Lesson 8: QBL: The Wheel of Fortune

Welcome to Lesson Eight. You will notice that I am fond of using italics and boldface to highlight specific words. Anything highlighted can be considered a vocabulary word or concept that I want to bring special attention to. Boldface is a topic that I recommend doing further personal research about.

I use the following spellings to differentiate between three very different esoteric systems: Kabbalah as a type of Jewish mysticism that began in the Middle Ages, Cabala as a form of Christian mysticism that began during the Renaissance, and Qabalah as a form of Western occult philosophy that began with Éliphas Lévi and the Golden Dawn-era magicians. Qabalah is the only one of the three that includes tarot. When I’m talking about all three traditions at the same time or something general enough to be part of all three, I use QBL. Other writers use their own conventions.

In Lesson 4, I stated that the classical Western elements are one of the most ancient and fundamental principles to esoteric tarot. I traced this principle back to 5th century BCE and Empedocles of Acragas. The oldest known inscription of the Tetragrammaton dates to 840 BCE and the Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone). The inclusion of the Tetragrammaton in Jewish magic, especially the inscribing of magical amulets was popular during the Second Temple Period (516 BCE and 70 CE) when there was generally a lot of syncretism going on with Hellenistic culture. Jewish Talmudic & Merkabah mysticism originated during this period;
Jewish Kabbalah appeared centuries later and with even more syncretism.

The Sefer Yetzirah, the foundational proto-Kabbalistic mystical text, was written somewhere between 400-900 AD. I am pretty certain that its author was influenced by esoteric philosophies outside of the Merkabah tradition, especially those originally spawned in Hellenistic culture. Non-Jewish cabalism surfaced during the Renaissance thanks to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Mirandola is attributed with being the founder of Christian Cabalistic philosophy. 

Until the 1850s, Christian cabalists worked with astrology, alchemy, gnostic literature, and many other occult practices but not the tarot. Tarot- tarocchi cards, in Italian- happened to use a lot of iconographic themes also favored by the Renaissance aristocracy and those they patronized. The first known occult scholar to believe (incorrectly) that tarot could be traced back to Egyptian mysticism was Antoine Court de Gébelin (1725 – 1784). He made a direct link between the 22 Major Arcana and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet based on his experiences with Freemasonry and cabalism.

After 1780, several prominent occultists created their own tarot decks where they intentionally included cabalistic and/or Egyptian iconography and began to use tarot as part of ceremonial magic or other occult practices. The most famous of them was Éliphas Lévi, who published his system as Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie in 1854-1856. It was translated into English and published under the title Transcendental Magic its Doctrine and Ritual by A.E. Waite in 1896.

Left- the BOTA deck Wheel of Fortune © Builders of the Adytum; Right- the Universal Waite deck Wheel of Fortune © US Games Systems, Inc.

The Tetragrammaton

The Tetragrammaton appears in the RWS and BOTA decks upon the Wheel of Fortune card. The Wheel featured in these cards resembles the type of magical glyph favored by ceremonial magicians. In Greek, Tetra means four and a Tetragram is a word with four letters. The Tetragrammaton is a specific Hebrew name of God.  Hebrew is read from right to left, backward of English.  The Tetragrammaton has four Hebrew letters, Yod Heh Vau Heh. 

The tetra mytheme expresses itself in modern esoteric tarot over and over again. For example, we see it as the four elements, the four suits, the four court cards in each suit. Specifically on the Wheel of Fortune, we we see it as the Tetragrammaton and other symbols that all correspond to the four elements.

Here is how all the tetrads displayed on the RWS/BOTA style Wheel of Fortune associate with one another.

Yod יHeh הVauHeh ה
Sulphur.svg♒︎Mercury symbol.svg🜔
Leo (lion)Scorpio (eagle)Aquarius (man)Taurus (bull)
Aryeh kerub of fireNesher kerub of waterAdam kerub of AirShor kerub of Earth

Those alchemical symbols along the middle row are not the traditional ones for the four elements. Instead, they represent the Water of Dissolution (shares symbol of Aquarius) and the Three Principles of Alchemy (sulfur, mercury, and salt). A very interesting discussion on the alchemical glyphs upon this card and what would happen to them should the wheel be rotated is archived on the now defunct Aeclectic Tarot forum.

