Friday, August 7, 2015

5. cards 0-10, En Sof to Malkhut, Bahir to Paul Foster Case

Restatement of the Hypothesis

As I see it, for the most part each sefira corresponds to two tarot trump cards. One card is for when the soul is descending to earth at birth, from the En Sof.  The way down is much as Papus presented the correlations in Tarot of the Bohemians. As I have said, he has no such correlations for the way up. Others after him used the "paths" between the sefiroth, for which there were 22, for this part of the journey. That indeed gives "32 paths of wisdom", in the sense of "ways of wisdom" (for the sefiroth, whatever they are, are explicitly not lines). But for historical assignments to Kabbalist entities, since I cannot find any discussion of paths in the Latin sources, I will rely on the sefiroth in the other direction, using them again for the way up. That seems natural enough.

Assignment of the ten sefiroth and the En Sof to cards 11-21 does not work nearly as straightforwardly as on the way down; I can see why Levi and Papus didn't use them. Some fit easily, while others look quite forced. It took me a while to see how it could be done in a natural way. The solution I found was that since the tarot is a Christian invention, and the Latin writings on tarot were invariably written by Christians (even Ricci, although Jewish by birth, was a Christian), the way up would be a Christian reading of the sefiroth, so as to show the road to Christian salvation. I will say more later.

First let me repeat, from the preceding section, the names I gleaned from the various texts available in Latin of the 15th and early 16th century:
(1) Kether=crown, spirit of God
(2) Hochmah=wisdom
(3) Binah=intelligence or understanding
(4) Gedullah=greatness, magnificence; and Chesed=mercy, charity, pity
(5) Gevurah=power, might; Din=judgment; 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.
For Gikatilla in what follows, I  first put the English word or phrase, and then in parentheses the Hebrew in Latin characters, if any, followed by the page number of the 1994 translation. Then comes Ricci's transliteration of the Hebrew, if any, followed by his Latin translation, and then finally the page number in Ricci, starting with an "L" for Latin. In some cases Ricci gives the word in Hebrew but no transliteration, just the Latin equivalent In that case I indicate the presence of the Hebrew characters by writing "Heb+" before the Latin. Anyone who knows Latin is invited to check my work--and finish it, since I often could not find equivalents of the English in the Latin.

Pico does not often refer to the sefiroth by name; but given Gikatilla and Reuchlin, his assignments to sefiroth are not hard to determine. In what follows, numbers in parentheses after Pico quotes are the thesis number, mostly from Part I, section 28, and Part II, section 11. Page numbers for the Oration are to the Liberal Arts Press edition (or search A dot in the middle of the number means it is from Part I. A carot (>) means it is from Part II.

Reuchlin quotes are from pp. 285-291 of Goodman's translation unless otherwise specified.

0. En Sof: Fool.

It seems to me that the Fool, being unnumbered, yet also sometimes getting the number 0, quite naturally corresponds to the En Sof of Kabbalah, which wasn't on the Tree of Life but was the source of it. Not being on the Tree is comparable to being unnumbered in tarot.

Here first is Pico. (For Pico, the first number is the section in Pico's 900 Theses, the second number is the thesis within that section, and the sign between them indicates whether it is in part I or Part II. This is the translator's convention: A period means Part I and a carot, which Google Blogger indicates with the sign >, means Part II.)
Ein-Sof should not be counted with the other enumerations, because it is the abstract and uncommunicated unity of those enumerations, not the coordinated unity. (11>4)
we recognize him as he conceals himself inwardly in the abyss of his darkness, in no way revealing himself in the dilation and profusion of his goodness and fontal splendor (11>35). Night in Orpheus and Ein-Sof in Cabala are the same. (10>15)
But is this the night of ignorance, the Fool's non-knowing? Here is one of Pico's sources, The Gate of Heaven:
About God one can comprehend hardly as much as a mustard seed in the middle of the sea--and if it were only that much!  "One half of the circle is black, for every black [thing] indicates the concealment of something, especially because it indicates clouds, fog and obscurity. ...Therefore it is called en soph, or one has to say, that it is called infinite..."like water that has no end".
And Reuchlin:
Not even our thought can grasp him, he who is called En Sof--'Infinity,' a concept according with him who is unknowable and unutterable, hidden away in the furthest recesses of his divinity, into the unreachable abyss of the fountain of light, so thus nothing is understood to come from him--as if at ease the absolute Deity held all kinds of things in his compass, himself remaining naked and unclothed, without the cloak of attributes. (p. 121 of English translation)
It is the concept of God that had already been advocated by Cusa, as Reuchlin says (p. 121):
Rationality falls far short of the infinite power we have been talking about, it cannot simultaneously connect these contradictories that are separated by infinity. A German philosopher-archbishop handed down this dictum some fifty-two years ago...
This “En Sof” is:
 ...alpha and omega, for he said, 'I am the first and the last' .Infinity is the most absolute Essence, drawn back in the depths of the shadows, and, lying or, as they say reliant upon nothing, is hence called "Nothing" (nihil) or "Not being," (non ens) and "Not end” (non finis, then Hebrew letters for En Sof) because we are so damned by our feeble understanding of divine matters that we judge things that are not apparent in the same way as we judge things that do not exist. (p. 286, 287)
The En Sof is without limits. It is like the mania of the Fool, who does not recognize the limits that we ordinary mortals have. When angry, he raves as if he were omnipotent. He knows no laws, not even those of ordinary decency (e.g., He is so little in the world that he does not notice when animals.nip at him.

He is somehow in a place beyond concepts; Christians were well aware that this is also the place of the mystic. Speaking of Moses on the mountaintop, pseudo-Dionysius had said in his Mystical Theology:
Here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and the invisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united to the completely unknown by an inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing.
He makes this point in another way in Divine Names. Citing St. Paul in I Cor. 1:25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” (865B), he explains (865C):
And here the divine apostle is said to be praising God for his “foolishness,” which in itself seems absurd and strange, but uplifts [us] to the ineffable truth which is there before all reasoning.
Such also is the Fool, who is not merely the pre-conceptual, but the post-conceptual (near right, the earliest extant Fool, from the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo (PMB) deck of the 1450s, done by the workshop of Bonifacio Bembo in Cremona).

Here I notice a resemblance between the PMB Matto's face and two "Martyr Saints" attributed to Bonifacio or Ambrogio Bembo, c. 1450 (from Bandera and Tanzi, I tarocchi, p. 81). These gaunt faces of unfathomable inwardness are not the way saints were normally portrayed. There are also the seven feathers sticking out of his head. These compare with the feathers of Giotto's comparable figure of Folly (above, far right) According to Gertrude Moakley in The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo, the feathers represented the seven weeks of Lent, the time of fasting in preparation for the Resurrection.

There is also the apparent unconcern about his appearance, with his leggings around his ankles. as though indifferent to the world.

This feature is maintained in the "Marseille" versions, where not only are his leggings ripped, but his genitals are exposed (in the Noblet at least, at left above) and he is being attacked by a cat or dog-like animal. The phallus, an ancient symbol of power and fertility, seems also to be circumcised. In Kabbalah the circumcised penis, usually associated with Yesod, is the symbol of "all creative potencies". Wirszubski says (Pico della Mirandola's Encounter with Jewish Mysticism, p. 45):
What is meant by circumcision being above the "universalized bride" is simply that in the hierarchical configuration of the ten sefiroth, the ninth sefirah, Yesod, the "foundation" of all creative potencies, represented by the phallus, is above the tenth.
The "universalized bride" is Malkhut, just below Yesod. But Yesod is not alone in having "creative potencies".

Above, the center image is the "Chosson", of Marseille in either 1672 (the date on its 2 of Coins) or the 1730s (when a Chosson is known to have worked there; but the word "Chosson" on the card seems to me an addition); the card on the right is the 1761 Conver. In the "Chosson", notice the blue area between the Fool's feet. He seems to be crossing from one realm to another.

This is a feature retained in one of Bosch's two Wayfarer paintings, where the path to Heaven is represented by a rather undependable-looking footbridge (to make the image larger, click on it; or see the "shutters" section of Unlike the tarot Fool, is very much attending to his surroundings. This is just one of Bosch's paintings that seem related to the tarot images; some others are The Conjurer (Magician), the Haywain (Chariot, Pope, Emperor, with Tower and Love on the side panels), the Stone Operation (Fool, Magician, Popess, Pope), St. John on Patmos (Moon), Garden of Earthly Delights (Hanged Man, Chariot, Devil, Tower), and others.

That the Fool was seen as representing the divine in Renaissance Italy is also suggested by the final tercet of a "tarocchi" sonnet of Ferrara 1530-1560, cited by Andrea Vitali in his essay "Tarot in Literature I" (my translation):

    Per poter dire i buon tarocchi mej
    Saran, s’avien ch’io giuochi, et questi uno
    Vo trarre il Matto che ‘è cervel divino.

    So that to be able to say the good tarot cards
    Will be mine, I have to play, and this one card
    I draw will be the Fool, which is the divine brain.

As I said earlier, Wirth in 1927 assigned the En Sof to the Fool. On the card he has the Fool's face gaze upward, as though uniting with the divine (for images of Wirth's cards, I am using the Aigle reproductions of those that accompanied the 1927 book; for larger views, click on the images). In his section on "divinatory interpretations" for that card (p. 150 of Mary Greer's edition) Wirth says:
Parabrahm. Apsou. The bottomless Abyss. The Absolute. Infinite. Ensoph. Whatever is beyond our understanding. The irrational, the absurd. Emptiness. Nothingness. Cosmogonic night. Primordial substance. Disintegration, spiritual annihilation. Nirvahna.
The phrase "cosmogonic night" is reminiscent of Pico's "Night in Orpheus and Ein-Sof in Cabala are the same".  "Parabrahm" is Sanskrit for "beyond Brahma", thus "beyond universal spirit" or "beyond all conceptualizations" ( Apsou is the "sweet waters underground" (, one of two primal beings in Babylonian mythology,  along with sea water. As such the En Sof is both before the beginning and after the end. That idea is present even in the very first list of the tarot subjects, in late 15th century northern Italy, when the preacher of the "Steele Sermon" calls it "Nulla" (Nothing) but also lists it after all the others.

