Chapter 1 — A Qabalistic Framework

The purpose of this chapter is to present a Qabalistic framework against which the small cards of the Tarot can be examined, and to which an examination of those cards can bring further insight.

The framework presented is for the most part consistent with occult tradition, but does differ in some aspects, most notably in the names of the lower two triads and in the fact that Tiphareth is not attributed to self-awareness. The Tree of Life is a framework against which almost any idea can be placed, and it is not the purpose of this chapter to attempt to provide a “correct” or “complete” understanding of it. Indeed, the presentation of such an understanding would be an impossible task, precisely because of the infinite variety of attributable symbols and ideas. Instead, the framework given presents one of many possible interpretations, specifically that of the development of the individual — from mere potential to actual physical existence — in a manner consistent with Thelemic doctrine.[1] Nevertheless, the fact that this framework does coincide remarkably with a “traditional interpretation,” in addition to illustrating a very regular and satisfying explanation of the structure of the Tree of Life, should put the value of a careful study of it beyond any reasonable question.

For those not familiar with the Tree of Life, a brief description will be in order. The Qabalah — as it has come to be used in Western occultism, at least — is a classification system comprising ten “sephiroth” (“sephirah” being the singular noun) or “emanations.” The Tree of Life model (and there are other models) arranges these ten sephiroth in a column of three triads — the topmost triad pointing upwards, and the lower two triads pointing downwards — with the tenth and final sephirah appearing on its own beneath them. The upper triad is separated from the middle triad by an imaginary chasm called “the Abyss,” and the middle triad is separated from the lower triad by an imaginary veil called “the Veil of Paroketh.” The sephiroth are connected by 22 “paths” which are attributable to the 22 trumps of the Tarot, and hence are outside the scope of this essay. The Tree as a whole is surrounded by three “negative veils.”[1]

The remainder of this chapter will discuss the negative veils and the sephiroth, and provide some instructive commentary on their most pertinent correspondences.

The Negative Veils

The Tree exists within the negative veils, so called because they necessarily hide whatever is behind them, being not in existence. The outer veil is Ain, “nothing,” and represents nothing in its most “positive” form; Ain is the absence even of space. The middle veil, Ain Soph, is “limitless,” and represents infinite space, pure emptiness. The innermost veil is Ain Soph Aur, “limitless light,” and represents infinite space with the potential for creation. In order for something to come out of nothing — which we explain in the next section — there must somehow be the potential for it, even though there is quite literally nothing there.

The fact these these are termed “veils” suggests that — in our current state of knowledge at least — we cannot penetrate them, that we cannot explain the mystery of something arising from nothing. Yet it should be clear that it is nothing, and not one, that is the source of creation. This error has been made by all the monotheistic religions. One cannot be subdivided into creation, because it must by definition already contain everything. It cannot be expanded into creation, because if it was so capable then it could not be all encompassing, and therefore would not be one. It cannot be changed into existence, because being one, it has no qualities, no characteristics. One is not a suitable basis for creation therefore, and zero is the only sensible substitution. The fact that the ancient tribes (including the Jews, who created the Qabalah) had no number for zero may go some way towards explaining their lack of insight into this matter.

The “Big Bang” theory also supports this position, the “singularity” referring to Kether and the negative veils being the mystery as to where this singularity came from. The idea of a singularity therefore, when carried back far enough, suggests an “infinitely small” point which, being so infinitely small, cannot be said to exist, and the theory accordingly implies that the singularity originated from nothing. If the singularity contained the seeds of creation in itself, then because one has no qualities this is equally as inexplicable as the idea that it came from nothing. In addition, the idea that space curves around a mass suggests the possibility of a universe with no space at all. Indeed, this is required in the case of a single singularity; as well as all the matter and energy, all the space in the universe is also contained within the singularity, its infinitely strong gravitational field containing it in an infinitely small point, and space only comes into being once the singularity begins to expand. We also have the idea of “multiple universes” which must always be separate; if each of these universes contains its own space, then there is necessarily no space “between” them (“between” naturally ceases to have much meaning in such a case) and hence no way to get from one to the other as there is no medium through which we could travel. We would have to escape the space in our own universe, as well as figure out how to traverse the “nothingness” shielding the other one, before such travel could be possible. Thus the idea of Kether can represent the crystallization of multiple universes from one principle of Ain, the lack even of space. Ain Soph, limitless, applies to our own universe, but will be different for any other universes; Ain, however, will be common to all. This suggests ancient understanding that even empty space had to be created, which is remarkable given that only now are we ourselves coming to this same conclusion. It also suggests that either we may have been a little harsh in our criticism at the end of the previous paragraph or, as is rather more likely, that the idea of the negative veils may be a relatively modern invention.

Ain Soph Aur, the “limitless light,” is the “seed” of the singularity once the empty space has been created. This does not contradict our previous statement that empty space only comes into being with the expansion of the singularity; it is the “principle” of empty space that is created here, for once the singularity begins to grow the expansion of empty space must always precede it, or else there will be nothing in which to contain the expanding matter. Empty space must be there before the singularity becomes anything other than infinitely small, i.e. its first appearance must be preceded by the creation of empty space, its first appearance is indeed the beginning of its expansion. This is further confirmation that the singularity does indeed come out of nothing. We cannot conceive of a existing singularity, infinitely small, beginning to expand; we must instead conceive of expansion occurring from zero. The best way to think of this is a cone; a cone does indeed taper to a point, but it does not stop there. It continues to taper until even the point does not exist, i.e. it tapers all the way to nothingness. In the same way, a “cone of existence” does not expand from a point, it ultimately expands outwards from nothing.

The above discussion works with the Big Bang theory as an illustration, but we need not assume this theory to be correct. The theory of time as being linear, having a beginning and an end, is a common one, however, and appears to be that upon which the Qabalah was created. All such theories have to deal with the paradox that if there was a point of creation, what happened before that, and if this question has an answer, how can the term “creation” be appropriate? The argument that time is a property of the universe created with it does not help us; if time can be said to a beginning, something must have existed outside of it, something to do the creating, and even if we are barred from using the word “before” there is still something outside of the universe which we are seeking.