The Kerubic beasts have a long tradition in Jewish and Christian mythology. They are included, along with a number of other tetra mythemes, in the Conjuration of the Four Elements by Éliphas Lévi.

This will be concluding my first set of Esoteric Tarot lessons. The next set will be dedicated specifically to the works of Éliphas Lévi and everything he established that is the foundation of Qabalistic tarot.

End of Lesson Exercises

Exercise #1

Watch Ellen Goldberg’s Howcast video (~7 minutes) on the RWS-style Wheel of Fortune card then write your thoughts about the Wheel of Fortune card and all of this related esoteric lore in your tarot journal.

Exercise #2

Look at the Tetragrammaton Spread featured on the Tarot Club website. Experiment with doing it for yourself and write down any thoughts about the reading as well as the spread itself in your tarot journal.

Exercise #3

Using the big table of elemental associations from Lesson 4 as well as the table above, pick an elemental system or names for the elements that you really like and do a little bit more research on your own. Imagine how you would work them into a set of Aces for the Minor Arcana. Get creative and play with sketching or image editing your own set of Aces that use them.

©2021 The Loracular.com; you may distribute or use as you please so long as this attribution is given.

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Authors & Bloggers, Hermetic Qabalah, Kabbalah, Wicca

Kabbalah, Cabala, Qabalah

QBL books I held onto after drastically downsizing my total “paper” occult library in 2013

I have great antipathy for The Kabbalah Centre and its commercial exploitation of Jewish mysticism. I have great antipathy for the New Age/Wellness Industry as a whole. But the founder of the Kabbalah Centre, Philip S. Berg, was a Jewish scholar and rabbi albeit now a very controversial one. At least one of his books, Kabbalah For The Layman Volume I used to be in my collection and I’m sure I read others. I would say that the Kabbalah Centre, while not culturally appropriative (since the Bergs are Jewish), it isn’t very respectful towards conventional Jewish mysticism.

Jack Chanek (@jack_of_wands) tweeted the other day that he is taking a lot of community backlash over the title and premise of his debut book with the working title of Qabalah For Wiccans. I immediately watched in YouTube video on Qabalah, Wicca, and Appropriation. My empathy for him immediately switched on. I’m not going to cover the same ground as he does but I do not put his book in the same category as merchandise from the Kabbalah Centre. Not at all. Watch that 16 minute video and then read my thoughts about the topics it raises below. In no way do I view Jack’s future book as belonging in the same category as the Kabbalah Centre. It is something that definitely should be published and read by those interested in Qabalah, Wicca, or both.

Because of the easy confusion in topics, I specifically use Kabbalah to mean the closed Jewish mystical tradition, Cabala to mean the pre-Lévi closed Christian mystical tradition, and Qabalah to mean what started in the Lévi/Golden Dawn era and evolved from there into the open esoteric philosophical system it is now. I’m going to toss in a lot of links so anyone unfamiliar with certain names can get some quick reference.

Should non-Jewish occultists use the Hebrew alphabet in their occultism?

I have put a lot of thought into this since returning from my last hiatus. I recently, synchronistically, made the decision that in my personal magickal practice I would no longer use Hebrew alphabetic script (any of them) while drawing glyphs, sigils, or anything ceremonial and evocative. If I make my own tarot deck, Hebrew letters won’t be included there. I don’t chant in Hebrew and I refrain from uttering the Tetragrammaton by its actual Hebrew pronunciation out of respect to the belief it is too sacred to be uttered except under very specific religious situations.

Can I continue to be a Qabalist with these changes where respectfully retreat from Hebrew as a tool from my non-Judaic magickal/spiritual practices? Absolutely and easily. Qabalism is an underlying philosophy and cosmological/psychological paradigm, it isn’t the practice of ceremonial magick itself. You don’t have to be a ceremonial magician to be a Qabalist; you don’t have to have a Qabalistic worldview to be a ceremonial magician.

