For the purposes of this introduction I’m going to be using many variant-names that are easy to read and pronounce. This is on purpose to make this blog-post more accessible, because in order to fully grasp what I have written below a reader may have to scroll up and down the page to look at a table and associated images. I’m also aware that not every interpretation is the same between said table and associated images, but again I strive for clarity over exact uniformity. With that out of the way, let us begin exploring the basics of Kabbalah.
Who am I? What is the purpose of my being here? Why does the world exist? Do we continue to exist after our physical being ceases to house us? These are the fundamental questions that Kabbalah seeks to answer. Not through lowering one’s own expectations but through reaching higher than a lowly student, such as myself, can hope to imagine.
To understand the background of this tradition it is helpful to know about the ancient mystical traditions of the Hebrews. They had three literatures that were tightly connected to each other: 1) The Books of Laws and the Prophets, which are also called the Old Testament, 2) the Talmut, which is a collection of learned commentaries on the Old Testament, 3) the Kabbalah, which is a mystical interpretation of the Old Testament.
Kabbalah is the grandfather of many modern Western Traditions. According to Hanegraaff, Wouter J., “It is the underlying philosophy and framework for magical societies such as the Golden Dawn, Thelemic Orders, mystical-religious societies such as the Builders of the Adytum and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and is a precursor to the Neopagan, Wiccan and New Age movements.”
When comparing this to other Western Traditions, Kabbalah seems heavily focused on Judaism, but this is not the whole truth. To name but three examples, Eastern Tradition yoga-practices, medieval alchemy and the Tarot have found their way into the Kabbalah. Noteworthy in their absence are written books about Kabbalah until only fairly recently - the first translations appearing in the 1830s. Kabbalah was and remains largely an oral tradition that has grown in secret. The reason for this can be summed up with one word: Christianity. For almost two thousand years Christian leaders have aggressively competed against other religious and mystical traditions, so those who studied and practiced Kabbalah did so without writing down details for fear of book burnings and persecution. What they did instead was use symbols that the uninitiated could look at without realizing what they were seeing. This is not to say that there are no written texts on Kabbalah, but most of the original texts have been hidden underneath the sands of time until fairly recently, only to be discovered by archaeologists.
The oral nature of this living tradition also means that past the initial stage of learning the basics there’s precious little material available for the new student of Kabbalah. Even the most open-minded initiates into the secrets of this Tradition, those who approve of the use of material translated from Hebrew and ancient Aramaic, advise new-comers to seek a master and refuse to commit to writing what they consider dangerous material to the uninitiated. Thus, unlike with for example Thelema, there is precious little to be found outside of philosophy and core concepts to introduce to a new student. Fortunately what is available is fascinating and enough to keep a student busy for many years.
Kabbalah is the first Western Tradition that I have run into with a clearly stated time frame for a new student. Study for 3-5 years and you will begin to see the world in a different light. However, in order to make such advances one must learn under the tutelage of a proper master and according to the words of rabbi Laitman there are no recognized kabbalist masters outside of Israel. Moreover, in order to be properly schooled the student must learn two languages: ancient Aramaic and Hebrew.
Why the need for such stringent requirements? The answers lie in what I can only describe as the belief system that surrounds Kabbalah. According to both rabbi Laitman and Dion Fortune, language was not invented by humanity, but was handed down from on high by angels. Through this language humanity began to become aware of higher concepts and realms. Dion Fortune wrote, “It is said that thought grew out of language, not language out of thought.” One generation after another kabbalists have reached towards greater heights. As humanity has advanced in philosophy and natural sciences, so have the kabbalists being able to seek out new insights from the symbols and language handed down from higher realms. Any translation of the original texts is therefore seen as inferior. More importantly: working from a translation often leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Rabbi Laitman spends considerable time in his introduction to Kabbalah highlighting the dangers of learning from false masters, because doing so can cause a student to become lost from the proper path towards enlightenment.
This creates something of a conundrum to most students who aren’t willing to move to Israel and hope to be accepted as a student. Even though there are websites that can get a student started in the right direction the world isn’t exactly full of people who speak these two very specific languages. Today the sharing and teaching of occult knowledge is seen as a great boon to humanity at large. Those who approach Kabbalah with the understanding that it is not a quick path to sorcerous powers are welcome - under quite a few caveats.
Let us then explore what Kabbalah has to offer. The much vaunted Tree of Life. To access the full knowledge of the Tree of Life it is necessary to first develop a sixth sense, which Kabbalah describes as an “illuminating light” that allows access to higher concepts. This sixth sense is accessed by placing the kabbalist into a properly receptive state of mind. Once this has been achieved it is possible explore the higher (spiritual) realms. To study Kabbalah is to expose oneself to the wisdom of the Sephiroth, or Judaic angels. A student without a master will run into an untold number of “blinds”, or misleading clues written into the Kabbalah and associated materials. Placed there on purpose in order to lead the casual observer astray and to obfuscate the truth from anyone who doesn’t follow the teachings of a proper master.
