Kabbalah is derived from the Hebrew word QBL (Qibel), meaning “to receive” or “that which is received.” It refers especially to a secret oral tradition handed down from teacher to pupil. The term Kabbalah was first used in the 11th century by Ibn Gabirol, a Spanish philosopher, and has since become applied to all Jewish mystical practice. The Kabbalah is founded on the Torah, but it is not an intellectual or ascetic discipline. It is a means for achieving union with God while maintaining an active life in the mundane world.
Branches of the Kabbalah
There are four main, overlapping branches of the Kabbalah:
1. The Classical, or Dogmatic, Kabbalah concerns the study of the Torah and the central texts of the Kabbalah, such as the Sefer Yetzirah and the Sefer Zohar (see later discussion).
2. The Practical Kabbalah concerns Magic, such as the proper ways to make Talismans and Amulets, and lore about Angels and Demons.
3. The Literal Kabbalah concerns the relationship between the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and numbers. It features the deciphering of relationships and correspondences through gematria, a system for determining the numerical values of words and names; the finding of acronyms through notarikon, in which the first letters of words are used to make new words; and an encryption system called temurah, in which letters are transposed into code. Temurah plays a role in interpreting the Torah and in making talismans.
4. The Unwritten Kabbalah concerns the study of the Tree of Life (discussed later).
Of the four branches, the Practical Kabbalah, Literal Kabbalah, and Unwritten Kabbalah are the most important to the Western mystery tradition. Joined with Hermetic principles and philosophy, these parts of the Kabbalah create a philosophical, mystical, and magical system for the practice of ceremonial magic. This system, sometimes called the “Western Kabbalah” or “Western Qabalah,” also plays a role in practical magic for the casting of spells.
History of the Kabbalah
According to lore, God taught what became the Kabbalah to Angels. After the Fall, angels taught the knowledge to Adam in order to provide humans a way back to God. The knowledge was passed to Noah, then to Abraham and Moses, who in turn initiated 70 elders. Kings David and Solomon were initiates. Influenced by Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, the oral tradition was passed on into the tradition and literature of the Merkabah mystics (ca. 100 B.C.E.–1000 C.E.).
Merkabah means “God’s Throne-Chariot” and refers to the chariot of Ezekiel’s vision. The goal of the Merkabah mystic was to enter the throne world and perceive God sitting upon his throne. The throne world was reached after passing through seven heavens while in an ecstatic trance state. The passage of the mystic was dangerous, impeded by hostile angels. Talismans, Seals, the sacred names of angels, and incantations were required to navigate through the obstacles.
The historical origin of the true Kabbalah centers on the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), attributed to Rabbi Akiba, whom the Romans martyred. The book’s exact date of origin is unknown. It was in use in the 10th century, but it may have been authored as early as the third century.
The Sefer Yetzirah presents a discussion on cosmology and cosmogony and sets forth the central structure of the Kabbalah. It also is reputed to contain the formula for creation of a golem, an artificial human. In 917, a form of practical kabbalism was introduced by Aaron ben Samuel in Italy; it later spread through Germany and became known as German kabbalism or Early Hasidim. It drew upon the Merkabah practices, in that it was ecstatic, had magic rituals, and had as primary techniques prayer, contemplation, and meditation. The magical power of words and names assumed great importance and gave rise to the techniques of gematria, notarikon, and temurah.
The Classical Kabbalah was born in the 13th century in Provence, France, and moved into Spain, where it was developed most extensively by medieval Spanish Jews. The primary work from which Classical Kabbalah developed is the Sefer Zohar (Book of Splendor), attributed to a second-century sage, Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, but actually written between 1280 and 1286 by the Spanish kabbalist Moses de Leon. According to lore, the book comprises the teachings given to Rabbi Simeon by divine revelation.
