Qabalah is a mystical system originating in Judaism, but altered throughout the centuries by occultists, hermeticists and the like. In contrast with the simple path of Zen, Qabalah is very complicated and hard to spell. Like all mystical systems, its purpose is to get the conceptual mind (in Pali: citta) and its beliefs out of the way so that the pure, undifferentiated light of consciousness can show Being just as it is. (See The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1:2-3.) But the Qabalah sets about this in a very different way from Eastern, meditation-based mysticism. While meditation ignores the mind's chatter from the start, until the mind gives up, the Qabalah uses the mind to get rid of the mind. It provides categories into which the student puts all phenomena. With consistent practise and vigilance, every event can be assigned into the categories of the Qabalah. When this has been acheived, one's existence is no longer an infinitely complex, bewildering mess; it is a simple system. This improves the mind's functioning; thought becomes quicker, insight more acute and memory more accurate.
Magick is defined as the reduction of existence to
- Mysticism is defined as the reduction of existence to 0. The Qabalah serves as a precursor to this by reducing existence from infinity to 32.
Finally, the student learns that all this effort was in fact, a gigantic and hilarious practical joke being played on him by his rabbi and that these categories, which he has thought to be the sacred cosmic order, are as arbitrary as any other concept. At this realization, he has a laughing fit so intense that he becomes enlightened. The 32 elements of his mind are revealed as false and Nothing is left. Other symbolic systems, like the I-Ching, work more or less in the same way.
Now, some will say, "But why simplify existence? You're putting things into neat little boxes, and I'm too cool to put things into neat little boxes." Fear not - if you practice Qabalah, you will find that your worries are groundless, and your complaints idiotic. The Qabalah is a filing system for the mind, you dig? Having a filing system in your office and putting every file in its proper drawer and folder doesn't mean you lose any of the complexity or detail on the page. You can still take the page out of its folder and have a good look at it. But if it's properly filed, you'll be able to find it - and you'll also be able to refer to all the files cross-indexed with it by time, place, size, colour and so forth. The Qabalah organizes and simplifies without falsifying or deleting.
The key is to relate the most trivial and mundane aspects of your existence to the symbolism, as well as the lofty and grandiose ones. If you treat the Qabalah as a philosophical system for explaining how the universe came into being, you will make no magickal progress; you're just doing philosophy. But make the Qabalah the ruler of the little meaningless details of your life and you make them infinitely meaningful. If you laugh at somebody's joke, remember that laughter is a manifestation of Tifaret and the social approval you give the person with your laughter is Chesed. If you have a piece of toast with marmalade, remember that food exists in Malkut, and marmalade, being orange and providing the brain with sugar, corresponds to Hod, and so the eating of the toast is something passing up the path of Shin, from Malkut to Hod. The silllier and more arbitrary it seems, the better you're probably doing.
Chicken Qabalah by Lon Milo DuQuette (available below) will tell you all you need to know to get started.
Allen Ginsberg invented "bop qabalah", which is exactly like qabalah in every way, except that it's really cool and hip because it's got the word "bop" in the name.
The Tree of Life
\ \ \ The main part of the Qabalah is the study of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life contains ten sefirot ('spheres' or 'numbers') and 22 paths between the sefirot. The numbers 1-10 are represented by the sefirot and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet by the paths.
- 1 - Keter. Perfection. The true self. Finding the secret of the universe. The Taoist Taiji. The Hindu atman.
- 2 - Chokmah. The object of every verb. The cosmic principle of activity. The Taoist yang. The Hindu lingam. The tantric Shiva. The exclamation mark in the interrobang. True Will or the wand in magick. The logos. Chokmah corresponds to Neptune, the god of the sea; the sea is infinite, untiring motion and energy.
- 3 - Binah. The subject of every verb. The cosmic principle of receptivity. The Taoist yin. The Hindu yoni. The tantric Shakti. The question mark in the interrobang. The cup in magick.
- 4 - Chesed. Giving. Generosity. Friendliness. Goodwill.
