Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Paths on the Tree of Life: Sephiroth 7-9

This post continues a series of essays about the paths connecting the Sephiroth on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This essay addresses paths 27 (linking Hod and Netzach) 28 (linking Netzach and Yesod) and 30 (linking Hod and Yesod).

Read on for more.

Path 30: Hod and Yesod

This path represents the process by which the intellectual patterns, expectations, and assumptions that are contained in Hod (8) influence the individual’s mental map of the universe, including especially the self-image (9). It also signifies the ways that reasoning about the mental map constructs new patterns. If an individual engages in such reasoning without recourse to evidence outside of the mind, it easily creates a vicious feedback loop that can quickly result in the mental map of the world diverging sharply from the actual world.

This path differs from path 31 (connecting Hod and Malkuth) primarily in that it illustrates how the patterns color one’s internal model of the world (9) rather than one’s more immediate perceptions and interpretations (10). Where we might attribute a misperception based on expectations to path 31, we could attribute the reasoning about the misperception to path 30.

For example, a religionist might have in mind a particular pattern or expectation: that praying to St. Anthony will cause him to find a lost object. Upon losing a cherished item, this individual prays diligently to St. Anthony and then, lo and behold, eventually finds the item (because misplaced items are often eventually found, not because there are saints who actually give magical aid). The individual immediately misinterprets this event as confirmation that St. Anthony has answered the prayer. We can attribute the pattern/expectation to 8, the direct experience of locating the object to 10, and the faulty interpretation overlayed on top of the experience to 31, which reinforces the pattern in 8.

From here, however, the individual begins to reason about that immediate faulty interpretation, even if this reasoning happens in an informal, almost subconscious way in the background of other daily thoughts: the idea that St. Anthony answer prayers – strengthened by the confirmation bias of path 31 -- feeds into an idea of a world in which there exist Saints in another dimension, Saints that care about the prayers of people and answer prayers through some means, perhaps by funneling these prayers to God or perhaps by exercising their share of the divine power. In this way, the individual’s pattern in Hod, strengthened by 31, contributes to the formulation of an image of the world in Yesod through path 30. The individual’s “map” of how the world works (9) will thus include the existence of Heaven, the existence of Saints, the power of the divine, and a host of other fantasy elements derived through Hod by way of path 30.

The individual might then begin reasoning *about* this internal map. How does someone qualify to be a Saint, anyway? What are God’s requirements for sainthood? Come to think of it, why did God make man? Our religionist might reason thus: God is defined as a perfect being, so God had no need to make man (since having a need would mean he’s not perfect), so therefore God must have made man because he wanted to, not because he needed to. And since God is also defined as a perfectly good being, his desires must also be perfectly good, so this proves that man was created for a good purpose. But why then is there evil? The perfectly good God must have been thwarted in some way, and this explains the existence of free will….

And so on. This reasoning process can be attributed to path 30, which connects ideas/patterns contained in the individual’s mind/Hod (such as the definition the individual has of “God”) to the image the individual forms of the world (Yesod), which feed back into Hod by creating new patterns/connections. As the example above illustrates, reasoning about Yesod without recourse to evidence from the external world simply builds up new, potentially false patterns in Hod, and these errors develop the imaginary map of Yesod in ways that potentially diverge significantly from the actual state of things. A person who continues thinking in this way will, in very short order, have in his mind a fantasy world that bears increasingly little resemblance to the actual world. But he will be mistakenly convinced that his fantasy world *is* the real world! The individual will come to live in a world of not only spirits and other fantasy creatures: he will live in a world of duties, obligations, morals, and an image of himself as such-and-such kind of person. This imaginary world – Yesod (9) – will further impact his perceptions (10, through path 32) and his experiences (and interpretations of those experiences) will feed back into 9. If this vicious reasoning circle is not detected and counteracted by appealing to evidence outside of the individual’s mind in order to correct his faulty interpretations, it becomes very easy for the individual to become swallowed up in these fantasies, to lose track almost entirely of the real world. Most importantly, this means losing track of his actual inclinations and paying attention instead to ideas about how he thinks he *should* act.

