Kerry A. Shirts, 32
Eagle Rock Lodge
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Is the Tarot a Western Book of the Dead, and the Hermetic Emerald Tablet, the famous Tabula Smaragdina, an ascension text? Does it have anything to do with the ideas of ascension? I am going to propose that in a round about way it can be understood as an ascension text, not as Dante’s Paradisio, the Book of Enoch, or Ezekiel’s visions of the Divine Chariot-Throne of God in the Old Testament are, that is, not as an actual description of a person ascending to heaven, receiving instruction via a vision, or an angel teaching the ascendant, etc., but as a text which elucidates the idea of ascension. A person who purifies his/her soul, can and ought to have an ascension to heaven for oneself. This is the whole core, the entire reason for Alchemy, Kabbalah, and Hermeticism.
I will further propose that the Medieval Tarot Cards, with their spiritually significant symbolisms are ascension texts par excellence, as instructional symbolisms for us to comprehend that we are from the higher worlds, (the fundamental meaning and
The Tarot Card symbolisms are pictorial graphic images, when placed in the correct enumeration, are the “Stairway to Heaven,“ ascension texts, exactly in the spirit of Jacob’s ladder to heaven he participated with, and recorded n the ancient Hebraic record. The Tarot Cards, according to Jason Lotterhand, are nothing short of pure revelation, and he tells his students many, many times that we have got to learn to be open to the idea and possibility of having revelation, or we simply won’t get what life is all about. Joseph Smith taught that revelation is the pure intelligence flowing into you, sudden strokes of ideas, those things presented to you by the Spirit of God, and we can see for ourselves that we can grow into the spirit of revelation, “until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” Paul Foster Case has taught, and taught very bluntly that “the most important use of Tarot is to evoke thought.”
This revelation from the heavens comes in many ways, but pondering the scriptures, thinking about the Plan of Salvation, and meditation are powerful ways to receive this influx of “Divine Energy,” as I shall call it. Isaac the Old Testament Patriarch, we read from one of the truly great Kabbalistic scholars, Leonora Leet, is the correct Patriarch to connect spiritual meditation with the Patriarchal Covenant because we are told that from the way of the well Lahai-Roi (Genesis 24:62), the well which was mystically revealed to Hagar by an angel, Isaac went out to meditate (suach) in the field at eventide. (Genesis 24:63). This type of meditation which Isaac engaged in is understood and known to be the floating, tranquil state experienced by Isaac.
I would propose, based on my own experience, that meditating and praying with a spirit of learning and understanding, of recognizing the great truths in all the spiritual disciplines from the Kabbalah Tree of Life and the Tarot Card Symbolisms, and other spiritual informations available to us, by using God’s given methods of meditating with our minds and spirits as our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have done, this enables us to recognize (to re - COGNIZE, that is put back together in our minds, the meaning of the word!) our own Divine heritage, and realize that God has spoken to all his children and to all the tribes of Israel. Their spiritual understandings can help us appreciate our own with greater depth, clarity, and appreciation, and learn from them also to expand our minds, spirits, and horizons about the goodness and greatness that is God, ourselves as children of God, and of the incredible Plan of Salvation which is literally open to all.
The Kabbalah and alchemy have a major singular theme that Leet has elaborated upon; “The great secret shared by both the Kabbalah and Alchemy is that which I have termed the secret doctrine of the son, that ’son of the wise, whose generation is impossible for nature,’ and who unites the essential qualities of the higher and lower planes, of the infinite and the finite. And they would seem to share this secret doctrine because both [note this! She says both Kabbalah and alchemy] are similarly derived from an earlier Hebraic priestly culture.”
The process of alchemical ascension is viewed powerfully with the Tarot Cards “Infinite Stairway,” or the “Ladder to Heaven.” It brings together, with the Tabula Smaragdina(Emerald Tablet), both the heavenly and earthly planes, and connects the microcosm with the macrocosm, giving us our proper place within the universe, as a part of the universe. The Emerald Tablet directly notes that what extends from heaven is supposed to, and ought to ascend to heaven. The Cosmos is our home, and we belong here, as do all of the other critters and creatures of creation.
The idea that the Tarot images display when correlated with their correct astronomical aspects, is the “hieros gamos of sun and moon,… a mystical marriage of the divine and the human planes.” Compare Joseph Smith’s teaching. “ …all will be raised by the power of God, having spirit in their bodies, and not blood. Children will be enthroned in the presence of God and the Lamb with bodies of the same stature that they had on earth, having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; they will there enjoy the fullness of that light, glory, and intelligence, which is prepared in the celestial kingdom.” The marriage, that is the connection and interaction of the heavenly and human plane.