Should Gentiles Read Books of Jewish Mysticism?

I don’t consider it disrespectful to simply read and contemplate published works. My feeling is that once a sacred text has been published for public consumption, the reading of it doesn’t interlope on a closed practice. I think all non-hate-based sacred texts should be respected and appreciated for what they provide people of faith, even when it’s not your faith. Reading books written by mystics won’t by themselves provide you with your own mystical experience, however. At best, they might give you some insight into how to dedicate your life to having one. Reading comes from a place of Air/Swords/Intellect; Faith comes from a place of Fire/Wands/Belief.

What I can tell you from my long personal experience in reading sacred texts, including Kabbalistic ones? Reading the Zohar, the Bahir, the Sefer Yetzirah, or any text of Jewish mysticism without coming at it from decades of cultural and academic study within Judaism isn’t going to give you the right context to appreciate their nuances. Also? They’re really hard to read and understand. Books of Christian mysticism like those of John Scotus Eriugena and Hildegard of Bingen are just as hard. So is Aggripa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy. To read texts these old and truly appreciate them, you need to know a lot of things about the authors and their life and times.

Do you need to read these sorts of texts to learn Qabalism or Qabalistic tarot? No. Absolutely not. As a beginner, you will want the kind of book that Jack has written. I’m out of the loop of what is currently in print and an ideal place to start.


Is Qabalah An Example Of Cultural Appropriation?

So, after doing a lot of research on what this term means to different people who are using it, I have decided to personally use the definition for cultural appropriation covered at VeryWellMind. I have a lot of respect for VeryWellMind as a website.

Therefore, in my current lexicon? “Cultural appropriation refers to the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn’t respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression.”

Therefore no, the philosophy of Qabalism in Western Occultism is not cultural appropriation. It is really important as a modern person to realize that while Qabalism is about 150 years if we date it beginning as a philosophy with Éliphas Lévi and the publication of Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie in 1864 and 1856, what he based his system off of wasn’t directly the works of, for example, Saadia Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman and Isaac Luria. In my opinion, what Levi began to publish and bring into public view was Christian Cabala. He didn’t create Christian cabala, he just created his own magickal system and philosophy that introduced tarot as a definitive magickal tool. Then he published his work and it went viral. Tarot was transformed into something new as part of that.

Cabala originated hundreds of years before during the Renaissance. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola is attributed with being the founder of Christian Cabalistic philosophy. Mirandola appears to have respected the Kabbalists whose work he studied- among the copious other things he studied-, gave credit to his sources and did not reinforce Jewish stereotypes or encourage/contribute to their oppression to the best of my knowledge.

I am very sure that a better historian than myself can articulate the multiple ways that the Jewish and Islamic peoples of Europe were victims of systemic racism in the late 1400s and 1500s by the White Christians of Europe. But my personal research spanning from the life of Mirandola to Antoine Court de Gébelin (1725-1784) suggests that cabalists were typically more inclusive, open-minded, and devoted to hate-free spiritualism than less esoteric Christians in the same era.

What About The Tree of Life glyph?

So. The Tree of Life as a concept was borrowed by early Judaism from Assyrian mythology; a lot of things were. Judaic law, philosophy, tradition, ritual, myth, and literature evolved and included a lot of cultural assimilation and also a lot of diversity of religious practices between sects. Very few people of the Jewish faith traditions were ever exposed to esoteric Judaism until recently. Kabbalah is actually only one flavor of Jewish mysticism but it is the best recognized by name just as the Tree of Life is so widely presented now its almost mainstream.

Esoteric Judaism played around with all kinds of Tree of Life diagrams and how to apply the concepts of the Sefer Yetrizah and other Kabbalistic writings to them. Different Kabbalists presented it all in different formats. They played with it as a conceptual framework.

