Geomancy on the Tree of Life Diagram

[Oy. I don’t know, part of me is tempted to delete this and let the more recent series on geomancy and Kabbalism hold its place, but I don’t think that is quite right. Part of that is bearing witness to the process which I think is what gives us permission to give others permission to work through their own errors. Part of that, too, is that the more recent series doesn’t precisely supplant this so much as lay out its foundations more clearly, with the implication that there is still more to build atop those foundations. I didn’t quite have the right story to anchor what I was doing. Anyway, I think this may be the last page to take down and roll into a post.]

The first thing I want to discuss at length is the relationship between the geomantic figures to the Kabbalistic tree of life diagram. As with the geomantic discussions, I will presume some familiarity with the esoteric Kabbalism that circulates through the Western Magical Traditions like the Golden Dawn and Thelema. Similarly, though, I will expect readers to consider my work as belonging to an alternative formulation of it, one rooted in an rearticulation of the Tree of Life diagram upon the model presented in the Saadia retention of the Sefer Yetzirah (SY), as well as in some study of Jewish Kabbalism more broadly.

A drawing of the tree of life as described in this essay. Sefirot are represented as blue squares, elemental lines are in red, double lines are in black, and mother lines are in gree.

The diagram above should not be taken as the one true diagram, not even of the Gra diagramming tradition upon which it is modeled. It reflects my personal interpretation, interpellations of Kabbalistic material from the Zohar, as well as material derived from spiritual inspiration. There are many other forms of the diagram; I favor this one for the sheer volume of information its structure is able to contain.

By way of contrast, let me just share another variation of the tree of life. This diagram reflects the earliest diagram tradition we have available through the manuscripts (which does not necessarily mean that this is the oldest diagram tradition).  This is my own reproduction of a diagram I first saw pictured in Segol’s Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalah.

A less common tree of life diagram, with a ten-spoked wheel at the bottom, a throne-like structure in the center, and a seven-branched tree at the top.
MS Pharma 1390, Folio 94a (dated ca. 1280 CE)

Moreover, the connection I make here between geomancy and Kabbalism is my own. Geomancy and Kabbalism are not traditionally joined. What I am presenting needs to be understood as a synthetic operation carried out in dialogue with some of my more intimate spiritual presences. I bring personal innovations to this, but they have been vetted by contemplation and practice, then approved in spirit. Several of my innovations have been informed by my examination of how West African and Arabic geomancers describe relationships between geomantic figures, but I want to underline that the geomantic practice to which I am grafting these innovations is that of European geomancy; I am attempting that, in part, in an effort to reconnect the European traditions to the vibrant centers from which they originated.

I. Kabbalism reconsidered, in bare outline

The SY differentiates the channels of the tree of life into three categories depending upon their orientation—horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. Each of these channels represents the generative potency of  Hebrew letter and the SY identifies what these letters generated in the creation of the heavens, the creation of the body, and the creation of time. They are presumed to operate at every level of creation.

I want to be careful as I start talking about SY and other forms of Kabbalism. It has become very common in western esoteric communities to emphasize the diagram of the tree of life without attending to the contemplative, mystical, and magical accounts to which it refers. The diagram is a short hand for describing a set of relationships between spiritual beings and natural processes (represented by the channels) that manifest at certain levels of consciousness (indicated by the sefirot). Relationships that manifest at certain levels of consciousness do not manifest in all other levels. Whether we see these levels as higher and lower than each other or just different from each other, the achievement of levels of consciousness makes certain forms of understanding possible and others impossible.

This way of understanding esoteric experience has deep philosophical roots in the ancient mystical and magical practices of Middle Eastern antiquity and they continue down through philosophical traditions that preserve those practices. The Middle Ages saw the views well-expressed across the ‘Abrahamic’ milieu, in figures like Ibn al-Arabi (truth is relative to the station of the mystic en route toward God) and Duns Scotus (the quality of the will selects a field of objects for consideration; chaneg the will, change the field), but it is all over Jewish Kabbalism in practice.

So, as I map specific geomantic symbols onto channels of the tree of life diagram, I am making a statement about how they orchestrate creative forces which, as we attune ourselves with them, help us to access the forms of consciousness represented by the sefirot. I mentioned Duns Scotus and in many ways this integrates a bootstrap theory into his account of the will. Rather than attempt to achieve a change of will sui generis through grace, what these elements provide us with are tools to help the will reorient itself. The trick of contemplation and magic is that by surrounding ourselves with ideas and objects ordered according to other forms of consciousness, we are able to nudge our will toward the form of consciousness that might encompass them.