- 5 - Geburah. Strength. Severity. Taking. Willpower. The chain in magick. Wheras Chesed is the capacity to create and issue forth, Geburah is the capacity to restrain and control. Geburah and Chesed are symbolically linked to the two hands, because we use our hands to do things, to give and take.
- 6 - Tifaret. Beauty. Love. Inspiration. Ecstasy. Rapture. All the wonderful things in human life radiate from here out to the surrounding sefirot.
- 7 - Netzach. Emotion. Passion. Impetus. Motivation.
- 8 - Hod. The conceptual, linguistic mind, what Timothy Leary called the third circuit of consciousness. Belief. Thought. Communication. Netzach and Hod are symbolized by the two feet. We do not do things with our feet, but we use our feet to take us to where we need to be to do things with our hands; likewise, Hod and Netzach (thought and emotion) position us to carry out work with Chesed and Geburah (giving and taking). Can you dig it?
- 9 - Yesod. 'The foundation'. This is the center of everyday experience. Our ordinary identity is located here and it gathers and sends out force to and from the sefirot it is connected to: Tifaret, Netzach, Hod and Malkut. Most of our daily work and activity is based in Yesod.
- 10 - Malkut. The facts. This is not just the physical world, as studied by science, but also consensual, normative reality, which includes non-physical things like money. You see, the Qabalah represents the contents of the mind - it is pure phenomenology - and the physical world is found nowhere in the mind.
Above and beyond the Tree of Life is Ain, meaning nothingness, zero or the void. This is the inconceivable, empty Ultimate Reality, called Tao, Kia, Brahman etc. That should have been enough, but the ancient rabbis evidently like making things complicated, so they came up with two other kinds of nothingness: Ain Soph, the limitless, boundless or infinite and Ain Soph Aur, the boundless light.
The five parts of the soul
- Nefesh. Nefesh is the animal soul. It is in Malkut.\
- Ruach. Ruach is the mind. It is in sefirot 4-9.\
- Neshamah. Intuition or pure consciousness. The light of life. Binah.\
- Chiah. The vital force. Animation. Chokmah.\
- Yechidah. The inconceivable, divine human soul. Keter.\
The four worlds and the tetragrammaton
- Assiah. The factual world. Malkut.\
- Yetzirah. Netzach, Hod and Yesod. These are called the 'tactical' sefirot because they are considered to be purposive, to be means to ends, rather than acting for their own sake.\
- Beriah. Chesed, Geburah and Tifaret.\
- Atziluth. Keter, Chokmah and Binah. This is the highest, most cosmic world, from which the others emanate.
In Exodus 3:14, God reveals his true name to Moses: Yahweh, spelt in Hebrew Yod-Heh-Vau-Heh. This name is called the Tetragrammaton, Hebrew for "the four-letter name".
The symbolism of these four letters is equivalent to the symbolism of the 4 elements, the Tarot suits/ magickal weapons, the Tarot court cards, the 4 gospels etc. :
Tetragrammaton Yod Heh Vau Heh
Qabalistic world Atziluth Beriah Yetzirah Assiah
Inhabitants of world Aspects of God Archangels Angels Men, demons, spirits etc.
Tarot court card King Queen Prince Princess
Element Fire Water Air Earth
Tarot suit/ magickal weapon Wand Cup Sword Disk
Animal Lion Man Eagle Bull/ Elephant
Gospel Mark Matthew John Luke
Finnegan's Wake Marcus Lyons Matt Gregory John McDougall Luke Tarpey
I-Ching Yang-Yang Yin-Yin Yang-Yin Yin-Yang
All this represents the process of anything being created (or, to put it more romantically, any act of magick). For anything to come to be, we first need the pure will or intent. Then comes understanding or knowledge which is needed to create it. Then comes the third phase: action. Finally, the goal is realized and accepted by all.\ To bring it back to the Tree of Life, a force is passing down through the four worlds, from Atziluth, through Beriah, through Yetzirah and into Assiah.\ For example, you have a wish (Yod) to make money so you learn (Heh) a trade, work (Vau) at it and then you have wealth (Heh).
