Friday, August 7, 2015

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.

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