By Christine Payne-Towler
To understand the provenance of the AAN (Astro-Alpha Numerology) that Etteilla and then Levi passed along to present times, we have to address the Gordian knot of the Greek Alphabet. To do this we will go way back in time to the beginnings of written language in Mesopotamia, and then trace the various changes these sacred alphabets undergo in their progress forward through time.
Let us also at the outset get a few things clear in our minds. We must not allow ourselves to become confused between alphabets and languages. Languages are spoken groupings of meaningful sounds that assemble into a vocabulary for cultural communication. The words of any language can be written in a handful of different modes -- via symbols, characters, hieroglyphs, syllabaries or alphabets. Alphabets represent a particular form of writing, which have the characteristic of being phonetic -- meaning that every letter represents a sound or range of sounds. In phonetic writings, words are defined by the combination of sounds they spell out, no matter what language is being spoken. Therefore an alphabet has the special characteristic that it can be used to notate any number of languages, as long as it contains enough letters to match every sound used in common speech.
Another interesting detail is that all alphabets present themselves in the selfsame a-b-c-d order, with which we are all familiar from pre-school singsong mnemonics. Also note that the same alphabet can be written in multiple scripts, just as we see in advertising and book production to this day.
Connection between Letters and Numbers
History tells us that the connection between letters and numbers happened almost a millennium before the biblical era. This innovation came through a fusion between the letters of the Phoenician alphabet and the whole numbers 1-22. The Phoenician alphabet was first invented and put into use by this sea-trading nation in the 1100's BCE, becoming established in the Babylon of Sargon II, circa 720 BCE. My friend Dr. Lewis Keizer, an inspiring scholar with a PhD. in ancient Biblical languages, assures me that the Babylonians could not have developed such an astro-alphabethical canon before the Phoenicians invented their alphabet, because the Babylonians used the Akkadian cuneiform script, which has many more characters than an alphabet and is not phonetic. (Cuneiform is entirely another species of writing, by no means matchable point-by-point to the Phoenician alphabet.) The Babylonians already possessed their canon of god-names bearing mathematical values and astrological co-ordinates, but they did not have the alphabet that would catalogue those things within an organized doctrine of correspondences.
These correspondences were welded together by the Mesopotamian cultures whose astronomical temples had measured out and named the matrix of our cosmos, including signs and planets, letters, numbers, harmonics, and all forms of religious and magical liturgies, or Theurgy. At their root and origin, the Letters are both numbers and sounds that provide the contact-points between the Macrocosm and the Microcosm.
Mesopotamian Magical Liturgics
An evocative passage taken from the wonderful, dense Ancient and Oriental Music gives us a sense of the antiquity of this cosmological model (Volume 1 of a 7-volume History of Music printed 1957, reprinted 1960, Oxford University Press):
"Quite early we find the peoples of the 'fertile crescent' in the possession of an elaborate cosmic system in which there existed a spiritual inter-relation between the entire macrocosm and microcosm, a belief which gave birth to tenets which were known later as the "harmony of the spheres', the 'doctrine of the ethos', and the 'theory of numbers'.... In Mesopotamia, number was something more than a mathematical unit; it was believed that number in itself possessed an active force, having properties that were sacred attributes."(P 246-247)
In the ancient magical liturgies of Mesopotamia, the numbers were combined to express relationships between Deities, through forming ratios that correspond to the core tenets of harmonic theory. So we can add the phonetics or spoken sounds of the letters (and the harmonics they form when combined with the vowels) to the ancient astro-alphanumeric canon. The idea is this; a given divine Name, corresponding to a planet, sign, or element of our Cosmology, is expressed as a word made up of conjoined sounds, which when intoned liturgically, will set up a frequency that evokes the called-out entity into our ritual via the unique harmonics of its Name. So the sound is a letter that's a number vibrating with the qualities and entities of the cosmos (signs and planets).
