Hebrew: ‘tradition’. Originally transmitted orally, mystical in nature and consisting of secret doctrines, centering on mysteries hidden in the Jewish Scriptures by special discovered methods of interpretation. This secret doctrine of the Jewish faith was called the cabala and its students were called initiates (the high priests). The priests learned the esoteric part of their religion and the people learned the exoteric version. The Kabbalah - also known as kabala, cabala - means in Hebrew “reception” in the meaning of “received tradition”. The term historically referred to all Judaism’s oral law such as the words of the ancient prophets from the bible.
A body of esoteric teaching,
its name meaning ‘the received’, from a Hebrew root QBL, ‘to receive’. Rabbinic tradition claims Qabalah was taught to Adam by the archangel
Gabriel and thereon passed orally ‘from mouth to ear’. Judaic in origin, it absorbed Persian,
Egyptian, Greek, Neoplatonic and Gnostic elements. About AD 1280 the Spanish Qabalist Moses ben
Shemtob de Leon issued the ‘Zepher ha Zohar’ (Book of Splendor), a vast
commentary on the Pentateuch (the Bible’s first five books), claiming it as the work of the mythic
Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, said to have died in ecstatic trance, 1,200 years
earlier. Deviating from orthodox
Judaism, it initiated the growth of Qabalah into a flexible, sophisticated symbolic
system which offers many techniques for training the mind,
evoking spiritual powers and correlating different disciplines, philosophies, mythologies and
pantheons. Central to the system is the
Tree of Life - a glyph, symbol or psychic map which has been called ‘a
ground plan of the universe and
the soul of man’. Qabalah claims that
positive existence emanates from a negative state of limitless undifferentiated
being (Ain Soph), from which emanates the Tree, on it the ten sephiroth
(spheres: states of being) which, connected by twenty-two
Paths, embrace creation in all
its forms, from Kether to Malkuth, high to low, a process visualised as Divine Energy plunging
from one sephirah to the next in a zigzag: the ‘Lightning
Flash’. The psychologist Edwin C.
Steinbrecher developed a system of cross references between the Tarot, astrology, alchemy,
and the Western Mystery Tradition ie: Judaeo-Graeco-Christian spiritual
heritage of the West. The Kabbalah has
been referred to as ‘The Yoga of the West’.
Its origin has been obscured but stories state that it was received by
Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation and has always been shrouded in an
aura of secrecy for protection. It has
been transmitted by a single complex image, the ‘Otz Chiim’, ‘The Tree of Life’
(esoteric Judaism) and not through books (which may be lost or burnt), nor through a lineage of teachers. Buddhism has ‘The Wheel of
Life’. It is a symbolic code that may
be unlocked by using the correct keys. It is the symbol system ‘par
excellence’ (layer after layer of symbolic mind-language). It has been conceived as a building (castle). Kaaba: (Arabic: ‘a cube’). Ancient stone building said to have been
built by Ishmael and Abraham and part of the Great Mosque at
The Tree is divided into three Pillars
Passive (left), Active (right), and Middle. To seek the ‘
01 Kether, the Crown, fount of creation, the universal point where vital energy pours in from the unmanifest. The Limitless Light/cosmic egg/zero (symbol of the absence of qualities, sign of infinite and eternal conscious energy). The Void. These energies activate in:
02 Chokmah, Wisdom, powerhouse of force, symbolizd by phallus, straight line, tower. Initiating action, Chokmah stands under Kether at the head of the Pillar of Merch (Right). Duality. Through it the energy flashes to:
03 Binah, Understanding, Great Mother, primal ocean at the head of the Pillar of Severity (Left). Fertilised by and taking in the pure energy of Kether and Chokmah, Binah manifests the idea of form. This supernal trinity stands above the Abyss separating Idea from Form. Straddling the Abyss (Middle Pillar) is the hidden, numberless sephirah, Daath, associated with Sirius and with confidence in the future. Triangle, created by three points. From Binah through Daath the energy powers:
05 Geburah, Severity, Mars, (pentagram) where Chesed’s forms are destroyed, assessed and refracted down to:
06 Tiphareth, Beauty, Christ-consciousness (Cube/hexagon). This, the Tree’s central sephirah, mediates what is above with what is below. From it, the energy pours on to:
07 Netzach, Venus, its symbol a beautiful naked woman. Here Tiphareth’s coherent love rays out into nature in all her forms, creating natural forces perceived by human imagination as gods and goddesses. From Netzach the lightning flashes over to:
09 Yesod, Moon, etheric foundation of physical being, its forces coordinating the emergence of physical form, source of psychic, unconscious and reproductive energies. And so on down to:
10 Malkuth, the kingdom of earth, the nadir of creation. This is no damnation. Qabalah, unlike some other philosophies, holds that spirit must descend into deepest matter, that our destiny must be realized in Malkuth, or further progress is impossible. In this, Qabalah agrees with Christianity, though reaching its conclusions not through faith but gnosis (knowledge).
Another complete symbolic system, wholly adequate in itself. As in the most ancient symbolism known, this basic structure of life is depicted as a tree, the Tree of Life, with its fruit, the ten Sephiroth, or blazing spheres of consciousness. The Tree of Life is to be lived rather than looked at. The Kabbalists rate intellect (8 Hod) lower in their scale of values than creative imagination (7 Netzach). As Einstein said, ‘imagination is more important than knowledge’. They place intellect on the feminine pillar, making Knowledge/Theory purely receptive, while creative imagination is active and masculine. The Tree of Life is a tree with three branches to either side, as found on Ancient Sumerian cylinder seals. The Tree of Life is probably related to, if not inspired by the biblical account of the Seven Days of Creation, which play an important role in the symbolism of the Kabbalah. Sephiroth (derived from ‘safar’, to count) refers directly to numbers, One/Many. The colours of the Sephiroth refer to experiences on the level of pure mind, pure life in contrast with matter. The point of origin (‘eyn sof’, the infinite). The Sephiroth can be arranged as a wheel, as a lightning flash from above down to earth, or as a ladder reaching up from earth to heaven, or as a single vertical axis with twin pillars to either side.
The Cabala is a collection of esoteric writings of various rabbis and a few medieval Christians, consisting of mystical and numerological interpretations of Hebrew scriptures. The authors of the Cabala treat every letter, word, number, and accent of Scripture as if it were a secret code containing some profound but hidden meaning put there by God for some profound and hidden purpose, including prophecy. The Cabala also provides methods of interpretation of the occult marks on paper that the less spiritually gifted take to be mere words to be understood either literally or figuratively. The purpose of the Cabala is apparently to read God’s mind and thereby become one with the divine.
Like all other mystical works and movements, cabalists believe that the only world worth knowing is the divine realm “above” and that one’s life on earth should be spent trying to understand the mystery of the “upper level”. This transcendental quest represents to the atheist a rejection of the earthly realm of facts, suffering, uncertainty and impotence in favor of a fantasy realm of the imagination and a sharing in eternal bliss and omnipotence. To philosophers such as Nietzsche, mysticism is nihilism’s expression of the will to power. Those who are part of the esoteric group are made to feel powerful and superior to outsiders by the magic of their fanciful imaginations.
See related entry on the Bible Codes
Kabbala (Catholic Encyclopedia)