 8th sefira, then, is what acts appropriately to these judgments.

For Netzach, Gate of Heaven cites Psalm 16:11 (,
will show me the path of life fullness of joy. Your presence [there are] pleasures [nə-‘i-mō-wṯ] in your right forevermore  [ne-ṣaḥ] 
mihi semitam vitae plenitudinem laetitiarum ante vultum tuum decores in dextera tua aeternos
Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end.
In other words, Netzach=eternity, the same as in Mithridates' translation of the Bihar, section 169.

If so, how did Netzach become victory? Kaplan cites a reference to Isaiah 34:10 in the Bihar, which he says has Netzach and Hod as "victory of victories". But no one else reads it that way (see The word-by-word literal version has ( and
 From generation to generation it shall lie waste it forever [lenasah] ever [nasahim] None shall pass through it.  
...a generatione in generationem desolabitur in saeculum saeculorum non erit transiens per eam
..from generation to generation it shall lie waste, none shall pass through it for ever and ever.
Here "Netzach" corresponds to "lenasah" and "nasahim", meaning "forever". This would seem to be further confirmation of Mithridates' translation of "Netzach" as "eternity".  Kaplan (p. 200, note 190) argues that the root of "nesah" is "strength", which implies endurance, hence victory. In the above verse, "enduringly" might work. But "victory"  or "victoriously" is very much a stretch.

Looking in an online Bible concordance, I find no occurrence of "nesach" as "victory", and only one as "strength". This one is interesting, because the Vulgate actually translates it as "Triumphator". The verse is 1 Samuel 3:29. I give the literal word-by-word followed by the Vulgate (,
And also the strength [nê-ṣaḥ] of Israel not do lie or repent for not [is] a man that he should repent.

porro Triumphator in Israhel non parcet et paenitudine non flectetur neque enim homo est ut agat paenitentiam

But the triumpher in Israel will not spare, and will not be moved to repentance: for he is not a man that he should repent. 
This is an odd translation. The Vulgate adds "non parcet", do not spare, and the Douay-Rheims leaves out "non flectetur", do not lie! The King James version, more accurately, has "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent". Other versions have Glory instead of Strength.

Gates of Light, p. 142, uses this verse to explain a feature of Netzach, that it hands down positive decrees which will not be rescinded. If the corresponding Vulgate translation has "Triumphator", there is a natural connection to the Chariot card, which was sometimes called "Carre Trionfale", triumphal chariot.

There is another difference between The Gate of Heaven  and The Great Parchment: two of the sefirot have an additional name. The fourth sefira now has the main Latin name of "pietas", sometimes "charitas" or "misericordia", translated as mercy, charity, and clemency. These corresponds to the Hebrew word "Hesed", sometimes spelled "Chesed" (p. 372). For the Hebrew "Gedullah" the words "magnitudo" and "magnificientia" also appear (p. 373f).

The fifth sefira, besides "potentia", also has the name "timor", meaning fear (p. 425), which corresponds to the Hebrew "Pachad". That is a term we know from Gates of Light's quotation of Isaiah 11:2.

In books today "Tiferet" is most often translated as "beauty". I could find no biblical citations for Tiferet in Gate of Heaven where it appears to have this meaning. The verse I quoted earlier from 1 Chronicles, cited in Gates of Light, has the most often translates it as "glory" (p. 225), although one, professing to be a "literal" translation, had "beauty", which to me seems less appropriate in the context. Here are two other citations in that work, Proverbs 19:11 (, and 20:29 (,
His glory [tipartow] to pass over transgressions.
gloria eius est iniqua praetergredi
 his glory is to pass over wrongs.
the glory [tip̄-’e-reṯ] of young their strength and the beauty [hă-ḏar] of old men the gray head. exultatio iuvenum fortitudo eorum et dignitas senum caniti
The joy of young men is their strength: and the dignity of old men, their grey hairs.
Again, tiferet=glory. Beauty would work, but "glory" is better. These are fine distinctions. Checking the concordance, it seems that "beauty" is a correct translation in some Bible verses, and "glory" in others. But the verses where "beauty" is appropriate are not ones cited by the Kabbalists, at least the Bihar and Gates of Light. (The other two works lack an editor's list of bible verses, so all I can see is that so far I do not se any where "beauty" fits.)

From all this, I get the following:
(1) Keter=crown, spirit of God
(2) Hochmah=wisdom
(3) Binah=intelligence or understanding
(4) Gedullah=greatness, magnificence; and Chesed=mercy, charity, pity, loving-kindness
(5) Gevurah=power, might; and Pachad=Fear.
(6) Tiferet=glory, less frequently beauty
(7)  Netzach=eternity, endurance, once victory, once triumphator
(8) Hod=honor, to be praised, majesty; and Hadar=decorous in sense of "fitting", less often beautiful
(9) Yesod=foundation; also Kol, "all" (in heaven and on earth)
(10) Malkhut=kingdom.
This is not all. The Kabbalists reveled in assigning assigning names to sefirot. But these are the basis.

4. Paths, planets, and the Golden Dawn

None of the Latin sources of the late 15th and early 16th centuries mentions 22 paths between sefirot. Ricci's frontispiece (at left) only has 17.

But both Pico and Reuchlin mentioned, in passing, "32 paths", which surely comes from the Sefer Yetzirah (SY), which starts by speaking of "32 paths of Wisdom", naming the sefiroth and the Hebrew letters. Then at the end of the work there are "32 paths of wisdom [Chochmah]" described without reference to either sefiroth or letters. Later Kabbalists, such as Gikatilla, added to the "32 paths of wisdom (Chochmah)" the "50 gates of understanding (Binah)", 72 bridges of Chesed, and so on (I will give the full quote later in this post).

The SY, in all its versions, speaks of 22 astrological entities corresponding to three types of Hebrew letters: "mothers", of which there were 3; "doubles", of which there were 7, and "simples" of which there were 12. What such a configuration would have looked like, in the context of the SY, is quite obscure. Any reader of its first section --with Jewish help some Christians could have read it--would see that the sefirot are characterized as north, south, east, west, up, down, good, evil, beginning, and end. Here I use the Short Version, which is one of the two published together in Mantua, 1562 (Aryeh Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation, 1990, p. 319). The other is the Long Version; these are the versions that would have been known in Renaissance Italy. A third version exists in manuscripts from before then, called the Saadia. It makes the same assignments. I am using Kaplan's translation:
1:5   Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their measure is ten which have no end. A depth of beginning, a depth of end; a depth of good, a depth of evil; a depth of above, a depth below; a depth east, a depth west; a depth north, a depth south. The singular Master, God faithful King, dominates them all from His holy dwelling until eternity of eternities
This suggests a three-dimensional space through time and with value, somewhat like what is below, The six directions are indicated next to the cube (East is away from us and West toward us) ; the faces of a cube are one way of visualizing the directions, used by Kaplan; however, they are "depths", i.e. beyond any cube we might imagine in space, and they correspond more to the centers of these faces, or spheres around these centers, than to the faces themselves.

At any given moment, marked on the horizontal axis, the universe has a particular value, from "good" (or perhaps "best possible") to "evil" ("worst possible"), marked on the vertical axis. I also labeled some of the edges of the cube, to show one way of picturing the lines that the SY marks off. However this way proves not to be very illuminating for what follows in the SY, so feel free to ignore the "UN", "UE", "US", etc.

How could such a configuration be seen in terms of the conventional "tree of life" with its "three pillars"? There are no "pillars" mentioned in the Sefer Yetzirah, or even vertical lines. In what follows, I will try to see how much of the conventional tree can be developed from the SY.

Chapter 3 assigns the three "mother" letters to three of the four elements, in the order air, water, and fire.  Of these, air "decides between" water and fire:
3.3. Three Mothers, AMSh, in the Universe are air, water, and fire. Heaven was created from fire, earth was created from water, and the air decides between the fire and the water.
(The Long Version adds "from breath" after the second occurrence of "air". In the Saadia, air is not said to "decide between" water and fire.) Also:
3.1. Three Mothers, AMSh. Their foundation is the pan of liability, the pan of merit, and the tongue of decree, deciding between them.
The Long Version and Saadia have the same. The imagery here suggests a balance with two pans and a pointer between them (as at right, from Aryeh Kaplan's Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation, in Theory and Practice). It also suggests a triangular formation such as we have at the top of the conventional Kabbalist tree, with air at the top and water and fire below it. 

The late 14th century Kabbalist Gate of Heaven, translated into Latin for Pico by Mithridates, does in fact call Kether, the first sefira, "primordial air" (vol. 2 p. 283), while Hochmah is water ("wisdom, which is compassion, called water", p. 372) and Binah is "fire from water" (p. 371). The "pan of liability" is on the left, starting with Binah and the "pan of merit" is on the right, starting in Hochmah.  The two sides of the conventional tree are white on the right and red on the left, corresponding to these two elements. Given that the air is "primordial air", the SY is not talking about the air that we breathe, or the water we drink, or the fire we light, but something before any of these. It is what the SY calls "breath", God's breath in creating the universe; since breath is moist and warm, it contains the other two "mothers" within it, until they are separated. Some have compared the three to the three dimensions of space; but I cannot see how one dimension could "decide between" the other two, or be identified with a particular element.

Next the SY describes the planets, associated with the "double letters". They are identified, in their usual order from Saturn to the Moon, in terms of the six directions mentioned previously, plus one more in the center, as "the Holy Palace". Below is the Short Version text; the capital letters stand for particular Hebrew letters as they would be spelled out in Latin characters:
4.3. Seven Doubles, BGDKPRT, parallel the seven extremities. These are the six extremities: up, down, east, west, north, south. And the Holy Palace precisely in the middle upholds them all.
In sections 5 through 11 of that chapter the SY assigns each of the seven doubles individually, in alphabetical order (as above, where each capital letter stands for the beginning of a Hebrew letter as it is spelled out), to each of the seven planets, starting with Saturn and ending with the Moon.

It is possible to represent all six directions and a center point in a two-dimensional diagram. North and South are diagonally opposite each other; East and West have to be at right angles to the North-South line, with East to the right of North. So they are all on one square: clockwise around the perimeter it is NESW, starting at any arbitrary vertex called "North". Then "Up" is a point above this square, "Down" a point below the square, and "Center" a point in the middle of the square.  See the diagram below, ignoring for the moment the lines. The planets are just the points. I am assuming that the directions are assigned going from right to left and up to down, as in Hebrew writing. I have put the "mother letters" where I have suggested they go, above the direction-points.

The Bahir, at least in part, followed these assignments. It says (Kaplan, p. 9):
11. ... Desolation [Bohu] is in Peace, as it is written (Job 25:2): He makes peace in His high places." This teaches us that Michael, the prince to God's right, is water and hail, while Gabriel, the prince to God's left, is fire. The two are reconciled by the Prince of Peace...
22. All agree that none were created on the first day. It should therefore not be said that Michael drew out the heaven at the south, and Gabriel drew it out at the north, while God arranged things in the middle.
So the south is on the right, with Michael and water, and north  is on the left, with Gabriel and fire   East and west are less clear. Section 170 it assigns Victory, i.e. Netzach, to the west and Hod to the north. That fits the diagram above. Section 179 assigns Yesod to the southwest. Section 155 assigns Yesod to the west and Malkhut to the east. That part doesn't fit, if Netzach is in the west. The Bahir doesn't talk about upper and lower, that I can find. Since they are in the center, above and below the square, they could be assigned to any conjunction of North or South with East or West. So Yesod could be southwest and Malkhut northeast. Perhaps that is where Yesod and Malkhut are, with Tiferet in the middle. That would leave east for Gevurah. This is speculation, of course. It makes for an odd looking tree. Granting that the directions are only metaphors, I'm not sure how the metaphor even works.