The teachings of the Zohar became known as the Spanish Kabbalah and spread into Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Kabbalah study became more public. Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (1534–72), called the Ari Luria, a student of the great kabbalist Moses Cordovero (1522–70), conceived of bold new theories, which gave the Kabbalah a new terminology and complex new symbolism. Luria emphasized letter combinations as a medium for meditation and mystical prayer.
In the 14th century, a Practical Kabbalah developed, involving magical techniques for making amulets and talismans and for invoking spirits. The Practical Kabbalah is complex and features the use of magical alphabets, secret codes of communication with angels.
The Hasidic movement emerged from the Lurianic Kabbalah and made Kabbalah accessible to the masses. The Hasidim are the only major branch of modern Judaism to follow mystical practices. Interest in the Kabbalah among Jews declined after the 18th century. The reconstructionist movement, founded in 1922 by Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, borrows from Hasidic traditions and espouses a more mystical Judaism. Interest in Kabbalah enjoyed a cross-cultural renewal that began in the late 20th century as part of a broad interest in esoteric subjects.
Western occult interest in the Kabbalah grew first out of German kabbalism and then Lurianic kabbalism. Christian occultists were attracted to the magical amulets, incantations, Demonology, angelology, seals, and letter permutations, and they used these as the basis for ritual magical texts (see Grimoires). The Tetragrammaton (YHVH, Yod He Vau He, or Yahweh, the sacred name of God) was held in great awe for its power over all things in the universe, including Demons, a subject of intense fear and interest.
In the late 15th century, the Kabbalah was harmonized with Christian doctrines, which supposedly proved the divinity of Christ. Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim included Kabbalah in his monumental work, Occult Philosophy (1531). Also in the 16th century, alchemical symbols were integrated into the Christian Kabbalah.
Interest in the Kabbalah received renewed attention in the 19th century from non-Jewish occultists such as Francis Barrett, Eliphas Levi, and Papus. Levi’s works were especially important in the occult revival that spread through Europe in the 19th century. As did some of his contemporaries, Levi related the Kabbalah to the Tarot and numerology and drew connections to Freemasonry, in which he saw a fusion of Judaic kabbalism and Neoplatonic Christianity. The Kabbalah, he said in The Book of Splendors, is one of three occult sciences of certitude; the other two are Magic and Hermeticism.
Of the Kabbalah, Levi said:
The Qabalah, or traditional science of the Hebrews, might be called the mathematics of human thought. It is the algebra of faith. It solves all problems of the soul as equations, by isolating the unknowns. It gives to ideas the clarity and rigorous exactitude of numbers; its results, for the mind, are infallibility (always relative to the sphere of human knowledge) and for the heart, profound peace.
The Kabbalah formed a central part of the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the most significant esoteric orders in the Western mystery tradition, which flourished in England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1888, the Golden Dawn founder, Samuel Liddle Macgregor Mathers, published the first English translation of a Latin translation of the Kabbalah, Kabbala Denuda, by Knorr von Rosenroth. In his introduction, Mathers describes the Kabbalah as the key that unlocks the mysteries of the Bible. Central Concepts of the Kabbalah God is Ain Soph (without end or unending), who is unknowable, unnamable, and beyond representation. God created the world out of himself but is not diminished in any way through the act of creation; everything remains within him. The aim of human beings is to realize union with the divine. All things are reflected in a higher world, and nothing can exist independently of all else. Thus, humans, by elevating their soul to unite with God, also elevate all other entities in the cosmos. One of the mysteries of the Kabbalah is why God chose to create imperfect, lower worlds, though it is held that he did so because he wished to show the measure of his goodness. He created the world by means of 32 secret paths of wisdom, which are formed of letters and numbers: the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and 10 sephirot (from the Hebrew word for sapphire), which are vessels bearing the emanations of God, or are expressions of God. They form a language that substitutes for God. The sephirot are the source from which all numbers emanate and by which all reality is structured.
