I wrote this for a friend of mine a few days ago to help get him started in understanding the Qabalah. I'm sure this is full of errors and I consider myself barely passable at best on this subject, but I though that maybe it could prove useful to those on this forum, and wanted to share it.
[Corrections and feedback from those who know better is also welcome!]
Here we go!
A Lowdown on Qabalah
The Qabalah (or Kaballah, or Caballa, or a thousand and one other spellings) is, fundamentally, an interpretation of the Old Testament of the Bible. As such, it is focused around Hebrew, and uses concepts, names, and relations first seen in the Old Testament. (It exists for other languages, however, such as Greek, Latin, and English, although Hebrew is by far the main focus.)
Spelled with a Q, the Qabalah is now distinct from being just an interpretation of the Old Testament, and is primarily a filing cabinet (a metaphor used by Israel Regardie, an Adept of the Golden Dawn and former secretary of Crowley) for anything and everything – as such, it becomes dramatically more useful the more things one files in it. The Qabalah is centered around Western Hermeticism, and has strong roots in the history of Mystery Schools and Orders in the West.
It centers around a diagram known as the Tree of Life, which is a map of the universe. The terms “microcosm” and “macrocosm” are important to bring up at this point – since the universe appears to work based on an “as above, so below” premise, the Tree of Life is a map both of the “outside universe,” the macrocosm which we all share, and of ourselves – microcosm means “little world” or “little universe,” and we are indeed little universes all sharing and reflecting a bigger universe.
The Tree of Life is identical for both purposes, although a particular point on it will be interpreted differently depending on whether we are discussing the Macrocosm or a microcosm.
The Macrocosm is associated with the Hexagram (which many know as the Star of David or the Jewish Star). The Hexagram is many things rolled into one – it is a union of the upright Fire Triangle and the downward Water Triangle, and it is a glyph of the Planets orbiting the Sun (which is the “point in the center” of the Hexagram).
The Pentagram is associated with the microcosm – it is, upright, Spirit (the top point) ruling over the four Elements (the 4 other points). Averse (point-down) it can mean many things, but one meaning I have heard is that it is used to describe “spirit descending into matter.” The averse Pentagram isn’t particularly important in this primer, but I felt I should mention it.
The averse pentagram is also, obviously, a promotional tool to make bad metal bands appear to be better or more serious than they actually are, but I digress.
The nodes on the Tree are known as Sephiroth (singular: Sephirah), which translates “spheres.” They are primarily understood in relation to each other, and not so much as stand-alone labels.
Above the Tree are what are known as the Three Negative Veils, which are Ain (Hebrew: Without, or Nothing), which is identical to the Tao; Ain Soph, which is a “formulation” of Ain, which means Without Limit or Limitless; and Ain Soph Aur, which means The Limitless Light.
The Negative Veils are incomprehensible to the human mind (which is not a tool fit to experience them) and are primarily useful as a backdrop against which we place the Tree of Life (this explanation is very much taken from Dion Fortune). The veils are not unknowable, but for the vast majority of humanity, they are certainly unknown. They are unmanifest, pure potential.
This Limitless Light is seen as contracting into Kether, the First Sephirah, which is given the number 1. In it is all the symbolism of the Monad, the One. Kether is Hebrew for Crown, which is placed atop the Head (but is not the Head!).
In Kether duality is latent but is not manifest. Kether is associated with Pluto.
In the second Sephirah we see the formulation of duality, as the Single Point becomes a Line (or the Wand, or the Phallus – the symbolism is vast). This 2nd Sephirah is known as Chokmah, Wisdom. It is also known as Chaos, and is pure Force, the Father. Chokmah is associated with the entire Zodiac, but also with Neptune. In most tables I’ve seen, the concept of Maya begins with Chokmah; Chokmah is the great Magician, Creator of Illusion, and the great Exorcist, the Destroyer of Illusion (cf. The Book of the Law, II:7 – “I am the Magician and the Exorcist […]”).
The 3rd Sephirah is Binah, Understanding. It is the compliment to Chokmah, and is the Mother of Form; She gives form when we descend the Tree, and destroys it as we ascend it. (Attaining to Binah confers Mastership, and is not for the faint of heart.) Binah is associated with Saturn, the harsh giver of form (time).