These problems do go away if we abandon the whole idea of creation, however. If we consider the possibility that (and here use of terminology inevitably becomes confusing) the universe has “always” existed, and that time is merely a property of it, then we no longer have to consider the idea that something came before it (because we abandon our idea of linear time) and we no longer have to consider the idea that there is something outside of it (because we abandon our idea of creation). This idea simply renders invalid the concerns on which those questions are based, although it may well raise new questions of its own. Answering questions of this kind may ultimately allow us to rend the negative veils, and expose the mysteries of creation which were apparent to the inventors of the Qabalah.

Such speculation is beyond the scope of this essay, however. Let us be content to say that these are the ideas behind the negative veils and the origins of creation in the Qabalah, and continue.

The Archetypal Triad


Kether is the concentration of the negative veils into a point, the first spark of actual creation. Zero extends equally in either direction, positively and negatively, to quite literally create something out of nothing: 0 = (+1) + (-1), or, equivalently, 0 = 1 - 1. In the more general case, 0 = n - n, 0 = (+n) + (-n). Since “n” can take any value we choose, we have an explanation as to how an infinite variety of existence can come out of nothing — “Every number is infinite; there is no difference.”[3] — and we need not waste any time with the idea that one is more special, more unique, more pure than any other number. It is, as Kether here illustrates, the first emanation from nothing. As each number is unique, each number has this exact same quality of “oneness”; there is only one 349, for instance. The quality of Kether we are illustrating therefore is this quality of oneness, and not the number one itself. That being said, we attribute the number one to it for this purpose.

As we saw from our discussions of the negative veils, Kether can be attributed to the singularity. This attribution can only ever be momentary however.

[Diagram of units of existence emanating conically from a point]

Figure 1.1: Cone of Existence

The blocks in figure 1.1 represent “units of existence,” and we have shown them to be discrete for the purposes of ease of illustration only, there is no deeper theory behind this presentation or indeed of the idea of units of existence in the first place. To the left of the point of the cone is nothing, Ain. As the point is reached, empty space is created, Ain Soph, which must precede the creation of actuality. The appearence of the first block of actual existence is Kether. As soon as this first block develops in the two blocks, the idea of Kether is no longer present. Kether is thus the first appearance of creation, and is actually present for a microscopically small period of time. As soon as the singularity begins to develop, it becomes no longer single, and cannot be anymore attributed to Kether.

In the same way, however, the first appearance of the other elements can also be attributed to Kether. The first appearance of the two out of the one can be attributed to Kether, just as the first appearance of the seven out of the six can be. This is what is meant when it is said that each sephirah contains a Tree within itself. The “Kether of Chokmah” relates to the first appearance of the two from the one, and the “Malkuth of Chokmah” represents the final development of the two, just prior to the appearance of the idea of three. Thus, although in the Tree of Life relating to the whole of creation, Kether is only attributed to that first initial spark, that momentary period, the idea of Kether — the principle of Kether — flows downwards right through the Tree. Kether is associated with the principle of the creation of anything new, not necessarily just the creation of the universe as a whole. This is also what is meant when it is said that the sephirah are “emanations” of the preceding ones; the spark of Kether is inherent in everything, since the existence of any given unit depends on that first spark of its arrival into manifestation. Whenever something new is created, when no idea of its existence was in place previously, the principle of Kether is involved. From Chokmah down to Malkuth, the remaining sephirah are concerned with the process of development (and as we have explained, each stage of development will follow the path of its own tree) but Kether is concerned with the initial creation of the thing developed. The distinction between all these “lower Kethers,” and the “Kether of Kether,” however, is that in the first Kether the creation comes from nothing. In all the following Kethers, the creation is a necessary outflow from the previous development, although the principle of creating something wholly new is inherent in each case.

This subdivision of Trees could, of course, continue indefinitely, giving us the idea of the “Chesed of Binah of Netzach of Tiphareth of Kether of Binah of Hod,” for instance, but we will confine our discussion to the ten principles themselves, since in those principles everything else is contained.


Chokmah is the active, male principle, formed by the extension of the point into the line. It is active because it brings with it the concept of motion, or force, or more generally, change; with a second point, the idea of moving between them comes into being. With only two points, however, we have no concept of distance, or form. All we can say is there has been motion between the two points. Without another point of reference to which comparisons may be made, we cannot say anything about how far apart the two points are, how long it takes to travel between them, or indeed any difference between the two. Knowledge begins with classification — “this is not like that,” or “this is like that” — and we need at least three points for this: “this quality is seen in two points, but not in the third point, therefore the two points are alike.” Alternatively, we can imagine that we need a third point in order to make the distinction in the first place, i.e. that there has to be something separate to observe the two original points. Chokmah then, is pure force, change, or more properly, the ideal of change.

Strictly, then, we cannot really apply the idea of actual motion to this concept, since without a measure of distance we do not have the concept of distance changing, and without the concept of distance changing we cannot really say that there is motion. However, the simple fact that there are two points demonstrates that motion has, in fact, occurred. This idea is implicit in Kether, implicit in the act of creation, since the moment two points are brought into existence this idea follows necessarily as we have described. In figure 1.1 we examined the process of creation pictorially in the form of a cone, viewing Kether as the momentary principle of the transformation of nothing into something. For this transformation to have any meaning, it must be accompanied by the thing being transformed (nothing) and the thing it is transformed into (Chokmah). Thus, Kether can never exist in isolation, which is further confirmation of the erroneousness of the “one god” theory. In other words, Kether is the act of creation, not the thing created itself, and the thing created is both inherent in it and flows necessarily from it. In this sense, Kether is the first spark of creation, and Chokmah is really the beginning of the process of creation. It is this extension from the unity of Kether, this first necessary progression from the act of creation, that characterizes Chokmah, and imbues it with its active male qualities.

All this discussion shows the necessity of considering these sephiroth in conjunction with all the others, rather than in isolation, since they not only require their counterparts to be understood, but they require their counterparts to give them any meaning — or indeed, any existence — at all.


Binah is the passive, female principle, formed by the addition of a third point to create the plane, or shape. With a third point, the concepts of form and structure come into being; the idea of a plane and a shape brings with it a concept of enclosure, of restriction, of the delineation of a space. This is feminine because it is linked with the idea of nurturing, of providing a home, of upbringing, of support. The three legged stool is the only type that can never wobble; in engineering, the triangle is the ideal load-bearing structure, since even with pivots on the vertices it is the only shape that cannot be distorted without being broken. With the addition of the third point the concept of discrimination comes into being, and the ideas of knowledge which is merely structured and stabilised experience. This idea is also implicit in Kether and in the act of creation, since it flows necessarily from the creation of three points.

Figure 1.2 illustrates these ideas pictorially:

[Diagram showing Kether as the point of a triangle, Chokmah as the interior, and Binah as the opposite side.]

Figure 1.2: Triangle of creation

Kether is here “A,” the point, not the infinitely small point, but that momentary state between infinitely small and being in existence. Chokmah is “B,” the first extension of the point, and Binah is “C,” the completion of the cone. We must consider this triangle to be almost impossibly small, of course. In figure 1.2, we could place the line completing the triangle much closer to the point; in fact, according to the laws of mathematics, as close as we like. We have to conceive of this triangle as being the smallest triangle that can possibly be created, which is of course itself not possible. It must be remembered that we are dealing with principles here, however, so practical impossibilities need not concern us yet. What must be understood is that Kether represents a point from which extension can be made, Chokmah represents that extension itself, and Binah represents the first result of that extension, the actual creation of an idea; in this case, the triangle. Because Binah is the result of the extension, it is considered to have a female, passive quality; it was created purely as a result of Chokmah's extension.

Kether, Chokmah and Binah considered together form the supernal triad, or archetypal triad. In the three dimensional universe, the two dimensional plane can never actually exist except in concept, so the supernals deal with ideas, with concepts, with archetypes upon which manifested existence will be based. The fact that the ideas of Chokmah and Binah are implicit in the act of creation, and flow necessarily from it, is seen in the expression: “change is stability, and stability is change.” The two ideas are inextricably linked. The notion of force can be seen as both the stern father, the imposition of force, and as the liberating father, the father who releases his son into his own life, the force to break free. Equally, the notion of stability can be seen as both the nurturing mother, giving structure to her son's life so that he may grow as a unit, and as the smothering mother, restricting her son's life, refusing to let him “leave the nest,” and hampering his development. The image of the supernal triad, with Chokmah and Binah springing out of Kether, illustrates that these two principles are complementary. It is error to think of them as opposites, opposed to each other, working against each other. It is not true to say that force can destroy structure; it can destroy a structure, but some structure still remains. The role of force is to change structure, to modify it and, in some circumstances, to improve it and to grow it. Equally, structure cannot stop force entirely, it can only channel and direct it, harness it.

We can also see this idea in our above diagram. We stated that Binah was passive and female, because it was created from Chokmah's extension, yet it is equally true (the triangle being the simplest plane) that this is the only thing that could have been initially created, the only form Chokmah's extension could have formed itself into. Here we instantly see the constraint of the force of Chokmah into form. This restriction is not imposed upon Chokmah, it arises inevitably from its nature. Thus, the idea of form is inherent in the force of Chokmah, since its extension must produce form. Equally the idea of force is inherent in the form of Binah, since only by extension can form be produced.

This may be true in a purely physical sense also. Atoms, as are commonly understood, are viewed as a mass of electrons orbiting the nucleus at a frantic pace. Similarly, it is the motion of the planets in orbit around the sun that keeps the orbit constant, that stops them spiraling inwards towards a fiery destruction. We may go so far as to say that structure requires motion, or change, to maintain itself. This is echoed in the law of entropy, that a closed system will decay; motion is required for freshness. Recent developments in string theory suggest that particulate matter may ultimately come down simply to vibrations; i.e. not that matter vibrates, but that matter is actually nothing other than vibration itself. Viewed from this aspect, it could be said that matter is motion, that it is change that brings matter into existence in the first place. Equally, we can see that without form and structure motion has no meaning. As we illustrated in the discussion on Chokmah above, without points of comparison, without form, then motion, distance, time, all have no meaning. This is another illustration of why Chokmah represents the ideal of motion, and not motion itself, since with merely two parts motion has no meaning. Therefore matter — form — requires motion to exist, and motion has no meaning outside of a structure for comparison; motion is nothing other than a change in structure. The two concepts are therefore interdependent and complementary, not opposite, and neither can exist by itself.

In this sense, Binah can be thought of as physical law, law and restriction from the sense of inevitability, rather than imposition. The attribution to Saturn with its idea of limitation, rigid systems restricting growth, and the hardest challenges in life, being the challenge of recognising one's ultimate limitations. Saturn is associated with coping with adversity, since the immutable physical laws of nature are the ultimate adversary, yet, at the same time, the ultimate source of power, and it is the lesson of this mystery which is ultimately associated with Saturn, and it is why it is said that the victories over the limitations in Saturn are the sweetest ones; they are the ultimate challenges, and their overcoming represents both a transcendence of the universe and an alliance with it. This complete coming to terms with reality is understanding, which is the meaning of Binah.

These ideas of change and stability therefore flow necessarily from creation, and are the only two ideas to flow necessarily from it. We invite the reader to try to conceive of any other ideas which do not ultimately come back to these two. The glyph of the Tree of Life illustrates this, for the supernal triad is the only one with an upward pointing apex, the principles of change and stability being inherent in, and flowing necessarily downwards out of, Kether. The stability inherent in the triangle, in the number three, is additional confirmation of the correctness and self containment of these three principles in the act of creation; there is the beginning, the act of creation, and the thing created, which are all inherent in each other, the beginning–middle–end idea of a process which is the fundamental idea associated with the number three. Together, the supernal triad symbolises the ideal of the process of creation, and the formulation of this ideal is necessary before any actual manifestation can occur.

As the supernal triad deals with ideals, principles, archetypes, and encompasses the only two ideas to flow necessarily from the principle of creation, to move any further is to move into manifestation itself, i.e. from potential to actual, from ideal to manifestation. There is a vast gulf between Binah and the subsequent sephirah termed the Abyss, to make this distinction between potential and actual clear. To further cement this distinction, Binah and Chesed are the only two consecutive sephiroth on the Tree not to be connected by a path.