The sephirot comprise the sacred, unknowable, and unspeakable personal name of God: YHVH (Yahweh), the Tetragrammaton. So sacred is the Tetragrammaton that other names, such as Elohim, Adonai, and Jehovah, are substituted in its place in Scripture. The letters YHVH correspond to the Four Worlds that constitute the cosmos:
• Atziluth is the world of archetypes and emanation, from which are derived all forms of manifestation. The sephirot themselves exist here. Atziluth is the realm of contemplation.
• Briah (also Beriyah) is the world of creation, in which archetypal ideas become patterns. The Throne of God is here, and God sits upon it and lowers his essence to the rest of his creation. It is the realm of meditation.
• Yetzirah is the world of formation, in which the patterns are expressed. It is the world of speech and the realm of ritual magic.
• Assiah is the world of the material. It is the realm of action in daily life.
Demonology in the Kabbalah
Most of the Demon lore is part of the Practical Kabbalah, a syncretic blend of Talmudic and Midrashic lore, and adapted Arabian, Christian, and Eastern European Demonologies and folk beliefs. As in most Demonologies, there are contradictions about Demons, their nature and duties. Various texts have long lists of individual Demons and types of Demons.
Demons are made of fire and air and live in wastelands. They are associated with cold and the north. They have subtle bodies that allow them to fly through the air; they occupy the space between the Moon and Earth. They have life spans and die, but they live much longer than human beings, especially their kings and queens. Some, such as Lilith and Naamah, will live until Judgment Day.
Demons are often described as under the direction of Samael. Demons gather at nocturnal revelries, where they have intercourse with Samael, similar to the Sabbats attended by witches in Christian Demonology. Other Demons are under the direction of Ashmedai (Asmodeus), whose name in gematria means “pharaoh.” Demons also are linked to the left-hand, or evil, side of the sephirot of the Tree of Life (see later discussion). Sexual activities between Demons and humans are prominent. Demons cannot reproduce on their own. Through sex, Demons can multiply and take on physical form. Adam spawned a hybrid human-Demon race, which has continued on down through the ages through the sexual intercourse between humans and Demons. Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, were tainted with the impurity of the Serpent who slept with Eve and spawned Demonic children as well.
The hybrid Demon-human children who continue to be born are banim shovavim (mischievous sons). When a man dies, they attend his funeral, lament him, and claim their inheritance. They will even injure the legitimate sons in order to get what they want. In the 17th century, folk customs arose to repel these Demons. Sometimes legitimate sons were forbidden to accompany the corpse of their father to the cemetery. The illegitimate Demons also were repelled by circling a grave. Demons are assigned to all things in creation, with angels as their counterparts. They can be summoned, commanded, and repelled in magical rituals according to their hours, days, months, planetary aspects, fumes, and SEALS.
The Tree of Life
The sephirot form the central image of kabbalistic meditation, the Tree of Life, a ladder map that depicts the descent of the divine into the material world, and the path by which humans can ascend to the divine while still in the flesh. The sephirot channel streams of divine light that become denser and coarser as they near the material plane. The divine light flows both down to the material world and up to God along these paths.
Organization of the Tree
Each sephirah is a state of consciousness and a level of attainment in knowledge: mystical steps to unity with God. The 10 sephirot are arranged in different groups, which facilitate the understanding of their meanings. The first sephirah, Kether (Crown), is the closest to Ain Soph and is the source of all life and the highest object of prayer. Malkuth (Kingdom) penetrates the physical realm and is the only sephirah in direct contact with it. The lower seven sephirot are associated with the seven days of creation. Another division splits them into two groups of five, the upper ones representing hidden powers and the lower five representing manifest powers.
In another division, the top three—Kether, Chockmah (Wisdom), and Binah (Intelligence)—are associated with the intellect; the middle three—Chesed (Love), Geburah (Strength), and Tipareth (Beauty)—are associated with the soul; and the lower three—Netzach (Victory), Hod (Splendor), and Yesod (Foundation)—are associated with nature.
Each sephirah is governed by angels and Demons. The Demonic forces represent chaos and turbulence and are used in black magical practices.
