The following article is part of the Tarot Tree House, an online class that teaches tarot and qabalah. If you’d like more info, and to pledge as my patron so you get additional materials like tarot spreads, meditations, and webinars, please visit me on Patreon.
- Title: Understanding
- Briatic Color: Black
- Divine Name: YHVH Elohim (The LORD God)
- Astrological: Saturn
- Elemental: Water
- Path Text from Sepher Yetzirah: The Third Path is the Sanctifying Intelligence, and it is the foundation of Primordial Wisdom; it is called the creator of faith, and its roots are in Amen. It is the parent of faith, and from its virtues faith emanates.
- Cross-Cultural Gods: Kronos, Frigg, Sakti, Maya, Kwan Yin, Yin, Kali, Isis,
- Magical Image: An old woman with long white hair, wearing a simple black robe, holding a rough wooden staff. She is facing toward the viewer’s right.
- Symbol: All cteic (vaginal) symbols, the vesica piscis, the cup or chalice, the Outer Robe of Concealment, the Heh in the Tetragrammaton, brooding dove
- Tarot: The Four Threes; The Four Queens
- Three of Wands: Established Strength
- Three of Cups: Abundance
- Three of Swords: Sorrow
- Three of Pentacles: Material Works
- Correspondence in the Microcosm: Neshamah, the spiritual understanding
- Correspondence in the Body: Right eye or right side of the head (Western tradition). Left eye (Hebraic tradition)
- Perfume/Plant/Flower: Cypress, Lily, Opium Poppy
- Stone: Star Sapphire, Pearl
- Animal: Woman
Binah as Understanding
Understanding is the form side of Wisdom. Another way of looking at Binah is as discernment. We discussed last time the nuances of the concepts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Binah is about form. She structures facts in a way that allows us to suss out subtleties that lead to deeper insight. She is context. She also shows us our limitations, where we have not yet delved deep enough into knowledge to find wisdom–she is profound by way of depth. Binah appreciates the hard edges of facts and values the elevated abstraction of wisdom. She brings the two into relationship with each other, simplifying wisdom into the expressible and deepening knowledge into the ineffable.
Binah Arises by Polarity
Kether, Chokmah, and Binah are the three Supernals, the highest three sephiroth on the Tree. Below these is an imaginary line that indicates the Abyss. The Abyss is one of the veils on the Tree—not one of the three Veils of Negative Existence which lie beyond Kether, but one of two veils that are within the parameters of the Tree itself. The lower veil, generally just called the Veil, lies below sephirah 6 and above sephiroth 7 and 8. This is the veil that separates the lower self from the higher self. Below Chokmah and Binah but above sephiroth 4 and 5 is the veil we call the Abyss. The Abyss separates the seven lower sephiroth, which are available to our level of consciousness, from the three Supernals, which are beyond ordinary human understanding.
The three sephiroth above the Abyss, Kether, Chokmah, and Binah, are completely spiritual in nature, and represent Divine Unity. They are like the yin yang symbol in Eastern philosophy. Chokmah is yang, masculine, outward-directed force while Binah is yin, feminine, receptive form. They are not so much two separate concepts as they are, moving up the Tree from lower to higher, the polarities that are resolved in Kether and which, moving downward, revolve outward from Kether into binaries. Chokmah cannot exist without Binah, nor Binah without Chokmah, because one necessitates the other like the positive and negative poles on a battery.
The idea of negative and positive charges is found on the Tree of Life in two ways. First, the Tree is divided into three columns or pillars. The middle pillar, called the Pillar of Equilibrium, has Kether at the top. As you look at an illustration of the Tree before you, the right pillar, the Pillar of Mercy, is headed by Chokmah. Binah crowns the left column, the Pillar of Severity. The Pillar of Mercy is the positive pole of the battery, is masculine in nature, and is governed by Chokmah’s symbolism of outward directed force. The Pillar of Severity is the negative pole of the battery, feminine, and shares in Binah’s receptive and protective qualities. The left and right pillars are further defined by the next two sephiroth, Chesed and Geburah, as we will see in subsequent articles.
Although the directive and receptive attributes are primarily defined by the columns on the Tree, there is a further symbolism that considers each sephirah to be receptive to the sephirah that precedes it and directive towards the sephirah that follows it. So each sephirah is positive or negative both by column and in an alternating pattern. Chokmah is receptive to the previous sephirah, Kether, receiving its influx of light, and is directive to the subsequent sephirah, Binah, sending its force onward. Because Chokmah is on the Pillar of Mercy, the positive pillar on the Tree, it is stronger when directive and weaker when receptive. So when Chokmah receives from Kether, it is weak, not able to fully receive what Kether sends forth. When it sends to Binah, it is strong, able to completely direct its energy to her. Binah on the other hand is strong at receiving, so she is able to completely receive Chokmah’s energy. But she is weak at sending, so when she in turn directs her energy to the next sephirah, she cannot successfully pass all the energy forward. In this way, energy is lost at each step of descent of the Tree, mimicking a qabalistic game of telephone, so that the final outcome at Malkuth is only a dim reflection of the initial power expressed in Kether.
The Magical Image of Binah
The magical image of Binah is like that of Chokmah, but feminine in appearance rather than masculine. She is considered the Supernal Mother, AMA. Chokmah is ABA, the Supernal Father. But their qualities are not personal and human, rather they are abstract and spiritual, symbolized by the basic biological polarities: the phallus and the cteis (penis and vagina are the Latin counterparts to these two words—interesting that English speakers universally know the former of the two Greek words and rarely know the latter). And even this symbol is incorrect for Binah—part of her symbolism is mystery, and symbols that are misnamed or point the wrong direction, while on the most practical level are confusing and misleading, on the higher levels accurately express the hidden qualities of the sephirah. The uterus more closely fits our symbology.
