The Second Three Gates
New Page -- 2 February 2007
The Ninth Gate is a film by the well known director, Roman Polanski. The Second Three Gates -- this webpage -- is Laurel Whitney's continuing analysis of the movie and the book on which the movie was based. This is the fifth section of nine, in which Ms. Whitney relates the contents of the movie and book to the Qabala and The Tree of Life. The nine sections include:
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Engravings from the book, The Dumas Club, and the movie, The Ninth Gate, can be found at An Eclectic Historian.
(6/20/9) Make that Apocalyptic Productions, for the movie version (but you will have to buy the book for the novel's version). (An Eclectic Historian is not currently on the web.)
It is strongly recommended that you print out these pages (all 18) and use them in the process of reading Ms. Whitney's essay. In addition, version of the Tree of Life used by Ms. Whitney can be viewed at: http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Image:Tree_simple.gif.
A WARNING -- other than "abandon hope all ye who enter here" -- is that you might want to see the movie before reading the essay, inasmuch as the analysis pretty much gives away the plot, like who gets killed and who doesn't.
V. THE SECOND THREE GATES
THE FOURTH GATE
Dalet (Door) = 4th Hebrew Letter * Roman Numeral IV * Delta = 4th Greek Letter
A Jester, wearing a two-'eared' cap 'n bells, stands at rest holding a serpent/staff in his right hand which balances him. He stands on a low rise of ground looking down on an irregular hexagonal enclosed maze whose shape is slightly elongated, suggesting the shape of a coffin. The entry door to the maze is closed and viewed from above, the maze is seen to be full of dead-ends. Three dice lie on the ground to the Jester's right, each with three readable sides with numbers 1, 2, and 3 showing. One die has its number 1 side up, one has 2 up, and one has 3 up. On the far back wall of the maze is an archway which opens to the outside, whose top has five crenelations.
LCF Version [in the two AT engravings, the back archway is walled up]
There are two figures in the Tarot who resemble the Jester: the Fool, whom we saw as the traveler on the path in the Third Gate engraving, and the Magician, also known as the Juggler or Magus. Both of these Tarot characters are aspects of the archetypal figure known in astrology as Mercury, and in alchemy as Hermes or Mercurius. In the symbolism of the Third Gate, we traveled the Central Pillar path from the sephira Yesod (realm of the ego) up to Tiphareth (realm of the Soul). In the Fourth Gate, we are dealing with Mercury/Hermes, associated with the sephira Hod on the left-hand Pillar of Severity, at exactly the height of the mid-point between Yesod and Tiphareth, but below the Veil of Paroketh. Hod/Mercury (ego realm) is associated with the lower mind and is the left pole of a horizontal polarity. The right end of the polarity, on the right-hand Pillar of Mercy (also at the height of the mid-point between Yesod and Tiphareth), is the sephira Netzach/Venus (ego realm), associated with ego values and lower feeling.
In the passage through the Third Gate, the personal love for a 'Beloved' was the catalyst that began the quest for the Soul which pierced the barrier between ego and Soul, an illustration of the contribution of the Venus realm of lower feeling to upward progress on the Tree. Now in the Fourth Gate, we come to the role of the realm of Mercury, the lower mind. The maze is an appropriate symbol here since a maze, seen from above, is a kind of map of what will be encountered inside it, and the function of the ordinary intellect or lower mind has a lot to do with 'mapping' or defining experience. And just as the configuration of the walls of the maze limits the freedom of movement of a traveler within the maze, it is also true that life experience may be limited by the kind of configuration of the territory which the mind is capable of conceiving (or 'mapping'). It is this last truth which is the subject of the engravings of the Fourth Gate.
Though the terms 'maze' and 'labyrinth' have been used interchangeably, most of us today think of a labyrinth as having a single path which winds, without obstruction, to the center, at which point you simply retrace your steps to exit. Like the one in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, such labyrinths have become popular meditation tools. These designs, often circular, are inlaid into the floors of some medieval cathedrals including the labyrinth at Chartres outside of Paris, which was the model for the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. This suggests that the labyrinth had a traditional spiritual application, perhaps as a symbolic pilgrimage or form of penance.
