The word itself is intriguing with a hint of mysticism to it. And for good reason, too; ‘Kabbalah’ literally translates into ‘occult knowledge’ or ‘mysticism’. Kabbalah is alternatively spelled Qabala or Cabala, but the meaning of the word stays the same.
The important question is – what is Kabbalah? And that is precisely what we’re delving into in this post.
The whole ideology of Kabbalah is based on the Zohar, a written collection of mystical commentaries on the Torah. This script is written in medieval Armaic and medieval Hebrew and guides the followers of Kabbalah in their spiritual journey while enhancing their connection with God.
The followers of Kabbalah are known as ‘Kabbalists’. The Kabbalists believe that every event is an outcome of the work of God. They strongly believe that God works in mysterious ways. Although this may make a connection with God seem unattainable, the Kabbalah says that with true knowledge, understanding these mysterious works of God is possible. With this knowledge, you can connect easily with God, achieving immense closeness with Him.
All in all, the Kabbalah theories bring you close to God in different ways, helping you understand His mysterious ways in a much better manner. The book ‘Zohar: The Book of Splendor’ elaborates the basic readings of the Kabbalah in a lucid manner, making it an interesting read.
Let’s further understand Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Cabbala, and Hermetic Qabalah.
Kabbalah is a distinctive intellectual strand within Judaism. In the Middle Ages, Kabbalah emerged as a theory that charted the way to harnessing divine energy for a mystical union with God.
In Judaism, Kabbalah plainly means ‘receiving’. Kabbalah is the soul of Judaism, breathing inner wisdom into it. Deciphering the Torah is the crux of Kabbalah. An interesting fact is that Torah has been misinterpreted as ‘the secret teaching’ when it actually translates to ‘the teaching of the secret’.
Life is full of mysteries and unanswered questions – What is life? What is existence? What is conscience? What is good and what is bad? The list of these questions is endless. With the help of the Torah, the Kabbalists try to decipher these secrets, trying to find answers to these questions and pull their depths into the open.
To know more about Jewish Kabbalah, you can read ‘The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism’
The advent of the Christian Cabala was a lot later, during the Renaissance. Derived and based on the Jewish kabbalah, the Christian Kabbalah was transliterated as ‘Christian Cabala’ to distinguish it from Jewish Kabbalah and Hermetic Qabalah.
The mystical aspects of the Jewish Kabbalah intrigued Christian scholars. After rigorously studying the Jewish theories, they later interpreted them in their Christian theology. This reinterpreted Kabbalistic doctrine distinctly connected the Kabbalah theories to the Christian perspective, linking relative similarities.
After the 18th century, the main interest and hype around Chrisitan Cabala was dead. However, the Jewish Kabbalah, now blended with European occultism, still thrived.
‘Kabbalah: A brief Introduction for Christians’ is quite a handy book to get started with the theories of Kabbalah and their application to Christianity.
A blend of mysticism and the occult, the Hermetic Qabalah is a Western esoteric tradition. The Hermetic Qabalah rose alongside the Christian Cabala, as it became further involved with the European Renaissance. Hermetic Qabala draws its influence from Jewish Kabbalah, Western Astrology, Pagan religions and Alchemy. It was ultimately branded as anti-Christian across different schools in the modern era.
The Qabalah was developed extensively by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The core ideologies of Kabbala were made more cohesive and accommodative as it encompassed other systems of magic and occult practices.
The Hermetic Kabbalah’ by Colin A Low is an interesting book revolving around Hermetic Qabalah, delving deeper into its origin, how it rose, and its ideologies. For a relatively modern approach to Hermetic Qabalah, you can also read the book ‘The Mystical Qabalah’ by Dion Fortune. It is considered to be one of the best general introductions to modern Hermetic Qabalah.
Tarot cards are an important aspect of Hermetic Qabalah. Hermetic Qabalists believe that the cards of tarot are keys to the tree of life. The Tree of Life holds immense importance in Hermetic Qabalah, something we will be discussing in-depth further in this article.
To understand the Tarot cards in a better way, ‘Qabalistic Tarot Book’ by Robert Wang is just fantastic.