The Actual Triad


Chesed is the addition of the fourth point, and with this addition the idea of a solid is made possible, the pyramid with a basal triangle. This is the simplest solid that can be constructed, and four vertices are at least required. Like the triangle, this also brings with it the sense of structure, of form, except now we are enclosing a three dimensional space. This is the idea of stability in manifestation, rather than in principle. From a physical creational sense, this stability can be though of as the result of the laws of physics; for creation to be made manifest, there must be some sense of how the elements are to interact, and this further illustrates the necessity of change in the concept of stability, for the laws of physics work purely on change, on the motions of the particles — law is, after all, nothing but a constraint on motion. The manifestation of these laws are also suggestive of a plan, although there need be no considerations of intelligent design, or motive here; the plan simply flows necessarily from the laws, and need not be consciously determined. This is appropriate for the first manifestation across Abyss, the first notion of actuality; that is, the “grand plan” of creation from which everything else must follow.

The association with Jupiter, represented by the drive for expansion, fortune and abundance, should be clear from this outflowing into manifestation. From the formulation of the process of creation in the Supernals, it is through Chesed that all possibilities are made manifest, through this acting out of physical laws. The fortune (which also means destiny, or fate) of Jupiter arises as a result of the physical laws formulated in the Supernals, and in particular from the idea of Binah. The idea of abundance refers to the fact that everything in creation has entered manifestation through this process, through the transformation from the potential to the actual, and that this process contains within it the ability to create everything. The drive for expansion in Jupiter is clearly a direct result of this outflowing into manifestation, and this drive continues throughout the full process of creation, from Chesed all the way down to Malkuth.

Four is also associated with the square, the fortress, the symbol of created rather than inherent restriction. For that reason Jupiter has been associated with idea of temporal law, authority and morals, the idea of structure imposed rather than structure inherent in the idea of existence. This type of structure is necessarily less stable than that of the three, and less perfect since is it separated from the ideal stability by the Abyss. It can also be viewed as the inference of physical laws through the observation of manifested nature, which is clearly a very different thing from the physical laws themselves, which are always potential and implicit. In the same way this can be extended to the idea of the creation of more arbitrary laws and morals, through an inference rather than as arising from first principles, from the ideal. This type of law is clearly more imperfect and can never be absolute. Compared to Saturn, Jupiter represents power and authority, which can fade because it is not based on the same kind of physical necessity that the laws of Saturn are. The “capacity for learning” associated with Jupiter depends to a large extent on the ability of the individual to make inferences which approximate most closely to the “real” or ideal laws of the supernals. To the extent that this ability is not present, the capability of learning, of approaching an apprehension of truth, will be much reduced. The need for expansion, for a willingness to accept the role of fortune, is required to break free from the self-imposed restrictions which hamper this ability. Thus, the ideas of benevolence and the search for wisdom in Jupiter shows that, when functioning in its best aspects, Jupiter has the ability to modify the rules and laws that it sets when necessity arises, which is why Jupiter is not nearly as stern a teacher as Saturn is. Jupiter contains the ideas of justice and mercy (“mercy” is the meaning of Chokmah) because of this ability and willingness to expand on its own restrictions, which are ultimately there for “good” purposes (i.e. for direction, creation and growth) bringing an increase in insight and understanding. Jupiter is, in its best aspects, concerned with the search for truth (since Chesed is below the Abyss, this search cannot be completed here) and not restriction for its own sake. The laws of Saturn cannot be so modified, however, and the only relief from them is to learn how to work with them, rather than against them.


Geburah is the addition of a fifth point. With five points, we have the possibility of two separate solids, and the possibility of motion within the two. It also suggests a point outside of the structure of the solid, an escape from or a modification to the structural stability. This then is the idea of change in manifestation, rather than in principle, for we can now have actual motion. This is the impulse that fulfils the physical plan in Chesed, that carries it out. The structure of Chesed exists to give form to the motion of Geburah, and the motion of Geburah serves only to modify the structure of Chesed according to the laws laid down for it.

Thus, Chesed is the bringing into manifestation of creation, but Geburah is the movement of the manifested thing. Geburah is the expression of existence in accordance with the physical laws; it is the unfolding of the “plan” of creation. The attribution to Mars should be clear, expression of energy and work, dynamic and strong, for energy arising from physical law and working in harmony with it is pure and irresistible, hence the idea of strength which is the meaning of Geburah. If there was no movement, physical laws would be redundant, since their purpose is to constrain and direct motion; without interaction of the elements, there is no need for law, since they cannot affect one another. If the elements existed in a perfectly static state, they could not influence each other, and each could be said to be a universe in itself. Geburah is the interaction of the things made manifest, their drive to express their own nature, their will.

Five being the triumph of spirit over the elements (or, when the pentagram is inverted, their source), Geburah represents the drive to overcome restriction, to grow, to develop. In the physical sense, of course, this drive can only ever be expressed in one direction, out of the necessity of physical law. This is the reason why the structure in Chesed gives rise to the thought of a “divine plan”. There are elements of predestination and fate in the idea of Jupiter.


Tiphareth is the conjunction between change and stability, and in esoteric terms has historically been linked with self-awareness, or, more accurately, individuality. The interplay between change and stability brings with it the idea of a progression through the “plan”. Chesed is form, and Geburah is motion, but their combination in Tiphareth is the idea of some thing moving through the structure of the universe, and this brings with it the idea of an individual, distinct, and interacting with the remainder of the universe on its journey. The addition of the sixth point brings with it a choice of motion; there is no longer just one point outside of the solid that one could move to, there exists another possibility. These choices of motion are what suggest the individual, and in combination those choices represent a journey, a path, a course of action. This is naturally suggestive of will, and it is the choice-making quality of will, whether automatic or not, that gives rise to the idea of an individual. The important thing to consider about this will is that it has arisen necessarily out of the first manifestations of form and force, and that it is therefore perfectly in alignment with them. This is the “true” will, the necessary and eternal motion of the star through the universe.

As we saw with the Supernals, these three ideas are quite impossible to separate, and they must be considered together. Chesed is the bringing into manifestation, and contains in itself all the qualities and necessities which must follow thereby. Geburah is the motion of manifested elements, which is a necessary component of manifestation and law. Tiphareth represents their resolution, the actual existing thing as distinct from the rest of the universe, and it is ultimately this thing which moves, and which is constrained into form.