Phoenician Alphabet inspires both Hebrew and Greek Alphabets
The Hebrew astro-alphanumeric canon (The Sefir Yetzira), though written down in final form in late Alexandrian times (2nd or 3rd century AD), had a much older origin. Oral tradition has it that after the Jews left captivity in Babylon (538 BCE), they brought with them what they had learned in Babylon about Astrology and the keeping of clocks and calendars. We see distinct alphabet-mysticism built into the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), so we can know that the AAN tradition was well-entrenched four or five centuries BCE, as those gospels were becoming canonical for the Hebrew worldview.
The selfsame Phoenician alphabet is the basis of the Greek alphabet too, though this seems to have happened hundreds of years later for the Greeks than for the pre-Hebrew Semites. In both cultures, the style of denominating numbers for the letters was picked up whole and quickly became common practice. Kieren Barry in his recent The Greek Qabalah stands with Fideler in feeling that the Greeks invented the numerals for the alphabet, back in the eighth cen. BCE (p 21). But since this is roughly contemporaneous with the time the number/letter canon was established in Babylon, I see little conflict in these testimonies. I also see no reason to believe that the pre-Hebrew Semitic peoples would fail to apprehend the logic of linking the Babylonian planets, signs, and elements to the letters, just as soon as they had access to the system.
The book I most often recommend as a proof-text on this topic is Jesus Christ, Sun of God, by David Fideler, p. 26-7. However the provenance of the number-letters is a subject that still attracts lively debate, so there are multiple opinions to study and sift. Fideler seems to think the Hebrews learned these correspondences from the Greeks in the Alexandrian synthesis. However, what I read in Aryeh Kaplan's Sefir Yetzira indicates that letter-numbers were standard practice among the Hebrews long before the Greeks picked up this usage. Yes, it is true that some of the ideas and specialized vocabulary characteristic of the Alexandrian Synthesis entered into the Hebrew lexicon at that time, as Gershom Sholem has made mentioned repeatedly. However, if Kaplan's research on the Sefir Yetzira is correct, and the SY was "the premier astrological textbook of the ancients" as he says, then we should find distinct links of this kind (which we do) in the names, spellings, and numerology of the God-names given to the Planets, Elements and Signs in all these different ancient alphabet-denominated languages. (Fideler concentrates on the correlations between Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, which are perfect for our cause, as these were the liturgical and theurgical languages of the Renaissance Magi.)
To synthesize of all these testimonies, let's just accept as a given that the ancient world's core framework of astro-alphanumeric correspondences (including numbers, spheres, planets, signs, degrees, ratios, Names, elements and directions impacting all the "things" of the elemental world, animal vegetable or mineral) was originally brought into alignment when the values of Babylonian Astrology/Astronomy were grafted onto the number-letters of the Phoenicians by the Mesopotamian peoples, before the era when the Hebrews first defined themselves as a separate nation or tribe.
If we doubt how pivotal this synthesis has been for Western civilization, let's quote Barry again. Right at the outset of his book he informs us that "... the 22-letter North Semitic alphabet became the source of almost every script used in the world today, except those of the Far East... Among the alphabetic scripts of the world that can be traced to this one original parent alphabet are Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Russian, Latin, Runes, Gothic, English, Mongol, Tibetan, Korean, and Sanskrit." (p. 7-8). This number-letter canon sits at the foundation of all the language arts across Western Civilization.
Variations between Versions of the Alphabet
And yet, the canon was not entirely uniform from alphabet to alphabet. As mentioned above, nuances of the spoken languages employing the alphabet would have to sneak into the original 22-letter mother-pattern as the alphabet became adapted to one language after another. Greek has 24 letters, so right there, it is obvious there will be some differences. The most relevant difference is the switch-around of correspondences within two sets of Planetary Letters, the pairs Jupiter/Sun and Mars/Venus. The Hebrew correspondences show the switch in one variant, the (so-called) Greek/Alexandrian correspondences show it another. In point of fact, the Greek/Alexandrian pattern is the one that has been associated with the Tarot cards for as long as users have made an alphabetic connection between the numbers of the Trumps and the AAN letters.
