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Qabalah, the Tarot and me

April 3, 2017

by Tony Willis     

Some readers have shown an interest in my attitude toward the Qabalah. For the benefit of those who have not heard of it, the Qabalah is a spiritual-philosophical system having its roots in mystical Judaism. Over the centuries a Christianized form of Qabalah emerged and it was in this mode that it was employed by the Order of the Golden Dawn.

The pseudo-occultist treats the Qabalah as little more than a virtual filing system. That is to do it an injustice. There is an exercise Qabalistic students are expected to undertake whereby an idea, such as an ocean-going liner considered conceptually, has its component parts, from galley to bridge, projected on to the Tree of Life; but that is a method of training the mind, not the be all and end all of Qabalism. To maintain that the major ration of Qabalistic practice lies in its function as a filing system is as absurd as insisting that the major part of portrait painting consists in color-mixing. In both instances, one is a the necessary preparation for the hard work of the other. As Dion Fortune so aptly put it: “The value does not lie in the prescribed exercises as ends in themselves, but in the powers that will be developed if they are persevered with.” The Mystical Qabalah, p. 16. Elsewhere in the same book, D.F. explicitly states: “The Tree of Life is a method of using the mind, not a system of knowledge.”

One of the ways this method works out in practice can be demonstrated with an anecdote from my own life. In the 1970s, I became interested in the Runes, the magickal alphabet of the Norse and Anglo-Saxon races. As one who had undergone a G.D. training in Hermeticism along much the same lines as Dion Fortune herself, one of the first things I did was attempt to place the twenty-four runic letters onto the twenty-two Paths of the Tree of Life. I had to work out from first principles the Paths to which the runic letters should be ascribed, taking into account that there are more letters than Paths. That is where the hours of arduous training in assigning apparently arbitrary factors to the Tree paid off. By formulating these correspondences, I added considerably to my understanding of the Runes on the one hand and of the Paths on the other. This is an object lesson in the manner in which the Tree may be used as a clearing house for otherwise uncategorized information, or for the verification of data whose classification has, for whatever reason, become doubtful or adulterated.

Three Steps on the Path of the Mysteries

My occult life may be divided into three unequal portions. In the days of my early studies I knew nothing whatever of the Qabalah; I hadn’t even heard the name. At the age of twenty-one I entered a G.D. Temple and there I put on the mantle of a Qabalist; I became for a time a die-hard, died-in-the-wool exponent of Qabalah. Twenty years later, my primary Inner Plane Contact suggested that I forsake Qabalism, offering sound and rational reasons why it would be beneficial for me to do so. I explained what I had been asked to do to an occultist friend and her response was that she could never under any circumstances abandon the Qabalah. She would not, she said, be in a position to orient herself if all the familiar landmarks were removed.

Frankly, I felt much the same. But my IPC had put forward the suggestion and I therefore felt it my duty at least to give it serious consideration. At this point, one of Aleister Crowley’s reminiscences floated up into my conscious mind, something to the effect that the Qabalah is a ladder by which the occult student may ascend to a certain psycho-spiritual vantage point, but that once that vantage point was gained, in Crowley’s opinion, the ladder should be kicked away. Curious to know what would happen if those circumstances were invoked, I kicked out at the ladder . . . and became a lapsed Qabalist – albeit one freighted with a solid comprehension of Qabalistic lore.

Before I joined the G.D., I had had three great loves: magick, astrology and the tarot. Cutting my ties with the Qabalah made not one speck of difference to my attitude to magick and astrology. It did, however, transform my relationship with the tarot. First and foremost, it freed the Trumps from the Paths of the Tree of Life, and from the Hebrew letters and their esoteric associations. It also freed the Trumps from their G.D. ordering. I no longer had to accept The Fool as leader of the Trumps, nor Strength as Trump 8 and Justice as Trump 11. This realization led to further insights that I have neither the time nor the space to go into here.

I was free to explore, unencumbered by GD preconceptions concerning the tarot, a method explained by Papus whereby the twenty-one numbered Trumps are considered as three septenaries, or groups of seven cards, with the Fool separated from these septenaries, a factor distinct in a number of ways from the rest of the tarot deck. I also experimented with the Naples Arrangement (see The Tarot For Today by Mayananda, 1963) in which the Trumps are set out in a circle, making the Fool both the beginning and the end of the sequence of Trumps, an idea much loved by the British occultist Madeline Montalban. Slowly a different understanding of the tarot started to build up, and another method of using the Trumps for guided visualizations was developed that was not the same as the Path-workings D.F. speaks of in The Mystical Qabalah but which yielded results nevertheless.

However, one thing I want to make clear is that, in divorcing myself from the Qabalah, I was in no way repudiating it. The Qabalistic system affords an effective blueprint for the training of an Adept, and I will be forever grateful for the esoteric grounding it gave me. At the same time, it is well to remember that Qabalah is but one system among many. Indeed, it should be borne in mind that there are a number of competing Qabalistic training systems in existence besides the plethora of non-Qabalistic ones. Judging from what I have seen, all do the job they set out to do.

The Qabalistic schools fulfill a need, but not every mind finds Qabalistic training congenial. It is not a Path for all. Thankfully there are other mystery schools available to those who are tuned to a wavelength other than the Qabalistic one. The sincere seeker will always find her- or himself led to the training method appropriate to her/his temperament – though the quest itself can on occasion take the form of a minor initiatory experience.

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One Comment
  1. Like all other systems, the Qabalah is simply a way of ordering and understanding that great complex idea known as Life, The Universe, and Everything. We each build our own house therein and we design these houses in the way that best suits us. No one system is any more superior to another except in the mind of the beholder. Remembering this keeps one from becoming a zealot and allows one to search the various systems for what works and what doesn’t. Thank you for sharing your own search, Auntie!

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