Anyone who’s been around the occult and metaphysical practices for any time at all has heard the word “Kabbalah”. But what is it, exactly?
Kabbalah is a 4000-year-old esoteric metaphysical discipline derived from Judaism. It’s based on the writings of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, who lived in the 2nd Century during the height of Roman persecution of the Jews. He was forced to flee into the mountains and spent 13 years living and hiding in caves, where he spent his time analyzing and interpreting the metaphysical meanings behind the sacred Jewish book, the Torah.
It is said that while he was in his exile, he was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write down the revelations he had received. “Kabbalah” as a word actually means “that which was received.”
So, what did Shimon receive?
Kaballah is an attempt to define the nature of the universe, the inner nature of humanity, and the purpose of existence. Nothing too ambitious about that, right? It also strives to help mankind achieve a kind of spiritual transcendence through knowledge.
Its dependence on enlightenment through knowing is what made this discipline so appealing to Gnostics (“gnosis” being the Greek word for “knowledge of spiritual mysteries”).
In the study of the Torah, there are four levels of study and three approaches. Judaism is a very deep and intellectual faith, and their sacred books are complicated and multi-layered, so it makes sense that the study of those books would be the same. Christian mystics and ascetics took their cues from Judaism’s intellectual side, as well, so many of the writings, especially of the Gnostic Christians and the Coptic Church, take on the same sort of intensity.
The four levels are:
- Peshat (“simple”): direct interpretation of meaning
- Remez (“hints”): allegorical interpretations of meanings through allusions to folk and Biblical tales
- Derash (“inquire” or “seek”): Rabbinc interpretations of meaning with imaginative and deep-diving comparisons of similar words or verse in other texts
- Sod (“mystery”): esoteric meanings derived from inside the student. This is where Kabbalah falls.
The three approaches to studying the Torah and therefore to studying Kabbalah are:
- Theoretical – This approach seeks to describe the divine realm, to really nail it down for human understanding.
- Meditative – This approach ties to achieve a mystical union with God through understanding
- Practical – This approach is based on the attempt to change the Divine realms and the World of the unseen…in other words, magic.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering what all this has to do with witchcraft. Bear with me – I’ll get to that at the end of the explanation of what Kabbalah is. By now, though, I’ve given you a pretty strong hint.
In the Kabbalah, God is seen as having two parts. One is called Ein Sof – the unknowable, essential, incorporeal inner nature of the Divine. This is what Wiccans might call the Goddess’s Womb. This is the single unifying, powerful and overarching essence of what is holy – the One. The second form that God takes is physical manifestation, which is how the Divine is revealed in the physical world.
In Kabbalah, the nature of all metaphysical existence is depicted as the Tree of Life standing between two pillars. The pillar on the left is black, and it represents the driving, aggressive, active creative force of the divine feminine. The pillar on the right is white, and it’s the divine masculine, which in Kabbalah is perceived as merciful and passive. (It’s interesting how the traditional Western interpretation of gender qualities is turned on its head.) The center is the Tree of Life, the Etz haChayim.
The Tree of Life is made up of 10 sephirot, which are channels of divine creative life force through which God is revealed to mankind. There are 22 paths that connect the 10 sephirot, and the expression of this is the most common Kabbalistic image known. It appears in many metaphysical practices and is depicted on a lot of different Tarot decks, which also depend heavily on the Kabbalah.
The sephirot all have their own names and are considered the different faces of the divine. In the rest of this article, because I don’t accept the divine as purely “God,” as presented in Kabbalic literature, I’m going to refer to it as God/dess.
The sephirot are numbered, 1-10, and if they’re taken from the top of the tree down to the base, they represent the passage of divine energy as it flows from God/dess to humanity. With every step down the Kabbalistic ladder from the top, the energy of God/dess becomes more denser and moves more slowly, coming closer to physical existence. The Divine Spark passes from incorporeal essence to physical manifestation. There are four worlds of the sephirot, and these will be explained after the 10 faces are introduced.
The Sephirot, from top to bottom, are:
- Keter – the Crown – Number 1 – This is the purest expression of Divine Will beyond conscious intellect. This is where the Divine Will to Create exists, where Ein Sof, the unknowable and purest form of God/dess, exists.
- Chokhmah – Wisdom – Number 2 – This is where the first unbounded flash of inspiration behind and idea or Creation exists before it takes on limitations. This is wisdom, inspiration, creativity and conceptualization in its purest form, where the Divine Will to Create decides that it will create itself.
- Binah – Understanding – Number 3 – This is the female vessel where the male light of Divine Will, the Essence of Ein Sof given the will to create itself, goes to be nurtured. Within Binah, the Divine Will begins to take form as emotion.
- Da’at – This is not a true Sephirot and isn’t actually enumerated. It is the combination of Keter, Chokhmah, and Binah as the manifested reflection of Ein Sof. This is Keter within the realm of consciousness encompassing Chokhmah and Binah in Unity, the central state of knowledge of all things becoming knowledge of the self. (Difficult concepts abound in Kabbalah, and I find that it’s easier to understand with the heart than with the head.)
- Chesed – Mercy or Kindness – Number 4 – This is the Love of God/dess made real, the freely given love and grace that God/dess bestows upon all of the Creation that is being made real. This is the gentle half of the spirit of Creation.
- Gevurah – Judgment or Severity – Number 5 – The Awe of God/dess, the strength, judgment, intention, and power of this mighty Being, concentrated into one half of the spirit of Creation.
- Tiferet – Beauty – Number 6 – This is the level of energy where Mercy and Kindness are balanced with Judgment and Severity to become Divine Compassion.
