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Hebrew letter correlations


If one is going to make Hebrew letter correlations to the Major Arcana, I suppose that, at the least, a number of disparate views need to be entertained, thought through, discussed, temporarily accepted and rejected to see what emerges, and eventually - perhaps, though perhaps not - come to some agreement.

There are possibly four main views (there are others), and list these with 'titles' for convenience:
  • Levi - where the letters follow, sequentially, the order of the Major Arcana, except that the un-numbered Fool is placed as penultimate card;
  • GD - where the letters follow again the order of the Major Arcana, save that the Fool has been numbered zero (thereby placed at the beginning), and Justice and Strength interchanged in their position and numbering;
  • Crowley - in terms of Hebrew letter allocations, same as the GD, save that the Emperor and Star cards inverse their GD letter allocations (it is also worth noting that, despite GD letter attributions, the numbering reverts, apart from the addition of a zero on the Fool, to the earlier tradition);
  • Filipas - (I had to give it a name, and given Mark's important contribution for this ordering, he deserves it) the letters follow the order of the cards, with the Fool, un-numbered, placed at the end of the sequence (as twenty-second card).
Basically, each of these makes differing claims for letter attributions, with ramifications for those who will reflect on the cards following Kabalistic considerations (whether through the works of others, or by direct independent Kabalistic work).

In fact, no single card will has a letter attribution which each of of these four views agrees with! Hence many of my earlier comments that it were better that Kabalah be studied independently of Tarot - at least initially, for then it permits for more at one's disposal as one investigates the merits of each. But let us nonetheless discuss some of the varying attributions... and their respective merits.

For example, taking one card with quite varied allocations, the card numbered four (traditionally and in all decks influenced by each of these lists) is the Emperor.

Some will see it co-relating to Dalet, some to Heh, and some to Tzaddi.

I am not sure where this thread will take us, but given comments made in other threads, thought it was important to (re-)visit...

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Hi jmd,

I was wondering why it is important to theorize on Hebrew letter correlations to Tarot cards. I don't think that the Hebrew people invented the Tarot.
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Quote:
Originally posted by musclegirl
I was wondering why it is important to theorize on Hebrew letter correlations to Tarot cards. I don't think that the Hebrew people invented the Tarot.
Good question, I would like to know the same thing myself.

-- Lee
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Lee and Muscle Girl, the historical fact that this association has been made since the 18th century is reason enough to pique my curiosity about it, at least. From The Tarot-L History Information Sheet
Quote:
Current Historical Understanding: The Comte de Mellet, whose short article on the tarot was published in Court de Gébelin’s Le Monde Primitif (1781), was the first to write of a connection between the Hebrew letters and the cards._ Court de Gébelin also mentioned the idea in passing in his own essay.
Perhaps we cannot say that "Hebrew people" invented the tarot? Yet, were there not also Christian, bibilical scholars of Hebrew in Renaissance Italy?
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As firemaiden says, that at least correlations have been made (and continues to be made) by various people is sufficient for discussions. Also, an exegesis - or midrash - of the cards may very well include discussions as to plausible correlations.

Though many early decks undoubtedly did not include embedded Hebrew letter considerations should also not prevent some versions from having included such. The importance of Kabalism, even in non-Jewish circles, became established around the same time as Tarot's ermergence. Hebrew had also been considered, even by non Jews - and especially by many Christians - as the language of God, and was thus worthy of study.

It was considered important not only in Old Testament exegesis, but also in Alchemy and formed, along with Greek and Latin, the three languages deemed, in diminishing order of divine significance, universal.

Even if for not other reasons than the above, and even if alphabetic considerations were found not to have been reflected in the sequential order of the Major Arcana, there would be solid grounds for considering the Hebrew alphabet on historical and iconographic grounds alone.

When we add to this the important interpretative act in studying the iconography through exegesis of both its component parts and as a whole, considerations of Hebrew, especially in the light of late mediaeval Kabalism, becomes even more of an important step.

