“The ‘worlds’ or ‘spheres’ of pentacles (coins), swords, cups and wands correspond to the degrees of the traditional way of preparation, purification (purgatio, καθαρσις), illumination (illuminatio, φωτισμος) and perfection (perfectio, unio mystica, τα τελη) … These are the things which can serve as a key to the Minor Arcana of the Tarot, for your work, dear Unknown Friend, on these Arcana.”
Our Unknown Friend identifies the Ten Commandments as being much more than a moral code for life. For him, and for us, they should “signify… the hygiene, the method and the conditions of fructification of the spiritual life”.
The first four commandments, we read, designate spiritual practice, whilst the proceeding six form the base on which our practice is built. We might liken this schema to the growth of a plant, where the leafed stem rises upwards towards a flowering bud. The climbing foundations of the stem and leaves support the burgeoning bud in the process of blooming. The stem and bud, however, exist as one organism: for no practice could flourish if one has no sense of inner culture, and the cultivation itself should be a natural continuation of ones practice.
Now, the world of pentacles – or coins – corresponds to the degree of preparation for our journey on the way. The way being that of psychurgical practice, which is the transformation of consciousness as it rises ‘upwards’ towards the Divine. In the Meditations on the Tarot we read the following concerning this world of pentacles:
This is the world of the imagery of facts, intellectual constructions and imagined ideals. Here consciousness surrounds itself with a world of images – on the one hand the memories of experiences, and on the other hand the formulae and schemes of the intellect, as well as those of moral imagination, which latter we call “ideals”. This world of images is neither reality nor illusion. It consists of values / images corresponding to reality and which are therefore “convertible” into reality; for this reason coins are its symbol. For just as pieces of money are not themselves board, heating and lodging but can be converted into board, heating and lodging, so do memory images and the formulae and schemes of the intellect and moral imagination represent realities – being “worths” that may be converted into reality.
So it appears that this world of pentacles – the world where most of us spend the entirety of our lives – is one of half-truths: a mixture of both truth and illusion. The process of preparation that is the beginning of the spiritual life is that of creating the inner culture necessary to discern truth from illusion. As Christ has told us in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “…and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” But to cleanse the floor we must first recognise it as being dirty.
Towards this end the practices taught by the late Father Thomas Keating of the modern Centering Prayer movement have been indispensable. For further encouragement and reflection on the contemplative path I would also recommend The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling.
Also, for the readers own reflection, we offer the ten numbered cards belonging to the suit of coins. Attached to these cards we have the ten commandments and the exegesis given by our Unknown Friend in Letter XI of his Meditations.
Surrender to the Living God – Thou shalt have no others gods before me
Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. – Matthew xx 37
“In fact, mysticism is the awakening of the soul to the reality of the presence of God.
This awakening is possible only towards the living God, only towards the divine Person,
whereas pantheism offers only the perspective of letting oneself be lulled by the undulation of the ocean of deified Nature, and atheism offers only nothingness.”
Non-substitution of products of the human mind, or those of nature,
for the reality of the Living God – Thou shalt not make for thyself a graven image, or any likeness
The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. – Matthew iv 10
“Gnosis is what reflected consciousness apprehends of mystical experience and revelation from above. The fundamental law of gnosis is not to substitute imagery drawn from the human mind, or from Nature, for divine intuition.”
Binah (Intelligence or Understanding)
Activity in the name of God without making use of his name in order to adorn oneself with it – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. But I say to you not to swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God. – Matthew iv 33-34
“Magic is the bringing into play of that which consciousness has received from mysticism and gnosis. Now, the fundamental law of sacred magic is to act in and through the name of the Divine,
whilst guarding against making the name of the Divine an instrument of one’s own will.”
Chesed (Kindness or Mercy or Majesty)
Practice of meditation – Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy
And he said to them: The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. Therefore the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath also. – Mark ii 27-28
“Hermeticism is the life of thought within the whole organism of mysticism, gnosis and magic. Its fundamental law is meditation, i.e. the practice of “remembering the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. Meditation is “sanctified rest”, where thought is turned towards that which is above. ”
Geburah (Power or Judgement or Strength)
Continuity of effort and experience – Honour thy father and thy mother
“In truth, in order to advance one has to learn. In order to learn, one has to appreciate the experience of the past and one has to continue it. All progress presupposes continuity-coherence between the past, present and future. This is stated by the fifth commandment: Honour thy father and thy mother.”
Tiphareth (Beauty or Compassion)
Constructive attitude – Thou shalt not kill
You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. – Matthew x 21-22
“There only is real progress within a living tradition. For life – spiritual as well as biological – is always tradition, i.e. continuity. Therefore, one has to abstain from all action that breaks continuity, cutting the current of life. It is the fundamental law of a constructive attitude, which is essential in spiritual life, that is stated by the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill”
Netzach (Victory or Eternity)
Faithfulness to the alliance – Thou shalt not commit adultery
“Continuity – or tradition and life – implies faithfulness to the cause that is espoused,
to the direction taken, to the ideal that one has as a guide, and to all alliances with entities above and with human beings below, for the sake of the continuity of life. This is what is stated by the seventh commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Hod (Splendor or Glory)
Renunciation of the desire to accept merit which is neither the fruit of one’s own work nor the gift of grace – Thou shalt not steal
“The commandment: Thou shalt not steal is still of fundamental importance for the spiritual life. Every school of authentic spirituality owes its continuation to the commandment which preserves its authenticity and which, for the spiritual domain, comes down to a fundamental rule of agricultural labor: you will harvest only after having tilled the earth, only after having sown, and only after having waited for the time when the fruit will be ripe for harvesting. All “tricks” of a technical nature, having as their aim the dispensing with the effort and sacrifice required for normal spiritual growth and development, thus fall under the heading of sinning against the eighth commandment.”
Renunciation of an accusatory role towards others – Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
Again you have heard that it was said to them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself: but thou shalt perform thy oaths to the Lord. – Matthew iv 33
Respectful consideration for the private and personal life of others – Thou shalt not covert thy neighbors house
For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. – Matthew vi 21
“These two commandments relate to the spirit of non-rivalry, which manifests itself either as negative criticism or as envy. This means to say that every spiritual movement, every spiritual tradition, every school of spirituality, and every disciple or so-called “master” of a school of spiritual life, should in no way be motivated by a spirit of rivalry, but rather by love for the cause and ideal.”