II. Geomantic Figures on the Tree of Life

Geomantic figures are most easily introduced into the tree of life at the intersection of two of its elements, the Doubles and the Elementals. As with all such intersections, they are mediated by the sefirot. The figures appear under the auspices of the Doubles, the letters composing the vertical lines most often identified with the planets.  The SY identifies each of the Doubles as having two esoteric aspects relating to whether the letter is pronounced hard or soft. The binary present within the Doubles provides the point of integration on the tree for the binary elements that animate the geomantic figure.

While the figures appear under the auspices of the Doubles, they are animated by the Elementals (the diagonal lines of the diagram). Each set of diagonal lines are organized in sets of four, as a diamond, and each of those sets of four are related to each other in a dynamic fashion. Each line supports another, is aided by another, is opposed by another, and threatened by another.

The dynamic relationship of each set of Elementals provides the architecture upon which the traditional esoteric meaning of the four elements hangs. The geomantic tradition of identifying each line with a classical element (fire, air, water, earth) can be used to appreciate how each Double orchestrates the Elemental lines to which it is joined into a geomantic figure. The elemental attributions themselves are not necessary components of this process and can be treated as symbolic and mnemonic tools for appreciating this relationship between Elemental lines, i.e., the four elements are not identical with the Elementals, though the four elements are expressions of the Elementals’ structural relationships.

This process takes place under the auspices of the sefirot. Each Double line is distinguished by a pair of sefirot, each forming a terminus that defines its line. Each of those sefirot also forms the intersection for two Elemental lines such that each Double is joined to four Elementals. Each pair of geomantic figures associated with a Double reflects one way in which the dynamic forces represented by the Elemental lines are orchestrated. If, as the SY says, the Elementals are at war, in the geomantic figures they establish truces and treaties with each other.

The nature of that peace depends upon the way in which the lines relate to the diamonds. The central pillar produces the most profound expressions of peace by virtue of organizing  warring Elemental diamond in their entirety.  The peace of the left and right pillar are somewhat different, treaties achieved by drawing together sympathetic Elementals that participate in different Elemental wars/diamonds.

Three details from the tree of life diagram, each featuring a Doube line and its associated Elemental lines. The detail on the far left is from the left pillar, the center detail from the middle pillar, and the far right detail is from the right pillar. The details make clear that the central pillar double lines organize a diamond of Elemental lines, while the others organize two halves of different Elemental diamonds.

The pillar of mercy contains two vertical channels. The first stretches between Netzach and Chesed and the second stretches between Chesed and Chockmah. The first channel turns toward Netzach with the face of Acquisitio, granting and reflecting the perpetual victory and presence of Netzach, and toward Chesed with the face of Ammissio, surrendering and yielding up to Chesed the sacrifice and tenderness proper to it. The second channel turns toward Chesed with the face of Tristitia, impressing and inflicting upon it the hardship that it is the seal of its love, and toward Chockmah with the face of Laetitia, revealing and inspiring it with the pleasure proper to its wisdom.

The pillar of severity parallels the pillar of mercy with two channels of its own. The first channel stretches between Hod and Gevurah and the second stretches between Gevurah and Binah. The first channel turns toward Hod with the face of Albus, cultivating in it the gentle receptiveness to hardship through which awe is cultivated, and toward Gevurah with the face of Rubeus, strengthening in it the harshness required to remove impurities and temper what is weak. The second channel turns toward Gevurah with the face of Cauda Draconis, impressing upon it the wisdom it requires to moderate its force so as not to destroy what it only needs strengthen and purify, and toward Binah with the face of Caput Draconis, yielding up to it the pure insights  that will constitute its understanding.

The central pillar embodies the triplicity that its existence manifests among the pillars in its possession of three channels. The first channel stretches from Malkuth to Yesod, the second from Yesod to Tifaret, and the third bridges the great space from Tifaret to Keter. The first channel turns toward Malkuth with the face of Populus, reflecting the confused and interpenetrating multilplicity of it back to itself, and toward Yesod with the face of Via, nourishing in it the gentle heat through which the essences of the multiplicity are extracted. The second channels turns toward Yesod with the face of Fortuna Minor, drawing forth from Yesod’s essences symbolic forms, and toward Tifaret with the face of Fortuna Major, instilling within it the light of self-awareness. The third channel turns toward Tifaret with the face of Carcer, impressing upon it a sense of isolation and distance from the divine through which it may realize itself, and toward Keter with Conjunctio, allowing it to encompass and relate all creation without destroying it.

