A Brief Introduction to Qabalah
 
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For I am divided for love's sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.
Liber AL I:29-30

Welcome to the creation of the universe.

So, what is Qabalah[1] (קבלה), exactly? The word itself means "reception", out of a root meaning "to receive". As such, it indicates a tradition passed down from student to teacher, "received in the ear". But it's so much more besides.

It's a philosophical and magickal system, an attempt to unscrew the inscrutable, a way of explaining how the universe was created and continues to be created. It's as good an explanation as any, and better than most. It's a picture book containing everything you'll ever need to know about the inside of your head. It's a set of instructions for bringing yourself into harmony with the Power that created the universe. The brag is that it embodies and encodes the fundamental secrets of Divinity, so if you really learn how to use it, you can create life. (Do you believe that?)

Qabalism claims a number of things:[2] first, that before the Beginning there was nothing but God, an infinite and unknowable Power that also had a Will to bestow that power. That Will being infinite, it must be obeyed; and from that starting point the universe inevitably came to Be.

For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect. Liber AL I:44

In that way, God created this universe of 32 mystical paths of wisdom, comprising ten Sephiroth[3] and 22 interconnecting paths, each symbolized by one letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Those 32 paths further comprise three books: text, number, and communication. These books are the letters, the numbers (the enumerations of the letters and words), and the method of using them.

The Sephiroth are, if you will, way stations along the path from the Ineffable to the Manifest. Created by the flash of light that burst from the Infinite at the moment of creation, they have their aspects and their influences[4], dividing into -

  • Ten states of being, from not-quite-God (כתר, Crown); down to Man (מלכות, Kingdom), divided into
  • Four Worlds, levels of energy that are the habitation of various beings: Deity, archangels, angels, and us, separated by
  • Four Veils; and further divided into
  • Three Pillars, aspects that are positive/active, negative/passive, and mediating/balancing. The Sephiroth are also grouped into
  • Three Triads plus a pendant Sephirah, and
  • Four (or five, or three, depending on your system) Souls. They're connected by
  • Twenty-two paths of Wisdom, each symbolized by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

(Some place an extra, unnumbered Sephirah on the Tree called Daath. This Sephirah-that-is-not is there almost as a lure, fooling us into thinking it is the ultimate Sephirah when in fact it is not. It is also the entry point to the less often talked about but no less important Qliphoth, the spheres of negative influence.)

Each of the four worlds is expressed by one letter of the Creator's name, יהוה, the Tetragrammaton (literally "name of four letters"). Understanding how those letters communicate each with the next helps us understand how the worlds interrelate.

The three pillars reflect the three orders of Infinity[5]: a positive, bestowing aspect (אין, Ain, Negativity); a negative, receptive aspect (אין סוף, Ain Soph, Limitless); and a balancing aspect that is the union of them (אין סוף אור, Ain Soph Aur, the Limitless Light). You can read a bit more about these in an essay on the Tetragrammaton, יהוה.

There, we also see a hint of the basic confusion of identities that permeates Qabalah: each level of the Infinite, reflected in its pillar, is that pillar, and the pillar is the Infinite. Further, Ain Soph Aur, the flash of lighting itself, is the middle pillar -- but is also the entire tree, worlds and pillars and all. (It's also the third of the four worlds.) You'll find a lot of that in studying the subject, as we are taught that within each Sephirah exists an entire Tree. In this way we confound the student and enlighten the master … rather like Zen[6]. Everything connects; as how could it not, since all things are of the Creator's essence, which is one Thing?

But that's enough kindergarten mysticism for one essay. On to the pictures!

The main picture on these pages shows the flash of lightning, also known as the Descent of Power or the Flaming Sword, the path taken by the divine Essence that is the energy of creation, as it leaks out of the Ineffable and down through various levels of creation until finally it can manifest in matter — that is, us. In the process, it passes out of infinity and down through the several levels of existence, taking on various aspects along the way, in the course of accomplishing its Creator's Will.

The aspects are the Sephiroth, which divide into the four worlds and three pillars and which are connected to one another by a series of paths, each of which expresses yet another facet of the Creator and of Creation. Every Sephirah and path has its own Archangel, angelic host, and attribution to the Divine.

In that picture, you'll find pictures of the ten Sephiroth (plus the eleventh, "hidden" Sephirah, Daath), the worlds, the pillars, the triads, and the paths. They each have links to information and essays about them. I hope you'll find them useful, or at least good for a laugh.

A note on the enumerations of the words:

Gematria, the system of assigning numbers to letters and summing them to find the value of a word or phrase, is an integral part of a lot of Qabalistic thought. That's the number book I alluded to above. You can do your own gematria using this calculator.


