The Semitic Map of the Universe
as a Divination Template
by Craig Conley
Chaos in Check
Where does heaven meet earth? Various cultures have offered up poetic answers to that eternal question. For example, it has been said that heaven meets earth:
The ancient Near Easterners offered the compelling idea that heaven and earth are actually sealed together along the horizon’s border, where every night the stars sink into the subterranean ocean. For anyone journeying toward that transcendent realm on the horizon, the Semitic cosmogram is a useful tool for pinpointing one’s progress. The map offers helpful guidance when used as a template for oracular spreads, particularly for shedding light on lurking threats, dealing with sorrows, identifying existing support systems, recognizing deep-seated fears, and discovering new outlets for untapped resources.
- wherever souls greet each other (Nicaraguan saying)
- in the paddy fields (Vietnamese saying)
- in the valley of contentment (biblical proverbs)
- on the mountaintops (multicultural)
- at Shangri-La (Tibetan mythology)
- at the spiritual center (such as Mecca, in Islamic belief)
- in acts of compassion (Aramaic philosophy)
- where Yin and Yang balance (Chinese philosophy)
- in the ineffable realm within the human being (mystical traditions)
The Map at a Glance
The Semitic conception of the universe depicts a primordial ocean of water above and below the earth. The chaotic waters in the upper world are held back by the dome of the sky, a solid substance called the “firmament” and held up by the pillars of heaven. The dome allows space for air between the waters. The sun, moon, and stars travel across the dome of the sky. Within the dome are doors or windows of heaven that serve as floodgates for rain, snow, and hail. The deity of creation resides above the dome, at the highest level of the heavens.
The earth (middle world) is understood to be a round, flat disc that floats upon the great deep ocean. The ocean reaches beneath the earth’s surface and feeds streams and other bodies of water. Within the waters surrounding the earth dwell enormous sea monsters such as the Leviathan. Also underground is the underworld known as “Sheol.” This dark, deep pit is the abode of the dead and a place of mourning, sorrow, and silent waiting.
Interestingly, though many people argue that a three-tiered universe cannot translate into our post-Copernican space age, Episcopalian pastor Robert C. Schwartz points out that the latest insights of physics actually echo the ancient myths. “Contemporary cosmologists posit a bubble-shaped universe that is expanding. What it is expanding from they do not say; what it is expanding into they do not say. So if you think about it, we still have a three-tiered universe. . . . Both the Bible and the newer physics propose that the known world is permeable. The Bible sees the world as open . . . in some way to all the company of heaven. Physics sees the world as open in some way to other dimensions. What the biblical peoples and our cosmologists hold in agreement is that it is only our known world that is comprised in time and space.”
Using the Map for Divination
There are several ways to use the Semitic cosmogram as a divination template. You may customize your spread according to your individual needs and intuition. One suggested approach follows. We begin by shuffling or randomizing our preferred oracular tools (whether they be cards, stones, sticks, or whatnot). One at a time, a tool is selected and placed according to the various elements on the map.
The Significator comes first, placed face-upward at the center of the map, on the highest mountain of the earth. This lofty peak serves as the foundation for the person or issue in question. This is a powerful place, as it affords an unobstructed view of the “big picture.” This spot also symbolizes the Biblical perspective that a soul can ascend toward the heavenly sphere or descend into the netherworld.
Directly above the Significator is the “Highest Heaven,” represented by the sun blazing in its full glory at the top of the map. The Highest Heaven suggests a worthy aspiration. This aspect points to the realm of happiness within—the individual spirit, the true, numinous self, which is connected to the Creator. The tool placed on this spot illuminates one’s divine purpose and dictates a thorough examination of one’s motivations. It demands a clear and thoughtful questioning of one’s life path, deepest inspirations, hopes, and desires.
To the left of the Highest Heaven is the “Harbinger” comet. The Harbinger heralds a future event. It is the town crier, ringing the bell to announce a change, either positive or negative. It is the keeper of secrets, ready to reveal the mystery crucial to the querent at this moment. In astrological terms, the harbinger might refer to Saturn—reaper, timer, and task-master. The tool placed on this spot proclaims the possibility of harvesting what one has earned. It promises that ancient wisdom is being made manifest for those ready to receive it.
To the right of the Highest Heaven is the “Gate of Heaven,” a window that reveals a storehouse of life-nourishing resources. The tool placed on this spot will illuminate which type of resource is currently available. This gate is the ultimate crossroad, representing choice and free will. The tool placed here is like a permit that allows passage through the Gate of Heaven. One may choose to use the permit to access the bounties beyond, or one may maintain a distance. Passing through the opening will give new meaning to all aspects of one’s life, for the permit is ultimately a gift of clarity. Acceptance of this gift will be transformative. Rejection of this gift will result in stasis. However, if the Gate of Heaven inspires trepidation, that’s perfectly understandable—from certain angles the storehouse could look for all the world like a floodgate. In cases of apprehension, one might explore why one doesn’t feel prepared to handle available resources.
An optional tool may be placed on the “Moon” to shed light upon changeable aspects. The moon is popularly thought to rule emotions; thus, the tool placed on this spot may illuminate fluctuations in personality. In the environment, water ebbs and flows under the influence of the moon. Therefore, the moon also affects the Great Deep, our most profound nature. In many belief systems, the moon represents the mother and feminine attributes such as intuition and psychic ability. It may suggest clairvoyance, or wisdom beyond the intellectual realm. Before placing a tool on this spot, observe the current phase of the moon to determine whether this aspect on the map is waning or waxing (crescent moon), has reached maturity (full moon), or is newly beginning (new moon).
An optional tool may be placed on the “Sun” to indicate aspects coming to light. As the earth’s source of heat and light, the sun is fundamental to life. The sun represents a creative spark of the divine consciousness, by which we are all linked to the life-giving source. It also represents one’s vital energy. While the moon is associated with the feminine, the sun is associated with the masculine, the father. The sun is not always present to our view, often hidden by clouds or obscured by nightfall. Sunrise popularly symbolizes the promise of new beginnings and light coming to bring clarity. Sunsets, conversely, represent endings, aging, and death. The sun can burn and destroy as well as nourish and bring life. The tool placed on this spot asks one to consider what is either beginning or coming to light from behind the clouds in our lives. The tool also questions to what authority we give allegiance.
To the right of the Significator is the “Foundation,” essentially a system of support, a pillar of strength. The Foundation is the base from which one springs, the center of purity and innocence in which one is seated. It houses the principles upon which one’s character is formed. The tool placed on this spot speaks to an examination of how these attested principles are being applied. One’s foundation represents one’s security. It is useful to consider whether this foundation is cracked or weak. If it is not built upon solid ground, the entire structure of one’s life can topple. Be proactive—consider possible areas of weakness and pursue corrective measures as necessary.
At the lower left of the map is “The Departed.” In this great pit reside the people and things that have fallen away from one’s life or no longer contribute to experiences of growth and evolution. However, the past enriches the present and the future even if it no longer plays an active formative role. The tool placed on this spot addresses the lessons and gifts of the departed and calls upon one to bring them forward into the light of present awareness, illuminated by the perspective of distance and separation. Ultimately, the pit symbolizes the transformative process of death, burial, and regeneration.
