In his 1975 book The Tarot, one of my favorite studies of the esoteric and psychological constitution of the Major Arcana, Richard Cavendish mentions while describing the Chariot that “numerologically the number Seven governs the underlying rhythms of the universe.” While modern physics would probably demur, from a metaphysical standpoint I see that fluctuation more as a binary proposition; any cyclical perturbation of the Cosmos that could be termed “rhythmic” suggests an alternating expansion and contraction that must be sustained by some wave-like current of numinous force with its peaks and troughs, such as that symbolized by the yin-and-yang principle of Chinese mysticism. Be that as it may, in practice I have always subscribed to Aleister Crowley’s assumption that the seventh sephira of the qabalistic Tree of Life, Netzach, is more an “energy sink” than a metaphorical “pulse generator” — in his words, “doubly unbalanced; off the middle pillar, and very low down on the Tree;” in short, more enervated than energized by its objectification. He goes on to add that, because the purity of Venus is degraded in this position, “The four sevens are not capable of bringing any comfort; each one represents the degeneration of the element. Its utmost weakness is exposed in every case.” Here I am expanding on those observations by considering the “rhythmic” interrelationship of the paired numbers Seven and Eight, and to a lesser extent the integrative influence of the Nine.
Crowley and his Golden Dawn peers held that as elemental energy descends the Tree it becomes increasingly corrupted by its mundane engagement. In her excellent book, Tarot Decoded, Elizabeth Hazel builds on this, saying “The number 7 is mystic and deep. The beauty of the number 6 is beginning to erode. The spiritual quality and character of each element is being tested at this point in the numeric sequence.” Isabel Kliegman observes in The Tarot and the Tree of Life that the seventh sephira, in departing the harmonious equilibrium of Tiphareth, represents taking a step in a new direction, but not without having to carefully prepare for that first step in order to avoid stumbling right out of the gate and going astray.
For his part, Henry Cornelius Agrippa — while ultimately pontificating on the “holy” nature of the number — walked through the “factoring” of the seven (via what Joseph Maxwell called “isomorphs): 6+1; 5+2 and 4+3 all add to 7. It is the first of these that interests me here; 6+1 imposes a surfeit that disrupts but also discharges the complacency of the number Six. Maxwell posited that inserting a “1” into any combination introduces a “new unity,” thus offering an opportunity to step away cleanly from the involute nature of its more entrenched partner. (We might think of it as a symbolic “chick pecking its way out of the shell,” an analogy that is echoed in the mutable expression 4+3.) Agrippa’s religious persuasions seem to form much of the basis for the modern view that Seven is an entirely positive number, something that I’ve never bought into. However, he does go on to exhaustively explain the repetition of the number Seven in 22 stages during the course of a human life, from conception all the way through to death. His math seems a little shaky at times and he skips a couple of milestones in the later years of life, but there is a certain logic to his rhythm (or rhythm to his logic).
In pondering all of this in terms of the “rhythms of the universe,” it strikes me that the energy of the 7, as it leaves the “safe haven” of Tiphareth, resembles an unstable “wave of becoming” and, with Venus riding its crest, that could become a “joyride” that may not end well. Crowley could never restrain himself from delighting in the erotic implications of Venus, so the rhythm being contemplated here has a decidedly sexual feel to it. (Witness Crowley’s take on the 7 of Cups, titled “Debauch,” portraying “invariable weakness arising from loss of balance” that suggests the slightly addled Venusian experience of falling in love, or at least “in lust.”) In another sense, irresistible “birth contractions” may be a more fitting way to grasp the nature of these rhythms.
It seems to me that the “passing fancy” of Venus could be put to much better use than merely plotting one’s next romantic conquest. The noblest approach to this transient vibration could lie in trying to figure out how to evolve beyond its capricious mystique and take it to a more profound level of creativity, elevating its Libran finesse over its courser, more sensual Taurean impulses. That’s hard to do from the vantage point of Netzach, swimming against the current as it were if we attempt to turn back and figuratively re-enter the generative nexus of Tiphareth for a fresh start. Unless we take on the daunting mission of ascending the Tree from the ground floor, there is some truth in the aphorism “You can never go home again.” Consequently, we are left to rationalize our sentimental imperfections and indiscretions in the cerebral domain of Mercury, the eighth sephira of Hod, and then to reconcile that accounting in the Lunar sphere of Yesod and the Nines.
