Arthur Edward Waite, the Tree of Life and the Tarot
The Tree of Life appears in many religions and cultures, in Islam it appears in the Quran as the tree of immortality, the tree which is forbidden to Adam and Eve by Allah. In Catholic Christianity it represents the immaculate state of humanity, free from the original sin before the Fall of Man. It appears in Norse mythology as Yggdrasil or the world tree, and it appears as the main symbol for the Kabbalah, which comprises of ten sephirot powers in the Divine realm, and a spiritual pathway for the ascent of Man. This Kabbalistic Tree of Life was used as a guide for spiritual advancement and as a depiction of creation, from Keter at the top, to the tenth at the bottom named Malkuth. Keter (meaning crown) represents the primordial energy from which all things are created, followed by Chokhmah signifying Divine Wisdom, and then Binah, meaning Understanding.
Freemason and writer Arthur Edward Waite’s ideas on the Tree of Life were not only reflected in his Order the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, but also in his tarot deck. Indeed, the ritual presents pathways for the initiate so he/she can find the hidden knowledge they seek: ‘…the Rivers of Eden flow from a central source in DAATH , which is the Higher Knowledge. Lead us, O Lord, in Thee to the union of CHOKMAH and BINAH.’ The initiate is thus being made aware of the doorway to knowledge so he/she can progress to the highest point of grace. The doorway is of course hidden within us, and this concept is revealed to the initiate, though there are two pathways to choose from when entering the door; those of dark and light, hence there is a guide in the ceremony to keep the initiate on the correct path (Part II Grade of Practicus). DAATH serves to marry the continuous bond between the two higher powers of intellect, that of Chokhmah and Binah, which represent wisdom and understanding. Thus the initiate is progressing through the Order in an emblematical tree of life, gaining knowledge and learning to use it wisely.
The Major Arcana of the tarot reveals a cycle that starts with the Fool; a card that represents naivety and someone that is setting off on a journey. The character is unsure of the path he is on, and in the Rider-Waite deck he is displayed as about step of cliff, unsure and insecure. In short, he is literally setting off into the unknown and knows little, if nothing at all of what is to come in his journey. In contrast to the Fool, the Major Arcana ends with the World, a card that indicates knowledge of the world around you, and a recognition of how to use it. In this respect the Tarot represents a similar journey to what the candidate takes on within the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, with the Neophyte beginning his journey, and gaining knowledge through the various grades, until he finally attains the final grade.