 Paul Foster Case gave a similar interpretation in his 1934 Book of Tokens. He writes there, in the form of a meditation said by the card's main figure:
From me the shining worlds flow forth,
To me all at last return,
Yet to me neither men nor angels
May draw nigh, for I am known only to myself.

Ever the same is my inmost being;
Absolutely one, complete, whole, perfect;
    Always itself;
Eternal, infinite, ultimate;
Formless, indivisible, changeless
This "infinite" is the En Sof, Without End, pulled into its own being. For his cards I am using the beautiful ones at Case himself published only uncolored drawings; although he gave guidelines on how to color them, they still vary slightly from site to site. The card is much like Waite's ( They seem to stress an outward gaze into the infinite height and depth. I myself prefer the inwardness of the PMB card.

The role of the card in the game that was played with it reflects the status of the En Sof. It is not part of the hierarchy of the 22, but functions as a wile card, which can be played at any time to avoid losing a more powerful card. The Fool itself can take no tricks, but after being played and lost, at the end of the game the card can be taken back by the person who played it, providing he has something to give the other player in exchange, some card of lesser value won in a trick. In the game, it is not how many tricks one won that matters, but the points earned.  For the one who ends up with it, the Fool  has one of the highest point-values of any of the cards in the deck. And in making point-scoring combinations,  take the place of a card the player does not have. So while not part of the hierarchy, in another sense it is any and all of the other cards. Like God, it is everywhere and nowhere.

1. Kether--Crown (in Gikatilla, possibly Da'at): Magician.

"Kether" means "crown"; it is at the top of the sefirotic tree, its crown, as the Bahir calls it (sect. 141, p. 326 of the English translation of Mithridates' translation). The Bahir opens by calling it the "upper pool", out of which four rivers flow, which are the next four sefiroth. It gets the number aleph (in Hebrew, the letters were used as numbers), because it is the first.

Gate of Heaven adds:
Primordial air: it is called thus because it proceeds from ensoph. Shining light [Hebrew has "clear light"]: because it proceeds from infinity, which is dark, and a dusky part is included among it. Clear light: because it is not comprehensible but by a pure intellect and a purified soul (p. 283). Great aleph. Perfect whiteness...for it cannot be perceived but by a very fine intellect. (284-5). ... Israel the old; father of fathers (p. 285). ...Ain, because it has no actuality due to its concealment. Fountain, spring, or source. Upper pool. First and last. (292)
For Reuchlin, Kether is the En Sof when it "shows itself":
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)
Beth is the 2nd sefira, Wisdom. When Waite put an infinity sign on the Magician's broad-brimmed hat, that is the "infinity" that Kether proceeds from. 

In the Latin translation of Gikatilla, the identification of God and the creator make God both En-sof, "nothing" (p 107). and Kether, the root of all roots (p. 9).

Here is Agrippa (
The first of these is the name Eheia, the name of the Divine Essence; his numeration is called Cether [Kether], which is interpreted a Crown or Diadem, and signifieth the most simple Essence of the Divinity, and it is called that which the eye seeth not, and is attributed to God the Father, and hath his influence by the order of Seraphinus, or as the Hebrews call them Haioth Hacadosch, that is creatures of holiness, and then by the primum mobile, bestows the gift of being to all things, filling the whole Universe both through the circumference and center, whose particular intelligence is called Meratiron [Metatron], that is, the prince of faces, whose duty it is to bring others to the face of the prince; and by him the Lord spake to Moses
In the spheres around the earth, Kether's influence descends to  the so-called ninth sphere, the "primum mobile" or "first moved". That would be the second one from the outside, the first being the Empyrean.

Wirth identified this sefira with the Magician card, saying of it (p. 61 of Greer's edition):
Kether, the crown of the tree of the Sephiroth, the beginning of all things, and first cause, the unity-principle, pure spirit, the unique and universal thinking subject, refracting in the ego of every intelligent creature.
But what could this highest sefira have to do with a low-life street performer making his living selling patent medicines or outwitting people betting against him in the shell game? (At the far left, the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo (PMB) Magician, done in the 1450s by the Bembo workshop of Cremona; at the near left, the card of Jean Noblet, c. 1650 Paris, the first surviving deck of the so-called "Marseille" style.) Wirth points to nothing about the card to suggest of his association with Kether, although I suppose its number, as first of the triumphs, is obvious enough..

As the beginning, the undivided unity from which everything else derives, that which "bestows the gift of being to all things", Kether is like the creator god of  the Platonists, functioning as fashioner (demiurgos) of our world in matter. In Kabbalah this includes both good and evil, according to the Sefer Yetzirah (1.5, here). For Plato, likewise, the creator god is the one who creates the cave of illusion, or better, partly of illusion and partly of truth, and where it is left to us to distinguish the one from the other. Likewise the street performer is the one who by the quickness of his hands, his version of Agrippa's "first whirling", creates by their means a little world that mixes truth and illusion, and it is up to us to figure out which is which. In the world we mistake illusory goods for real goods, distracted by appearances. just as the conjurer draws are attention away from what is really happening. If the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God, yet it is God who created this world of foolishness. Only the Magician knows the truth behind his illusions; and only God knows the truth about this world. All else is human vanity (Eccl. 1:14).

The Magician has symbols of the four elements on his table, that which the creator uses to make this world; they also correspond to the four suits. At right is a set of comparable objects, correlated to the four temperaments as well as the four elements. In the case of air, it would be the stick in the man's hand; in the case of water, it is the rosary, but cups would work as well. There were various ways of making the relevant associations. There is also something on the Magician's table that is hidden, within the hat or purse. Somehow everything comes out of that hat or purse, even if it was empty beforehand. 

The tarot was at first, and always for some, a trick-taking card game. Standing at the table with the four types of objects, comparable not only to the four elements but to the four suits of regular Italian cards,  he creates a world in miniature, of as many souls as there are players. Each is dealt his or her "lot" in that particular life, that of the hand, which they live out in deciding what cards to play then.

The first known Magician, like most since, has a flamboyant hat. Perhaps it was meant to suggest an Egyptian creator god, Ammon or Khnum. I do not know how commonly known their wavy, horizontal horns were. Ammon is described in Herodotus as a ram-headed god. A ram with the wavy horns is shown on the so-called "Bembine tablet", a Roman era engraving on bone that was first talked about by Pietro Bembo of Venice, 1528. But it and others like it surely already existed somewhere. Another possible source is the merchant and antiquarian Cyriaco d'Ancona, who spent his last few years in Cremona at around the same time that the earliest surviving Magician was painted in the same city by the Bembo workshop of painters. Cyriaco visited Egypt three times, once at least as far as Cairo. 

On the other hand, it may be that he wears that hat merely to attract attention to himself. At that time in Italy, magic tricks drew the crowd, and then the performer, from his platform, would try to sell them patent medicines. That is what a "mountebank" (Italian, "montebanco") or "charlatan" was. Outlandish hats had in fact been in fashion earlier in the 15th century, and even in the 1440s may have been worn on special occasions. For example, there is the illustration below, from an illuminated manuscript in Hebrew, of a Jewish wedding. Some historians think that the artists were the same Bembo workshop that did the earliest surviving cards. The costumes are similar to those on the court cards in the two 1440s Bembo decks done for the Visconti in Milan.
On the Noblet card of c. 1650 Paris (shown earlier) are certain details that make this Bateleur a Kabbalist in a more Jewish sense, unique to this deck. The three circles connected by two lines on the left side of his table (above center) might be coins on strings; the suit of coins also has a few of its coins connected by lines. They are probably a device for blowing bubbles. But they also might have suggested, for those who knew, a Kabbalist talisman. Similar circles connected by lines occur in a 13th century Hebrew text called the Sefer Raziel, the Latin translation of which enjoyed considerable notoriety in the 15th-17th centuries ( These strange configurations were meant as representations of God's speech, thus providing protection for their bearer. One can buy similar talismans on the Internet today, hand drawn in the traditional way, allegedly by a Kabbalist rabbi in a trance (

The Magician is a creator-god in miniature. By attaining the level of the seferot in ecstatic meditation, of which Kether is the most powerful, he can create by magical means. At Kether one can do whatever one desires, Gikatilla says; but at this level, it seems to me, one will only desire the fulfillment of the divine will.

There is also, on Noblet's card, the business of the penis-like finger that substitutes for the usual wand. It might just be a joke, but it seems to be circumcised. The phallus, as I have discussed in relation tot he Fool, was a symbol of "creative potencies". Perhaps there is a serious side to Noblet's joke. An uncircumcised penis presumably would be contaminated by demons. Notice also, in Noblet, the appearance of a stream between his legs. This was a feature of the "Chosson" Fool card; I think it is more appropriate on the Magician, even if it is not repeated there by other card makers.

Finally, the Kabbalah "tree" has its groups of three, corresponding to the Christian Trinity and the groups of three objects in the Noblet card (shown earlier). In the case of cups and knives, the middle one is the largest. It is like Kether with Hochmah and Binah below it, the "fire" and "water" of the Sefer Yetzirah. The Tree of Life had three sets of three sefiroth, all arranged as isosceles triangles. Only the last sefiera, Malkhut, is not included. The Magician is then the one in the middle, the one most resembling a phallus, the human instrument of divine creation.

