Temperance and the septenary



Waite says the square and triangle on Temperance's breast represent the septenary. Above them are the Hebrew letters YHVH. As usual he doesn't give much in the way of an explanation, but I've always felt there must be more there. While Waite gives no direct explanation, there's an important clue in the card itself—he has followed Levi rather than the Golden Dawn. Levi's description in Transcendental Magic is virtually word-for-word with Waite's, "And on the breast the square and triangle of the septenary." The GD's Temperance only has a square.

So what does Levi say then about the septenary? Elsewhere in Transcendental Magic he describes it in connection with the Kabbalistic word ARARITA, another name of God related to YHVH; while YHVH is written only, never spoken, ARARITA may be spoken. That's the simple answer. Levi gives more which it's not really necessary to know or understand, but since he puts it out there it's interesting to break it down and try to figure out what he means. I don't pretend to understand it completely, but here's the quote and afterward my interpretation:

"The cherub, or symbolic bull, which Moses placed at the gate of the Edenic world, bearing a fiery sword, is a sphinx, having a bull's body and a human head; it is the antique Assyrian sphinx, and the combat and victory of Mithras were its hieroglyphic analysis. Now, this armed sphinx represents the Law of Mystery which watches at the door of initiation to warn away the profane . . . . The Mosaic cherub represents also the Great Magical Mystery, of which the elements are expressed by the septenary, without, however, giving the final word. This verbum inenarrabile [unspeakable word] of the sages of the Alexandrian school, this word which Hebrew Kabalists write YHVH and interpret by ARARITA thus expressing the triplicity of the secondary principle, the dualism of means, the equal unity of the first and final principle, the alliance between the triad and the tetrad in a word composed of four letters, which form seven by means of a triple and double repetition – this word is pronounced Ararita."​

ARARITA contains seven letters letters:

Aleph - 3
Resh - 2
Yod - 1
Tau -1

As I interpret Levi, the "triplicity of secondary principle" means Aleph which is repeated 3 times; the "dualism of means" is Resh which is repeated twice; and the "equal unity of the first and final principle" is Yod and Tau, each used only once.

The next part is where Levi establishes a numerical connection between the septenary and the tetrad. ARARITA actually has only four letters, ARIA, but through the repetition of two of them it has seven. The "triple repetition" is Aleph; the "double repetition" is Resh; adding in Yod and Tau yields 7.

In the final analysis, the square and triangle appears to be a graphic representation of ARARITA. Any additional insights?


Levi's take on the septenary is interesting but I found something that might be even more relevant. It's in Lumen de Lumine by Thomas Vaughan. Waite edited and wrote an introduction for a version of this work published in 1910, and he references Vaughan quite a bit in his other writings. The following passage is also found in A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery and Alchemy by Mary Anne Atwood, a work very influential on Waite in his early career. It's from a sectioned entitled "The Regeneration, Ascent, and Glorification."

"I have now sufficiently, and fully discovered the principles of our Chaos. In the next place I will shew you how you are to use them. You must unite them to a new life, and they will be regenerated by Water and the Spirit. These two are in all things, they are placed there by God himself according to that speech of [Hermes] Trisimegistus: "Unumquodque habet in se semen suae Regenerationis" [Everyone has within him the seed of his own regeneration].

Proceed then patiently, but not manually. The work is performed by an invisible Artist, for there is a secret Incubation of the Spirit of God upon Nature; you must only see the outward Heat fail not, but with the subject itself you have no more to do than the Mother hath with the Child that is in her womb. The two former principles [Water and Spirit] perform all. The Spirit makes use of the Water to purge and wash his Body, and he will bring it at last to a Celestial imortal Constitution. Do not think this impossible. Remember that in the Incarnation of Christ Jesus, the Quaternary, or four Elements as men call them, were united to their eternal Unity and Ternary. Three and Four makes Seven: this Septenary is the true Sabbath, the Rest of God into which the Creature shall enter."​

Waite says one thing in the PKT that may be the key to it all, "Hereof is some part of the Secret of Eternal Life, as it is possible to man in his incarnation." Vaughan's talking about the same thing—regeneration, new life, rebirth, immortality. He equates the square with the material four elements and the triangle with "eternal Unity"; both united in Christ during his incarnation. The septenary, he says, represents the Sabbath, or as I interpret it, a rest of the senses and manual labor. Vaughan's use of the word Incarnation is also interesting, as Waite uses the same word in his description of Temperance.

