This post might seem very esoteric, and while it is based in Western esoteric tradition it’s really just an extension of what we’ve been talking about regarding chanting, and trying to find ways to make chants meaningful to us personally.
There is no shortage of information regarding Tarot cards, and I would do that subject great disservice by attempting to summarize it in a short post. Of countless books on the subject a classic remains The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages by Paul Foster Case. For our purposes here it’s really enough to know that the Tarot deck is divided into two main parts, viz. the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana are bascially the same as (with a few changes) our modern deck of playing cards whereas the Major Arcana are twenty-two cards each of which represents some certain idea by means of a very clear image.
If you’re familiar with Hebrew, or Kabbalah, you might have already noticed the fact that the alphabet (or alef-beth) used to write that language is comprised of twenty-two letters. This is not a coincidence: each card of the Major Arcana is associated with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each Major Arcana card is also associated with astrological phenomena, colors and (very important and interesting to us here) with each of the twelve tones of the octave as so divided in the Western musical tradition.
What that means, in short, is that we have a way of equating Hebrew letters with musical tones.
The following table shows the correspondences between the Major Arcana, Hebrew letters and musical tones:
|10||Wheel of Fortune||A#||כ|
So if you don’t know any Hebrew at this point you might be thinking that this post has nothing to offer you. To remedy that situation here are a few things to keep in mind if you are interested in looking up Hebrew words and converting them into chants, followed by some actual examples.
The first important thing to keep in mind is that Hebrew writing is read from right to left. In other words if you see the word אֱלֹהִים you would begin by pronouncing אֱ, then לֹ, then הִים. If we want to phonetically translate this word (useful for those who don’t know the sounds of the Hebrew alphabet) we would write it from left to right, and it would look like this: əlohim (the first letter used in the transliteration is called a schwa, and it shows that that particular vowel does not have its full value). The meaning of that word is God or gods. (It is perhaps worth contemplating for a moment upon the fact that the main word for God in Hebrew is plural in form, and sometimes does mean the plural.)
The second important point to keep in mind has to do with vowels. Hebrew (like may other Semitic languages) didn’t originally have a way to write vowels. A way of writing them was devised later on, and they are all the little dots you see the in foregoing word. These dots (vowels) have no bearing on the chanting of the words in this system. Notice that it is only the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, i.e. the consonants, which are associated with the Tarot cards.
So if we want to convert the Hebrew word אֱלֹהִים into musical tones we would first strip it of its vowels/dots. We would then have: אלהים. At this point our task is simply to associate the letters with the tones as indicated in the table above. The notes we get are these:
E, F#, C, F, G#.
Notice that up to this point we actually didn’t need to know the meaning of the word or even anything about musical notes at all: we’ve simply converted one set of symbols into another set of symbols.
If you don’t know anything at all about musical notes you can still hear how this sounds by visiting a virtual piano online (here’s one example).
Let’s take one more example: דבר (davar, “word”). You should come up with these three tones: F#, E, D.
Here are some other words you can try:
חוכמה (chokmah, “wisdom”)
אוֹר (‘or, “light”)
שמש (shamesh, “sun”)
מַיִם (mayim, “water”)
רוּחַ (ruach, “spirit, wind”)
If you’d like to try other specific words for which you don’t know the Hebrew you can look them up in Google translate, or you can try finding a word in the Hebrew Bible with a website such as this one.
I hope that this can be of some help in coming up with chants which are interesting and meaningful for all of us.