It is important to note that this reasoning process and its flaws can only be detected by training the reason and learning to pay attention to its faulty application. Reason is an obstacle to performing the true will, but it can only be defeated by *using* the reason to detect its own flaws operating along paths 30 and 31. Someone who believes that he has “transcended reason” and that he just “experiences truth” is not only wrong but fractally wrong about what he is doing. It is no coincidence that religionists tend to be enemies of reason (Martin Luther famously wrote that one should “tear out the eyes” of the reason). At the least, they tend to use special pleading to keep reason in a little box, attempting to guard their delusions from it (“Reason is indispensable to daily living…but it just doesn’t apply to the religious ideas in this special category that I’m arbitrarily declaring off limits”).

It should go without saying that the example of the religionist praying to St. Anthony is indistinguishable from the “magician” who thinks that doing rituals will cause him to come into extra money this month.

Other examples are easy enough to come by: the political ideologue who thinks about all issues through the lens of particular set of beliefs; the moralist who filters all of his thoughts through a set of beliefs that he has either imbibed from some other source or (worse for him) thought up on his own; virtually any kind of an “-ist” who sees life through the lens of his “-ism”: all of these people are intimately familiar with path 30, one of the strongest bonds of their self-made prison.

To this path is attributed the Hebrew letter Resh (which means “head” or “beginning”), the Tarot card The Sun, and the planet Sol. The connection of this path to the head – and thus to thought –is obvious, and in the sense of “head” as “beginning,” we might also identify the process symbolized by this path as the root of the ideas of the world contained in Yesod. This notion is supplemented by the solar correspondences, which remind us that the sun is the source of life and the nourisher/maintainer of life: just as the sun nourishes our planet, so too does this path nourish the individual’s internal map of reality by setting up the patterns that lay the foundations for the images in Yesod. We might also consider the sun to represent illumination: specifically in this case, the path might be seen as the illuminating process of discovering the patterns within one’s mental map of reality, thereby breaking the hold that they have over one’s mind.


Path 28: Netzach to Yesod

This path shows the ways that conscious desire influences the mental image of the world, and the ways that the mental image of the world stimulates new conscious desires. Please note that “conscious desire” is used here in contradistinction to True Will. A person may indeed come to desire (consciously) the imaginary objects contained in Yesod, but these desires ultimately prove to be as illusory as their objects. Following such desires is the path to despair and frustration.

Just as path 29 (connecting Netzach and Malkuth) shows how desire influences direct experience/perception and immediate interpretation, so too does path 28 show how desire influences how one conceives of the world and the self.

This path illustrates the emotional aspect of the construction of one’s view of the world and self, as opposed to the rational aspect illustrated by path 30. Where path 30 shows, for example, the religionist building up an image of the world by reasoning on the back of his ideas and expectations (what he thinks is the case), path 28 shows that same religionist adding details to that imaginary world on the basis of his desires (what he wants to be the case).

The paths often work together to create delusion. A person may construct an image of the world as involving life after death (complete with the mental image of souls flying off to their great reward). This idea of the world, including the mental image of it, is contained in Yesod. Path 28 shows how the individual’s desires lead to that image: the individual might simply *want* to live in a world where there is life after death and does not *want* to live in a world where death is the end. This desire actually feeds into Hod (through path 27) as much as into Yesod (through path 28). In Yesod, the desire produces the fantasy of the soul going to an afterlife of some sort; in Hod, the desire takes root as a pattern (dying results in living again). The pattern in Hod is funneled down into Yesod through path 30, bolstering the fantasy through reason (one such argument that the person might employ is “Nature moves in patterns of death and rebirth; humans are part of nature; humans must also move in patterns of death and rebirth: this logic confirms that there must be life after death!”).

The above paragraph barely scratches the surface of the complicated interchanges between these paths surrounding the construction of such a faulty, delusive idea of the world. Through paths 31, 29, and 32, these faulty ideas then further color the individual’s direct experience and interpretation of the world, which in turn feed back into the Sephiroth 7-9 and strengthen the delusive fantasy.

To path 28 is attributed the letter Tzaddi (which means “fish hook”), the tarot card The Emperor (under Crowley’s new attributions, as suggested by AL I:57), and the astrological sign Aries. The purpose of a fish hook is to pull the fish away from its natural habitat, and one of the functions of this path is to pull the individual’s impression of the world and of the self away from the actual world. Notice the difference between Qoph, the back of the head (attributed to path 29), which suggests an interference with direct perception/interpretation, and Tzaddi, the fish hook, which actually pulls the individual along and drags him away from his natural inclinations. The image of strength and authority in The Emperor suggests the power that desire exerts over the individual’s image of the world. It is interesting to note that the rational influence on the individual’s image of the world is attributed to the sun while the emotional influence is attributed to Aries. The rational patterns in Hod actually exert more of a subtle (yet still powerful) influence over the mental pictures of the world than the desires and emotions. Hod nourishes the fantasies by providing the background justification (rationalizations that are often only half-conscious), while desire exerts a lordly dominion over the fantasies. Yet this path is also the key to self-rule, also symbolized by The Emperor: by becoming aware of the influence of the desires of the mind, one comes to rule them instead of being ruled by them.