The sephirot are ineffable, and descriptions of them cannot begin to approach their true essence. They can be reached only through the second sephirah, Chockmah (Wisdom), which is nonverbal consciousness. Binah (Intelligence) is verbal consciousness. One must learn to oscillate between Chockmah and Binah states of consciousness in order to grasp the sephirot.
The tree is split into three pillars. The Right Pillar, masculine, represents Mercy and includes the sephirot Chockmah, Chesed, and Netzach. The Left Pillar, feminine, represents Severity and includes Binah, Geburah, and Hod. The Middle represents Mildness or Moderation and includes Kether, Tipareth, Yesod, and Malkuth. The Middle Pillar alone also is called the Tree of Knowledge. Sometimes an 11th sephirah is included, Daath (Knowledge), located on the Middle Pillar below Chockmah and Binah, and mediates the influences of the two; it is also considered to be an external aspect of Kether. Daath made its appearance in the 13th century. When represented on the Tree, it is depicted as a sort of shadow sphere. Daath cannot be a true sephirah, for the Sefer Yetzirah, the key text of kabbalistic philosophy, states that there can be only 10 sephirot, no more, no less.
The pathways linking the sephirot have become more complex over time. Illustrations in the early 16th century, for example, depict only 16 pathways. By the 17th century, there were 22 pathways, each of which was assigned a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus, God’s Creation is made through the essences of numbers and letters. Together the sephiroth of the Tree of Life compose a unity and create a five-dimensional continuum: the three dimensions of the physical world, plus time, plus the spiritual realm. As do the Akashic Records, they serve as a permanent record of everything that has ever taken place and ever will take place—the memory of God. The sephirot also serve as a means of communication with the unknowable God. The totality of the sephirot is expressed in the Tetragrammaton, the sacred and unspeakable name of God, given as YHVH (Yahweh), or “the Lord.” Following are the names and associations of the sephirot, as given in Agrippa’s Occult Philosophy:
Titles: The Crown, The Ancient One, The Aged,
The Most Holy Ancient One, The Ancient of the Ancient Ones, The Ancient of Days, The Concealed of the Concealed, The Primordial Point, The Smooth Point, The White Head, The Inscrutable Height, The Vast Countenance (Macroprosopus), The Heavenly Man
Divine Name: Eheieh (I Am)
Angelic Order: Hayyoth (The Holy Living Creatures)
ArchDemons: Satan, Moloch
Demonic Order: Thamiel (The Two Contenders)
Heavenly Sphere: Primum Mobile
Part of Man: Head
Titles: Wisdom, Divine Father, The Supernal Father
Divine Names: Jah, Jehovah (The Lord), Yod Jehovah (given by Agrippa)
Angelic Order: Ophanim (The Wheels)
Demonic Order: Ghogiel (The Hinderers)
Heavenly Sphere: Zodiac
Part of Man: Brain
Titles: Intelligence, The Mother, The Great Productive
Divine Names: Elohim (Lord), Jehovah Elohim (The
Angelic Order: Aralim (The Thrones)
Demonic Order: Ghogiel (The Concealers)
Heavenly Sphere: Saturn
Part of Man: Heart
Titles: Love, Greatness
Divine Name: El (The Mighty One)
Angelic Order: Hasmallim (The Shining Ones)
Demonic Order: Agshekeloh (The Smiters or Breakers)
Heavenly Sphere: Jupiter
Part of Man: Right arm
Titles: Strength, Judgment or Severity, Fear
Divine Names: Eloh (The Almighty), Elohim Gabor (God of Battles)
Angelic Order: Seraphim (The Fiery Serpents)
Demonic Order: Golohab (The Burners or Flaming Ones)
Heavenly Sphere: Mars
Part of Man: Left arm
Titles: Beauty, Compassion, The King, The Lesser
Divine Names: Eloah Va-Daath (God Manifest), Elohim (God)
Angelic Order: Malachim (Kings or Multitudes)
Demonic Order: Tagiriron (The Disputers)
Heavenly Sphere: Sun
Part of Man: Chest
Titles: Firmness, Victory