This does not mean that Tarot arises in a Jewish context, rather, that the Jewish context was far more important and imbedded in many milieus than we may give space for.

If nothing else, considering possibilities, I would have thought, makes for the possibility of discovery.
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The Alphabet and Tarot


People have difficulties with definitions ... or communication has the difficulty, that people use different definitions.

We see, that the pre-Tarot alias Trionfi decks of 15th century show big differences. Reason enough to release the mind of the boundage only to see Tarot as a fixed form ... this is a fiction, it never existed, there was always creativity and change.

There is the human and the human develops systems for different purposes, just as he likes it - or as it is useful. One of this purposes was "playing-cards" and one of the deck types he developed was Tarot with 22 Major Arcana.
Well, he didn't only develop playing cards, he also constructed alphabets. Also interesting objects. Surely also very interesting to understand, why he just did take this, what we know now - and use every day. Just, when I type this letter ...

When a society knows one pattern (in this case alphabet) and uses it (which happened) and generates a new system (Tarot), then it obviously is a possibility, that certain qualities of the already used pattern influence the creation of the new.

Now there are arguments, that the Trionfi deck started not with 22 cards, but with 14. And these 14 element - the motifs - clearly weren't chosen in context of the alphabet, either Roman or Hebrew - or logic makes a salto.
But when culture has an interest in an object - alphabet - and another pattern (Trionfi) appears and gets interest, the idea might be born to transform the new object to something, which is near to the already existing and loved object.

When became the Hebrew and also the Roman Alphabet an object of special interest? The Hebrew alphabet was of real interest, when Pico de Mirandola appeared, in the 70ies and 80ies of 15th century. The Roman alphabet also gained fresh interests, when printing with movable letters was discovered, with Gutenberg, and the invention arrived in Italy in 1465 - 1470.

When it is calculatable that Trionfi left its 5x14-status? Not before 1460, that's unlikely.

http://trionfi.com/01/e/r71/

Not after ca. 1490, cause of Sola-Busca (1491) and the Boiardo-poem (Boiardo died 1494).

See for Boiardo:

http://trionfi.com/01/h/

So we do see, that the moment of change, from 14 to 22 Major Arcana, just happens at a time, when Hebrew and Roman alphabet is especially interesting. Which means: accidently coincidence or naturally coincidence, cause the choice of the number 22 was influenced by the already existing systems.

What is about Boiardo? He is a Jewish friendly man, he is the uncle of Pico de Mirandola, he knows oriental languages (probably Hebrew) and he made a poem, which has 22+56 elements of a Trionfi card play. Rather different elements, not the normal Tarot elements.

He is suspected by us to be the inventer of the 22 in context to the Trionfi decks.

Ferrara - the place, where (probably) Trionfi cards developed and Boiardo spend some rather active years - was a Jewish friendly city. See:

http://trionfi.com/01/d/
menu: Jews in Ferrara

Scandiano, where Boiardo spend greater parts of his youth was also known as Jewish friendly.

Also there is special interest in alphabetic questions observable in Ferrara, see:

http://trionfi.com/01/e/
menu: the Cardplaying Wheel

see: picture with ABCDEI
see: Argument to Mantegna Tarocchi ABCDE
see: visit of Emperor Fredrick - AEIOU

So, somehow a relation is "somehow" likely.

However, one should see this clear: Just adding a "number" to a concept, when all the motifs were taken from other sources and when even the greater part of the numerolgy was created elsewhere, doesn't allow too much freedom to use an influence of the older concept (alphabets).
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The Hebrew letter 'Shin' and its symbolism in relation to the concepts of 'Judgement'


The letter shin is one of three so-called 'mother' letters and is attributed to the principle/element of fire, the symbol of G-ds judgement. It has the form of a flame, with three tongues of fire rooted in a common base (the 'black coal'). The flames represent revelation and the finite and ever changing cosmos, the coal the hidden and changeless infinite spirit. We have therefore an apparent duality between hidden/revealed, finite/infinite, changeable/changeless and cosmos/spirit. We should not deduce from this a concept of physical type duality, of a separation and opposition between flesh and spirit. As the flame is bound to the coal and sustained by the coal, so these dual concepts are bound together as one.

