Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes
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: Mercy. Love.
- Briatic Color: Blue
- Correspondence in the Macrocosm
- Divine Name: El (God)
- Archangel: Tzadkiel (Righteousness of God)
- Order of Angels: Chasmalim (Brilliant Ones)
- Astrological: Tzedek (Jupiter)
- Elemental: Water
- Path Text from Sepher Yetzirah: The Fourth Path is named the Cohesive or Receptacular Intelligence; and it is so-called because it contains all the holy powers, and from it emanate all the spiritual virtues with the most exalted essences: they emanate one from the other by the power of the Primoridal Emanation, the Highest Crown, Kether.
- Cross-Cultural Gods: Poseidon, Jupiter (as god of rain, storms and thunder), Zeus armed with thunder and lightning, Indra, Amoun, Thor, Aeger
- Magical Image: An old but mighty king sitting on a sapphire throne, robed in blue and violet, a golden crown on his head and a scepter and orb in his hands.
- Symbol: The solid figure, tetrahedron, pyramid, equal-armed cross, orb, wand, scepter, crook, unicorn, horse
- Tarot: The Four Fours
- Four of Wands: Perfected Work
- Four of Cups: Blended Pleasure
- Four of Swords: Rest from Strife
- Four of Pentacles: Earthly Power
- Correspondence in the Microcosm: Memory in Ruach
- Correspondence in the Body: Left shoulder or left arm (Western tradition). Right shoulder (Hebraic tradition)
- Perfume/Plant/Flower: Pine, Olive, Shamrock, Cedar perfume
- Stone: Amethyst, sapphire
- Animal: Unicorn or horse
Chesed as Mercy
The word Chesed means mercy, and it is from this sephirah that the Pillar of Mercy derives its name. Chesed can also be termed Love, and its alternate title Gedulah means Majesty. The connotations of this sephirah include forgiveness, generosity, fairness, loving-kindness, benevolence, and clemency.
The Magical Image of Chesed
The magical image of Chesed reveals much when contrasted with Geburah, and also explains where the tarot court cards went wrong (for they have gone wrong, and we have lost much of the relevance of their symbolism). The magical image of Chesed is “a mighty crowned and throned king.” That of Geburah, the fifth sephirah whose title means Strength or Severity, is “a mighty warrior in his chariot.”
The crowned and throned king is the king who rules from the center of the kingdom. He does not leave his castle to go out and fight battles, but instead plots and strategizes from his home base while sending his warriors out to do his bidding. The crowned and throned king is fair, stable, and expands his kingdom slowly outwards from a strong and secure center. His primary technique for expanding his kingdom is to offer fair and balanced leadership.
Geburah’s magical image, the warrior in his chariot, is also indicative of a ruler, but in this case a king who does not have a stable center, who is always riding the perimeter to protect it from forces that encroach upon his territory. The warrior king does not have time to be fair-minded because his first order of business is protection as he is under constant threat. The warrior king is aggressive, protective, and strives to create a safe and stable perimeter. He expands his kingdom by conquering all those who oppose him.
The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck essentially shows the the King and Knight as our first example–the stable, throned king at the center of the kingdom, and the Knights are under his guidance and fulfill his orders. The Crowley-Harris tarot deck eliminated the stable throned king entirely, offering only Knights and Princes in Chariots–both examples of warrior kings. One of Crowley’s basic philosophical premises was the overthrow of the old aeon and establishment of a new age, so he provided extra warriors to make this happen and eliminated the established and secure king. What the tarot deck needs is both the established, secure ruler–the crowned and throned king, as well as the conquering king–the warrior in his chariot. Not a youth, prince, or subordinate, but two equal rulers who differ in style and philosophy. On a practical divinatory level, this can allow the cards to offer the advice of when to rule fairly from the center and when to push outward and conquer at the perimeter.
The Path Text of Chesed
The fourth sephirah, Chesed, is similar to Kether in some ways, like Chokmah in others, and in relationship to the three supernals, has qualities of the tenth and lowest sephirah, Malkuth. Chesed is the first sephirah below the Abyss, so the energies of the supernals are manifested into Chesed as the first representative of the physical world. Chesed is the first sephirah that is fully within reach of our consciousness, albeit under applied development—Chesed isn’t easy for us to get to and takes a lot of personal work and psychic development, but the level of consciousness it represents is an attainable goal.