There is a mathematical feature to this organization that I wish to highlight. Add the figures contained within one channel together and you will receive one of three figures: Via, Carcer, or Conjunctio. All of these figures are figures of the central pillar, either figures of its base channel or of its crowning channel. Via expresses the first movement of the entire spiritual work, the movement of turning from Malkuth to Yesod while Carcer and Conjunctio express the concluding movement of the work, the turning toward Keter and the annihilation of our individuality in the total understanding of the divine. In other words, all of the channels are part of the same basic movement, away from being lost in creation toward being joined to the divine.

If you follow out the connections between the channels to the planets, you’ll notice, then, that we can through a combination of metaphor and analogy, state that the two basic movements are lunar and saturnian. Interestingly, while the pillar of mercy includes both lunar and saturnian channels, the pillar of severity includes only saturnian channels. It is through this observation that I affirm the claim that Saturn is the greater malefic—not that it is malefic, but that encompasses and contains all of the forces of severity within itself.

The reader familiar with geomancy will notice that there are two signs that are not included within this account, those of Puer and Puella. The reason for this exclusion has to do with the so-called eleventh sefirot, Da’at. This requires a foray into another aspect of the Kabbalism—its attempt to make sense of what happened in the Fall, in the separation of human consciousness from this ideal pattern. In Puer and Puella, we find Adam and Eve.

III. Breaking Formation

[Much of what follows needs to be clarified and updated, but it isn’t so much wrong as clumsy and ham-handed. Puer and Puella can be mapped more organically onto the diagram as a peculiar feature of the central pillar, most especially of the central double of the central pillar, whose doubles can also organize a set of Elemental lines between diamonds of war as well as orchestrating a diamond. They do cross the pan of liability and merit, the tongue of discernment.]

The situation we encounter in life doesn’t reflect the ideal described by the diagram of the ten sefirot. The relationship between the sefirot and channels is difficult to realize and many forms of consciousness take much preparation to access and seem difficult to maintain. The Kabbalists, looking to Genesis, have a clear explanation for why this is. In the creation of humanity, several things went wrong which severed them from easy access to divine consciousness.

There are two events in particular that are important. The first is the creation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and the second is the murder of Abel by Cain. My personal contemplation has identified each of these events with ruptures in the tree of life diagram. The Fall gives birth to Da’at, a sefirot that falls between Tifaret and Keter, while Cain’s crime breaks the sefirot of Gevurah and shatters the channel between Gevurah and Binah.

I take these events to be symbolic descriptions of what happens as the form of consciousness described by the tree of life diagram extends itself into creation. The way in which the sacred letters and sefirot animate creation is akin to (but not identical to) the way Root1alpha relates to the various non-Root1 geomantic practices it encounters—they actively synthesize and order the material with which they come into contact.

They create an order at least as much as they create a world. Some would suggest that the totality of creation can be reduced to these generative powers, but I suspect that this is a mistake. There do seem to elements in the world that are either alien to the operations of these forces and thereby offer up resistance to being organized. (I do entertain a contrary hypothesis, too: namely, that the difficult to incorporate elements reflect inherent interference patterns that emerge between the sefirot.) Along these points of resistance, fractures and distortions can appear in the pattern’s replication.

These skips, tears, and breaks inspire the more radical expressions of Kabbalism, most of which relate to Isaac Luria’s formulations. At the heart of these expressions is the keen sense that there are broken sefirot and that these sefirot must be restored. What I would emphasize is that these breaks don’t just affect the sefirot; they tug and tear at the channels, too. What is wrenched and torn in the channels enters is absorbed, at least in part, by other channels, particularly in the diagonal channels adjoining Yesod.

These channels contain elements that would facilitate our will being changed to align with their sefirotic consciousness. Broken and distorted, what we encounter are fragments severed from the full contexts which would provide our will with a model of transformation. In dreams, in visions, we either encounter Yesodic consciousness proper, or a Yesodic presentation of another form of sefirotic consciousness. As Yesodic, it cannot facilitate a true change toward that other from of consciousness. In order to achieve that change, we need to engage in the hard work of (re)constituting a structure for those elements which would reopen the sefirotic consciousness attached to them.

Yesod itself is a form of time and experience most closely related to the kinds of time and experience that we associate with dreams, inspiration, and imagination. In the situation of fracture, Yesod also becomes one of the primary vehicles of restoration, the means through which the broken elements are partially reconstituted and used to facilitate the experience of the broken sefirot. The sampling of that provides us with a taste that we can use to guide ourselves back to the fuller forms of that awareness.