The 'maze', by contrast, more often appeared in secular contexts, was often square, with passages that intersected at right angles, and was more of a left-brain puzzle, with an intricate network of intersecting passageways and many dead-ends. . Since it was a puzzle, the challenge posed by a maze was to 'solve' it in order to reach a goal which was something *other* than the place where you entered the maze. The classic method for finding your way through a maze was to keep your right hand always in contact with the wall, which ensured that you would pass through all of the passages in the maze, eventually being sure to find the 'goal'. If we look at the maze as a symbol of the passage through life, full of unforeseen twists, turns, and blind alleys, the 'one-hand' technique for solving the maze would parallel the gnostic belief that the individual must pass through all possible forms of experience before reaching the point where a return to earthly life would no longer be necessary.
Perhaps you can see the correspondences between the round labyrinth and the three towered castle representing a spiritual goal (value of pi = 3...), and the four towered castle representing a material ego goal and the angular maze as a lower mind puzzle. If the maze is a symbolic map of earthly life, then the question becomes 'what is the goal?' The answer to that question will depend upon what level of consciousness is asked, and in terms of the engravings of the Fourth Gate, there are two possibilities: the ego consciousness of lower mind/Mercury (AT version) and the intuitive consciousness of the Higher Mind of Hermes or the Magician (LCF version).
If it is the lower mind of Mercury which responds to the question, the answer will be based on the map of reality which the ego recognizes, in which all possible goals exist within the bounds of the mundane world (such goals as wealth, power, fame, celebrity, pleasure or security). Since the ego is incapable of imagining a goal that exists beyond its own mundane world, there would be no concept of wishing to pass beyond the ego realm of the maze itself and therefore no 'exit' from the maze on the ego's map of life.
The traveler who chose a 'downward' orientation on the Tree (towards material goals) at the First Gate, an ego attitude of competitiveness, anger and fear at the Second Gate, and who was incapable of making the transition from ego to Soul at the Third Gate, on arriving at the Fourth Gate, would find himself confronted by Torchia's no-exit version of the maze, a map of life which would also represent his 'fate' until such time as he might be able to evolve enough (through longer life experience) to achieve a higher perspective. The fact that the open archway is built into the structure of the maze and appears to be only temporarily bricked up suggests that this barrier is not an absolute one, but is experienced only from the perspective of the lower mind/ego consciousness which is what creates it.
This engraving reflects the number 6 in the sum of the numbers facing upward on the three dice and in the six-sided shape of the maze. Six is considered a number of luck and is most famously associated with the six-pointed star, the Seal of Solomon which represents balance and completion. The Seal symbolizes the union of the upward and downward pointing triangles, the union of above and below and heaven and earth as well as the Soul and ego.
If you count all of the visible numbers on each of the dice, the result will be 6, 6, 6. We will understand why the illustrator associated the 'number of the Beast' with the Fourth Gate of the lower mind as well as the Sixth Gate of the transition to Soul when we come to the analysis of the Ninth Gate. Dice were among the implements found on the table of the Tarot's Magician in early versions of the Tarot, representing not games of chance but divination of the future or one's 'fortune'. At this Gate, fortune would favor the traveler who has the advantage of access to the intuitive Higher Mind functions of the Magician, the latter which come from the union of ego and Soul.
Let us return to the question "What is the goal of life?". If it is the consciousness of the Magician which responds, the answer would be to master the lessons of earthly life, to unite ego and Soul, develop the capacity for Spiritual discernment and become an effective instrument of unselfish Divine Love. Within such an expanded context, the events of earthly life are no longer experienced as being 'mundane' but are seen and understood in an entirely new light. Since the goal envisioned by the Magician requires transcending the world of the ego, the Magician's 'map' of earthly life would have to include the idea of 'passing beyond' the ego's territory and this is represented in the engraving by the open archway at the far side of the maze.
The five crenelations of the arch might represent the five-senses which are the basis of the ego consciousness of the lower mind which is transcended beyond this passage. The references to death in the coffin-like shape of the maze and its many dead-ends, might refer to the fact that, in the context of the mundane world and from the ego's perspective, there is a sense in which 'fate' *is* the same for all: death. And it might also refer to the fact that, on the Magician's first passage from ego to Soul, his ego's experience is one of the 'death' of its autonomy, which then gradually becomes a permanent subordination of ego consciousness to the greater power, wisdom and guidance of the Soul.