According to Farmer (p. 355), "southern water" and "northern fire" were "common symbols" of the fourth and fifth sefiroth, i.e. Chesed and Gevurah. That fits what Pico says at this point:
28.24. When Job said, who makes peace in his heights, he meant the southern water and the northern fire, and their commanders, of whom nothing more should be said.
The reference is to Job 25:2. But how are "southern water" and "northern fire" Chesed and Gevurah? As a source, Farmer gives Wirszubski p. 41, which is a discussion of Bahir section 11 (9 in Scholem's edition). That talks about water and fire, assigned to Michael and Gabriel respectively, and, with section 22, South and North, but not Chesed and Gevurah specifically. These are pillars, not sefiroth.

Also, there is good evidence that Pico considered the "great north wind", magnum aquilo, to be the sefira Binah, because he says both:
 28.6. The great north wind is the source of all souls simply, just as the other days are sources of some of them and not all. 
  and then:
28.8. Souls descend from the third light to the fourth day, and from there to the fifth, from which departing they steal into the night of the body.
According to Wirszubski (p. 28), "fifth day" is Pico's misconceived way of referring to the tenth sefira, and "great north wind" has no medieval precedent at all. It seems like "north" for Pico, whatever his source, refers to the whole pillar rather than to one sefira.

Kaplan says that in the Bahir, Gevurah is North (p. 110). His reasoning assumes that Yesod is West, when the text says Southwest. He also says that Tiferet is East, when the text says that the seventh, which here seems to be Malkhut, is East (section 155). But if Malkhut is seventh, Tiferet would be sixth, as Yesod is clearly eighth.  If so, the numbers six through eight might correspond to the middle line from upper to lower, in which case Tiferet would be my "upper" and Malkhut in the "Holy Palace" in the middle. East and West would simply be the directions at right angles to North and South, conceived as "pillars". The Bahir might be inconsistent, as the product of separate texts combined into one.

Then there is the question of which planets go where. I am not sure how in particular they were assigned. In the short and long versions, the directions are listed in the order Up-Down-East-West-North-South-Middle; and the planets are listed in the order Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. It is possible that the associations went in order. But I really have no idea. Other versions have other orders. The assignments to do not correspond to anything later that I can find.

Next come the 12 signs of the zodiac, represented, according to the SY, as 12 "diagonals", assigned individually, each in its own section in alphabetical order, to each of the 12 signs in order from Aries to Pisces. This is the only suggestion of lines in the SY. Representing these "diagonals" in our diagram is not hard. We have to connect the dots in accordance with the instructions:
 5:1   Twelve Elementals: HV ZCh TY LN SO TzQ. Their foundation is sight, hearing, smell, speech, taste, coition, action, motion, anger, laughter, thought, and sleep. Their measure is the twelve diagonal boundaries: the north-east boundary, the south-east boundary, the upper-east boundary, the lower-east boundary, the upper-north boundary, the lower-north boundary, the south-west boundary, the north-west boundary, the upper-west boundary, the lower-west boundary, the upper-south boundary, the lower-south boundary. They continually spread for ever and ever. They are the Arms of the Universe.
So we connect the dots as instructed. The result is an octohedron (as drawn above) with one sphere in the middle, unconnected, and three spheres above it, also unconnected. That, I think, is what the SY wants us to picture. Some of the lines don't look diagonal; but in three dimensions they really are. I will call this diagram "SY1". It is a two-dimensional representation of what is really in 3 dimensions. If we add the three spheres at the top, what we get is on the left below. On the right is the so-called "cube of space" shown earlier, but as an octohedron:

The planets are at the seven directional points (including the center) and the zodiacal signs are the lines between six of them, for 12 in all. The SY only mentions 12 lines, so we are done.

It might be objected that some of these lines aren't diagonals, in particular the ones on the square formed by East, North, West, and South. But that is from the perspective from which I drew the diagram, in which it was most important that lines be seen. Facing any of the four directions (the vertices of the square) from a position in the center, the lines would indeed be all diagonal.

This diagram puts the sefiroth where actually the elements, planets, and zodiacal signs would go. The sefiroth themselves are represented spatially only so that we can picture their relationships. Actually, they are "supercelestial", beyond the spatial framework that they define. There was a late 19th century engraving that captures the situation, wheels (of Ezekiel's vision) and all.

The configuration suggested by the SY is not the one we know from the diagrams in books and on the Internet. When we look at Ricci's frontispiece, the 10 spheres aren't in the SY configuration. What has happened?

For one thing, the second and third sefiroth shouldn't be so close together. That is an oddity of this diagram. More significantly, the sphere that I labeled "Upper" has disappeared and a new one has been placed below what had been the bottom. It corresponds to the sefira of Malkhut. Also, in Ricci's diagram, the lines have been redrawn, rather haphazardly, now 17 of them, not much like the one I have imagined for the SY.  These specific lines don't correspond to anything in the book that follows this frontispiece. Gates of Light has many channels between sefiroth, but no particular list of them.

In this frontispiece, with its misplaced second and third sefiroth, there are 12 diagonals. 4 verticals, and 1 horizontal. Moving the second and third sefiroth further apart, there would be 10 diagonals, 6 verticals, and 1 horizontal.

It must have occurred to someone fairly early to correlate lines with types of entity, making 12 diagonals, 7 verticals, and 3 horizontals. The horizontals and verticals are straightforward enough: you just make a vertical from the 1st to the 6th and two horizontals between the two other horizontal pairs of sefirot. But for the diagonals, there are two possibilities: either one between 2nd and 5th and another between 3rd and 4th, or one between 7th and 10th and another between 8th and 10th. Both alternatives in fact appear in the literature, the former starting around 1548 in Egypt or Palestine, by a Jew whose culture was that of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, and the other in 1625 by a Jewish convert to Christianity publishing in France.