Here is Paul Foster Case on the Magician card, from his Book of Tokens, 1934, along with the Houston site's colored card (again, I prefer the earlier cards):
...the first is the CROWN of my Primal Will.
This, my superior nature, standeth above the world,
Which floweth forth from mine act of knowing.
Yet even the superior nature
Is to mine inmost essence
as something outside,
And therefore is it to me as BETH, my House.
For I am within it,
And it is an emanation from me.
Nevertheless, I fill my dwelling-place.
Hence it is written that the Supreme
Is distinguished from the Crown by name only.

Four are the subtle principles
Which the wise conceal from the uninitiate
By the names
In endless variety of mixture and proportion,
Directed by my Will,
These mingle together for the production of forms.
With the objects on his table, the four elements, the Magician creates a world, as much as the dealer of a card game creates a world when he distributes cards to the players, their "lot" for the space of that hand. The dealer is a creator-god, and so is the Magician.

2. Hochmah, Wisdom: Popess.

In Kabbalah, what follows Kether is Hochmah, Wisdom, the feminine hypostasis Sophia, who Proverbs 28 says was with God in the beginning. Wisdom is God's forethought as well as his afterthought. It is God at his/her most conscious.

I will start with Gate of Heaven, in Mithradites' translation:
Beginning (p. 318). First-born (319). ... first procession, first separation (320). No definite quantity, so immeasurable (321). ...Leader of the law court. Wisdom of the gods (elohim, usually translated "God"). Wisdom of intelligence. Land of the living, because the life of the world rests in it. Justice rests in it. shining mirror. Supernal Shekinah ("she-dweller"). Place from where the souls of the angels and of the whole heavenly hierarchy [literally: supernal encampment] proceed (325). The old [Hebrew: primordial] law. counsel. ... Father [Mithridates misreading of "if so", the translator's footnote says]. Imprinted soul (339) ...wisdom, which is compassion, called water (372)
Here is Reuchlin (p. 286-288); I will quote more from him later:
...wisdom (sapientia) ; primogeniture, Yesh, or "being" (Ies, i. ens), primitive law (lex primitivo), book (liber), holy (sanctium), will (voluntas), ..., beginning (principium), and so on. 
So when the Popess (called by the occultists "High Priestess") is shown with a book, certainly the Bible, it is in this book that Wisdom resides. For Reuchlin (above), "book" is one of the attributes of Hochmah. She does not represent the feminine as unformed matter, but as the pinnacle of thought, which she has in herself in unactualized form. In the first known example of the card she carries a book in one hand and holds a cross-staff in the other. These are conventional medieval attributes of Prudence and Wisdom. Compare the earliest extant Popess, in the PMB (1450s, at left below) with Sapientia, i.e. Wisdom, in a medieval manuscript now in Florence (center). If you look closely, you can see the cross-staff on the left-hand figure. The "Marseille" style Popess dropped the staff, as can be seen in the Noblet, at right:
The alchemical engravers usually made the personification of Wisdom not only female but young and attractive, unlike the Popess but as befitting the spouse of God. In a 14th century manuscript of the Aurora Consurgens, for example, Wisdom is nursing two aged philosophers at her breasts.
 But like the Popess she is clearly a spiritual authority rather than a temporal one. Over two centuries later Michael Maier’s 1618 Atalanta Fugiens has for its emblem 26, for which the motto is “The Tree of Life is the fruit of human Wisdom”, one as beautiful as the engraver could make her (  

Pico (28.25, Oration p. 4), Reuchlin (Kabbalah p. 286-8), all identify this sefira as sapientia, Latin for Wisdom. But for them, and Agrippa as well, the "Wisdom of the Father" is Jesus, the Son of God, not the feminine spouse of God. The one who made all things was the Logos of the Gospel of John, for whom (John 1:3. I quote the Douay-Rheims Bible, which is a literal translation of the Vulgate universally used at that time, but  modern translations are substantially the same; see
All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.
 Thus Pico says:
11>7. the Son of God and the Wisdom (sapientiam) of the father 
And Agrippa calls the second sefira "the first begotten; and is attributed to the Son". Reuchlin says more:
Beth. So Aleph accepts this letter as the closest letter to itself and as the most productive, and it is called AB, that is, father of all generating and producing (paer ois gnationis et productionis). With final Nun, Beth produces Ben, meaning "son."This is the first production in the deity and the beginning of otherness; hence it is called "beginning," although it is the second emanation from infinity, the second Kabalistic Sephira, through which all things have been made (p qua oia facta sunt). It is written: "You have made all things in wisdom" (Oia in sapientia fecisti). In this way the first influx becomes the second Sephira, because the end of generation is the Son (qu terminus gnationis est filus).
The Jewish Kabbalists did not identify Hochmah as "the Son" in so many words, that I can find. Gate of Heaven talks about the right-hand side as that of the father, and the left as that of the mother. But it also calls Hochmah "the supernal Shekinah", and the Shekinah was usually conceived as feminine. In Gates of Light, Gikatilla's Hebrew, as translated by Weinstein, p. 330, does call it
...a shoot out of the root of Yeshay (Jesse, Isaiah 11:1), a twig from his stock...

This is the beginning of the passage in which Isaiah describes the coming Messiah, often using the word "he". So probably there is something comparable in Ricci's translation, given that he was a converted Jew and a principal source for Reuchlin. In the Hebrew Bible, however, Wisdom is a clearly a feminine-imaged allegorical figure. For example, Wisdom 8:2 has Solomon say, "Her have I loved, and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse, and I became a lover of her beauty."

Wirth, in the 1985 English translation, says, for the Popess (p. 66):
Chochmah, wisdom, creative thought, the word, the second person in the Trinity, Isis, the wife of God and mother of all things.  
In the 1966 French edition of the text, this description, and the rest of the English version's divinatory interpretations of this card, are in the section on the Pope, and vice versa. It seems absurd to associate the Pope with Isis, etc. I suspect that the English translation simply restores what was there in 1927, but I don't know. In any case, Wirth does not attempt to find aspects of the card that support his interpretation. In fact his version of the card (like all the "esoteric" versions) removes one of the two medieval attributes of Wisdom, the cross-staff, leaving only the book, now apparently one of Chinese origin.

Case, in the section of Book of Tokens on the High Priestess, as he calls her, clearly identifies her with Wisdom.

          Hearken now,
While I  expound the mystery of mine inferior nature,
Which standeth in the Tree of Life
As the Sephirah of Wisdom.

Be thou not led astray by their false doctrine

Who ascribe to the inferior nature
Somewhat less of power and worth
Than inhereth in the superior.
The two are as the pans  of a balance.
Each hath its own peculiar quality,
Each hath its appointed sphere of operation.
Case's "two pans of a balance" corresponds to Wirth's "wife of God", which in turn probably derives from the Hebrew Bible's description of Wisdom as "with God from the beginning". God creates with Wisdom. They are complementary. God in the person of Yahweh punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience, for example; then his Wisdom adjusts things so that their race doesn't die out. His card owes much to Waite ( Both retain the book ; but Case has removed Waite's crescent moon and put it with the Empress instead, to go with the 12 stars on her crown, items that go together on "the woman clothed with the sun" of Revelation 12:1, who will bear the son who will defeat the dragon..

Case acknowledges the problem of Wisdom's apparent change of gender. the Scripture is Wisdom spoken  of as a woman,
As when it is said,
"Wisdom hath builded her a house";
But elsewhere to this same Wisdom
The wise assign the title AB, the Father.
Never is the heavenly Wisdom known as Mother,
For She is the virgin substance of all things,
Whose purity naught can defile.
When Case says, "Never is the heavenly Wisdom known as Mother", he is reacting against Wirth. The "mother" in Kabbalah is Binah, as we will see. But for Christians adapting the sefiroth to the tarot, if she is the female Wisdom of the Hebrew Bible, of whom Proverbs 8:30 says, in the Vulgate's version, "I was with him forming all things", then in that sense she would be mother of all things. After all, Jesus says at Matthew 11:19, "Wisdom is justified of her children". In the Gospel of John, Wisdom as mother of all things became the pre-existent Christ, by whom "all things were made" (John 1:13). I think there is room for both genders, feminine on the descent and masculine. on the ascent.

3.  Binah, Intelligence or Understanding: Empress.

Here is Pico on Binah:

great north wind (magnus aquilon), source of all souls (28.6); green line that encircles the universe (1Kings 8:32ff) (28.7); third light (28.8); river that flows from Eden (28.11); Holy Spirit [comes] with fire (11>45)...
Pico seems to be echoing Gate of Heaven:
On the left. Judgment. Intelligence. Engraving formation; statute. Innate evil nature arouses the judgment. Mother of sons, because greatness and power proceed from wisdom and intelligence. (352)  The livid [greenish, in Hebrew] line that goes around the world. when redness and blackness are united. (353). Fundament of souls, thence the souls proceed. (355). 50 gates of intelligence (370). Fire from water (371).
Pico seems to have known that the Hebrew word that Mithridates translated as "livid" really meant "green". This line in Gate of Heaven might derive from the Sefer Yetzirah Saadia version, Ch. 4 sec. 6 (Kaplan p. 289):

Chaos is the azure line that surrounds the universe. Void consists of the split stones imbedded in the abyss, from between which water emerges. It is thus written, "He spread over it a line of Chaos and stones of Void" (Isaiah 34:11).
The line, now colored azure, is here the chaos that separates the universe from chaos and the void, imagined as split stones, and with a different biblical reference than for Pico's (although I see nothing about a line of chaos in I Kings 8:32ff). 