Dion Fortune exposed three of these in her book:
There are twenty-two lines within the Tree of Life, which correspond for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, but what about the missing ten lines that create the thirty-two correspondences within the Tree of Life? Each of the ten Sephiroth, shown as spheres on the image below, is a correspondence unto themselves.
A kabbalist is supposed to place the Signs of the Zodiac upon the Tree of Life. Yet there are twelve Signs, seven planets and four elements for a total of twenty-three correspondences. The kabbalist is supposed to perceive that they are viewing the Tree of Life from Earth, so the Element of Earth - the physical plane of existence - is removed. Now the remaining twenty-two Zodiac Signs align with the twenty-two Hebrew alphabets and their corresponding positions on the Tree of Life.
Even though it is not considered to be one of the Sephiroth, there is an eleventh sphere called “Daath”, which is placed halfway between Tiphereth and Kether. This sphere is regarded as the place from which the entire Tree “grows”. Daath corresponds to the realm of Hidden, or Occulted, Knowledge. Therefore it is not drawn on all images depicting the Tree of Life.
Given the complexity of the topic and the level of intentional obfuscation it is impossible to do justice to the Tree of Life in this short blog-post. What I will instead endeavor to do is shine a little light on a few key-aspects and leave other topics for the Book of Thoth blog-post. Entire books have been written and seminars held on the wealth of knowledge and wisdom contained in the table and corresponding image above.
There are three paths laid out in the Tree of Life: left, center and right. The left-hand path (Hod, Geburah, Binah) is called the Pillar of Severity and deals predominantly with internal aspects of consciousness. The right-hand path (Netzach, Chesed, Chokmah) is called the Pillar of Mercy and deals predominantly with external aspects of consciousness. The center path (Malkuth, Yesod, Tiphareth) is called the Pillar of Mildness and acts as a synthesis of both the left and right path.
As you can see the Sephiroth (spheres) are numbered 1-10. There is an order to the ascent a student takes along the Tree of Life. Beginning from Malkuth (10), which represents base consciousness and physical word identification and leading all the way up to the Kether (Crown). A student follows these presentations as he ascends in the same direction as energy flows along the Tree of Life in a lightning bolt pattern. This is why the Tree of Life is often called the “thunderstruck tree”. It represents a path from unconsciousness and worldly identity to enlightened or unity consciousness. Or, in other words a pathway that leads from egoistic base desires to collective care for the self as well as others.
According to MacGregor Mathers, there are four triangles upon the Tree of Life, which correspond to “four worlds of Kabbalah”:
Atziluh (Kether, Binah, Chokmah), the Archetypal World, or the Plane of Will, represented by Fire.
Briah (Geburah, Chesed, Tiphared), the Creative World, or the Emotional Plane, represented by Water.
Yetzirah (Hod, Netzach, Yesod), the Formative World, or the Mental Plane, represented by Air
Assiah (Malkuth), the Physical World, or the Material Plane, which is represented by Earth.
The reason why the lowest triangle is only represented by a single sphere is explained as highlighting the lowest base consciousness, which only deals with the physical world. This is obviously another one of those “blinds” that I mentioned above. I do not know what the answer is to this riddle, but it is obvious that there is a secret here that is being hidden. The more I study Kabbalah, the more I see that everything has multiple interpretations, everything has multiple correspondences and nothing is by chance. If something breaks an obvious pattern then that is by design. The student is encouraged to find out the truth on their own.
Daath corresponds to the first three Trivium steps (knowledge - understanding - wisdom). Binah corresponds to Understanding, Chokhmah to Wisdom, and finally Daath to Knowledge. Combined these three spheres lead to Kether (Crown), which is the highest expression of consciousness.
In conclusion: Kabbalah feels like an ancient mystery tradition with strict rules, requirements, “blinds” to mislead the uninitiated and is full of layers upon layers correspondences. It is intrinsically part of a modern-day religion in a way that feels very different from other Western Traditions. Yet at the same time I can see Kabbalah’s influence in the occult literature that I have read for many years. There are many other Western Traditions that feel more accessible and modern. I won’t even pretend that I understood anything beyond the basics. The books that I have read and seminars I attended in preparation of writing this introduction were inconsistent in their details and in the insights they offered. What I have gathered here is as many details as I can comfortably put together, from multiple sources, in a way that feels consistent. As I continue to study Kabbalah, I will almost certainly come back to this introduction to update it where I have made obvious mistakes or misrepresentations.