I have found no work before the middle of the 16th century, at least translated into English or talked about by writers in English, that says which alternative was taken. The first specifications of 22 paths that I have found are in Moses Cordovero, writing in c. 1548 Egypt and Palestine. He wrote two relevant works later influential in Europe, the Or Ne'irav (The Pleasant Light), published in Venice in 1587, and the Pardes Rimonim (Garden of Pomegranates), in Cracow, Poland, 1591, both in Hebrew only (source: WorldCat, online).

I found an 1862 Lvov Hebrew edition of Pardes Rimonim online, digitalized by the HathiTrust. It has a diagram showing the two upper pairs connected diagonally, and no diagonals to Malkhut--but without horizontal lines connecting the pairs (at right below). A similar diagram appears various places on the Internet (in Google Images, search "pardes rimonim tree"). Unfortunately it only has 20 "paths"; so it is not very helpful. I assume that the 1862 printer was simply copying what was there earlier, although I do not know.

Fortunately, Cordovero's Or Ne'irav has been translated, in Ira Robinson's, Moses Cordovero's Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of his Or Ne'erav, 1994. According to Robinson (p. xxvi), it is an "epitome", i.e. condensed account, for beginners of Pardes Rimonim. It has a section, in Part VI, Ch. 2, delineating what it calls the "main paths" (Robinson p. 120f). Actually, I found two translations of the section, the other being in Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, 1997, p. 42f. In one place Matt's translation seems preferable, which I put in parentheses. The brackets are Robinson's. The diagram below right (from Matt's Introduction) conforms to this account (but the translations Matt gives do not exhaust the accepted ones: e.g., Netzah is often called "Victory"):
Indeed there are innumerable channels of various types. Among them are these: one from Keter to Hochmah, and one from Keter to Binah, and one from Keter to Tiferet, totaling three; one from Hokhmah to Binah, one from Hokhmah from (Matt: to) Hesed, one from Hokhmah to Gevurah, and one from Hokhmah to Tiferet, totaling four; one from Binah to Hesed, one from Binah to Gevurah, and one from Binah to Tiferet, totaling three; one from Hesed to Netzah, one from Hesed to Gevurah, and one from Hesed to Tiferet, totaling three; one from Gevurah to Hod [and] one from Gevurah to Tiferet, totaling two; one from Tiferet to Nezah, one from Tiferet to Hod, and one from Tiferet to Yesod, totaling two; one from Hod to Yesod, and one from Yesod to Malkhut. Malkhut receives nothing except from Yesod alone. Through it, it receives from all [the seferot]. Without [Yesod, Malkhut] cannot receive [emanation] from any of them and no one of the [sefirotic] qualities is able to influence the lower [worlds] without it, for it is essential for the guidance of the lower [worlds]. These are the major channels. In addition to them there can be an infinity of [sefirotic] combinations. 

By "lower", Cordovero means the "worlds" of Creation, Formation, and Making, as he says in the paragraph before. (We cannot assume, however, that these terms were known to the circle around Pico.) This is the earliest account of where the 22 paths go that I have found. Oddly enough, the cover of Robinson's book has the same diagram with 20 paths that the 1862 Pardes Rimonem has. Since the other is an "epitome" of the first, probably the Pardes Rimonem text also listed the 22 paths given in Or Ne'erav/. So I assume that at some point, either the illustrator did not read the relevant part of the text, or he constructed it so as to deliberately mislead people who could not read the Hebrew.

But how early was this assignment of paths? Although Jewish Kabbalists follow it almost exclusively (i.e. the one at right above), there is a persistent view by some writers  that this one is late, adopted by Cordovero and Luria, and that the other, first published by Athenasius Kircher in his Oedipus Aegyptus of 1652 is the traditional Jewish one (at right; for more detail see In other words, the Jews don't know their own history.

Kircher's source seems to have been an engraving published by a Jewish convert to Christianity named Philippe d'Aquin in 1625. D'Aquin's diagram is reproduced in the essay "Four Trees, Some Amulets, and the Seventy-two Names of God: Kircher Reveals by Kabbalah, by Daniel Stolzenberg , (at right, from Athenasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything, p. 152).  Notice that it only has 20 "paths", omitting the usual ones between Hod and Yesod and Netzach and Yesod. That is a rather gross error, but no worse than that of the "tree" in Cordovero's book. I don't know what is in d'Aquin's actual text, which may, like Cordovero's, be different. 1625 is rather late, and in a country from which the Jews had been expelled and were still persona non grata.

I have not determined d'Aquin's Jewish background. I do know that Jewish converts did produce forgeries. There are the ones mentioned by Hanegraaff unwittingly used by Lazzarrelli (see my first post). Kircher, too, was taken in by at least one forgery, as Stolzenberg describes on pp. 155-156. Kircher gives what he takes to be the 12 and 42 letter names of God; the latter turns out to be "God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Three in One, One in Three," attributed to a certain "Rabbi Hakadosch". This is from a 1487 book by a Spanish Jewish convert named Paulus de Heredia, quoting a non-existent treatise by a certain non-existent "Rabbi Haccados". (Pico's Mithridates is a different story: he translated literally, although adding phrases or sentences here and there that did genuinely clarify the meaning--and in addition inserting his own gloss, sometimes to a Christian point. But the translation was for Pico, who would be using the translation as an aid to reading the original nad would be able to separate text from gloss. It is true that Mithridates translated "Messiah" as "Christos": but that has the precedent of the Septuagint. For other specifics, see the translators' introductions to the series of Mithridates translations being put out in Turino.)