Elizabeth Hazel’s assumption that Seven and Eight are mystical and palliative numbers, respectively, doesn’t square well with the qabalistic view of “the Descent of Spirit into Matter” exemplified by the Tree of Life. Transmuting “force” into “form,” spiritual energy becomes more enmeshed in physical reality and therefore more stable and reliable but also more constrained in its fluidity of expression the further it travels down the Tree. Reversing that inexorable trend toward inertia in our own lives is a masterful feat of self-transformation and liberation, a transcendent act of Will that most of us aren’t able to pull off the older we get. Consider carefully Crowley’s observation that the Sevens (and by extension the Eights) are destabilized and encumbered by their position on the Tree and Maxwell’s characterization of the odd numbers as seeking balance, implying that they lack such innate fulfillment, while the even numbers are striving to remain poised under the transfiguring pull of external change. We could say that the deck is stacked against us at this point in our personal evolution due to the baggage we’re hauling.
Both the Sevens and Eights are caught in the onrushing, downward spiral of devolution (which Crowley described as “the gradual exhaustion of the original whirling energy”) following the momentary respite of the Sixes. They imply a sloughing off of the outworn excrescences of the Sixes and a struggle to revitalize the elemental flux in a coherent and pragmatic way. In the overall scheme of things, they give the unmistakable impression that “the bottom is about to fall out” after the pleasant interlude of the Sixes, or maybe that a purging “flush” is imminent; even at their best they aren’t especially promising cards in most of the suits. In developmental terms, a pendulum-like deflection has been imparted by the detour into the chimerical excess of Venus that finds its opposite extreme in the dispassionate Mercurial realm of Hod and the Eights, and that does not return to dynamic equilibrium (of sorts) until the ninth sphere of Yesod is reached.
Hazel considers the Sevens to represent a “need to clarify,” and a “test” of the stabilizing urge of the Solar Sixes that may have outlived its usefulness, while the reactionary Eights signify a partial restoration of the balance lost in the process, suggesting a corrective excursion of redirected force that may over-compensate. (She also calls Eight the “sum of effort,” expressing the concept of “4+4.”) Although his pronouncements were often harsh, Crowley made a vivid observation in this regard. The Seven, he proposed when speaking of the suit of Cups, represents a “corruption” of the stagnant bounty of the Six that no longer serves the purpose of elemental expansion, signaling a systemic breakdown of what the Greeks called the “second perfection.” The Eights complete the alchemical analogy by symbolizing “putrefaction” or a cleansing reduction of the wastage left by the Seven in order to reinstate the conditions for further refinement of the energy (perhaps through a Mercurial force of will rather than the gentler regenerative powers of Venus). What follows is an eventual purification and “re-centering” of the elemental energy in the Lunar Nines (the Greeks’ “third perfection”). A telling analogy is that of agricultural manure, which is a toxic bacterial sludge when spread, but through the mellowing agencies of time and weather transforms into a stellar fertilizer.
The Sevens embody complexities and conflicting impulses. As odd numbers, they represent a post-apocalyptic echo of the fiercely disruptive Fives that eliminated all obstacles to emanation of the Sixes. If the Martial Fives “break eggs to make omelets,” the Venusian Sevens rummage through the stale remnants of the Sixes in search of that last morsel of ham. A high degree of bedeviling detail coupled with being pulled in different directions by circumstances can result in not being able to “see the forest for the trees,” which in turn can stall progress until all is sorted out. The Eights come under the sway of Mercury, so their method is predominantly mental, and their unbalanced, low-energy state makes their signature mode of expression anxiety, or in slightly more constructive terms, obsession with petty details. Unproductive vacillation or frittering away of energy are other possibilities. Together, they “check and adjust” one’s advancement.
Thus, the experience of the Sevens and Eights in series can be likened to that of learning to ride a bicycle. Leaving the comfortable stability of the Sixes behind, one first wobbles this way (Seven) and then that (Eight). One is an unnerving departure from balance and the other is a corrective “steering” — and perhaps “over-steering” — maneuver. The first is a “gut” reaction (“Oh no, I’m going to fall!”) resulting in an uncontrolled jerk of the handlebars, while the second is a quick mental calculation of how much to jerk them back in the other direction. The outcome is a swerving path that hopefully spells forward progress and not skinned elbows and knees should it bottom out painfully in the Nine!