The god name of Chesed is El, meaning “God,” spelled in Hebrew aleph, lamed. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and means “ox.” Lamed is in the middle of the alphabet and means “ox goad.” Together, the two letters seem to spell out the idea of work done (the ox being goaded into action) under a directive force (the goad itself and whoever is wielding it).
The idea of the ox being goaded into action, and the fact that aleph is the first letter and the number 1 (each Hebrew letter also represents a number), brings up the idea of beginning. But unlike the initiatory forces of Kether, which are simple sparks of inspiration, getting something to start on the material level is much more difficult. At this level, physical forces are now in play and the energy needed to overcome inertia is dependent on mass. Now, this doesn’t entirely apply to an ox, which also has its own will or lack thereof towards the idea of working, so psychology in addition to physics is involved! But nevertheless, an ox is pretty big, and you can’t just pick it up, or push it, or even tug it to get it going. You need a spiky sharp prodding thing to convince it that pulling the plow is better than standing still.
This way of looking at getting started is very different from that at Kether, and yet, Chesed is like the Kether of the physical world. According to the path text, all the spiritual virtues emanate from Chesed. The word “virtue” here is better translated “power.” Unlike the incorporeal spark that emanates from Kether, the forces that emanate from Chesed are embodied with the laws of physical reality.
Nevertheless, Chesed is still fairly high up on the tree, and so is very abstract compared to our way of thinking. The idea of “laws” fits well here—the laws of physics or of any of the sciences define very clear parameters for the way things work. If Binah is patterns, Chesed is the arrangement of these patterns into laws.
The Astrological Correspondence of Chesed
Chesed corresponds to Jupiter, the large and expansive planet of generosity, leadership, religion, and wisdom.
Chesed and the Tarot Fours
One of Chesed’s symbols is the tetrahedron–the four sided solid. The tetrahedron is composed of a triangular base and three triangular walls tilting in from the edges of the base to form a pointed peak. The sequence that we have learned so far is Kether is the point, Chokmah is the line, Binah is a plane, and Chesed is our first solid–four points not on the same plane define a solid. In Pythagorean numerology, the number four represents stability–although our solid here is certainly stable, stability is more appropriately assigned to the number three, the triangle, which Buckminster Fuller describes as the most stable of all the planar shapes. In qabalistic numerology, the number four represents not so much stability as solidity–what arises from stability. It is manifest into the physical world, no longer an abstract concept but something tangible and solid. The number four represents structure, endurance, things, products, and boundaries.
In astrology, there are two types of aspects, easy and difficult. The easy aspects are considered to be cooperative and supporting, but can lead to laziness or staying in a comfort zone. The difficult aspects are challenging, but encourage growth. We can see these ideas expressed in the tarot fours and fives, with the fours, ruled by Chesed, reflecting the easy aspects and the fives, under the jurisdiction of Geburah, relating to the difficult aspects. The tarot fours are often seen as stable, or not moving forward, at a waypoint. They can be restful, but also lead to stagnation. The fives show conflict, but when engaged productively, encourage growth. Note that in the RWS images, the characters in the fours, with the exception of the Four of Wands, which has no single foregrounded player, are all seated or lying down, arms folded across the chest, indicating lack of movement. The inhabitants of the fives are all standing up or moving.
I think most illustrations of the tarot fours as a rule pull too much from the boundaries and limitations of the four, the resting upon having crossed the abyss and arrived in the material world, and not enough from the mercy and benevolence of Chesed and the expansive generosity and leadership of Jupiter, Chesed’s astrological correspondence. Qabalistically, the fours would make more sense expressing the magnanimity of stately authority, the compassion easily allocated from one who embodies certainty and assuredness, the security and peace of the throned beneficent ruler, and the bounded safety of the prosperously appointed material realm. I think the Thoth Tarot expresses the fours better than the RWS or GD images.
The Golden Dawn titles for the tarot fours are:
Four of Wands: Lord of Perfected Work
Four of Cups: Lord of Blended Pleasure
Four of Swords: Lord of Rest from Strife
Four of Pentacles: Lord of Earthly Power
Four of Wands: Chesed of Atziluth
Do you remember your first birthday? I don’t, but I do remember seeing a photograph of myself that day. Typical kid eating cake pic, frosting smeared all over my face. I never liked getting my photo taken, even at this age, so I stared suspiciously at the camera and had red eye.
Even though I don’t remember that day, I do remember other things about those early years. Eating chocolate chips in the kitchen and drinking water out of a metal cup.
Walking down the stairs and singing the alphabet song and being confused by the LMNOP syncopation (does that get everyone?)–a sense of recognizing that there is meaning to the sounds but not quite getting what it is. Is each sound its own thing? Why do these ones get slurred together more? Isn’t there more after this? Maybe I could remember the rest if this part didn’t always mess me up.
Chesed is associated with memory. In the case of the photograph, I don’t actually remember that day, but I know that it exists, I can extrapolate a context and formulate my experience. This is Chesed in the World of Atziluth–solidity in the world of emanation. It is the abstract concept that something is, without any emotional, mental, or physical reference point to bring it any closer to home. The world of emanation keeps it abstract enough that Chesed’s solidity can only be postulated, not experienced.
The Four of Wands is the Lord of Perfected Work. This is not accomplished work that is done perfectly: to finish or achieve something needs to be much lower down on the tree. Perfected Work instead has been thoroughly and completely envisioned but not yet initiated. It is the photo that is the only remaining vestige of an experience, unencumbered by the emotional sway of memory.
I think of the Four of Wands as the hearthfire. It is the centralized, controlled fire that brings people together, like party-goers congregating in the kitchen. The generous and loving aspects of Chesed are represented by the nurturing and abundance of food cooking over the fire and the camaraderie and affection of family and friends.
Four of Cups: Chesed of Briah
Emotion joins us at the level of Briah, the world of Creation. This is the memory of eating chocolate chips and drinking out of the metal cup. No judgment, just floating in the experience of flavor, the coolness of the water, the sharp metal taste. Maybe I was not drinking water. Maybe I was eating chocolate chips out of the cup while remembering drinking water out of the cup. Layers overlap and enmesh, and the memory of memories is the lapping of wave upon wave against the shore of reality, unable to distinguish one from another.
The title of the Four of Cups is Blended Pleasure. I think of this as pleasure mixed with something else–the something else is what needs to be ascertained to understand the meaning in a particular reading. In the image, we see the single lotus pouring out two streams, one to the left cup and one to the right cup, each of which in turn overflow to two lower cups, which do not overflow. The leaves of the lotus form a cross establishing the parameters of above and below, meridian and horizon. The cups at the spiritual level generously run over, the those at the material level below cannot receive enough to fill to the point of spilling. Imagistically, the pleasure is blended with its own end in the completion of Chesed. Chesed is the receiver of the energies of the supernals, but, being on the Pillar of Force and so being good at sending but poor at receiving, is unable to fully partake of everything sent his way.
To me the Four of Cups asks us how happy we are with what we have versus what benefit we can receive from accepting more from above. There is no universal answer, and the surrounding cards, the dignity, and the querent’s needs directed by the specific question all combine to sway the answer one direction or the other.
Four of Swords: Chesed of Yetzirah
Judgment comes to play at the world of Yetzirah, the world of Formation. This is the memory of ideas, in this case the mental anguish of the alphabet song, the sounds, the notes, the confusing syncopation, the recognition that there is a structure but failing to understand it. It is the recognition of definition and boundaries–the question of where are the separations, the beginnings and endings, in LMNOP?
The Golden Dawn card image shows two double-bladed swords, crossed peacefully with an undamaged five-petaled rose, the dog rose, at the center. Behind the rose is a white, equal-armed cross with narrow, pointed arms. The crossed blades, the cross, and the rose all highlight the center of the card, the point of balance (a Libra keyword, the astrological association of the card). The card title is The Lord of Rest from Strife (note that the Five of Wands is titled The Lord of Strife). The idea of resting, coming to the quiet center, in order to recuperate from a conflict is commonly applied to this card.
My favorite Four of Swords is the Morgan Greer, in which a knight rests inside an arched doorway, autumn leaves on the ground. Three swords float inside. Outside in the mist is a fourth sword–the idea expressed is the three supernals within, the beckoning call of Chesed beyond the boundary. It looks at Chesed from the perspective of above the Abyss, seeing the potential for manifestation below as an uncertain gamble. This gives the knight and three swords the gestational quality of Binah, while the air level suggests a mental exploration or astral journey down into the material realm.
Four of Pentacles: Chesed of Assiah
Chesed of Assiah is nicely expressed in the Golden Dawn image, with the four coins marking the four corners of the card. The solidity of manifestation of course is strongest in this world, and the title Lord of Earthly Power suggests both strength and leadership.
Please join us next time when we discuss Geburah and the Tarot Fives. 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 reader 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.