Qabalah 104: The 22 Pathways of the Tree of Life
Welcome to the continuation of our exploration into the basics of the Qabalah! This feature picks up where we left off on part 1, after exploring the 10 Sephiroth of creation! If you haven’t read the first part yet, it will be very beneficial to check it out before diving into this one, and you can read that one by clicking right here.
In the last exploration, we looked at the 10 outpourings of energy that manifest from the highest plane of creation (Kether), which is the bridge between our highest level of consciousness, and the unmanifested, infinite, and formless Mind of God! These even higher planes are often described in three tiers: Ain (the vacuum of pure Spirit), Ain Soph (the Limitless and Boundless), and Ain Soph Aur (the Limitless Light). These will be explored later on in this series, but for now, let us continue with our pathways.
Between these 10 Sephiroth on the Tree of Life, you will always see a very specific pattern drawn between them all. These links are indicative of the 22 pathways which energy travels between each sphere, ultimately culminating in the physical creation itself in Malkuth. This information derives from the ancient Hebrew practices written about in the Sefer Yetzirah, and connects each pathway with one of the 22 Hebrew letters, which are also commonly known as “creative forces”. In Tarot, each of the 22 pathways correlates with the 22 Major Arcana cards. Therefore, you might observe these 22 paths to ultimately be manifestations of the single unified force from Kether in creative motion and action!
Let’s have a look at each pathway, shall we?
The 22 Pathways of the Tree of Life
Path 1 – Aleph (ox)
Found between: Kether and Chokmah (Spirit and Divine Father)
Tarot association: The Fool
Aleph is the primary force of creation, and it can be said that all other pathways are simply different forms or actions that this principle force can take. Aleph translates to “Ox”, meaning to imply a great and powerful force that can be used to do all manner of things (such as create structures on earth), but in this state is not doing anything. It is infinite potential, with perfect stillness.
Path 2 – Beth (house)
Found between: Kether and Binah (Spirit and Divine Mother)
Tarot association: The Magician
Beth is the vibration of creation—the will of God. It is the start of the story of creation, as the first letter is actually silent. In this we have the beginning of duality, seeing the creator and created. Beth translates to “house” as it represents the universal concept of a container or vessel by which the created world comes into being; just as the body is the container for the soul.
Path 3 – Gimel (camel)
Found between: Kether and Tiphareth (Spirit and Soul)
Tarot association: The Priestess
Gimel is the path of the watery material of consciousness containing the memory of the cosmos; the depths of blackness from which life itself emerges in the container of creation. Gimel emerges as the 3rd and unifying pathway which resolves and harmonizes the opposites between the first two; forming a sacred link. It is translated to “camel”, the self-sufficient animal that travels for days across the desert, just as we must travel the abyss of blackness to come into being, such as existing in our mother’s womb for 9 months after conception.
Path 4 – Daleth (door)
Found between: Chokmah and Binah (Divine Father and Divine Mother)
Tarot association: The Emperor (Traditionally Empress)
Daleth is the pathway of love and fertility, as it is the door to the state of selflessness and humility needed to pass through into higher states of consciousness. It indicates what is required to know thyself, and realize thyself as a divine creator – One with God. Daleth is the path of the nurturing mother, creative imagination, and inspiration.
Path 5 – Heh (window)
Found between: Chokmah and Tiphareth (Divine Father and Soul)
Tarot association: The Empress (Traditionally Emperor)
Heh is the pathway of discovery, the window to divine revelation; the breath of the creator. It describes the gift of life itself and the birthing of a soul from pure unity consciousness. Through this pathway, the soul receives its masculine logos; the ability create with logic and structure, mirroring the harmonious nature found by the sphere it emerges from – Chokmah.
Path 6 – Vau (nail)
Found between: Chokmah and Chesed (Divine Father and Archetypes of Creation)
Tarot association: The Hierophant
Vau is the pathway of the learning and teaching of cosmic law. It has less to do with the individual soul, but rather the structures by which the soul operate through creation. It describes a listening attentiveness towards all things and is a power that unites all things which could be observed as separate. It translates to “nail” because of this binding might of divine energies, and being on the masculine side of the tree – is very sharp and straightforward!
Found between: Binah and Tiphareth (Divine Mother and Soul)
Tarot association: The Lovers
Zayin is the pathway which gives the other necessary half of life to the soul, as Heh was the path of masculine energy to the spirit – Zayin is the feminine. It describes the awareness of both Unity and Duality at the same time, as the Soul coming into being is both aware that it emerges from One, but also has its own unique essence too. Zayin is the source of movement in creation, and is named after the sword both because the sword divides the soul from the All, and also describes the natural movements of a perfect swordmaster, who can move with incredible grace, and equally so – find stillness with their blade (think of it like a meditating samurai).
