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Understanding the Kabbalah

Largely due to the interest shown by Esther (The artist formerly known as Madonna), the Kabbalah has received a lot of mainstream media attention of late. It is an integral part of high magic, and yet it is exceptionally difficult to write about concisely, which is why it has taken so long for us to put together a useful section for you, here at PaganNews.com.

madonna
Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

We have been able to pull together some of the key points that you need to know in order to get a basic understanding of this fascinating mystical tradition. However, since we cannot hope to encompass everything you need to know about it in one small article, we have also identified some key books that can help you get a better understanding. You’ll find the reading list at the end of the article.

"Tree of Life 2009 large" by Alan James Garner - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Tree of Life 2009 large” by Alan James GarnerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Kabbalah, Qabala, Qabbalah, Cabala.

The spelling varies because the word, which means ‘Oral tradition’ comes from Hebrew, which is very much a phonetic language. It evolved from Jewish mysticism, which wanted to penetrate the inner mysteries of the Torah – the Jewish Scriptures. The key symbol of the Kabbalah is the Tree of Life, and the Spheres (or Sephiroth) that it contains. Understanding the Kabbalah allows one to understand the true nature of being. Many Wiccan traditions incorporate the study of the Kabbalah into their higher degrees, and it is also central to the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucianism and Hermeticism.

It is important to understand the Kabbalah because it provides a unified system of theology that in many ways ties quite neatly into current scientific thinking regarding the creation of the Universe.

Basically it goes like this:

In the beginning, there was not even nothing. Not zero, but Null. This was the Ain Soph Aur. Then from that came limitless nothing – the Ain Soph. And in that moment there was a flash of realization, and there was limitless light. And so began the World of Emanation – Atziluth. The Godhead, The Monad, suddenly existed. In order to experience itself it became two – The God and Goddess. And with the knowledge of each other they formed the Supernal Triad, And thus began the world of Creation – Briah. The creation led to the world of Formation (Yetzirah), wherein lay the distinctiveness of individuality. This is the realm of the Gods and Goddesses, or the Archangels and all that live beyond our plane. And it was from here that our plane was manifested – Assiah – The world of Action and Manifestation.

So began the billions of years of expansion and evolution that finally led to a vessel for the Godhead to experience the Material world – Humanity. For in each of us lies the Divine Spirit – the Holy Ghost – The Higher Self. But our animal side makes us forget who we are. We forget we are divine, and so the world’s religions and prayers and spells are our (often unconscious) attempt to reconnect with that.

As we grow and evolve, we begin our movement back up the Tree of Life, but beware – for before we can rejoin with the Godhead completely, we must pass the Abyss (the Sphere of Da’ath) through which we can once again fall back to the Material, if we are unready.

The Triads and Pillars

The Spheres on the Tree of life and grouped into three Triads, with the Earth plane, Malkuth, at the bottom. These Sephiroth are arranged on Three Pillars. the outer pillars are The Black Pillar of Might (On the left) and the White Pillar of Mercy (on the right). These are the Pillars of Boaz and Joab that appeared in Solomon’s Temple, and which are depicted today in many Tarot decks on the card of the High Priestess. In fact you will find much of the imagery in traditional Tarot decks (particularly Rider-Waite decks and Crowley’s Thoth Tarot) are representative of different aspects of the Tree of Life.

The middle, golden pillar of Mildness and Power is a later addition, and is more a path than a true Pillar. One of the key exercises in High Magic is the Middle Pillar Exercise, wherein one vibrates the Divine Names of the Sephiroth on the Middle Pillar as they correspond to key energy points (or chakras) in the body.

The Supernal Triad

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This triad represents the highly abstract emanations of Divinity. This level of the Godhead is so far beyond our experience that it is impossible to truly comprehend. It is the essence of all of us, of all things, and the primal force – the Universal Deity. This triad consists of:

Kether – Crown

Kether is the Root, the Crown, the ‘Primum Mobile’. It is the first state of being. Before Kether, there was nothing. It is the Emanation, which lead to the Creation. Kether is androgynous – neither male or female, and contains the All within in. It is the first realization that says ‘I AM’.

