Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
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- Title: Wisdom
- Briatic Color: Gray
- Divine Name: Yah (God)
- Astrological: Zodiac (Fixed Stars)
- Elemental: Fire
- Path Text from Sepher Yetzirah: The Second Path is called the Illuminating Intelligence; it is the Crown of Creation, the Splendor of the Unity, equalling it. It is exalted above every head, and named by Cabalists the Second Glory.
- Cross-Cultural Gods: Tahuti (Thoth), Pallas Athena (Minerva), Maat, Uranus, Hermes, Yang, Kwan Shi Yin, Vishnu, Ishvara
- Magical Image: An old man with a long white beard, wearing a plain gray robe and holding a rough wooden staff. He is facing the viewer’s left, and looking slightly upwards.
- Symbol: All phallic symbols, the Yod of Tetragrammaton, The Inner Robe of Glory, the standing stone, the tower, the uplifted rod of power, the straight line.
- Tarot: The Four Twos; The Four Kings (Knights in Thoth)
- Two of Wands: Dominion
- Two of Cups: Love
- Two of Swords: Peace Restored
- Two of Pentacles: Harmonious Change
- Correspondence in the Microcosm: Chiah, the Spiritual Will
- Correspondence in the Body: Left eye or left side of the head (Western tradition). Right eye (Hebraic tradition)
- Perfume/Plant/Flower: Musk, amaranth
- Stone: Star ruby, turquoise
- Animal: Man
Chokmah as Wisdom
Prometheus, rebellious god whose name means “forethought,” is said to be the one who took an axe and cleaved the head of Zeus. From his split crown sprang fully-formed the armed and armored goddess of Wisdom, Athena.
Chokmah (pronounced “Hoke-mah”, the title of the second sephirah on the Tree of Life, means “Wisdom.” It is contrasted with Binah, the third sephirah, which means Understanding, and Da’ath, the quasi-sephirah (numbered 11 on the diagram below) whose title means knowledge.
Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information.
Understanding is the insight that comes from recognizing the meaning of those details.
Wisdom is gained from the successful elevation of knowledge into understanding, tested by experience, and cautioned with good judgment.
To the analytical thinking of today’s Western society, knowledge is accorded value as the most important thing, the foundational step in the development of these other qualities. But on the Tree of Life, it is assigned not even one of the ten sephiroth, but given to the unnumbered quasi-sephirah. The Sepher Yetzirah says that there are ten sephiroth: “ten and not nine, ten and not eleven.” Da’ath does not count, and none of the connecting paths on the Tree arrive at it. Knowledge – perfectly defined, inalterable fact – is not possible in the qabalistic world. Facts lead us astray, searching for context through comparison on an ever-broadening continuum, but finding only the on-off switch that assigns a flippant “true” or “false.” Their binary quality fails to sink into the depths of meaning.
Facts are not human experiences, but mechanical structures. They are necessary like the road is necessary for a car to move—up on a lift, wheels spinning, the vehicle does not advance. The Tree of Life delineates states of consciousness and the processes that allow us to transition from one state to another. Understanding is a state of consciousness that arises from the insightful interpretation of fact. Wisdom is a state of consciousness that arises from the practiced application of understanding. They are qualities that continually can be refined and perfected. Learning facts does not change who we are. But applying understanding and wisdom gives us a pass to move from one level to another, allowing us to grow and change, one of the primary benefits of the study of qabalah.
Chokmah Arises by Reflection
Chokmah is Kether reflected, not the thing itself, but slightly distorted. The first three sephiroth, Kether, Chokmah, and Binah, all called the supernals, and are above our ability to comprehend, being so close to the Divine. So each is perfect—Chokmah is not a flawed reflection of Kether, but rather a reflection that does not have the full dimensionality. Chokmah is the father artchetype, and Binah is the mother. Together they represent the two individually perfect and complete poles that break out from the unified perfection of Kether.
The Magical Image of Chokmah
The Magical Image of Chokmah is an old man with a long white beard, wearing a plain gray robe and holding a rough wooden staff. He is facing the viewer’s left, and looking slightly upwards. The image is sometimes described more simply as a bearded male figure. Chokmah represents the abstract qualities of maleness but on a plane of existence that transcends the physical. Symbolically, Chokmah is essentially phallic in nature, although expressing this quality on an energetic level of pure potency.
If Kether is symbolized by the point, Chokmah is the line—it is the unrestricted, outward directed force which emanates from Kether and which eventually will be received and harnessed by Binah.
The Path Text for Chokmah
The Path Text describes Chokmah as the Crown of Creation and the Second Glory, equating it to Kether. But as Kether is the crown of the Supernal level beyond practical comprehension, so Chokmah is the crown of creation—the highest level and origin of the manifest world. Just as Kether is not fully realized from the unmanifest into the exclusively spiritual level of the supernals, so Chokmah does not partake of the level below the Abyss, and yet is its source.
The Astrological Correspondence of Chokmah
Chokmah is assigned the zodiac. The correspondence is often alternately listed as the fixed stars. The fixed stars astrologically speaking are prominent stars in each of the constellations, not just the twelve zodiacal constellations. However, remembering the ancient theory of the concentric spheres, the next step beyond the wandering planets is the backdrop of stars, and the zodiac is the wide path that the planets move in. So it is natural that the twelve constellations of the zodiac are considered the next level beyond the seven classical planets.
Chokmah and the Tarot Twos
In many forms of numerology, twos represent partnership, polarity, duality, choice, and balance or lack thereof. In qabalistic numerology, two represents the driving force of Chokmah, the unfettered flow of energy originating from the unmanifest (where there is no time or dimension), entering the manifest through Kether, and spewing forth like an uncontrolled geyser. The twos are force that is free from the control of any form, channel, or direction, and so represent will, initiation, fecundation, and impetus.