Path 8 – Cheth (fence, ladder, or doorway)
Found between: Binah and Geburah (Divine Mother and Cosmic Law Enforced)
Tarot association: The Chariot
Cheth is the pathway of the hero – it cultivates the ideas of “destiny” which aligns with the higher will (formed in the womb of Binah) and besets this pathway as one for the soul to follow. However, this pathway is one of an infinite number of possibilities, allowing the soul to decide where it chooses to go, including rising above its earthly limitations. The Soul thus experiences this path as a realization of its own divine will and not one that is “imposed upon it”, for the soul and the higher self are One. There are varying translations of this letter, often relating to fence, ladder, or doorway – but all of which speak towards the “crossing over”, “climbing up”, or “passing through” to follow our higher calling.
Path 9 – Teth (basket or serpent)
Found between: Chesed and Geburah (Archetypes of Creation and Cosmic Law)
Tarot association: Vitality (Strength/Lust)
Teth is the first pathway which does not have a correlation to the highest 3 sephiroth, instead finding its connection between Chesed and Geburah. This pathway represents the fuel of the soul’s journey into self-consciousness, with tremendous determination and drawing vitality and strength from its lust for life. Teth also translates very curiously, with many sources claiming it to be either serpent or basket. This is the mystery of Teth, in that it can represent the distinction between good and evil; being that it connects archetypes of creation, and cosmic law, it speaks to the ideas of this paradox and the soul’s ability to live either path it chooses. The serpent itself also speaks to both ideas here by the story of the serpent in the Book of Genesis, and also the perfect manifestation and wisdom of the Ouroboros. The basket is often said to represent the container and manifestation of the unique soul.
Path 10 – Yod (hand)
Found between: Chesed and Tiphareth (Archetypes of Creation and Soul)
Tarot association: The Hermit
The path of Yod is one which connects the archetypal ideas which creation was founded upon and each individual soul. Thus it is a place which regulates each incarnation and molds their personalities with the various archetypes that exist, based upon the wisdom achieved by the soul so far in its successive lifetimes. Yod also speaks to the creator, and the unity within multiplicity. It describes that no matter how many variations of soul that come into being, all personalities of soul emerge from the One, and are entirely connected and originate from a single point. Yod translates to “hand” to describe the hand of God, directing our own unique existence from within and through us.
Path 11 – Kaph (palm of the hand)
Found between: Chesed and Netzach (Archetypes of Creation and Energetic Polarities)
Tarot association: Wheel of Flow (Wheel of Fortune)
The pathway of Kaph is the life-cycles which move us forward through our spiritual existence: the ebb and the flow, the yin and the yang, the up and the down. This path describes the first “crossing the threshold” of creative structure from the higher unified realms and into the denser planes where energies are more separate. This path, in particular, is one in which the archetypes of creation are given polarized forms as potential creations by which the soul can now navigate. Kaph translates to the palm of the hand, which implies the ability to grasp new possibilities, and the outstretched open hand – ready to receive something new.
Path 12 – Lamed (oxgoad)
Found between: Geburah and Tiphareth (Cosmic Law and Soul)
Tarot association: Balance (Justice/Adjustment)
Lamed is the pathway where the enforcement of cosmic law from Geburah is translated directly into the soul, supporting them on walking their highest path, and enforcing karma if they should stray. It teaches balance and honesty, and that spiritual learning is at the heart of human existence. By its very translation as an “oxgoad”, it is our higher self, bending and shaping our character by the virtue of humility, prodding us into the position we need to be in to evolve and embody who we truly are.
Path 13 – Mem (water)
Found between: Geburah and Hod (Cosmic Law and Concentrated Mind Forms)
Tarot association: The Hanged Man
Mem is the pathway which transmits impulses from the higher spiritual constructs, down into our minds which form ideas about the way things are in reality. This pathway speaks to our ability to dive deep into wisdom, and these waters submerge into infinity. Thus, we have a pathway which teaches balanced emotions, humility, and a “surrender to the natural current”, as water always flows downhill in the path of least resistance. By following in this way, Mem has the virtue of consistency and describes a stable intelligence.
Found between: Tiphareth and Netzach (Soul and Energetic Polarities)
Tarot association: Death
Nun is the path of the fish who travels through the waters of Mem. In this, the meaning is symbolic of the soul who recognizes its infinite nature. It leaves behind the desires for life only to be replaced with the freedom to continually change forms in all the ways that it can, through the process of reincarnation. Nun speaks towards the relationship between the body which is impermanent, and the soul which is eternal. In this, we learn to be flexible and supple, to go with the flow, adapt to changes, and not resist what new experiences come our way.
Path 15 – Samekh (support)
Found between: Tiphareth and Yesod (Soul and the Ethereal Realm)
Tarot association: Resurrection (Art/Temperance)
Samekh is the pathway which tests the creative will of the soul, by channeling its focus directly down into alignment with creation in the physical realm through Yesod, the Ether. It translates as “support” because this pathway is one which the soul “leans upon” or “upholds” its earthly vessel and vice versa. It is the soul’s duty to protect its physical form and the energy which moves through it, and also to protect those around us who are on the same spiritual journeys that we are – the incarnated soul. Samekh describes that in order to get in touch with our inner selves, we must first become empty in order to be filled.
