Kabbalah 101 

by Yvonne Henderson
AKA Grandmother Moon

Trying to explain the Kabbalah in a few paragraphs is like trying to stick the Titanic into a shot glass—impossible, I fear. But I will try. The Kabbalah was originally a Jewish mystical system. It maybe as old as Moses or as recent as the 16th Century, depending on who you ask and what you choose to believe. Note that while the Kabbalah is originally Hebrew in origin,the version used by modern ceremonial magicians is quite different from the original Hebrew in many ways. But in order to explain one I have to explain the other. Please also note that these are merely my opinions and not mean tto in any way challenge any deeply-held religious beliefs of anyone on the list, nor are they meant to stir up any sort of trouble. This is going to be long, I fear.

Kabbalah means “tradition” in Hebrew, and its root-word QBL means, “to reveal.”Originally an oral tradition, it began to solidify sometime in the Middle Ages, becoming fairly static by the Renaissance. You will see it spelled various ways. Kabbalah is my preferred spelling. Qabala is another. There are literally dozens of variations, primarily because ancient Hebrew had no vowel sounds. Why? Simple. Well, not really. Some people call the Judeo-Christian god “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” This comes from one of the original names assigned to this particular deity called the “Tetragrammaton,” which means “Four-Lettered Name.” The four letters in Hebrew are Yud, Heh, Vav and Heh. YHVH.  This is”A” name of God for Hebrew scholars, but it is not “THE” name of God. THE name of God was never meant to be spoken, as doing so—it was believed—would be blasphemy of the highest order and some how empower the speaker with untold and unholy powers over heaven and earth. Thus, it was common for priests to be the only ones able to read.

And to make double sure no one tried to figure out how to say the name of God, written Hebrew had no markings to distinguish vowel sounds until fairly recently. Without the vowel sounds, it was believed no one would be able,to come up with the exact way to pronounce the Tetragrammaton or other “true names” of God. Most Jews who see the Tetragrammaton written in the Bible substitute the word “Adonai,” meaning Lord, for it rather than saying anything even akin to what might be the Name. It’s important to go into all of this stuff because individual Hebrew letters and their numerical values are very important to the Kabbalah. I promise this will make at least some sense in a few paragraphs.

Okay, so now that we have that out of the way, I can start talking about the Kabbalistic world view. Hey, you asked. 😛 hehe   In the beginning,there wasn’’t nothin’ much. Actually, there was some stuff, but it existed in planes of negative physical influence and so it doesn’’t need to be discussed. 😉 Some say that this negative stuff was a necessary hollowing out from the Body of God of the space needed to make the universe—and hence, that we are literally a part of God, existing both Within and Without. Your mileage may vary. Nothing happened for a very longtime. But then, the Cosmos or God or the Prime Mover or Insert Divine Being of Choice became self-aware: “I AM. “At this exact moment in time, a huge out-rush of energy burst forward, flooding the once empty Void from a singular, primeval point.

Note that in many ways, this describes something akin to the Big Bang theory quite well. The point produced another point, aligned with the masculine principle. Then another point was made, aligned with the feminine. The primal forces of creation and limitation were made, and from them sprang all things.Down and down, like a lightning bolt, the creating energy flowed, each coming closer and closer to manifestation. In the end 10 “spheres” or planes of existence had been created, each a step closer to the real world. The final sphere is Malkuth, meaning “the kingdom.” This is where we live.

.The other spheres have poetic names and they represent various primal forces and virtues. Kether, the first point, is called “the Crown.” Chokmah, the second, masculine point, is called “Wisdom.” Binah, the primal feminine point,is titled “Understanding.” Then there is Chesed, “Mercy.” Geburah, “Severity.”Tiphareth, “Beauty.” Netzach, “Victory.” Hod, “Splendor.” Yesod, “Foundation.”Malkuth is everything we can see and experience. It is the end product of the original, primal force of creation. Bounded by the Cube of Space, each dimension (length, width, height and time) stretches to the infinity of the cosmos. It is interesting to note that the ancient Hebrews regarded time as a dimension.