As far as Tarot cards are concerned, there are twenty-two cards in total. These cards include twenty-one Trumps as well as the Fool/Zero card. These cards are known as the ‘Major Arcana’, which literally translates into ‘Greater Mysteries’. Each of these cards correspond to the twenty-two Hebrew letters and the twenty-two paths of the tree.
Theoretically understanding these cards might be a little confusing. So, as you are reading the book and other relevant material about Hermetic Qabalah and its association with the Tarot cards, try to get your hands on ‘Hermetic Tarot Cards’ issued by the U.S. Games Systems.
Tree of Life: The Concept and its Connection with Kabbalah
The Tree of Life diagram is pretty common in various mystical traditions. However, in the Kabbalistic theory, it has a different significance. It has a distinct structure that stays common across all practices. The diagram is used by Christian Cabala as well as Hermetic Qabalah and is believed to have been derived from the flower of life.
The Tree of Life features ten nodes symbolizing different archetypes. The nodes are arranged in a specific manner – they are divided into three distinct columns to represent that they belong to a common category. To connect these ten nodes with each other, there are twenty-two lines.
The idea of the Tree of Life may appear complex but is very simple. ‘Kabbalah: The Tree of Life Oracle’, a book by Cherry Gilchrist, explains in detail what exactly the Tree of Life stands for.
Let’s understand the concepts of the Tree of Life part by part.
Constituents of the Tree of Life
The nodes are represented by spheres, each standing for different aspects such as God, existence, or the human psyche. The nodes are also associated with deities, angels, numbers, colours and their combinations, celestial bodies, and so on. In Jewish Kabbalah, the nodes are known as Sephiroth.
The columns are usually represented by pillars. These pillars symbolize different kinds of values, electric charges or ceremonial magic.
The twenty-two lines are known as paths. These lines represent the relationship between the concepts associated with both nodes as well as columns. These paths are free-flowing in a specific structure, connecting the relationships between what different nodes stand for.
Triads of the Tree of Life
The Tree of Life features the Intellect triad, Emotion triad, and Instinct triad
The Chochmah is wisdom. It represents the seed of an idea, inspiration, insight, intuition and awareness. It is depicted by the colours blue and black, and stands for the emergence of something new from nothing.
The second one is Binah, which means understanding. This part is all about bringing a new idea into existence by formulating the story and fashiniong its structure. The dark red colour stands for something congealing.
The third part of the triad is Da’at means ‘knowing’. The third aspect of the intellectual triad integrates the idea and identifies with it. The grey colour here stands for integration.
Chesed or unbounded love stands for expanding ideas as well as empathetic concern. It is represented by blue, signifying ‘free-flow’.
Gevurah or ‘strength of boundaries’ is the second aspect, and it stands for setting limits, saying no, and seeking focus. It is represented by the red colour, signifying ‘stop’.
The third aspect is Tiferet, meaning beauty. It is all about harmonising and holding opposite energies and having compassion. The colour yellow radiates ‘light’
Netzach stands for ‘victory’. This aspect represents overcoming obstacles, orchestrating intentions and has the colour purple, signifying ‘power’.
Hod means ‘surrender’ and acknowledging and accepting reality. It is depicted by the colour orange, which stands for restoration and hope.
The last of the Instinct triad is Yesad, meaning ‘foundation’. Represented by the green colour, it is about telling or twisting the truth and is a test of authenticity.
The final is Malchut, which stands for ‘sovereignty’. It is the final, lowest Sefirah of the culmination of flow in the Tree of Life. Malchut is what manifests or is expressed, and has a brown colour.
Application of the Tree of Life in the Modern Day
If observed closely, the Tree of Life represents a lot more than what meets the eye. It depicts the life-giving force of a tree and how closely human existence and survival is connected with the tree. It clearly asks humans to be more conscious about the planet, explaining to us how our very survival is connected closely with that of the survival of the planet we occupy.
Apart from all the complex occult and magical purposes the tree is used for, the basic idea of the tree is very simple: the human race can survive only in harmony with the environment. Protecting the environment is the only key to our sustenance.