What does Qabala have to do with Tarot?

What does Qabala have to do with Tarot?

Qabala is the “operating system” of most modern Tarot decks. Mathematically, it works out very neatly: There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, and 22 paths connecting the spheres on the Tree. The Minor Arcana features the numbers one through ten, and there are ten spheres on the Tree. There are four designations of court cards and four suits, and there are four levels of reality represented by three triangles plus Malkuth.

In an interesting and counterintuitive twist, the paths between spheres in the Tree are associated with the cards in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, and the spheres are associated with the cards in the Minor Arcana.

It seems weird at first – shouldn’t the spheres, the most prominent aspects of the Tree, be associated with the big events of the Major Arcana? But it makes sense when you think more deeply about it. The spheres represent more static states of being, whereas the paths represent the process of moving between those states. In much the same way, the cards of the Minor Arcana represent moments, or snapshots, and the Major Arcana depict the phases of The Fool’s Journey.

As for the Court cards (Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings in the Rider Waite Smith deck), there are different schools of thought as to how they map to the Tree. The idea I find is most helpful is to think of these cards as representing the Lightning Flash in short form: Pages represent the spark of something beginning, Knights represent the work to get things moving in the right direction, Queens represent a near-complete state, and Kings represent the finished product, the manifested reality.

How can you use Qabala correspondences in Tarot? For me, Qabala adds another layer of interpretation to my Tarot readings. When I’m struggling to determine what a particular card means within a spread, if the image itself isn’t speaking to me that day, I will recall its corresponding sphere or path within the Tree, and that always helps me sort its meaning. 

If you build an altar devoted to a particular sphere, you can include its corresponding Minor Arcana cards, and contemplate how they represent that sphere. (I recommend reading Isabel Radow Kliegman’s Tarot and the Tree of Life for more detail on the minor Arcana and the Tree.)

Below are the correspondences to the Rider Waite Smith Tarot and the Tree.

The Major ArcanaPath
The Fool11: Kether to Chokmah
The Magician12: Kether to Binah
The High Priestess13: Kether to Tiphareth
The Empress14: Chokmah to Binah
The Emperor15: Chokmah to Tiphareth
The Hierophant16: Chokmah to Chesed
The Lovers17 Binah to Tiphareth
The Chariot18: Binah to Geburah
Strength19: Chesed to Geburah
The Hermit20: Chesed to Tiphareth
The Wheel of Fortune21: Chesed to Netzach
Justice22: Geburah to Tiphareth
The Hanged Man23: Geburah to Hod
Death24: Tiphareth to Netzach
Temperance25: Tiphareth to Yesod
The Devil26: Tiphareth to Hod
The Tower27: Netzach to Hod
The Star28: Netzach to Yesod
The Moon29: Netzach to Malkuth
The Sun30: Hod to Yesod
Judgement31: Hod to Malkuth
The World32: Yesod to Malkuth
The Minor ArcanaSphere
AcesKether
TwosChokmah
ThreesBinah
FoursChesed
FivesGeburah
SixesTiphareth
SevensNetzach
EightsHod
NinesYesod
TensMalkuth

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