Modern physicists, working under the auspices of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, also regard time as a dimension. The fourth dimension,to be exact. The diagram formed by each of the spheres—the spheres are called the “Sephiroth” in Hebrews commonly called “the Tree of Life.” This names should be familiar to anyone forced to sit through Sunday school for more than a month. ;)For those who lucked out, it is common to tell children the story of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace. They ate, at the temptation of the Serpent, a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and Good and Evil. Thus were their eyes opened, and thus did the mess we’re all in start. In theory. They were denied eating of the Tree of Life, which would allow them to live forever. The “trees” in the Garden, then, are not real trees, Kabbalists believe. Rather, they are representations of the primal forces that continuously create and recreate the cosmos.

But where does all this business of a Fall come in? The Fall from Grace and the Tree of Life are intimately connected in the minds of many Christian and Jewish worshippers. Originally, Malkuth wasn’’t where it was. I really need a picture to explain this.

You will see on this diagram (it’s not labeled, unfortunately, but it i’s right under the top two spheres, the black and the gray ones) that there is a strange place located just below Chokmah and Binah called “Da’ath.”This is where Malkuth used to be. Da’ath means “knowledge,” as in the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Adam and Eve ate.Self-awareness is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. When man became self-aware,so began our Fall from Grace. This was a natural course of our evolution,but it has also cost us much.

Before this time, in theory, we existed in the Presence of primal creation and by extension, the Creator. We were unaware that we were a part of a greater whole; we simply existed and were content to do so. When we separated ourselves from creation by becoming self-aware, we moved away from the place we once held and our perceptions shifted. Suddenly, life became a sometimes confusing journey, and Divinity seemed quite far away. It is the purpose of the Kabbalist to undertake this journey, to “see God” by ultimately finding the divine within. We have not left the Garden, we have only shifted our perspective somewhat. By undergoing a program of inner spiritual work and devotion,Kabbalists believe that they can “rise” through the planes—even though they are technically standing still—and see more and more of hidden reality. That’s the traditional Kabbalistic viewpoint in as much of a nutshell as I can make it.

From the original Merkabah mystics, who believed that their shamanic practices allowed them to travel in great chariots to view the Face of God, to the later 15th Century mystery schools of Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria, these are the basic beliefs that permeate Kabbalistic thought. Reaching those goals in the traditional Kabbala was done through several sorts of meditations and techniques. There are three flavors of traditional Kabbalah: Dogmatic,Practical and Literal. Dogmatic Kabbala is primarily an advanced study of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Literal Kabbalah is largely concerned with two techniques called Gematria and Notarikon.

To a lesser degree, a third technique called Temurah, a form of cryptography,is also practiced. Gematria is the practice of looking at Hebrew words and finding their numerical value, then looking closely at other words that have the same values. By meditating on these similar words, one can find hidden connections and meanings.

For example, Aheva in Hebrew means “One” and is used when talking about the Judeo-Christian God. Its numerical value is 13. “Love,” echoed in Hebrew,also has a numerical value of 13. Hence, God = Love. God is love. Get it?;) Notarikons are essentially acronyms that form unique words. These words are then used to represent the whole concept of the original phrase. Amen,AMN in Hebrew, is one such acronym. The original phrase, Al Melech Nehehmahn,means, “God is our faithful king.” Temurah is essentially transposing various letters in a word or phrase to get new words or phrases or different numerical values. It is not widely practiced, to my understanding, except by very advanced Kabbalists.

Practical Kabbala is what we magicians became most interested in, although Gematria is also important to a lot of us as well. It describes how to use certain techniques to create useful items, such as talismans, amulets, golems,etc. Okay, actually I’ve never met anyone who created a golem. It i’s tough, apparently. Round about the Renaissance, Christian mystics and magicians found the Kabbala. They loved it, and they especially loved the diagram of the tree of Life. The tree of life defines the cosmic interplay of Force and Form, and it forms a map to creation both Manifest and Unmanifest. In it is contained not only the tools necessary to meet the goals of the ancient mystery schools (“Know Thyself” being the most important), it contains the framework to fit anything, and I mean anything, within it.

Force and Form are two very important concepts in Kabbalistic magick, and I need to detail a little bit about them here. For purposes of discussion, Force is defined as “something that makes a change take place.” Form is defined as “something that makes changes manifest in a defined way.”