Ricci calls Binah "the female who forms". In Gikatilla this formulation is elaborated, characterizing her as follows. (Here I use the letter L to indicate the page number in the Latin text that is online. In the fuller citations that follow, I include the corresponding page number in the English translation:as well. However since that would not have been available in the 15th-17th centuries, I omit it here. Since my Latin is very primitive, when I am not sure of a reference I put a question mark after it.)

establishes the seven, from foundation to prudentia (septen spheros a fundamentum ad prudentia L97); Beersheba, well flowing to the seven below, drawing from above (292, Beersceva, puteus septeni legitur, L97); ...progenitor of sons and daughters (L98?) .source of life (mekor hachayyim 304, Heb+ fons vitae Latin p. 100)...
By "the seven" is meant the seven lower sefiroth. Reuchlin is similar, but adds the titles:<
my sister (soror mea), the daughter of my father (filia patris mei).
Reuchlin's attributions apply to the act of creation from the left, feminine side. She is "female", identified by Agrippa with the Holy Spirit of the Trinity, the source of all souls (human souls, in Gate of Heaven), and the river that flows from Eden. This is a reference to the paths of energy coming down from above. All the other sefiroth come from her. Pico relates her to the firmament; this is the first expression of the divine in matter, as its underlying essence as Reason, governing principle of the Universe. Agrippa relates her to Saturn, for which there is the evidence of Alemanno. Saturn was considered by Ficino and others then as the planet of intellect.

The relationship to the tarot Empress is by the word "mother", a descriptor common to both. An Empress is the mother of future emperors, without whom the Empire would not continue; Binah is the mother of the sefiroth below her, without which there would be no tree or anything below it, such as our world.

On the card, the future emperor is indicated by the eagle on her shield, symbol of the Holy Roman Empire before 1453, as on the first known Empress cards (left and center above) and most since (such as the Noblet, at right), situated the same place a child would be, such as the infant Jesus with the Virgin. The empress of the second card, 1450s Milan, wears a green glove. In that deck, green seems to signify new growth; the woman on the Love card also has it, as well as all the court cards in Staves.

Binah, intelligence, comprehension, the abstract conception which generates ideas and shapes the Supreme Ideal, though conceived but not yet expressed.

Wirth says of the Empress, in relation to Binah (p. 69, Greer ed.; here I have changed the translation of Wirth's "formes" from "shapes" to "forms", inserted a missing comma that is in the original after "formes", and for the original "perçu" put "perceived" rather than "conceived", although I am not really sure which is correct):
Binah, intelligence, comprehension, the abstract conception which generates ideas and forms, the Supreme Ideal, thought perceived [perçu] but not yet expressed.
He does not try to relate any of this to what is on the card. It merely follows from an association with Binah, in his conception of the first three as having to do with thought. In his earlier presentation (p.28), he has a slightly different formulation: 
The third Sephirah, Binah, Intelligence, Comprehension, is related to the Empress, to the conception and to the generation of ideas, to the Virgin Mary who gives birth to the original images of all things.
A relationship to the Virgin Mary can be seen on the card, in so far as the shield is where the Madonna's infant would be, and the moon beneath her feet associates her with the Virgin's appearance in Rev. 12:1as the "woman clothed with the sun". "Giving birth to the original images of things", as opposed to giving birth to "things" themselves, is neither Kabbalist nor Biblical language; it is Platonic: in the Timaeus, before the physical world is created, there are the forms or ideas which are its model. On the Kabbalist Tree of Life, Binah is the mother of all the sefiroth beneath her; these are forms than images, but calling "original images" is probably the same thing.

Case both assigns Binah to the Empress and acknowledges their common attribute, motherhood of all that follows (here Daleth is the Hebrew letter he assigns her, something I am ignoring):
I present myself as the Portal
Through which Life, Eternal and Unbounded,>
Entereth the realm of temporal and limited creation.
That great Door is BINAH,
The fruitful Mother of all living.
She is the "desirable one," the "precious thing,"
More to be sought after than rubies and fine gold.
In her is concealed the plenitude of Tetragrammaton
And hidden in that Door of Perplexity
Is the Son, who is from all and among all.
The Son, in the traditional image, would be symbolized by the eagle on the shield. Waite, in his version of the card, obscured this point in two ways: first, he put the shield on the ground next to her, and second, he put the astrological symbol for Venus on it instead of the eagle ( Case at least put the shield on her lap where it belonged. Although suggesting a dove, the symbol of Venus, probably he meant the superimposed crowned flying disc as an egg symbolizing the unborn Son. Case also changed the color of her dress from Waite's gray with red flowers to green. Green as the same symbolism here as in the PMB deck of the 1450s.

4. Chesed, Loving-Kindness Charity, Clemency, also called Gedullah, Greatness: Emperor.

Here is Pico:

Pico. Loving-kindness...divine liberality (Oration, p. 4); Abraham (28.14); southern water (28.24); in the south of Eden, the river Perath, which we can translate as piety (Oration, p. 16); love, piety (28.39); Jupiter (11>48); in the soul, superior sensual passion (>67).
And Gate of Heaven:
...mercy (pietas, 372), compassionate, clement (clemens), clemency  (misericordia) (373), greatness (magnitudo), magnificence (magnificentia), water from water, silver (all 374). White. Right arm. Charity (charitas), not love (amor) of one for another which is natural and happens due to some reason. First in the building of the world, Abraham (377). Milk, pure wool, clean wool, for compassion and purification (378). Superior waters, stones of pure marble, by reason of white color (379.
Reuchlin (p. 288-289) translates “Chesed” as "clementiae", which his translator renders as  "Loving-Kindness", and "Goodness" (bonitatati), to which he added the qualities:
kindness (gra), mercy (misericordia), right arm (brachium dextura, innocent (inocens), bright fire (ignis candid), the face of a lion (faces lionis), old man Abraham (Abraham senex), the higher waters (aqiae superiores), and the silver of God (argentum dies).
Gikatilla bases his attributions on the old Kabbalist name for this sefira, Gedullah: 
greatness (magnificientia L9); granting exceptions to avoid harming the righteous, as in Abraham's plea to spare Sodom (L93?).
We have here the Sovereign in his fullness, in the sense of the maximum of all the best qualities associated with temporal authority. The authority to prevent the execution of a court sentence was one of his powers. Sovereigns had the power to grant pardons but left rendering judgments to the courts. Gate of Heaven describes Abraham as full of loving kindness. Abraham asked God to spare Sodom to prevent harm to the innocent. Instead, God arranged for the innocent to be identified and removed from the city before he laid it to waste.
The Emperor of these early cards, unlike the Empress, does have his shield beside him on the ground, as he has a somewhat less intimate relationship to the Son (above, at left Brera-Brambilla. center Cary-Yale, both for the Visconti of Milan, 1440s, and at right the PMB, 1450s, all made by the Bembo workshop in Cremona). At the baptism, the Holy Spirit, the dove, was the one to descend upon Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus at the Baptism. The Father, although the progenitor, is somewhat more removed. This placement of the shield is continued in 17th-18th century France, as seen in the Noblet of c. 1650, which I show next to an engraving of Zeus at Olympia, as described by the Roman-era writer Pausanias, which seems to me to have some similarity with the card (even to the eagle).

Here is Wirth on the card as it relates to Chesed (p. 73; to that translation I have added a missing word, "êtres", beings, and Wirth's comma after "existence", in the French edition):
Chesed, grace, pity, mercy or Gedulah, greatness, magnificence, the designation of the fourth branch of the tree of the Sephiroth or Kabbalistic numbers: power which gives and spreads life, creative kindness which brings beings into existence, animating principle, creative light shared out among creatures, and condensed in the centre of each individuality. Archeus, Sulphur of the Alchemists, life-giving fire imprisoned in the seed, the realizing word incarnate, mystic spouse and son of the life-giving substance--Virgin, Empress.
The idea seems to be that it is Chesed as "animating principle" that brings the inner spark or fire within each individual creature, and in that sense he does the organism created by Binah a kindness, bringing it to life. This is an idea he got from Levi's identification of the Emperor with alchemical Sulphur; the body of the "Marseille" Emperor seemed to Levi to express its alchemical symbol, a cross beneath a triangle. The Emperor's generativity seems to be implied by the eagle on the cube, with similar meaning as Empress's shield.

One addition to the traditional image that Wirth makes suggests that he recognized that on previous versions of the card there is no visual suggestion of his mercy, but merely of his "greatness", another attribute of the 4th sefira. Namely, he has put a fleur-de-lys on top of his scepter and a rose on the ground below it.  The fleur-de-lys, he says, represents "nobility of soul and true generosity" (p. 72, Greer ed.). I am not aware of such an association in heraldic tradition, but at least Wirth has tried to rectify a visual lack.In his original 1889 cards, there was also a fleur-de-lys on the Empress's scepter, but Wirth removed it, apparently wanting it to symbolize the mercy added by the Emperor.

Here is Case on the Emperor:
..those instructed in the Secret Wisdom declare
That CHESED, the Path of Beneficence,
Proceedeth from BINAH, the Gate of Understanding,
Even as the idea of the window
Proceedeth from the idea of the door.
For I am merciful 
Because mine understanding compasseth 
The secret nature of all things,
And my loving-kindness is the fruit
Of my discrimination.

My vision hath no taint of false judgment.

