The Ancients conceived of Fire; Water and Air as pure elements. They were connected with the three qualities of Being, Knowledge and Bliss. They also correspond with what the Hindus called the Three Gunas - Sattvas, Rajas and Tamas, which may be translated roughly as "Calm", "Activity", and "Slothful Darkness". The alchemists had three similar principles of energy, of which all existing phenomena are composed: Sulphur, Mercury and Salt. The Sulphur is Activity, Energy, Desire; Mercury is Fluidity, Intelligence, the power of Transmission; Salt is the vehicle of these two forms of energy, but itself possesses qualities which react on them.The student must keep in his mind all these tripartite classifications. In some cases, one set will be more useful than others. For the moment, concentrate on the Fire, Water, Air series. These elements are represented in the Hebrew alphabet by the letters Shin, Mem and Aleph. The Qabalists call them the Three Mother Letters. In this particular group, the three elements concerned are completely spiritual forms of pure energy; they can only manifest in sensible experience by impinging upon the senses, crystallizing out in a fourth element which they call "Earth", represented by the last letter of the alphabet, Tau. This, then, is another quite different interpretation of the idea of the Daughter, which is here considered as a pendant to the Triangle. It is the number ten suspended from the seven, eight and nine.These two interpretations must be kept in mind simultaneously. The Qabalists, devising the Tarot, then proceeded to make pictures of these extremely abstract ideas of Father, Mother, Son and Daughter, and they called them King, Queen, Prince and Princess. It is confusing, but they were also called Knight, Queen, King and Princess. Sometimes, too, the Prince and Princess are called "Emperor" and "Empress".The reason for this confusion is connected with the doctrine of the Fool of the Tarot, the legendary Wanderer, who wins the King's daughter, a legend which is connected with the old and exceedingly wise plan of choosing the successor to a king by his ability to win the princess from all competitors. (Frazer's Golden Bough is the authority on this subject.) It has been thought better, for the present pack, to adopt the term "Knight", "Queen", "Prince" and "Princess", to represent the series Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, because the doctrine involved, which is extraordinarily complex and difficult, demands it. The Father is "Knight" because he is represented as riding on a horse. It may make it more clear to describe the two main systems, the Hebrew and the Pagan, as if they were (and had always been) concrete and separate.The Hebrew system is straightforward and irreversible; it postulates Father and Mother from whose union issue Son and Daughter. There an end. It is only later philosophical speculation to derive the Father-Mother Dyad from a Unity manifest, and later still to seek the source of that Unity in Nothing. This is a concrete and limited scheme, crude, with its causeless Beginning and its sterile End.The Pagan system is circular, self-generated, self-nourished, self-renewed. It is a wheel on whose rim are Father-Mother-Son-Daughter; they move about the motionless axis of Zero; they unite at will; they transform one into another; there is neither Beginning nor End to the Orbit; none is higher or lower than another. The Equation "Naught=Many =Two= One= All= Naught" is implicit in every mode of the being of the System. Difficult as this is, at least one very desirable result has been attained: to explain why the Tarot has four Court cards, not three. It also explains why there are four suits. The four suits are named as follows: "Wands", attributed to Fire; "Cups", to Water; "Swords", to Air; and "Disks" ("Coins", or "Pentacles"), to Earth. The student will notice this interplay and counter change of the number four. It is also important for him to notice that even in the tenfold arrangement, the number four takes its part. The Tree of Life can be divided into four planes: the number one corresponds to Fire; numbers two and three, to Water; numbers four to nine, to Air; and the number ten to Earth. This division corresponds to the analysis of Man. The number one is his spiritual essence, without quality or quantity; the numbers two and three represent his creative and trans-missive powers, his virility and his intelligence; the numbers four to nine describe his mental and moral qualities as concentrated in his human personality; the number six, so to speak, is a concrete elaboration of the number one; and the number ten corresponds to Earth, which is the physical vehicle of the previous nine numbers. The names of these parts of the soul are: one, Jechidah; two and three, Chiah and Neschamah; four to nine, Ruach; and lastly ten; Nephesch. These four planes correspond once more to the so-called "Four Worlds", to understand the nature of which one should refer, with all due reservations, to the Platonic system. The number one is Atziluth, the Archetypal World; but the number two, as being the dynamic aspect of the number one, is the Practical attribution. The number three is Briah, the Creative World in which the Will of the Father takes shape through the Conception of the Mother, just as the spermatozoon, by fertilizing the ovum, makes possible the production of an image of its parents. The numbers four to nine include Yetzirah, the Formative World, in which an intellectual image, an appreciable form of the idea, is produced; and this mental image becomes real and sensible in the number ten, Assiah, the Material World.It is by going through all these confusing (and sometimes seemingly contradictory) attributions, with unvarying patience and persistent energy, that one comes at the end to a lucid understanding, to an understanding which is infinitely clearer than any intellectual interpretation could possibly be. This is a fundamental exercise in the way to initiation. If one were a shallow rationalist, it would be quite easy to pick holes in all these attributions and semi-philosophical hypotheses, or near-hypotheses; but it is also quite simple to prove by mathematics that it is impossible to hit a golf ball.
Hitherto, the main theme of this essay has been the Tree of Life, in its essence the Sephiroth. It is now proper to consider the relations of the Sephiroth with each other.It will be noticed that twenty-two lines are employed to complete the structure of the Tree of Life. It will be explained in due course how it is that these correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It will be remarked that in some respects the way in which these are joined up appears arbitrary. Notably, there is an equilateral triangle, which one would think would be a natural basis for the Operations of Philosophy, consisting of the numbers one, four and five. But there are no lines joining one and four, or one and five. This is not an accident. Nowhere in the figure is there an erect equilateral triangle, although there are three equilateral triangles with the apex downwards. This is because of the original formula "Father, Mother, Son", which is three times repeated in a descending scale of simplicity and spirituality. The number one is above these triangles, because it is an integration of Zero and depends from the triple veil of the Negative. Now the Sephiroth, which are emanations of the number one, as already shown, are things-in-themselves, in almost the Kantian sense. The lines joining them are Forces of Nature, of a much less complete type; they are less abstruse, less abstract.