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Ibn 'Arabi's Great Cosmic Cycle of Divine Names

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Ibn 'Arabi's Great Cosmic Cycle of Divine Names


Although Sufism is often mentioned in tandem with Kabbalistic cosmogonic theories, the cycle of Divine Names and Attributes made famous by Ibn 'Arabi's academy is generally not addressed by Kabbalists. This being so even though Ibn 'Arabi lived in Spain during the time that Kabbalist doctrine was developed.

I have suggested in published form correlation between IA's Great Cosmic Cycle and the Triumphs, termed in Sufism as Image-Exemplars. Here's an introduction to that:

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"Whether through goddess or angelic spheres, Rumi and Ibn 'Arabi fully informed Sufis and Hermetic Christians of the thirteenth century how to be fully liberated, ecstatic, and enlightened. After Ibn 'Arabi, the Chain of Being and the Path of Liberation were realized to be one in the same Way. Through emanated principles or spheres, the Divine becomes the World and the World realizes the Divine in a great cycle of simultaneous and concomitant descension and ascension. Following upon this path of realization, the Tarot was created to represent both cosmic manifestation and spiritual transcendence.

Ibn 'Arabi worked with systems and codes in the manner of an esoteric scientist (the root of which means “to know”). Key to the sacred sciences of Semitic cultures is the science of letters. Both Judaic and Islamic religions are based upon revelations of the Word. The Book of the World is the Logos eternally regenerating moment to moment through its sacred Letters or Immutable Essences. The twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet signified the corporeal and incorporeal emanations of Allah. Ibn 'Arabi explained it thusly:

These transcendent letters that are all creatures, after being incorporeally condensed in Divine Omniscience, are carried down on Divine Breath to the corporeal stages, thus composing and forming the manifested Universe.

This science of letters conjoined with an associated science of numbers to form the root of all other sciences. As we have seen, Kabbalist knowledge was similarly based. It too sprouted in Spain (after germinating in Provence) during Ibn 'Arabi’s time. Like Ibn 'Arabi, Kabbalist masters traveled east to Alexandria, Damascus, and Constantinople.

Of remarkable import to our study of the Trionfi is Ibn 'Arabi’s realization that the Semitic science of letters is itself founded upon a more essential body of knowledge. He elucidates:

Preceding the Letters are the Divine Names themselves. They form a science, which like hidden treasure is known solely to the saints, whose intelligences gather understanding from Allah and whose hearts are bound to Allah, being ravished by Allah’s Bliss.

The Sufi science of letters and names was referred to by an Arabic term derived from the Greek word for signs. It formed a type of primordial semiotics – a code not only of the phenomenal, but also, more radically, of the archetypal noumenal. This complex system came to contain a mix of numerological algorithms, alchemical procedures, and emanationist hierarchies. It was elaborated at great length by Ibn 'Arabi’s school of metaphysics. One of the more popularly described models was composed of ten levels, each with ten attributes. A hierarchically transformative, dimensional, and energetic representation of ascending movement toward the Principal, embedded in the science of names, is what concerns us here.

Medieval scholars (both East and West) inherited from Ibn 'Arabi a cosmology of ascent and descent diagrammed as a circle. In this spiritually emergent worldview, we may find the origins of the Tarot Triumphs’ attributes and names. The Circle of Being does not actually close upon itself; rather it proceeds as an open spiral. It links twenty-eight archetypal stations of Universal Presence, divided into three distinct groups:

1. Through Grace, there is a descending of Divine Overflow as the formed or corporeal world. This descent involves fourteen cosmic stages of being, beginning with the Recompensor (Fool) and the Independent (Magician) and ending with the Quickener (Hanged Man) and the Slayer (Death).

2. Following that are seven degrees of ascending stations, which link the corporeal world after Death to the incorporeal Divine Domain of Surrounding Essence (World). These begin with the Precious (Tower) and the Nourisher (Star) and end with the Gatherer (Angel) and the Elevator (Justice).

3. The final seven degrees of this Great Chain of Causation and Being are beyond even the most sublimely spiritual forms of corporeal existence. They are brought into consciousness through the Universal Man. From the Surrounder (World) to the Divine Essence, these degrees of Allah are the ascendancy of nonformed spirit. They are understandable only as the development of Divine Pleroma (fullness). Because they are incorporeal, it is not possible to “imagine” these stations of trans-world reality, although names for them were revealed to the Prophet. From these seven degrees of Plentitude, the World perpetually manifests via an overflow of Bliss."
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Here's the 22 names to be found in Ibn 'Arabi's cosmic hierarchy, along with their associated tarot names:

0. Large Recompensor Fool
1. Independent Magician
2. Influencer Empress
3. Supporter Popess
4. Knower Emperor
5. Victorious Pope
6. Light Temperance
7. Form Giver Love
8. Reckoner Chariot
9. Guardian Fortitude
10. Curtailer Wheel
11. Living Hermit
12. Quickener Hanged Man
13. Slayer Death
14. Preciously Valued Tower
15. Nourisher Star
16. Degrader Devil
17. Powerful Moon
18. Minute Observer Sun
19. Gatherer Angel
20. Elevator Justice
21. Surrounder World
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Hi Dai,
I am reading your book, Origins of the Tarot. On page 9 you state your thesis, "It is the thesis of this book that the twenty-two images conceptually originated in Sufi circles trained in Greek studies. An unknown Eastern Christian--influenced artist then portrayed those concepts via playing cards similar, if not identical, to the iconic images shown in this book."

