What is Kabbalah?
Kabbalah (various spellings of this word are in common usage and are quite acceptable) comes from a Hebrew word meaning 'tradition'. It denotes a tradition within Judaism which focuses on mystical interpretations of the scriptures and esoteric doctrines about the actual being of God, and claims to date back to oral teachings from the biblical patriarch Abraham. It has played an important role in Kabbalistic teachings, especially those of certain Jewish sects, Hasidism in particular. However, Kabbalah did not materialise in Western Europe until about the 11th century AD.
In Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature, Christian D. Ginsburg tells us, 'Kabbalah is a system of religious philosophy, or more properly of theosophy, which has not only exercised for hundreds of years an extraordinary influence on the mental development of so shrewd a people as the Jews, but has captivated the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of Christendom in the 16th and 17th centuries, . . .’
There have been many important writers, mystics, and rabbis within the tradition of Kabbalah, Isaac Luria, Moses de Leon and Abraham Abulafia being three historically important Kabbalists, while in the 20th century, Gershom Scholem did much to advance the serious study of Kabbalah. His books Kabbalah and On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead are important works for anyone who wishes to study this subject.
In more modern times, many celebrities have claimed, and still claim to have studied or be studying Kabbalah, which has certainly done its reputation no harm and may even have helped to promote it, but their 'studies' bear little resemblance, if any, to true Kabbalism.
As a subject Kabbalah is vast and extremely complex, but we have genuinely attempted to keep it as brief and simple as possible, at the same time ensuring that all salient points have been covered. To this extent, we have divided it into two sections:
In Section 2, we have ignored the fact that an aspect could be classified under either the Speculative or Practical branch of Kabbalah, or possibly both, and concentrated solely on the contemplative aspects of the subject.
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Section 1 - The Origin & Branches of KabbalismKabbalah is an esoteric system of an interpretation of the Biblical Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from the patriarch Abraham. Despite its claimed antiquity, the earliest known instance of this system appears to be in 11th century France from where it spread, most notably, to Spain. There were undoubtedly precedents, however, as Kabbalistic elements can be found in the literature of much earlier Merkabah mysticism (after circa AD 100) inspired by the vision of the throne chariot Merkabah in the Book of Ezekiel. Beyond the specifically Jewish notions contained within Kabbalah, some scholars believe that it reflects a strong Neo-platonic influence, especially in its doctrine of emanation (see Ain-Soph & the Sephiroth). In the late 15th and 16th centuries, Christian thinkers found support in Kabbalah for their own doctrines and translations, from which they developed a Christian version.
The two principal sources of Kabbalism are the Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation) and the Sefer Zohar (The Book of Enlightenment or The Book of Splendour). In a series of monologues, the Sefer Yetzirah develops the doctrine of the Sephiroth (the powers which emanate from God through which the universe is created and its order sustained), supposedly delivered by Abraham, using the primordial numbers of the later Pythagoreans in a system of numerical interpretation. It was probably written in the 3rd century AD. The Zohar consists of mystical commentaries and homilies on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). It was written by Moses de Leon (13th century AD) but he attributed it to Simon ben Yohai, a great scholar of the 2nd century AD. However, Christian D. Ginsburg, in Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature, throws considerable doubt on the claims to antiquity of these two books with some solid reasoning.
The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492; following this expulsion Kabbalah was developed by the Lurianic School of mystics at Safed, Palestine (see Lurianic Kabbalah) where it became more messianic in its emphasis. Kabbalah in this form was widely adopted and created fertile ground for the movement of the pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Zevi. It also had a major influence in the development of Hasidism, a revolt against Rabbinism and its accent on Talmudic accomplishment, stressing good deeds and piety through joy of worship, songs, legends and dance. It had a wide appeal to the masses and its followers were, and still are, called Hasidim. Kabbalah still has its adherents, especially amongst Hasidic Jews.
There are two main branches of Kabbalistic thought in existence today, the roots of which have been traced back to two original schools of mystical activity:
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Speculative Kabbalah - The Doctrine of CreationThe speculative branch of Kabbalism had its origins in Babylonia, but what really caused great advances was the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation). There were obviously many other works of importance relating to speculative Kabbalism, but not one of them had such a dynamic effect as this particular book. The actual birthplace of this branch of Kabbalism was 12th century Provence, but it attained its height in Spain during the 14th century.
Considerable difficulties have arisen when scholars have tried to trace the sources of speculative Kabbalism in Provence. What is known is limited and has been obscured by traditional Kabbalistic legends which seem to credit Isaac the Blind as its originator. One thing we do know for certain is that the earliest literary work of speculative Kabbalism was titled Masekheth Atsiluth (Treatise on Emanation), written by Jacob ha-Nazir sometime during the early 12th century. Kabbalah was not a topic of general study when this book was published, for only a select few were privy to its secret doctrines. The 'Treatise on Emanation' added to the limited knowledge of the doctrine of the Four Worlds through which God manifested Himself (the first three of these worlds had already been intimated upon in the Sefer Yetzirah).
Speculative Kabbalism concerns itself only with the Maaseh Bereshith (The History of Creation), and the operations of the spiritual nature of the universe. This branch of Kabbalism attempts to discover how that dimension interweaves or 'meshes' with our own mundane world, while attempting to find an answer to, 'How can mankind find a place in both of these dimensions at the same time?'
Kabbalistic interpretation of Scripture was based upon the firm belief that every word, letter, number, and even each accent in the Hebrew alphabet contained mysteries interpretable only by those who knew the secrets. Each and every name for God was believed to contain miraculous power, and every letter of His divine name had tremendous potency. Kabbalistic signs and writings were often used as amulets, particularly in magical practices.
The Sacred AlphabetKabbalists also believed that the written word of God was a direct result of His inspiration and as a consequence Scripture contained within itself the fundamental nature of His being. By the same token they believed that since God is hidden, so too was there a hidden meaning beneath the divine words of Scripture with the truth waiting to be discovered; who has not heard of or read The Bible Code (et alia) by Michael Drosnin?
The following table shows the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (also known as The Sacred Alphabet) along with some, but far from all, of the major correspondences of its letters (see Aleister Crowley's Liber 777 for further enlightenment). In the first column of the table, M, D or S before each letter indicates its division into Mothers, Double and Simple letters as described below.
When written large, the value of a letter is increased by a factor of 1000, thus a large Aleph is counted as 1000, a large Beth as 2000 and so on. There are no vowels in the Hebrew language, just what are known as semi-vowels (A, H, V, I). Diacritical marks are sometimes used to indicate vowels, but as a rule of thumb the correct pronunciation of a word is simply down to memory. Note that there are two versions of some letters; Kaph, Mem, Nun, Pe and Tzaddi are all written differently when they appear at the end of a word from when they appear at the beginning or in the middle of that word. In all cases with the exception of Mem, the final version has a 'long tail'.
As shown above, the alphabet comprises 3 Mother Letters, 7 Double Letters and 12 Simple Letters.
The 3 Mother Letters, Aleph, Mem and Shin, represent:
As shown above, the alphabet comprises 3 Mother Letters, 7 Double Letters and 12 Simple Letters.
The 3 Mother Letters, Aleph, Mem and Shin, represent:
The 7 Double Letters, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Kaph, Pe, Resh and Tau, represent:
This leaves 12 Simple Letters, He, Vau, Zain, Cheth, Teth, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Tzaddi and Qoph, which represent:
To uncover the hidden meaning behind the words of Scripture, Kabbalists employed three separate methods of interpretation – Gematria, Notarikon and Temura. The first made use of the fact that every Hebrew letter has a numerical value assigned to it, while the other two employed intricate forms of abbreviation and substitution or permutation of these letters and numbers. It is highly recommended that you read Christian D. Ginsburg's Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature for further explanation and examples of the following methods of substitution/permutation:
Gematria, Notarikon & Temura
GematriaGematria is actually considered by some Kabbalists to be a 'science' which begins with substituting the letters of a word for their numerical equivalents. Having determined the numerical value of a word Kabbalists look for correspondences between that word and others of the same numerical value. Thus one word can represent several different ideas, one such example of this being taken from Genesis chapter 49, verse 10:
"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."
Kabbalists took a single phrase of this verse 'until Shiloh come' to be a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. Using Gematria, 'until Shiloh come' IBA ShILH produces a numerical total of 358:
The following examples are displayed in Hebrew in the way in which they are written in that language, i.e. right to left. For example, I B A is depicted as A B I, and Sh I L H is depicted as H L I Sh.
They then discovered that the word 'Messiah', which is MShICh, also totals 358 - a coincidence?:
Following on from this Kabbalists discovered another interesting statement in Numbers chapter 21, verse 9:
"And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."