In order to develop some appreciation for these moments of rupture and occlusion, I want to take each of the architectonic moments of occlusion and rupture in turn, then proceed to explore how, taken together, they also make possible forms of restoration.

a. Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve do not represent a break so much as an occlusion. In choosing knowledge over immediate life, they placed between themselves and Keter a derivative form of consciousness rooted in mediated forms of experience, knowledge. This other form of consciousness is Da’at. Whether or not there was an actual event which created it, what it indicates for us who work the system is that the work of third channel  of the central pillar cannot alone restore to us an experience of Keter. What we instead come into contact with is an idea of what Keter is. The face of Conjuntio now only turns toward an idea that symbolizes true integration.

Between Da’at and Keter, then, a new channel must be constituted. Unlike the other channels, it does not exist unless we create it. Toward Da’at, this new channel turns the face of Puer, through which the knowledge of Da’at is inscribed, and toward Keter it turns the face of Puella, through which praise is offered to Keter and it is invited to reach out and join itself to the channel.

These faces are not ‘natural’ faces; they are crafted faces. The material from which they are crafted must be found somewhere and transmuted. That process begins in the neighborhood of Yesod, but it cannot be understood independent from the other force that disrupts the Tree of Life. To Gevurah and violence we must now turn.

b. Cain’s Crime

As with Adam and Eve, we will make the most progress toward understanding the distortion if we attempt to make sense of it symbolically. Cain usurps for himself a power that properly belongs to the divine, he usurps the power of judgment and, exerting it without the deep wisdom received through the second channel of the pillar of severity, destroys rather than purifies and tempers. In that action, he simultaneously cuts off Binah from the insights that should properly rise up to it through the second channel.

The story of Adam and Eve reflects a conceptual distortion, one of placing a limited form of knowledge before the unlimited experience of life. In Cain’s crime, this distortion is extended into the field of action. The limited idea of justice carried in Cain’s mind is used to justify a violent punishment and the limits of that idea are made manifest in the complications that ensue from this limited perspective. The second channel is effectively broken in this crime, its sides falling toward Yesod.

c. Restitution and Restoration

The Fall and the murder are thus symbols of a fairly unified process. We come into our own as human individuals by developing clear ideas of how things are and should be. We act after this understanding and discover, again and again, the failings of that understanding. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are forced to deal with the consequences of this. If we are lucky, the ‘crimes’ we commit are not actual crimes, simply bad decisions with hard repercussions.

Our ignorance, though, keeps the two faces (the Draconises) of the pillar of severity’s second channel from coming together. Rather, they manifest on opposite sides of Yesod, displacing the connections that would usually manifest through those diagonal channels. There they can remain fragmented or they can be used to undertake the greater work of restoration.

The hardship that the two Draconises manifest as we engage in a toxic cycle of poor insight and poor action open the door to the realization of our ignorance. They provide us with the opportunity to confront that ignorance and through an examination of it develop the forces of Puer and Puella. These, too, will manifest in a divided fashion, but once realized, we can move toward a unification of each pair.

Drawn on the Tree of Life diagram, Cauda Draconis falls to the channel between Yesod and Hod and can generate Puer within that channel while Caput Draconis falls to the channel between Yesod and Netzach where it can generate Puella. These hybrid channels can be described in a fashion similar to the natural channels. Cauda Draconis faces Hod, cultivating through guilt a sense of humility, while Puer faces Yesod, stirring up a fantasia in its hunger for clarity. Caput Draconis faces Netzach, cultivating through awareness of its ignorance a hope for enduring clarity, while Puella faces Yesod, giving substance to Puer’s fantasia according to its favor.

Following the mathematical observations of the ideal tree, the geomantic figures discovered here can be added together. Both yield figures of the second channel of the central pillar, Fortuna Minor and Fortuna Major. This operation, then, can be seen to take place under the gentle operation of those signs, the same signs that play between self-awareness and symbolic expression.

IV. Not Just Us

This can all be read to describe a fundamentally subjective and personal process. That isn’t wrong, but it isn’t the whole story. The sefirot of consciousness encompass us, other people, the world of creatures, the world of things, and the world of spirits. The story of the broken tree isn’t just the story of our coming to self-awareness, but the story of awareness. Along all of these channels and sefirot we also encounter other forms of awareness that interpenetrate our own, in part because that is the manifest truth borne out in both Keter and Malkuth that sustain the whole tree. By working with and through these encounters with other beings, we work on our mutual awareness. We transform these other awarenesses and are ourselves subject to transformation.

I am not going to try to have that discussion quite yet. Right now, I want to draw this rough outline to a close.


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