The entry on the Greek Alphabet in Hulse's The Key of It All, Vol. 2, gives us some thoughts about the Greek/Alexandrian system. Hulse promotes the theory that the abovementioned switch in the correspondences represents Pythagoras’ so-called "secret alphabet reform", an effort undertaken in the 6th century BCE to re-align the Greek number/letter correspondences with the Hebrew. I was thrilled to read about this, and promptly solicited confirmation from Dr. Keiser that the alphabet reform was a reality. However, he scoffed at the idea that Pythagoras was involved, or that Pythagoras looked to Hebrew lore for anything whatsoever! Whichever way that discussion turns out, this is the only clue I have suggesting the point when the Jupiter/Sun placements and the Mars/Venus placements were defined for the Greek alphabet in a way that diverges from the Hebrew.
Is it Greek/Alexandrian or Graeco-Babylonian?
Now we can get an idea how hard it is to solve the problem of where this "Greek Variant" came from, relative to the Hebrew Gra standard we have from the Sephir Yetzirah. Where were the Greeks of the 6th century drawing their alphabet correction from, I wonder? Who decided that among the Hebrews #3 (Gimel) is Mars, while among the Greeks, #3 (Gamma) is Venus? Is it original to put the astronomical Sun on #4 (Dalet), with the Sun on #22 (Tav) being the variant? Or is it the other way around? Which came first, the chicken, or the egg?
On p. 94 of John Barnwell's The Arcana of the Grail Angel, the root of the non-Hebrew astro-alphanumeric pattern of the Greeks is explained in this way: (please bear with me here -- his testimony is intertwined with a complicated astronomical point he is trying to make, hence the lacunae)
"...early Initiates of the Kabbalah and its tradition were working with a system that developed.... in harmony with the Greek and Babylonian star-wisdom, and with the teachings of Zaratas and the Chaldean Book of Numbers (Sepher Sefirot)....it is the Graeco-Babylonian system that is the basis for modern astronomy....I am of the opinion that the various traditions... developed out of a common milieu...of the eclectic Neoplatonic and Gnostic teachings that developed out of the traditions of the Aristotelians, esoteric schools which were established by Alexander the Great..."
It seems clear that the thing I am calling the "Greek-Alexandrian" correspondences (referencing the time that these AAN became canonical for European culture), Barnwell is calling the "Graeco-Babylonian" model (referencing the source they were drawn from in history). One title refers to origins, one to destiny, but both of them locate the specific correspondences within the Greek-speaking world. This is the very pattern that comes down through European history to us via the Renaissance Magi, associated with the older Tarots.
Now we have accounted for the two strongest streams of Tarot AAN: the pure-Hebrew Gra arrangement of the letter-numbers (explicated for modern times by Aryeh Kaplan and portrayed on El Gran Tarot Esoterico, in the books by Curtiss & Curtiss, and also on The Tarot of the Ages), versus the "Greek-Alexandrian AAN" (by far the more well-known pattern in European history). This second pattern is the arrangement associated with the Tarots of the Marseilles stream, an arrangement that Etteilla affirms for us in his time, and which Levi asserts was the norm for the Renaissance Magi. This pattern is canonical for the West, as it's built into the Greek text of the New Testament. In present time, this Greek -inflected AAN pattern forms the basis for the contemporary Continental Esoteric Tarots.
(An aside: nowadays one might more accurately divide the Tarot families into the Anglo-Saxon Tarots vs. Romance-Language Tarots, rather than the breakdown I used in 1999, when I delineated them into English, Spanish, and Continental strains. In the long run, a root-language-based nomenclature will likely be seen to conform better with the overall pattern of usage across time and the multiple cultures of the globe.)
Oriental and Occidental AAN
At this point in the discussion, hopefully it is clearer why it was necessary to take such pains to demonstrate that Etteilla’s esoteric teachings on astro-alphanumerics are nothing more or less than the historic "Greek/Alexandrian" AAN. It is incorrect to attribute to Etteilla the creation of a new esoteric paradigm though some still do. (The truly "new" aspect of Etteilla's deck is reflected in the revamped faces he gave his Trumps -- their names, their symbols, their ordering, all re-designed to work with his unique divinatory system, marking a defined special use for his pack.) There has also been a need to differentiate this body of AAN from the Hebrew correspondences promulgated in the Sefir Yetzira. Perhaps we could call the Hebrew pattern the "oriental" variant and the Greek/Alexandrian pattern the "occidental" variant.