The specific Tree of Life glyph that is now the convention for all forms of QBL? That is not Kabbalistic in origin. It is Cabalistic in origin. It is now generally attributed to German-born Catholic humanist Johann Reuchlin for the Latin translation of the Sha’are Orah (The Gates of Light) in 1516 and then borrowed and expanded upon much later by the German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher as an engraving in Oedipus Aegyptiacus in 1652.

So you are not stealing directly from Kabbalah to use it. If using Hebrew letters for pathworking feels appropriative? Don’t use them. Substitute something like the Major Arcana or the astrological planets, signs, and modalities instead and don’t do it in a way that links to the Hebrew alphabet at all.

How Could Qabalah Be Useful To Wiccans?

Qabalah is a philosophical framework that can be integrated into any spiritual or magickal practice. The modern authors of the Qabalah (most of the books on that table are from modern Qabalistic authors) have made that extremely clear. It is inclusive, it has no inherent racism, bigotry, sexism (even if there were/are plenty of racist, bigoted, sexist occultists). There are plenty of authors and books on the Qabalah that I disagree with; I’ve shaped my own Qabalistic paradigm but I had to spend a lot of time in contemplation about other people’s personal truths in order to develop my own.

I self-initiated into Wicca at age 14 (back in 1983, three years before Wicca was recognized as a religion in the United States) and was a voracious reader of Wicca, historical witchcraft, and folklore from 1983 to 1990. Trying to read tarot books during those years by folks like A.E Waite and Aleister Crowley failed miserably because I didn’t have the context for what they were talking about. That came in 1990-2000, post-Wicca.

Wicca taught me to love myself, humanity, the living planet and deities plural. It taught me how to be a magickal girl and then a magickal woman, unashamed of her sexuality and beliefs in spirits great and small. It didn’t provide me the appreciation for the psychology of spirituality and magic that I picked up from the places that Golden Dawn-style occultism took me next. It didn’t introduce me to the metaphors of alchemy, the power of the laws written into the Kybalion or the powerful message of tikkun olam as a metaphorical mandate for all human beings to take personal responsibility for making the world better by being better.

If you like what Isaac Bonewits had to say in Real Magic? You will like Qabalah as a philosophical system. And if you haven’t ever read Real Magic? Go do that. Isaac Bonewits was not only brilliant but he had the same eclectic background like mine in all flavors of occultism and neo-paganism and brought the wisdom of the many paths into one in a very understandable way.

So in closing, I hope this was a helpful and interesting read. I truly think adopting at least some Qabalistic principles into a Wicca-based practice could bring a lot of insight and some new tools for self-empowerment and emotional resilience. I would say the same about Qabalah and any faith tradition.

©2021 The Loracular.com; you may distribute or use as you please so long as this attribution is given.

Lesson 7: The Twelve Zodiacal Signs in the Major Arcana

Welcome to Lesson Seven. You will notice that I am fond of using italics and boldface to highlight specific words. Anything highlighted can be considered a vocabulary word or concept that I want to bring special attention to. Boldface is a topic that I recommend doing further personal research about.

The Major Arcana as 3+7+12

Each of the twelve zodiacal signs combines one of the three modalities (cardinal, fixed, mutable) with one of the four elements (fire, eath, air, water). Twelve of the Major Arcana trumps are linked to the zodiacal signs; traits conventionally associated with each sign in Astrology are likewise associated with its paired tarot card. The other Major Arcana cards are paired to the seven classical planets and the three modalities.

The Jewish Kabbalists associated the three modalities, seven classical planets, and twelve zodiacal signs to the Hebrew alphabet in the same way centuries before tarot cards existed. We will delve more into that and the Kircher Qabalistic Tree of Life in Lessons 9 and 10.

Different Kabbalistic scholars associated specific planets, zodiac signs, and modalities to specific Hebrew letters according to their own opinions and personal truths. Likewise, I think tarot deck creators should assign the seven planets, twelve zodiacal signs, and three modalities to their Arcana cards according to their own insights and personal truths. Whatever a tarot author/artist creates as 22 Major Arcana cards to represent these 22 occult symbols makes for a valid esoteric deck.