I thought, well, I completely disagree as my thesis is that the Trumps sequence originated in a Platonic/Christian cultural milieu. But I don't know anything about Sufism or Ibn Arabi, and this is a great opportunity to dialogue with the author of a book while I am reading the book.

Unfortunately, I am leaving town for three weeks, but I am taking the book with me and hope to take some notes to talk more when I return.

What you present in your introduction to this thread is very complex, and so I can only respond in an impressionistic way. But I was intrigued by the spiral figure the Trumps can take, and I agree with you that the Trumps reveal much more about the "hidden game" while in a circular fashion. I was also intrigued by the idea of the magical alphabet because I think that has something to do with the Trumps (although I am not sure it isn't just a vague reference). I have carried on a long conversation on a neighboring thread Kabbalah and Tarot. One of the discoveries of that conversation was the use of alphabets in medieval scriptoriums possibly for mnemonic purposes. So, I hope to learn a great deal from our conversation. Good luck with your book.. until later Kapoore
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Great heading posts!
... you have heightened my interest ...
so the book I can find out a little more about this is called The Origins of Tarot?

Thanks
Elven
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"so the book I can find out a little more about this is called The Origins of Tarot?"

Actually, just Origins of the Tarot. Available at Borders, etc...and Amazon, of course.

Re confusion regarding Sufi influence on the tarot, I think what often goes missing (and this is thoroughly covered in Origins of the Tarot) is that Sufi philosophers were strongly influenced by Greek studies, both Greek Orthodox Christianity and pagan Greek theosophy. In turn, Eastern Christian thought was strongly influenced by Sufi philosophy: from Spain to Egypt to Syria to Turkey.

Thus, to discover the origins of the tarot's cosmological system of 'nondual hierarchical development,' one has to look first at Venice, the city that the earliest tarot hierarchy of names was associated with. Then we need to look at Venetian relationships with Alexandria, where playing cards were imported from to Venice and then the rest of Italy, and Constantinople, the city that Venice was throughout its history closely related with.

In the process of looking at that history, which so impacted Italy at the time of the tarot's emergence, we can see that the origins of the tarot lie with multiple traditions in full development and relationship with one another. Western Christian students of the tarot have tended to avoid researching this and giving credit where it is due.
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Hi Dai,
I am 3/4ths finished with your book and have taken a lot of notes. My main criticism is that you make assertions without backing them up with quotes and footnotes. I see you have a bibliography for every chapter but that puts the burden of reading the books and researching your sources on to the reader. I have a different philosophy of Tarot origins in that I believe that Tarot origin books--whether the case is a good or bad one--improve the raw data available. And there is almost no raw data in your book.

Also, the reader has to come to your book with a sweeping knowledge of religious systems because your book covers the globe from East to West. I do understand that this is your specialty but someone who is simply looking for the 'origin of the tarot' might get lost. I have to say, though, that I am one of those individuals who has spent a life exploring various religious systems and so I wasn't too lost. Still, even without travel, reading, and so on, someone could pick up on your primary division of religions both east and west, that is whether they are "dual" or "nondual."
A nondual system is invariably good (as long as it is higher on the hierarchy) and a dualistic system is bad no matter what. I get what you are saying here, sort of, kind of.

The Tarot as a game has taken on the problem of duality and solved it. You don't say how this happens but talk around the issue, yet your circumlocutions are interesting and I found some of what you had to say very insightful.

It took me a long time, though, to figure out your overall intention in the book, and am I right in that you were looking for a Western system (the occult Tarot and its myriad traditions) that had a few of the advantages of Buddhism in terms of non-duality? I found myself aligning with your quest and I think there is a way to conceptually formulate non-duality in terms of the hidden Tarot. More on that later. Maybe you could respond to my general reactions.. Kapoore
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this thread was a very intriguing read..
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Hi .. I reread your response that you don't think that I'bn Arabi has been given enough credit. But you admit in your book that his vast works are almost untranslatable, and that raises the all important question if they were translated at the time the Tarot was created.

On page 196 you write, "In his treatise on Divine Names, Dionysius (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) introduced to future theosophists, including Ibn'Arabi, a nascent system of Divine Attributes that lent themselves to the concept of descending and ascending stages of archetypal presence."
I argue that Ps Dionysius style of archetypal Platonism was introduced into Latin Christianity in the 9th Century by John Scotus Eriugena. Therefore, the Tarot could reflect the content of Ps Dionysius without any dependence on I'bn Arabi. In other words, the common features between Ibn'Arabi and Renaissance Platonists might just be a matter that both used the same 5th Century source.

Having said that, though, I don't think I want to get into your critique of the Latin West. Let's stick with your transmission route of Tarot imagery into Venice via Sufi merchants. Maybe you could elaborate on that and name a few names. For example, I think of Gemistos Plethon in relation to the Greek delegation to the Council of Ferrara. Was Gemistos Plethon instrumental in creating the Tarot? Was Gemistos Plethon influenced by Sufism and I'bn Arabi?
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