Balkan's temperament will not allow him to subordinate his ego to anyone or anything, even the guidance of his own Soul, and this will prevent him from genuinely piercing the Veil of Paroketh which separates the realm of ego from the realm of Soul. However, as a student of 'black magick', he would have a distorted *concept* of the existence of powers to be acquired from traveling on the Tree, and this distorted view might represent one version of an 'exit' from the maze for him, even if an illusory one.
Because Balkan's concept of the nature of the higher powers of the Tree would be limited to how they could serve his own ego goals, his interactions with the sephiroth above the Veil would actually be a kind of unreal 'shadow-boxing' with the desire and fear-generated illusions of his own imagination in which he wouldn't actually connect with the transformative reality of these powers at all. So in terms of the Fourth Gate engraving, Balkan would still be wandering around inside the ego maze but would be laboring under the illusion that he had passed beyond it. In spite of his illusions, he would still be following the path of the AT version of the engraving.
The third and final path to be traveled to pass beyond the Veil of Paroketh begins at the sephira Netzach/Venus/lower emotion, and is the subject of THE FIFTH GATE.
THE FIFTH GATE
Heh (Window) = 5th Hebrew Letter * Roman Numeral V * Epsilon = 5th Greek letter
A bearded man, (a mature man, not a youth), is sitting in a room, counting out stacks of gold coins from a very large sack on the floor before him. The man is seemingly unaware of the hooded figure of a skeleton standing just behind his left shoulder and holding two symbols. In his right hand is an hourglass in which all of the sand has run out into the bottom chamber, and in his left hand he holds a pitchfork which is shaped like a trident. The trident is the traditional symbolic implement of the Western gods who rule the oceans, Poseidon/Neptune, and the powerful Indian god of destruction and creation, Shiva. This is the only engraving in which the figures are shown *inside* a structure where the door is clearly bolted (and can be unbolted) from the inside.
LCF version [in the two AT engravings, the sand is in the top of the hourglass]
The symbols here seem simple and straight-forward. Storing up material riches is ultimately futile since death is certain and "you can't take it with you". But if we stop at this level of interpretation, the story doesn't go anywhere, and symbolism in the Tarot is always about the stages of a journey. There are two references to the symbolism of the Tarot in this engraving, the most obvious being Death, Tarot Key #13, associated with the path on the Tree of Life which connects the sephira Netzach/Venus (ego realm) on the right-hand Pillar of Mercy to the sephira Tiphareth/Sun (Soul realm) on the Central Pillar of Equilibrium.
We have already traveled the two other paths from ego to the Soul realm in the Third and Fourth Gates. This is the last remaining path which brings the traveler to confront the watery Veil of Paroketh, the illusory barrier between ego and Soul. The Hebrew letter name of this path is Nun, which means 'fish', and the Tarot key Death is related to the water sign of Scorpio which rules the alchemical processes of transformation, the dissolution and putrefaction of the old structure, freeing up its energies and elements to be re-embodied in a new form.
The second Tarot reference is to the Minor Arcana card, the Ten of Pentacles, called 'Wealth'. Pentacles are the suit representing the material element of earth. Numbered one through ten (comparable to diamonds in the modern playing card deck), they are called 'coins', 'shields', or 'disks' in some versions of the Tarot. Ten is the number of completion in the Tarot Minor Arcana in which the energy which came into existence with the Ace has expressed itself to its fullest possible extent. Once the force of the element is exhausted, the resulting stagnation begins the process of transformation, freeing the energy to take on a new form.
Netzach/Venus is the realm of feeling, and we have already seen one aspect of its power in its collaboration with the sexual nature in the Third Gate where personal love for a 'Beloved' is transmuted into Love of the Soul. This reflects Venus' role in relationship (Venus rules the astrological Seventh House and sign of Libra, symbolic of marriage and serious partnership). But Venus, as the astrological ruler of the Second House and sign of Taurus, symbolic of material resources, also rules the desire for and the ability to attract material wealth and it is this aspect which is considered in the engravings for the Fifth Gate. There is certainly nothing wrong with the desire to have enough material possessions to sustain and support your life, but the situation reflected in this engraving is one in which the man has accumulated wealth far beyond his need to spend it.
