When Aleister Crowley was working with Lady Frieda Harris to create the Thoth deck, he was careful to include references to each card’s place on the Tree of Life in its imagery. In the Major Arcana, it is the Hebrew letter in the bottom frame that tells you where the cards reside. The order of the Hebrew alphabet matches exactly the order of the Major Arcana, so Aleph, the first letter, is assigned to The Fool, and Beth, the second letter, is assigned to the Magus, and so on. This wasn’t a new idea — Eliphas Levi (1810-1875) had made this observation publicly a hundred years before. So Crowley went about attributing Major Arcana cards to Hebrew letters and it all worked out perfectly. And then.
In 1904, Crowley and his new wife Rose went to Cairo on their honeymoon. While there, first Rose and then Aleister were contacted by a spirit who called itself Aiwass. During several channelling sessions, Crowley recorded what Aiwass told him, and this we have in the form of the Book of the Law. While in this state, Crowley checked in with Aiwass on the work he was doing on the Tree of Life and the Tarot (and why not?) and Aiwass commented on the arrangement of Major Arcana: ‘All of these old letters of my Book are aright; but [Tzaddi] is not the Star. This also is my secret: my prophet shall reveal it to the wise.” So, all looking good, except for Tzaddi and The Star. But what on earth to do about that? In terms of assigning Major Arcana to the paths on the Tree of Life, there really isn’t any room for interpretation, you would think. The letters come in order and so do the cards.
Not one to be intimidated by tradition, Crowley went to work. After long consideration, he came to realise that the Emperor was a better fit for Tzaddi. I imagine it took a while to figure this out because, for one thing, the Tree of Life is defined by balance and so if you’re going to move one letter, you have to move another one to keep things even. You would have to find a card whose letter you could exchange with Tzaddi. But that’s just physics. You also have to find a card whose letter works in meaning – the esoterics of the situation come into play as well.
Now we’re back to the question of what actually happens if you switch cards around. You can find Trees of Life online that move The Emperor and the Star, but I don’t think that works. First, it’s just weird. How can you consider the Tree of Life moving from The Fool to the Magus, to the Priestess and the Empress, and then to the Star? With the Emperor way down below, removed from his position near the Empress and also from the position that (as we’ll see) is defined by the lamb in conjunction with all his armaments and symbols of power? And second, even with his switch, Crowley allows that the Emperor is influenced by Chockmah, the 2nd Sephira, and he can only do that at the top.
Why The Emperor? Tzaddi and Heh
All Hebrew letters have a meaning and in this case, that meaning is ‘righteous’. Who could be more righteous than our beautiful, hopeful, spiritual Star? It depends on your meaning of righteous and in the context of the Hebrew tradition, it’s quite specifically about spirit. It has connotations of uprightness and leadership that – as spiritual as she is – isn’t really associated with The Star.
But is the Emperor ‘righteous’ in this sense? The ‘tzadik serves as a vehicle to God and has no ego or self-consciousness,’ and although we may usually think of The Emperor as a worldly leader, his native position on the Tree of Life places him well above any realm we can interact with. Touching the second Sephira, there is a solid connection to God. The Emperor touches Sephira and brings that potential down into Tiphareth, where The Emperor can meet with us – Tiphareth being the place where we realise Christ-consciousness – we see and believe the divine part of ourselves. So the Emperor as Tzaddi is lovely.
Keeping things in balance, let’s consider whether the Emperor’s natural path, Heh, meaning Window, suits The Star. And I really love this association, too. The Star and all her beauty touches Netzach, Beauty itself, and channels it into Yesod, which is the last stage before things ‘get real’ here in Malkuth. The Star opens that window for us to show us the pure beauty of spirit and of ourselves. So, I like Tzaddi for The Emperor and Heh for The Star. The associations make a lot of sense.
But we can’t move the cards and we can’t move the letters, so how to accommodate these new correspondences?
Do what thou will shall be the whole of the Law, said Crowley, and maybe what he’s teaching us here is that we don’t have to be as rigid as we thought when we’re working with the Tree of Life. It’s definitely composed of moving parts. So how about this: when we’re working with The Emperor or The Star, let’s leave everything where it is but consider both letters. If someone is asking about a job, it would be more helpful to look at the Emperor from the boss perspective, not as a Christ-figure … even though bringing some of those attributes to the workplace is never a bad idea. But there might be times that it makes more sense to look at the spiritual association. And the same for The Star. What Crowley reminds us is that the Tree is interconnected in ways we can’t see, probably. It’s not a rigid image. Energy moving down the Tree of Life doesn’t ‘leave’ one Sephira for the next one – it brings the energy of every Sephira it passes through along with it.
The Emperor and The Star are connected by the Pillar of Mercy – high and low, and they reflect each other already, across Chesed. I don’t see any reason to substitute Heh for Tzaddi when we can touch on both and release even more blessings from two amazing tarots.
 Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law | Liber al vel Legis, Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004.