Thus, where the three sephiroth of the Supernals contained between themselves a complete picture of the ideal of creation (a beginning, an extension from that beginning, and the creation of form) so the three sephiroth of the actual triad contain between themselves a complete picture of the act of creation (the bringing into manifestation, the action of the manifested elements in accordance with law, and the subsequent development of the thing, the individual, the manifested unit). As the Supernals relate to the universe in totality, so the actual triad relates to individual manifestations of the universe. The Book of the Law describes this in terms of stars — “Every man and every woman is a star. Every number is infinite; there is no difference.”[4] This suggests individual stars crystallising into manifestation from the potential of the universe (in the same way that the potential for existence crystallized from the negative veils, concentrating a centre), each individual and unique with its own path to follow, but a necessary part of the whole, partaking in the nature of infinity and its path being completely subject to the necessity of the laws of the whole. It is this creation of a manifested, existing unit, being part of the whole but at the same time a discrete part of it, that gives rise to the idea of “beauty,” which is the meaning of Tiphareth. Beauty contains within itself the ideas of both force and form, since although it is form which appears beautiful, for the idea of beauty to have meaning there must be something to apprehend it, and it is this apprehension that is attributed to the idea of force, movement, change, and experience. Moreover, it is the progression of the universe, the necessity of it all, the seamless combinations, that is the ultimate beauty.

Dealing as they do with manifestation below the Abyss, we will term this second group of three sephiroth the actual triad. The first thing one notices about this triad compared to the Supernals is that the apex is pointing downwards. Above the Abyss, in the potential plane, ideals sprang necessarily from the source, from the principle of existence. Below the Abyss, in the actual plane, pairs of complementary points are resolved downwards. This is an illustration of the creation according to The Book of the Law — “For I am divided for love's sake, for the chance of union.”[5] The creation of Kether, the division into positive and negative and the resulting ideas of change and stability, are seen as giving rise to a reintegration once become actual; a union. It shows that the division of creation is undertaken in order that individuals may be created, for the generation of experience through union.

As we stand, however, we have an individual with the potential for self-awareness, but we need a mechanism for that. Therefore the Tree continues downwards. For reasons which should be clear from above, we will term this continuation the individual triad. Whereas the potential was separated from the actual by the Abyss, the actual is separated from the individual by the Veil of Paroketh. The use of the word “veil” is illuminating. For the generation of experience to have any meaning, the individual must feel himself to be separate from the rest of the universe; the value of experience will be greatly diminished if he perceives only parts of his greater self.[6]

Crowley attributes self-awareness to the number six in his “Naples Arrangement,” but we cannot agree with this attribution. The individual created by the actual triad in our system has individuality, has its own path, has what can be called a “self,” but it is not yet aware of this, its consciousness at this stage being merely the direction imposed on it by the will of the universe. The Naples Arrangement did a poor job of explaining seven, eight and nine, resorting as it did to Vedantic symbolism without really delineating why this should be necessary. Our system is much more intuitive in this regard, and also explains how and why the Veil of Paroketh serves to veil the individual's perception of itself as being part of the whole. We cannot have self-awareness without a sense of separation, and if this awareness occurs in Tiphareth then the ideas in the Tree start to become inconsistent. Given the threefold nature inherent in the structure of the Tree, it is far more sensible to attribute the ideal to the first three, the actual to the second three, and the individual (with its sense of self-awareness) to the third. This will become apparent as we continue our discussion, and is also why Tiphareth is associated with the Sun, the centre of the Solar System, its core. In exactly the same way, Tiphareth is the core of the individual, his true nature, and through the Veil of Paroketh it informs and guides the lower sephiroth; Tiphareth is connected with the Holy Guardian Angel.

The Individual Triad


Netzach is the active individual quality, which has been termed desire. It is a debased form of the will. The true will in Tiphareth, deriving from the universal will, is veiled to the individual, but is imperfectly reflected to him through the Veil of Paroketh in the form of desire and instincts. It is the idea of motion in the individual, the force that drives him through his individual existence.

The idea of individuality, of consciousness, requires the idea of self direction, of a choice as to what path is to be taken. If it were otherwise, individuality and awareness would be little more than a prison. It is necessary because individuality, the awareness of the self, confers with it the illusion of separation, the illusion that the individual is responsible for his own direction, is in control of his being. Without this illusion, there can be no real self-awareness, no individuality; without it, the consciousness would be reduced to a mere observer, rather than as a participant, and thus would be unable to truly experience. Without this ability to self-direct, there could be no experience of the overcoming of fear, for instance, or of the development of a new skill, any more than one can achieve these experiences through watching a movie.

In order to fully experience the wonders of the universe, then, the individual must fully believe himself to be in control of his being. If he is to be in such control, he must have some direction, some goal he is working towards, some objective which serves to guide his conscious choices throughout his life. The provision of this direction, these objectives, is the function of Netzach. Netzach means “victory,” and its meaning indicates the achievement the individual's objectives. It is this desire for achievement which drives the individual through his life, and it is to the desires that Netzach is most often attributed.

Alhough we have said that it is the achievement of the individual's desires which drives him, it is the nature of the being that this achievement can never take place. The function of Netzach is to drive the individual, to provide him with a purpose for existence, to direct his actions, and if he ever achieves his objectives this direction would cease to be effective. Thus it is the nature of the individual to never be satisfied with what he has, where he is; when he does satisfy his desires they are simply replaced with new ones, in order that he may continue to be spurred on to action through the whole of his life. This notion of desire is therefore an illusory concept, as are all the concepts in the sephiroth below the Veil of Paroketh, since they all arise from the illusion of the sense of self, the illusion of separation from the rest of the universe. This also explains why the chasing of desire is ultimately futile, since it is the drive towards our objectives which motivates us, not their achievement, and we will find there is nothing either motivating or fulfilling about merely having something; the nature of desire is to make the individual dynamic, which is completely opposite to allowing him to remain constant and content, which is the idea most people have when they seek to fulfill their desires.

Netzach is, then, clearly the change sephirah of the individual triad, the active individual quality, in that it is what drives the individual to motion, towards growth, towards new experience. It is attributed to Venus, which relates to needs, which by definition implies motion towards something we do not already have. We experience hunger when we have a need to eat, a need to put fuel and nourishment into our bodies which is currently lacking. It reflects æsthetic preferences and the attraction we feel to things, which is precisely how we have defined Netzach; the attraction to something is the tendency to move towards it, and it is the creation of these tendencies which drives the individual. Venus also represents harmony and balance, equilibrium, and it is indeed the disturbance from equilibrium which makes us want to return to it. Thus, although Venus contains the idea of balance and equilibrium, it is itself neither of these things, since its existence depends on the lack of equilibrium. The motion arising from Netzach is, however, a stabilizing motion, like the swinging of a pendulum. Stability in motion is a tendency for motion to stop, to return to balance, just as a pendulum will gradually reduce the extent of its swinging over time until it finally ceases, always presuming that it is not disturbed in the meantime. An unstable motion will tend to move away from equilibrium over time, the swings becoming wider. It is this desire for equilibrium inherent in Venus, this tendency to return to a position of balance and harmony, which makes the motion in Netzach stabilizing, by imbuing it with a direction towards the objective which influences the swing closer to the victory of obtaining this balance. It is the influence of the other lower sephiroth which disturb this balance, and provide the desire with new objectives.