In hopes of some clarification about the verifiable Jewish tradition, I looked in the text of Gikatilla's Sh'are Orah (Gates of Light, translated by Avi Weinstein, 1994), of late 13th century Spain, whose condensed Latin version (Portae Lucis) the Ricci frontispiece illustrates. In the chapter on Malkhut, Gikatilla enumerates (p. 53) (my additions are in brackets, the translator's in parentheses; this is the passage I was alluding to near the beginning of this post, for its 32, 50, 72, etc.)
There [at Adonay, i.e. Malkhut] all the rivers are drawn from the 13 attributes of the crown [Kether], 32 paths of wisdom [Chochmah], 50 gates of understanding [Binah], 72 bridges of CheSeD-haGeDoLLaH (great loving-kindness), 42 kinds of fire that come from GeVuRaH (power), and 70 channels that come from the middle line [Tiferet?].
All of these could be seen as various ways of connecting sefirot. Gikatilla then adds:
For all these emanations, pathways, gateways, bridges, various flames, and channels flow through the emanations of NeTZaCH and HOD and are fused together through the attribute EL CHaY, which is (more widely) called YeSOD. For:
From there is the well...   (Numbers 21:16)
The verse means we enter the highest pool, the BReCaCH, known as the Name ADoNaY from the attribute YeSOD. ...It is because ADoNaY is filled from the nine emanations above it that the rest of the world is blessed from the Name ADoNaY.
ADoNaY for Gikatilla is a name of Malkhut; by "highest pool", he must mean the highest pool in the next lower world, in which Malkkhut above becomes Kether below.

What Gikatilla is saying is that everything above meets in Yesod, and from there is sent to Malkhut. This suggests only one path to Malkhut. But I cannot find any place in Gikatilla where he says that there are 22 paths between sefirot, as opposed to 17 or 20.

But a few pages earlier (p. 44), Gikatilla speaks of what happens when Malkhut receives from the left side rather than from Yesod (here called TZeDeK, i.e. "Righteous"):
If, however, God forbid, the channels that flow from TZeDeK should cease, then the tree would draw its power from attributes of stern judgment, and it is from the left that evil [RA] renews itself in the world.
This passage suggests a channel or path of some sort from the left side, that of stern judgment, to Malkhut. Well, there are many paths among sefirot. Nowhere in the book does he specify 22 in particular. The confusion has persisted ever since, with the post-Kircher Christian Kabbalists generally having paths from Hod and Netzach to Malkhut, and Jewish Kabbalah following the Or Ne'irav account. 

Going back even further, there is the Bahir, published in 1176. Its section 102 (Kaplan translation, p. 38) says:
We learned: there is a single pillar extending from heaven to earth, and its name is Righteous (Tzadik). [This pillar] is named after the righteous. When there are righteous people in the world, then it becomes strong, and when there are not, it becomes weak. It supports the entire world, as it is written, "And Righteous is the foundation of the world." If it becomes weak, then the world cannot endure.
This again seems to imply only one path--"pillar"--between the sefirot above Malkhut ("heaven") and Malkhut ("earth"), which indeed is how Kaplan interprets this section (p. 161): is evident that, while there are many paths interconnecting the other Sefirot, there is only one path leading from Malkhut-Kingship, the lowest Sefirah, upward, and this is the path leading to Yesod-Foundation. This path is called Tzadik, the Pillar of Righteousness, represented by the letter Tav.
Even the name "foundation" seems to imply only one path: how can something be "the" foundation supporting the world, if the world--either that of the sefirot or that below--has other supports as well?

Then there is Pico in the first set of his "Cabalist Conclusions" (translation by Farmer in Syncretism in the West, 1998):
28.4. The sin of Adam was severing of kingdom from the other shoots.
28. 31. Circumcision was given to free us from the impure powers that circle about.
28.32. Circumcision occurs on the eighth day because it is superior to the universalized Bride.
28.36. The sin of Sodom came from severing the last shoot.
The image here is of one path to the last "shoot", the one connecting it to the one above it having to do with circumcision, i.e. Yesod, which thereby gives the possibility of salvation from Adam's sin. The "universalized Bride" is Malkhut, Farmer tells us (p. 358). For what circumcision has to do with this "Bride" is clarified somewhat by by Chaim Wirszubski in Pico della Mirandola's Encounter with Jewish Mysticism, p. 45. Recanati had explained, in the work translated for him by Mithridates (the translation is now lost, but not the Hebrew original), that circumcision occurs on the eighth day after birth to make sure that a sabbath occurs in the meantime. For that reason Recanati says that circumcision is "takes precedence over" the Sabbath. I am not sure of this reasoning, but the conclusion certainly conforms to Pico. So it must be that Malkhut somehow represents the Sabbath. And Yesod is certainly "superior to" Malkhut in the sense of being above. Wirszubski explains:
What is meant by circumcision being above the "universalized bride" is simply that in the hierarchical configuration of the ten sefirot, the ninth sifirah, Yesod, the "foundation" of all creative potencies, represented by the phallus, is above the tenth.
That the phallus represents all "creative potencies" also gives us a Kabbalistic interpretation of the phallic wand of the Noblet Magician, as symbolic of God as creator.

As to what a "shoot" is, I would note that Recanati's word is "plant", in Wirszubski's translation. So the image is either that of cutting off the bottom branch of a tree, or of separating off  the last plant in a garden from the rest. The analogy, in Pico's source for 28.4 (Recanati, quoting the Zohar, according to Wirscubski p. 24), is to meeting a woman without her husband, a sin because there is a suspicion of adultery.

There is also another of Pico's theses:
28.27. Just as the gathering of waters is the just, so the sea to which all rivers run is divinity.
Here Wirszubski quotes Pico's source, Recanati, whose source is the Zohar (words in brackets are Wirszubski's, p. 42):
The "gathering together of the waters" is Yesod 'Olam [Fundamentum Saeculi, otherwise called Saddiq, Iustus; see Prov. 10:25]; it draws all being to itself, and thence [they flow] to the Shekinah, as it is written [Ecc. 1:7] "all streams run to the sea." ...
In the imagery of the channels of a garden, Yesod is where all the waters, i.e. energy, from above, must pass in order to get to Malkhut.