The serpent of Moses is known as 'NaChaSh' NChSh:
There is obviously no limit as to what can be determined by applying Gematria. Two of the greatest exponents of this system were Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia in the 13th century, and Aleister Crowley in the 20th. Should you wish to study Gematria, we would recommend that you try to obtain a copy of Crowley's 'numerical dictionary' known as Liber 500 (Sepher Sephiroth).
Notarikon is a system which uses abbreviation in two different ways:
Using the first form, and taking the question Moses asks in Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 12, "Who shall go up for us to heaven?" MI IOLH LNV HShMILH:
We find the answer to this question by taking the first letter of each word which gives us . . .
. . . MYLaH, the Hebrew word for circumcision.
If we now look at that original question again and take the final letters of the question to form a name . . .
. . . we get:
TemuraTemura is a more complicated system of permutation which involves interchanging upwards of twenty-two letters according to specific rules. First of all, write one half of the Hebrew alphabet in reverse and then place it on top of the other half written in the correct order as shown:
Kabbalists discovered in Jeremiah chapter 25, verse 26 "... and the king of Sheshak shall drink after them." Then, using Temura, they discovered in chapter 51, verse 41 that Sh(e)sh(a)k is another word for B(a)b(e)l:
Note that 'K' (kaph) is a final 'K' (finalkaph) in Sheshak, although this has no bearing on the result.
For further enlightenment on the above methods of substitution/permutation it is suggested you read Christian D. Ginsburg's Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature. Christian David Ginsburg (1831-1914) was a prominent Bible scholar and student of the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh). This is an excellent, inexpensive book, which not only explains the permutations described above, but which throws credible doubt on many early Kabbalistic publications and their supposed authors. We highly recommend it if you are serious in your desire to study Kabbalah. By this, we do not mean the 'headline grabbing pop star version' of study This book is a prominent publication in our library.
One of the greatest exponents of Gematria during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Aleister Crowley, one such example concerning the name Abram in the Bible. The name of this patriarch was changed to Abraham, an explanation of this being given in the Confessions of Aleister Crowley (at the time Crowley had just 'found' the Lost Word):
“When Jehovah selected a family to be the father of Israel, he changed the name ABR(a)M (Father of Elevation)
into ABR(a)H(a)M (Father of a Multitude),
and by way of compensation changed S(a)RI (Nobility)
into S(a)R(a)H (Princess)."
He continues: "There are several other similar stories in the Bible. A change of name is considered to indicate a change of nature. Further, each name is not arbitrary; it is a definite description of the nature of the object to which it is attached. By a similar process, I am certain of my results in the matter of the Lost Word, for the Found Word fulfils the conditions of the situation; and furthermore, throws light on the obscure symbolism of the entire ritual.”
So, the question now is, "Do you need to understand Hebrew to be able to understand Kabbalah?" There is absolutely no doubt that a basic knowledge of Hebrew can and definitely will make a huge difference to any study. Any Jewish Kabbalist would insist that it is impossible to study Kabbalah without some knowledge of Hebrew, and the majority of Hermetic Kabbalists do learn some, but even so there are many practical exercises and ritual techniques which can be used with just a smattering of the language.
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Practical Kabbalah - The Doctrine of the Throne or Chariot
Practical Kabbalism, on the other hand, concentrated on the Maaseh Merkabah (The History of the Divine Throne or Chariot). The Maaseh Merkabah centred on the mystical adoration of the Throne Chariot of God (as described in Ezekiel Chapter 1, verses 26-28). This passage was to serve as the keystone for the first and incidentally the longest phase of Jewish mysticism, Merkabah mysticism, covering the period from around 100 BC to 1000 AD. It reads: 'And above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.’
The term Merkabah means God’s throne-chariot, referring, of course, to the chariot of Ezekiel’s vision. The Merkabah-rider, as a devotee was often called, had one aim - to gain entry into the throne-world of the Merkabah. To achieve this he had to pass through not only seven heavens, but through seven Hekhaloth (heavenly halls or palaces) before reaching the Merkabah itself in the seventh one.
He made ready for this journey by preparing talismans, seals and magical incantations, and by fasting and repeatedly reciting hymns and prayers to reach a state of trance. Having accomplished this, the Merkabah-rider then sent his soul upwards in an attempt to pierce the veil surrounding the Merkabah. Demons and evil spirits would attempt to destroy him at every turn, which is where the already prepared talismans, seals and incantations were used for his protection. Each successful passage through one of the seven palaces demanded yet more magical devices, and the devotee had to have memorised extremely long and complicated incantations to ensure his safety.
He was threatened with death throughout the entire journey, and at one point would be made to stand erect in empty space. The gatekeepers guarding each palace were described as enormous beings, taller than mountains, with lightning flashing from their eyes and scorching coals falling from their mouths and nostrils, while their dragon-like horses stood nearby drinking from rivers of fire. It was to these fearsome beings that the Merkabah-rider had to present his amulets, seals and secret passwords. No specific mention is made about the precise nature of any transformation which the Merkabah-rider underwent.
Many of the magick rituals of later Kabbalism appear to have had their origins in this early mysticism.
Practical Kabbalism is primarily concerned with gaining control over the spiritual world, and using its energies for the purpose of magick, to complete the Great Work. It is believed that control over the whole spectrum of nature and its powers can be gained by employing the names and offices of the angels. Since the Medieval period, Lurianic Kabbalism has greatly influenced magick in Western Europe.
The doctrines of Kabbalism were carefully guarded during the Talmudic period (135 BC to 1035 AD), in case they were revealed to the uninitiated, and in so doing lead to misunderstanding or misinterpretation, which in turn could lead to heresy. Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai was purportedly the father of Merkabah mysticism (practical), and Rabbi Akiba that of Maaseh Bereshith mysticism (speculative). The city of Palestine became the centre of Merkabah mysticism, and Babylon that of Bereshith speculations.
The theories, practices and rituals of Speculative and Practical Kabbalism are very detailed and far too long to discuss in depth in these introductory pages. The book Kabbalah - An Introduction and Illumination for the World Today by Charles Poncé (ISBN 0835605108), is probably one of the most easily understood introductions to this complex subject.
The two concepts that lie behind all Kabbalistic thought are those of the Ain-Soph and the Sephiroth. All Kabbalists will agree that without these two basic concepts there is no Kabbalah. Indeed, it is said - if you can grasp these two concepts, the whole concept of Kabbalism can be understood. Comprehend the Ain-Soph, and you can understand the meaning of ‘Divine Being’; comprehend the Sephiroth and you can understand the meaning of ‘Being’ generally. You can download a section of this book relating to the Ain-Soph and the Sephiroth from my downloads page by clicking on the following link Download The Kabbalah Explained. My Aspects of the Occult CD containing this eBook in its entirety and well over 300 other eBooks and documents is available should you wish to acquire a greater knowledge of this fascinating subject.
In The Holy Kabbalah, Book 5, Part 1, A.E. Waite tells us:
"It begins in that Absolute [Ain-Soph] which it is the purpose of all fundamental wisdom to make known or communicate to man; it attempts to exhibit the transition from the Absolute to the related, from the noumenal to the phenomenal, and to establish a chain of correspondence between the Infinite and the finite. It is, however, more than a philosophical attempt to bridge over the gulf which separates the timeless from the temporal; that is the side on which it connects with philosophy, as understood commonly. The intermediaries [the Sephiroth] of the transition are, moreover, the ladder of ascent by which man returns to the Divine; and hence it is more than an explanation of the universe ……"
It is not until the appearance of the Sefer Zohar in Spain (sometime between 1280 and 1290) that the two branches of Kabbalism became united. People who mistakenly speak of Kabbalah inevitably have this work in mind. When the Jews were exiled from Spain the Zohar was carried by them to all the countries in which they were forced to settle, but it was at Safed in Palestine that the teachings of the Zohar became firmly established, close to the tomb of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, the scholar to whom Moses de Leon ascribed the creation of the Zohar. It is in Safed where we find two of the most prominent Kabbalists in the whole history of Kabbalism, Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria.
Moses Cordovero (1522 – 1570) is thought to have been born in Cordova (Spain) where he became one of Europe’s leading Kabbalists and exponents of the Zohar, which he learned under the guidance of his brother-in-law, Solomon ben Moses ha-Levi Alkabetz. Alkabetz was a Kabbalistic poet, his Lekhah Dodi (Come my Beloved) being one of the last poems to be included in the Hebrew Prayer Book. Many Kabbalists made Safed their home after the Spanish Inquisition, Cordovero being no exception. He was primarily a speculative Kabbalist, his major concern being the relationship of the Ain-Soph to the Sephiroth. Cordovero’s insistence that God's presence is in all things is reputed to have influenced Baruch Spinoza’s (1632 – 1677) theory of Pantheism (the belief that God and the universe are the same).
Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572), a Jewish scholar and mystic also known as Arizal, founded one of the most important branches of Kabbalah, often referred to as Lurianic Kabbalah. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the purpose of man is to restore the original harmony in the universe that was destroyed with the breaking of the Vessels (the 'Fall'). This means the unification of the name of God, or the reuniting of the Ain-Soph with his Shekhinah. According to Luria, the Tikkun (an invitation to humanity by the Divine to 'rectify' or 'repair' the world) will restore the unity of God's name, i.e. reunite the letters Yod Hé Vau Hé which were torn apart as the Vessels were broken.
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Although married and financially secure, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572) adopted the life of a recluse while still in his early twenties and became engrossed in the study of the Zohar, which had recently appeared in print for the first time. He secluded himself in an isolated cottage on the banks of the Nile, devoting seven years of his life to meditation. He supposedly visited his family only on the 'Shabbat' (day of rest/Sabbath), seldom speaking, but whenever he did, always in Hebrew. Luria became a visionary, having frequent discussions with the prophet Elijah by whom he claimed to have been initiated into 'awe-inspiring' doctrines; he also claimed that his soul ascended to heaven and conversed with the great teachers of the past in his sleep.
In 1569 Luria moved to Palestine, and after a short unfruitful period in Jerusalem, where his new Kabbalistic system was met with scant interest, he settled in Safed and formed a small circle of enthusiastic Kabbalists to whom he imparted the doctrines, hoping to establish a new moral system for the world. Some very well known Kabbalists belonged to this circle, including Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Cordovero. The group met every Friday, and within a short time Luria had two classes of disciples: novices, to whom he taught the fundamentals of Kabbalah, and initiates, who learned his secret teachings and formulae for invocation and conjuration.
According to Luria, the most renowned of his initiates, Rabbi Chaim Vital of Calabria, 'possessed a soul which had not been soiled by Adam's sin'. Luria visited the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and of other eminent teachers with this student. These graves were supposedly unmarked, and the identity of each grave was unknown, but through Elijah they recognised each one. Luria's Kabbalistic circle gradually widened, and his doctrines were soon influencing all the religious ceremonies. On each Shabbat he dressed in white and wore a fourfold garment to signify the four letters of God's Ineffable Name.
The real exponent of Lurianic Kabbalah was Rabbi Chaim Vital who collected all the notes of the lectures given by Luria's disciples, from which numerous works were produced. The most important of these was the Etz Chayim ('Tree of Life'), which originally circulated in manuscript form. Each of Luria's disciples had to pledge himself, under pain of excommunication, not to allow a copy to be let out of Palestine. Eventually, however, a copy was taken to Europe and published in Zolkiev, a city in western Ukraine, in 1772. Both the theoretical and meditative Kabbalah based on the Zohar are expounded in this work.
Luria tells us that the infinite 'being', the Creator, Ain-Soph, retreated from the area of the 'universe', contracted into Himself, and left behind Him, in that space which can only be defined as 'Him', a complete emptiness. It was only due to the retreat of the Ain-Soph from infinite space into a miniscule monad (an indivisible, indestructible unit that is the basic element of reality as well as a microcosm of it) of pure energy that the universe ever came into being. Had the Ain-Soph not contracted there would have been no space for the activity of Genesis to take place. Therefore the universe came into being only after this contraction, at which time the Ain-Soph sent forth a beam, an emanation of Himself into the space created by His contraction.
It is on the edge of that space, the 'surface', that the first spark was struck (you might consider this to be 'The Big Bang' to which scientists refer but Kabbalists recognise it as The Lightning Flash of Creation which describes the Descent of Power from Ain-Soph), a pinpoint of light that was to become the Sephiroth about which we shall discover much more. To enable creation to be possible there must first be a contraction, a concentration of all energies at a nucleus, followed by an expansion, the gathered energies being sent forth in a concentrated form as a ray or beam of energy. At the same time, during its contraction, the Ain-Soph took on a series of thirty-two paths. William Wynn Westcott tells us in Sefer Yetzirah Part 1, page 15:
"In thirty-two wonderful paths of Wisdom did Jah, Jehovah, Sabaoth, the God of Israel, the Elohim of the living, the King of sages, the merciful and gracious God, the exalted One, the Dweller in eternity, most high and holy - engrave his name by the three Sepharim - Numbers, Letters and Sounds."
These thirty-two wonderful paths of Wisdom refer to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten Sephiroth, which means, literally, numbers. These twenty-two letters and the ten Sephiroth are generally considered as existing outside of the Ain-Soph, the Sephiroth and their systems always being diagrammed as a unit away from their origin. But Luria tells us that the Ain-Soph and Its emanations, the Sephiroth, are inseparable. The Sephiroth can be imagined as the internal psychic organs of God. Once they have come into existence, they cannot be separated from Him. They are Him, they are Ain-Soph, a good analogy being the veins, arteries and nerves in our earthly bodies, which in their own way, are representative of us.
Although existing as part of the Ain-Soph, the Sephiroth are understood to be abstract entities through which all change in the universe takes place. They are considered as Vessels made of light, the quality of which differs from that of the Ain-Soph. As the divine power of the light of the Ain-Soph passes through these vessels, His light takes on different hues. It is this distinction which is referred to by mystics who speak of the light of God and the light of nature.
There are also different degrees to which the manifestation of the Ain-Soph may be perceived. You may see only one vessel, one aspect of that vessel, or several. The aim of Lurianic Kabbalah is to be able to visualise each of the parts and their individual functions in unison. If you can fathom the relationship of the Sephiroth and their operations within themselves, you will perceive the full brilliance of the light in nature. It is from this light that the world gains its substance.
These Sephirotic lights manifest themselves in three triads, each triad representing a particular value as originally contained in the Ain-Soph. The first triad is composed of the Sephiroth, Kether, Chokmah, and Binah, and is the most important of the three triadic divisions of the Sephiroth, symbolising the dynamic function of a thought process 'in front of' the world, and therefore an archetypal model. It represents the thought processes of God!
The prominence of the activity of these three Sephiroth may be seen in the fact that Kabbalists have left more specific information on them than on the remaining seven. It is for this reason that discussions about the remaining two triads appear to be lacking in substance. However, this is not because they are any less significant, but rather because the first triad is representative of the sacred operations of the Ain-Soph in the world.
The Sephiroth should always be thought of as different aspects of the Ain-Soph, different colours along a spectrum, and as intimate portions of His process. The greatest mistake would be to view them as aspects of His creation instead of the result of His divine outflowing. Creation implies the establishing of something other than oneself, outside of oneself, wholly capable of existing as an independent unit or entity, whereas 'emanation' is an act of flowing (from the Latin, emanare, to flow), implying not only the existence of a source, but that the activity of flowing depends upon that source if it is to remain an activity. It is the constant light of the Ain-Soph flowing through the Sephiroth which ensures their existence. They are composed of that light in much the same way as a table made from wood is composed of wood. The intimacy of the connection between the Ain-Soph and the Sephiroth also extends to the relationships between the different Sephiroth. Since they ALL share in a common reception of the Ain-Soph’s emanations, they also share each other’s qualities, the nature of their differences being discernible only by the degree of predominance of the quality after which they are named. Apart from that they are equal in both power and value!
The only exception to this equality is to be found in the theory of the Partsufim, or countenances, a theory foreign to the Sefer Yetzirah, but well developed in 'The Greater Assembly' of the Zohar. Much of the theory of the countenances, as it is now, was worked out by Luria who began this work with the material to be found in the Zohar. The Partsufim are the Macroprosopus (Kether), the Father (Chokmah), the Mother (Binah), the Microprosopus (the six Sephiroth from Chesed to Yesod, inclusive) and the Shekhinah.
It is in Lurianic Kabbalism where the theory of the Ain-Soph's original emanation, resulting in the body of Adam Kadmon, is found. In many respects he can therefore be considered not only as the first of the Partsufim, but as their father. In some Kabbalists' views he is the first 'God' who can be comprehended by man by virtue of the fact that man is made in his image.
Adam Kadmon - The Heavenly or Primordial Man
Some Kabbalists are of the opinion that the first form shaped, etched or produced by the ray of light which emanated from Ain-Soph was not the Sephiroth, but the body of Adam Kadmon, from which the Sephiroth then flared out. According to Luria,
"From the first configuration, Adam Kadmon, there burst forth lights from his ears, mouth and nose. The lights streaming out of these sources produced hidden configurations of the pleroma of the universe, configurations so secret they have never until this day been described. Then from the eyes of Adam Kadmon burst forth the lights which were to play the central part in the creation. But the vessels which had been prepared to capture and hold this light ruptured under their weight, causing the light to burst into millions of particles which fell into the darkest parts of the pleroma. This resulted in the birth of the evil shells known as the Klippoth. The lights which afterwards proceeded from Adam Kadmon’s forehead led to the configuration of the Sephiroth as they now stand."
