Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The connecting paths of the Tree of Life have various attributions, but the best known are the Trumps of the Tarot. Twenty-two in number, like the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, they fit the paths in exact tally.
Nobody really knows a lot about Tarot’s origins. It’s possible that twenty-two trumps were made because it’s the number of letters in the Greek alphabet, which would have been more familiar than Hebrew to people in medieval Italy, where Tarot as we now know it seems to have originated. But looking at the surviving images from the original Visconti-Sforza deck, and comparing them with the “this symbol represents X, that colour represents Y” of modern esoteric books, it’s clear the whole business has been taken a lot further than was imagined six centuries ago.
Different teachers of strictly Hebraic Qabalah offer differing attributions, putting the letters of their alphabet on differing paths, while of course ignoring Tarot as profane. Non-Jewish occultists of British or continental European origins, with a rather different Tree, still enjoy disputes about what Tarot card goes where, and the paths we have in magick today were only settled in the last 150 years or less. Arguing about which is ‘correct’ is a popular time-waster, but the question should be, rather, an issue of, what works? How do we most satisfactorily represent the transitional processes of moving up the Tree in this Aeon of Horus, with all the changes it has wrought?
Since modern ritual initiation and development sets up aspects of how those transitions will be experienced by the aspirant, it follows that Tarot symbolism has been carefully developed to accommodate all this, and no doubt will be again. In the Book of Thoth, Crowley observes of his design for the Aeon: “The present Aeon is too young to give a more definite representation of this future event.” Which clearly means that at some point, a different design might be useful.
The paths aren’t just connections between the ten sephiroth: they’re primarily interfaces. Each sephirah represents a specific aspect of consciousness – will, memory, volition, desire, intellect – and so on. Each path represents how two sephiroth interact in the psyche as we move from the relative stability of one sephirah and its corresponding grade or degree, to the next.
Take the Universe, the first trump we encounter on the Way of Return, on the path of the letter Tav. The initiate would previously have been identified with the sephirah Malkuth for a certain period, which means he or she explored work, where to live, and to some extent relationships, especially within family. And, incidentally, probably took a very pedestrian, ‘logical’ view of life. It’s a time of becoming familiar with ‘the first matter’ of alchemy, the basic stuff of living in the human world.
The next step is up to Yesod. This sephirah is a point of emergence from pure instinct on the road to spiritually oriented consciousness: but emergence only. Yesod is attributed to the Moon, because our psychological characteristics found at this stage are variable and follow mysterious patterns and unseen rhythms. Yesod is also identified with the genitalia, and thus, by inference, with the vital forces of sex and their spiritual alter-ego, Kundalini. In consequence Tav, the connecting path between Malkuth and Yesod, is an encounter with the roots of how we conceive the world and our place in it. Hence its title, The Universe.
We don’t conventionally grasp that we’re seeing life as a result of psychological conditioning and other tendencies. We usually call our perspectives, beliefs, fears, doubts and enthusiasms ‘rational,’ as we do in Malkuth. Tav is about the business of unpacking all these arbitrary structures of thought processes, which the Universe card depicts with various images, such as the Kerubic beasts in the corners, or the ‘temple’ of the periodic table. The essential laws governing our particular human nature are discerned here, which is one reason why Saturn, the great Lawgiver, is associated with Tav.
People comfortable with the wackinesss prevailing in the subconscious mind, or who’ve maybe had some psychotherapy, can take to Tav quickly. However, strongly skeptical people, especially professed atheists, sometimes find it a huge stumbling block. Such people may fail to pass this point in initiatory work because they can’t admit that their lives are actually run by the inner equivalent of, shall we say, a psycho-cop stoned on PCP-laced grass. Moreover, within that crazy mask, there’s the Life-force itself acting and trying to rise, which is why this path and this card are also identified with the base chakra, the Muladhara. To pass fully up the path of Tav is to begin accepting that one’s life is not ruled by oneself at all, at least as we conventionally think of ‘one’ or ‘self. For a strongly skeptical or rationalistic person, comfortable with pre-decided values and conceptions, that’s a tough pill to gulp down.
Only time and persistence can erode the rigid structures we’ve built up, so that Tav can lead us properly into Yesod, and we can grasp it as the true Foundation of our beings. Grasping how that’s about living with, or in, an interface, is a key step.
Love is the law, love under will,