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Deciphering the Engravings

New Page -- 2 February 2007

The Ninth Gate is a film by the well known director, Roman Polanski. Deciphering the Engravings -- this webpage -- is Laurel Whitney's continuing analysis of the movie and the book on which the movie was based. This is the second 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:

The Big Picture

Deciphering the Engravings

The First Three Gates

Qabalistic Background

The Second Three Gates

The Final Three Gates

John's Apocalyspe

The Polanski Code

Appendix P

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, the 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.





The Frontispiece Engraving -- The Serpent on the Tree

The fictitious book in the film is called 'The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows' and it would probably be helpful to know right from the start that the journey depicted in the engravings *begins* in the 'Kingdom of Shadows', which is how many people now perceive this world, and the 'nine gates' are passed through on the journey *out* of the Kingdom of Shadows. Most of the owners and pursuers of the book never understand this and in fact believe exactly the opposite, and it is this mindset which is at least partly responsible for drawing to them their various gruesome fates.

The Frontispiece engraving of the book shows a tree being struck by lightning which causes a portion of the tree to fall, while a snake with its tail in its mouth winds itself around the base of the tree. Those who are familiar with the basic teachings of the Qabalah will recognize this as a reference to the qabalistic diagram called the Tree of Life. The diagram of the Tree is made up of ten circular centers referred to as a sephira (singular) or sephiroth (plural). These are connected by 22 paths, each path corresponding to one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and one of the 22 Trumps of the Tarot's Major Arcana.

Each sephira on the Tree is related to a state of human consciousness and the film's nine 'gates' correspond to specific points of transition which the individual traveler encounters on his journey of evolving consciousness 'up the Tree'. He will 'climb' from a state of minimal ego awareness at the very bottom of the Tree and ultimately reach the realm of Spirit and the vision of Light at the very top of the Tree, which is the opening of the Ninth Gate. A thorough study of this diagram and navigation of the experienced realities which the symbols of the Tree of Life represent might be the work of many lifetimes, but it is possible to touch the high points which are represented in the engravings of the Nine Gates and get a general idea of the territory and the journey.

To help in visualizing the paths which the traveler of the engravings takes as he climbs the Tree of Life, a [more or less traditional] diagram of the Tree with the names of the ten sephiroth and the names of the Hebrew letters which are assigned to the paths can be viewed at http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Image:Tree_simple.gif. [Editor's note: It might be worthwhile to print out this description of the Tree of life for use in reading this essay.]

Also, as you read the interpretations of each of the Nine Gates, you might be 'mentally pronouncing' the names of the ten sephiroth many times and if you would like to pronounce them correctly, Appendix P contains a pronunciation guide.

The Hebrew and Greek Letters & The 'Number of the Beast'

There is a long tradition in Tarot of correlating individual cards with the meaning of Hebrew and Greek letters, each letter having a corresponding numerical value. In the descriptions for each gate, rather than reproducing the Hebrew and Greek letters which appear at the top of each engraving, I have spelled out the names of the letters instead. It's important to note that while the 22 Hebrew letters are assigned to the paths between the sephiroth on the Tree, the Hebrew letters that appear at the top of the engravings do not refer to the paths. The symbols shown are simply the first 9 letters of each alphabet in sequence except for the Greek where a substitution has been made in the letter representing the number 6.

According to the Cornell University Epigraphy Project, in order to construct a complete numerical system from Greek letters, 27 letters were required: nine letters for the single units 1-9, nine letters for the 'teens', and nine for the hundreds. Because there were only 24 letters in the Greek alphabet at the time, three obsolete letters were reinstated, including a letter variously called 'digamma' or 'stigma' to represent the number 6.

The form of this letter (which we will call 'stigma') begins with a variant lower case form of sigma (with a snakelike "S" shape) which is used only at the end of a word. This variant form of sigma was modified by adding an extended, horizontal rather than curved 'cap' which is taken from the top of the letter 'tau'. So the letter representing 6, called 'stigma', is a composite of the variant form of sigma (bottom) and the form of tau (top). The regular, non-variant lower case form of sigma (roughly circular with a 'cowlick') has the value of 200.

The Greek letter which appears on the engraving for the Sixth Gate is the snakelike, lower case form of sigma which is used only at the end of a word, with its curved top unmodified. Although there is a table at Wikipedia which shows this symbol as representing 6, it appears this is a misidentification based on a confusion between the similar forms of 'sigma' and 'stigma'. I have found no other reference which identifies the unmodified variant form of 'sigma' with any official numerical value.

If this letter form of sigma has no 'official' numerical value, the only number associated with it would be 18, since it is the eighteenth letter of the existing Greek alphabet. In terms of numerology, the number 18 can be represented as 1 + 8 = 9, or more provocatively, 6 + 6 + 6 = 18. This is not the technical equivalent of 'the number of the Beast' which in gematria is 'six hundred sixty-six', but I think it can legitimately be seen as a reference to it. We will have more to say about this when we come to the analysis of the symbolism of the Ninth Gate. There we may discover not only why Greek letters were prominently featured on the engravings, but also why attention may have deliberately been called to this particular variation of the Greek letter sequence which appears on the engraving for the Sixth Gate showing the symbol of the Hanged Man.

With these preliminaries established, we now begin the symbolic journey of the 'Path of Return' or the 'Path of the Serpent', from the lowest point on the Tree of Life in the realm of ego, to the highest point in the Realm of Spirit, a journey which begins with the opening of THE FIRST 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 hesper79@uneedspeed.net. Comments worth sharing with others may be included in The Ninth Gate Commentaries.


Ha Qabala

The Ninth Gate

The Big Picture

Forward to:

The First Three Gates

ORME         White Powder of Gold         Star Fire



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