Those who have attained great wealth eventually find that there is a point at which no amount of money is 'enough' because once you have more than you could ever possibly spend, you realize that it is money and material possessions *in themselves* which are simply 'not enough' to fill the void which is still felt inside. This is the point at which the sand finally runs out into the bottom chamber of the hourglass. The incarnating Soul has submerged itself in the values of the ego and immersed itself in the world of materiality to the fullest possible extent, and the only way forward from this point is through the death of the ego's old materialistic value system and the birth of a new perspective which begins to recognize the value of spiritual attainments and to feel the magnetic 'pull' to make a conscious return to the realm of the Soul.
Why does the figure of Death hold a trident instead of the traditional scythe? The function of the Indian god Shiva, that of transformation, has already been covered in the description of the related function of Scorpio. The symbolic figure of the devil also wields a trident-shaped 'pitchfork', though no one seems to have much insight into *why*, beyond its obvious use as a weapon with which to torment 'sinners'. But the symbolism of trident-wielding Neptune can shed some light on this. The Roman god Neptune commanded the water realm which is symbolically the realm of feeling. However, he was not associated with small bodies of water which might be compared to the feeling nature of the ego, but was the ruler of the vast, undivided expanse of the oceans symbolizing the Soul's Transcendent Higher Feeling realm in which the Soul recognizes no boundaries.
Astrological Neptune represents the ideal Spiritual energies of the Soul. Once you have made the return trip which unites ego with Soul, you are aware of the world as the Soul perceives it and this is the only proper context in which the transcendent energies of Neptune express themselves in an entirely positive way. 'Below' the Veil of Paroketh, before the ego becomes consciously aware of the Soul, the ego believes itself to be the ultimate master and interprets the visions of Neptune as if they were intended for itself. This is a delusion which brings nothing but disaster.
The Soul knows itself to be connected to all other Souls and knowing this, sees all other human beings as spiritual equals. The ego, catching a glimpse of the ideal Neptunian vision, yet believing itself to be separate and apart from all other selves, appropriates the divine message as if it applied to itself alone and translates it as Balkan does:
The film showed us just how well this delusion worked out for him.
Here Balkan demonstrates what is known as 'satanic pride' -- the Neptunian vision of the Soul subverted to serve the lower instincts and power drive of the lower mind and ego. The symbolic figure of the devil, representing unevolved, debased humanity, is usually red, the vibratory color of the lowest human energy, that of the animal instincts. It has cloven hooves, horns, and a tail, and clutches the trident of Neptune but, not being even fully human in its development, doesn't allow this transcendent energy to draw it 'up' the Tree in the direction of full humanity and union with Soul. Instead it deludes itself that Neptune's powers are its own, and attempts to use them to satisfy its animal appetites and instinctive drive for power. Only the repeated experience of disillusionment and destructive consequences can break the negative Neptunian spell and convince a 'devilish' human that he is *not* the personal equal of God.
To return to the Fifth Gate, only the individual himself can know when the sands of satisfaction with materialism have completely run out. At that moment, he will stop seeing reflected back to him in the watery barrier of Paroketh the vision of his own continuing desire for material riches and possessions that only serve to feed the vanity of his ego. Once he is no longer dominated by the illusive ego desires which would draw him 'downward' on the Tree, he is free to be inspired by the true vision of Neptune. He can then direct the same powerful will that was once devoted to material goals towards the attainment of spiritual goals, until the Love of the Soul ultimately draws him 'upward' into a union of ego with Soul at the central balance point of the Tree at Tiphareth.
For those like Balkan who are still entranced by the illusion that material power and possessions can provide ultimate satisfaction, as in the AT version, the sand is still in the upper chamber of the hourglass and the death/transformation of the lower mind/ego which leads to ultimate union with the Soul will have to wait until this negative Neptunian spell which deludes the ego is broken. Appropriately enough, in the Latin phrase assigned to the Fifth Gate, the word 'frustra' can also be translated as 'deceived'.
