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The First Three Gates

New Page -- 2 February 2007

The Ninth Gate is a film by the well known director, Roman Polanski. The First 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 third section of nine, in which Ms. Whitney relates the contents of the movie and book to the Qabala and The Tree of Life, by taking us through the first three gates.

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, 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.

Editor's notes are enclosed in [brackets].





Aleph (Ox) = 1st Hebrew letter * Roman Numeral I * Alpha = 1st Greek letter

In the book version of the engraving, the caption is:



Literal Translation: "No one attains who unlawfully contends"

Book Translation: "Only he who has fought according to the rules will succeed"

The engraving shows a mounted knight with his right index finger to his lips making the sign for "Silence". He is riding towards a castle which has three towers.

This is the LCF Version [In the two AT engravings, the castle has 4 towers]

In the movie version, the caption is:



Silence is Golden

Beginning with the symbols which remain the same between the two versions, we have a knight, which suggests the idea that he is on a quest and perhaps also suggests all of the high moral qualities and determination to prevail which we associate with ideal knighthood. He is riding a horse which brings in the symbol of the helpful animal or being in touch with one's instinctive, intuitive sense which, in case you get lost, 'knows the way home'. The knight is approaching a castle, which is often a symbol of the location of a treasure which the castle walls protect.

He has large feather plumes on his helmet, apparently ostrich plumes, which in the symbolism of heraldry represent obedience and serenity. A similar feather appears in the headgear of The Fool in some versions of the Tarot. The ostrich plume was also the feather of the Egyptian goddess Ma'at, associated with justice and truth. In the underworld, Ma'at would weigh the deceased's heart in her scales against this feather, and only the heart which was unburdened by the weight of worldly sin would escape being devoured by the crocodile-headed Ammit.

The variation in the engraving in terms of the number of the castle's towers directs our attention to the difference in symbolic meaning between the numbers three and four. The classical distinction is between the transcendent or spiritual level of reality and the material or mundane level. Divinity is often expressed as a trinity, the Holy Trinity, the Triple Goddess, and in the Tree of Life symbol, the first three sephiroth or centers of energy at the top of the tree (the Supernal Triad). The latter represents the Transcendent Source from which all of Creation is born, and the fourth sephira/center, just below it, is the first manifest, incarnate, human-level expression of that Source energy.

The number four reflects the qualities of the created world: the four directions, the four seasons, and the four classical 'elements': fire, air, water, earth. There are also four dimensions to everything that we are capable of experiencing in the material world: the three spatial directions (length, width and height) plus time. In the LCF version of the First Gate, the knight rides towards a castle with three towers which is a symbolic indication that the treasure which he seeks is not a mundane, material treasure, but a transcendent, spiritual one.

The 'Silence' gesture is a reminder to students of spiritual wisdom traditions that not everyone in the general public is prepared to properly understand the teachings. [This is particularly true of movie critics!] In the context of the journey up the Tree portrayed in the engravings, those whose consciousness are still dominated by the perspective of the ego, represented by the lowest levels of the Tree, will interpret everything as the ego sees it. They will then assume that the goal of the quest involves personal profit and power over others -- unless the student is lucky enough to have a qualified teacher to help him or her avoid this kind of distorted viewpoint.

Wisdom traditions are traditionally meant for those who have already become disillusioned with the material world-view of the ego, and who are ready to pursue the spiritual treasure which is found on the 'upward' path on the Tree. The best translation of the 'Silence' gesture that I know is 'Don't talk about it, just do it.' In the film, practically all of the characters except Corso have something to say about their own deluded ideas of what the engravings mean, but it is only Corso, with the help of the girl, who keeps his own counsel, quietly pursues the true journey, and ultimately succeeds.

So why am I apparently breaking this rule of silence now? First, because I have made, and continue to make, my own journey on the Tree and my intuition, which I have come to trust absolutely, tells me that sharing what I have learned so far is the correct thing to do. [Editor's note: One might argue that "the girl" in the movie is doing the same.]Secondly, everything which Balkan's path of destruction illustrates is already happening in the world around us every day and there is nothing in this article that could make this situation any worse. The only antidote that I know of for the apparently precarious state of the world today is for as many people as possible to start making their own 'Journey Beyond Evil'. The film "The Ninth Gate" seems to me to be an interesting way to introduce people to the idea of the journey and to provide a general description of the experiences which may be encountered. (Also, the truths of the Tree which I present here were discovered through long-term study and practice, a method which any sincere seeker can also follow. I am not a member of any arcane organization, don't advocate any potentially risky "short-cuts" on the spiritual path, and have taken no blood-curdling vows of secrecy.)