However we characterize it, the world-view of the Hermetic Cosmos really changes when you switch the Sun for Jupiter and Mars for Venus! I see these two streams as the Yin and Yang of ancient astro-alphanumerics, the Old Testament stream and the New Testament stream, if you will. These two related patterns are each quite ancient, and both of them are fully grounded in the Mystery School tradition of our ancestors. But their several differences add up to a different slant on the Universe when you make up the Zodiac, or the Kabala Tree, in one system, then the other.
Differentiating the Greek/Alexandrian and the Modern Continental Systems
There is a further subtlety that has to be explicated when studying Levi's amendment to the inherited system: Although the esoteric tradition Etteilla inherited and preserved comprises correspondences coming forward from Antiquity, the most modern of Continental decks represent the amended tradition *after Levi*, who lived and wrote a century subsequent to Etteilla (in the last decades of the 1800's). Levi uses the exact same AAN that Etteilla teaches, except he switches the last two Trumps on the Alphabet. Levi doesn't change the letter order or their astrology or numbers, only the Trumps themselves relative to the astro-alphanumerics. He puts the Fool as Shin and The World as Tav.
Between the Oriental and Occidental traditions of old, one can still keep up the ancient 3/7/12 orientation of the Sefir Yetzira Short Form Tree pattern. However, Levi's adjustment swaps a Mother letter for a double letter, breaking with the coherency of the ancient archetype. So I say the "Greek/Alexandrian" when I mean the Marseilles tradition that Etteilla inherited and perpetuated to his esoteric students, which conforms to the Tree as Agrippa gave it. This is in contrast to Levi's adjustment, including a shift to Kircher's Tree, which pattern has inspired the "Modern Continentalists" (Papus, Wirth, Tomberg, Sadhu, Tavaglione, Scapini, etc.)
Levi's switch illuminates the reason the modern Continental Tarot authors’ reference the Kircher tree considerably more often than the Sefir Yetzirah Tree, even though it is the SY short-form Tree that Agrippa promulgated and the Renaissance magi followed before the time of Kircher. Once Levi's switch is adopted, the Sefir Yetzira's 3/7/12 "Kabala molecule" is disrupted -- a Mother-letter that's traditionally on a horizontal path is switched for a double-letter that's traditionally on a vertical path. In the process of making this shift, Levi adjusted the Occidental correspondences to make his system match better with what he knew of the Oriental system: he restored Primal Fire to the letter Shin. This is not an utterly illogical move. However, he couldn't do it without disrupting the Hebrew Tree, so Kircher's gentile Tree is called forward as an alternate model that does not fall into pieces when these substitutions are made.
I personally think that Levi's "creativity" in this matter is what attracted the attention, admiration and envy of the English Tarot savants Mathers, Wescott and Waite (among others). A spirit of "if he can do it, then we can too" overtook their devotion to historical precedent. This might have been fine if the OGD (Order of the Golden Dawn) system had never been published for the public, but once that happened, something had to be said about this obvious departure from standard practice. That's when the fateful decision was made -- in order not to lose face to the fabrication, certain vital details of history had to be obfuscated and then redacted to fit the newly-proposed system.
In the process of justifying why they made things the way they did in their decks, the OGD apologists very deliberately obscured the previous European traditions (both the Greek and the Hebrew) and promoted a fabrication not only in the realm of their own "lineage", but in the realm of Kabala as well. Because you see, even if you take Kircher's Christian Cabbala tree as "traditional", and you accept the top-down numbering of the Paths to be Kabalistic (which it most emphatically is not!), anybody of those times who was using this model in conjunction with Tarot (which would have been possible just as soon as that model was disseminated, mid 1650's or so), would have put The Magus on path one, High Priestess on path two, The Empress on path three, and so on down the Tree.