Whereas Chokmah heads the Pillar of Mercy or Love, Binah sits at the top of the Pillar of Severity or Strength. The uterus is considered one of the strongest muscles in the body, and it provides a safe, protective space for the embryo to develop. The uterus receives the fertilizing sperm, provides a location for sperm and ovum to unite, shelters and gestates the resulting embryo as it develops, and eventually, with difficulty and not without trauma, has the power to contract and push the fully developed infant into the world. This is the symbolism of the force of Chokmah, the form of Binah, and the resulting birth of the seven sephiroth below the Abyss.
There are two Hebrew words for Mother that are used in the symbolism of Binah, AMA (aleph, mem, aleph) and AIMA (aleph, yod, mem, aleph). The difference is the presence of the yod in the second version. The yod, which corresponds to the highest of the four worlds, Atziluth, the world of Emanation, also represents the sperm (you can see this in the physical shape of the letter). So AMA is considered the dark, sterile mother and AIMA, which contains the sperm-like yod, is the bright, fertile mother.
AMA is dark, mysterious, binding form, withdrawn from the world and striving upward toward spiritual Unity. AIMA releases form downward into the manifest world and watches over her offspring. AMA is the Mater Dolorosa, the Mother of Sorrow, Mary at the foot of the Cross where her Son is crucified.
AMA imposes her form on Chokmah to his benefit, to give him structure and direction and to harness his force. AIMA is form that is changed by Chokmah to her benefit, giving her the energy to manifest. AIMA becomes enlightened as to her circumstances and limitations so that she can put them to use. AMA arranges and organizes information so it can be studied and learned. AIMA is the light bulb moment, the understanding of that information.
The Path Text for Binah
The path text gives prominence to the idea of faith. Binah is associated with form, more specifically with form at the abstract level of the Supernals. It is the root of form. The thing that lies below form, that condenses energy into solidity, is pattern. So patterns are the root of form, and the basis of faith. We have faith when we experience subconscious awareness of patterns in our life. Faith becomes something we trust when we are able to raise those subconscious patterns into conscious understanding. This creates the basis for new patterns. When we lack faith, or experience repeated negative or destructive outcomes, we can change that by reexamining and reforming patterns in our life.
Binah is called the Foundation of Wisdom. Wisdom is Chokmah, and Foundation refers to Yesod, the ninth sephirah. Yesod funnels energies, making a final selection of what will work and can be kept and then sends those energies down the Path of Tav, associated with Saturn as Binah is associated with Saturn, to Malkuth (the Inferior Mother) where those energies emerge into physical form. Binah does this same function for Chokmah, but installing general patterns rather than Yesod’s more fully realized clarity of images and intentions.
The text says that BInah has its roots in Amen, another title of Kether, suggesting that the patterns that underlie form come from the archetypal energy of Kether. Binah is the Sanctifying Intelligence, making things holy through its connection to Kether, the sephirah that is the closest to the Divine.
The Astrological Correspondence of Binah
As mentioned above, the astrological correspondence for Binah is Saturn, the outermost and slowest moving of the visible planets. Saturn is associated with structure, limitation, boundaries, and endings, all of which can be seen in the symbols of Binah. Saturn is also associated with Chronos the timekeeper. The age – old man and old woman – associated with the magical images of Chokmah and Binah are examples of the influence of the timekeeper. Binah’s gestational period is also governed by strict cycles of time. These cycles divide the undifferentiated into the patterns that produce form.
Binah and the Tarot Threes
Qabalistically, the number three shares in Binah’s symbolism of receptivity, gestation, and protection. Buckminster Fuller based his building principles on the idea that the triangle is twice as strong at withstanding pressure than the rectangle (square). In qabalistic numerology, the number three represents stability, strength, and form.
The Golden Dawn titles for the tarot threes are:
Three of Wands: Lord of Established Strength
Three of Cups: Lord of Abundance
Three of Swords: Lord of Sorrow
Three of Pentacles: Lord of Material Works
Three of Wands: Binah of Atziluth
The Three of Wands is Binah in the world of Atziluth. It has the receptive quality of Binah and the directive force of fire. This is the energy that is able to cross the abyss successfully to be realized in the material world.
Three of Cups: Binah of Briah
The yin quality of Binah combined with the receptacle of the cups makes this the most receptive of the threes. At this level we can see the abundance as Chokmah’s unlimited energy fills and overflows from the limitation of the shape imposed by Binah.
Three of Swords: Binah of Yetzirah
The Swords as the element air are active and directive, but Binah wants to hold onto and protect this energy. As the Three of Wands is the energy that successfully jumps the abyss to land solidly at the fourth sephirah, so the Three of Swords is the energy that is lost through Binah’s inexpert passing ability.
Three of Pentacles: Binah of Assiah
The solidity of earth in the world of Manifestation, combined with Binah’s symbolism of representing one pole of Perfect Unity, produces the shape and form, the blueprint, of divinely inspired and flawlessly formed works on the material level. Binah is still above the Abyss, even when in the world of Assiah, and so no loss in the perfection of the execution has yet occurred. This is the symbolism of the master of his craft.
Please join us next time when we discuss Chesed and the Tarot Fours. Keep up to date with all the Tarot Tree House posts by subscribing on Patreon and get perks like joining our private Facebook Group, tarot spreads, meditations, webinars, and patron-only bonuses. If you’re not ready to become a patron, please follow this blog by subscribing via email (find the spot to add your email address at the top right).
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into the most active and one of the largest tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a psychic and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2016 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.