The three 'flames' correspond to the three pillars of the Tree of Life. When the letter has a small dot over the right hand flame [pronounced Shin], it corresponds to the right hand pillar, the pillar of mercy and the inclination towards 'good'. When the letter has a small dot over the left-hand flame [pronounced Sin], it corresponds to the left-hand pillar, the pillar of severity and the inclination towards 'evil'. There is therefore a representation of another duality, of psychological and possibly cosmic form, between 'good' and 'evil'. Again we need to qualify this dualistic concept. Although the flames are separate and opposite, they are rooted in the same coal and sustained by the same essence that is the creator of both. However, they are not created equal, for the evil 'force' or 'inclination' is time limited, it exists from the moment of creation to the day of judgement. The middle flame represents the middle pillar of the Tree of Life, the pillar of equilibrium. In the context of judgement we may imagine it as the fulcrum of a pair of scales, with the measure of good on one side and the measure of evil on the other, upon which balance we shall be judged.

The head Tefillim is engraved with a three headed 'shin' on one side and a four headed 'shin' on the other. The normal three headed shin is a symbol of 'this world', the four headed of 'the world to come', the post 'judgement day' world in which the final revelation, the revealing of the hidden divine essence within the cosmos has occurred; the New Jerusalem arisen. Here we encounter a difference between 'Christian' and 'Judaic' Qabalah. While Christianity shares with Judaism this eschatological dualism between 'this world' and 'the world to come', the divine revelation which is to occur has also, paradoxically, already occurred in the person of Jesus Christ as Saviour. Shin, as well as being symbolic of 'this world' [the 'world below' or 'cosmos'] is also symbolic of heaven, the 'world above'. To the eschatological duality is added the soteriological duality between those that accept and those that reject Jesus as Christ and Saviour, and shall be judged according to their belief or disbelief on judgement day.

So there is symbolism that we may relate to either the concept of 'judgement' or 'world'. However the world of the normal, three-flamed shin is 'this world'; whereas, if thought of as part of an eschatalogical series, the world of the tarot, post judgement, would be considered the world to come. We may also see in the three figures at the bottom of the judgement card a similarity to the shape of the letter shin. And like the attribution of the letter shin, the right hand figure like the right hand flame [attributed to the right hand pillar of the ToL] is male, the left female.

noblet.jpg
http://www.tarotforum.net/attachment...=&postid=82880
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Just last night, i was exploring this wonderful site which displays Judy Racz's paintings for each letter of the Hebrew 'alphabet'. (I learned of this site in one of our guessing games from the Tarot Games forum .... was it you, jmd, who utilized her painting of Lamed in that game?..... )

To me, her paintings look like 'cards'. I, at least, would like to use them as such.... Her interpretations that accompany each painting are certainly deeply moving and thought provoking....

Here is her interpretation of Aleph

and Shin
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**** the early shin knows writing forms, which didn't show the three tongues of fingers. It was called tooth and meant tooth.

kwaw: Tooth is one of it meanings in Hebrew/Aramaic, one of at least a half dozen. Others include, year, change, scarlet.

And yes of course the script derives, albeit indirectly, from phoenician, via the Egyptian Hieratic script. In which in fact it didn't mean tooth at all, but 'field', the three strokes representing blades of grass or wheat.

**The flames represent revelation and the finite and ever changing cosmos, the coal the hidden and changeless infinite spirit.

*** To whom?

The flame/coal metaphor is a kabbalistic one to be found in primary kabbalistic texts from the 12th century on and ultimately derived from exegesis of the metaphor as found in the Bible, Ezekial for example.

**We have therefore an apparent duality between hidden/revealed, finite/infinite, changeable/changeless and cosmos/spirit.