Sadly, one will never find the "older tradition" that the OGD founders kept claiming gave them authority to amend the alphabet, although the assiduous searcher will find a confusing welter of variations (or else a fertile realm of inspiration) among the Spanish Kabalists of the 11-1200's CE. In truth, nobody from before the 20th century would recognize the Kircher Tree once the English Letter-number correspondences are put on the paths. Nobody before the OGD would have even thought of doing that to the Hebrew Alphabet, which has had its astro-alphanumeric correspondences set for over three thousand years!
The AAN are Greek/Alexandrian, but the script is in Hebrew!
In Tarot as in life, there's always one more wrinkle to iron out. Note that when we see the Greek/Alexandrian AAN on the older European cards, we still see the script written in Hebrew Letters. Kaplan says that this is because the Jewish correspondences fell into confusion in Europe as a result of the Rabbis' release of spurious redactions of the Sefir Yetzira. These confused and confusing competing editions were meant to throw the encroaching gentile Christian Cabbalists off the scent of the traditional Hebrew Mysteries. And can we blame them? The earliest Christians we know of who were interacting with Hebrew studies were trying to use what they learned to convert the Jews to Christianity. One cannot expect the Middle Ages Jews, already so misunderstood and mistreated, to give the Christians more ammunition to attack them with!
In the case of the Greek AAN, however, this kind of obfuscation never happened. There was no controversy to flog, no motive to create confusion. The correspondences came forward from generation to generation fairly smoothly. These are the correspondences that have felt the most "natural" for the European psyche through the centuries. Therefore, when we look at our Continental Tarot decks, we have to cross-check the Hebrew letters against the Astrology, to see whether the pack in hand uses Hebrew-as-Hebrew (like we see on Fournier's Esoterico deck, the Tarot of the Ages, and the Curtiss books), or whether it's following the more usual Hebrew-used-with-Greek-values. (And of course, in the case of decks like the Kazanlar, the Eclectic, or any other pack that has the correct numbering on the Trumps but doesn't visually specify any particular body of correspondences, you are free to use whichever historical version of the AAN that makes the most sense to you.)
Ordinal versus Decimal values in the Trump Numbers
At a discussion group called TarotL during fall of 1999, I said:
> Since Biblical times Hebrew people everywhere have calculated with Aleph=1. > It is what they teach in their schools, to their children, to this day! And the
> Greek alphabet was adjusted to that canon as well. So any Tarot deck that
> chooses to publish or put on the cards or teach in the LWB that the Trumps
> carry letters from Greek or Hebrew, is burdened with the already-established
> number/letter/astrology correspondences from the Sefir Yetzirah, or the Greek
> adjustment (which served as the norm for the Renaissance Magi.)"
The response coming back from the discussion group brought up the primary rationalization the OGD founders gave to justify their adjustments to the number-letters. The gist of the argument is that there can be no certainty about any AAN correspondences that might have been circulating before Waite/Case/Crowley etc. unveiled their "correction" at the turn of the 1900's. Many people have gotten caught up in this fiction and therefore accepted without question the system being proposed by these redactors. I want people to understand the spuriousness of this line of unreason, and point them back to the traditional usage, if for no other reason than to inform them that they have a range of systems to work with.
This objection hangs on the fact that alphabetic letters usually have two different kinds of numerical correspondences, one of them expressive of Decimal value -- 1 through 10, followed by 20, 30, etc. through the tens to 100, 200, 300 etc. through to 1,000. The other set of number-letter correspondences is expressive of their ordering in the sequence of the 22 letters, which we will discuss below. Some people have been told that the break in the decimal order that opens after card 10 -- where the 11th Trump is given the decimal number 20 and so on -- throws the whole system of letter-number correspondences into disarray.
Ways of Corresponding Numbers to Letters
For the sake of people who have been weaned on this deliberate obfuscation, let's listen again to Kieren Barry's The Greek Qabalah. Barry has an obvious bias in favor of the modern English esoteric paradigm, as we shall see, so presumably by choosing him to make these explanations, the question of my own bias in this matter can be momentarily set aside.
Barry and I may ultimately never see eye to eye, because I champion Aryeh Kaplan as my "core teacher" in QBL, and he favors Greek-oriented sources. But we do have major areas of agreement. One of them is the doctrine of how to use the number-letters in practice, across the range of applications that they were invented for. He names out three ways that the letters were corresponded with numerals, two of which are completely germane to the Tarot’s use of number-letters.
