When we used to jump rope at school, one person would hold one end of the rope and a second person would hold the other end and they would turn it for a third person to jump. They started turning before you were jumping, so you had to time it so you could jump in and not stop the rope turning. That was especially the case when they were turning two jump-ropes at the same time. Standing there and watching them circle into each other and around, it was a whirling sphere that you had to find some kind of access to. You tried to time it, but in the end you just had to go. Go! And do your best with how it worked out.
That’s kind of how it felt when I was first learning to work with the Tree of Life. It was like a big sphere whirring in front of me and I had no idea how to get in there and see how it worked. The only thing for it is to jump. There is so much to explore, and I know I have to divide things up when I’m overwhelmed, so I picked one thing to look into.
I thought, what am I most curious about? The Sephiroth. I’ll start with the Sephiroth and find out what they are. I didn’t have any plan for what to do next, but that led very naturally into the next thing, and then the next. It will be a different order for you! But that’s an idea about how to get going: pick what sounds the most intriguing, and find out about that. You’ll come across other ideas and topics you want to explore next, and that’s exactly how you should do it – it’s your Tree of Life, after all.
It’s important to get going because it’s in the process of working with the Tree of Life that you will learn it. It’s very hard for me to remember information that isn’t interesting, or feels irrelevant – I just have to drill those things in. But it didn’t take that long to memorise things like the Sephiroth names because it was fascinating for me … and because I used them in readings, looking them up every time until I was able to guess “OK, I think this 3 of Cups is Binah …” (checks the reference drawing I made) “Yes! It’s Binah!”
Here are some topics, I guess you could call them, to do with the Tree of Life. Themes, maybe, or approaches. They all help to give you clues about what’s going on for your Tarot reading using the Tree of Life. See if one of these appeals to you:
The Sephiroth: the 10 spheres on the Tree of Life: Kether, Chockmah, Binah, Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkuth. The Sephiroth are receptacles of energy, but I like the idea of portals better because as the energy moves from one to the other, it is transformed each time. The planetary correspondences really help in remembering what’s going on in each one, and if you are into numerology and/or colour correspondences, you can apply those too. The Minor Arcana and Court Cards reside in the Sephiroth. You can find out more about this in Build Your Own Tree: Minor Arcana, Court Card, and Major Arcana.
The Connecting Paths*: I use the term “connecting path” to specifically refer to the paths that connect the Sephiroth. These each have a number, a title, and they correspond to a Major Arcana card. You can bring in the connecting paths even when none of the cards you draw in a reading are Major Arcana: look on the Tree of Life at where your cards reside and then find the paths that connect them. It can add a whole new dimension to your reading.
The Four Worlds: Each World corresponds to one of the four Elements, and they work in a specific order: Fire, Water, Air, then Earth. Their Hebrew names are Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah, and Assiah, and their colours are red, blue, yellow, and green. They correspond to the Tarot suits: in order, Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks/Pentacles. Energy starts in Kether in Atziluth (Fire), moving through an entire Tree of Life in Fire, and then moves to Kether in Briah (Water), through the Tree of Life of Water, and then into Kether in Yetzirah, etc.
The Three Pillars: Looking at the Tree of Life from our perspective, you have the Pillar of Severity on the left, the Middle Pillar, and the Pillar of Mercy on the right. Severity includes Binah, Geburah, and Hod; Middle includes Kether, Tiphareth, Yesod, and Malkuth; Mercy includes Chockmah, Chesed, and Netzach. This arrangement helps me remember the tenor of the Sephiroth. Is it about expanding? Or contracting? Or is it already in perfect balance. You can find out more about the Three Pillars in Severity and Mercy: Finding Balance with the Tarot on the Tree of Life.
Macrocosm/Microcosm: As above, so below. Human beings are a small version of the Universe, and you can overlay the Tree of Life onto a human body and find correspondences for all the Sephiroth that add to their meaning. To imagine this, picture a life-size Tree of Life in front of you, as it appears on the page. Now picture a person behind it, stepping into it. The left side of the body corresponds to Mercy, and the right side to Severity. (In the image above, Malkuth at the bottom should really be at her feet.)
Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune was the first book I dived into, and it was hugely helpful. After that, I’ve read various other books and built up my own reference system, I guess you could say! I find that a great way to work – read bits and pieces as I come across them. Take notes if that helps, but more important I would say, is to use this information with your Tarot deck. Working with it really cements it in your psyche and you’ll find that you remember things a lot better than you may expect!
*The term ‘path’ is used for the Sephiroth and the connecting paths together. You can find out more about this in Talking About the Tree of Life.