The “Four Worlds” in Qaballah

The Greek Tectractys is a symbolic arrangement of 10 points, on 4 levels incorporated into astrological symbolism from Pythagorean and Gnostic schools which includes alphabetical and numerical attributes from Hebrew, Greek and Latin sources. Each level denotes an elemental attribute, from fire, air, water, and earth. However, the total of the numbers assigned to the 16 Court Cards refer to the Qaballistic letters IHVH or YHVH, an abbreviation of the Holy Name of God (Jove, Yahweh or Jehovah). Using the Hebraic values therefore 10+15+21+26 = 72, which is the magical number that defines the Sun’s retrograde path due to equinoctial precession through the zodiac at the rate of 1 degree every 72 years. Coincidentally the 360 degrees of the circle when divided by 5 =72°, the internal angle of the pentagon. There were 72 human languages from the time of Babel and 72 scribes appointed to record them. The average human pulse rate is also 72 beats per minute and the Periodic Table consists of 72 elements. There are also 72 Angels and Archangels recorded in the Key of Solomon (Goetia). An alphabetic calendar, as described by Robert Graves and thought to have been of Egyptian or Druidic origin, consists of 5 seasons with 72 days in each composed of 3 x 24 day months. In the beginning of the Christian era it took 72 Alexandrian Jewish scribes 72 days to complete the writing of the 5 books of Moses (Septuagint). In effect this mystical number (7+2 =9) unites the macrocosm with the microcosm and permeates the philosophical ideals of Hermeticism, Alchemy & Ceremonial Magic. This formula or equation is unique in the definition of the “Four Worlds” although they are also attributed to the four traditional elements.

The words (ALPHA, LIBRA & OMEGA) have 5 letters and each ending in A, the first letter of the alphabet, when alpha and omega are added together they come to 108 (a number of some significance ie: 9×12), or the 36 decans of astrological lore. From a Pythagorean point of view letters and numbers were in effect interchangeable for magical or mystical interpretation. When tabulated in a particular way they could then become ciphers or keys in a secret code – this being very useful if you wished to communicate an idea, message or word while keeping your enemies in the dark. *Note: I will discuss these cipher systems in a future post on the “Masonic Ciphers & Symbolism in Shakespeare”.

Herein is also contained the idea of the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, in purely numerical terms but which has some echoes in the Greek and Latin alphabets as well as in Tarot symbolism. The first and the last letter of the word ALPHA (5 letters), which is the first letter of many alphabets was the same as the last, that is as said in the Bible: “The first will be last, and the last shall be first”, however, the last letter of the Greek alphabet was at one time sampi, now an obsolete symbol and much later replaced by *OMEGA (Ω), a more recent character that replaced the old Phoenician “lazy eight”, the symbol of infinity or natural return in the calendrical cycle. This may be a coded reference to the last sign to be included in the zodiac ie Libra, whose sigil bears some similarity to the Greek letter for Omega. There were in fact only ten zodiac signs in ancient astrological systems. In Tarot symbolism the card numbered 8, called Justice is attributed to the sign of Libra. It was exchanged for the Tarot card #Strength for several esoteric reasons. Aleister Crowley named it #Adjustment with no doubt some veiled allusion to an adjustment in the old Pagan calendar every eight years (Orbital Cycles of Venus).

In the Pythagorean Tectractys as I discovered when a friend pointed out a discrepancy in my post defining the 4 Worlds (Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah & Assiah) where the numbers were the real abstract framework upon which the human visceral world was literally underpinned almost as if numbers acted as allusions, metaphors and secret ciphers.

The Hindus similarly were mindful of the number of orifices in the human body, the number of upper and lower limbs, why spiders and octopuses had 8 legs and butterflies only six. All these matters from the phenomenal and numinous world were of great importance and significance in the comprehension of natural and supernatural number. Pythagoras further defined human personality types and other correspondences empirically through the basic number values for example;

  1. Number One (Monad) the intuitive type (fire)
  2. Number Two (Dyad), the rational/logical type (air)
  3. Number Three (Triad), the imaginative/emotional type (water)
  4. Number Four (Tetrad), the pragmatic/materialistic type. (earth)

The Pythagorean Tectractys connotes the following attributes for the Tarot:

Yod (I) – No 1 Energy (Fire) Nos 1-9 (Ennead) Value 10 Knight (Spiritual Dimension)
He (H) – No 2 Vapour (Air) Letters A – I Value 5 *Queen (Intellectual Dimension)
Vau (V) – No 3 Liquid (Water) Letters J – R Value 6 King (Emotional Dimension)
Heh (H) – No 4 Matter (Earth) Letters S – Zero Value 5 Knave or Page (Physical Dimension)

*Note the element of Air becomes attributed to the Queens and not to the Kings. Essentially, the elements in the Tectractys are more directly linked in the phenomenal world to the 4 humours, Choleric (Fire), Phlegmatic (Water), Sanguine (Air), Melancholic (Earth). In Tarot they are linked to the numinous world. They resurface again in the 20th century finding their equivalence to the Jungian Hypothesis of 4 Archetypal personalities or existential powers which manifest within us as:

Intuition (Fire), Intellect (Air), Feeling (Water), and Sensation (Earth).