Divine Name: Jehovah Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts)
Angelic Order: Elohim (Gods)
Demonic Order: Nogah (The Raveners)
Heavenly Sphere: Venus
Part of Man: Right leg
Divine Name: Elohim Sabaoth (God of Hosts)
Angelic Order: Bene Elohim (Sons of Gods)
Demonic Order: Samael (The False Accusers)
Heavenly Sphere: Mercury
Part of Man: Left leg
Titles: The Foundation, Eternal Foundation of theWorld
Divine Names: Shaddai (The Almighty), El Chai
(Mighty Living One)
Angelic Order: Cherubim (The Strong)
ArchDemon: Lilith (The Seducer)
Demonic Order: Gamaliel (The Obscene Ones)
Heavenly Sphere: Moon
Part of Man: Genitals
Titles: The Kingdom, The Diadem, The Manifest Glory
of God, The Bride (of Microposopus), The Queen
Divine Names: Adonai (Lord), Adonai Malekh (Lord and King), Adonai he-Aretz (Lord of Earth)
Archangel: Metatron in manifest aspect; also Sandalphon
Angelic Order: Issim (Souls of Flame)
ArchDemon: Nahema (The Strangler of Children)
Demonic Order: Nahemoth (The Dolorous Ones)
Heavenly Sphere: Elements
Part of Man: Whole body
Magical work with the Tree of Life The pathways between the sephirot are avenues of navigation on the astral plane. Communication with the tree is accomplished through prayer, meditation, contemplation, and ritual magic. Some traditional meditations of arrays of numbers and Hebrew letters take days to complete. The sephirot are contemplated by visualizing them vibrating with colors (which represent various qualities), together with images of their corresponding Hebrew letters of the divine names of God and the planets, angels, metals, parts of the body, and energy centers. Breath and sound also are utilized to raise consciousness. Mantras of arrays of Hebrew letters, having specific numerical properties, are employed.
– Fortune, Dion. The Mystical Qabalah. York Beach, Me.: Samuel Weiser, 1984.
– Gray, William G. The Ladder of Lights. York Beach, Me.: Samuel Weiser, 1981.
– Kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. 2nd ed. Paul: Llewellyn, 2004.
– Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: New American Library, 1974.
Kabbalah (also Cabala, Kabala, Qabalah) A Jewish system of theosophy, philosophy, science, magic and mysticism founded on the Torah, developed since the middle Ages and comprising an important part of Western occultism. kabbalistic studies and magic are part of some traditions of contemporary Witchcraft and Paganism.
Kabbalah comes from the Hebrew word QBL (Qibel), meaning “to receive” or “that which is received.” “kabbalah” was first used in the 11th century by Ibn Gabirol, a Spanish philosopher, to describe a secret oral tradition and has since been applied to all Jewish mystical practice. The kabbalah is a means for achieving union with God while maintaining an active life in the mundane world.
In its role in Western Magic, the kabbalah is the science of letters, the universal language from which all things are created. This science of letters is used to create words and sounds in Ritual.
According to legend, the kabbalah was taught by God to a group of angels, who, after the Fall, taught it to man in order to provide man a way back to God. It was passed from Adam to Noah to Abraham, who took it to Egypt, where it was passed to Moses. Moses included it in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but left it out of Deuteronomy. He initiated 70 elders into the kabbalah, who continued the tradition of passing it down orally. David and Solomon were kabbalistic adepts. Eventually, the wisdom was written down.
The kabbalah is a body of writings by anonymous authors. The main works are the Sefer Yezirah, or the Book
of Creation, and the Zohar, or Book of Splendor. The origins of the Sefer Yezirah date to the eight century. The Zohar is believed to be written by Moses de Leon of Guadalajara, Spain, in the 13th century.