Below this Supernal Triad (as they are called) is what is known as the Abyss, which is the immeasurable gulf between the Potential and the Actual. (This sounds a lot like the gap between the Negative Veils and the Supernals – My deficiency in explanation is due to a deficiency in understanding. A non-Adept simply cannot grasp things at this level.)
In the Abyss lies all forms, where all things are immeasurably separate. Above the Abyss, duality is seen to unite – a coin is not a coin without the heads and the tails. Life is not Life without life and death. (Notice the capitalization.) One cannot bring anything personal with them above the Abyss – it does not exist above it. Everything one conceives of as oneself is left in the Abyss and is turned to dust once and for all.
(The Abyss is associated with Uranus.)
In the Abyss is the "invisible" Sephirah or "non-Sephirah" known as Da'ath, or Knowledge. All knowledge is a function of duality and is nothing more than an organization of the sand of the Abyss, doomed to self-dispersion as all logic inevitably is.
Below the Abyss we have the 4th Sephirah, Chesed, Mercy or Glory. An oft-repeated image to visualize the nature of this Sephirah is that of a king on his throne, at rule in peace. In comparison, the 5th Sephirah, Geburah, Power, Severity, or Strength, is a king in time of war. Chesed is the Sephirah of passionate love of the Divine, and the height of human ego-consciousness, taken to its absolute enlightened pinnacle. It is the blueprint and ruler of all things with form, or is the force that underlies them, I should say. Chesed is the Sphere of Jupiter.
Geburah is what takes the force of Chesed and applies it unmercifully into form. It is the height of what we can conceive of as justice, strength, and war – war against the unjust, or unbalanced, especially within ourselves. Geburah is the Sphere of Mars.
Tiphareth is the Sphere of the Sun, the 6th Sephirah, and is at the heart of the Tree of Life. (Note that when Crowley declared before a Judge that 666 meant “sunlight,” and that the Judge could call him “little sunshine,” he was dead serious – it is the number 6 and everything it represents in 3-dimensional extension and manifestation.) Tiphareth means Beauty or Harmony. It receives balance from both the mercy and compassion of Chesed and the unmerciful raw power of Geburah. It is the Sphere where the initiate gets the first glimpse of Kether from across the Abyss. It is the Sphere of Balance, and illuminates everything on these lower planes. It is probably the highest Sphere that the unenlightened human mind can even come close to comprehending, and, from beneath, probably looks a lot like what we would consider Kether to be, in our unenlightened minds. It is the Sphere of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
The 7th Sephirah is the Sphere of Venus, Netzach, Victory. It is associated with love (although love of a sexual nature), passionate aspiration to the Divine, emotions in general, and raw force on a much lower level than the power provided by Geburah.
The 8th Sephirah is the Sphere of Mercury, Hod, Splendor. It is associated with change, with Kundalini (for literally a billion reasons), intellect, and analysis, as Mercury Himself is.
The 9th Sephirah is Yesod, The Foundation. It is the Ether that profane science decided not to refer to anymore when it became impractical to use to explain the behavior of light. It is the Sphere of the Moon, reflecting the sunlight of Tiphareth (which is the outer form, veil, of Kether) onto the manifest world. It is the Astral Plane.
The 10th Sephirah is Malkuth, The Kingdom. It is the Kingdom that the Kings (the Adepts) rule, the culmination and materialization of all the prior Sephiroth. It is the manifest universe itself.
This is mostly in the Macrocosmic understanding of the Sephiroth. The Microcosmic spin on them is where things get really interesting.
Occult Psychology pins the parts of man and his psyche to the Tree in the following way: Malkuth is the body itself. Simple enough. Yesod is the subconsciousness, which is the Nephesh, or Breath. Just as Yesod in the Macrocosm can be viewed as the Astral Plane, Yesod in the microcosm can be seen as a collection of stuck-together astral stuff - our "own" subconsciousnesses, each a collection of water very slightly isolated from the sea that birthed them.