The Golden Dawn titles for the tarot twos are:
- Two of Wands: Dominion
- Two of Cups: Love
- Two of Swords: Peace Restored
- Two of Pentacles: Harmonious Change
Two of Wands: Chokmah of Atziluth
The Two of Wands is Chokmah in the world of Atziluth. If the first whirlings of Kether brought to mind the initial spark of the flametenders bow and drill, the tarot image of the Two of Wands, with a hand grasping two crossed wands, flames issuing at the point where they connect, illustrates the spark catching into flame. Here, the initiatory energy is expressed at the spiritual level, and the flames represent the motivation of our will to pursue the inspiration from Kether.
The title Lord of Dominion refers to the domain that you control—it is your domicile, where you belong and are at home. You have complete authority over everything in your dominion. But the outward reaching energy of Chokmah knows no limits, and therefore desires to expand its territory. This is the adventure story of leaving behind the established community and journeying into the unexplored wilds. It is the urge to expand your territory, colonizing the unknown and bringing it under your authority. Wisdom brings harmony and generosity to this rulership, so that each echelon of authority is empowered.
The Two of Wands represents the desire to grow beyond yourself, initiate new endeavors, to take the lead in partnerships, or to identify and honor your area of control within a relationship.
Two of Cups: Chokmah of Briah
The Two of Cups is Chokmah in the world of Briah. If Chokmah in Atziluth is simply the archetype of expansion, then Chokmah in Briah represents expansion on the level of creation, of imagination and free-floating fantasy. Here on this level the outward reaching force of Chokmah seeks not expansion of territory but reaches out to discover that, as it was reflected from Kether, so it can find reflections of itself beyond itself. It is the initiation of relationship between the similar, finding the tribe, the like-minded, or the mirror mate.
The title of the card, Lord of Love, refers to this symbolism. One of my earliest decks was the Morgan Greer. The Two of Cups in that deck always bothered me. A man with a slight, gruff-looking frown had his hand, holding a golden chalice, on a woman’s shoulder. Her head seemed to be ever so slightly tilted down. Her cup was more evenly centered between the two of them. He appeared to be leaning in slightly. Overall, due to his having a more dominant position, it gave me the feeling that he was chastising her. After learning qabalah and the force represented by Chokmah, I understood that the card represented the masculine principle of reaching out to the thing that is separate from or beyond. Being at the level of the Supernals, there is an urge to return from the polarity of masculine and feminine to the Unity of the Divine represented by Kether. Creation, by way of Chokmah’s keyword fecundation, is the result of the merging of opposites. Chokmah, the Supernal Father, reaches out to Binah, the Supernal Mother, to know again Divine Unity. The result is the coming into being of the seven sephiroth below the Abyss.
The Two of Cups represents love, partnerships, crossing the gap between two people. It is an overflowing outpouring of love, emotion, imagination. It is the experience of the fountain of the Limitless Light.
Two of Swords: Chokmah of Yetzirah
The Two of Swords is Chokmah of Yetzirah, the world of Formation. As we reach the worlds that are closer to the limited and solid level of manifestation, the unhindered force of Chokmah is tempered. Because this is the first fully emanated sephirah, the only thing at this point that can impede the flow of Chokmah is Chokmah itself. So the symbolism of Chokmah in Yetzirah is of the equal and opposite force that brings unfettered Chokmah into balance. The clash of swords of perfectly matched partners, locked in the equal balance of power, is one way of interpreting the symbolism of the card.
The title of the card is Lord of Peace Restored. The swords are crossed, which can represent the end of a conflict. Yet each is held by a hand, as if the conflict is locked in stalemate. This contradiction (one of the keywords for the card) was resolved by Pamela Colman Smith when she drew a single person holding both swords, essentially neutralizing the conflict, or perhaps conceiving of it as an internal struggle.
In the Golden Dawn description, at the juncture where the swords cross, there is a five-petaled rose from which rays of light emerge. The dog rose, a type of wild rose, does not need pollination from insects in order to set its fruit. It can be a symbol of the type of virgin birth told in the story of Isis and Horus or Mary and Jesus. But more relevantly, it represents the potency that is held within, and does not need an external trigger. This potency is the province of Chokmah.
The Two of Swords represents the end of conflict, contradiction, inner struggle, stalemate, forces that are balanced or cancel each other out. It represents inner potency that arises from keeping the expansive force in check.
Two of Pentacles: Chokmah of Assiah
In the world of Assiah or Manifestation, Chokmah’s force, while still deriving from the spiritual level of the Supernals, reflects a more mechanistic nature. The two coins connected by the lemniscate-shaped serpent bring to mind wheels connected by a serpentine belt—the belt allows motion created one place to be distributed to another location. The Angelic Order assigned to Chokmah is the Auphanim, or the Wheels, which makes this symbolism especially appropriate. The sephiroth are always understood in the context of what precedes and succeeds them, and the potentizing effect of Chokmah transfers power to the lower spheres via the paths of the Tree. In this sense, the world of Manifestation pulls down and utilizes the power of Chokmah.
The title, Lord of Harmonious Change, partakes of similar symbolism. Just like the moving gears, exerting effort towards one goal puts other possibilities in motion. This is in some ways the self-fertilization quality of Chokmah, in which labor toward one thing naturally sets the fruit of additional harvests. The change is harmonious because it naturally develops from the original intention, and is not in conflict with or at cross-purposes from it.
The Two of Pentacles represents distribution of energy, acting on two goals at once, and change that is a natural advancement on an established path. It can represent harnessing an existing current of energy towards your purpose.
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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.