In the configuration of Adam Kadmon, Kether, the Crown, is where the head is located. Chokmah, Wisdom, is his brain, and Binah, Intelligence, his heart.  These first three Sephiroth are considered to constitute the head and its functions, Binah, being that which unites the first two Sephiroth in this instance. The heart was originally considered by a majority of people to be the origin of thought, i.e. one should think with one’s heart. The head was for rationalisation and judgment, but the heart was the organ with which one thought, and through which one based one’s actions.
Moving on through the configuration, Chesed, Mercy or Love, is Adam Kadmon's right arm, while Geburah, Judgment or Power, is his left one, and Tiphareth, Beauty, his chest. The second triad of the Sephiroth in the configuration of Adam Kadmon refers us to the activity of the right and left hands, Mercy and Judgment, which, when working in harmony, yield Beauty (the chest) housing Understanding (Binah, the heart).
Finally, Netzach, Victory or Endurance, is Adam Kadmon's right leg, while Hod, Majesty or Glory, is the left one, and Yesod, Foundation, constitute his genital organs. Yesod, because of its association with the reproductive organs, symbolises the source of all things, and unites the seventh and eighth Sephiroth to form the third triad, the material world. Malkuth, Kingdom, is symbolic of Adam Kadmon’s completeness.
In the configuration of Adam Kadmon as traditionally depicted we view him only from the rear, i.e. he faces in the same direction as we do. He is seen in this manner because in Exodus, chapter 33, verses 18 – 23, Moses asks God to show him His Glory:
"And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face, for there shall be no man see me and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock. And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by. And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen."
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Section 2 - Aspects of Kabbalah
At the very heart of all Kabbalistic thought lie the two basic concepts of Ain-Soph and the Sephiroth. All Kabbalists will agree that without these two primary concepts there is no Kabbalah. Indeed, it is said that if you can grasp these two concepts, you will be able to understand the whole of Kabbalism. If you can comprehend the Ain-Soph, you can understand the meaning of ‘Divine Being’; comprehend the Sephiroth and you understand the meaning of ‘Being’ generally. The small image to the right shows the 'Lightning Flash of Creation' - click on it to enlarge it - then click on it again to return to this page. Note that this image depicts the Tree of Life and shows the Path Number on that tree of each Tarot Trump Card along with the its Atu Arabic number, and numerical value of the letter. Did you notice that the sum total of the Numerical Values is 777?
The fortunate few who have dedicated themselves to the task and actually glimpsed the divine pattern of manifestation through dreams and/or powers of vision, devised various symbols to describe their own understanding of that hidden realm in which the Ain-Soph and the Sephiroth reside. They have attempted to describe the indescribable, i.e. that which is beyond man’s perception. Without these symbols we, who are still ignorant, can understand nothing, but despite these symbols we can still only satisfy our own curiosity, our own philosophical desires.
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Ain-Soph & the Sephiroth
Ain-Soph translates into ‘without end’ (ain = without, soph = End). It is a name for the God of Kabbalism, and symbolises total unity beyond comprehension. It is within Ain-Soph that all opposites exist in complete ignorance of their differences. The Ain-Soph is NO THING, does not exist, is unable to be described or fathomed, and cannot possibly be discussed in terms of Being or Non-Being. Many of our predecessors have tried to describe the Ain-Soph by what He is not, without success. Charles Poncé, in what I consider to be a brilliant attempt at describing the indescribable, in 'Kabbalah - An Introduction and Illumination for the World Today', tells us:
"The cause of all things is neither soul nor intellect, nor has it imagination, opinion, reason or intelligence, nor is it spoken or thought. It is not number, order, magnitude, smallness, equality, inequality, similarity or dissimilarity. It does not stand or move or rest. It is not essence, eternity or time. Even intellectual contact does not belong to it. It is neither science nor truth. It is not royalty or wisdom. It is not one or unity, not divinity or goodness, nor even spirit as we understand it.
But this avenue of approach continually refers back to something until we arrive at the basic concept of what he is – nothing or NO THING. However, even this interpretation fails as the human mind can be trained to comprehend and perceive no-thing. That the concept of nothing is within the range of human comprehension is suggested by the fact that infinity, another imponderable concept which is usually conceived negatively, may not only be conceived positively, as a reality extending without end, but has even been sufficiently comprehended in this way for there to exist an ‘axiom of infinity’ in the science of formal logic. But the Ain-Soph, by definition, cannot be comprehended. So he can be neither understood by what he is not, nor by the idea of nothing – neither approach works.
The Ain-Soph comes before the creator God. Even this does not explain him. He cannot be localised in space or time. The only thing that may be said with some certainty is that the Ain-Soph was not the cause of this world. He stands beyond the impetus of cause or desire. He is without desire or non-desire. He is Himself. He is Ain-Soph, a plenum of emptiness."
Are you any wiser yet? To continue:
Kabbalists played on the difficulty of expressing the inexpressible by pointing out that nothing (‘ain’ – signifying God) contains the same letters as the personal ‘I’ (ani). They emphasised that the last of the emanations from the Ain-Soph (the Sephiroth, to be discussed below) is represented by the personal ‘I’.
The one thing that can be said of the Ain-Soph with any certainty is that the Sephiroth are the result of Its emanation, and some Kabbalists even believe that the Ain-Soph exists in each Sephirah, but even then He remains an invisible and unapproachable entity. His presence in the Sephiroth may be known but not comprehended. His life, His movement within Himself, are simply gradations of the Sephiroth, that is to say, the life of the Ain-Soph, when thought of as activity, may be experienced indirectly by means of the movements and relationships of the ten Sephiroth. In a way, these constitute a field which could be thought of as His body, if He had a body.
Above all, it is important to understand and remember that the Ain-Soph of Kabbalah stands above the creator God of the Old Testament. The Ain-Soph is ‘nothing’ and, if as the Old Testament has it, He created things in his own image, He would have created nothing. His only activity, if we can even call it that, was the emanation of a beam of light – nothing more.
It is in the Kabbalistic system of Isaac Luria that we find a very intricate description of the activity of the Ain-Soph in the universe prior to the creation. Luria tells us that the infinite being, Ain-Soph, 'retreated from the area of the universe, contracted into Himself, and left behind Him, in that space which was defined as Him, an emptiness'. It was the retreat of the Ain-Soph from infinite space into an infinitesimal monad of pure energy that caused the world to come into being. Had the Ain-Soph not contracted Himself there would have been no space for the activity of Genesis, the Creation, to take place. The world comes into being only after this contraction. It was then that the Ain-Soph sent forth a beam, an emanation of Himself into the space created by his contraction. It is on the edge of that space, the ‘surface’, that the first spark was struck, a pinpoint of light that was to become the Sephiroth. Using this theory, in order for creation to be possible, there must first of all be a contraction to concentrate all energies at a centre. This must then be followed by an expansion so that these gathered energies can be sent forth in a concentrated form as a ray or beam of energy.
A.E. Waite provides an excellent summary of the Ain-Soph in The Holy Kabbalah, Book 5, The Doctrinal Content of the Kabbalah in respect of God and the Universe as follows:
"To sum up now on the whole subject, the Zohar testifies:
It seems to follow that later Kabbalism was well within the measures of the symbolism when it positioned Ain-Soph as a Hidden Light above Kether, at the head of the Sephirotic Tree.
The SephirothChristian D. Ginsburg, in The Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature, reminds us of four things that must be borne in mind when considering the Sephiroth:
Almost all references to the emanations of Ain-Soph, i.e. the Sephiroth, tell us there are ten, but practising Kabbalists know that the conjunction of the second and third (Chokmah - Wisdom & Knowledge and Binah - Understanding) produced a 'quasi-emanation' called Da'ath, with the attribute of Reason.
This sphere is known as the '11th Sephirah' or 'the sphere without a number', and is the gateway to the 'hidden' Tree behind the visible one. However, Da'ath is not counted amongst the Sephiroth.
THE FIRST TRIAD - KETHER, CHOKMAH AND BINAH
The 1st Triad - Kether, Chokmah & Binah
1. Kether – The Crown
In its act of emanation the Ain-Soph stands in relationship to the first Sephirah, Kether, simply as a cause to its effect. It is in this first Sephirah that the blueprint of the entire universe is contained, and in which the concept of unity exists (as far as our intelligence is capable of understanding).