So back to the First Gate. As for the idea that it's necessary to fight 'according to the rules', not all knights were virtuous, and for one who is on a quest for material treasure and earthly power (Torchia's version of the engraving showing a castle with four towers), and who is perhaps a member of some secret organization whose goals are equally materialistic, it's possible that according to 'the rules' which such a person would live by, leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him might be considered to be perfectly acceptable. In terms of the symbolism of the First Gate, Balkan is obviously on the path which Torchia's version of the engraving describes and, based on the decisions which he makes over the course of the movie, he is clearly convinced that following his own personal rule book is the way to 'win'. But as the motto of The First Gate warns, if he contends unlawfully, he will not attain the true high goal of the Quest.

The First Gate can be associated with the lowest sephira on the Tree, Malkuth, also known as The Kingdom, the material realm. Those who follow the path symbolized by the AT version of the engraving will seek their material treasure here. Those who follow the LCF version will look to the very top of the Tree as the goal of their Quest which brings us to the next engraving, a kind of 'flash-forward' from the lowest sephira of the *human* realm of the Tree to the highest.



Bet (House) = 2nd Hebrew letter * Roman Numeral II * Beta = 2nd Greek letter



They open that which is closed

The engraving shows a figure who is recognizable as The Hermit, the Ninth Trump of the Tarot's Major Arcana. He stands before a closed door with two keys in his left hand. His lit lantern is on the ground in front of him to the right and a small dark dog faces him to his left. The Hebrew letter Teth (numerical value = 9) appears next to The Hermit's head. It's interesting that this is the only door in any of the engravings that has a knocker, which happens to be circular, symbolizing again Spirit (the value of 'pi' being 3 plus an infinite number of decimal places). The knocker suggests the activity of internal seeking which the Hermit is engaged in ("Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.” --Matthew 7:7–8)

LCF Version [The two AT engravings show the keys in the right hand]

Beginning first with the symbolism that remains the same in both versions of the engravings, we have the Hermit figure from the Tarot, who has two traditional possessions. The first is his lantern which is always burning, even in daylight. This symbolizes the development of an understanding which illuminates the true nature of things, even those which you might have thought were already clearly seen by the light of ordinary consciousness, but were not.

The second is a staff which is symbolically also represented as a snake. The snake is a symbol of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom as well as the kundalini force which, turned inward and upward, empowers the inner quest. It seems at first that the staff/snake is missing in this engraving, but it is actually present in the form of the Hebrew letter Teth. Hebrew letters have individual meanings and Teth means 'the serpent'.

Since Hebrew letters are read from right to left, if you look at the shape of Teth, you will see not only that it resembles a snake but that it reflects the truth that the first movement in the 'ascent to God' is a movement 'inward', a knowing of God at the heart of our own being ("The Kingdom of Heaven is within you"). Teth is an appropriate attribution for the stage of discipleship which the Hermit symbolizes, a period of time in which attention and energy must be withdrawn from ordinary engagement with the outer world and turned inward in a quest for inner meaning and self-knowledge.

Teth is also the Hebrew letter which is assigned to the final horizontal path just below the Abyss which separates the lower seven sephiroth of the Tree from the transcendent realm of the Divine Creative forces of the Supernal Triad. The Tarot symbolism for the path of Teth will be the subject of the engraving for the Ninth Gate. The Hermit card is assigned to the path which connects the balance point of the realm of the Soul at Tiphareth/Beauty with the highest human level sephira on the Tree, Chesed/Mercy. Accordingly, what we see reflected in this symbolism is the final stage of the Quest which the knight in the engraving of the First Gate is just beginning. ?????

The symbol of the dog is not in itself either 'good' or 'evil' and despite speculation which I have been seen on some threads at IMDb, there is no reason to assume that it stands for 'the devil'. In fact such an interpretation would be completely foreign to the symbolic system of the Tarot from which the figure of the Hermit comes. The dog traditionally symbolizes a domesticated, helpful form of our animal instincts which can 'smell' and warn of danger, loyally defend us against would-be attackers, nip at our heels if we don't keep up the pace, and keep us in touch with our physical, feeling side when we are in danger of getting lost in the intellect. In addition to the higher knowledge and wisdom which the Hermit seeks, he must also get back into touch with and integrate into his conscious psyche his own helpful animal instincts, which the little dog symbolizes.

The two keys in the Hermit's hand also appear in several of the Tarot's major trumps, one key being traditionally silver and the other gold. This symbolism parallels other polarities like Sun/Moon and masculine/feminine, and indicates that the Hermit must achieve a balanced synthesis of intellect and feeling, of both left and right-brain perception, and must remain open to receive inspiration from both superconscious and subconscious if he is to unlock the doors/gates which lead to true wisdom.

The horizontal path of Teth connects the sephira Chesed/Mercy on the right-hand Pillar of Mercy with the sephira of Geburah/Judgment (sometimes also called Pachad/Fear) on the left-hand Pillar of Severity. When the human figure is superimposed on the diagram of the Tree, the face is looking towards you, so that the sephira of Chesed/Mercy is identified with the left arm.

Although Judgment and Mercy constitute a polarity on the Tree which must be correctly balanced, Mercy is actually higher up on the Tree as it was the first incarnate energy to be created or 'emanated' by the Supernal Triad. In order to maintain an 'upward' orientation on the Tree, to keep heading in the direction of Spirit, once an effective working balance has been achieved between them, Mercy must always be given the edge over Judgment. This is another way of expressing the Christian truth that Christ came not to destroy the law but to *fulfill* it, to perfect the law it by placing it into the context of Divine Mercy/Love.

In Canto IX of Dante's 'Purgatorio', the angel who guards the gate from Hell to Purgatory uses these same gold and silver keys to unlock the gate for Dante to pass, saying "From Peter these I hold, of him instructed, that I err rather in opening than in keeping fast." The Hermit holding the keys in the left hand symbolizes this same necessary preference for Mercy. In a more general context, the right hand may also symbolize what is already known and conscious and the left that which remains unconscious. The Hermit's search takes him deep into the realm of his own unconscious and the collective unconscious of humanity. The fact that he is holding the keys in his left hand also indicates that it is his true and deepest intent to seek genuine truth and wisdom, and not just to cultivate the outward appearance of being knowledgeable.

The First Gate established the basic orientation of the disciple toward either material or spiritual goals. The Second Gate is a kind of 'flash-forward' which shows what the dominant attitude of consciousness must be to succeed in the quest. Although in the context of the end of the quest, the concept of Judgment will have a more evolved function, from the perspective of ego (which is the vantage point which our traveler now has), Torchia's version of the symbols, emphasizing Judgment, represents an egocentric and competitive attitude. The sephira Judgment is identified with the planet Mars, the implication being that in order for you to win, everyone else must lose.

This assumption naturally generates fear (that someone else will get what you want first), anger (at anyone who looks like they might be ahead of you or who stands in your way), and judgment (an automatic tendency to disparage and look down on others and to take upon yourself the power to condemn and execute as 'unworthy' any competitors or rivals). This represents the AT version of the keys held in the right hand (right arm, Geburah/Judgment). It's not very difficult to recognize that this is the path which Balkan took.

In the LCF version, holding the keys in the left hand symbolizes an attitude aligned with the sephira Mercy which reflects the qualities of the planet Jupiter: a wise, open, generous, sharing spirit that recognizes that 'we're all in this together' and that, on a genuine spiritual path, the surest way to succeed yourself is to do your best to help everyone else to succeed along with you. Chesed/Mercy is the highest sephira in the realm of what I will call the Soul, and on the journey through the 'gates'. It is the first path which we will encounter which will lead us from the realm of the ego to the realm of the Soul is the subject of THE THIRD GATE.



Gimel (Camel) = 3rd Hebrew Letter * Roman Numeral III * Gamma = 3rd Greek Letter



The lost word keeps the secret.

In this engraving, a traveler who resembles the Tarot's Fool with his bundle hanging from the staff over his shoulder, is following a path which leads to a bridge connecting the two banks of a river. The bridge is heavily fortified with a guard tower on each bank. Above the bridge, resting on a little cloud, we see a cherub (who in the movie version resembles one of the Ceniza twins) holding a bow and arrow. The bow is drawn and the arrow aimed downward, apparently towards the near side of the bridge. We see that there is a second arrow In a quiver on the cherub's back.

LCF Version [In the two AT versions, there is no second arrow in the quiver]

[Editor's Note: The engravings provided by An Eclectic Historian do not show this second arrow, but the movie does show a second arrow in its LCF version. I.e. both engravings at the website are AT versions.]

Beginning with the symbols which remain constant, we have the Tarot's Fool carrying his traditional sack over his shoulder -- it's an interesting detail that Corso is virtually never seen without his satchel. He is traveling towards a heavily fortified bridge which suggests that passage from one side of the river to the other may not be possible. This raises the question: What determines whether the traveler is allowed across or not? Given the two towers, it will be necessary for him to pass through a total of four doors to make the crossing. There are several clues here which tell us not only that we are in the symbolic territory of the Tree of Life, but also exactly which sephira/center and path we're dealing with. This is a complex subject, but I will try to identify only the essential elements. Please understand that there are variations in the paths to which the Tarot cards have been assigned on the Tree and I am presenting here the system that makes the best sense to me.

