by Donna M. Pinkston
The Kabbalah (this is the most common of the various spellings of the word) is the Hebrew mystical tradition. As with all mystical traditions, the purpose of the Kabbalah is to provide (wo)man with an experience of God. The word itself, KBL, means "to receive." The most important feature of the Kabbalah is a glyph called the Tree of Life. Images of the Tree date back to 1300 B.C. and can be found among the Phoenician archives. Use of the Kabbalah became popular from A.D. 600-1400. Among the users were Hebrew, Christian, and occult kabbalists.
From A.D. 1500-1900, the Kabbalah experienced a decline in interest as religious beliefs were limited and scientific studies came to the forefront. However, around the turn of the twentieth century, a time when the energies of the Aquarian Age began to be felt, the Kabbalah experienced a revival.
In the Kabbalah, God, the unknowable, is referred to as the Ain Soph. Ain Soph is an endless, boundless being that cannot be comprehended. Ain means "nothing." Ani means I. Both are expressions of God. Ain is before creation, where Ani is the final stage of manifestation. When kabbalists say, "I am God," they recognize that God resides in everything.
The universe is the garment in which Ain Soph manifests itself. The garment is called the sephiroth . The sephiroth are vessels that act as the medium between the Ain Soph and the Ani. There are ten in number. The sephiroth are referred to as intelligences, radiations, emanations, principles, powers, worlds, and/or organs of God. In their totality, they are called the Tree of Life.
The glyph, composed of the ten sephiroth , is central to modern kabbalistic thought. The myth behind the Tree of Life begins with Ain Soph creating a single point that breaks through into vision. This is the point of focus for the boundless. It is the first sephira, Kether. Kether is known as the Ancient One, the Crown. It is spirit, an active principle. All worlds and beings are enclosed within it.
The second sephira is called Chochmah. It is an active male principle and embodies wisdom. Chochmah is also known as Abba the Father. He is the spirit of spirit. Abba decided on creation and created the Hebrew alphabet.
Binah, the third sephira, is a passive, feminine principle seen in the element water. Binah discerns the principle of wisdom and is therefore known as Intelligence.
The fourth sephira is called Chesed. It is the active, male principle. Chesed embodies love and is called Mercy. He is seen in the symbol of fire.
Geburah is the fifth sephira. Its principle is passive and feminine. Geburah is the sternness needed to set boundaries on the love of Chesed. She is justice and power and is seen in the symbol of height. She is referred to as Severity.
Tiphereth, the sixth sephira, unites the active with the passive in the previous sephiroth , bringing balance to the Tree. Tiphereth brings compassion into creation and is known as Beauty.
The seventh sephira is Netzach. It is active and masculine in nature. Netzach offers endurance, stability, and perseverance to life. Netzach is said to correspond to the symbolism of the east. His title is Victory.
Hod is the eighth sephira. It is passive and feminine. Hod, also called Glory, brings forth majesty and splendor. Hod can be seen in the symbolism of the west.
Yesod, the ninth sephira, unites the previous sephiroth . It is a synthesis of all the sephiroth , offering a foundation for the Tree. To Yesod belong the symbols of the north. Its title is Foundation.
Malkuth is the tenth and last sephira. It is materialization and autonomy. Malkuth is called Kingdom and is righteous. Malkuth is Schechinah, Gods feminine counterpart. Malkuth is thought to have nothing of herself; she is purely receptive and reflects the other nine sephiroth . Malkuth is symbolized by the south. Sometimes she is given the name Rachel.
The ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life are in the same order that creation is manifested. When this zigzag path is traced on the glyph, kabbalists refer to it as the Thunderbolt or the Flaming Sword.
The sephiroth can be grouped into three triangles according to their functions. Kether, Chochmah, and Binah form the first triad and are referred to as the supernal. This triad creates understanding and is known as the world of thought.
Chesed, Geburah, and Tiphereth form the second triad. This triad rules over the moral qualities of creation. It rules the sensuous world and is the world of the soul.
The third grouping is a quadrate. It contains Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malkuth. This quadrate offers power and stability to the material world. It brings the world of thought and the world of the soul into a natural world of the body.