Path 27: Hod and Netzach

This path is the linchpin that holds together the two halves of the mental map of the world/self, the rational (patterns) and the emotional (desire). It shows how the reason and the emotions are intimately linked to each other, how desire influences the patterns that one develops about the world and how those patterns can shape desire.

In my earlier essay, I suggested that “lust of result” can be attributed here (while the way that this lust influences direct perception might be attributed to 31). What “lust of result” means, essentially, is that the individual comes to believe that a particular outcome (one particular pattern contained in Hod) will somehow make everything “better” (the desire for a better or ideal world, contained in Netzach). Such lust of result is equal parts reason and desire, and it is maintained by the interplay of path 27.

It’s worth reflecting on how paths 27, 30, and 28 contribute to an individual’s faulty image of self as well as to a faulty image of the world. Since the self-image is part of the individual’s mental map of the world (all contained in Yesod), the self-image comes to be in faulty ways that resemble the formation of other flawed ideas of the world, including religious or “magical” thinking.

For example, a person might get it in his head that it’s “good” to be a “strong and independent person” (a pattern that takes root in Hod). This pattern, perhaps coupled with an emotional need to be loved by the person who planted the pattern (a desire that can be attributed to Netzach) leads to a desire to be strong and independent (Netzach, reinforced through path 27).

These twin forces in Hod and Netzach, held in place and reinforced through 27, each funnel down into Yesod (through 30 and 28) to build up the self-image. The kind of self-image that is constructed depends entirely on what the person encounters in the physical world (10) and how the desires and reason interact with that world and lead the person to interpret that world (paths 31 and 29).

If the person, say, experiences having a weak physical body (10), he might chastise himself and come to revile himself. He will interpret his experiences as “bad” (through path 31) – based on the pattern he has internalized in Hod (8) – and he will see his body as “disgusting” or “contemptible” (through path 29). These ideas get funneled back up to Hod and Netzach through 31 and 29 and form new patterns (“I am weak, I am bad”) and new desires (“I want to become a musclehead jock and get strong”). These new patterns and desires interact (through 27) and blend with existing patterns and desires (including, for example, a desire to win the approval of the loved one who planted the pattern in the first place). Through paths 30 and 28, they funnel down to create a self-image as a weak person who is bad and needs to change, and this image, through path 32, colors all of the person’s impressions of the world. Everything gets interpreted through this lens.

Trying to live up to this faulty self-image is just as destructive as trying to act on a faulty image of the world at large. An individual not actually inclined to become a meathead jock – but who has internalized the self-image of himself as needing to become one – will find dissatisfaction in chasing his image of himself, much as a person who really believes that spirits will help him will find dissatisfaction when he eventually runs up against the cold hard fact that there aren’t such spirits or powers.

To this path is attributed the Hebrew letter Pe (“mouth”), the tarot card The Tower (or “The Blasted Tower”) and the planet Mars. The mouth – responsible for verbal communication and taking in food – is an emblem for the complicated communications between reason and desire, which each to some degree take in the other (“consuming” parts of each other in the process…some patterns are incorporated into new desires, and some desires are built into new patterns). The martial imagery of The Tower and the planet Mars suggests the highly unstable – and even dangerous – nature of the energy that travels along this path. Many times we think of the ego as a solid structure, a formidable foe that is difficult to destroy. The truth is that the ego is always hanging by a thread, always on the verge of collapse: the hard part of vanquishing the ego is realizing how insubstantial it is in the first place. The Tower represents not only the formulation of the ego but its destruction. Becoming aware of this path exposes the ego-making-mechanism for what it is, and the self-image must crumble, as an unstable tower struck by a sudden bolt of illumination.


  1. Path 30 (Resh) and it's tricky tendency for self-confirmation bias has Apollo as it's god which is interesting as Apollo has been associated with clarity of thought, reason and logic as oppose to Dioynisian intoxication.