Then in Part Two, where Pico is using the Kabbalah to refute Judaism, he says:
11>25 Every Cabalist has to concede that the Messiah was to have liberated them from diabolical and not temporal captivity.
11>28. From the principles of the Cabalists it is clearly indicated that the necessity for circumcision is removed by the coming of the Messiah.
11>40. The Cabalists inevitably have to concede this: that the true Messiah will purify men through water.
11>45. It is known very openly in the Cabala why the Son of God comes with baptismal waters and the Holy Spirit with fire.
In other words, Christian baptism takes the place of circumcision, as the essential requirement for receiving God's blessings. If there were more than one path to Malkhut, neither circumcision nor baptism would be needed, as God's blessings would still flow down through sefira 7 and 8.In both Judaism and Christianity, a covenant with God is necessary before any benefits and energy can flow either up or down. To have paths between Malkhut and any other sefira besides Yesod would render such a covenant unnecessary,.

So let us assume that the "tree" as known by the pre-Kircher Christian Kabbalists (or at least most of them!) had only one connection to Malkhut, that to Yesod. In that case, to preserve the idea of 12 diagonals, there would be paths between sefiroth 3 and 4 on the one hand and 2 and 5 on the other, as in the diagram at left.In every other case, each sefira has a path to the next higher number in the sequence: 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and so on. A path from 3 to 4 is called for. If so, a path from 2 to 5 is merely the same thing on the other side.


Given the shape of the tree, there is then the problem of where to situate the elements, planets, and zodiacal signs. In the Jewish tradition, the elements go to the 3 horizontals, in order from upper to lower; the planets go to the verticals, in order from top to bottom and right to left; and the diagonals go to the zodiacal signs, again in order from top to bottom and right to left.

That the elements go with the horizontals, the planets with the verticals, and the diagonals with the zodiacal signs is so logical that it immediately puts the "tree" published by Kircher 1652 in grave doubt as to its reflecting a genuine Jewish tradition. The letters simply go down in order from aleph to tau, disregarding the division between horizontals, verticals, and diagonals. (To see this "tree" in more detail, go to However, that remains another way of making assignments.

The SY "tree", however, assigned mother letters to sefirot and double letters to planets. Can such assignments be maintained in the new way of drawing the tree?

Pico in his "Cabalist Conclusions Confirming the Christian Religion", thesis 48, assigned the 7 planetary spheres to the bottom 7 sefiroth ("numerations"), and the three other sefiroth to the usual Ptolemaic spheres above them. Between them is what he calls the "edifice". I am not aware of the origin of that term in this context.
11>48.Whatever other Cabalists say, I say the ten spheres correspond to the ten numerations like this: so that, starting from the edifice, Jupiter corresponds to the fourth, Mars to the fifth, the sun to the sixth, Saturn to the seventh, Venus to the eighth, Mercury to the ninth, the moon to the tenth. Then, above the edifice, the firmament to the third, the primum mobile to the second, and the empyrean heaven to the tenth [sic].
This is the usual "Ptolemaic" order, except that Saturn is lower down, taking the place formerly occupied by Venus . The assignment of the empyrean to the tenth is surely a slip on Pico's part; he meant the first.That is one way of solving the problem. The eighth sefira is Netzach, which for him was eternity or endurance. That characterization fits Saturn.

From the names of the sefiroth we can see why Pico assigns planets the way he does. We have Jupiter =  greatness; mercy. Mars = power or fear; Sun = glory. Saturn  = eternity or endurance; Venus (goddess of beauty) = ornament or beauty. If these, then Mercury = foundation and Moon = kingdom. Saturn's identification with eternity could be in virtue either of his role as ruler over the Golden Age before time or his rulership over the Isles of the Blessed, where heroes went after death. Mercury's identification with Yesod, I hypothesize, would have to do with his role as the conduit between heaven and earth and so being in both worlds, like the designation "all in heaven and on earth".

We should not take Pico's assignments of sefiroth to planets as reflecting Jewish Kabbalah, since he prefaces these assignments with "Whatever other Cabalists say". Yet some Jewish Kabbalists could have done what we see in Pico. Also, it correlates with the SY's assignment of planets to sefiroth, as I have interpreted its configuration, in as much as the planets are the lower seven.

Kircher in his "tree" also associated sefiroth with planets. too (see above, where the symbols of the planets are given next to the sefira; to see the details more clearly, go to His planetary assignments were the same as Pico's except for exchanging Mars and Saturn (as indicated in the diagram, next to each sphere). I would guess that he, or whoever he was following, was led to this exchange by the interpretation of Netzach as Victory, which he would have associated with war. Saturn was thought fearful because he ate his children.

Another way of assigning planets in the Jewish Kabbalah seems to have started with Saturn as Binah. This is found in the l490s in Johannan Alemanno (quoted in Idel, Kabbalah in Italy, p. 188, online). Alemanno had been educated in Florence during the 1450s, then Padua in the 1460s, returning to Florence by 1487, where he became a friend of Pico's. Pico would probably have known about the assignment of Saturn to Binah and disagreed with it. This higher valuation of Saturn (compared to Pico) might reflect a higher evaluation of Saturn in Judaism; or it might indicate, for Alemanno, the influence of Ficino, for whom Saturn was the planet of intellect. Alemanno says (quoted in Idel 2011, p. 187f; I include the footnotes, although no. 52 isn't really relevant):
and the third [sphere] is that of Saturn . . . and it is a supreme and noble one, higher than all the other planets, which is the reason that the ancient sages said about it that it generated all the other planets. . . . And they say that [188] Saturn is the true judge and the planet of Moses, peace be with him.,,And the astrologers who have described Saturn say that it endows man with profound thought, law, and the spiritual sciences [holdimot ruhaniyyot], 49 prophecy [neuu'ah], 50 sorcery [kishshuf], 51 and prognostication and the Shemittot and Yovelot. 52.
50. For this nexus see already R. Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi's Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah (Epstein, Jerusalem, 1961), fols. 5ib~52a.
51. This understanding of sorcery as related to Saturn stems, in Jewish sources, from R. Abraham ibn Ezra, Reshit Hokhmah, chap. 4. 1 combined the version found in a passage of this book as explicitly quoted in R Joseph Bonfils, Tzajhat Pa'aneah, ed. David Herzog, vol. 1 (Krakow, 1912), p. 49, with the commonly used edition of the book (cited just below). See also ibid., p. 270. The common version of this passage, as edited and translated by Raphael Levi and Francisco Cantera, The Beginning of Wisdom: An Astrological Treatise by Abraham ibn Ezra (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore; Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1939), pp. xlii-xliv, does not contain the reference to incantation and sorcery.
52. These are terms for cosmical cycles according to Kabbalists, which interpreted biblical practices of cessation of agricultural works. The nexus between these two practices and Saturn is manifest already in the passage of Abraham Abulafia and even more in R Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi's influential Commentary on Sefer Yetzirah. See Moshe Idel, "Saturn and Sabbatai Tzevi: A New Approach to Sabbateanism," in Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco, ed. Peter Schaefer and Mark Cohen (Brill, Leiden, 1998), pp. 179-180. See also above, chap. 12, note 39.
So Saturn is of extreme importance, not only for wisdom but also for predicting the future.