The nature of the major transformation which the traveler is about to undergo from ego dominance to Soul dominance is the subject of THE SIXTH GATE.
THE SIXTH GATE
Vav (Nail) = 6th Hebrew Letter * Roman Numeral VI * Sigma = 18th Greek Letter
(The Greek letter shown on the engraving is the variant form of lower case sigma used only at the end of a word. In addition to resembling a snake, this variant of sigma as the 18th Greek letter also has interesting numerological properties as the number 18 can be represented as 1+8 = 9; or as 6+6+6. We will consider the possible implications of this in more detail at the Ninth Gate.)
A man is hanging upside-down from the battlement of a castle wall by a noose-like rope wrapped around his right foot. The 'hangman's knot' is tied at the top loop of the rope that encircles the crenelation thus placing the crenelation of the castle wall in the place where the usual hanged man's head would be. This is just one example of the general pattern of 'reversal' in this engraving. The man's left leg is bent at the knee at almost a right angle and crosses behind the right knee. The arms are held behind the back, apparently restrained there. The man's face is relaxed and serene and there is no sign of the effect of gravity on his hair or clothing. To his right is a closed entry door to the castle and above it and to the left is a narrow arched window opening through which a mailed right arm is extended holding an upright, flaming sword.
LCF Version [in the two AT engravings, the man hangs by his left foot.]
Here we have the Tarot's Hanged Man, Key #12, hanging not from the usual Tau cross or tree, but from the wall of a castle on the outside. Since, in this series of engravings, the castle is symbolic of the final goal of the quest, the traveler here is shown for the first time to be entirely 'dependent' upon it, instead of separate from and traveling towards it, as he was in the past. This is a symbolic reflection of the great change which he experienced upon passing through the Veil of Paroketh, leaving the realm of the ego and entering into the realm of the Soul.
The flaming sword is another symbol related to the Tree of Life and is one name given to the path of the Tree's transcendent energy which flows on a downward course to sustain all of the lower sephiroth of the Tree. This is the path which the Transcendent Creative Energy originally took from the top of the Tree to the bottom, emanating each of the centers of the Tree as it went, in the original creative process. Because it zig-zags from pillar to pillar, it is also known as the 'path of the lightning bolt', a symbol which first appeared in the engraving of the Frontispiece showing a lightning-struck tree.
Up to now, the question of whether the traveler was maintaining an 'upward' or 'downward' orientation on the Tree has been a fairly simple matter. At each of the earlier gates, the LCF version of the engraving illustrated a choice which placed the traveler on an 'upward' path. But in the Fifth Gate, just preceding this, the LCF traveler finally left the realm of ego domination and entered the realm of the Soul, and this is a transition which involves a profound reorientation of the will. The Hanged Man is now aligned with the path of the 'flaming sword' in which the energy comes *from above* and as long as he maintains this orientation, the protective flaming sword which is spoken of in Genesis will not obstruct him on his journey up the Path of Return to the Garden.
He is no longer riding or walking up a path by his own will and energy, but has adopted a posture in which his accustomed ego-motivated activity is deliberately stilled. His feet aren't on the ground because he doesn't need to *go* anywhere in the old materialistic sense of reaching ego goals. His hands are behind his back because he doesn't have to *do* anything except learn to attune himself to his own Higher Will so that he can become a perfect instrument of the True Will of his Soul which is always in perfect alignment with the Will of God. Of course this doesn't mean that he stops all activity -- this is a symbolic representation of the inner attitude of receptivity to direction from Spirit which will, from now on, guide all of the traveler's actions.
The fact that the traveler is hanging by his right foot indicates that we are in the territory of the left-hand Pillar of Severity, whose base is the sephira Hod/Mercury (right leg). Not coincidentally, the path which connects Hod with the next sephira 'up' the Pillar of Severity, Geburah/Mars, is (in the system I have been using) assigned to the Tarot card The Hanged Man. Geburah/Judgment, whose symbol is the sword, represents purposeful Will, the faculty of spiritual/moral discernment and the fiery destruction of anything which is not in alignment with the Higher Will. Geburah's destructive function parallels that of the alchemical 'solve' in the process of 'solve et coagula', in which the ego's old way of perceiving and understanding has to be dissolved before the new, more highly evolved perspective of the Soul can take its place.