Considering this, the card looks a little different to me now. I think Waite was influenced by Levi, but I think it's possible he was more influenced by Vaughan. The image seems to represent spiritual progress, but progress mostly accomplished through the Spirit not manual labor. Vaughan says to "Proceed then patiently, but not manually"; and "you must only see the outward Heat fail not." In a material alchemical working, a bellows would have been used to maintain the fire and heat, but since he's not talking about a material work but a spiritual one, it stands to reason he's not talking about a literal fire or heat. I think it must mean the outer incidentals that a person must perform so that the Spirit is enabled to do its work—mainly prayer and meditation; this may be represented in the card by the pouring back and forth of essences.


I've been spending a lot of time lately examining the symbolic and mystical significance of numbers as expressed graphically in geometric figures. J.E. Cirlot, in his learned exposition on the subject in the entry titled "Graphics" in his A Dictionary of Symbols goes deeply into, among other concepts, the interaction of the ternary and the quaternary as represented by the triangle and - in his case - the equal-armed cross in addition to the square, in combination. Joseph Maxwell also briefly mentioned the septenary in relation to Temperance, but he was using the TdM as his model and didn't really elaborate beyond saying the number 7 represents "an influx of new unity." He did go into the "absorption and emission of heat and energy" in an alchemical sense.

Thanks for the useful references to Levi and Vaughan.


Could there also be any significance in the fact that if the square is represented as an equal-armed cross which is a sort of "dynamic" form of the square , then we get the alchemical symbol for sulphur which I think represents the will in spiritual alchemy ?

Ruby Jewel

Papus' Trining of the Square

This is explained at the very beginning of Papus' "Tarot of the Bohemians." He calls it "trining of the square." In the Yod-He-Vau-He, the second He becomes the Yod of the next Septenary....it is a matter of numerology: 1,4,7,....are all "1" because all these numbers return to the "1." This is called "Theosophic Reduction."


The point is that all the numbers that return to 1,4, or 7 are yods of the 7 Septenaries: Magician, Emperor, Chariot, Wheel of Fortune, Death, Tower, and Sun. Temperance follows the Yod "Death" and is therefore the 1st He of the Yod-He-Vau-He and is in the "2" sequence. The Devil is the Vau, which is the 3 sequence. The Tower, which comes after the Devil is a Yod (16 =7), which becomes the yod of the next septenary. Of course this is confusing until you see it laid out....then it is simple and logical.


It sounds interesting. Do you have a name of the chapter or heading in Papus' book where this is found? Can't seem to find anything under "trining the square." Thanks.

Ruby Jewel

It sounds interesting. Do you have a name of the chapter or heading in Papus' book where this is found? Can't seem to find anything under "trining the square." Thanks.

The only place you will probably find this is with Papus. It is in the beginning of his "Tarot of the Bohemians." A book that will be very difficult to find. However, it has been reprinted in a volume of several of his writings called "Occultism, Reincarnation and the Tarot" by Papus. ISBN 142545416X.

Paul Case disputed this layout and invented one of his own....had something to do with the beginning card. At any rate it was replaced by Case's version of the 3 tiers of 7. Personally, after I saw the Papus layout, I was convinced of its authenticity. I feel it is superior to Case's layout although the Case version is the one that is always referenced. I feel one reason for this is because people are put off by the seemingly difficult Papus layout; however, once you make the initial effort to understand the rationale and sequence of the Papus system, it is just as simple.


Tarot of the Bohemians isn't hard to come by at all. I have several editions in electronic format. I was just wondering where exactly it is in the book. I looked at the "beginning" and also did a word search but never did find "trining the square." :(

Ruby Jewel

Tarot of the Bohemians isn't hard to come by at all. I have several editions in electronic format. I was just wondering where exactly it is in the book. I looked at the "beginning" and also did a word search but never did find "trining the square." :(

I wasn't aware it was on electronic format since I don't do electronic books. The book I have is published by Samuel Weiser, New York, translated by A.P. Morgan, copyright 1958 by Arcanum Books. Chapter II through IV is the explanation of this process. It has been a few years since I read this, so, if you are interested enough you can find it somewhere in those sections, pp 17 through 34.


Got it, thanks. :)