This interconnection is vividly shown on the Magician in the Tarot with his gesture by his upward thrust arm and his downward thrust arm, the Hermetic gesture of “As Above, So Below,” taught in the Tabula Smaragdina - “It is true, without falsehood, and most certain. What is below is like that which is above; and what is above is like that which is below: to accomplish the miracle of the one thing.”
The Tarot as a pictorial form of the alchemical art, which had very little with turning lead into gold for profit, though there is a real gold, the only question is what is it being transformed, shows a relation of the metals of alchemy to the planets (the microcosm links to the macrocosm), which leads to an interpretation of the “Great Myth: that of the Stairway of the Seven Planets.”
Roberts quotes Jean Doresse that “All the pagan religions of the Near East and the Mediterranean had adapted their creeds to the great myths of astrology, which was accorded the status of a science, and according to which man was subject to the planets and constellations from before birth until death, shackled to the Wheel of Fate.” I can’t find his exact quote, but in my copy of Doresse, one can look in the Index under “astrology,” “fate,” and see that the influence was in the Gnostic, Egyptian, Iranian, Christian, Jewish, Chaldean, Hermetic, etc. regions. There is also further evidence of this astrological mindset in many new scholarly analysis’ of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity.
This “Wheel of Fate,” is seen in the Tarot as the “Wheel of Fortune,” the same image. It is associated with the planet Jupiter, one of the rungs of the “Stairway of Planets.” The Wheel of Fortune is also associated with the Cube of Space at the center of the west. The Cube of space is itself an ascension meditation and is used for ascension rites and practices.
Keys 13, 14, and 15 (The Tarot has 22 major cards, Roberts calls “keys” here) are related to the planet Saturn, another rung in the stairway. The death keys, and Saturn is associated with Father Time, and death, the end of time and process.
“The alchemical process may be seen as a rite of initiation for matter and man to become spirit, or, symbolically, the gold of the sun (Key 19)” Roberts shows how the ancient rites of Apuleius being transformed into an ass, symbolizing lead, is carried through all the elements and is transformed into gold in the process. Capricorn is the sign of lead, the furthest element from the sun, and the ass is an attribute of Saturn, which also signifies lead. The ass in Apuleius is an attribute of Saturn also. All the alchemical elements are present in the transformation of the ass into the sun, from lead which is (ass, Saturn, even trickster/devil) transformed and crowned as Helios.
“The idea of a ladder, a stairway set up to heaven is universal in religions. Most significant is the connection of the 7 steps of development… in which the soul (material) pass through the spheres of all the planets… the soul must, on its ways (anados) to its heavenly home, i.e., to its celestial goal, pass through all the planetary spheres… also in the life of the world, if it is completely lived, man passes through, according to the ideas of the old mystery teachings, the domination of the seven planets.”
This is the reason that Roberts calls the Tarot a “Western Book of the Dead.” The reason for this is that the Major Arcana (the main cards of the Tarot) can be aligned up perfectly with the 7 steps of initiation of the ancient ascension rites to travel to heaven. As with both the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, the Tarot, the Western Book of the Dead is about how the Souls ascend back through the planetary spheres to get back home to heaven, where they originated.
Steps symbolize ascent, upward movement, gradation, communication between different vertical levels. Mithraism had the same number of steps of initiation, namely 7. The ancient ziggurats of Mesopotamia also were steps symbolizing the ascending king ascending to heaven. The veil of Isis is lifted and the stairway of the planets revealed as the great mystery of the Major Tarot Arcana in this manner.
1. Mercury - Quicksilver - Tarot Keys 1-3
2. Venus - Copper - Tarot Keys 4-6
3. Mars - Iron - Tarot Keys 7-9
4. Jupiter - Tin - Tarot Keys 10-12
5. Saturn - Lead - Tarot Keys 13-15
6. Moon - Silver - Tarot Keys 16-18
7. Sun - Gold - Tarot Keys 19-21
What the Tarot is teaching when we remember the celestial correspondences here is the transformation journey of soul or spirit, which commences with a descent through Mercury to Saturn, from the volatile and mercurial metal to the heavy and gross aspect. Then we have a following ascent, a return up through the silvery moon to the gold of the sun.
As the Corpus Hermeticum teaches, "If a man knows God, all will be well with him not only in this life, but also in the life to come; for his soul, when it quits the body, will know whither to direct its upward flight; that is, it will fly to God, whom it has learnt to know on earth." As Alexander Roob aptly summarized it: "In many Gnostic myths man is given an autonomous task of creation: in order to heal the sick organism of the world, he must lead the divine sparks of light [which is what we are, Gnosis is "knowing" we are divine - Roob, p. 18], spiritual gold, through the seven planetary spheres of the Ptolemaic cosmos and back to their heavenly home.