All the remaining Sephiroth below the Abyss form the Ruach, which is the rational, ego-oriented mind, and basically everything that we consider ourselves (Ruach means Spirit). Hod is the intellect, Netzach the emotions and sexual aspects, Tiphareth the imagination, Geburah the will-power, and Chesed the memory (due to some very, very deep and complex symbolism - memory is essentially the highest function below the Abyss, uniting everything across space and time. Re-member means literally to piece back together, just as dis-member means the opposite.)
The Supernals are thus: Binah is the Neschamah, the Hebrew translation of which I am not sure. It is the super-conscious faculty of Intuition, the super-conscious Understanding, the ear into which Chokmah whispers its Wisdom. In the Master of the Temple, the Neshamah is freed from the Ruach and is fully-awakened.
Chokmah is the home of the Chiah, the Will (Chiah means Life – Nephesh Chiah is Breath of Life, the Nephesh enlightened with the Divine Will). The Chiah is the “voice” or dynamic aspect of the Yechidah, Kether. Yechidah means The Unique One or The Only One. The Yechidah is Atman, the Holy Guardian Angel, the God of the Old Testament who declared His name was Ehieh, “I am.” There is no more Man left to consider above Kether.
The Tree is divided up into 3 vertical Pillars – the rightmost Pillar of Mercy, which, perhaps surprisingly, is the masculine pillar (as it is involved with Force, the Phallus), the leftmost Pillar of Severity (feminine, Form), and the Middle Pillar, which is balanced between them. The Middle Pillar is the prime concern of the aspirant to the Mysteries, as the other two Pillars just form supports for him or her, lest the aspirant become unbalanced by losing their focus on one side or the other.
There are 22 paths, too, connecting all the Sephiroth, and they are all equally enriched with tremendous symbolism and inter-relation, but I frankly don’t understand them well enough to write much about them! Many other authors do a much better job than I could at this time, and if all you needed was a table of correspondences, that could be easily found in almost any other work on the subject. True understanding of the paths comes from working them, something which I have not done yet; this being so, I will keep my mouth shut.
What would be helpful and useful, though, is a description of the Four Worlds. The Four Worlds are planes of existence, and the entire Tree of Life exists in all of them, identical in each context (although different meaning applies).
Assiah is the material world, the world of Action. It is literally the physical world. For instance, Malkuth in Assiah is literally the physical world, matter. Tiphareth in Assiah is literally the Sun, in addition to other things (for instance, literal balance).
Kether in Assiah forms Malkuth in Yetzirah, the World of Form. Yetzirah is basically the highest plane the unenlightened can fathom, and the primary plane in which humans grasp their being. In Assiah, a map is literally a map, sitting on a table – it is nothing but paper with ink on it. In Yetzirah, it becomes a blueprint. It becomes abstract, non-physical.
Above Yetzirah is Briah, the World of Creation. The job of the Minor Adept, who has recently opened into Briatic consciousness (consciousness of Samadhi, the lower form of which is Dhyana), is to let the Divine Phallus pierce and fill the Cup of his Understanding in the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Briah is the primary level of existence of the Adept, and basically no one else. Most of humanity can’t fathom Briah at this current stage.
Above Briah is the World of Atziluth, the Phallus which pierces Briah. Atziluth is the Primary Emanation from the Godhead, and next to nothing is ever written about it in virtually any book on the subject. Only a small handful of people have ever awakened to Atziluthic consciousness.
Above Atziluth are the Three Negative Veils.
There are many ways to organize the Tree in comparison to the Worlds, and each way has its own merits depending on the situation. The important thing to remember is that the entire Tree exists in all Four Worlds.
With that said, one way is to cut up one Tree into Four regions - Kether is Atziluth, Chokmah and Binah are Briah, Chesed through Yesod are Yetzirah, and Malkuth is Assiah. In many ways, this reflects the arrangement of the parts of the psyche, but it is not quite as useful when describing the Macrocosm.
Another method connects each Tree in each World to another by saying that Kether of one world is the Malkuth of the world above it - as such, Kether could be seen as "the Malkuth of the Unmanifest," a "seed-idea" that Dion Fortune brings up several times in her book.
Yet another method connects a higher Tree to a lower one in Tiphareth - this has a lot more overlap between worlds.
