“Adam Kadmon” — The Tarot and the Tree of Life*

There is a qabalastic tradition that places an image of the male human body within the structure of the Tree of Life, such that the ten spheres (or Sephiroth) of the Tree relate to different parts of the “heavenly” physique. This image is known as “Adam Kadmon,” or the Primordial Man. The most common contemporary version views the figure from behind as a projection of our own anatomy, facing into the Tree with the Pillar of Mercy at the right hand and the Pillar of Severity at the left hand. But the one I learned many years ago from James Sturzaker’s book, Kabbalistic Aphorisms, has Adam Kadmon standing within the Tree and looking out such that the administration of justice comes under the authority of the active right hand (the “sword hand”) and kindly acts of benevolence and protection are the province of the passive (non-dominant) left hand or “shield hand.” Here is a representative illustration.

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I am neither Jewish nor a scholar of the Hebraic Kabbalah, so I relate best to Sturzaker’s Hermetic model, which suggests that the traditionally dominant right arm embodies the concept of “Severity” and the non-dominant left arm expresses “Mercy” better than the Judaic model which holds that God “smites with his left hand” and dispenses clemency with his right hand. Many theological mystics maintain that we should contemplate the Tree as if we are projecting ourselves into it, which places the left arm at Geburah and the right arm at Chesed, essentially superimposing our stance on that of Adam Kadmon. However, it makes more sense to me that our earthly bodies will more faithfully convey our symbolic descent from Adam Kadmon if we assume that we are stepping out of the Tree into physical manifestation, with the archetypal being peering over our shoulder and giving us a nudge from behind. It strikes me as hubris to imply that Adam Kadmon mimics us rather than we him. I would argue that, in a figurative sense, God’s presence emanates head-on and face-forward through the living Tree and into the phenomenal world, and doesn’t back into it apologetically as the conventional perspective seems to imply. I have a hard time imagining a vengeful Hebrew God swinging that “terrible swift sword” with the off-hand, unless he happens to be a southpaw. Here is a picture which reflects the dueling ideologies in this regard:

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Here is another illustration from a tarot spread of mine that builds upon the idea of the sword-arm as abrupt and aloof (of the nature of Mars and Mercury) and the shield-arm as more steadfast and embracing (of the nature of Jupiter and Venus). (Note that the astrological assignments in the diagram are unique to my divinatory purpose in this case and are not intended to be consistent with other arrangements described herein.)

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There is also a tradition in astrology that attributes the signs of the zodiac to the human body, starting with Aries at the head and concluding with Pisces at the feet. It isn’t entirely compatible with the qabalistic architecture but follows the same general pattern. The divisions are as follows:

Head: Aries
Throat: Taurus
Lungs, Arms, Hands: Gemini
Stomach: Cancer
Heart: Leo
Digestive Track: Virgo
Kidneys: Libra
Reproductive and Excretory Organs: Scorpio
Thighs: Sagittarius
Knees, Legs: Capricorn
Ankles: Aquarius
Feet: Pisces

There is some disagreement about this alignment between medical astrologers practicing Western methods and those pursuing Vedic traditions, but it is close enough for most purposes. Given the zodiacal distribution, it is possible to insert the Major Arcana cards that correspond to the twelve signs into the design. This produces the following series:

Head: Emperor
Throat: Hierophant
Lungs, Arms, Hands: Lovers
Stomach: Chariot
Heart: Strength
Digestive Track: Hermit
Kidneys: Justice
Reproductive and Excretory Organs: Death
Thighs: Temperance
Knees, Legs: Devil
Ankles: Star
Feet: Moon

Some of these connections are obvious, such as the Emperor as the head or executive function, the Lovers as those upper body regions that exhibit duality or “two-ness,” Strength as the source of our stamina (“heart”) and Death as the realm of reproduction and elimination. Others require more thoughtful deliberation: the Cancer-related Chariot might reflect Napleon’s remark that “an army marches on its stomach” (that is, it must be well-provisioned to advance), while the Hierophant is the gateway between the superior nature (the brain) and the subordinate role of the body. Unless the reader is engaged in a matter involving the health of a querent, these characteristics don’t have a great deal of practical usefulness since most of them can’t be readily translated into situational or psychological terms.

There are also sign-and-ruling-planet pairs that can help to fill out the picture in a less mechanical way: Mars is related to Aries and thus to the Emperor, possibly showing an impulsive or “hot-headed” temperament; Mercury relates to Gemini and the “lower mind” or practical decision-making function, and therefore underlies the discriminating quality of the Lovers; the Sun — ruling Leo and thereby related to Strength — is the engine of all life on Earth, and by association the origin of our circulatory vigor; and the Moon of Cancer, as the reservoir of our emotional responsiveness, can produce digestive upsets as a consequence of stress.

Finally, there is the conventional assignment of the seven original astrological planets and the Earth to the Tree of Life. These are particularly useful when dealing with the attribution of the minor arcana to the Tree. More recent writers have toyed with the idea of placing the three modern planets Pluto, Neptune and Uranus into the pattern starting at the top by including the “hidden” sphere of Da’ath in the layout, but not at all convincingly in my estimation. These planets were unknown to the ancients who devised the Tree of Life, so there is no more reason to include them than there is to factor them into traditional astrological calculations.

Kether: Primum Mobile or “first whirlings” — Aces (Modern: Pluto according to Aleister Crowley)
Chokmah: The Wheel of the Zodiac — Twos and Kings (Modern: Neptune according to Aleister Crowley)
<Da’ath — no traditional attribution; Modern: Uranus according to Aleister Crowley>
Binah: Saturn — Threes and Queens
Chesed: Jupiter — Fours
Geburah: Mars — Fives
Tiphareth: Sun — Sixes and Princes/Knights
Netzach: Venus — Sevens
Hod: Mercury — Eights
Yesod: Moon — Nines
Malkuth: Earth — Tens and Princesses/Pages

*The Tarot and the Tree of Life is the name of a book by Isabel Kliegman that covers the minor arcana in relation to the Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, an excellent work from which I’ve drawn much inspiration once I set aside most of her orthodox cosmology and mythology.

Originally published at http://parsifalswheeldivination.com on October 15, 2018.

I’ve been involved in the esoteric arts since 1972, with a primary interest in tarot and astrology. See my previous work at www.parsifalswheeldivination.com.

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