Other names for this Sephirah to be found in Kabbalistic works are ‘The Ancient of Ancients’, ‘The Inscrutable Height’, ‘The Old or Ancient One’, ‘The Primordial Point or Monad’, ‘The Smooth Point’, ‘The White Head’, and the ‘Vast Countenance’ or ‘Macroprosopus’. The reference to 'Macroprosopus' figures prominently in all Kabbalistic speculation. Arikh Anpin is the Hebrew name of the Macroprosopus, which translates into ‘The Long Face’ or ‘The Greater Countenance’, although some Kabbalists consider the term translates better as 'The Long Suffering’. In order to understand the significance of this latter designation it is necessary to realise that each Sephirah is often considered as contained within ten lights, each light in turn containing a further ten, and so on, ad infinitum. Each Sephirah has at least one of these lights illuminated, but those in which all ten are burning at the same time constitute a special class, known as Partsufim, or ‘Countenances’ (Partsuf is the singular). Kether is the first Partsuf, Arikh Anpin, while Chokmah relates to the Parstsuf Abba (the father), and Binah, the Partsuf Imma (mother); Malkuth is Nukba. The six Sephiroth in between gather the potencies of their luminosity under the Partsuf known as Zair Anpin, ‘The Lesser Countenance’, also known as ‘The Short Face’, ‘The Impatient’, or the Microprosopus.
When the Macroprosopus is shown in illustrated form it is in accordance with the Kabbalistic statement that he is partially concealed and that ‘in him is all right side’. In the Zohar the first chapter of ‘The Book of Concealed Mystery’ is dedicated to a complete description of him, so we shall not elaborate on it here.
So the appearance of the Sephirah Kether is simply the first impulse of Ain-Soph towards manifestation, the first expression of God’s primal will, a will to will, an impulse and nothing more – as yet. But can we actually describe it as a 'will'? The Zohar warns, "Woe unto him who shall compare Him with any mode or attribute, even with one of his own."
Within Kether reside all opposites in peaceful union, existing in a state of potential separation, but it is not until the next two Sephiroth come into being that the notion of balance appears. Kether represents equilibrium as a force or power residing at the central axis of a fulcrum, the point where two contending and opposing forces are counterbalanced. This is the significance of Kether’s attribute of the 'Primordial' or 'Smooth Point’. It is not a point in the normal sense of the word, or a dot on a piece of paper, but a monad of pure energy in which is contained the powers of the opposites in unity. Its first appearance in the pleroma of space is simply as a spark which rips out an opening in space itself, a brilliant shining point out of which the remaining Sephiroth will eventually emerge. Some Kabbalists, when contemplating the ‘vessel’ aspect of this Sephirah, claim that it was made manifest for the sole purpose of shielding this world from the initial outpouring of Ain-Soph's light.
2. Chokmah – Wisdom
The second Sephiroth is masculine and has the attribute of the 'father'. It is in this Sephirah that the will to create first manifests itself. This Sephirah and that immediately following it, Binah, are parallel emanations of Kether, the Crown. Chokmah, the Sephirah of God’s wisdom contains within him, in potential, the whole of creation set within the catalyst of a will to create. In Kether we had the plan as intimated to him by the Ain-Soph; in Chokmah we have not only the plan but the impetus, the readiness to put the plan of creation into action, a willingness to 'let go'. In Kether we have a will to will, while in Wisdom we find a willingness to express that will. The manifestation of God’s wisdom is still to be expressed; it is undifferentiated and unknown, but nevertheless primed to burst forth.
Chokmah is the father of all created things, which equates to the wisdom of God being the father of all created things. One aspect of Wisdom looks upwards towards The Crown (Kether) to perceive the plan he received from the Ain-Soph, while yet another aspect looks or beams downwards seeking to teach mankind what is engraved there.
3. Binah – Intelligence or Understanding
Binah is, in essence, the Supernal Mother, Imma. Her womb contains everything, albeit it in differentiated format, that was contained in Wisdom. It is through her that the remaining Sephiroth are 'born'. As mentioned earlier, the union of Chokmah and Binah, Wisdom and Understanding, yields a son, Da'ath, Reason, although this son is not counted amongst the Sephiroth.
The appearance of Binah symbolises the unveiling of what was once hidden. The vessel which was Wisdom expands here through the agency of Understanding. The seven vessels which flow from her womb will become known as the seven days of creation, Genesis. What must be understood at this point is that this Sephirah along with the two which preceded it stand in a special relationship to the lower seven.
This completion of this first triad of the Sephiroth represents the total manifestation of 'divine thought'. It comprises Crown, Wisdom and Understanding symbolising the three aspects of 'knowledge'. The first Sephirah, The Crown, is that ‘Knowledge’, while the second, Wisdom, is the ‘one who knows’, and the third, Understanding, is ‘that which is known’. Knowledge as a facet is basically useless unless you understand that knowledge. In effect, these three Sephiroth might be thought of as one unit, or the operation of one thing – knowledge. Kether is knowledge in that he contains everything that may be known of Ain-Soph. He is, according to some Kabbalists, co-equal with Ain-Soph, the only difference being that Kether includes within himself that vital 'will to will'. Chokmah is the knower of the idea of creation that originally resided in both Ain-Soph and Kether, basically a blueprint of the concept in complete detail. Binah is that which is known, the complete understanding of what Chokmah knows.
Now, with the appearance of the 'mother' and 'father' Sephiroth, the difference between the sexes becomes established. From this point forward all of the Sephiroth on the right side of the diagrammatical configuration are thought of as masculine, while those on the left side are considered feminine. Those in the centre of the configuration, with the exception of the first and last Sephiroth, are thought of as composite figures comprising the values of the two Sephiroth preceding them. This first triadic formation of divine thought conceives the second triad, composed of Chesed, Geburah and Tiphareth, which represents Ain-Soph’s moral power.
However, before we discuss this second triad, let us consider the 'quasi-emanation' Da'ath in conjunction with Chokmah and Binah. As already stated, knowledge is a truly wonderful asset, but without Understanding it is not really of much use to anyone. Yes - you might, and more than likely do, know 'something', but if you don't understand what that 'something' represents are you really any wiser? For example, we have all heard of Einstein's theory of relatively, E = MC², but do we actually understand it? E = MC² is certainly one of the most famous equations in modern physics - even we mere mortals who are definitely not physicists have heard of it. It states a relationship between energy (E), in any form whatsoever, and relative mass (M). In this formula, C², the square of the speed of light in a vacuum, represents the conversion factor required to formally convert from units of mass to units of energy, i.e. the energy per unit mass. In unit-specific terms, E (joules) = M (kilograms) multiplied by (299,792,458 m/s (metres per second))². Phew!
So, Chokmah knows the theory in the form E = MC², but Binah understands what E, M and C actually represent. It is only through Da'ath (Reason), who clearly contains both Knowledge and Understanding passed on from his 'parents', that Binah can convey this understanding to Chokmah. Therefore, despite the fact that Da'ath is not counted amongst the Sephiroth, it seems logical to me that in this context Chokmah and Binah, as well as forming part of the 1st triad which includes Kether, could also be included in a completely new triad by replacing Kether with Da'ath, giving us Knowledge and Understanding tempered and enhanced by Reason. Consequently, although we have never even seen it intimated by anyone, including the most renowned Kabbalists, can we be brave or foolhardy enough to suggest a possible new 'hidden' triad comprising this 'father', 'mother' and 'quasi-son':
The suggested Fourth or Hidden Triad - Chokmah, Binah & Da'ath
THE SECOND TRIAD - CHESED, GEBURAH AND TIPHARETH
The 2nd Triad - Chesed, Geburah & Tiphareth
4. Chesed – Mercy or Love
The fourth Sephirah, Chesed, is known as the ‘Mercy or Love of God’, and was conceived by the union of 'Wisdom' and 'Understanding'. He is considered to be masculine, and is thought of as the productive and life-giving force which manifests itself not only throughout the entire universe, but also in man. chesed represents the first day of creation when God created light and separated the darkness of the original chaos from that light to make the first day and night.
Chesed symbolically represents the expansion of the 'will' of the first triad. But bear in mind that as the Sephirotic system began with the principle of balance (as can be seen in the attributes of Kether), so too must this triad and the one which will follow be in accordance with that defining principle. Each Sephirah is so full to bursting point, in the sense that the agencies contained within it are not hampered by any deficiencies, that it needs a counterbalancing effect - in this instance the balance is contained in his 'sister' Sephirah, Geburah.
5. Geburah – Judgment or Power
The 'Judgment' or 'Power' of God is contained within this fifth Sephirah, Geburah, capable of handing out severe punishment. Its nature is feminine, and it was conceived to temper or limit the abundance of Mercy. However, by the same token, the severities of God's Power are tempered by Chesed's Mercy, thus these two opposites exist in a state of harmony. Geburah represents the second day of Genesis when God separated the waters by causing a firmament to appear in their midst.