Seeing, I understand,
And because nothing is hid from me,
Therefore am I merciful..
The idea seems to be that to know all, as God or the sovereign of a state does, is to forgive all, at least within limits. If it does not seem sometimes as if the universe is that forgiving, Case adds:
But the path of my Mercy
Is a way concealed from the profane,
Because they have not attained unto my perfect vision.
Easier to follow is the flight of an eagle,
For my way soareth
High above the comprehension of the mind of man.  
From this comparison of the Emperor's power of sight with that of an eagle, traditionally known for its keen vision, one would think that this bird would be on the card, as in almost every other version. But neither Waite ( nor Case saw fit to include it. Otherwise, except for the astrological Aries and the cube (for the three dimensions of the material world, associated in Pythagoreanism with solids), it is much like the traditional card.

5. Gevurah, Power, Fear: Pope.

In his Kabbalist incarnation the Pope has his counterpart in the 5th sefira, Gevurah, which means "power". At triumph 5, he outranked the Emperor, always below him. He had the power to excommunicate emperors and even place whole states under interdict, meaning the banning of the administration of any sacraments within its borders. This was thought of as a check on the power of emperors, the fear of eternal damnation. Pico calls the 5th sefira:

“Judgment”(28.3); “secret of darkness” (28.21); “outer fear, inferior to love” (28.38); “God's judgment by fire” (11>44); “the property by which Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world” (11>47); “Mars” (11>48); and “power” (11>71).
So even though the 5th sefira is more powerful than the 4th, it is inferior to the 4th, which for Pico is love. Gate of Heaven confirms this estimation:
Fear (426). Not fear of harm, but fear of provoking the anger of a friend or benefactor (427). Negative commandments do harm, as opposed to positive commandments, consisting of love, which are higher (428). Power; male, Wild bull. (430). Gold; redness; left side, which is northern, wisdom southern (431). Judgment (434). Cleansing and pruning (436). Superior fire (443)
Reuchlin (p. 288f) has
severity (severitas); the dark appearance (spes fusca) ... of harshness (gravitatis), fear (timoris), old man Isaac.
That is a rather dark characterization. Christian Kabbalists in fact had quite a bit of fear of the Pope. There is what happened to Pico. Later the Inquisiton put Reuchlin on trial, and it took him years before the Inquisition simply stopped going after him--no acquittal, no apologies, just inaction, which could always start up again at any time. So the Christian Kabbalists knew the dark side of the Papacy.

The princes of Northern Italy had their own reasons to fear the Pope's severe judgments upon them. Various Visconti dukes had had charges of heresy brought against them on frivolous grounds, sometimes at the same time that other princes in the area were also being charged. Francesco Sforza, for his part, in 1442 received Ancona as a reward for his long and successful services to the Pope. Then the same Pope decided Sforza was too powerful, made an alliance with his enemies, and excommunicated Sforza, allegedly for his role in the sale of Pesaro to his brother Alessandro Sforza. 
(This is related in various places: see The Court Cities of Northern Italy, by Charles Rosenberg, 2010, p. 334, and Pope Eugenius IV, the Council of Basel and the Secular and Ecclesiastical Authorities in the Empire, by Joachim W. Stieber, 1978, p. 195, both in Google Books.) Although the next pope removed the excommunication, such actions would not have endeared  the papacy to him or his wife  In the Sforza deck, correspondingly the Pope's raised hand looks to me more like an act of scolding than of blessing. 

There is a similar severity to the "Marseille" Pope of Conver (far right); there is a fold in the garment that looks suspiciously like a knife in the hand of a figure behind the right-hand acolyte, of whom we see only the arm, the body being outside the frame. If you compare this "fold" to previous versions of the card (Noblet c. 1650, Chosson c. 1672, Dodal c. 1701), it looks very much like the resemblance to a dagger is intentional. 
judge (iudicator L9); Isaac (L11);  iudicijum sinistro latera L92); may be annulled from the right side, as Elohim would have annulled destruction of Sodom if 10 righteous people had been found (L93?); truth, harsh judgment (deus verax/ac durum iudicii L93); power, might (Gevura, fortitudo L94); merit, including punishment (Zechut 263, Zechus, meritum L94); ruling over the 70 nations (257, L93); source of wealth and honor, murky waters, snakes, scorpions, evil beasts, informants and prosecutors (L94); reserves taken and hidden (Tzafun, Tzafon 264, Zafon, reconditum L94); north (Tzafon 264, septentrio, Aquillon L94); place of destructive angels (264, sordidi angelorum L94); evil from the north, atoned and blocked by animal sacrifice (265, L95?); fear (Pachad 267, Pahad, timor L95); emitting flames of fire (267, ignis flamma emittitur L95);  night terror (Laylah Pachad 269, timore nocturno L95); dim eyes of Isaac (204); death (209); negative commandments (223, L86); fire (215, ignis L85);
It is on the left side of the tree, where evil can enter most readily. I had not known that the Biblical Isaac was associated with severity. But perhaps after the benign but obedient (to his voice) Abraham comes the traumatized Isaac, who expresses his emotional state in defensive harshness. Such also is the trauma in the world of the Christian psychopomp. "Wild bull" is the only indication I have found in these texts of the Golden Dawn's association of this sefira with Taurus.

Wirth says of this sefira's relationship to the card:
Geburah--rigor, severity, Pec'had, punishment, fear, Din, judgement, the will which controls or governs the gift of life. Conscience, duty, moral law, inhibition, restriction, for one must abstain from evil-doing before devoting oneself to doing good.
The Pope's raised fingers of blessing are in this interpretation also an admonishment to do one's duty. 

Case seems to me a bit off-base in his characterization of this card's relationship to the sefira. He says:  

Out of that longing [of the Will for manifestation]
Cometh the fixing of the boundaries of the universe.
By it I draw the circle of the Something
Which emergeth from the illimitable Deep of the
     No-Thing. Therefore is this longng
the root of GEBURAH, Severity,
For it restricteth the liberty of the No-Thing,
And produceth an appearance of limitation and
separateness therein.
Defining a thing intellectually, or by making something out of raw material to fit an idea, seems to me the task of Intellect, i.e. Binah, rather than Gevurah. Gevurah is "judgment" not in an intellectual sense but rather a moral one, and by being a stickler for the letter of the law, "harsh judgment", unless there is an influx of mercy from the other side. Gevurah is the moral judge that keeps one to the straight and narrow, or at least tells you what that straight and narrow is. In his book Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, 1947, p. 78, Case takes Waite to task for interpreting the figure as "the ruling power of external religion". Case thinks it is the inner Voice of God, and the "connecting link between outer experience and interior illumination". I think both are right, but, like Wirth, in what is primarily moral sense--including what to believe--as opposed to just "illumination". Waite's ( and Case's versions of the "Hierophant" are quite similar. and both quite papal looking, similar to the French "Pape", except for the suggestion of the dagger that Conver put in.

6. Tiferet, Glory or Beauty: Lover.

In the translation of The Great Parchment and Gate of Heaven, Pico's translator Mithridates rendered Tiferet as "gloria", glory. "Ornat" is what Reuchlin's Latin reads, translated as "beauty". In Ricci's Latin translation of Gikatilla, Portae Lucis, p. L86, the word is "pulchritude," again, beauty, a fitting name for the object of love, because in Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus, what inspires love, Eros, is beauty. Reuchlin adds that Tiferet is also "the tree of life" (lignum vitae), pleasure (voluptas), the Line of the Mean (linea media), the High Priest (sacerdos magnus), the rising of the sun (ortus solis), and the color purple (species purpurea)--presumably, as the royal color. By "line of the mean" I presume is meant the middle column of the tree of life.

Pico, in his 900 Theses, says that in the Scriptures, "love of male and female denotes mystically the conjunction of Tiferet and Keneset Israel [Malkhut], or of Bet [Binah] and Tiferet" (28.17). Pico adds "When the light of the mirror not shining becomes just like that of the shining mirror, then Night will be just like Day, as David says" (28.20). That is the Judgment day, the "Great Jubilee" in Binah. For Pico, Tiferet is "the shining mirror," also "the full sun". I gather from these cryptic remarks that Tiferet is to join himself to both Binah and Malkhut (or perhaps the two will merge?) and thereby bring the light coming down from the one to the darkness of the other. He chooses both Binah, his light-source, and Malkhut, the mirror in darkness. Here we have the man between two women, as in the Marseille card, one elder, thus Binah, and the other younger, thus Malkhut.

As a possible origin for Pico's view that Tiferet unites with Binah is something I see in Gikatilla:
when Adonai unites with YHVH, they ascend to Binah, and the everflow descends and the whole world is blessed (153, L78?).
However this is not the same as Tiferet uniting with Binah. It is rather that the union of Tiferet and Malkhut ascends to the house of Binah, the mother, i.e. their union is in accord with virtue. This seems to me a reasonable interpretation of the "Marseille" style Lover card: the older lady on the left is Binah, the man in the Middle is Tiferet, and the girl on the right is Malkhut. But now it is the union of the Messiah with the lower Shekinah, Malkhut, at the end of time.
The card thus is not simply a choice between virtue and vice, and it is not that vice is on one side and virtue on the other. Rather, the card represents is the attraction to beauty (the girl on the right) that is in accord with morality (the older woman on the left) and the heart (the girl's gesture, putting her hand at the boy's heart).

Wirth's understanding of the card as "moral beauty", i.e. attraction of beautiful souls, I think captures this meaning, although the idea of "pure affection, foreign to the sensual attraction" is perhaps a bit too either/or (p. 81).
Tiphereth, moral beauty, love bond uniting all being, feeling; life sphere undergoing attraction and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, pure affection, foreign to the sensual attraction.
Also, his depiction of the two women does not show the age difference that is important for the sefirotic intepretation. It is the "choice between virtue and vice", both trying to gain possession of him, while he is passively enjoying the show, or else retreating into himself.

Case, however, is more on target. In Tarot: Key to the Wisdom of the Ages he says (p. 86):
In old exoteric versions of the tarot there are three figures - a youth and a maiden, facing a crowned woman. These are the Qabalistic Son and Bride combined with the Qabalistic Mother or Queen. 
We already know, from the discussion of Binah, who the Mother and Son are. In Book of Tokens, in the section on the Lovers card, he reiterates the point:
This path is called
The Foundation
Of Beauty in the place of the supernals
   And why is it so called?
Because it riseth in BINAH
And proceedeth unto TIPHARETH
After another manner, also,
Is BINAH the Foundation of Beauty,
For she is AIMA, the Mother,
And that same AIMA is by number
One with B N, Ben, the Son,
which is TIPHARETH.
 Presumably Binah is the top woman on the card. The connection between Binah and Tiferet, regardless of what letter one assigns to it, is clearly marked on all versions of the Tree. Case does not mention Malkhut, but she was conventionally known as "the daughter". As the 10th rather than the 3rd sefira, she is clearly the younger of the two women, both here and on the "Marseille" version.

By combining two figures of the "Marseille", Cupid and the older lady, into one, the  composition in that way is like the 15th century Milan versions of the card, which had Cupid plus a discreetly courting couple (the Visconti card is at left). But I wish these 20th century lovers were showing more love to each other, as opposed to being dazzled by the idea of love. And the serpent on the Tree of Knowledge seems to me in the wrong place: it shouldn't be next to the woman, but below both of them. If the card is too small for that, then it should be left off altogether. The negative alternative, the choice of the senses over morality, is represented well enough in the Devil card, as we will see.

Returning to the Noblet, one might ask: Why, if this is a happy occasion for all, is the girl on the Noblet card frowning? That is a mystery, but it a solution can be found within the sefirotic framework The lady on the right is clearly younger than the lady on the left, and that is what makes the one Malkhut and the other Binah. However for the unsatisfied I can offer some speculations about the frown.

One possibility: The girl, noticing that the boy is looking at the older lady, thinks that if the young man is looking at his mother instead of at her, he might be talked out of marrying her. She is too lovely and sweet for their love to be pure, and she will distract him from loftier goals. In response, the girl puts her hand on his heart, to say that their attraction is of the heart.

 Another possibility: The artist intended us to see a vulgar gesture being made by the mother with her right hand, at which the younger lady, to show her propriety, frowns and puts her hand at his heart, to show that she is not a slut. But the gesture was not thought appropriate for a mass audience, so it was deleted. The Noblet shows another hand near her crotch. Is that another vulgar gesture? We don't even know whose hand it is, his or hers.

In the 1760 Conver version (at left), things are clearer. We can see the older lady's right hand gesturing toward the young man's genitals. "Do you even know where to put that thing?" I imagine her saying. That is the main question for a fertility goddess such as Binah. In response, he points to the girl's crotch. Here the position of the thumb shows whose hand it is. She is embarrassed and puts her hand on his heart.

7. Netzah/Netzach, eternity or victory: Chariot.

Pico is rather brief about Netzach. All he says is
Saturn (11>48); addressing of petitions for the birth of sons, and their granting (11>50); in the soul, that which converts to superior things (11>67)
Mithridates in his translations has "eternity," which would seem to fit Saturn, as the planet of melancholy, which for Ficino and Agrippa is the planetary disposition that communes with  higher realms. Gate of Heaven says:
Eternity (507). Brings influence of mercy down to eternity. Pupil of the wise (510-11) White seed, from side of the father who is male.
It is not clear to me whether the "father" here is meant to be Hochmah or Chesed. Ricci/Gikatilla  has both "eternitas" and "victoria".

Frim Gikatilla:
place that nurtures prophecy, dreams, and visions, for those who see through opaque mirror (speculae intueri opus non erat L70); positive decrees, favors (124, L86; preparar L76); place to address petitions for sons (p filior gnati oe depeaturi accedunt L74);  place of counsel and conferring with higher powers (138, L75); triumph (Neza victoria L76); Eye of Mercy (143, oculum miseracordiae L76)
Reuchlin emphasizes Victory, adding "the prophets' vision" (visio prophetiae), Moses. The sefira was associated with Moses.

The chariot was the vehicle of triumphal processions after victory, so quite suitable here. Victors can afford to be positive and merciful, to win the loyalty of their new subjects. And since the charioteer is higher than others, he can see things that others don't, such as, in Plato's Phaedrus, the gods and archetypes themselves, a vision of Beauty he can take with him as he descends to earth. As the soul's chariot descended, the horses lost their wings and the soul forgot true Beauty, until he saw it in a beautiful form. What he sees is depicted on the 1450s card, where a beautiful woman is on top and the horses have wings to indicate their ability to fly, an attribute they lose upon the descent to earth.

In many representations of the Chariot card, there is a difference between the two horses. In the earliest extant card, done for the Visconti of Milan in the early 1440s, one horse rears up in disorderly fashion. In other cards, one horse is painted red, perhaps indicating the darker of the two horses of the soul in the Phaedrus myth. 
Another feature is added in the design of c. 1500 Milan, maintained by the French cards of the 17th and 18th century (below): one horse looks toward the other, even as its body seems to want to go the other way. In sefirotic terms, we might think of the red horse as the horse of desire and yearning for Beauty, first stimlated in this 7th sefira that immediately follows the sefira called by that name. Then the other horse is following the voice of Intelligence, discrimination, so that this desire is focused upwards rather than to Beauty's physical likenesses as an object of lust.

There is a Kabbalist way of expressing the Platonic point, in the Kabbalists' adaptation of Plato's three parts of the soul: the Nefesh, the generic soul and the body's life-force; the Ruach, or spirit; and the Neshama, or Divine soul. Gikatilla writes (p. 301 of translation, words in parentheses those of the translator):
...the NeFaShot (plural of NeFeSH) are connected to the RUCHOT and the RUCHOT are connected to the NeSHaMOT and the NeSHaMOT are connected to the world of the living (an expression of BINAH), therefore the verse stated:
"And the NeFeSH of my lord is tied to the bundle of life." (I Samuel 25:29)
The Ruach is the spirit of right and wrong, the knowledge of good and evil, to which the Nefesh must cleave if it is to ascend and not be cut off and be lost to evil. Gikatilla says (p. 52):
Just as there are three Names connected in unity and they are ADoNaY, YHVH and EHYE, so too there are three elements intrinsically tied to man and they are the NeFeSH (the living force), the RUaCH (the spirit) and the NeSHaMaH (the Divine soul). For a man must tie his NeFeSH to the RUaCH and the RUaCH to the NeSHaMatH and the NeSHaMaH to ADoNaY ...For our merciful, loving God has taught us the way to hold fast to Him, and He will help us to do His will in this world so that we may merit our life in the world to come Amen.
Thus Ruach corresponds to the noble horse, while the Nefesh is the chariot of the soul, which would follow the body's life-force, the ignoble horse, if not for the effort of the noble horse. The Ruach in turn needs the Neshamah, which is the discriminating power of understanding.  In a sense, it corresponds to the charioteer, who speaks to the noble horse, the Ruach, and restrains the ignoble one, the life-force as determined by the body, sometimes with all the force of Gevurah. (Plato speaks of a whip and bridle to yank the bit in the horse's mouth, until it is properly trained; but in the Kabbalah there is also Chesed, loving-kindness, adding its gentle upward pull, so perhaps force is not needed.) The Nefesh feels the yearning for Tiferet, the sefira above it, and would seek it in a purely physical way but for the influence of Ruach; and even so, there is a constant struggle to maintain the connection to what is above.

In Wirth's version of the card, following Levi, the beasts pulling the chariot are two sphinxes, one white and the other black. He sees themas joined in back, and so one beast pulling in opposite directions, the one constructive and the other destructive, threatening to pull the chariot into the ditch. The charioteer, representing the "Intellectual Spirit", is able to harness the energies of both (p. 85). In this Spirit synthesizes "the thinking principle (The Magician), the center of volitive energy (the Emperor), and the centre from which affection radiates (the Lover)" (p. 82). Wirth here is clearly noticing the paths that flow down the tree into Netzach (from Tiferet and Chesed) down the right side of the "Tree", but paying attention also to the flow of energy from the highest level. In relation to the sefiroth, With says (p. 85):
Netzah, triumph, steadfastness--active spirituality, conscious progress, intelligent evolution, constructive principle of the Universe, Great Architect.
In other words, the Divine fire in motion toward a goal.

Case makes no reference to a sefira in his meditation upon this card in Book of Tokens. However in The Tarot: a Key (p. 94) he cites Waite, for whom it is “the king in his triumph, typifying, however, the victory which creates kingship as its natural consequence”; Case notes that "the number of the card, 7, is that which Qabalists assign the idea of Victory" . He adds later (p. 98) that the two steeds, in his case sphinxes ( are Severity and Mercy. Victors need the right balance between mercy and severity, to establish order yet unite the people behind them, I surmise. Here he seems not as attentive to the place of Netzach on the Tree as Wirth: although it does receive energy from the left side, it is not in the middle but on the right. That would imply that the wise Victor would err on the side of Mercy.

8. Hod: praise, majesty, decorousness, i.e. what is fitting to God: Justice

In the Kabbalah, Hod is explained by Reuchlin as "Praise" (p. 285) and "God of Hosts." He associates it with the prophet Aaron. Pico has "converts to inferior things," in contrast to Netzach's "converts to superior things," and Venus (11>48). I think this is because Venus, goddess of beauty, is concerned with how things look physically, while Saturn is more contemplative. For Pico Hod is also where "petitions for sons are denied" rather than, as in Netzach, granted (11>50). So for Pico it is more negative than Netzach.

In Gate of Heaven, it is clarified that "petitions for sons" refers not to sons in general, but something else (p.518):
...from this attribute all suckling angels of Esau and Ishmael are nourished, and from which proceeds the influx to obtain sons through a change of the law of nature,
I assume the latter means petitions to make barren women fertile, or to allow women to conceive by their husbands after the latter's death, i.e. by coming to them in a dream. The translator's note says that the passage in the Hebrew is "very elliptical". As with other sefiroth on the left side, this sefira has an opening to evil (the angels of Esau and Ishmael):
This is also the secret that our teachers say that the serpent, the demon, and the innate evil nature are one and the same, and all are from the side of judgment, when the fence is destroyed.
So it is necessary to maintain vigilance against falling into using this power inappropriately.

The most complete explication in Latin is in Ricci's Latin translation of Gikatilla's Gates of Light. Here are some of its descriptors of Hod: 
draws on the left (sinistras), the side of Isaac, from Binah (prudentia) and fear (timor) or strong judgment (fortitudenem iudicium), converts us (converte nos) and wages war (bellum) for YHVH of Hosts (120, L70); majesty (Hod 123, Hod, decum vel laus. i.e. majesty or praise) dressed in courage and might (English trans. p. 123, deus est magnificientia et fortitudo L71); Boaz, one of the columns of Solomon (L72); prayers of supplication and thanksgiving, for annulment of verdicts (confessio L72); flames of Seraphim to burn the unworthy  (L72); place of counsel with higher powers (locus consilij L75)
The basic idea, I think, is that Hod is the enforcement arm of the "judgment" side of the tree of life. It has the heavenly hosts that wage war on evil and enforce God's law. It is the enforcement arm of justice, hence a resevoir of strength--in the sense in which a mighty army has strength, not the lone individual. It is situated directly under Gevurah, severity, but also is under Tiferet, which gives it the power to exercise compassion to those who show proper humility through acts of praise and supplication. That would be the idea of erring on the side of mercy when executing justice.

Correspondingly some tarot commentators have seen the figure on the "Marseille" style Justice card as leaning her left arm on the balance to keep it from rising up. a feature not found in the early Italian versions. The suggestion might be that when the soul's merits are weighed against its sins and found somewhat wanting, Justice should, within limits, err on the side of mercy, the right side of the "tree".

Wirth says of this card (p. 90):
Hod, splendour, glory divinity manifested by order and harmony of nature. the conserving power of things. Law, equilibrium, life stability, logical and necessary ideas of feeling, of ideas, and of actions. Fatality flowing from all that is accomplished. Imminent Justice, ineluctable consequences of all action. 
Wirth is making a distinction among three levels in the Tree: idea, will, and action. This is very much in keeping with Gikatilla's account, in which the abstract law, in Binah, is the basis for the judgment in Gevurah and the carrying out of that judgment in Hod. I notice that in Wirth's card, the lady's arm does not touch the scales. He has ignored influences from the right side of the Tree that mitigate consequences.

I cannot find where Case talks about Justice in terms of the sefiroth. Although  Dummett in Game of Tarot, 1980 says that Case originally had Justice in 8th place, all the current editions of his works have it as 11th. 8th is where it was historically in Lombardy and then France, at least by the early 16th century. In Ferrara it was 20th, the justice of God (see the charts in Dummett, Game of Tarot, pp. 399-401: my scan of the one for Milan and France is here; Ferrara andVenice here and Florence and Bologna at here). 

Case's conception of Justice in Book of Tokens is as a guide to action. Since the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Lamed, meaning "ox", he compares the figure to the ox-driver, whose goad keeps the ox on the road, and to a Teacher, whose instruction is "like unto a goad, /Which guideth thee through the long circuit of existence, /Until thou returnest unto myself". To me that description might also apply to the Hierophant. Justice, if in 8th position on the "tree", is mainly an agent of that sefira directly above it. Case's version of the card is much like that of the "Marseille", except that the figure's arm clearly does not rest on the scales, as in the French tradition; Case's version in this respect fits the earlier versions in Italy (below, the PMB of 1450s Milan, the Metropolitan-Budapest sheets, probably 16th century Venice, and the "Charles VI", probably of late 15th century Florence).

9. Yesod, Foundation: Hermit or Old Man

Reuchlin says "Yesod" means "fundamentum", in English Foundation. It is also Sadai, the base of the world (Sadai, fundamentum mundi), Zion, the source of the fish ponds (fons piscinarum--actually, source of the pools), the just (iustus), the living God (deus vivuns) and so on.

Pico says, among other things, that it is:
the gathering of the waters, the just (28. 27); eighth day, circumcision (28.32); bones of Joseph the just (Tzaddik), sending its influences over the superior earth (28.42); and redeemer (Amos 2:6) (11>21); Mercury (11>48)
Gate of Heaven has:
Peg on which all hangs, Living God, vital power, soul of the world. Receives from Netzah and Hod. Diffused two baskets, one of fire and one of water (all 525). Covenant of circumcision. Second arbitrator. Tree of knowledge, through it one has an idea of good and evil, which are the attribute of judgment and the attribute of compassion. Righteous, which is the foundation of the world. (Prov. 10.25) (all 527). The whole world rests on one pillar, which is called righteous (530). World of purification, and of sanctity, and of the souls, because there souls find rest. (531) Redeemer. Through it the resurrection of the dead will take place (532). Peace (533).
Prov. 10:25 does not, at least in any extant version, call the righteous "the foundation of the world", but rather "an everlasting foundation"; that doesn't matter.

Here is a selection from Gikatilla:
fount of living waters (fons awuarium viventium L51); time (tempus L67); this (hoc L67); protector (Evir L67); lower loving-kindness (Hessed, gra iferior L67);  connects the nine upper spheres with the tenth (L97)
Yesod is situated where the two sides of the Tree of Life come together. That is where "gathering of the waters" comes from, combining severity with loving kindness and sending it downward to Malkhut. In that sense it sends the influence from above down to "the superior earth," probably meaning Malkhut. It also mediates between the upper 8 and the lowest, Malkhut, in two senses: it holds up the other 8 as their "foundation". And secondly, as the sefira for circumcision, which occurs on the 8th day of life, it represents the covenant between God's people and the divine. 

It is especially as a mediator between the two worlds, the divine world of the sefiroth and the lower world where the Shekhinah dwells, that this sefira relates to the Hermit, an old man who devotes the end of his life to contemplation of the divine. As situated equally between the two sides, it can send prayers up both sides and send divine influences down from both sides in a balanced way. The later "Marseille" versions of the Hermit made a fold in his robe into something looking like a sunburst at the height of his knee (compare the second and third card from the left below with the first one). This addition not only represents a connection to the divine world of Tiferet but is where Hod and Netzach were situated on the analogy of the divine to the human body. It reinforces the theme of the Hermit as bearer of illumination, although of a weak kind, "through a glass darkly", compared to true illumination from the source. Below are Noblet c. 1650, Dodal c. 1701, and Conver 1760, and a 20th century version. I get these from
Besides the sunburst, you might also notice that there is a change in the spelling of the title of the card, from "l'eremite" to "l'Heremite". The normal French spelling of the word for "Hermit" is "Eremite". The change might be an intentional reference to the Hermetists of the time; or perhaps a reference to Hermes Trismegistus, the original Hermetist, who united all three worlds, the below, the above, and the unseen above the above, in himself.

Of this card Wirth says (p. 94):
Iesod, basis. The potential living being, the potential strength within the seed. The living plan existing before its materialization. The invisible weft [French trame, thread or framework] of the organism that is to be constructed, the prototype [French modèle démiurgique], putting the stamp of the species onto individuals.The astral body of the occultists.
There is now not merely a goal (the vision of the archetype) as in the case of the Chariot, but a plan, conceived with an eye to justice. His wisdom is practical, in the world, but also not of the world. Wirth explains:
The wise man detached from the world, dead to wicked passions and ambitions. Profound meditating spirit, adverse to all frivolity. Experienced doctor of the mind, soul and body. An Initiate practising Universal Medicine. The Hermetic philosopher possessing the secret of the Stone of the Wise. Initiator. Master capable of directing the work of others and of discerning what is in embryo in the sphere of human development. Midwife.
There is also the negative side:
The character of Saturn, serious, taciturn, sullen, distrustful. Timorous nature, meticulous, heavy. Sadness, misanthropy, scepticism, discouragement, avarice, poverty.
At least Wirth shows us the rational basis for the avarice associated with Saturn: the fear of poverty in those no longer able to perform gainful employment.

Here is Case on the connection of the Hermit to the sefira of Yesod (Tarot: a Key, pp. 114, 116), which seems to borrow from Wirth: 
The Hermit and the Fool are two aspects of that which is the Foundation (9) of all manifestation. The Hermit is the Ancient One, above all things, yet supporting all. He precedes everything, and, when considered in that aspect, is forever young (the Fool), yet He will continue when all else has passed away, and He is the term of all our hopes....
His white beard shows that he is “The Most Holy Ancient One” identified with the Supreme Will. ... Self-training in right interpretation of experience, in concentration, in the manipulation of subconsciousness, is what bears fruit finally in union with what is pictured here as the Hermit. In this union the sense of personal “self” is lost, and one knows nothing but the I AM. ... This consciousness ... is the basis of the mighty works of adepts, the foundation for the miracles that are the evidences of genuine sainthood. Thus, and because it is consciousness of the true basis of all manifestation, the Hermit bears the number which Hebrew occultism associates with “Basis” or “Foundation”,

The number also associated with the reproductive organs of Adam Qadmon, the Archetypal Man.  ...That work [of union with the Supreme Will] one in which the Heavenly Man reproduces himself in the image of the earthly. ...the Christos is ‘begotten, not made.’
Case is identifying the Hermit with the En Sof, or perhaps its revealed portion Kether, as the goal ("term"), which may seem like an effort of personal will, but it in fact Divine Will acting through us. I have trouble seeing the Hermit as an older version of the En Sof, even as the goal of existence, because the En Sof is dark and hidden, Reuchlin's "dark aleph". Kether, the "bright aleph". is posible. The last paragraph above is Case's best fit, I think, to Yesod's place on the Tree, the connection between those below, in Malkhut or lower, and those above.

10. Malkhut, Kingdom: Wheel of Fortune

We are at the bottom of the tree of life, Malkhut, It means "Kingdom", Pico says. Also:
severed from the other shoots by Adam's sin (28.4); in the west of Eden, the river Dichon, meaning atonement (Oration, p. 16); tree of the knowledge of good and evil, by which god created the world (28.5); Keneset Israel, female (28.17); unshining mirror (28.20); sea to which all rivers run, divinity (28.27); kingdom of David (28.29); universalized bride (28.32); superior earth (28.42); prophecy through the spirit; prophecy through the daughter of the voice (28.46); Adonai,...the Holy Spirit (11>6), Moon (11>48)
And Gate of Heaven:
This enumeration is called kingdom through one channel that proceeds from eternty to the kingdom (533). Crown of the world. Supports the whole world (535). Woman, receives influence from the male, adorned from the attribute of judgment (536).  Opaque mirror, does not shine by itself, but only as it receives from the shining mirror (536). Image of the lord (536). Raphael, though whom the sick are healed; redeeming angel (539). Daughter of the voice (539f). Daughter of Abraham, by which all prophets prophesized except Moses (540). "Observe", because it contains affirmation and negation at the same time (unlike "Beware", negation, or "Remember", affirmation). (542). Avenging sword (546). Moon; nurse; maid who serves the glory; mediator (549). Land, which is the land of Israel (550). Divine providence, taking care of individuals, because it brings the influx to men according to their deeds (550). Sign of the covenant, the rainbow, mixing redness, greenness, and whiteness (551). Shekinah, "called inferior"
Since she is both negative and positive, and the middle between them, she is appropriate for the Wheel of Fortune (at right, 1450s Milan). God benefits Israel when the commandments are obeyed and punishes her when they are not.  As divine providence Fortune sends individuals up and also down,  according to their desserts and requirements for redemption.
The earliest extant Wheel of Fortune (at far left above) has donkey ears on the person going up and at the top, but not on the one going down and at the bottom. A slightly later card, probably Venetian of the 16th century (on the left of the two cards above the notation), shows a donkey head on the one going up, a complete donkey (ass) on the top, a donkey's hindquarters only on the one going down, and an entirely human figure on the bottom. The French version (on the right) retains this pattern to the extent of having a human face on the one going down but not going up. These all go to show the vanity of material ambition.

The early 16th century Ferrarese poet Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) wrote a charming little poem about this way of representing the Wheel of Fortune (I get it from Andrea Vitali's "Tarot in Literature I", at, which also has the Italian):
That pictured wheel, I own, annoys me sorely,
Which every master paints in the same way,
And such agreement I believe is not a lie,

When that which sits aloft they make an ass.
Now everyone may understand this riddle,
Without the sphinx to interpret;

For, mark well, each, as he climbs,
begins to Assify his upper members,
below remaining human still.
Ariosto did not comment on the one going down, who seems to have gained at least a human head. It is like the story of Oedipus. He thinks he has succeeded in life when he marries the recently widowed queen of Thebes and becomes its king. Then, from the Hermit and sage Tirisias, he learns that the queen is his mother and the man he killed was his father. In shame he tears out his eyes and becomes a beggar. His wisdom is his fall. Appropriately, the 18th century Conver version makes the top figure into a kind of Sphinx, the riddle whose answer leads to material success but moral doom.

The Hebrew Bible has several such stories. Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dream about the falling of successive idols as the falling of empires; then Nebuchadnezzar himself falls into insanity for seven years. These stories start with that of Adam, who is on personal terms with God himself before he eats of the Tree of Knowledge.. Ricci's introduction to his translation of Gikatilla (translated by Blau in The Christian Cabala) is helpful. He has:
...As long as he inhabited the garden of pleasure, the first Adam knew all these ten sephiroth contemplation of mind, without the dictate of the Law. 53. But the stimulation of the serpent and Eve, he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he did not cut around its skin; he cut off a twig from its proper root, and he separated Kingdom from Foundation.
And Reuchlin (p. 85 of Goodman translation), allegedly quoting from the Latin version of Gates of Light, although I cannot find these exact words in the modern English translation:
To begin with, at the creation of the world, God came down to dwell on earth. And while he dwelt here below, the heavens were open and were one with the earth. There were springs and water channels in perfect order which led from the world above and the world below. Then came Adam, the first to sin, and the link snapped, the water channels were broken, the flow of water ceased. God no longer dwelt ont he earth, he cut himself off. Afterwards came Solomon, who built the temple, and then the water channels were replaced and the flow of water began again. 
Reuchlin comments:
When Kabbalists talk of Solomon, they seem to allude to a state of affairs rather than the word. They uderstand a peaceful king to come, who in Isaiah's words "shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace".
That person, of course, is the Messiah. It strikes me that this succession of epithets corresponds eerily to the sefiroth from Binah to Netzach: Wonderful Binah, Counsellor Gedullah, Mighty Gevurah, everlasting Father Tiferet, and the Peace of Netzach's Victory.

What I see is this. This tenth sefira is the closest to humanity, but also cut off from the rest of the tree, due to Adam's sin, which is overcome by "cutting around its skin", implying circumcision (in Yesod) and obedience to God's commandments. She is identified with the bride in the Song of Songs, yearning for her beloved who is Tiferet. When he comes for her, "the night will be like day", as Pico says:
28.20. When the light of the mirror not shining becomes just like that of the shining mirror, then Night will be just like day, as David says.
He is quoting Psalm 39:12, but also his source, Recanati, who in commenting on Midrash Shmot Rabba, xix.6 says (Wirszubski p. 38):
The mystery of this Midrash is, as I have explained, that in the redemption from Egypt the Holy blessed be He was with them in daytime, and his court of justice was with them at night, but in the times to come the Shekinah will be like the curtains of Solomon [Song of Sol. 1:5] as it is written [Ps. 104:2] "who has stretched out the heavens like a tent" and [Ps. 139:12] "and the night is bright as the day for darkness is as light with thee," and everything is with the property of special Compassion.
The bride is also identified with the Congregation of Israel, i.e. the people of the covenant. Her deliverance, by the sefira named Compassion (Tiferet), is their deliverance. That is in times to come.

Meanwhile, in another passage that Pico alludes to, according to Wirszubski (p. 39):
When primordial light recedes and is hidden, the property of judgment is harsh, being deprived of blessing, and is called m'rt, without waw; it is then full of 'the waters of bitterness that brings the curse' [Num. 5:18]...
The soul has sunk down from divine heights and may now look forward to its return. Such is the wheel of life. Jung once compared the course of human life to that of the sun in the sky, which attains its material zenith at midlife and then returns to its beginning. Besides this general trend, it seems to me, there are many ups and downs, many totally outside one's control, as the Jews knew all too well. After each setback, one can only start anew. After every triumph, one can only prepare for the next setback--or preferably, ascend in a spiritual way that will make the material setbacks less harsh.

What Wirth says about this card from the sefirotic perspective does not fit in well with his more conventional interpretations that follow. In relation to the sefira he says (p. 97):
Malcut, kingdom. The sphere of the sovereignty of the will. The principle of individuality. Involution, seed, sowing, sperm, fertilizing energy. Yod, Jochin's column. 
This is the world of the Messiah, heaven on earth. When God smiles on us, we get an inkling of that world. But it is not that time now. Fortune is anything but subject to the will and the individual, except the Divine Will (which indeed his figure on the top looks like). Four lines later Wirth gives "luck, fortuitous discoveries" as an interpretation of the card--rather one-sided, since there is also bad fortune.  On the other hand, it is certainly true that the seed of the "involution"--reversal--is sown in what precedes it, spiritual success following material disaster and vice versa.

Case identifies this card with Malkhut (The Tarot: a Key, p. 123) but has little to say about the card from that perspective. He merely says that the sum of the numbers of the word "ROTA" or "TARO", which on his version of the card (at left, taken from Waite) equals the number for the letters of some of the titles of Malkhut. He does not say what these titles are; I have no idea myself. 

What the Wheel shows, in its conventional form, is the descent and ascent of the soul, except that it is shown in reverse, i.e. the striving after material goals as an ascent and for spiritual ones as a descent. Wirth, Waite and Case (at left) have corrected this, by showing Anubis on the ascent and the Serpent on the descent. As Case describes these symbols, the serpent represents "the involution of cosmic radiant energy into the conditions of name and form" and "the force which descends through the Magician to his garden" (p. 122 of Tarot: a Key). Then the figure on top, for him a Sphinx, is not just material achievement, but rather "the real Self of man, behind the veil of personality", the "propounder of the riddles of existence". Oedipus's Sphinx is that in trickster form. And the four animals of the Chariot are in the clouds.

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