What I’m presenting in this lesson is the way the 7-12-3 astrological trait system associates with the original RWS Major Arcana deck by Pamela Coleman and A.E Waite. This convention is prevalent throughout Major Arcana for many other tarot decks as well.

Each of the zodiacal signs has a planetary ruler. This basically means that in esoteric tarot, five of the classical planets (Mars, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury) each have a stronger influence or affinity for two of the zodiacal signs and two of the classical planets (Sun and Moon) have a stronger influence or affinity for just one of the zodiacal signs.

It’s a lot easier to create your own tarot deck and make these astrological associations to the Major Arcana as you please after you’ve mastered the way it’s all done by convention. I do think to that to create your own functional ~personal~ system of astrological, alchemical, and Qabalistic associations for the 78 tarot cards, you need to create your own deck from scratch.

Astrological Associations Of The RWS Major Arcana

O The FoolMutable Air (Modality)Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius
I The MagicianMercury Gemini, Virgo
II The High PriestessMoonCancer
III The EmpressVenusTaurus, Libra
IV The EmperorAries (Cardinal Fire)Mars
V The HierophantTaurus (Fixed Earth)Venus
VI The LoversGemini (Mutable Air)Mercury
VII The ChariotCancer (Cardinal Water)Moon
VIII StrengthLeo (Fixed Fire)Sun
IX The HermitVirgo (Mutable Earth)Mercury
X Wheel of FortuneJupiter Sagittarius, Pisces
XI JusticeLibra (Cardinal Air)Venus
XII The Hanged ManFixed Water (Modality)Taurus, Leo, Scorpio
XIII DeathScorpio (Fixed Water)Mars
XIV TemperanceSagittarius (Mutable Fire)Jupiter
XV The DevilCapricorn (Cardinal Earth)Saturn
XVI The TowerMarsAries, Scorpio
XVII The StarAquarius (Fixed Air)Saturn
XVIII The MoonPisces (Mutable Water)Jupiter
XIX The SunSunLeo
XX JudgementCardinal Fire (Modality)Aries, Cancer, Capricorn
XXI The World Saturn (& Earth)Capricorn, Aquarius

I am going to simply introduce the zodiac signs as they relate to the RWS Major Arcana and leave it to your personal studies to become more familiar with each of them as part of the “end of lesson” exercises.

The Zodiacal Symbols

These original 1909 RWS images are by Pamela Coleman Smith, found at Wikipedia and were scanned by Holly Voley for the (US-PD) public domain.

The symbol for Aries represents a face and horns of a ram. It presents itself in the original RWS as part of Emperor’s throne.

The symbol for Leo is a script form of the Greek letter lambda Λλ the first letter of the Greek word for lion (“leon”). It is depicted on the card via the orange lion.

The word Sagittarius means archer and its symbol is an arrow. The constellation depicts the centaur Chiron. This card doesn’t directly portray Sagittarius but rather draws on some shared themes about mutable fire and the sacred healer.

The symbol for Taurus represents a face and horns of a bull. Taurus isn’t explicitly portrayed in the Hierophant but has esoteric themes shared by the card.

The stylized M for Virgo has no explanation that I find satisfying but when I look at it and Scorpio’s symbol, I see yinyang polarity in those tails.

Capricorn’s symbol, like Aries and Taurus, is meant to depict the sea goat it is based on. The Baphomet-style devil with the horned and tailed prisoners in the card is touches on some of the same themes.

Gemini has a stylized Roman numeral two for a symbol to represent the twins Castor and Pollus. In the RWS card, the two figures and the trees behind them have a shape that echoes Gemini’s symbol.

The symbol for Libra represents scales held by the Roman goddess Iustia. The image of Lady Justice captured in the Justice card can be traced back to Iustia. Libra is symbolized by the scales in her left hand.