Kabbalistic magick is all about finding the proper balance of Force and Form to make certain results manifest. Each sphere on the Tree of Life diagram is aligned to certain forces, forms and whatnot. For example, here are some associations for the sphere of Malkuth, taken from Colin Low’s excellent”Notes on Kabbala” series. You may find these notes and many other wonderful documents at http://www.digital-brilliance.com/kab/

Sephira Malkuth:
Meaning: Kingdom
Planet: Cholem Yesodeth (the Breaker of the Foundations, sphere of the elements, the Earth)
Element: earth Briatic
Colour: brown (citrine, russet-red, olive green, black)
Number: 10
Magical Image: a young woman crowned and throned
Briatic Correspondence: stability
Illusion: materialism
Obligation: discipline
Virtue: discrimination
Vice: avarice & inertia
Qlippoth: stasis
Command: keep silent
Spiritual Experience: Vision of the Holy Guardian Angel
Titles: The Gate; Gate of Death; Gate of Tears; Gate of Justice;
The Inferior Mother; Malkah, the Queen; Kallah, the Bride; the Virgin.
God Name:Adonai ha Aretz (Lord God, King of Earth), Adonai Malekh
Archangel: Sandalphon
Angel Order: Ishim
Keywords: the real world, physical matter, the Earth, Mother Earth, the physical elements, the natural world, sticks & stones, possessions, practicality, solidity, stability, inertia, heaviness, bodily death, incarnation.

Here, for comparison, are magickal associations for Tiphareth, a “higher”sphere. This is an inaccurate description because all the spheres are actually part of each other, but it is easier sometimes to think of the Sephiroth in this manner.

Sephira: Tipheret
Meaning: Beauty
Planet: Shemesh (the Sun)
Element: fire
Briatic Colour: yellow
Number: 6
Magical Image: a king, a child, a sacrificed god
Briatic Correspondence: centrality, wholeness
Illusion: identification
Obligation: integrity
Virtue: devotion to the Great Work
Vice: pride, self-importance
Qlippoth: hollowness
Command: dare
Spiritual Experience: Vision of Harmony
Titles: Melekh, the King; Zoar Anpin, the lesser countenance, the Microproscopus; the Son; Rachamin, charity.
God Name: Aloah va Daath
Archangel: Michael
Angel Order: Malachim
Keywords: harmony, integrity, balance, wholeness, the Self, self-importance, self-sacrifice, the Son of God, centrality, the Philosopher’s Stone, identity, the solar plexus, a King, the Great Work.

Just like the Kabbalists of old, the magician seeks to see and comprehend more of unmanifest reality and manipulate it in a practical manner. This is done by attempting to comprehend and then effectively use the various”energies” and mindsets attuned to each of the spheres. In some training programs, the magician starts out working primarily in Malkuth and Yesod(considered the astral plane), then moves on to higher levels as he or she gains greater understanding. Other approaches have you just dive in to the energy currents of various Sephiroths, although I find this a bit dangerous,sort of like jumping into the deepest part of the ocean in an attempt to learn to swim.

Thus, Kabbalistic magicians spend a lot of time meditating on the various energies of the Sephiroth, attempting to “rise” to a level of understanding of them and to adopt their virtues while avoiding their flaws. This has the added benefit of making the magician a better person while he continuously learns how to better understand and direct the Sephiroth. Gematria becomes useful as a mental exercise at this point. Since the universe as represented by the Tree of Life is an inter-connected matrix containing the potentiality for all things, understanding the inter-connectedness of seemingly unconnected things (in this case, words and concepts) is valuable.

Kabbala has justifiably been called the Zen of the West, although there are differences in execution. Zen seeks to clear the mind of all distractions.The Kabbala attempts to flood the mind with so much inter-connectedness that it all eventually just blends into one harmonious whole. Both techniques are trying to get you to pretty much the same place. This study of interconnectedness also helps one see the similarities between various gods and goddesses of numerous faiths, spiritual concepts and certain universal components of the human spirit.

It produces an extremely accepting and non-judgmental world view, in my experience. It also gives one license to use symbol sets from numerous cultures and traditions once one understands how to place them “correctly” (it’’s all highly subjective—I mean correct for the individual magician) onto the tree.