The second and the third groupings are called the Impatient One. This is because creation is quickly moving toward manifestation, and anything that is lacking gets burned or flooded out. These sephiroth are seven in number and represent the seven primeval days of creation.
The Tree is arranged so that there are three more groupings. This grouping categorizes the sephiroth into three pillars: left, right, and center.
The left pillar is feminine. Its title is the Pillar of Judgment. It is the Black Pillar, the Pillar of death.
The right pillar is masculine, and its title is the Pillar of Mercy. It is the White Pillar, the Pillar of Life.
The middle pillar is the Pillar of Balance. It is active; its color is illuminating brilliance. It is the Pillar of Mysticism.
Each sephira is called a garment of God. Each grouping is called a face of God. By meditating on each sephira, its number, and the groupings, the kabbalist obtains many experiences of God.
There are 22 paths among the sephiroth in the Tree of Life. The Hebrew alphabet corresponds with these paths. The paths are walked by meditating on the Hebrew letter that corresponds to each path.
There are three mother letters, seven double letters, and twelve simple letters. The three mother letters are Aleph, Mem, and Shin. They represent principle, contrary principle, and balance. They are the elements air, water, and fire. The heavens are created from fire. The earth is created from water. Air acts as the intermediary between fire and water. In our world, fire manifests as heat, water as cold; air moderates the two temperatures. In (wo)man, the head is fire, the belly is water, and the torso is air.
The seven double letters are Beth, Gimel, Daleth, Caph, Pe, Resh, and Tau. They have double sounds and double meanings. Beth is life and death. Gimel is peace and evil. Daleth is wisdom and folly. Caph is riches and poverty. Pe is grace and ugliness. Resh is fertility and desolation. Tau is rule and servitude.
The double letters also correspond (in the same order) to the seven directions of the cube of the universe: above, below, east, west, north, and south, with Tau as the holy temple in the middle. From these letters, God created the world as Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury, and the moon.
God also created Saturday, Thursday, Tuesday, Sunday, Friday, Wednesday, and Monday with these seven double letters. The seven heavens, seven earths (continents) and seven weeks from the feast of Passover to Pentecost were also fashioned after these letters. God also created seven gates to the soul. These are the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and the mouth.
The twelve simple letters are Heh, Vau, Zayin, Cheth, Teth, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Tzaddi, and Qoph. From them, God created the Zodiac and the twelve months. Kabbalists group the simple letters into four triplets. Three of the letters radiate love. Three emanate hate. Three engender life, and three bring death. Each letter also corresponds to an English letter. Finally, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has numerical value.
When working with the Tree of Life, the kabbalist first meditates on the sephiroth , then on the alphabet, and next on the various combinations of the letters forming the names of God.
The modern Kabbalah has specific god names associated with each sephira as well as archangels, angels, and human archetypes. These are distributed throughout four worlds. Each world corresponds to one of the four letters of God's name, JHVH. Kabbalists see a complete Tree of Life in each of the four worlds. The worlds are called Azila, Beriah, Yezirah, and Asiah.
Azila is the world of inspiration. The gods live in this world. It is a point, the beginning. Beriah is the world of creation and the dwelling place of the archangels. This is where the point becomes a line. Yezirah is the world of formation. The angels live in this world. It is where the line becomes a plane. Finally, Asiah is the world of expression. The human archetypes populate this world. In Asiah, the plane becomes a solid body.
Manifestation descends through the four trees, beginning in Kether of the first world and ending in Malkuth of the fourth world. Upon death, the spirit moves back up through each of the four trees.
For the kabbalist, the different aspects, expressions, and manifestations of God are like a (wo)mans hand compared to her/his eye. They are all a part of the same body, but they have different functions.
Kabbalists believe that through the study of the Kabbalah an individual becomes her/his own Messiah. Through this process, kabbalists connect with the realms of creation and the many spirits that reside within them.
The Tree of Life is the skeleton of the universe. The alphabet is the flesh. All of everything is Gods creation. All of everything is God.
Donna M. Pinkston, M.A. is a mental health counselor in private practice. She blends traditional modes of therapy with various mystical, magickal, New Age, and pagan philosophies and practices, and can be reached at (206) 726-2808. See her ad, titled "Works Like Magick," in the advertising directory. Please call Donna if you are interested in participating in a kabbalistic study group.