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 Arcana||Path|
|The Fool||11: Kether to Chokmah|
|The Magician||12: Kether to Binah|
|The High Priestess||13: Kether to Tiphareth|
|The Empress||14: Chokmah to Binah|
|The Emperor||15: Chokmah to Tiphareth|
|The Hierophant||16: Chokmah to Chesed|
|The Lovers||17 Binah to Tiphareth|
|The Chariot||18: Binah to Geburah|
|Strength||19: Chesed to Geburah|
|The Hermit||20: Chesed to Tiphareth|
|The Wheel of Fortune||21: Chesed to Netzach|
|Justice||22: Geburah to Tiphareth|
|The Hanged Man||23: Geburah to Hod|
|Death||24: Tiphareth to Netzach|
|Temperance||25: Tiphareth to Yesod|
|The Devil||26: Tiphareth to Hod|
|The Tower||27: Netzach to Hod|
|The Star||28: Netzach to Yesod|
|The Moon||29: Netzach to Malkuth|
|The Sun||30: Hod to Yesod|
|Judgement||31: Hod to Malkuth|
|The World||32: Yesod to Malkuth|
|The Minor Arcana||Sphere|