The identification of Saturn with Binah is seen also in Agrippa (, ch. x), which is probably where the Golden Dawn derived their own assignment of Saturn to Binah. In that case, counting down, Venus would be assigned to Netzach, as in Kircher, and Malkhut with the Earth. The only place I find such a suggestion elsewhere is in the Bahir. sect 102 (Kaplan translation p. 38; Mithridates, p. 300), which has "from earth to the firmament"' (Mithridates), or "from heaven to earth" (Kaplan); I would think "heaven" in a very general sense, including the sefirot, is what is meant):
We learned: there is a single pillar extending from heaven to earth, and its name is Righteous (Tzadik). ... It supports the entire world, as it is written, "And Righteous is the foundation of the world." If it becomes weak, then the world cannot endure.
The metaphor is that Yesod, the Righteous, connects Malkhut with the rest of the tree. It is unclear to me me whether "world" includes the sefirotic structure or not. Likewise for "earth"; does this include a "supernal" earth, or just the visible world, with "heaven" as the invisible world above it (Kaplan p. 161). In Gate of Heaven (p. 550) Malkhut has the name "land, which is the land of Israel". So Malkhut extends, in some way through the "four worlds", to our world beneath the moon.

In this situation, above Saturn at Binah might be the firmament at Hochmah, the "first whirling" or "primum mobile" (first moved) at Kether, and the Empyrean at the En Sof. In this case, there is really no room for three elements in the sefirot. Only if all seven are below can we have, as in the SY, fire at Binah, water at Hochmah, and air at Kether. If so, making Binah Saturn must have come rather late (perhaps an innovation of Alemanno himself), because fire, as harsh, determines the character of the left side, and the same for gentle water on the right.

In any case, historically there were several ways of assigning planets to sefiroth; the SY was a precedent, but the diagram was different.


It seems to me that an important value of the Kabbalist tree is its allegorical interrelations among the sefiroth in terms of their symbolic meanings, how each affects the others inside us and outside us. The astrological associations of the SY are not about that. In the case of the elements and the planets, they are not even said to be between sefiroth. And even in the case of the zodiac, the letter assignments are not ,ade with regard to what sefiroth they are between.

Nonetheless, it is still possible, because of the 3 + 7 + 12 division, to assign the astrological entities of the SY to the tarot sequence. Since the assignments of astrological entities to letters is quite specific, it is only necessary to assign letters to cards. Since the cards are in a definite order, all that is required is to assign letters to cards in the same order as the alphabet. The only question is where to put the Fool. That is a big one, since the assignments of all the other letters are affected.

Given such assignments, one could theoretically develop an astrological reading of a tarot spread by its means. The Golden Dawn did so, but only by taking the cards in a slightly different order from any in  15th-16th century Europe, interchanging the 8th and 11th triumphs of one (out of two) Milanese orders that became popular in France. They also used an assignment of letters to paths that in its planetary assignments corresponds to no known historical version of the SY, as can be seen in a chart at

For there to have been astrological assignments to paths on the Tree in the late 15th-early 16th century, someone would have had to use the SY's assignments in some version of that book actually known then, and then correlate the letters with some actual tarot sequence; or else, if they were all found wanting, adopt a sequence altered to fit the SY. The SY was known in only two versions, the Short and Long; these were what was published in the first printed edition, Mantua 1562; both had the same planetary assignments, which are also those of Agrippa in Book One, Ch. LXXIV of his Three Books on Occult Philosophy (Book One, although published with the other two in 1531, was probably written in 1510. Another version of the SY, called the Gra, was developed in Palestine by the school of Isaac Luria, but it was not known then in Europe; it, too, has nothing in common with the Golden Dawn's planetary assignments.) Then there is the question of which tarot sequence they would have used. There are around 20 different known historical trump sequences from that time. Which do we choose? Or might they have made up an order of trumps of their own? Also, what letter does the Fool get, and do the letters go from the beginning of the sequence to the end or vice versa? De Mellet, who might have been describing an existing practice in the 18th century, had the letters going from aleph at the end--correlated with the World--to the last letter, Tau, correlated with the Fool at the beginning. But in Jewish Kabbalah, letters also doubled as numbers, so that the Roman numeral I was the Hebrew Aleph, and so on. There was no zero, and indeed the Fool is unnumbered, but what letter would it get? Reuchlin spoke of the En Sof as the "dark aleph" and Kether as the "bright aleph":
But when it [En Sof] shows itself and becomes something and actually subsists, the dark Aleph is changed into the bright Aleph. For it is written: "As is its darkness so is its light." It is then called the great Aleph, because it desires to come out and be seen as the cause of all things, through Beth, the letter that follows next. (p. 286, Goodman translation)
Beth for Reuchlin is the 2nd sefira, Wisdom. By that nomenclature, both the Fool and the Magician would get the letter Aleph, and there would be one letter left over. The Golden Dawn gave Aleph only to the Fool, and Beth to the Magician, while Levi and Wirth gave Aleph only to the Magician, and Shin to the Fool (even though Wirth put it last). Using the tarot sequences that are known to have existed, there are thus numerous possibilities that can be stretched enough to fit symbolically, in the sense of making their astrological assignments fit the symbolism of what is on the cards by means of various associations.