[1]Qabalah has a number of spellings. In Hebrew, it's קבלה, transliterated QBLH, which is why I render it with this spelling. Others prefer Kabbalah, Cabala, or a number of other variants. Pick your favorite, but remember that devotees of other spellings will sneer at you if you choose the wrong one.
[2]So what religion doesn't?
[3]Sephiroth literally means countings — that is, numbers — but we think of them as Spheres, states of existence. Sephiroth is the plural of Sephirah.
[4]I'm sorry, I can't help myself: "They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."
[Wm. Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7]
[5]The three layers of infinity are considered to be negative veils. They sit above the topmost Sephirah, Kether, and are in fact the forces that combine to create it and the subsequent Sephiroth.
[6]Which thing the pillars also are, as it happens, as they relate to Yin, Yang, and Tao. See my notes on the Pillars.
[1]Qabalah has a number of spellings. In Hebrew, it's קבלה, transliterated QBLH, which is why I render it with this spelling. Others prefer Kabbalah, Cabala, or a number of other variants. Pick your favorite, but remember that devotees of other spellings will sneer at you if you choose the wrong one.
[2]So what religion doesn't?
[3]Sephiroth literally means countings — that is, numbers — but we think of them as Spheres, states of existence. Sephiroth is the plural of Sephirah.
[4]I'm sorry, I can't help myself: "They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."
[Wm. Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7]
[5]The three layers of infinity are considered to be negative veils. They sit above the topmost Sephirah, Kether, and are in fact the forces that combine to create it and the subsequent Sephiroth.
[6]Which thing the pillars also are, as it happens, as they relate to Yin, Yang, and Tao. See my notes on the Pillars.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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An Interactive QabalahThe Mother lettersSeven of Swords A Brief Introduction to QabalahNepheshSix of Swords Kether, the CrownNeshamahFive of Swords Chokmah, WisdomThe Veil of ParokethFour of Swords Binah, UnderstandingPermutations of the NameThree of Swords Daath, KnowledgeThe Three PillarsTwo of Swords QliphothThe ProfaneAce of Disks Chesed, MercyReflectionKnight of Disks Geburah, StrengthRuachQueen of Disks Tiphareth, BeautySefer Yetzirah, the Book of FormationPrince of Disks Netzach, VictorySeverityPrincess of Disks Hod, SplendorThe simple lettersTen of Disks Yesod, FoundationWhat is a Soul?Nine of Disks Malkuth, KingdomThe SoulsEight of Disks AlefThe Supernal TriadSeven of Disks BetThe FoolSix of Disks GimelThe MagusFive of Disks DalethThe PriestessFour of Disks HehThe EmpressThree of Disks VauThe EmperorTwo of Disks ZainThe HierophantAdjustment ChethThe LoversAeon TethThe ChariotArt YodAdjustmentThe Chariot KaphThe HermitDeath LamedFortuneDevil MemLustThe Emperor NunThe Hanged ManThe Empress SamekhDeathThe Fool AyinArtFortune PehThe DevilThe Hanged Man TzaddiThe TowerThe Hermit QophThe StarThe Hierophant ReshThe MoonThe Lovers ShinThe SunLust TauThe AeonThe Magus The Qabalistic WorldsThe UniverseThe Moon Atziluth, ArchetypesAce of WandsThe Priestess Briah, the CreativeKnight of WandsThe Star Yetzirah, the FormativeQueen of WandsThe Sun Assiah, the ActivePrince of WandsThe Tower The court cardsPrincess of WandsThe Universe The AcesTen of WandsHebrew alphabet transliterations The KnightsNine of WandsThe Triads The QueensEight of WandsThe Qabalistic Veils The PrincesSeven of WandsThe Name of Names, YHVH The PrincessesSix of WandsAlef The TensFive of WandsAyin The NinesFour of WandsBet The EightsThree of WandsCheth The SevensTwo of WandsDaleth The SixesAce of CupsThe double letters The FivesKnight of CupsGimel The FoursQueen of CupsHeh The ThreesPrince of CupsKaph The TwosPrincess of CupsLamed The 32 Paths of WisdomTen of CupsMem The AbyssNine of CupsThe mother letters Adam Kadmon, the Body of GodEight of CupsNun AlchemySeven of CupsPeh The Alef-Bet in Space and TimeSix of CupsQoph The Ari TreeFive of CupsResh The Astral TriadFour of CupsSamekh The double lettersThree of CupsShin The Ethical TriadTwo of CupsThe simple letters the Flash of LightAce of SwordsTau The Gra TreeKnight of SwordsTeth The 72 Hidden Names of GodQueen of SwordsThe Tree of Life The Tree of LifePrince of SwordsTzaddi The Hebrew alef-bet letter classesPrincess of SwordsVau MercyTen of SwordsYod MildnessNine of SwordsZain The Presence of the Most HighEight of Swords