Chokmah – Wisdom

Chokmah is the first idea. The idea of Force, or change. It is the first masculine essence, the first positive polarity. Chokmah is totally without form, simply pure force.

Binah – Understanding

Binah is the counterpart – and counterbalance – of Chokmah. Where Chokmah is the force, Binah is the Form. It is the first feminine, the first negative polairty. Where Chokmah is active, Binah is passive. Binah is the great Mother. It is without force. Neither Binah or Chokmah can exist without the other. One without the other is incomplete.

The Abyss

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Below the Supernal Triad lies the Abyss. The Abyss is called Da’ath, and is not a Sepirah in the true sense. It is rather a marker, representing the fall of mankind – the fall that lead to our forgetting, for Da’ath represents knowledge – knowledge we have lost. It also separates the lower sephiroth from the Supernals, and acts as a barrier through which only that which is truly ready to rejoin with the Godhead can pass.

The Ethical (secondary) Triad

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This Triad echoes the supernal, but contains within it a stronger sense of individuality. It is the realm of the greater gods and archangels. It is here that Might and Mercy are ultimately balanced and tested. This triad consists of

Chesed – Mercy

Chesed is the first sphere of the second triad, the first sphere of actuality. Chesed is Mercy and Love. But unbalanced Mercy is weakness, and so Chesed is balance by Geburah, which is Might.

Geburah – Strength

Where Chesed is Mercy, Geburah is Might. It is Power and Strength, Energy and Courage. Geburah is Severity, but unbalanced severity is cruelty, hence it is balanced by Chesed, the sphere of Mercy.

Tiphareth – Harmony

Tiphareth stands at the center of the tree, and as such represents Harmony, Balance and Beauty. It is called the Lesser Countenance, for it reflects the Divine light of Kether. When one leaves the Outer order of the Golden Dawn, one stands before Tiphareth to commence the Great Work. Tiphareth is Death and Rebirth, being reborn cleansed and purified.

The Lower Triad & Malkuth

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This triad reflects and extends the pattern of the previous triads, adding complexity and a stronger individuality. It is this triad that interacts most directly with the Material plane which is found in the last Sephirah, Malkuth. The Sephiroth of this grouping are

Netzach – Victory

Netzach is Victory, Emotion and Love in all its forms. Netzach is first sphere on the third triad, and it is here where the energy we refer to as the God or the Goddess is split into its different aspects. Netzach is selflessness and altruism and. It is the sephirah of animal drives and passion. It is the Natrual as opposed to the Contrived.

Hod – Splendour

Hod is Glory and Splendor. It is Honesty and Integrity.Hod is sound and the word. It is the circuit, energized by Netzach. Where Netzach is Nature, Hod is Knowledge. It is the artificial and the contrived. Hod is the sephirah of mental faculties, of Intelligence and Reason.

Yesod – Foundation

Yesod is the dark side of the Moon. It is the last sphere of the last triad, and the boundary between the material world and the planes beyond. Yesod rules the cycles of Time and of Nature. It is the phases of the Moon. Yesod is fluid, yet precise. Yesod provides the life force for the Material plane, Malkuth. Yesod is the potential – Malkuth is the realization of that potential.

Finally, we enter the Material Plane

Malkuth – Kingdom

Malkuth is the last sphere on the Tree of Life, and the first from our point of view, for it is where we manifestly exist. Malkuth is the Kingdom, where Kether is the Crown. Here is the plane where the princess resides, both the daughter and Bride of the God. Malkuth is where her journey – our journey – both ends and begins.

Each of these spheres, and the paths between them, correspond to cards in the Tarot deck.  In fact understanding the Qabbalah is an incredibly useful tool to help you learn the mysteries of the Tarot.

To continue your studies further, here are some books we recommend that you may find useful: