Why did Eliphas Lévi link Le Mat with Shin?


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Why did Eliphas Lévi link Le Mat with Shin?


Not only was Eliphas Lévi the first to create a viable correspondence system between Tarot and the Hebrew Letters but he was the first to link Le Mat with Shin, which, along with Aleph = The Magician, would define the whole Continent Tradition of Tarot & Kabbalah.

Le Comte de Mellet was the only earlier person to suggest a specific Tarot+Hebrew Alphabet link, but he began the sequence with Aleph = The World and continued backwards through the cards.

Lévi's system was followed, more or less, by Paul Christian, Papus, Wirth, Edmond/Bellini, Baldi, Guler, Dali, and, less precisely but still with Le Mat as Shin, by Falconnier-Wegener, Zain and the whole Egyptian Tarot contingent. The Golden Dawn, famously, broke with it.

So I think the first question is: Why did Eliphas Lévi link Le Mat with the next-to-last letter Shin?

Background: Shin is the last of the 3 Mother Letters (along with Aleph and Mem) that correspond with the elements (Air, Water, Fire). For those who don't know, the 7 letters that can take a second form—Double Letters—are correlated with the seven classical planets. The remaining 12 so-called Single Letters correspond to the 12 signs of the zodiac. These associations are spelled out in the seminal Kabbalistic document called the Sepher Yetzirah, which we know made no reference to Tarot.

I pose this as an historical question because I am curious about the historical evidence rather than trying to generate metaphysical speculation.

Also, who was the first to place the Tarot Trumps on the Paths of the Tree of Life?
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In Art and Arcana pages 64 & 65, Ronald Decker says Levi was acquainted with the work of Athanasius Kircher and attempted to coordinate the trumps with a list of Kircher's correspondences, the so-called "Kircher 2." On page 65 there's a table that compares Levi's trump order with the Kircher 2.

Huson, on page 61 of Mystical Origins says: "Through the skillful sleuthing of Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett and a clue offered by Waite in his 1938 autobiography, we know the sources of Levi's innovation. He apparently blended ideas taken from Court de Gebelin's Le monde primitif with those of Athanasius Kircher, a seventeenth-century Jesuit philologist and polymath. In his book Oedipus Aegyptiacus, Kircher had equated the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the Latin translations of the names of these letters, with the entire Renaissance cosmos of angels, zodiac signs, planets, and elements."

It sounds to me like Levi used his best understanding of Kircher and applied this to the trumps. In the Kircher 2 list, the last four are, Mineral, Vegetable, Animal and Human, corresponding to (Levi's) trumps 19, 20, 0, 21. Shin means "tooth," so maybe Levi saw something in the dog (animal) attempting to bite (tooth) the Fool. Levi's placement of the Fool may have just been the best fit after interpreting the other cards and not finding a more suitable arrangement. I don't know if he actually said where he came up with his arrangement, if he did, I've never come across it.
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Thanks Abrac. The Table on page 65 of Art and Arcana makes no mention of the Paths on the Tree of Life. However, knowing that Lévi was following Kircher is a help.

The dog relating to "tooth" is an interesting suggestion for the Fool as Shin.

My own assumption has more to do with their making the Fool into a Mother Letter and Fire, while Tav is the planetary card of the Sun. Since the French tradition favors a negative Fool (vs the GD), I can see that they wouldn't want to correlate him with the Sun. In a sense, at Judgement a person has to choose between the Fires of the Fool or the Illumination/ Enlightenment of the World.

I'm still looking for the first person who placed the Trumps on specific Paths on the Tree of Life.
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Tarotically raised on the Golden Dawn's lap, so to speak, I find it hard to picture the Fool as Shin, between the World and Judgement; I really "see" the logic in the Fool as Aleph and Air, forming the top Mother letter of the first circle of the Rosy Cross and as the path from Keter to Chokhmah. Le Mat connecting Hod with Malkuth doesn't connect with me, but maybe that's the result of too much GD dogma.
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Abrac's comment is quite interesting. Paul Christian added a crocodile in this card, which may also have been to suggest "animal/tooth".

In "Dogme et Rituel", Levi seems to try to find in actual tarot designs astrological symbols which correspond with Kircher's writing:

XIII Jupiter = The crowned head on the ground   
   Mars = The bloody scythe

XIIII Sun = The double circles on the forehead (in Tarot de Besançon)



XV Mercury = The hermaphroditic body

XVI Moon = The crescent-like thing on the door (in Tarot de Besançon)



Taking into account that Levi also looked for Hebrew letters in tarot designs (e.g. Aleph in LE BATELEUR and Ayin in LA MAISON DIEU), he may have seen the form of the fool's cap (which has three peaks with a bell on each top) as Shin.

Though lacking the bells, "Charles VI" tarot is one of the decks Levi examined in person at the Imperial Library.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kenji View Post
Taking into account that Levi also looked for Hebrew letters in tarot designs (e.g. Aleph in LE BATELEUR and Ayin in LA MAISON DIEU), he may have seen the form of the fool's cap (which has three peaks with a bell on each top) as Shin.

Though lacking the bells, "Charles VI" tarot is one of the decks Levi examined in person at the Imperial Library.
Yes, such allusions to the shapes are still claimed by some (they also see lamed in the shape of the hanged man for another example). Of course if you go looking for them one can find contradictions, shin the shape of the three resurrected in the judgement card for example. Or in the example of the fool above one might see aleph in the shape of the fools arms, and of the (somewhat distorted) darker clothed guy below him throwing a stone.

Re: shin as fool, fire - I can't be certain but I vaguely recall Levi somewhere along the line mistakenly associating Shin with Air?

I also vaguely recall (from JMD?) that in gameplay, it is conventional for the person with the fool card to place it in the penultimate position when arranging their hand of cards?
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Isn't that stretching it a little? One can't help notice the pubes, which could also be a Shin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by closrapexa View Post
Isn't that stretching it a little? One can't help notice the pubes, which could also be a Shin
And in the central positioning of his genitals an allusion to aleph (which is said to be made up of a vau and two yods, a phallus and two testicles).

Stretch it, if you must

(The fool, it seems, is game.)
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I would say that I'll bite, but considering what we're talking about, I'd rather not

But in any case, I find it fascinating that he not only searched for attributions in the general 22 Trump structure of the Tarot, but in particular cards themselves. That's what I find a stretch, since every deck is different. Seen through today's eyes, what deck would I choose to find shapes in, were I to decide I wanted to find new attributions?

It's worth saying I'm really not contradicting anyone, I'm hardly in a position to do so, I just really want to know
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The choices of decks was much slimmer in Lévi's time, and most of the visual motifs are the same except with Juno/Jupiter or the 4 Captains/Moors.

All good suggestions.

I just realized a different perspective. What if Lévi was determined to put The World last? Tav is a single letter that is associated with the Sun (in the SY system Lévi was following).
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