A student of the Western Mystery Tradition contacted me asking how the Hebrew letters and their correspondence to the tarot Major Arcana can be used in doing readings.
Do you use the Hebrew letters of the 22 Major trumps in actual divination? For example with Qoph being the Moon card & meaning the back of the head how do you use that meaning in a reading? Do you consider the Hebrew letters more related to the spiritual level than the material?
Here’s my answer:
What a great question! Thanks for asking!
Rarely do I ever use any qabalistic terminology in my readings—that can become confusing for many querents. I once read something by the NY Times tech blogger in which he credited much of his success to never using any tech terms in his blogs—it made his writing much more accessible to readers. I do the same thing—I don’t use the terminology, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t include the Hebrew letters in readings for clients!
Developing Basic Card Meanings Based on Qabalah
First, my understanding of the Major Arcana is highly influenced by the qabalistic and astrological correspondences. So my personal vocabulary for these cards already includes concepts that derive from the esoteric associations.
For example, the Temperance card on the Tree of Life is the path of Samech, connecting Yesod to Tiphareth. Samech means prop or tent peg. In order to hold the tent up, the peg needs to be hammered securely into the ground. Temperance is the card between Death and the Devil. It reminds us that descent is necessary as a fulcrum for ascent—the deeper into the ground our roots penetrate, the higher our branches can spread. I might use the roots and branches metaphor without any need to explain where it came from. Alternately, I might ask the querent, “What is supporting you right now?” or, “What are you fearful about or what do you think might get your hands dirty (Death and Devil) that would actually benefit you greatly as you move forward (Temperance)?”
When Temperance comes up in a relationship reading, I usually read it as a soul-deep love—the path on the Tree of Life moves from Yesod, which on the body corresponds to the genitals, to Tiphareth, which is the heart. So Temperance is a very good card for relationships because it shows the deepening of the sexual energy into true love.
To use your example, Qoph corresponds to the Moon card and means back of the head. It links Malkuth/Kingdom to Netzach/Victory. The back of the head is the location of the visual cortex. That part of the brain can be associated with visions, dreams, and hallucinations. Paired with the symbolism of night (the moon’s domain), it’s easy to read that card as suggesting that the querent engage in dreamwork or guided meditations as pertains to the question. (On more than one occasion I’ve made this suggestion and the client will state that they have recently had a dream on the topic of their question—I’ll suggest that they treat this dream as important and relevant.) The back of the head is also where the reptilian brain resides. It governs basic survival and instinct. Based on this, the Moon card can represent going with your gut, following your instincts, or just trying to survive, while the Sun card (Resh, the forehead) represents science, logic, and reason.
Health Questions Based on Qabalah
Another way to read the cards using the qabalistic meanings depends on the mapping of the Tree of Life onto the human body. This works well for health questions. For instance, someone attending a lecture I gave a few years ago came up to me afterwards and said that she had pulled the Tower card but it really didn’t make sense to her in terms of her question. I pointed out that the Tower card connected the right and left hips (the path of Peh connecting Hod to Netzach)–it turned out that she had an injury on one hip that weakened one side, and the card was suggesting to do exercises that would even out and strengthen the hips. This made sense to her and appeared to be relevant to her question.
Are the Hebrew Letters More Related To the Spiritual Level than the Material?
You can see from what I’ve already said that I try to get fairly practical, material world meanings from the cards using the Hebrew letters. But are they better suited to the spiritual level? Yes, in some ways. To get practical advice, we usually have to limit or reduce the meaning of the letters to something that is particularly relevant to mundane reality. Whereas ongoing meditative work and philosophical grappling with the meanings of the Hebrew letters can get quite abstract and heady, which makes them ultimately better suited to spiritual interpretations.
I’ll suggest an analogy I use with my Reiki students. In Reiki Ryôhô, we learn a series of symbols, each with a particular energetic signature. In the style of Reiki I teach, those symbols are primarily used for meditation. Students often ask how to use the Reiki symbols in treatment. My answer is that by using the symbols for meditation, we learn how to express the energy of each symbol. Then that energy is expressed either consciously or unconsciously during a treatment, as needed and pulled by the client. So even though the symbols aren’t used in treatments, it’s very important for us to work with them so that we can effectively express their energy as needed.
In the same way, working with and meditating on the Hebrew letters or doing qabalistic pathworking can influence us directly as we use metaphors based on their meaning, or indirectly as our spiritual experience of them influences intuitive readings.
Other Aspects of Qabalah Beyond the Hebrew Letters
You only asked about the Hebrew letters, but I use many aspects of qabalah above and beyond the Hebrew letters when doing my readings for clients. The four suits as they apply to the four worlds is highly relevant to my understanding of the Minor Arcana (see this post for more info and a tarot spread), as is the relationship of the sephiroth to the numbered cards. Also, understanding the three pillars can help a great deal with discerning the energetic balance of any given card. You might also like my holiday themed tarot spread, The Turkey Conundrum, which uses qabalah as a focus for a fun Thanksgiving spread (download a pdf of the spread here).
I hope some of these ideas help you incorporate the qabalistic correspondences of the cards into your readings!
I’d love to hear from other qabalists how you use these associations in your tarot work with clients. Please let me know in the comments!
Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2015 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.