Therefore numbers could be expressed as hieroglyphs or symbols denoting their values, qualities and symbolic attributes. In Pythagoras‘ view numbers were primarily categorised as masculine and feminine, ie; possessing odd and even values, however, the number one was later considered an androgyny (ref: Aristotle) possessing both odd and even properties, since when added to an even number they always produced an odd number and when added to an odd number always produced an even number. Furthermore, every number of the series 1-9 is always half of the 2 numbers adjacent to it in the natural series. That is, 5 is half of 4 + 6, and is even half of those numbers adjacent to the previous numbers eg: 5 is half of 3 + 7 and 2 + 8.

The Tectractys was perceived by the ancient Greeks as the missing capstone on the Great Pyramid of Egypt, and their corresponding letters were ordered to reflect the name of God (THEOS) just as the Hebraic was ordered to define the Holy Name of God (IHVH). The reason being that the tenth letter in their scheme was I (Yod & Iota respectively). However, In the English alphanumeric code the tenth letter is J not I which presented a problem. This was overcome by attributing the same value to I and J as well as U and V in the English alphabet right up until the 17th century. This revision left the occultists devising a suitable alternative name of GOD for the Christian Qaballah ie; Jehovah (Yahweh in some texts) instead of IHVH leaving the identical number value as 26 for both the Jewish and English Qaballah.

Therefore, the order and sequence of the elements may vary from one system or tradition to another according to whether they are defined hierarchically, chronologically, directionally, in elevation (high to low) within the subtle body or purely in an archetypal sense. The sequence employed in Qaballistic circles for the purposes of ceremonial magic for example is fire, water air, and earth although other variations or combinations are also possible. This sequence mirrors that of the Tree of Life, not the physical body or the directions of space.

Therefore the “Four Worlds” of Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah and Assiah defined in Tarot Symbolism are not linked directly to the 4-fold nature of the Greek numbered Tetractys. Each world is not a static element or fixed idea, although intuitively and logically linked to many other things, they are rather like platforms and stages, or evolving functions and processes. Some scholars such as William Eisen (Cabala of Astrology) describe them as planes of consciousness. In many traditional decks the background colours of the cards are often symbolic keys to the association of any card to one of these “symbolic worlds”. In other decks they simply allude to the four mundane elements, although often veiled or confused with their esoteric shades. Several alternative renditions are given for the 4-letter formula IHVH, sometimes YHVH, or JHWH. In the Book of Thoth Aleister Crowley describes a sequence in his ceremonial magic as follows:

“With the wand he createth,
With the cup he preserveth,
With the dagger he destroyeth
And with the coin he redeemeth”

In her book “The Secrets of the Tarot” Barbara Walker points out that in magical ritual the male and female elements/letters are more auspicious and benign when they alternate rather than being grouped into contrasting male and female divisions where they are likely to come into conflict. As we shall see in each of these “worlds” there is a Tree of Life connected mystically with each other like Russian Dolls. Moreover they are akin to interdependent states or planes of consciousness that the adept encounters via the transitional spheres of The Moon (Yesod) & Pluto (Daath) and symbolise the 4 Powers or Tetramorphs of the Magus or enlightened being, namely:- “To Will (Lion), To Dare (Eagle), To Know (Man) and to be Silent (Bull).” It should be noted that in Egyptian and Arthurian mythology it is the magical union of the Cornish Queen (Igerna) with the Welsh Knight (Uthur Pendragon) which results in the birth of a child (*Arcturus) just as the Egyptian goddess Isis is conjoined with Osiris which results in the birth of Horus. Assisted of course with the help of Merlin the Magician. The magical formula of these unions continues with Morgana (Princess/Assiah), having obtained the magic words or spell from Merlin so she can transform herself into the image of Igerna in order to seduce Arcturus and thereby give birth to his future protagonist Mordred (Seth). He therefore represents a 5th element or world, the union of Atziluth & Assiah. *The anomalies seem to result out of some poorly chosen nomenclature for the term Knight (Atziluth) and Guinevere (Briah) that result in the new-born son or Prince Arthur (Yetzirah). Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthurian episode actually has a Greek origin and is synonymous with the history of Alexander the Great supposedly the son of Phillip of Macedon and his wife Olympiades but in reality he was the magical child of a mysterious or adulterous union of Olympiades (Phillip’s wife) and a Magus from Egypt, Nectanebus who transformed himself into a serpent (Ammon) then sexually deceived Phillip’s wife and so, magically impregnated gave birth to a miraculous and powerful ruler of the ancient world.