From its beginnings, the mysticism of the kabbalah was similar to that of gnosticism, including concepts on magic, cosmology and angels. The kabbalah holds that God is both immanent and transcendent; God is all things, both good and evil; all things make up the whole of an organized universe; and letters and numbers are keys to unlocking the mysteries of the universe (see Gematria).
God, En Soph or Ain Soph, is boundless and fills the universe. From God come 10 emanations, called sephirot, of angels and men, that form the structure of the Tree of Life and represent aspects of the divine. The Tree of Life shows the descent of the divine into the material world and the path by which man can ascend to the divine while still in the flesh. Each sephirah is a level of attainment in knowledge. The sephirot are organized in three triangles, with the 10th sephirah resting at the base. The triangles represent a portion of the human body: the head, arms and legs; the 10th sephirah represents the reproductive organs. The triangles are aligned on three pillars, on the right mercy (the male principle), on the left Severity (the female principle) and in the middle mildness, a balance between the two. The sephirot and their names and aspects are:
1. kether, supreme crown
2. Chokmah, wisdom
3. Binah, understanding
4. Chesed, mercy, greatness
5. Geburah, strength, rigor
6. Tiphareth, beauty, harmony
7. Netzach, victory, force
8. Hod, splendor
9. Yesod, foundation
10. malkuth, kingdom
The cosmos is divided into four worlds: Atziluth, the world of archetypes, from which are derived all forms of manifestation; Briah, the world of creation, in which archetypal ideas become patterns; Yetzirah, the world of formation, in which the patterns are expressed; and Assiah, the world of the material, the plane we perceive with our physical senses. Each sephirah is divided into four sections in which the four worlds operate.
The sephirot also comprise the sacred name of God, which is unknowable and unspeakable. The Bible gives various substitutes, such as Elohim and Adonai. The personal name of God is the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, usually pronounced as Yahweh, and which appears in the Bible as Jehovah. The four letters of YHVH correspond to the four worlds. The magical applications of the kabbalah were recognized as early as the 13th century. During the renaissance, alchemists and magicians used combinations of kabbalistic numbers and divine names in rituals and incantations. The Tetragrammaton was held in great awe for its power over all things in the universe, including Demons. Beginning in the late 15th century, the kabbalah was harmonized with Christian doctrines to form a Christian kabbalah, the proponents of which claimed that magic and the kabbalah proved the divinity of Christ. Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim included the kabbalah in his De Occulta Philosophia, published in 1531, which resulted in its erroneous associations with witchcraft. Also in the 16th century, alchemical symbols were integrated into the Christian kabbalah.
Jewish study of the Kabbalah peaked by the 19th century and then declined. Interest was later revived by non-Jewish Western occultists, such as Francis Barrett, Eliphas Levi and Papus. The kabbalah formed part of the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. dIon Fortune called the kabbalah the “Yoga of the West.” Western occultists linked the kabbalah to the Tarot and astrology. In some traditions of Witchcraft and Paganism, the Tree of Life is used for pathworking, magic intended for self-realization.
- Bardon, Franz. The Key to the True Kabbalah. Salt Lake City: merkur Publishing, 1996.
- Fortune, Dion. The Mystical Qabalah. York Beach, me.: Samuel Weiser, 1984.
- Gray, William G. The Ladder of Lights. York Beach, me.: Samuel Weiser, 1981.
- kraig, Donald Michael. Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. 2nd ed. St. Paul, minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.
- Levi, Eliphas. Transcendental Magic. York Beach, me.: Samuel Weiser, 2001. First published in 1896.———. The Book of Splendours: The Inner Mysteries of the Qabalah. York Beach, me.: Samuel Weiser, 1984. First published 1894.
- Mathers, S.L. macGregor. The Kabbalah Unveiled. London: routledge and kegan Paul, 1926.
- Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: New American Library, 1974.
- Three Books of Occult Philosophy Written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim. Translated by James Freake. Edited and annotated by Donald Tyson. St. Paul, minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1995.
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