To see how much stretching is required, here is a chart of the SY letter assignments in the versions available then (15th-16th century Western Europe) together with the most common tarot sequences in Florence and Milan (using names of the period, e.g. Fortitude=Strength, Time=Hermit, Fire=Tower), and following the Golden Dawn's placement of the Fool (for the French placement, move the letters down one, but giving Shin to the Fool):

   Letter          SY              Florence            Ferrara/Ven.    Milan/France
Unn. Alef          Air                Fool                  Fool                   Fool
1. Bet              Saturn             Magician          Magician            Magician
2. Gimel         Jupiter            Popess               Empress             Popess
3. Dalet           Mars               Empress            Emperor             Empress
4. He               Aries               Emperor            Popess               Emperor
5. Vav             Taurus             Pope                  Pope                   Pope
6. Zayin          Gemini            Love                  Temp.                 Love
7. Het              Cancer           Temp.                 Love/Chariot     Chariot
8. Tet               Leo                 Fort./Jus.           Char/Love         Justice
9. Yod             Virgo              Jus./Fort.           Fort.                  Fort./Time
10. Kaf            Sun                Chariot              Wheel                 Wheel
11. Lamed       Libra              Wheel                Time                    Fort./Time.
12. Mem         Water              Time                  Hanged                Hanged
13. Nun           Scorpio          Hanged              Death                  Death.
14. Samekh     Sagittarius      Death                Devil                   Temp.
15. Ayin           Capricorn      Devil                 Fire                      Devil
16. Pe             Venus        .     Fire                   Star                       Fire
17. Tsadi         Aquarius         Star                   Moon                   Star
18. Kuf           Pisces              Moon               Sun                       Moon
19. Resh         Mercury     .     Sun                  Angel                    Sun
20. Shin          Fire                  World               Justice                  Angel
21. Tav           Moon              Angel                World                    World

The Florentine order is the one with Leo as Fortitude, which the Golden Dawn liked, although in other respects the order on both sides of it is not theirs. Still, the Florentine seems to me the closest fit, and for other reasons (it is where Pico and Alemanno were together) it is the most logical place for the SY to have been applied, at least in the 15th century. The actual number for the Justice card in Florence (handwritten there in the 16th century on one deck), although it may have been the 8th card, was 7 rather than 8. This is because either the Popess was not part of the deck (as in Minchiate, a later deck in Florence, with 97 special cards) or because, as in Bologna, the Magician, like the Fool, was unnumbered.

The main problem is with the planets. Saturn is plausible for the Magician, The Popess is then associaed with Jupiter, as the supreme power, and the Empress with Mars, as adjunct to a warrior Emperor. This is a symbolic stretch. Venus, as the divine fire, might with some imagination go with the Tower, burning away evil.  As for Judgment as the Moon, in Plutarch's The Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon, Judgment does happen on the Moon and on the way to it.

Another possibility that appeals to me more, symbolically, is taking the planets in reverse order. Then Moon=Magician, Mercury=Popess, Venus=Empress, Sun=Chariot (or Wheel, in Milan), Mars=Fire, Jupiter=Sun, and Saturn=Angel (or World). That makes more symbolic sense. But it is no longer the SY.  Moreover, in the context of descent and ascent on the Tree of Life,  the higher sefiroth go with the more remote planets. It is quite the opposite if the SY's order is reversed. The soul's descent goes from Saturn to the Moon to the Earth. If so, Saturn is higher and the Moon lower, not the other way around. 

The Golden Dawn's planetary order, which derives from Westcott's "translation" of the SY, works much better than either. It has the order Mercury, Moon, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, which is almost the same as my "reversed" order.  But precisely because it fits so well, as well as conflicting with every known historical version of the SY, I would guess that it is  a mutation of the SY made to order for the tarot, either by Westcott or some predecessor.

Otherwise, the Golden Dawn followed Kircher's Tree, which has paths where historically probably none existed, and omits two paths that probably did exist. Also, the Tree of Life, in either version, has 3 horizontal lines, 7 vertical lines, and 10 diagonal lines. This implies that the three elements correspond to the horizontals, the 7 verticals to the planets. and the 12 diagonals to the zodiac. The Golden Dawn, however, simply went from the bottom to the top willy-nilly, ignoring whether path assigned to a letter was horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.  the Golden Dawn in all these ways departed significantly from the Tree of Jewish Tradition as known in the Renaissance.

Most of the Latin sources of the 15th-early 16th centuries, in fact, do not mention the SY at all. Pico mentions it briefly, but may have only known it from commentaries. Rcuchlin only quotes from the "32 paths of wisdom" section at the end; since his treatment is rather far-ranging, he does not seem to have known the parts on the sefiroth, elements, planets, and zodiacal signs. Only Agrippa (1486-1535), at the end of Book I (Ch. LXXIV) of Three Books of Occult Philosophy gives its division into three groups of letters: it does so correctly and in the right order. Of his astrological assignments, his only mistake is to assign Aleph to Earth rather than Air, a rather gross error (since Earth is not one of the SY elements) showing his lack of first-hand unfamiliarity with the work. The SY was published in a Latin translation by Guillaume Postel (1510-1581) in 1552 Paris and in Hebrew in 1562 Mantua. Agrippa's book was published in 1533.

While I do not rule out the applicability of SY assignments to the tarot, it will not enter into my discussion, nor any assignment of astrological entities to "paths", in the sense of lines between sefirot.