Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: The Mystical Qabalah

The book I want to talk about today, The Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune, is not for beginners, but it is the definitive book about Qabalah. Just to clarify, Kabbalah (final "h" required) is the mystic (aiming at direct experience of union with God) subset of Judaism; Qabalah (final "h" optional) is a symbol system used by hermetism. Hermetism, like mysticism, aims at direct experience of union with God, but only after balancing the different parts of the personality and then transcending personality to connect with what is called the higher self.

The central symbol in Qabalah is a design of 10 interconnected circles referred to as the "Tree of Life." Ms. Fortune explains it like this:
[The Tree of Life] is a glyph, that is to say, a composite symbol, which is intended to represent the cosmos in its entirety and the soul of man as related thereto; and the more we study it, the more we see that it is an amazingly adequate representation; we use it as the engineer or the mathematician uses his sliding-rule, to scan and calculate the intricacies of existence, visible and invisible, in external nature or the hidden depth of the soul.

Those who have done some reading about hermetism or alchemy will no doubt recognize the explicit reference to the principle of correspondence: "As above, so below." For the newbies, consider the structure of the atom, with electrons revolving around a central nucleus, and the structure of the solar system, with planets revolving around the sun. This is one example of the principle that the structure of the universe is reflected down even into its smallest parts.

The spheres (also called "sephiroth") of the tree have other correspondences, many of which are covered in this book. One of the correspondences, that between the spheres and the astrological planets, will be recognized by those of you who have read Dante's Divine Comedy.

There's a lot of information here, really too much to absorb on first reading. I've read it three times and only now feel capable of writing this review. Definitely not the first book you should read, but if you only buy one book about Qabalah, this is it. It belongs on your bookshelf.

No comments: