For the better part of a year, now, Ankhie has been pulling a daily card from the Thoth deck and posting it on the Weiser Facebook page, along with illuminating excerpts from Lon Milo DuQuette’s amazingly erudite Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. However, at this point we’ve posted chapters on nearly all of the cards, and I, for one, still have a lot left to learn. So what better place to turn next than Uncle Al’s own Book of Thoth, especially for the more esoteric aspects of this rich and sometimes confounding deck?
So let us begin again with the basics (inasmuch as anything Crowley touched can be considered basic!) with “The Tarot and the Holy Qabalah”
The next issue is the Holy Qabalah. This is a very simple subject, and presents no difficulties to the ordinary intelligent mind. There are ten numbers in the decimal system; and there is a genuine reason there should be ten numbers, and only ten, in a numerical system that is not merely mathematical,but philosophical. It is necessary, at this point, to introduce the “Naples Arrangement”. But first of all, one must understand the pictorial representation of the Universe given by the Holy Qabalah.
This picture represents the Tree of Life, which is a map of the Universe. One must begin, as a mathematician would, with the idea of Zero. Absolute Zero, which turns out on examination to mean any quantity that one may choose, but not, as the layman may first suppose, Nothing, in the “absence-of-anything” vulgar sense of the word. (See “Berashith”, Paris 1902)
“THE NAPLES ARRANGEMENT”
The Qabalists expanded this idea of Nothing, and got a second kind of Nothing which they called “Ain Soph” – “Without Limit”. (This idea seems not unlike that of Space.) They then decided that in order to interpret this mere absence of any means of definition, it was necessary to populate the Ain Soph Aur – “Limitless Light”. By this they seem to have meant very much what the late Victorian men of science meant, or thought that they meant, by the Luminiferous Ether. (The Space-Time Continuum?)
All this is evidently without form and void; these are abstract conditions, not positive ideas. The next step must be the idea of Position. One must formulate this thesis: If there is anything except Nothing, it must exist within this Boundless Light; within this Space; within this inconceivable Nothingness, which cannot exist as Nothingness, but has to be conceived of as a Nothingness composed of the annihilation of two imaginary opposites. Thus appears The Point, which has “neither parts nor magnitude, but only position.”
But position does not mean anything at all unless there is something else, some other position with which it can be compared. One has to describe it. The only way to do this is to have another Point, and that means that one must invent the number Two, making possible The Line.
But this Line does not mean very much, because there is yet no measure of length. The limit of knowledge at this stage is that there are two things, in order to be able to talk about them at all. But one cannot say that they are near each other, or that they are far apart; one can only say that they are distant. In order to discriminate between them at all there must be a third thing. We must have another point. One must invent The Surface; one must invent The Triangle. In doing this, incidentally, appears the whole of Plane Geometry. One can now say, “A is nearer to B than A is to C”.
But, so far, there is no substance in any of these ideas. In fact there are no ideas at all, except the idea of Distance and perhaps the idea of Between-ness, and of Angular measurement; so that Plane Geometry, which now exists in theory, is after all completely inchoate and incoherent. There has been no approach at all to the conception of a really existing thing. No more has been done than to make definitions, all in a purely ideal and imaginary world.
Now then comes The Abyss. One cannot go any further into the ideal. The next step must be the Actual – at least, an approach to the Actual. There are three points, but there is no idea of where any one of them is. A fourth point is essential, and this formulates the idea of matter.
The Point, the Line, the Plane. The fourth point, unless it should happen to lie in the plane, gives The Solid. If one wants to show the position of any point, one must define it by the use of three co-ordinate axes. It is so many feet from the North wall, and so many feet from the East wall, and so many feet from the floor.
Thus there had been developed from Nothingness a Something which can be said to exist. One has arrived at the idea of Matter. But this existence is exceedingly tenuous, for the only property of any given point is its position in relation to certain other points; no change is possible; nothing can happen. One is therefore compelled, in the analysis of known Reality, to postulate a fifth positive idea, which is that of Motion.
This implies the idea of Time, for only through Motion, and in Time, can any event happen. Without this change and sequence, nothing can be the object of sense. (It is to be notices that this No. 5 is the number of the letter He in the Hebrew alphabet. This is the letter traditionally consecrated to the Great Mother. It is the womb in which the Great Father, who is represented by the letter Yod, which is pictorially the representation of an ultimate Point, moves and begets active existence).
There is now possible a concrete idea of the Point; and, at last, it is a point which can be self-conscious, because it can have a Past, Present and Future. It is able to define itself in terms of the previous ideas. Here is the number Six, the centre of the system; self-conscious, capable of experience.
At this stage it is convenient to turn away for a moment from the strictly Qabalistic symbolism. The doctrine of the next three numbers (to some minds at least) is not very clearly expressed. One must look to the Vendanta system for a more lucid interpretation of the numbers 7, 8 and 9, although they correspond very closely with the Qabalistic ideas. In the Hindu analysis of existence the Rishis (Sages) postulate three qualities: Sat, the Essence of Being itself; Chit, Thought, or Intellection; and Ananda (usually translated Bliss), the pleasure experienced by Being in the course of events. This ecstasy is evidently the exciting cause of the mobility of pure existence. It explains the assumption of imperfection on the part of Perfection. The Absolute would be Nothing, would remain in the condition of Nothingness; therefore, in order to be conscious of its possibilities and to enjoy them, it must explore these possibilities. One may here insert a parallel statement of this doctrine from the document called The Book of the Great Auk to enable the student to consider the position from the standpoint of two different minds.
“All elements must at one time have been separate. – That would be the case with great heat. – Now, when the atoms get to the Sun, we get that immense, extreme heat, and all the elements are themselves again. Imagine that each atom of each element possesses the memory of all his adventures in combination. By the way, that atom, fortified with memory, would not be the same atom; yet it is, because it has gained nothing from anywhere except this memory. Therefor, by the lapse of time and by virtue of memory, a thing could become something more than itself; thus, a real development is possible. One can see a reason for any element deciding to go through this series of incarnations, because so and only so, can he go; and he suffers the lapse of memory which he has during these incarnations, because he knows he will come back unchanged.
“Therefor you can have an infinite number of gods, individual and equal though diverse, each one supreme and utterly indestructible. This is also the only explanation of how a Being could create a world in which War, Evil, etc., exist. Evil is only an appearance, because (like “Good”) it cannot affect the substance itself, but only multiply its combinations. This is something the same as Mystic Monotheism; but the objection to that theory is that God has to create things which are all parts of Himself, so that their interplay is false. If we presuppose many elements, their interplay is natural.”
These ideas of Being, Thought, and Bliss constitute the minimum possible qualities which a Point must possess if it is to have a real sensible experience of itself. These correspond to the numbers 9,8, and 7. The first idea of reality, as known by the mind, is therefore to conceive of the Point as built up of these previous nine successive developments from Zero. Here at last is the number Ten.
In other words, to describe Reality in the form of Knowledge, one must postulate these ten successive ideas. In the Qabalah, they are called ‘Sephiroth”, which means “Numbers”. As will be seen later,e ach number has a significance of its own; each corresponds with all phenomenon in such a way that their arrangement in the Tree of Life, as shown in the diagrams, is a map of the Universe. These ten numbers are represented in the Tarot by the forty small card.
Whew! Did y’all get that? On to the Formula of the Tetragram!