Plato, Plotinus, and the Great Chain of Being

For some time now, the Tarot has been associated with the Kabbalah and the Tarot Suits with the four Kabbalistic worlds–especially since the late 19th and early 20th century (the heyday of the Golden Dawn era).  However, it is very questionable how many students of the Tarot really arrive at an intuitive understanding of the Kabbalistic framework.  The imagery is fascinating and the discourse captivating, to be sure, but when push comes to shove, I think most people would find a simple, Neoplatonic framework more intuitively accessible and satisfying (the kind of framework that is implicit in A Metaphysical Reading of the Tarot Suits and The Soul’s Choice and which has recently been made more explicit in Neoplatonic Symbolism in the Tarot Suits).

The best place to begin learning Plato, of course, is with the master himself–and with Plotinus and Augustine, as well!  In the meantime, however, perhaps the elementary outlines and diagrams, below, will give beginning students a temporary hook upon which to hang their working hypotheses about Plato, Plotinus, and Platonism in the middle ages.  The idea–  in its most basic form –is that the phenomenal world is in some sense a reflection of higher levels of reality which are in some sense ideal and eternal.  The number of levels and their characteristics vary, depending on the philosopher under consideration, but the outlines and diagrams below offer some insight into the most basic levels (and would seem to overlap, in some respects, with the  4 Kabbalistic worlds).  NOTE:  These particular outlines and diagrams were intended to be a temporary expedient–and they may well be revised and/or replaced at some point, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, check out the new submenus to this section:

Plotinus in a Nutshell…

Neoplatonic Symbolism in the Tarot Suits

A google search of Plato and Plotinus will reveal a number of outlines and diagrams like the ones below:

Plato @ 375 BC

The Good (The Form of Forms, Symbolized by the Sun)

The World of Ideas     (Universal Archetypes)

The Celestial World     (Pre-Existence of the Soul)

The Terrestrial World (Embodied/Fallen Souls)

For a more nuanced account of Plato’s divided line, see:
Uebersax, John S. (2014). “Plato’s Divided Line Analogy”. Online article:

Plotinus @ 250 AD

Six hundred years after Plato, Plotinus represented Platonic philosophy in a more systematic way, portraying the world as being the phenomenal end-point of a process of emanation from the World Soul which, in turn, proceeded from the Intelligence (Nous), which itself, is an emanation of the One:

1. The One (First Principle)

2. The Intelligence (Divine Intelligence)

3. The Soul  (World Soul)

— Individual Souls Incarnate in Time & Space —

Once again, the diagram is simply the first one I came across– very quickly –nothing special about it or the source from which it came (and to which it is linked).  More ambitious students should proceed to John Ubersax’s page for a more in-depth exploration of the primary texts:

There are also some good YouTube presentations by
Metaphysical Reflections on Plotinus and others on Tarot…

NOTE:  Once again, my own work is reflected in the two new sub-menu items:

Plotinus in a Nutshell…

Neoplatonic Symbolism in the Tarot Suits

The Great Chain of Being

The following is a representation of The Great Chain of Being from Gornahoor.Net. It is based on similar medieval depictions which employ what are, for us, rather obscure, archaic terms. While most of these terms will probably not seem entirely new or strange, there are a couple that deserve special attention:

  1. Mens = mind Here referring to the Divine intelligence — cf. the Platonic nous or the New Testament logos or Word in and by which the world is created (see John 1:1 in the New Testament).
  2. Caelum Stellatum = the stars of heaven (which appeared to the ancients to be the outer sphere of the observable heavens).

In addition to the heavenly hierarchy of celestial beings & powers — and in addition to the “five” planets (besides earth, sun, and moon) – you should also recognize numbers 19-22: ignis, aer, aqua, & terra (i.e the four elements of antiquity which are associated with the four Tarot suits).

–> Next Up:  6. Archetypical Psychology and Spirituality

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