The following is an exploration of each dimension or plane of consciousness from a variety of symbolic perspectives:

YOD = The assertive/active principle, egoic spirit, essence, ruach, prana, pneuma, Purusha (undifferentiated consciousness), the hieroglyphic letter signifying a hand, that which holds and forms matter. The Father, the Old King, the rod of Moses (Lingam), The Old Testament, the spermatozoa, the Sun, the I am and AUM, beginning and end. The Divine World (“I am”). Element – Fire, Numbers 1.

HEH = The receptive/passive principle, the womb of the Great Mother (Yoni), the Queen, the Moon, Vesica Piscis, the hieroglyphic letter signifying a window, an aperture, the senses through which the active principle permeates into the lower worlds. The New Testament, Prakriti (undifferentiated matter), the unfertilised embryo, the Non-ego, without beginning or end. The Ideal World (“I am not”). Element – Water, Numbers 2, 3.

VAU = The creative/mediating principle, The Earth, the Son, the Prince Regent, the hieroglyphic letter signifying a nail, or hook from which things may be held together or suspended. The Book of Psalms, Matter and Spirit in the process of differentiation, a pendulum or fulcrum. Neutrality, reconciliation, the Child, the fertilised embryo, the ripened seed in germination or incubation. The Chemical World (“I am Body”). Element – Air, Numbers 4, 5, 6.

HEH (final) = The material/pragmatic principle, the Divine Child, the Princess in waiting, the Book of Proverbs. Through the action and reaction of the previous forces the materialising/realistic principle, Organic Life, manifestation, synthesis, fusion, completion, realisation of the previous 3 principles as another embodiment, three-in-one. The foetus developing in the womb, the ripening seed. The Organic World (“I am Body, Spirit & Soul”) Element – Earth, Numbers 7, 8, 9 & 10.

Therefore, numerically, through theosophical extension and contraction, whereby the original returns to “that” made wholly manifest and vice versa (principle of involution & evolution), this idea is demonstrated through the numbers 1, 2, 3, & 4 =10 (addition of 1st 4 numbers); therefore in the archetypal world YOD corresponds to 1 (*0-spirit/fire), HEH to the creative world (5 -water, ie: division, a third of that which could not be divided equally *15), and then by addition to that already derived 10 + 5 = 15 (1+5=6). Then the next letter VAU corresponds to the formative world 6 (1+2+3=6), therefore 15 + 6 = 21 (air). Finally, the HEH final (one of six in the Jewish alphabet) corresponds to the material world (7), so 3 (2+1)+7+15, plus the original ONE (yod), equates to a return to Unity, 26. The number 26=2+6=8 is equivalent to the 8th sphere (Splendour) attributed to yod and the 9th trump #The Hermit or hermaphrodite and incidentally to #The Star (1+7=8), the androgyne woman with 2 urns behind whom is depicted a stellated octagon (the Pleaides*Ursa Major) a veiled reference to the pole star (currently Polaris). This constellation was of great significance to the Atlantean civilisation. We now know that Ursa Major has in fact 8 stars, one derives from a binary originally thought to be a lone star, hence 1+7 or 17 equates with The Star in Tarot. The 20th path of the Hermit, emanating from the sphere of #4. Chesed (Mercy) towards #6. Tiphereth (Beauty) sits conveniently between 8 & 11 as a mediating or guiding principle, indicating perhaps the wisdom of old age as well as wholeness and perfection.

A Simple Analogy:

To elucidate the sequence pertaining to the Manifestation of the Four Worlds, a simple analogy may throw some light or understanding onto the process. We might take for example the natural world or plant kingdom with those species that develop seeds or spores (Atziluth), the seed when placed in the earth becomes convergent or divergent depending on whether it can extract the nutrients from the soil with the help of enough water and sunshine. If successful at this point the seed splits into two processes developing roots and then leaves (Briah). From this stage it begins to develop stems and leaves that assist in photosynthesis (Yetzirah). After a period of time flowers emerge which when fertilised develop fruit (Assiah) that give rise to the development of more seeds or kernels. This process then continues to repeat itself until a difference in its’ genetic blueprint creates another hybrid that signals a change in its appearance or growth process through natural evolution. If we look at the most primitive of plants for example Ferns, they will produce spores that float in the wind and then settle onto the ground thereby enabling it to reproduce itself. However, if we move into another dimension of the plant kingdom, say the fungal world, we see that the spores of mushrooms can form symbiotic, epiphytic or parasitic relationships with other organisms in the natural world. The world of lichens is formed by the interaction of algae with a variety of fungal spores and they find their nutrients from rocks or trees to grow into a variety of differing species of lichen. Lichens are nutrient rich that can be used in natural medicine but they are often eaten by reindeer in the winter months when grass is scarce. The reindeer in turn are hunted by humans for the benefits of food and the manufacture of their skins into clothing or footwear. Therefore in this study of the plant kingdom we have been transported from there to the fungal kingdom and from that to the mammalian kingdom through to the human kingdom.

The links to my current publications, on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy; “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” and an anthology of poetry “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,