Whereas Chesed represents the expansion of the Divine will, Geburah is representative of its contraction. Mercy is a life-giving power, never ceasing in its activity, so it would have been foolhardy to let it continue to express itself without setting some limit, so Geburah was created for this very reason. On the same principle, without the compassion of Mercy, Judgment in its stern role of judge would cause existence to contract to the point of non-existence. In this state of union the combination creates a centre point, their powers giving birth to 'Beauty', which is expressive of all that is harmoniously balanced.
6. Tiphareth – Beauty
The sixth Sephirah, Tiphareth, is also known as the Zair Anpin (Lesser Countenance), the body of which is composed of the Sephiroth Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod and Yesod - these body members are discussed below. Tiphareth's primary role, is mediation between Mercy and Judgment, and represents the third day of Genesis when the waters under heaven were gathered together in one place and dry land appeared on which God created flora.
The major distinction between the Greater Countenance (Macroprosopus) and the Lesser Countenance (Microprosopus) is to be found in the idea that the former, while lending a portion of himself to the Sephirah Kether, is thought of as unmanifest. Microprosopus, on the other hand is referred to as both manifest and unmanifest. The Greater Assembly (S.L. MacGregor Mathers - The Kabbalah Unveiled) tells us that the source of this has its origin between two arms, ‘that part which is called Tiphareth, which expands to form two breasts. It is here where we find the head of a woman, her hair covering the side of her head. We are also told that she has been ‘extended from the heart’ - Tiphareth has the attribute of the heart.
With the manifestation of Tiphareth, the second triad, representing God’s moral power, is complete. The third and final triad is composed of Netzach, Hod and Yesod.
However, before we discuss the third triad, let us continue with our earlier foolhardiness by considering the 'quasi-emanation' Da'ath in conjunction with Chesed and Geburah. As we have seen, Chesed’s Love and Mercy is tempered by Geburah’s Judgment and Power. Theoretically these could cancel out each other and thus leave man to basically please himself what he does with his time on earth. But if Da’ath were included in a new triad with Chesed and Geburah his ‘Reasoning’ could be considered as arbitration between these two Sephiroth, meaning a certain amount of Mercy could be applied to any harsh Judgment applied by Geburah and vice versa.
THE THIRD TRIAD - NETZACH, HOD AND YESOD
The 3rd Triad - Netzach, Hod & Yesod
7. Netzach - Victory or Endurance
The seventh emanation, the Sephirah Netzach, is an active masculine principle supporting Chesed, the Sephirah of Mercy.
8. Hod - Majesty or Glory
The eighth Sephirah is known as Hod, God's Majesty or Glory. It is feminine and passive in nature, and supports the fifth Sephirah, Geburah, Judgment or Power.
It symbolically represents the fifth day of Genesis when God created all the creatures of the sea and air.
9. Yesod - Foundation
Yesod, Foundation, is the ninth Sephirah, and symbolises both male and female genitals. The arrival of this Sephirah completes the last triadic division of the Sephiroth, the triad representative of the result of God’s reproductive or creative power, the material world. It represents the sixth day of genesis when God created Adam and Eve.
This Sephirah is also the last of the six which comprise the Microprosopus.
In the Book of Concealed Mystery (S.L. MacGregor Mathers - The Kabbalah Unveiled) we find that Mercy (Chesed) is his right arm, Judgment or Power (Geburah), his left arm, Beauty (Tiphareth), his trunk, Victory (Netzach), his right hips/leg, Majesty or Glory (Hod), his left hips/leg, and Foundation (Yesod), his reproductive organs. The same interpretation is given by A.E. Waite - The Holy Kabbalah.
To review the triadic arrangements of the Sephiroth up to this point, the first triad, representing Ain-Soph’s power of thought, is composed of Kether, Chokmah and Binah, the latter two of these Sephiroth also being referred to as the father and mother. The union of the father and mother gives birth to the configuration of the second triad, Chesed, Geburah and Tiphareth, representing Ain-Soph’s moral powers throughout the universe. The third triad, composed of Netzach, Hod and Yesod, symbolically represents the material universe in all its forms, all change and all movement which may occur. The final Sephirah in this 3rd triad, Yesod (Foundation), symbolises the stabilisation of the opposites.
10. Malkuth - Kingdom
Malkuth, Kingdom, is the tenth and final Sephirah. It is a feminine and passive principle representative of God’s feminine counterpart, the Shekhinah. It is through her that the Divine grace of the Ain-Soph passes through into the lower world.
Malkuth is assigned to the seventh day of Genesis when God rested.
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The Four Worlds
Kabbalists believe the manifestation of our material world was caused by the immanent activity of God on four different planes, or in four worlds, simultaneously. The first world is called Atziluth, the world of emanation, and represents the Manifestation of Divine Thought. It is in this world where God manifests himself in the form of the archetypes (Kether, Chokmah and Binah). The union of God with his Shekhinah (his feminine counterpart) also takes place in this world, and the fruits of this union are the three worlds which follow.
The second world, the world of creation, is called Briah, and represents God's Moral Power. It is here where the Merkabah takes form. It is also in this world that the highest ranking angels and the pure spirits of all those who are truly pious reside.
The world of formation, Yetzirah, is the third of these worlds. Yetzirah represents God's Reproductive or Creative Power. Ten angelic hosts reside in this world, Arelim, Benei Elohim, Chajoth, Chashmalim, Elim, Elohim, Ishim, Malachim, Ophanim and Seraphim, presided over by Metraton, the 'Prince of the World'.
The fourth world is known as Assiah, the world of action or making.  The quality of each of the preceding worlds diminishes as the original emanation which began their formation becomes grosser, until eventually the resulting impurities gather to form Assiah. It is here where mankind and the animal kingdom reside with the evil Klippoth alongside the exiled Shekhinah waiting to be reunited with her Creator.
These worlds are depicted as shown to the right. In the normal schema of these worlds, the 1st triad of Kether, Chokmah and Binah reside in Atziluth.  The 2nd triad of Chesed, Geburah and Tiphareth exist in Briah, while those of the 3rd triad, Netzach, Hod and Yesod, are located in Yetzirah. Malkuth constitutes the fourth world. It is the qualities and attributes of the Sephiroth residing in these worlds that makes them what they are.
However, Will Parfitt, in The Elements of the Qabalah, takes these 4 worlds, places them on 7 planes, and gives them a completely different interpretation and perspective. Parfitt suggests that since the Tree of Life has 7 planes, these are roughly equivalent to the 7 chakras of Eastern mysticism. His theories continue with the fact that besides the 3 triangles already discussed (the 3 triads), the Tree of Life can be divided into numerous further triangles (try it out for yourself - see how many you can make) because the system is built upon a belief that everything becomes manifest through trinities (for example, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost).
Upon studying the physical structure of the Tree we find such other shapes as hexagrams, pentagrams, circles and crosses etc. His interpretation of the Sephiroth within the four worlds is shown to the left. Instead of the worlds of emanation, creation, formation and action / making, he suggests they are called creative, receptive, formation and the actual physical manifestation, the world as we know it.
In this alternative configuration, Parfitt tells us that the creative world is composed of Kether and Chokmah. Kether relates to the Mother/Father Creator and Chokmah to his/her will. The Creator and his/her will are seemingly inseparable, so it is perfectly logical to include both of these Sephiroth in the first world. The second world is comprised of Binah alone. Following the theory explaining the first world, if the Creator has a creative will, then to be in balance he/she must have a receptive side.
The interaction between these two worlds causes the formation of the third world composed of the next six Sephiroth. It is in this world where all the different aspects and opposites required to form the final physical manifestation, the fourth world, are to be found.
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The Three PillarsAnother important arrangement showing the relationship between the Sephiroth is the three pillars of Mercy, Middle and Judgment, where they enter into a completely new relationship with each other. The Pillar of Mercy, on the right, contains the three masculine Sephiroth, Chokmah, Chesed and Netzach. The Pillar of Judgment, on the left, is composed of the three feminine Sephiroth, Binah, Geburah and Hod, while the Middle Pillar is composed of the four Sephiroth, Kether, Tiphareth, Yesod and Malkuth. The pillars of Judgment and Mercy are balanced by the Middle pillar, which is also called the Shekhinah the feminine counterpart of God.
In this arrangement, the Sephiroth within each pillar are connected only to those others within the same pillar. This is known as the theme of polarity, where the emphasis is placed on the distinction of the opposites (male/female, positive/negative, light/dark, etc.), as opposed to the triadic division of the Sephiroth where the opposites are present, but are always seen within the context of relationship. The first triad comprising Kether, Chokmah and Binah shows the opposites separated out where they are thought of as existing in a permanent relationship with that which gave birth to them. The second triad of Chesed, Geburah and Tiphareth is where Tiphareth is seen as a composite figure which mediates between its parent Sephiroth, Chesed and Geburah. The third triad of Netzach, Hod and Yesod follows the pattern of the second. In this triadic division the Sephiroth in the centre of the configuration are dependent upon those to their left and right for their existence or value, but in the arrangement of the pillars, all three pillars are completely independent of each other, the Middle pillar representing a unit of pure, unsupported divinity, and described in the Zohar as the Perfect Pillar. It is a mediating factor between the pillars of Mercy and Judgment, but in no way dependent upon them for its existence. In this arrangement of the three pillars we find the idea of three powers:
The Pillar of Mercy is named from the centre Sephirah, Chesed (Mercy or Love), suggesting the quality of mercy must also contain the qualities of wisdom and endurance - The Sephiroth above and below. The Pillar of Judgment is named in the same manner, i.e. from the centre Sephirah, Geburah (Judgment or Power), suggesting that judgment must also contain elements of understanding and glory.
As can be seen in the diagram, the Middle pillar is a direct line from the Divine world of Kether (Crown) to the material world of Malkuth (Kingdom), the two supreme opposites, separated by Beauty and Foundation. Since the kingdom of the material world is founded on the creative principle, the generative principle of the opposites being through Yesod, Yesod must receive its beauty from the Light of Kether.
There are countless books on the subject of Kabbalah, far too many to list, the majority describing the Sephiroth in much more detail than you can read here should you wish to understand more.
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The Thirty-two Paths of WisdomThe next consideration of the Sephiroth we shall look at is the connecting links between them, known as the Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom. According to the Jewish tradition, the concept of the Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom derives from the 32 times that the name Elohim is mentioned in the Torah, the first chapter of Genesis. These are shown in the image below which also shows the number of each path together with the letter of the Hebrew alphabet assigned to it, and the two Sephiroth which it connects. The only possible way of explaining this diagram is to cite the text of the Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom itself from the Sefer Yetzirah (not the Zohar from which the concept is derived), but note that the text which follows is a compilation of several different translations by such experts as Waite, Westcott and Stenring. This is mainly because of confusing or conflicting phrasing or ambiguous terminology used by each of these translators during translation.
The Text of the Thirty-two Paths
Very little has been written on the practical usage of these paths. After what manner the paths correspond with their various offices, how they communicate the powers or graces within them, and for what reason they bear their distinctive titles remains open to question. It can only be assumed that the paths outlined here are to be applied as vehicles for our own speculations, or pathworking.
Each path is a form of Intelligence, which is a further differentiation of the original intelligence first displayed in Kether. Charles Poncé suggests that the term 'Intelligence' used in the text might be better understood as a form of consciousness, and what the text of The Thirty-two Paths of Wisdom is suggesting is the observation that there are thirty-two specific forms of consciousness, but in what manner each path is to be 'followed' is a secret each traveller must determine for himself or herself.
Once the basic concepts of what each sphere represents in terms of psychological elements on the Tree of Life have been understood, the links they form are realised either through ritual, mythological metaphor, meditation, or a combination of these. However, most initiates in their headlong rush to realise magical powers, altered states of awareness, celestial beings, and other worlds, often overlook one of the most significant and important facts of pathworking, and all magical work in general.
In actual fact, very few people stay with any system long enough to appreciate the genuinely spiritual aspects of the Work they are doing. The need for true self-honesty and purification on the level of the ego, and the repressed areas of the subconscious must be recognised by students if they are to gain the full benefits from their Work.
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The Seventy-two Names of GodThe Tetragrammaton appears to have its origin in a phrase found in Exodus chapter 3, verse 14, "I am that I am”. Prior to this it was known as the Shem ha-meforash, the 72-syllabled name of God, comprising 216 letters. The source of the Shem ha-meforash, according to tradition, is Exodus chapter 14, verses 19-21, each of these three verses containing 72 Hebrew letters. The letters of these verses were written down in separated form and in correct order. Reading from above down, one can obtain 72 three-letter names, which combine to make one. See Christian D. Ginsburg's Kabbalah: Its Doctrines, Development and Literature for further information. AL or IAH was added to these three-lettered names to form the names of the 72 angels of Jacob’s ladder.
Since the Hebrew language does not use vowels in its written form, the correct pronunciation of this unspeakable name of God was lost and not rediscovered until circa 300 AD by Kabbalists who gave it the title Tetragrammaton, 'the word of four letters', and 'the square name', or more simply, 'the square'. At that time the Shem ha-meforash became represented by the simpler form YHVH.
The correspondence between the Shem ha-meforash and the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) is revealed when another rule of gematria is applied to the four-letter word. The number equivalents of the letters of the Tetragrammaton are
giving a total of 26.
Then, if we add the values of the letters in the following manner:
(10) (10 + 5) (10 + 5 + 6) (10 + 5 + 6 + 5)
10 + 15 + 21 + 26 = 72 --- (Shem ha-meforash).
As a result, the correct pronunciation of the four-letter name of God is thought of as being just as effective as the correct pronunciation of the Shem ha-meforash because gematria shows that the latter is contained within it. The inherent power of the name is revealed in the traditional belief that it was with its aid that Moses caused the Red Sea to part.
Each one of us, i.e. every human being, shares the same ultimate purpose in life, which is to obtain the complete joy and fulfilment that God desires for us, i.e. the completion of the Great Work. However, dedicated spiritual work is essential if we are to remove the negative tendencies that separate us from the gifts our Creator has provided us with. But we have been given powerful tools to help us in this work, including the Bible itself. Kabbalah teaches us that the Bible is neither a topic for academic study, nor a book of commandments and prohibitions meant to be taken literally. Instead, it is a coded document in which the true foundation of the universe lies hidden, the spiritual technology known as the 72 names of God.
So what are these 72 names of God? In Exodus, chapter 14 we learn that 72 inimitable combinations of Hebrew letters create a spiritual vibration that is a powerful antidote to the negative energy of the human character.
Each succeeding generation of sages has built on the work of those who preceded them, advancing the task of decoding the Bible, each one making his own contribution to Kabbalistic wisdom. The key to connecting with the power of the 72 names can be found in the specific biblical passages from which they are derived. The Bible tells us that 'the children of Israel' were stood on the banks of the Red Sea with the Pharaoh and the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. The sea barred their way to the front and their enemies behind, so there seemed to be nowhere to turn. In desperation they cried out to God for salvation! Moses said unto the people, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you today, for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." And the LORD said unto Moses, "Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward. But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it, and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea." This is apparently one of the most carefully studied and debated passages in all Biblical scholarship.
For if not their God, then upon whom could the Israelites call? Kabbalistic scholars tell us that this passage is an encrypted message which explains human nature and the way we overcome any challenge we face throughout our lifetimes.
The Zohar, the source of Kabbalistic wisdom, informs us that help from the Creator was not actually needed, because at that precise moment Moses revealed those 72 names, upon which the collective unconscious took control, causing the waters to part to give them their passage to freedom.
The Zohar tells us that the true purpose of the 72 names is hidden in the story in which they are found. These names are simply a tool to help us to gain control over disorder by controlling physical nature. By using the 72 names, the Israelites overcame their ego-based negativity of doubt and thus changed the nature of the sea. Kabbalah tells us that humanity is destined to control physical nature (magick), the only obstacle to this being our egos. Overcoming ego at its very foundation gives us control of the physical world, the purpose of the 72 names.
The Zohar also explains that, despite what we as individuals might believe, our ego is not actually who we are. Kabbalists describe the ego as a ‘garment’ or ‘curtain’ that hides the ‘Light’ of our true personalities. Our actual purpose in this world is to remove this garment which conceals our true essence and potential and complete the Great Work.
The 72 Names are found in Exodus Ch 14 vs 19-21, which, in the original Hebrew, have 72 letters each. The original Hebrew text is as follows:
And the King James V version in Exodus Ch 14 vs 19-21 is:
19. And the Angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them:
The names are derived by writing the letters of the three verses one above the other, with no vowel points, spaces, or punctuation marks, the first from right to left, the second from left to right, and the third from right to left. The names are then read from the top downwards.
Additions are -El and -Yah to the names to create the names of the 72 Angels, or as Kabbalists call them, Geniis.
The combination of the principle of five with the principle of trinity now applies to the 72 Genii, or Names, or angels of God. These 72 Names are composed in the original Hebrew Kabbalah of three letters, to which either the power attribute -el or -iah is added, to create a five-lettered Name of God. Thinking in the terms of Bardon's system we could assume (speculatively), that El (God-power) is a representation of the electric fluid and -iah (God-mercy) represents the magnetic fluid, adding the two fundamental powers to the qualities of each single name. One further indication that this concept could be true is that the Bahir (see paragraph 8 of the Bahir and Kaplan's commentary) states, that the letter ‘He’ at the end of a word means the feminine quality of this thing, so we could say that the ‘Yod’ of -yah reflects God (represented by a single point: ‘Yod’) in his feminine aspect (represented by ‘He’ at the end of the word). Additionally ‘He’ represents the concept of holding. Both concepts parallel the concept of the magnetic fluid.