Below the Significator is the “Great Deep.” The Great Deep is a vast, submerged ocean that reveals itself in small ways, such as at the source of a fresh spring. It represents deeply buried aspects that may be ready to surface gradually. The multiplicity of aspects of the self, the archetypes, dwell beneath the surface, ready to come to light and be integrated at the appropriate time. Meditatively probing the depths of this great ocean, one can see the many faces of the soul. Only by going deeper and deeper within can one discover one’s full and true nature. The ancient Near Easterners called the waters of the Great Deep “chaos,” but as Nietzsche said, “One must still have chaos in one’s self to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
Below the Foundation swims the Leviathan, a symbol of “Peril.” The Leviathan is a lurking potential threat that should be acknowledged and avoided. Commonly interpreted as a large monster or creature, the Leviathan represents something all-consuming and therefore perilous. This peril may be from the external environment or from within. It may be a threat posed by an aspect of one’s own nature. Some people view the Leviathan as a general threat which comes from humankind’s opposition to God. In any case, humility and simplicity of thought and action are warranted. It is time to minimize arrogance and lessen a too-strong sense of one’s own control and power. The greatest threat may come from the blind spots which prevent crucial discernment of deep truths.
When reading the spread, no particular order is called for. In case of ambiguous meanings, a second oracular tool may be added in any location to offer more insight into the matter.
Sample Reading for “H,” a Nobel Laureate
This reading is on behalf of Mr. H and his tenure as a playwright and theatre director. It uses the miniature Rider Tarot Deck®. We will examine the cards separately in their respective places on the map as well as in relation to one another. Because the figures on the cards lead the eye in a counter-clockwise direction (the upper cards facing left, the lower right cards facing right and upwards), we will address them accordingly. The card interpretations are colored by the philosophy of Tarot scholar Robert Michael Place.
The card placed on the Significator spot is “The Magician,” depicting a figure literally standing between two worlds, pointing his wand toward the upper realm and his other hand toward the lower. His gesture seems to confirm that this three-tiered map is the appropriate macrocosm for H. The Magician’s gesture recalls the Hermetic axiom “as above, so below,” suggesting that one’s purpose is to carry on God’s creation on earth. As a playwright, H certainly pursues creative endeavors and manifests his own little worlds on the stage.
The card placed on the Highest Heaven spot is the “Two of Wands,” depicting a nobleman with the world in his grasp. This card addresses H’s desire for global fame.
The card placed on the Harbinger spot is the “Five of Cups.” This is somewhat of an ill omen, announcing sorrow (symbolized by the cloaked figure with hanging head) and a loss of perspective (symbolized by the full cups he hasn’t noticed behind him). The Harbinger cautions H not to focus on the negative. It also reminds him to take advantage of all he has already earned (the two untouched cups).
The card placed on the Departed spot is the “King of Swords,” referring to a decisive authority figure in H’s past. The card calls upon H to reconsider this figure in the light of H’s current perspective.
The card placed on the Great Deep spot is the “Five of Pentacles.” The crippled and tattered beggars represent former masks that H has worn, from his early days of struggle and obscurity. The beggars further represent H’s buried fear that hard times could surface again.
The card placed on the Peril spot is the “Seven of Cups.” This card depicts a variety of selfish temptations, including wealth, real estate, romance, and revenge. One cup, containing a glowing figure wearing a veil, offers H the choice to avoid peril by releasing the ego.
The card placed on the Foundation spot is the “Ace of Cups,” a Holy Grail. Its abundant flow suggests continued success. However, this card is potentially worrisome in this spot, as the water could undermine the stability of the column. The message may be that too much success, too fast, could lead to chaos.
The card placed on the Gate of Heaven spot is the “Six of Pentacles,” depicting a wealthy philanthropist offering money where it is needed and thereby creating balance in his own life. This card suggests that H will find necessary resources through a benefactor.
When we examine the cards within the context of the map, some relationships become apparent. The hidden, full cups on the Harbinger spot make an interesting parallel to the plentiful coins at the Gate of Heaven and the overflowing chalice at the Foundation. All three cards point to a storehouse of resources. The Ace of Cups also follows nicely from the Seven of Cups at the Peril spot, suggesting that the veiled figure’s cup is actually the overflowing chalice and that H will choose wisely. Notice also that the beggars in the Great Deep are echoed at the Gate of Heaven, where they find their rewards.
This is a strongly positive reading, and the challenges it illuminates are internal rather than external.