The Tree of Life with it’s Ten Sephiroth (Spheres) is a great working tool.Use charts and lists like the above tables of correspondence when you create a Kabbalistic working (workings have been called “spells” but kabbalists don’t use the word “spell”). Examine the tables/lists of correspondences,find various symbols you want to use and design a ritual to better attune yourself to that Sephira / Sphere. Zoom in on the sorts of energies you want to utilize. Hence, if I was doing a ritual to attune myself to and shape Malkuth energies, I would use lots of earth tones in my ritual implements and invoke the various names and images associated with it. I might choose to perform my working in a wooded glade, surrounded by nature to further enhance the effectiveness of the working. If I was doing a working more attuned to the goals and energies of Tiphareth, then sunlight and sun imagery might be more appropriate. I would meditate on the images associated with the sphere and then might choose to do my ritual in the light of the noonday sun or at least in an unfilled room if I could.

This is perhaps an oversimplification, Kabbala in a nutshell. In our Qabalah course, written by Frater LI of the Esoteric Mystery School, we will dig deeper and reach the point where we can truly call ourselves Qabalists


Sophia & Shekinah are One, Kabbalists brought the Goddess intoJudeo-Christianity during the height of the era of the Knights Templar

Following is a short exerpt from Karen Armstrong’s book, “The History of God.”

“…The next seven sefiroth are said to correspond to the seven days of creation in Genesis. During the biblical period, YHWH had eventually triumphed over the ancient goddesses of Canaan and their erotic cults. But as Kabbalists struggled to express the mystery of God, the old mythologies reasserted themselves, albeit in a disguised form. The Zohar describes Binah as the Supernatural Mother, whose womb is penetrated by the “dark flame” to give birth to the seven lower sefiroth. Again Yesod, the ninth sefirah, inspires some phallic speculation: it is depicted as the channel through which the divine life pours into the universe in an act of mystical procreation. It is the Shekinah, the tenth sefirah, however, that the ancient sexual symbolism of creation and theogeny appears most clearly. In the Talmud, the Shekinah was a neutral figure: it had neither sex nor gender. In the Kabbalah, however,the Shekinah becomes the female aspect of God. The Bahir (ca. 1200), one of the earliest Kabbalistic texts, had identified the Shekinah with the Gnostic figure of Sophia, the last of the divine emanations which had fallen from the Pleroma and now wandered, lost and alienated from the Godhead, through the world. The Zohar links this “exile of the Shekinah” with the fall of Adam as recounted in Genesis. It says that Adam was shown the “middle sefirah”in the Tree of Life and the Shekinah in the Tree of Knowledge. …….the exile of the Shekinah echoed the ancient myths of the goddess who wandered far from the divine world, and became one of the most popular elements of the Kabbalah. The female Shekinah brought some sexual balance into the notion of God, which tended to be too heavily weighted toward the masculine, and it clearly fulfilled an important religious need.”

Anne “Safyre” Frasca writes:

I once took a class that used “The History of God,” as the text. Written by a former nun turned lucid writer, this book really gives a lot of insight into the complexity of the historical evolution of “God.”

If Shekinah is also seen as the Gnostic Sophia (Divine Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, Holy Female Wisdom), then she also could be the Holy Spirit, who is also identified as Divine Wisdom, and the Holy Spirit did enter Mary as she conceived Jesus, and entered Jesus’ body as a dove at his baptism. The Holy Spirit came down again into Mary and all the others after Christ’s Ascension. Perhaps it is she who still wanders among us here on earth..inspiring us if we can become still enough to hear her?

Qabalah: Lesson B

Questions (by Lady Elda Mildredsdaughter)

Send your answers to MysterySchool with “QabalahB answers” in the subject line.

1. How old is the Kabbalah?

2. What is the meaning of the word Kabbalah?

3. What is the meaning of “Tetragrammaton”?

4. What is the word that most Jews substitute for Tetragrammaton when they see it written in the Bible?

5. What do some people say that negative stuff was necessary in the making of the Universe?

6. Which Sphere was the final one to be created?

7. What dimension do modern physicists regard time in relationship to Einstein’s theory of general relativity?

8. What are the three “flavors” of traditional Kabbalah?

9. Define the practice of Gematria.

10. What is the most important goal of the ancient Mystery Schools?

11. The tree of life defines the ______ ______ of ______ and _____, and it forms a map to creation of both ­­­_____ and ______.

12. Name two concepts which are very important in Kabbalistic magick. Define these terms.

13. What do Kabbalistic magicians spend time meditating on the various energies of the Sephiroth?

14. Name a benefit of the study of inter-connectedness.

Exercise. Look at each of the Spheres on the Tree of Life. Which Sphere resonates with you at this point in time. Why?

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