Aquarius‘ symbol of two bars of rippling water plays itself out in the way the Star is pouring water from two matching vessels.

Two crab claws with yinyang harmony compose the symbol for Cancer. The same yinyang harmony shows up in the charioteer’s shoulders and the two sphinx. There is water in the background, a trait shared with very specific planets and signs.

Pisces‘ symbol is composed of two fish swimming in opposite directions. I’ve read that the crayfish upon this card is very symbolic of Pisces.

Last but not least, the symbol for Scorpio is a stylized M with a “stinger” tail. Death’s white horse and pose mimics that of the Page of Cups.

End of Lesson Exercises

Exercise #1
Using the astrology website of your choice, look up each of the 12 zodiacal signs and find 3-4 keywords that you feel fit the tarot are very well suited for each tarot card upright and another 3-4 that you feel are very well suited for each tarot card reversed. Add this to your tarot journal.

Exercise #2
Using the previous lessons on the classical planets or another resource, review what kind of qualities each of the seven planets represents and write out a couple of sentences in your tarot journal that link the planets to the a) cards they are associated with on their own and b) the cards they are associated with by rulership of astrological signs.

Exercise #3
Watch this short (~4 min) by gswarner called Recognizing Zodiac Correlations in Tarot Cards and write down the Court Cards that associated with different zodical signs and think about any similarities presented in the Major Arcana – Court Card pairs. You might want to pause for each set or watch it a couple of times.

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Astrology, Hermetic Qabalah, Minor Arcana, Thoth

Card For Today: 6 of Wands (Thoth)

image  © US Games, Inc

I am going to draw a card each morning from one of my 2021 decks and briefly talk about it. For over 80 days, I’ve just been doing daily cards for myself in a tarot journal.

In the RWS tradition, the 6 of Wands depicts a victorious leader and being lauded by a crowd. I’ve always liked that RWS motif but the Thoth card gives me a greater thrill and makes a sense of achievement (present and potential) really hit home.

Astrologically, this card is attributed what happens with Jupiter (The Benefactor) in the sign of Leo. Well-aspected Jupiter- and it is very well-aspected in Leo- is associated with prosperity, abundance, good fortune, benevolence. Leo rules the House of Pleasure (the 5th House) where our passions, self-expressions, creativity, romances and hobbies are to found. So from an astrological perspective, the Thoth 6 of Wands symbolizes a time-place where we have a lot to celebrate and shamelessly indulge in.

The geometric shape of the wands on this card always catches my eye. I love the way the six wands create those diamond shapes and how the flames are arrayed. My beloved friend Michael Osiris Snuffin attributes the nine flames via numerology to the sefira Yesod; he describes this as being there to give yinyang harmony to this card and it certainly feels surprisingly balanced and harmonizing for a card with so many yang associations (fire, Jupiter, Leo) going for it. Numerologically, sixes associated with idealism, family, love, and harmony.

Looking at it through the lens of Qabalistic tarot? All of the sixes in the Minor Arcana are associated with Tiferet, the sphere of the Higher Self associated with The Sun. Wands as a suit are associated with Olam Azilut, the world of Emanation (energies and archetypes). So this card expresses the qualities of Tiferet in Atzilut the same say as it expresses the qualities of Jupiter in Leo.

In a tarot reading, this card upright is generally very auspicious. It suggests that someone really invested themselves into something and is either receiving the outcome they desired or they will soon. Its a powerful, dynamic card.

Reversed? Instead of all this powerful yang energy flowing harmoniously, there is blockage because of hubris or ego. Elemental fire, planetary Jupiter and zodiacal Leo, Tiferet and Atzilut are ~all~ very Yang and when they pile together this way it is hard to have advantageous balance. Reversed, the Yang elements are taken to an extreme which easily leads to hubris and extreme narcissism and selfishness. So if the Thoth 6 of Wands Reversed appears in a personal reading for yourself? Chances are you need to take a deep breath and do some fearless self-inventory and start being more more kind, more compassionate, and especially more humble and charitable.

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.” – Marcus Aurelius