- Netzach – Eternity – Number 7 – This is where Divine Spark becomes stronger and is given the concept of time. This level is also called Victory and Endurance.
- Hod – Splendor – Number 8 – This is where the Divine Spark sees itself and knows the wonder that is God/dess. It surrenders to the security of God/dess, knowing the splendor of God/dess and giving thanks for that glory.
- Yesod – Foundation – Number 9 – At this level, the Divine Spark receives the Truth of its manifestation. It becomes connected with the task which it is intended to accomplish. Knowledge becomes coherent.
- Malchut – Kingship, or Kingdom – Number 10 – The Female vessel for nurturing the male light of the emotional sephirot converts potential into action. This is the realization of the Divine Plan in the material world.
Wow. That’s a lot, so take a minute to let it sink in. You’ve just followed the flow of energy from the crown of the Tree of Life, where God/dess exists, to the mortal world where dirt and flowers and animals and human beings live. The unknowable and incorporeal has been given flesh.
This, friend witches, is where the Magick happens.
The Four Worlds of the Sephirot reflect the four natural combinations of the ten faces of the God/dess. These are:
- Atzilut – The World of Emanation – This is occupied only by keter and the divine being, Ein Sof, the Creative Void, the Womb of the Goddess. It is da’at elyon, Higher Knowledge.
- Beriah – The World of Creation – This is where souls and angels and incorporeal beings gain self-awareness but no physical form. This is where the energy of the God/dess begins to know itself and take on the will and desire to be created. It is da’at hane’elam, or Hidden Knowledge.
- Yetzirah – The World of Formation – This is where those unshaped entities take form. Differentiation occurs here. Various plans for physical existence are considered and choices for the path to come are made. It is da’at tachton, or Lower Knowledge.
- Assiyah – The World of Action – In this world, creation and the Divine Will is assigned to and placed in its physical aspect. The Great Work is done and form is manifested. This is da’at hamitpashet, Extending Knowledge.
As energy flows downward, Divine Will becomes material and is linked with the everyday world around us. As human understanding and energy flows upward, we connect ourselves with the Divine.
Like the way sap runs through a tree in a constant circuit from ground to crown and back again, so the energy of God/dess runs through all of creation, from the physical forms around us to the pure and unadulterated Great I Am at the top.
Go back to the mental image of the Tree of Life between two pillars. (The colors of these two pillars are echoed in the colors of the animals pulling the Chariot in the Tarot Major Arcana, by the way.) The pilled on the left, the black one, contains Understanding, Judgment, Power and Glory. It is Goddess energy and home of Sephirotim 3, 5 and 8. The pillar on the right, the white one, is God energy and contains Wisdom, Mercy and Endurance, or Sephirotim 2, 4 and 7. In the middle is the Tree of Life, which contains both God and Goddess energy, and is made up of Crown, Beauty, Foundation and Kingdom.
So… Where does Kabbalah fit with witchcraft?
In witchcraft, magic is expressed as Energy + Will + Purpose = Effect. If you look closely, that expression exactly mimics the four worlds of Kabbalah. By studying the Kabbalah, we can learn how energy moves from intention to manifestation, and how to trace manifestation back to intention.
If you don’t understand what energy is, or how it reaches you from the God/dess, you’ll never be able to understand how to use it to do what you want.
Magic is all about making your intentions become real, and how to manipulate energy until the world is as you want it to be. Obviously, this is too great a power to go unchecked, and that’s why we have the Wiccan Rede. We are our own safeguards. The only power in the universe greater than human will is Divine will, and through the study of Kabbalah, you will be more in tune with that greater power.
So many of the errors that fledgling witches create are based in lack of knowledge, and deeper, a lack of understanding. Many witchlings make their first Book of Shadows by copying certain pages from their sponsor’s book, or if they’re starting from scratch, from things they see in books, magazine and websites. They learn by imitation, and that can eventually lead to understanding, but if you stop with mimicry, you’ll never see beyond the surface.
Spells are more than just incense and candles and crystals on the altar and powered by more than pretty rhyming words with a rhythm you can dance to. You can dance until your feet fall off, drum until you’re deaf and chant about the elements all you want, but until you really understand the way that God/dess energy moves through those things, all you’re doing is arm-waving.
I’ll be the first to admit that I personally spent years doing surface work. I arm-waved with the best of them. I chanted, sang, danced, drummed, smudged, dabbed essential oils, burned candles, meditated, collected crystals, wrote rhymes and copied down pages from other witches.
I copied the more accomplished witches in my life and tried to emulate the shamans and lightworkers that I knew. Until I finally had a lightning flash inside my own cranium, when the Divine Spark lit in my own head, I didn’t really understand a damned thing.
The Celts call Druidry and psychic ability “the fire in the head”. It’s so true. Once that fire is lit, it will never go out, and nobody can ever take your knowledge away from you.
So study. Follow the paths the ancients and the wise ones before you have trod. Try to step in their footprints and understand, really understand, what they were trying to say. Reach for the meaning underneath their words, like Rabbi Shimon reached for the meaning under the words that had been written in the Torah.
We all get our own lightning flashes when we’re ready. As the old saying goes, when the Student is ready, the Teacher will come. Pave the way for the Teacher to reach you by studying these esoteric disciplines. Get your mind accustomed to thinking in things in a non-linear, non-corporeal way. You might be surprised by the fires that get set inside your own head.
If you already have a fire burning, blessed be ye, and blessed be the ones who are yet tending to their kindling. All witches burn, but it’s better to burn from within.
May the Goddess light a fire in your head and bring you to your power. I wish you peace.