Path 16 – Ayin (eye)
Found between: Tiphareth and Hod (Soul and Concentrated Mind Forms)
Tarot association: The Devil
The Hebrew letter Ayin means eye and has to do with vision and insights of that which is hidden. It speaks towards looking beyond what is right in front of us and learning lessons through time and space. This pathway forms a bridge between the soul and what the human mind comprehends, and relates to the creation of visible light itself; teaching us to surrender to all that is and recognize truth from illusion.
Path 17 – Peh (mouth)
Found between: Netzach and Hod (Energetic Polarities and Concentrated Mind Forms)
Tarot association: The Tower
Peh is the pathway of the formation of personality itself, by bridging the mental ideas we conceive of and the infinite polarities which exist through our body of consciousness. Peh means mouth, which relates to the power of speech. Speech is a very powerful spiritual tool and can be used for great good, or great evil—which depends entirely on the intent behind how it is used. In Qabalah, quality of speech is considered to be the quality of spiritual essence, and thus Peh teaches us to observe our words to be precious, and treat each sound we make with respect.
Path 18 – Tzaddi (fish-hook)
Found between: Netzach and Yesod (Energetic Polarities and the Ethereal Realm)
Tarot association: The Star
Tzaddi translates to fish-hook, and this pathway speaks towards angling the personality to align itself with the soul. This pathway is about striving to be righteous, just, fair, and honest in every way. The idea here is that by the nature of humanity, evil has manifested in the world due to imbalances in the human consciousness; we are disconnected from God, and so it is for each individual to face their own evils, and bring balance and healing to themselves and the world. Tzaddi also speaks towards the ego or personality looking up to see beyond themselves and moving forward with hope in their heart as their guiding light.
Path 19 – Qoph (back of the head)
Found between: Netzach and Malkuth (Energetic Polarities and the Physically Manifested)
Tarot association: The Moon
Qoph speaks towards the back of the head – specifically the cerebellum, which is where our basic motor functions of the human body are programmed. This part of our brain is often very violent or generally simple and unrefined in its behaviors. Thus this pathway speaks towards our animalistic selves and the negativities of the world which we must overcome and reprogram within ourselves as we strive towards higher consciousness. A huge part of this pathway is the knowledge that these basic physical programs can be changed by the power of our will.
Path 20 – Resh (head)
Found between: Hod and Yesod (Concentrated Mind Forms and the Ethereal Realm)
Tarot association: The Sun
Where Qoph was the ‘lower brain’, Resh describes the higher mind, speaking to the whole head, and specifically the crown chakra. This pathway gives us the choice between greatness or degradation, by the nature that we exist in a container of our bodies. The pathway of Resh shines endless creation of life by our concentrated thoughts and channeling them into the ethereal plane. It represents the potential for infinite and exponential growth if we wish it, and much like the sun – an endless outpouring of the energy of love and creation that can move through us if we will it so.
Path 21 – Shin (tooth)
Found between: Hod and Malkuth (Concentrated Mind Forms and the Physically Manifested)
Tarot association: The Aeon (Judgement)
The Pathway of Shin speaks towards the human ability to change and be changed by everything in life, within us and our environments, through all of time. It translates to ‘tooth’, which describes the sharp connection between what we think and focus on – and what we experience in our day to day lives, and further explains the process of transformation, breaking down and building up again. This letter is shaped like 3 flames burning up, which purify and actively change the experiences we have in our lives.
Path 22 – Tav (cross)
Found between: Yesod and Malkuth (the Ethereal Realm and the Physically Manifested)
Tarot association: The Crown (The World/The Universe)
The final pathway is called Tav, which translates to Cross. Interestingly enough, the cross here actually speaks towards the original intent of the swastika, being the spiraling and spinning of the four elements as they manifest in the physical realm. This is the energy that we purposefully channel from the ether, and into physical form. This pathway represents the perfect and harmoniously balanced realization of all forces above, as they manifest down in the physical plane. No matter what happens here, all results reflect their origins, and nothing is ever out of alignment. This pathway teaches us that from the very beginning, the “end” was already set out before us. The end and the beginning are one, and Tav is the path of completion.
The 22 Pathways – In Conclusion
As we bring this article to a close, please know that these descriptions are truly only just the tip of the iceberg in understanding these concepts. However, getting the basics is the beginning of diving deeper down the rabbit hole!
Be sure to learn about each of the Tarot cards as well, as the more you know about each of the Major Arcana, even more secrets will be revealed to you as is the nature of each Hebrew letter and path! For those who really wish to see the in-depth correlations between each card and their Qabalah counterpart, check out the Book of Patch, which contains an in-depth description of each card and its relationship to the Tree of Life.
For those who would like to continue this research, we invite you to check out Part 3 of this series, all about Ain Soph Aur, and the realms beyond Kether.
The Flower, Fruit, Seed, Tree, and Egg of Life – Understanding the 5 Sacred Forms