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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Spelled variously Cabala, Kabbala, Qabbalah, and similar, this is a Jewish form of mysticism which originated in southern France and Spain in the twelfth century. The name has in more recent times come to be applied in reference to almost any mixture of occultism, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, and exotic theosophy. Originally, however, it was a body of Jewish doctrines about the nature of man and his relationship to God. One fanciful story is that Moses received the Qabbalah at the same time that he received the Ten Commandments, but deemed it advisable to keep the Qabbalah secret and pass it on by word of mouth alone. It is said that he hid clues in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.

The Sefer ha-Zohar, or Book of Splendor, came into being sometime in the thirteenth century (probably between 1280 and 1286) and was written by a Spanish Jew named Moses de Leon. The idea of Moses receiving the Qabbalah along with the Ten Commandments may come from confusion with this Moses de Leon. The Zohar was a mystical commentary on the Pentateuch, containing a mixture of stories, poems, commentaries, and visions based on Qabbalistic ideas and symbols.

The meaning of the word Qabbalah is “receiving” or “that which is received.” It was originally a secret tradition handed down orally from teacher to student. The Qabbalah was founded on a small book called the Sepher Yesirah or Book of Creation, dating from before the ninth century. It gives a discussion on cosmology and cosmogony, stating that the world was created by God using thirty-two secret paths of wisdom. These are made up of the Sephiroth, or Sefirot (divine emanations); ten Sephirah plus the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the letters being the Paths connecting the Sephiroth. Together they make up the Tree of Life, or Otz Chiim, with every Sephirah being a level of attainment in knowledge.

Each Sephirah emanates from the one above it, the top one being the first emanation, of the Ein Soph Aur, Kether. The centers are known as 1: the Crown, or Supreme Crown (Kether), 2: Wisdom (Hokhmah), 3: Understanding (Binah), 4: Love/Mercy (Hesed), 5: Strength (Din or Giburah), 6: Beauty (Tifareth), 7: Endurance (Netsah); 8: Splendor/Majesty (Hod), 9: Foundation (Yesod), and 10: Kingdom (Malkuth). The right hand side of the Tree—Hokhmah, Hesed, and Netsah—is regarded as male whilst the left hand side—Binah, Din, and Hod—is female. The central section—Kether, Tifareth, Yesod, and Malkuth—balances and unifies the two sides.

Each of the triads symbolizes a portion of the human body: the first the head, the second the arms, and the third the legs. The first is the Celestial Triangle: Kether, Hokhmah, Binah. The second is the Moral Triangle: Hesed, Tifareth, Din (Giburah). The third is the Mundane Triangle: Netsah, Yesod, Hod, with Malkuth below it.

Each Sephirah is, in turn, divided into four parts in which operate the Four Worlds. They are: Atziluth, the world of archetypes; Briah, or Khorsia, the world of creation; Yetzirah, the world of formation; and Assiah, the world of the material. In Atziluth, the Sephiroth manifest through the ten Holy Names of God. In Briah, the manifestation is through the ten Mighty Archangels. In Yetzirah, the manifestation is through various orders of Angels. In Assiah, the manifestation is through the “Planetary Spheres.” The ten Sephiroth exist on each of the Four Worlds, but on a different level.

According to R. J. Zwi Werblowsky, in Man, Myth and Magic (1970), “the Mishna (a second century rabbinic collection of religious law) attests the existence of two subjects that should not be taught in public and which, therefore, were considered as esoteric disciplines intended for initiates only. These subjects were ‘the work of creation’ (based on Genesis, chapter 1) and the ‘work of the chariot’ (the mysteries of the Divine Throne, based on Ezekiel, chapter 1). The precise nature and contents of these mystical disciplines is a matter for conjecture but it seems certain that some of the early rabbis practiced an ecstatic contemplation which culminated in the vision of the Throne of Glory, the Merkabah.”

The Merkabah, or “Throne Mysticism,” is the earliest detailed mystical system accessible to the historian of Judaism and predates the Qabbalah. The main characteristic of Merkabah is the emphasis on the supernatural, mysterious aspect of God. The initiate “rises through the spheres, worlds, heavens and celestial mansions or ‘palaces’ (hekhaloth) guarded by all sorts of terrifying angelic beings” to finally stand before the Divine Splendor.

The twenty-two Paths, which correspond to the letters of the Jewish alphabet, each have both an occult meaning and a numerological value, and have been equated to the twenty-two cards of the tarot deck’s major arcana, otherwise known as the trumps.

The path between any two Sephiroth must be considered in the light of those Sephiroth; each having its own significance. The numerological value of that path, together with the meaning of the equivalent tarot card, also needs to be carefully considered in order to have full understanding of that Path. The Four Worlds, mentioned above, must also be taken into account.


Albertson, Edward: Understanding the Kabbalah. Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1973
Bardon, Franz: The Key to the True Quabbalah. Wuppertal: Dieter Rüggeberg, 1971
Epstein, Perle: Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic. Boston: Shambhala, 1988
Fortune, Dion: The Mystical Qabalah.London: Ernest Benn, 1935
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991
Kraig, Donald Michael: Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1988
Myer, Isaac: Qabbalah: The Philosophical Writings of Avicebron. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970
Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi: Man, Myth & Magic: Cabala. London: BPC Publishing, 1970
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