  2. Apollo is an appropriate god for a path associated with the sun and with the influence of reason on the internal map. In the sense of being the counterbalance to the Dionysian, Apollo signifies the forces that enable civilization and self-regulation/self-overcoming (the regulation and sublimation of impulses): a key component of this process is the building up of a mental map as a guide. To the extent that we can consider Yesod to be the "subconscious" (and its untamed impulses), Path 30 represents the way that reason tames and masters these impulses.

    Reason in its highest sense (which would correspond to Apollo as representing clarity of thought) is one of the most potent tools at our disposal. The connection of Apollo as the god of art is also suggestive of a link between reason and creativity: it's perhaps interesting to consider that the famous English poet William Wordsworth called the imagination "Reason in her most exalted mood."

    To the extent that Reason can be "tricky," consider that Hod (whose influence on Yesod is transmitted by Path 30) is attributed to Mercury/Hermes, the trickster god and the lord of communication. Reasoning and communicating often involve confusion to some extent. Mythologically speaking, Apollo isn't entirely about clarity himself: consider the cryptic messages of his Oracle at Delphi, whose misinterpretations have been the driving force of more than one myth.

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  5. Re; "The connection of Apollo as the god of art is also suggestive of a link between reason and creativity." Apollo is the god of music, healing and poetry and is of course, a product of Ancient Greece. Interesting how the Greeks had a god of wild intoxication which plays a part in inspiring art but Apollo is made dichotomous to him. This makes sense as it is fitting that all of those three art forms (poetry, medecine/healing and music) need Hod/ science in order to be fully expressed or realized. For example even in ancient Greece, music was becoming structured and mathematical as oppose to chaotic "primitive" frenzied rhythms of "savages."
    Obviously medicine, (often classed both as an art or a science) involves diagnosis (and the caduceus of Hermes is still used as a symbol of the medical profession.) Finally, it goes without saying that poetry requires Hod's communication-storehouse and linguistic structures for it to be anything other than meaningless drivel. In fact rhyme is a clever reorganization of the everyday usage of words.

    Crowley called poetry, "the geyser of the unconscious." If we take "the unconscious" in this case to be Yesod then we can see how Hod and Apollo draw out the gold from Yesod in the art of poetry.

    Overall, in that sense then, Apollo is of course strongly related to Hod.

  6. Thank you for writing this (as well as your other articles) Los. This particular triad has long been fascinating to me, as I find myself falling in its snares fairly regularly only to later realize it.

    'Lust for Result' is often only talked about in those D&D-like 'ceremonial magick' scenarios. But here, you describe it in a far more true-to-life light (supporting the position that Crowley was often using ceremonial magick as a metaphor). Ever bought something and later felt buyer's remorse? Lust for Result. Joined an occult order? Lust for Result. Thought that if you study just one more Crowley book you'll become enlightened and finally be at peace? Lust for Result. If only the Democrats would have the majority... etc, etc, etc. You can substitute about anything here, and it all ends up the same - the rational and desire natures colluding and you (well me) believing them.

    Thanks again.

    1. Thank you for writing this (as well as your other articles) Los.

      You are most welcome. More articles are on their way soon-ish.

      This particular triad has long been fascinating to me, as I find myself falling in its snares fairly regularly only to later realize it.

      It seems that all healthy minds naturally fall into these snares. Realizing it after the fact is a step toward ameliorating their influence. The real trick is to catch yourself in the moment while you're in the process of falling into the snare. Unfortunately, that's much easier said than done. There's no quick fix, and there's no substitute for just hunkering down and doing the work (and, obviously, by "doing the work," I'm not talking about those D&D-style ceremonies).

      Ever bought something and later felt buyer's remorse? Lust for Result. Joined an occult order? Lust for Result. Thought that if you study just one more Crowley book you'll become enlightened and finally be at peace? Lust for Result.

      Yep. It's the "if only" mentality. "If only I had a higher-paying job. If only I could find a romantic partner. If only I could spiritually attain. *THEN* my problems would go away!"

      Overcoming "lust of result" is basically just the process of figuring out that your mind is lying to you when it tells you those things.

      If only the Democrats would have the majority...

      I'm with ya. If only a liberal politician had a spine....

      Anyway, I appreciate all your comments. I'm glad at least a few people are finding this material worthwhile. I think if nothing else, these essays should demonstrate that there's a lot of great insights that the Tree of Life has to offer.