Of the two systems which concern us, the first enumeration of the letters is shown on P. 22, where he offers a table of "Attic acrophonic numerals". This table, just like mine, shows the near-perfect identity between the Greek and the Hebrew alphabets. Nearly every letter is connected to the same number in the Greek as in the Hebrew, and they are always given in the same order, the traditional "abracadabran" order that rules all these number-letters. We can see that they were ordered, and numbered, in parallel ways in these related languages. Moving to page 23, we read:
"In addition to the acrophonic and alphabetic systems, a third form of numeration should also be mentioned. This uses the letters of the alphabet as the ordinal numerals 1 to 24: A=1, B=2, and so on, up to [Omega] = 24. This system was used in manuscripts to enumerate chapter numbers, as instanced, for example, in Aristotle's Metaphysics. This can also be seen on coins from Athens and Ptolemaic Egypt. The satirist Lucian (125-160 CE) tells how letters of the alphabet were used in similar fashon as lots at the Olympic Games, where competitors drew letters to determine their opponents and the order of their matches."
This is exactly how the Letters are then "counted out" onto the Trumps, starting from A=1 then matching up like a zipper in "alphabetic order", thus ending with Tav, the 22nd letter in the sequence falling onto the last card, the Fool (which is sometimes unnumbered, sometimes numbered 0).
It is necessary to state out front that Barry is not a reliable source on Hebrew praxis. He uses an unattributed table of Hebrew astro-alphabet correspondences (shame, shame!) which bears the strongest resemblance to a GD or OTO set, except that Virgo and Libra are switched, and the planets are arranged on the planetary letters in furthest-to-closest order, solar-system wise. Is he sharing something historical with us, or making a proposal that he hopes will please the people he admires? This is never spelled out.
The point is moot, however. One can spend all day deciding where this list might be coming from, but it will never be relevant to Tarot tradition because we do not see his proposed correspondences on any Tarot decks in print (that I know of, anyway!) This does not deter Barry from making Tarot references, it turns out -- to further tincture his historical presentation with modern revisionism, Barry uses a Crowley image from Book Four, Liber Aba to illustrate the Tree of Life. No doubt this makes his work seem more accessible to his intended audience, but in the process he's furthering an incorrect impression that could misdirect his readers if they get caught in it.
In Barry's defense, the correspondences he gives are like other variants of the Sefir Yetzirah, in that they follow the traditional letters-to-signs and letters-to-elements correspondences, but are eccentric in their letters-to-planet correspondences. Barry's sequence could easily be used on a Tarot deck if one liked it well enough. Let us also remember that since the beginning of Tarot deck play there have been packs with different Trump counts. Therefore it is no stretch of the imagination to imagine experimentation with other alphabets than the Hebrew 22 in various Trump sequences. Perhaps the Cary-Yale Visconti pack might have had an alphabetic motive sub standing its extra Trumps, for example. We just don't know until we study more closely the work of Mark Filipas and others whose research knowledgably assimilates the alphabetarian concerns of the Renaissance magi.
What's most relevant to our discussion here is the table found in Appendix 1, p. 206, detailing the Greek alphabet. This graph has a column each for the Greek letter, English equivalent, Alexandrian or Milesian Value, Herodianic or Acrophonic Value, and Ordinal Value. Ordinal value means "ordering" value: this means a given letter's number in its alphabetic order, meaning the A, B, C, D pattern that all these related alphabets share and by which they are organized in common. There the Greek letters are on display, numbered as to sequence, one, two, three, etcetera up to 24. Now remember, this is in Greek, so it has a few more letters than the Hebrew. But you can look at my graph and use the horizontal row called "Arcana Number" to see the Ordinal Values of the Hebrew, and again see how close the match is between the alphabets.
It should be easier to understand how Kaph equals both 20 (in the Hebrew Decimal values) and 11 (as its ordinal number in the alphabetic sequence). This whole method of usage is quite antique, and was well known in Europe centuries before the Trumps were ever visualized to play cards with. The Arcana numbers on the Tarot Majors equate exactly to the Ordinal Numbers of the Hebrew, which exemplifies every alphabet's root "abcd" order.
