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Revising the Tarot Correspondence

When you ask someone which system works best for corresponding the Tarot cards to the Tree of Life, many people seem to feel that the Golden Dawn system must be the correct one, because it has been around for so long, and accepted by so many. This is foolishness. The proof of a system of correspondence is not how many people accept it, but how well it works! Simple analysis of the Golden Dawn attributions of the Tarot to the Tree shows a number of flaws which must be corrected.

First of all, we must examine the basis for the Golden Dawn system of correspondences. This is actually quite simple; the first Major goes on the eleventh path, which is the path attributed to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second Major goes on the twelfth path, which is the path of the second letter. And so on, until we fill up all 22 paths. There is some debate as to whether the Magician or the Fool should go first, but it does not really matter to us, because either way you look at it, the system is flawed.

In the Tarot, higher-numbered cards become increasingly concerned with spiritual and archetypal energies, and decreasingly connected to more mundane affairs. On the Tree of Life, the system is reversed. The paths closest to Kether are those with the lowest numbers, and as the numbers increase we get closer and closer to Malkuth. In order to achieve a sensible correspondence, the Fool, Magician, etc. must be placed near the bottom of the Tree.

As long as the system is being rearranged we might as well correct a few of the other major flaws in the Golden Dawn system. In the Tarot, it is easy to discover opposing pairs of cards. The Empress and the Emperor, or the Sun and Moon, are good examples. It would make sense to place these cards on opposite paths. So the Emperor could go on the path from Yesod to Hod, for example, while the Empress occupies the path from Yesod to Netzach.

The Golden Dawn system, for the most part, does not account for these pairs of opposite cards. Among others, the Lovers is opposite the Emperor, Justice is opposite the Hermit and the Devil is opposite Death. None of these can really be called pairs of opposites without a good deal of contrived reasoning. It makes much more sense to use a new system that includes this "pairing of opposites", rather than try to explain why it does not appear in the existing system.

There are several possibilites for such a system, of course, but the one I think works best is the one shown in this diagram.

All pairs of opposite cards occupy opposing paths on the Tree, and all the lower-numbered cards are at the bottom. If we think about the paths in terms of the sephiroth they connect, this system becomes even more useful. For example, the path from Chokmah to Binah, archetypal male to archetypal female, is much better represented by the neutral Temperance card than by the extremely female Empress. As a Venusian card, the Empress should be attached to Netzach, which it is under the above system. The other attributions can be justified similarly.

When you correspond the Runes to this new attribution of the Tarot cards, some convincing parallels are immediately visible. Raidho, the rune of travel, is on the same path as the Chariot, the only Major Arcana card showing motion through use of a vehicle. Eihwaz, the rune of Death, corresponds to the Death card. The Devil is paired with the Rune of restriction, Isa, and the Tower is linked to Thurisaz, a Rune of destruction. Berkano is the Rune of fertility, and it shares a path with the Empress.

Again, the proof of this new system of Tarot correspondences is to be found in the fact that it works well with other systems, such as the Rune system, which was independantly devised. The real proof of both of these systems will come when the two of them are convincingly linked to the I Ching. This is what we must do next.

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Copyright 2000 James Rioux