**** What is apparent in this sentence? You've a humble letter.

kwaw:A humble letter from an alphabet to which, like others such as sanskrit, is attached esoteric and spiritual significance belonging to an alpha-numeric mystical tradition.


**We should not deduce from this a concept of physical type duality, of a separation and opposition between flesh and spirit.

**** Why not? If you are so free to see the worldwide duality just at this point, why exclude just this here?

Because in traditional Judaic or Christian cabala such a doctrine is heretical and therefore qualified by reference to monotheism. However, as Scholem points out the kabalah is rooted in Jewish/Christian gnostic traditions, so no doubt there was such a physical duality inherent in the system prior to the 15th/16th century redactions. So maybe I should not have made this distinction but did so automatically as it is the 'redactionist' versions that I am most familiar with.

**As the flame is bound to the coal and sustained by the coal, so these dual concepts are bound together as one.

**** You're still at the unproven flame.

A traditional cabalistic metaphor.

**The three 'flames' correspond to the three pillars of the Tree of Life.

**** Cause 3=3? What makes them correspondence? The old letter had 4 strokes - how to explain them?

The correspondence is traditional, no doubt from something as simple as three stroke/three pillars and other reasons. The symbolism is based upon the common three stroked letter in use at the time, not a thousand or more years prior. However, as I also mentioned, there is possibly a remnant of the four stroke version as such is engraved on the side of the head tefillim worn during prayer and which, according to traditional Judaic kabbalah, is said to symbolise 'the world to come'.

**When the letter has a small dot over the right hand flame [pronounced Shin], it corresponds to the right hand pillar, the pillar of mercy and the inclination towards 'good'. When the letter has a small dot over the left-hand flame [pronounced Sin], it corresponds to the left-hand pillar, the pillar of severity and the inclination towards 'evil'. There is therefore a representation of another duality, of psychological and possibly cosmic form, between 'good' and 'evil'.

**** Are you citing? Why do you hit with all life-tree-symbology on the poor letter shin? What stays for all the other letters?

Kwaw:Again, traditional Judaic kabbalah teaching of the Lurianic/Safed school. Plenty stays for the other letters, I was presenting the kabbalistic symbolism of the letter Shin. We may or may not discuss the others, depends on whether anyone is interested or not.

**Again we need to qualify this dualistic concept. Although the flames are separate and opposite, they are rooted in the same coal and sustained by the same essence that is the creator of both. However, they are not created equal, for the evil 'force' or 'inclination' is time limited, it exists from the moment of creation to the day of judgement. The middle flame represents the middle pillar of the Tree of Life, the pillar of equilibrium. In the context of judgement we may imagine it as the fulcrum of a pair of scales, with the measure of good on one side and the measure of evil on the other, upon which balance we shall be judged.

**** Do you note, that you become complicated here? Poor Iustitia and old Maat are in the meantime all concentrating on poor letter shin, which means tooth. I know, that you learnt that from a book .... but now all good and evil things are in shin concentrated, what stays for the others?

kwaw: Plenty stays for others, volumes could be written on the mystical significance of the letters, in fact there has. For a traditional Judaic aspect see 'The Mystical Significance of the Letters' by Rabbi Ginsburgh which is a good introduction. Primary texts such as zohar, yetzira and bahir can all be found on the internet.

**The head Tefillim is engraved with a three headed 'shin' on one side and a four headed 'shin' on the other. The normal three headed shin is a symbol of 'this world', the four headed of 'the world to come', the post 'judgement day' world in which the final revelation, the revealing of the hidden divine essence within the cosmos has occurred; the New Jerusalem arisen. Here we encounter a difference between 'Christian' and 'Judaic' Qabalah. While Christianity shares with Judaism this eschatological dualism between 'this world' and 'the world to come', the divine revelation which is to occur has also, paradoxically, already occurred in the person of Jesus Christ as Saviour. Shin, as well as being symbolic of 'this world' [the 'world below' or 'cosmos'] is also symbolic of heaven, the 'world above'. To the eschatological duality is added the soteriological duality between those that accept and those that reject Jesus as Christ and Saviour, and shall be judged according to their belief or disbelief on judgement day.

***** Now the whole story of Judaism and Christianity is inside poor letter schin ... which means tooth. It seems we come to final judgments.

**So there is symbolism that we may relate to either the concept of 'judgement' or 'world'. However the world of the normal, three-flamed shin is 'this world'; whereas, if thought of as part of an eschatalogical series, the world of the tarot, post judgement, would be considered the world to come.

***** Now "world of the normal", "world of tarot" and "world to come" - all in shin

Yep - all in the mystical traditional symbolism of the letter shin

**We may also see in the three figures at the bottom of the judgement card a similarity to the shape of the letter shin. And like the attribution of the letter shin, the right hand figure like the right hand flame [attributed to the right hand pillar of the ToL] is male, the left female.

**** Alright - all and everything is now in shin. This must be "Judgment"-time. World is burnt now.

****But my humble me .... is still alife. I do my mockery. Come, kwaw - take some water, that helps against too much fire, back to life, it was too early, still something left to study, you had a dream of medieval time in this letter, people often believed, that world would end soon, Filippo Visconti had 20 books with the Apocalypse.

Kwaw: and this is the period I am interested in, the mystical significance that was and has been attached to the letters during the period of the Tarot's development.

****What about the old form of the alphabet ? Why he called it tooth? Do you know that? Did you ever look at the old forms and how humble it developed?

Yes I aware in general terms of the development. But as I said above my post was a collation of the mystical associations of the letters and how these might relate to the Tarot. The fact is that, however erroneously, the letters were and remain associated with the Tarot. The fact they probably were not to begin with, and that the association developed erroneously, doesn't negate that fact.

****It really looks like a tooth. Like a "w" as in k"w"a"w" - 4 strokes, not 3.

So what? Is this then supposed to negate the value and purpose of the alphanumeric mystical traditions and all the other associations that have developed round the letters?

****Did they knew coal?

Well they speak of the 'flame bound to the coal' in the Bible.

***And about all these good and bad above - don't you think, that you did forget to tell anything of fresh air? Without air no fire. It's proven. Air = aleph.

Well if anyone is interested in such a discusion no doubt we'd get to Aleph in good time, or did you expect me to give a complete exposition on all the letters at once? The letter shin alone took enough time!

Kwaw
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I think though the original topic question aknowledged that there were indeed several competing (and contemporary!) ways of assigning hebrew letters to the Tarot trumps and asked what were the various merits of each? Interesting as it undoubtably is, isn't that rather different from the current debate as to whether such assignments have any basis in historical fact?

Given these presupposed matches (and all history aside) how indeed would one judge such qualities? Similarity of (static) meaning between the cards and Hebrew letter associations? Geometrical "aesthetics" (arrangements of cards/letters of the tree of life or cube of space?) "Pathworking" arguments i.e. The Empress bridging Binah and Chokmah, the High Priestess crossing the abyss etc. O.K. now I'm really outside any personal experience here...

I think one of few REAL attempts to highlight connections in terms of meaning between (several) such systems is Rachel Pollack in the Haindl Tarot guides. In that she does remarkably well. Enough to convince this die-hard skeptic that there may be something (of fact) in all this! Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel (again) this is another example of "if you look hard enough, you will see everything". Not that that isn't an extremely laudable objective in itself...

Another (different) question that occurs to me when correlating parallel divinatory systems is the one of "coverage". E.g. what was the intent of the major Arcana - To represent some entirety of possible Archetype or merely a subset? What was the intent of the Hebrew letter assignments? Does the Minor Arcana have a part to play in all this? What happens when we try to correlate two disparate systems that may have not only different "endpoints" but also different "granularity"? Are you listening (with astrological hat on) Mr Crowley?

Macavity
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