The related myth of Odin, who hung from the world tree for nine days in search of transcendent knowledge, reflects the fact that the transition from ego-dominance to Soul-dominance is a process which occurs over a period of time during which the ego's impulses to action are restrained until a working attunement to the impulses coming from Soul is achieved. T. S. Eliot describes the experience of this transition beautifully in these verses from East Coker:
In terms of the structure of the Tree of Life, we are now approaching the highest horizontal polarity which normal, embodied human consciousness is able to reach: Geburah/Judgment on the left-hand Pillar of Severity and Chesed/Mercy on the right-hand Pillar of Mercy. On the upward path of return, the sephira of Chesed is the last stop before the great Abyss which separates the seven sephiroth of the lower created world from the Supernal Triad, the top three transcendent sephiroth of the Creative Godhead.
The nature of Chesed has been described as the boundless outpouring of the divine desire to give. In the balance which must be achieved between Chesed and Geburah, this 'boundless outpouring' must be shaped and measured to serve the highest moral purposes of the Soul which recognizes the equal necessity and compassionate nature of intelligent restraint and generosity, each to its proper degree and in its rightful place.
Since the movie is structured to follow the progress of Corso as Balkan's agent and witness to his misadventures, it is naturally a priority to keep Balkan in the game as long as possible, right up to the final gate, and since he reflects the typical mindset of the would-be 'black magician', the romanticized idea of the 'left-hand path' of the Pillar of Severity would naturally appeal to him. He would think of it as the route which would give him the closest access to his own distorted conception of the final goal of the quest: harnessing the Higher Will to serve the deluded purposes of the lower mind/ego.
When we last left Balkan, he was still ruthlessly pursuing his ego goals and counting out his gold pieces at Netzach/Venus, unable to make the Fifth Gate transition to the realm of the Soul. So in terms of the Sixth Gate engraving, Balkan would not have achieved the inverted perspective of the Hanged Man and would instead be (symbolically) standing upright on his left foot with his bent right leg crossing it (as in the AT version). In this posture he resembles the Tarot's Emperor figure, a symbol of earthly, material, ego-based power who, in the Thoth deck, sits on a throne with his right leg crossed over his left.
The route on the Tree which Balkan has actually taken so far bypasses the realm of the Soul on the Pillar of Mercy and the Central Pillar above Yesod. It begins at the bottom sephira, Malkuth, and progresses through the astral realm of Yesod, touches the lower feeling realm of Netzach (the 'left foot'), then crosses over to the 'right leg', the sphere of the lower intellect of Hod and makes an attempt to proceed up the Pillar of Severity towards Geburah/Judgment. Since this 'left-hand path' by-passes the transition from ego to Soul, Balkan never goes through the process of union with the Soul which is symbolically represented by the Hanged Man and it is his unregenerate ego alone which attempts to rise to Geburah.
Balkan's goal as a 'black magician' is to use the energies of the Tree which are available to him to satisfy the materialistic desires of his ego. Whether he was somehow able to rise to the level of Geburah or only experienced the illusion of doing so as visions of his own desire were reflected back at him by the watery surface of the Veil of Paroketh, the end result is the same. Balkan clearly believed that he would be 'enriched by death' in the sense that the death of his competitors would ensure that the prize he was seeking would be his alone. But the violence which he directed out towards others inevitably returned to its source to wreak its destruction on him.
The genuine Hanged Man experiences the 'death' of the autonomy of his old, illusory ego identity and the ego's value system and way of seeing the world, and in compensation for this loss of the illusory personal self, he discovers the Soul, the true, eternal Self which is the heir to the entire Kingdom. This is 'The New Jerusalem' of the restored and unified Tree. The symbolic form which this reunification takes is the subject of THE SEVENTH GATE.
Note: In addition to making comments and suggestions via the Feedback mechanism for this website, one can also make comments directly to the author, Laurel Whitney, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments worth sharing with others may be included in The Ninth Gate Commentaries.
Note: In addition to making comments and suggestions via the Feedback mechanism for this website, one can also make comments directly to the author, Laurel Whitney, at email@example.com. Comments worth sharing with others may be included in The Ninth Gate Commentaries.
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