Disorder in the System
Now it's more understandable why Crowley's graph on the number/letter/astrology correspondences of his deck appears all disheveled in the column called "Numerical Value" (see p. 278, The Book of Thoth, 1976 edition by Weiser.) It is easy to see that the letters have been taken out of their ordinal sequence when you view how the Hebrew Numerical Values are scrambled to serve Crowley's eccentricities. The disruption that was done to the letters' innate ordinal values is easy to pick out because the new system's promoters still retained the traditional Hebrew decimal values (for their gematria activities, presumably). A trusting reader might overlook these seemingly tiny details, but a close student of Renaissance Theurgy cannot help but notice how glaringly the model is deranged and how clumsily it is patched-over.
Not that Crowley was the cause of the disorder (that was probably Mackenzie), but Crowley got right on the bandwagon with his "new and improved" adjustments even though he, like Waite and Wescott, knew from history that there was a long-since past-established order already in place.
This is obvious because Wescott published an accurate rendition of the traditional occidental AAN pattern in his book The Occult Power of Numbers, formerly entitled Numbers: Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues published in 1890, 1891, and 1911, (finally republished in America by Newcastle in 1984).
What about the case where Aleph/Alpha = 1000?
Some have raised questions about the situation wherein Hebrew number-letter usage shows the letter Aleph representing "a Thousand" rather than "One". I have been asked to consider this as an exception to the rule that A=1. However, when Aleph equals 1000 in any application in Hebrew literature, the letter Aleph is written oversize, at least four times it usual size, to mean "the Big One” rather than "the little 1". Thus it stands out visually on the page or in the notation, never to be mistaken for a lesser model. This strategy would have allowed the Hebrews to notate into the thousands had they wanted to, though they declined to follow that potential up. For mystical purposes, the big A meant "thousands and thousands, infinite, All". So, although they did not use this convention as a strategy for working with the truly huge astronomical numbers such as those the Hindus figured with, even so, the Jews were by no means whimsical about this. Allegorically, the normal-sized aleph would stand for "a person", while the Big Aleph symbolizes Adam Kadmon, the Solar System Man.
Ultimately and Finally
According to esoteric tradition handed down from Antiquity, Aleph=1 and cannot be made into any other number -- if one wants to evoke core values in one's use of Magical Alphabets like Hebrew and Greek, that is. History is unanimous on this; A=1 is the norm through the generations and through the different languages, till the turn of the 20th century.
A=0 is an anomaly. Interesting, piquant, a bold departure, but in no way "traditional" except that it has been perpetuated unquestioned and unrefuted for most of this century in the English-speaking world. No other esoteric Tarots available from the historical stream try to change the ordinal values of the number/letters informing the Trumps. In another way of stating my point, no other school of Tarot felt the need to "correct" the historic numbering of the alphabet for any reason, even those (like many of the Marseilles-pattern and Spanish decks, the Kazanlar Tarot, or Brian Williams' expertly researched Renaissance Tarot), which show the letters as simple markers without specifying their particular signs, planets, and elements into a coherent system for the user.
What I am saying about correspondences is not meant to stop anyone from using any set of correspondences that they have confidence in. The goal is to widen perception of the roots of the system and allow the growing Tarotist to explore the older decks with a clean sense of history in mind. I aim to explicate these issues for people who have never known how to investigate their options, or even that they had options to begin with.
It is beneficial to remember that different sets of values and instructions are being transmitted via these different bodies of correspondences. A wise Tarot reader will scrutinize the correspondences on their deck in light of related disciplines like astrology, numerology, talismanics and the historical transmission of Esoteric Tradition, making sure to work with packs that conform to her or his true beliefs and values. No system can be employed to its fullest if its unique qualities are never understood or explored.
I hope that for the sake of Tarot's future, we can collectively learn to recognize the relative historicity of the different AAN systems that attach themselves to the Tarot deck. That way we will better understand the referents that our Past Masters and modern Tarot authors are making when they align with one or another of these different AAN systems in the creation of their decks.
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