The cherub (or Kerub) is a class of angel assigned to the sephira Yesod, called the 'Foundation' and identified with the sexual/desire nature. Just as in the engraving of the Hermit we discovered that the left hand is associated with the sephira Chesed/Mercy on the right-hand Pillar of Mercy, the sephira of Yesod/Moon/Foundation on the Central Pillar of Equilibrium is associated with the genitals. Yesod, the realm of the astrological Moon, is associated with the twin sister of Sun god Apollo, the great Moon goddess Artemis/Diana, the wild huntress with her crescent Moon-shaped bow.

Yesod represents the unconscious/'astral'/dream world of desire (and fear). The angelic cherub with the bow is identical to the classical Cupid/Amor whose arrows wound the heart with Love. Once this arrow finds its mark, the 'Beloved' who is the perceived cause of this wounding becomes a mirror in which we see the qualities of our own Soul reflected. In pursuing the Beloved, we pursue the Soul, and in the course of this pursuit we are drawn 'upward' on the Tree to the sephira which is the central balance point of the Realm of the Soul, Tiphareth, called 'Beauty' and associated with Love and the Heart.

The symbols of the bow and arrow also refer to the "Path of the Arrow" -- the bow, visualized horizontally pointing upward at the level of Yesod, shoots its golden arrow of Will straight up the Middle Pillar of the Tree, from the astral desire world of Yesod to the central balance point of the realm of the Soul, the sephira Tiphareth, the Heart. This, of course, is the familiar 'Saint Valentine's Day' symbolism in its pre-Christianized form.

We have seen that arrows have symbolically been identified with 'will', and that there are potentially two 'arrows' at this point of transition at the Veil of Paroketh. If the arrow of the personal will takes a 'downward' alignment on the tree -- i.e. pursuing the 'four tower' material quest of the First Gate and adopting the 'right-hand' fear/anger/judgment attitude of consciousness of the Second Gate -- the hardened ego will not permit the heart to be wounded by the arrow of the Eros cherub. Without this wound, the Power of Love to draw the traveler 'upward' on the Path of the Arrow towards communion with the Soul cannot be ignited, and the Veil of Paroketh cannot be pierced (that is, the symbolic bridge in the engraving cannot be crossed).

[Editor's Note: See the Qabalistic Background (the next web page in this essay) for a more detailed explanation of the Veil of Paroketh, and other Qabalistic aspects of the Tree of Life.]

Instead, the traveler would see reflected back at him by the watery barrier of the Veil, an illusory world corresponding to his own desires and fears and his own ego's belief system. All of the negative energy which his personal will directed outward at others would then be reflected back and turned against him (downward arrow). This is why one interpretation of the engraving is a warning of 'danger descending from above'. The real danger comes from the violent projections of the ego which, reflected by the Veil, only *seem* to be coming from 'above'. We see in the movie that Balkan once again proceeds confidently according to his own flawed understanding, following the Torchia single-arrow version of the Third Gate. In the process he leaves a trail of destruction behind him and ultimately destroys himself, all without ever leaving the illusory realm of the ego.

In the Latin phrase for this Gate, which was translated as 'The lost word keeps the secret', the word 'dimissum' (lost) also carried the meaning of 'abandoned' or 'left behind'. There is another similar case of a 'lost word' in masonic mythology in which, in terms of the symbolism of the Tree, the original meaning was 'lost'/'left behind' above the Abyss and a new one had to be substituted below it. This is because the nature of reality above the Abyss is so entirely 'other' than the reality below it, that there is simply no way to 'translate' between the two without the radical change in the nature of 'being/Being' which crossing the Abyss effects. The same is true at this 'lower' barrier between ego and Soul. The power to pierce the Veil comes from 'above' and is evoked by the Love of the Soul, which is an experienced reality which no mere 'word' (ego concept) can ever connect with.

It is just this realm of ego concepts and words, symbolized by the sephira Hod/Mercury which is the subject of THE FOURTH GATE. But before we proceed, the next section entitled Qabalistic Background describes the nature of the 'Veil of Paroketh' and provides an overview of how each 'realm' of the Tree represents a different level of evolving consciousness.

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

Deciphering the Engravings

Forward to:

Qabalistic Background

ORME         White Powder of Gold         Star Fire



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