The Aleph-Bet; 22 Paths of the Tree of Life
I am not going to attempt to describe how Hermetic Kabbalah interprets the individual paths of the Tree of Life, other than to say that each path represents a certain "mission", procedure, or experience that you are meant to have upon traversing the Tree of Life, as I understand it.
In both Hermetic and Lurianic Kabbalah, the paths correspond to letters in the Hebrew Alphabet. In Lurianic Kabbalah, they *are* the letters, and any correspondences to things like the seven ancient astrological planets or zodiac signs are secondary to their role as letters which represent the forces of creation.
In Lurianic Kabbalah, the Letters are forces of reality. The Sepher Yetzirah describes how the Creator literally spoke everything into existence, and continues to do so, using them. The Legend of the Golem hinges on this idea; the word for Truth (Emet) was inscribed alternately on a scroll in the golem's mouth or on it's forehead, and when it ran amok, the Aleph was removed to spell Death (Met) in order to destroy it.
In this sense, everything in reality is considered to be constructed of the letters, or at least the forces they represent. The letters provide the content of the message that the creator speaks, and the sephirot are like the tone of voice or inflection that gives the contents meaning. They also correspond to the hidden Hebrew vowels. In essence, though, the sephirot add meaning and context to the words spoken with the letters.
As Hebrew is based on a pictographic language, where complex words are created from smaller ones, represented by the letters in ancient times, the Hebrew Alphabet is virtually a list of words of power. These words of power have evolved in the modern day such that you can't get much meaning across to an Israeli, for example, simply by spouting off a list of letters. But originally, I've been told, they were part of a proto-language, which predates Phoenician, which could be used to communicate. Larger concepts were built as compound words, which later simply became the words a Hebrew Speaker uses everyday.
As an example, the letter Bet, or Beit, means "House". A house is a container, fundamentally, and so the letter Beit stands for containment or separation from a group. In Lurianic Kabbalah, it stands for our reality; seen as the house of god. But it also stands for any object; even a thought, which is just a nonphysical object. It's a frame of reference that can close things off, or which can be explored. A box, of any size.
Tribute uses this letter for the House Key, which helps to model things like your body, mind, soul, the game world itself, or any other place, like the Matrix or the Dream world. Each House can contain its own "House Rules", or laws of physics.
The Hebrew letters are also numbers. The letter Beit is the number 2, in the Hebrew system. 2 stands for duality, separation, and the idea of a simple relationship- you and me.
This fact, that the letters are also numbers, is what Gematria is all about. It lets a Kabbalist find the numerical value of any word and compare it to other words with the same value to find out what the deeper relationship between ideas or verses in the Torah is. It works the other way, too. You can take a number, and find the words that relate to it. For example, the number 18 is considered auspicious, because it stands for the word "Chai", or life. Gifts are given in multiples of 18, whenever possible, as a blessing.
I'll leave the gematria conversation here, for now, but can get more into it later, if anyone wants me to. Back to the letters and the paths on the Tree of Life.
Here, again is the Hermetic Tree of life with its Paths:
And here is the Lurianic Tree:
The reason I like the second tree more, is that it corresponds more directly to the seminal text, the Sepher Yetzirah, or "Book of Formation". This text describes how everything is constructed from letters, and was alleged to be the text used to create the Golem. There are many versions of it, and they often disagree on details.
In the Sepher Yetzirah, the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are divided into three groups; 3 Mother letters, 7 Double letters, and 12 Simple letters.
The Three Mother Letters are root sounds of speech: Aleph, Mem, and Shin. These are primary forces of creation, with several interpretations including ideas similar to Wuji, Yin, and Yang (not a traditional idea, of course). They correspond to the Elements of Air, Water, and Fire, respectively.
The Seven Double Letters are letters with a hard and soft pronunciation: Bet/Vet, Gimmel/Djimmel, Dallet/Thallet, Khaf/Chaf(?), Peh/Feh, Resh/?, and Tav/Thav. Resh once had a second pronunciation, but it has been lost to history, and I'm not sure about Khaf's.
These double letters correspond to binary qualities like Life/Death, Wealth/Poverty, and Freedom/Subjugation. Therefore, they are sort of "measuring" letters that are determining factors for these states, or describe the degrees of these kinds of qualities.