To the outermost sphere of Saturn corresponds the 'sullied garment of the soul' the grossest material, lead. Passing through this sphere meant physical death and the putrefaction of matter that is a necessary prerequisite transformation. The subsequent stages are: Jupiter-tin; Mars-iron; Venus-copper; Mercury-quicksilver; Moon-silver; Sun-gold. The individual metals were taken to represent various degrees of maturity or illness of the same basic material on its way to perfection, to gold. To ease its passages throughout the seven gates of the planetary demons, gnosis, the knowledge of astral magic practices, was required."
This exact same process of descent, leaving the heavenly home, and then a return ascent back to home in the heavens is the process that Jesus did what he had seen his Father do, and we must do the same. We go from the lower, heavy, gross, leaden nature of humanity, rising up into the golden nature and eternal lives as Gods. This is the ancient Hebraic Priesthood doctrine of the Divine Son, the early Christian doctrine of Deification, the Hermetic Egyptian doctrine of Gnosis, the Medieval doctrine of the Kabbalah and alchemy. This is the doctrine pictured in the Tarot Cards Stairway of the Planets alignment.
1. Jason Lotterhand, The Thursday Night Tarot, Newcastle Publishing, 1989: 281.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (hereafter cited as Teachings,)ed., Joseph Fielding Smith, Deseret Book, 22nd printing, 1973: 151.
3. Paul Foster Case, Tarot: Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, BOTA, Revised edition, 1990: 210.
4. Leonora Leet, Renewing the Covenant: A Kabbalistic Guide to Jewish Spirituality, Inner Traditions, 1999: 2.
5. Leonora Leet, The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah, Inner Traditions, 1999: 216.
6. Richard Roberts, Tarot Revelations, Vernal Equinox Press, 3rd edition, 1987: 51.
7. Teachings, p. 200.
8. Quoted in Three Books of Occult Philosophy, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, edited/annotated by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn Publishing, 7th printing, 2004: 711. Cf. the translation of the tablet in Alexander Roob, The Hermetic Museum, Alchemy & Hermeticism, Taschen, 1997: 8-9. See also David Fideler, Jesus Christ: Sun of God, Quest Books, 1993: 232-233; For another interesting translation and analysis, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, Anonymous, [I am told it was Valentin Tomberg], 1985 copyright by Martin Kriele, 21-26. One cannot miss the in-depth analysis of the Emerald Tablet, translation and interpretation of Dennis William Hauck, The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation, Penguin/Arkana, 1999: Chapter 4. See further Manley P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Penguin Books, Reader's Ed., 2003: 513-516. And there are multitudes of links on the Internet on the Emerald Tablet or the Tabula Smaragdina.
9. Roberts, Tarot Revelations, p. 52.
10. Roberts, Ibid., p. 52.
11. See Jean Doresse, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, MJF/Inner Traditions, 1986; Rabbi Joel C. Dobin, Kabbalistic Astrology: The Sacred Tradition of the Hebrew Sages, Inner Traditions, 1977, for a detailed description of astrological influences in the ancient Hebrew scriptures and life; Robert R. Stieglitz, “The Hebrew Names of the Seven Planets,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 40, No. 2 (1981): 135-137; See Kocku von Stuckrad, “Jewish and Christian Astrology in Late Antiquity - a New Approach,” in Numen, Vol. 47, (2000): 1-35; James H. Charlesworth, “Jewish Astrology in the Talmud, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Early Palestinian Synagogues,” in Harvard Theological Review, 70, No. 3-4, (July-October 1977): 183-200; B. L. van der Waerden, “History of the Zodiac,” in Archiv fur Orientforschung, (1952-1953): 216-230.
12. Kevin Townley, Meditations on the Cube of Space, Archer Books, 2003: 49.
13. David Allen Hulse, New Dimensions for the Cube of Space, Samuel Weiser, 2000: 27. Cf. Robert Wang, The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy, Marcus Aurelius Press, Revised ed., 2004: 194.
14. See Robert Wang, Qabalistic Tarot.
15. Roberts, Ibid., p. 53.
16. Robert, Ibid., quote on p. 54.
17. Roberts, Ibid., pp. 56-57.
18. Walter Scott, Hermetica: The Ancient Greek and Latin Writings Which Contain Religious or Philosophical Teachings Ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, Kessinger Republishng, (no date), Vol. 3: 323. 19. Alexander Roob, Ibid., p. 19.Some ideas I wrote on a few years back. Sharing for others' inputs. Remember brethren, this is not dogma, simply exploring themes, ideas and variations. I LOVE to do that with various traditions.