Hod is the passive individual quality, which is linked with knowledge and thought. It is the classification and structuring of the individual's perceptions and experiences. We have already seen that for true discrimination to take place — which is necessary for individual experience — we must have a reference point. The accumulation of experiences solidifies into knowledge, whereby the individual knows — or thinks he knows — something of the nature of the world, so that he may make comparisons and discover new things.

Hod is the stabilising sephirah of the individual triad. We have seen that it is Netzach which provides the individual with his drive, with his motivation for action, but without a clear notion of how such fulfillment is to be achieved, that action will be futile. For this reason, in order to pursue his desires, the individual has a conscious mind which is capable of consolidating and classifying the experiences he has, of making associations between them, so that thereby he might learn something about his environment and about himself. By so doing, the accumulated knowledge he has will enable him to make inferences that such-and-such an action is likely, in the current observed circumstances, to lead to such-and-such a result, and it is thereby that he is able to make choices which, he hopes, will lead him closer to the fulfillment of his desires.

Hod does not then refer to a simple accumulation of facts, or memory, or knowledge, but to the patterns in the mind which enable these associations and inferences to be made, by forming pathways along which sensations can be sorted, classified and discriminated. It is the mental faculty, the thoughts, the ability to reason, the ability to analyse and solve, to draw conclusions based on similarities to past experiences.

The attribution is to Mercury, to the ability to communicate, and to mental activity and dexterity. Communication is the conveyance of information, and information is the presentation of data into an order which allows some sort of meaning to be gleaned from them. For instance, we may have a mass of data arising from a point-of-sale system in a supermarket, but it is not until we group and sort that data by product that we can deduce that decaffeinated coffee is selling strongly, whilst chocolate lampshades are not. Similarly, it is not until we combine this data with those from other locations that we can see whether these facts are common or unique to this location. Without this sort of information, without this grouping and sorting of individual pieces of data, we cannot draw conclusions and hence do not have the ability to effectively manage. It is the same within the individual; until we are able to learn that, for instance, friction induces heat, and heat induces flame, we will be unable to harness the power of fire to our advantage, and our progress through life, our progress towards new experience, will be severely restricted. The purpose of the classification of Hod is then to give the individual the ability to successful navigate his being towards the fulfillment of his desires. The meaning of “splendour” is the wonder and miracle of this enormously complex and labyrinthine web of pathways and patterns which make all this possible, and the wonder that is felt from being able to perceive something of the working of things.

Herein, in the individual triad, is also illusion and imperfection of form, however. The purpose of these pathways and patterns which allow classification is to provide an ability to classify one's experiences in order that useful inferences be made, and appropriate inferences drawn which will allow the individual to successfully navigate his being. It is entirely possibly, however, even normal, for such patterns to develop in a manner which leads to inappropriate conclusions being drawn. For instance, the development of a belief in god can lead to all sorts of fatuous and imbecilic notions which can permanently restrict growth. This aspect connects with Mercury's attribution to the trickster, to the magician in his aspect as an illusionist and a master of misdirection.

These patterns are formed on the basis of experience, not from some absolute and perfect source of knowledge, and such experiences are always incomplete. The patterns and pathways which are drawn therefrom must always therefore be tentative, no more than convenient assumptions. It is when the structure becomes excessively fixed (e.g. in the example above where a belief in a god can become fixed and ingrained) that problems arise, when the structure is cut-off from the rest of the sephiroth and denied of rejuvenating influence. The structure of Hod must be constantly updated, challenged, and refreshed if it is to remain vital and relevant.


Yesod is the combination of knowledge and desire. With his knowledge crystallized in Hod, and his desires originating in Netzach, he is able to make decisions based on his knowledge as to how he can further his desires. This has been linked with the subconscious mind, wherein a man knows that he wishes to refrain from painful experiences, seek comfort and warmth, pursue wonder, and so on. This is a debased form of self-awareness, and can be seen to be the “conscious” self, as opposed to the “true” self in Tiphareth. Since his true will is veiled to him, and he only has the impulses of Netzach for guidance, and because his knowledge in Hod arises from his experiences on the earth (rather than coming down as a knowledge of the universe), this conscious self, this individual will, has the potential to move further and further away from his “true” will.[7] Here is the origination of sorrow and suffering. From the universal perspective, of course, there is no suffering, and what the man experiences is all good new experience. The man thinks he is suffering because he mistakes this debased version of self in Yesod for his true self, and he thus perceives that the suffering is happening to him, whereas really it is only perceived by his experiential vehicle.

The attribution is to the Moon, instincts, habits, and the unconscious mind. It is also the personality, the reflection of the “soul”. Being in the middle pillar, one path away from Tiphareth, the individual, it is here in Yesod that the individual qualities inherent to Tiphareth are reflected to form the personality, which is then reinforced and altered by the influences of Netzach and Hod. The reflection is also the internal universe, or “astral universe,” that the individual creates for himself. When one daydreams, “rehearses” mentally, or reviews memories, it is from this internal universe that the inner pictures and other senses arise. The desires from Netzach and the associations in Hod work together to form this universe in Yesod, so that the individual has an internal representation of the universe he lives in, which reflects both his understanding of it and his attitudes towards it. It is the information from this internal universe that form the most part of the inputs towards the processing faculty of Hod. Hence we can see that even with perfectly functioning processing, inappropriate conclusions can still be drawn if the inputs are faulty, if the internal universe is markedly different from the “real” one in important aspects.

