Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Tree of Life

I was going to write a review of Ophiel's The Art and Practice of Caballa Magic when I realized that the most groundbreaking idea from the book would be lost on those of you who are not familiar with Qabala and the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is a symbol from Kabbalah (the mystical branch of Judaism) that has been adapted for use with Qabala (the symbol system used by Hermeticism). To the left is an image of the tree, courtesy of Wikipedia. The ten circles are called sephiroth (sephira for one circle). Sephira and sephiroth are Hebrew words; since the Hebrew alphabet doesn't exactly correspond to the Roman alphabet, you will see these words (and the names of the sephiroth) transliterated differently depending on which book you're reading. The twenty-two lines connecting the circles are called paths.

As a preliminary warning, I will point out that much of the literature on Qabala was written by members of mystery schools who were under oaths of secrecy. As a result, whenever they touched upon something that might be covered by the oath, they resorted to what is called a "blind"; they would write what they wanted, but change an essential detail. This is on the theory that anyone truly worthy of the knowledge would somehow figure out what they had done. Joseph Lisiewski probably has the best method of addressing this problem: read at least 2 different sources about anything, and use your own judgement as to who is correct.

That said, let's get to it. What follows is a list of the sephiroth, with English translation of the names, and some of the things that I associate with each.

  1. Kether. Translation: Crown. The First Mover. The place where Neo got his light in the fight scene at the end of the third Matrix movie.

  2. Chockmah. Translation: Wisdom. The outpouring of energy in the big bang. The Heavenly Father. The Zodiac.

  3. Binah. Translation: Understanding. The expansion of time and space in the big bang to give the energy from Chockmah somewhere to go. Mother Nature. Saturn.

  4. Chesed. Translation: Mercy. Generosity. The building up of form. Jupiter.

  5. Geburah. Translation: Severity. The breaking down of form. Mars.

  6. Tiphareth. Translation: Beauty. Balance between mercy and severity. The Golden Mean. The Christ. The Sun.

  7. Netzach. Translation: Victory. Emotions. Sensuality. The beauty of nature. Venus.

  8. Hod. Translation: Splendor. Logic. Symbolism. Mercury.

  9. Yesod. Translation: Foundation. The subconscious. The astral plane. The Moon.

  10. Malkuth. Translation: Kingdom. The earth. The universe, including the parts we don't know about yet. The four elements.

What you need to know for my next post is that the tree can be divided up in a few ways. The two most common are the four worlds and the three pillars.

The four worlds division is a pattern for the creation of the universe and everything in it. One way of dividing the sephiroth into worlds is as follows. The Archetypal world contains Kether, Chockmah and Binah. In this world, a general idea appears for a new creation. The world of creation contains Chesed, Geburah and Tiphareth. In this world, the idea is made more specific. The world of formation contains Netzach, Hod and Yesod. In this world, all of the details are worked out. The world of manifestation contains only Malkuth. In the world, the idea is implemented.

The three pillars is another grouping of the sephiroth. The pillar of mercy contains Chockmah, Chesed and Netzach. The pillar of severity contains Binah, Geburah and Hod. The pillar of mildness contains Kether, Tiphareth, Yesod and Malkuth.

Now you may be thinking: "That's great, but all that plus two dollars will get me coffee at Starbucks." But here's the thing. The tree is a symbol which can be applied to God and the universe, but most importantly to us. All of the parts of the tree are inside us. How would we treat other people if we all knew that the Sun of Tiphareth was in us? If we knew that the four elements of Malkuth were inside us, we would cooperate with the environment instead of trying to exploit it. We wouldn't worry so much about the economy if we knew that we had the generosity of Chesed and the frugality of Geburah. The elegant symbolism and intellectuality of Hod, and the emotions and sensuality of Netzach make life worth living. Yesod is where our dreams come from.

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