They correspond to the seven ancient astrological planets. I won't get into which ones correspond to which, as there is much debate. I've made my choices as to which letters I believe correspond to which planets, but It's not material to this conversation, and could greatly derail things.
The 12 Simple letters correspond to basic forces of reality, and ostensibly, are easiest to understand. They are: Heh, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yud, Lamed, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Tzaddi, and Quf. They are described as ruling over human experiences like Sight, Laughter, Motion, or Coition. Understanding the fundamental principles at work in each helps you understand what that letter contributes by way of forces.
Why does this matter with regard to the two trees?
Well, the two trees each have 3 horizontal paths, 7 vertical paths, and 12 diagonal paths. These would seem to correspond to the 3 mother letters, 7 double letters, and the 12 simple letters. And yet, in the Hermetic Tree, they don't. In the Lurianic Tree, they do.
I'm not claiming that the Lurianic Tree is "right", even though I like it more, as it makes more sense to me. It might have seemed simplistic to simply map the letters to horizontal, vertical, or diagonal paths, or maybe there's a deeper reason to do so.
I often think that any correspondences we come up with for the letters are just that, and don't say anything real about the letters themselves. In other words, the letters and paths are just slots, and some ideas fit better into the slots than others, for different purposes. A Hermetic placing the idea that traditionally corresponds to the letter Dalet into the horizontal path at the top of the tree might have an effect on the tool that the Hermetic Tree represents, while a Lurianic practitioner placing it into the vertical path from Kether to Tiphereth might make the system more stable and balanced for their needs. It might neutralize the force, in a way. In other words, the Lurianic tree might be less volatile and reactive than the Hermetic one, spiritually.
So here are the basic meanings of the 22 Letters of the Alphabet.
Edit (6/28/18). I just noticed that there are some significant differences from what I was taught and the image above, but it was the best one available online when I posted this initially. According to what I've been taught:
Bet, though initially signifying a tent, means "House".
Tet (listed as Teth) means "Basket".
Samech means "Support". "Prop" is a synonym, but might be misleading.
Quf (Called Qoph, above) means "Monkey", "Back of Head", or "Eye of a Needle"
Tav (Tau) means "Impression" or "Seal".
Some are debatable, like the fact that Vav means "hook", Zayin means "weapon", and chet means "fenced field".
The idea in Lurianic Kabbalah is to find the deeper meanings of the letters, beyond the idea that Aleph means "Ox". What does an Ox mean in the context of Jewish experience? It's a powerful animal, and in ancient times an older Ox was often tied to a younger Ox when it needed to learn to plow. The younger Ox would be dragged along until it learned. An Ox was also a symbol of wealth, which is a symbol of power. So the Lurianic Kabbalistic take on the letter Aleph is that it represents Mastery, Teaching, Power, and the paradox between God and Man; at once distant from God in humility, and yet face to face with him or her, as per the form of the letter:
Two dots separated by a bond (the diagonal line) that divides them, and linking to that bond. The upper dot (a letter Yud) represents the Creator. The lower dot/yud represents us, and the line (a vav) represents connection, that simultaneously distances by its very existence. You wouldn't need to connect if there was no distance, and you wouldn't have distance if you were fully connected.
Aleph corresponds to the numbers 1 and 1,000, by some counting systems. It has become a mathematical symbol for orders of infinity for perhaps related reasons. A surprising number of mathematicians are interested in gematria and Kabbalah. So Aleph is taken to mean unity from multiplicity, or leadership.
Aleph's placement on the Lurianic Tree, separating and linking Chesed and Gevurah says something about what it's all about. Chesed is endless giving (Saying "Yes"), and Gevurah is limitation and restriction (Saying "No"). Aleph governs this relationship. It's the point of commonality between the two ideas, and the translator between these forces. It decides between them. The Sepher Yetzirah calls Aleph a "Tongue of Balance" between Mem and Shin; "Merit" and "Liability", but it serves a similar role here.
That's how it goes for all of the letters. Each letter's chosen form describes a Kabbalistic concept related to the letter.
So that's the gist. I'll avoid going too much deeper into things than this as this is already long. But feel free to ask any questions, and I'll do my best to answer them as well as I can.