Some of the internal universe is formed inherently, or naturally. The simple act of living in a human body with the human senses is responsible for the way a good deal of it is formed. When very young, physical sensations are the most important formative part, as the classifying faculty is not well developed, and the physical sensations and images which are presented to the infant form an important part of the development of his internal universe, the effects lasting long into adulthood. Much of what drives an individual is affected by these early sensations, and most of us will be familiar with vague images or sensations which have been with us all our lives, and whilst somewhat intangible seem to influence us in many ways.

Other parts of the internal universe are shaped through the mental faculties of Hod. One of the functions of Hod is to draw conclusions about the nature of things, about the nature of the universe, and those conclusions are fed back into Yesod to form part of the individual's overall conception of the environment in which he lives, which of course includes himself. In this way we can see both how “faults” in the mental faculty can result in an inaccurate internal universe, and how inaccuracies existing in the internal universe can be fed up into Hod and then channelled back, reinforcing the error and miring the individual even deeper in the pool of illusion.

The desires arising in Netzach also have an influence here. In confusing what is with what is desired, the man “creates the universe in his own image,” which is the reverse of what should occur. A good example would be the individual who believes in a personal hell because he simply refuses to accept that individuals who have “harmed” him should escape punishment, and in his spiteful sophistry he creates a universe for himself where his transgressors are punished horribly for all eternity. The phenomenon of denial arises as a result of Netzach's influence on the internal universe in Yesod.

Naturally, the input from the senses have an important influence on the internal universe. The pictures inside the individual's head arise in the form they do primarily because he has seen them, or their like, before, with his own eyes. We can expect the images that arise in the mind of one who has been blind from birth to deviate quite substantially from images that the rest of us would recognise.

Finally, there is an influence on the internal universe from outside the realm of the individual triad and from the environment, and that influence comes from Tiphareth. This influence reflects what he actually is, rather than what he thinks himself to be, what he would like to be, or what his environment tells him that he is. If we were to here examine the question of attainment, we would see that a good portion of the task of “purifying” the internal universe comes down to attenuating this influence.

Yesod is, then, the centre of the lower self, the “boiling pot” of the personality.

Again, since we are below the Abyss, the individual triad has a downward pointing apex, showing that desire and intellect are combined to form awareness. This is the “chance of union” on the individual level.

Thus, we saw that the supernal sephiroth represent the idea of creation, the three sephiroth of the actual triad represent the act of creation, and the three sephiroth of the individual triad represent the functioning of the individual in his capacity as a being aware of both himself and his environment, in terms of his motivation, his decision-making, and his ideas of both himself and of the universe. All three of these things are necessary for a functioning individual. Each of these three concepts is internal to the individual, and with this in mind we can clearly see the source of the problems faced by people in their lives. The vast bulk of the day to day functioning of the individual is concerned with these three concepts, and the result can be a perpetual flow of information along the three paths joining them, leading to the individual living the vast bulk of his life within himself, cut off both from the external reality and from his own source. The “Great Work” essentially consists of restoring these links, which will allow him to balance his conscious self and apprehend his true function in the scheme of the universe.

Chesed is structure, Geburah is will, and Tiphareth is the true self, but in the individual triad, below the Veil of Paroketh, everything is mere reflection, so Netzach is desire, the reflection of will. Hod is thought, the reflection of structure. Yesod is the subconscious, the reflection of the self. Herein all is illusion.

The Physical World


There is one more step to be taken. The individual triad provides man with desires to experience, with intellect and knowledge to classify those experiences, and a consciousness with which to consolidate his journey through experience, but it has not actually given him anything to experience. This is Malkuth. Malkuth is often considered to be the material world itself, or the body, but in this sense Malkuth is the experience of the world; it is the experience of the taste of strawberries, rather than strawberries themselves or even the taste itself (although we can easily enough argue that without experience, taste is a meaningless concept). The physical existence of the universe need not concern us; if in fact we were the stereotypical “brain in a vat” and the entire universe was merely a series of created fictitious sensations for us, we would be in the same situation, and would take the same action. As Bishop Berkeley has shown us, we are not able to distinguish between a “real” reality and a convincing illusion along these lines, and for our purposes we don't care to try and do so. We are not concerned with the nature of reality in Malkuth, therefore; we are concerned only with our experience of what we call reality.

There is a further connection here with Malkuth., as the creation of the individual triad fails to have any sensible meaning without the addition of actual experience. We may therefore take a fourfold perspective and consider the individual triad and Malkuth as a unit. We have already seen the influence Malkuth has on the formation of the internal universe.

Further Considerations

The Structure of the Tree

Our initial analysis complete, we may continue to perceive the patterns in the Tree. The formula of Tetragrammaton, IHVH, is of applicability here. In tradition, “I,” yod, is the male impulse, the father. The first “H,” hé, is the female impulse, the mother. The “V,” vau, is the son, the conjunction of the mother and father. The final hé is the daughter, essentially the energy released by the union of the mother and the father, the “side-effect” of that union. In terms of the lower four sephiroth, Netzach is clearly the active, male principle, and Hod the passive, female principle. We have seen how these combine into Yesod to form the son, and how the necessity of Malkuth is implied by this. We can continue this further. We have already said that the actual triad itself gives rise to the necessity of the individual triad, and we may therefore consider the hé final of the “actual Tetragrammaton” to be the individual triad plus Malkuth. Also, clearly, the ideal existence in the supernals must necessarily give rise to actual existence, and thus we may consider the lower seven sephiroth to be the hé final of the “archetypal tetragrammaton”. Finally, the threefold negative veils represent potential, and potential has no meaning without actual, so the Tree in its entirety can be considered the hé final of the union of the “negative father” and the “negative mother,” which combine to produce the “negative son”.

We can thus see how the Tree seamlessly combines the threefold formula of the triad with the fourfold formula of Tetragrammaton. Reinforcing this, we have four threefold arrangements on the Tree, being the negative veils and the three triads. The aphorism “change is stability and stability is change” illustrates the twofold formula of complements, and the creation of existence illustrates the single formula of creation. Thus, the Tree embodies both the single, twofold, threefold and fourfold formulæ, and we may consider it interesting to note that the number of sephiroth is ten, or 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. These considerations, whilst being both satisfying and pretty, are not crucial to our ideas however.

The basic structure of the Tree proper (excluding the veils) are the three triads, each with the rest of the Tree as a “pendant”. Each triad contains a change or motion sephirah, a stability or form sephirah, and a third sephirah, which in the archetypal triad represents their source, and in the remaining two triads represent their resolution. The archetypal triad shows how the ideas of motion and force arise from, and are inherent in, the idea of creation, whilst the actual triad shows how actual motion and actual form combine to form the actual individual. The individual triad shows how individual motion and individual form combine to form self-awareness, and the internal universe.