Here are 3 versions of the 72 names in English letters by well known Kabbalists (there are more).
A table of the 72 names, with an appropriate verse from the book of Psalms for each, can be found in Kircher's Oedipus Aegyptiacus with the exception of the 70th name, which is given in the first verse from Genesis. This 70th name, although not containing the 4-lettered name of God, does contain the three letters of the 70th name.
The TetractysThe Greek philosopher Pythagoras devised the tetractys (meaning 'fourfold') as a symbol of the Cosmos. It is in the form of an equilateral triangle containing the integers one to ten, aligned in four rows. The tetractys was so sacred to the Pythagoreans that it formed the basis of their oath.
The mysteries of the tetractys had a great influence on the early Kabbalists who devised a similar form to expound upon the Tetragrammaton (the four-lettered name of god). By arranging the four letters of the Great Name (YHVH) in the form of the Pythagorean tetractys, the seventy-two names of God are manifested.
The Tree of Life
GeneralThe Tree of Life is an important symbol in most cultures. Because its branches reach high into the sky, and its roots deep into the earth, it exists in three worlds, a link between heaven, earth, and the underworld, thus uniting above with below. It is considered to be a feminine symbol, bearing fruit, while at the same time it is also masculine, being a visibly phallic symbol.
In Jewish and Christian mythology, a tree sits at the centre of both the heavenly and earthly Edens. The Norse cosmic World Ash, Ygdrassil, has its roots in the underworld while its branches support the dwelling place of the Gods. The Egyptian's Holy Sycamore stood on the threshold of life and death, connecting the worlds. To the pre-Columbian Mayas, it is Yaxche, whose branches support the heavens.
The tree has other characteristics which lend themselves easily to symbolism. Deciduous trees take on the appearance of death in the winter, losing their leaves, only to sprout new growth with the return of spring. This aspect gives the tree a symbol of resurrection, and a stylised tree is the symbol of many resurrected Gods; Jesus, Attis, and Osirus all have crosses as their symbols.
A tree bears seeds or fruits, containing the ‘essence’ of the tree. This continuous regeneration is a potent symbol of immortality. It is the fruit of a tree that confers immortality in the Jewish creation story. In Taoist tradition, it is a divine peach that gives the gift of immortality, while in ancient Persia (now Iran), the fruit of the haoma bears this essence. The apples of Idun gave the Norse gods their powers. This aspect of the tree as a ‘giver of gifts’ and ‘spiritual wisdom’ is also quite common. It is while meditating under a Bodhi tree that Buddha received his enlightenment; the Norse God Odin received the gift of language while hanging upside down in the World Ash to obtain the wisdom of the runes (see ‘The Hanged Man’ in the Tarot deck). In Judeo-Christian mythology, the Tree of Heaven is the source of the primordial rivers that water the earth. This is similar to the Tooba Tree of the Koran, from whose roots spring milk, honey, and wine.
This tree and its gifts of immortality are not easy to discover. It is historically difficult to find, and almost invariably guarded. The Tree of Life in the Jewish bible is guarded by a Seraph (an angel in the form of a fiery serpent) bearing a flaming sword. To steal the apples of knowledge, the Greek hero Hercules had to slay a many-headed dragon Ladon. In Mayan legends, it is a serpent in the roots that one must contend with. Similarly, the Naga, or divine serpent guards the Hindu Tree. The Serpent Nidhog lives under Ygdrassil, and gnaws at the roots.
The tree as the dwelling place of the Gods is another feature common to many mythologies; in some, the tree itself is a God. The ancient Sumerian God Dammuzi was personified as a tree, as is the Hindu Brahman. The Byzantine World Tree represents the omnipotence of the Christian God.
Another form, the Inverted Tree, represents spiritual growth, as well as the human nervous system. This tree, with its roots in heaven, and its branches growing downward, is often found in Kabbalistic imagery. A similar tree is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, "The banyan tree with its roots above, and its branches below, is imperishable". In Kabbalah, the Inverted Tree represents the nervous system as well, the 'root' in the cranial nerves, with the branches spreading throughout the body. It also represents the cosmic tree rooted in heaven, the branches being all of manifest creation.
The Kabbalistic Tree of LifeThe Tree of Life, the fruit of which is supposed to give ‘everlasting life’, is mentioned in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. In addition to the Tree of Life, we find the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The wisest creature on earth, the serpent, tempted Eve into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil by suggesting to her that she would become as wise as God. Eve succumbed to this temptation, after which she and Adam were banished from the Garden of Eden to prevent them from eating from the Tree of Life.
N. B. The Genesis narrative telling of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden is balanced in the New Testament by the planting of the Tree of Life on mankind's side of the divide, see Revelation chapter 2, verse 7, and chapter 22, verses 2 and 19.
The Tree of Life is represented in several examples of sacred geometry, and is a recurrent theme in many religions, especially the Assyrian religion and the most ancient form of the Greek Religion, where its worship is associated with Tree Cults. In particular it is a central theme in the Kabbalah. However, Kabbalah cannot be classed as a religion as such, despite the fact that it successfully encompasses the values of all of them. Irrespective of this, it is referred to as a 'Mystical interpretation of the Old Testament', and many who study Kabbalah say it provides interpretations of biblical statements that have sometimes confused its readers.
The study of Kabbalah is personal examination and self-analysis on every level - from the mundane physical self to the higher spiritual entity. But this is just one aspect of it, for it also encompasses a range of possibilities, including the concept of other worlds, along with the magical power of number and language, as well as universal ideas which move us ever closer to understanding our origin and destiny.
The principle tool of examination is what is known as the Tree of Life, a diagram featuring 10 spheres, known as the Sephiroth, linked together by lines (paths), which coincidentally make it resemble that of DNA. It relates not only to the 10 aspects of the human psyche, but also, amongst many other things, to the 10 Cosmic Laws of Creation, and the 10 Faces of The Creator, of which we are but a reflection.
There are many arguments as to what comprises or what does not comprise Kabbalah, and indeed the right ways of accessing it. However, one aspect of it, the Tree of Life, is so versatile as to encompass all things for all people, and therein lies its infinite value. It is irrelevant whether we are of a particular religious persuasion, an atheist, agnostic, philosopher, psychologist, scientist, or simply just a querant, it opens new doorways to a perception that helps us to really know and fully understand where we come from, what we believe in, and more importantly, the reasons why we do so.
In simplistic terms, the Tree of Life can be likened to a 'reference map' of 10 ‘Temples of Light’, through which an aspirant may travel on the road to self-discovery, using the 22 paths which link one temple to another (see the 32 Paths of Wisdom). Although based on Jewish Tradition, many of a non Jewish persuasion study Kabbalah, and in particular The Tree of Life. Those who study it find themselves not only in a never-ending field of self discovery, but also of the world and universe in which they live, for no matter which way we look at it, it responds to our own personal 'level' of understanding, and is always open to challenge, holding many answers to questions that have previously defied explanation.
By studying the Tree of Life, we get in touch with just one aspect of Kabbalah, but this is possibly the most important area, being directly associated with ourselves in the personal sense, as well as part of the human evolution. Thus, as previously stated, Kabbalah is arguably not a religion but more a philosophy, and, although it certainly does not claim to make life any easier for us, it does help to ensure that we can make it much more meaningful and worthwhile. Its value is in using The Tree of Life as a psychological 'tool', for its study can be likened to taking an Honours Degree in The University of Life.
Aleister Crowley considered a complete understanding of the Tree of Life was essential for a magician:
"The Tree of Life has got to be learnt by heart; you must know it backwards, forwards, sideways, and upside down; it must become the automatic background of all your thinking. You must keep on hanging everything that comes your way upon its proper bough."
Similar to Yoga, it is not so much magick as it is a way to ‘map out’ one's spiritual universe. As such, a magician may use the Tree to choose which god(s) to invoke for what purpose(s) etc. Within the Western Magical Tradition, the Tree of Life is used as a filing cabinet, and plays an important role in modelling the spiritual journey, where the adept begins in Malkuth, the everyday material world, with the ultimate goal being Kether, the Sphere of Unity with the All.
The following image shows The Sephirotic Tree of later Kabbalists, in which was condensed all the arcana previously scattered throughout Kabbalistic literature.
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Some Traditional Jewish LiteratureFor those readers seriously interested in pursuing further knowledge of Kabbalah, it is definitely recommended you join an authentic organisation specialising in this subject as opposed to trying to ‘do it yourself’. In the meantime, some of the following traditional literature of the Jewish Religion will provide some excellent and worthwhile bedtime reading:
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