All of these are just ways to organize a filing cabinet, and are not innately right or wrong, but more or less useful depending on the situation. My personal favorite way of organizing it is to connect the Trees at Kether and Malkuth as stated above, with one in each World, and also an entire Tree within each Sephirah of the larger Tree - this allows one to pinpoint with great intellectual specificity something that one wishes to understand. This example is particularly useful in describing mystical experiences in each individual Sephirah - as one attains to Binah in each Sephirah, they will experience the Law of Sorrow in a new way, for example, without actually being a Master of the Temple; experience of Tiphareth in each Sephirah is a new experience of Harmony or Beauty without conferring proper Adeptship, etc.
[Note: This next part was a "best attempt" kind of deal with me; I did not consult any table in writing this section except as I note at the end of this post, but used my memory and intuition to construct it based on what little I grasp at this point.]
Finally, I want to give an example of various Gods and Goddesses that would be associated with the various Sephiroth and the Veils – this may help one grasp the nature of these organizational tools.
Associated with Ain, or Ain Soph, would be Nuit, the Thelemic Goddess that is the All, the Totality, and Nothingness. She is the Pure Potential. Also associated with Ain is the Tao, and Brahman. The Negative Veils are beyond gender and duality, obviously, but in my view, they are best represented to our finite minds as being feminine in nature, as they give birth to the Tree.
Associated with Kether, first of all, is Hadit, the Thelemic God of the Individual Point-of-View. We are all Hadit. Hadit is the Point that is the Center of the Circle that is Nuit – and, just as an infinite volume contains an infinite number of infinitesimal points, everything is a conjunction of Hadit with some part of Nuit, both infinite in opposite and complimentary ways. Hadit is the Only One, but Nuit is Zero. Also associated with Kether is Heru-Ra-Ha, the form of Horus associated with the highest thing that we can aspire to in the current Aeon of Horus. Further associated is Ra-Hoor-Khu-it, half of Heru-Ra-Ha, who is the union of Hadit with Nuit, and is the whole Tree of Life in a sense – and also Hoor-Paar-Kraat, the other half of Heru-Ra-Ha, who is the God of Silence; this is because Kether is absolute silence. We will see these forms of Horus again further down the Tree, but in different aspects.
Chokmah is Thoth or Tahuti, the God of Magick and Wisdom.
Binah is Kali, a Goddess of Destruction – she destroys the ego. Binah is also Isis, who gives birth to All (as a lower octave of Nuit). Finally, Binah is also Saturn, the rigid, dark creator of time itself.
Chesed is Jupiter, the ruler, as well as Hoor-Paar-Kraat is His aspect as peace.
Geburah is Mars, Ares, and Ra-Hoor-Khu-it in His aspect as warrior.
Tiphareth is Heru-Ra-Ha as the Divine Child, the Son of the Father. Jesus is also associated with Tiphareth, as is Osiris and all other slain-and-risen Gods, just as the ego is slain and then risen again in the experience of Kether in this Sephirah.
Netzach is Venus, Aphrodite, etc.
Hod is Mercury, Hermes, and Thoth operating on a lower octave. Hod is also Hadit as Had, the Kundalini Serpent.
Yesod is Nuit in Her understandable aspect of subconsciousness, and all Lunar Goddesses, such as Diana and Artemis.
Malkuth is Nuit insofar as She is Matter. Malkuth is also associated with Ma’at, who is the Heiress of this Aeon and who will be the Lady of the next Aeon just as Horus is the Lord of this one.
Obviously, this is a tremendously complex and intricate subject, the development of which has taken place over many centuries – a simple 5- or 6-page paper can barely even scratch the surface! Hopefully, though, once one sees Qabalistic concepts mentioned after this point, they may prove to be comprehensible.
Lemme know what you think!
For the record, the only thing I consulted when writing this was Wikipedia, and only one time - just to get a list of Lunar Goddesses to associate with Yesod, as I was drawing a blank when I was working on that section. Everything was done from memory and logical thinking.
"Then saith the prophet and slave of the beauteous one: Who am I, and what shall be the sign? So she answered him, bending down, a lambent flame of blue, all-touching, all penetrant, her lovely hands upon the black earth, & her lithe body arched for love, and her soft feet not hurting the little flowers: Thou knowest! And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the omnipresence of my body." -CCXX I:26