The numbers attributed to the sephiroth provide further support for this framework. As we have already described, two represents the line, direction, movement, whilst three represents the triangle, shape, form. Four represents the square, enclosure, constructed form, artificial form, and that fact that 2 = 2 + 2 = 2 × 2 = 22 illustrates the structural qualities of this number. Five is 3 + 2, form in motion, and also 22 + 1, movement away from the restriction and enclosure of the four. It is also prime, suggesting motion and a lack of form. Six is 2 × 3 and also 1 + 2 + 3, the combination of motion and form. Seven is also prime, again opposed to form and structure, whereas 8 = 2 × 2 × 2 = 23 = 4 + 4 = 4 × 2, a very heavily structural number. Nine is 3 + 3 + 3 = 3 × 3 = 32, the stabilization of the triad, the combination of motion and form in an individual, more degraded level. Finally ten is 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, the summation of the four elements of the tetragrammaton, the end result of manifestation.

The Qliphoth

The Qliphoth, or “shells” associated with the sephiroth also support this framework. According to Crowley's 777, the Qliphoth of Kether are the “dual contending forces,” clearly opposed to the unity of the one. For Chokmah, the motion sephirah of the archetypal triad, we have the “hinderers,” hindrance being an opposition to force. For Binah there are the “Concealers” which hide and distort form. The Qlipoth of Chesed are the “Breakers in Pieces,” destroyers of form. Geburah has the “Burners,” who destroy through unrestrained force. The shells of Tiphareth are the “Disputers,” the opponents of harmony. The Qlipoth of Netzach are the “Dispersing Ravens,” dispersion being force with no unifying direction, desire cut off from the will in Tiphareth. For Hod we have the “Deceivers,” the illusionists, the creaters of misleading form. Yesod has the “Obscene Ones” who distort and corrupt the internal universe, obscenity implying (in the old æon, at least) the animal being cut off from its divine source. Finally, the Qliphoth of Malkuth is the “Evil Woman,” woman naturally representing the corruption of the flesh, physical baseness devoid of spirit, to the Abrahamic religions.

Vices and Virtues

The “vices” and “virtues” associated with the sephiroth are also instructive. The virtue of Kether, at the pinnacle of the Tree, is naturally attainment, completion of the Great Work, and there is no vice due to the “perfection” of unity. The virtue of Chokmah is devotion to the Great Work, the dedicated and single-minded movement towards its completion. Chokmah is often not ascribed a vice, but when it is that vice is evil, referring to the appearance of duality, the movement into the actual world which was considered by the monotheists to be imperfect when placed against the perfection of the one god. For Binah we have silence as a virtue, non-movement, quiet form, with avarice or greed — the over-structuring, the excessive acquisition and collection of things — as the vice. Chesed's virtue is obedience, to the temporal law inherent in the idea, whilst its vice is bigotry and hypocrisy, the perversion and fixation of form. The virtue of Geburah is naturally energy and courage, its vice of cruelty and restriction representing the “negative” aspect of force. Tiphareth, like Chokmah, has devotion as its virtue, appearing as it does in the middle pillar directly under, and connected to, Kether, representing the individual in balance, rising straight upwards. Its vice is pride and selfishness, indulgence in individuality, a wilful cutting-off of the self from the source. The vice of Netzach is naturally lust, its virtue of “unselfishness” representing the idea of individual direction being influenced from the true self in Tiphareth, rather than from the shell “self” in the individual triad. The virtue of Hod is truthfulness and honesty, whereas its virtue is falsehold and dishonesty, representing respectively the accurate and inaccurate structuring of impressions and experiences. Yesod has independence as its virtue, being the ideal lower self removed from slavish servitude to the thoughts and desires, whereas the vice is idleness and stagnation, a wallowing in the internal universe. Finally, the virtue of Malkuth is discrimination, accurate perception of the physical world, and the vice is inertia and avarice, and indulgence in physical comfort and pleasure.


We have seen that it is both possible and instructive to derive the Tree of Life through a regular and systematic application and combination of the ideas of:

We can summarize this in table 1.1. These four ideas echo themselves all the way down the Tree, the pairs of change and stability either arising from or resulting in the third, and the act of creation or resolution resulting in a fourth idea. The fact that this simple, logical and satisfying pattern agrees so nicely with the traditional symbolism is an indicator of the fitness of this framework, which is also entirely consistent — and illustrative — of the account of creation presented in The Book of the Law.

No. Sephirah Plane Function
1 Kether Archetypal Source
2 Chokmah Archetypal Motion / change
3 Binah Archetypal Form / stability
4 Chesed Actual Form / stability
5 Geburah Actual Motion / Change
6 Tiphareth Actual Resolution
7 Netzach Individual Motion / change
8 Hod Individual Form / stability
9 Yesod Individual Resolution
10 Malkuth Physical Pendant

Table 1.1: Structure of the sephiroth

It is against this framework that we will analyse the small cards of the Tarot. The Tree of Life is traditionally associated with four “worlds,” each one corresponding to one of the four elements. Atziluth, or “archetypal world,” is attributed to the element of fire, Briah, or “creative world” to water, Yetzirah, or “formative world” to air, and Assiah, or “material world” to earth. There are two primary[8] ways of representing these worlds. The first is to represent them on a single Tree, Atziluth encompassing Kether and Chokmah, Briah encompassing Binah, Yetzirah encompassing Chesed through Yesod, and Assiah encompassing Malkuth. The second is to give each world its own complete Tree. This would result in four sets of ten sephiroth, corresponding to the four sets of ten cards of the minor arcana, and is the method most applicable to studying the Tarot, which we will now proceed to do.


  1. See The Khabs is in The Khu for a fuller exposition of this doctrine.
  2. shows a diagram of the Tree of Life.
  3. AL I, 4
  4. AL I, 3–4
  5. AL I, 29
  6. This idea is developed further in The Khabs is in the Khu, the Veil of Paroketh here being equivalent to the veil surrounding the Khabs.
  7. See The Method of Love.
  8. “Primary” according to the Golden Dawn, at least. Many, many other ways have been proposed.