Understand the Tree of Life and the formula of the tetragrammaton and you understand the Tarot. The four suits of the Tarot - wands, cups, swords and disks - are based on the tetragrammaton. Likewise the four court cards of each suit: king, queen, prince and princess. Then there are 10 numbered cards in each suit, corresponding to the 10 sefirot, and 22 trump cards, corresponding to the 22 paths.
The Tree of Life as a model of the path to illumination
Whereas moving down the tree from 1 to 10 shows the creation of the universe from the Godhead, ascending the tree from 10 to 1 shows the path for Man back to the Godhead.\ The mystical brotherhood known as The Order of the Silver Star has 10 grades that correspond to the 10 sefirot. The trainee starts at Malkut and takes the appropriate oath and performs the appropriate exercizes for that grade. When he has mastered the tasks of Malkut, he is initiated into the grade of Yesod. And so on up the Tree. The key stage in this journey is the ascent from Chesed to Binah. Look at the diagrams of the Tree above and you'll see two things: The Abyss lies between Chesed and Binah, and there is no path connecting the two. The triad of sefirot above the Abyss are pure, divine, cosmic forces, whereas everything below the Abyss is a kind of illusion. The Abyss, in other words, seperates the real from the illusory, or the eternal from the transitory. Crossing the Abyss is an experience common on long Psychedelics trips. It involves passing through a period of intense confusion and dispersion to come to clarity and the pure expereince of reality on the other side.
The Hebrew alphabet and Sepher Yetzirah
According to the Qabalistic classic, Sepher Yetzirah (The Book of Formation), God created the universe by speaking the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. All the manifold universe is an interplay of these twenty-two principles. (This is a common theme in mysticism: that language creates the world. See the Gospel of John quoted above, or the ancient Egyptian Shabaka text which says, "All the divine order came into being through what the heart thought and the tongue commanded." It is literally true that language creates our world, in the sense that our beliefs and thoughts control our perceptions.)
There are three "mother letters". These represent the three dimensions of space, and so together they create the empty universe in which the other letters can do their stuff.
Hebrew letter Aleph Mem Shin
Element Air Water Fire
Dimension Up-down East-West North-South
There are seven "double letters", representing dualities:
Hebrew letter Beth Gimel Daleth Kaph Peh Resh Tau
Planet/ Roman god Mercury The moon Venus Jupiter Mars The sun/ Apollo Saturn
Duality Life and death Peace and war Riches and poverty Beauty/ respect and Ugliness/ disrepute Wisdom and ignorance Fruitfulness and sterility Power and weakness
There are twelve simple letters: Heh, Vau, Zayin, Cheth, Teth, Yod, Lamed, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Tzaddi and Qoph. These represent twelve cosmic principles, some understanding of which may be gleaned from studying their correspondences:
Hebrew letter Heh Vau Zayin Cheth Teth Yod Lamed Nun Samekh Ayin Tzaddi Qoph
Zodiac sign Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius Capricorn Aquarius Pisces
In man Speech Mind Movement Sight Hearing Labour Lust Smell Sleep Anger Taste Mirth
Gematria is the part of the Qabalah that deals with assigning numerical values to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In this way, we may assign a number to any Hebrew word or phrase. The preposterous assumption is then made that these numerical values reveal some esoteric meaning of the words. To borrow Crowley's example, 'unity' in Hebrew is 'achad', spelt Aleph-Cheth-Daleth. The numerical values of these letters are 1,8,4, giving a total of 13 for the word. 'Love' is 'ahebah', spelt Aleph-Heh-Beth-Heh, which is 1+5+2+5, again summing to
- You're meant to do these sums and then go, "Ahhh, so love is the same as unity! Far out, dude!"
Quotes on the Qabalah
"The Qabalah is not a belief system. It's a way of looking at things. It's a way of organizing your universe so neatly that you eventually discover your own place in it. It's a way of connecting absolutely everything in the universe with absolutely everything else until, eventually, you achieve a transcendent level of consciousness in which you realize there is nothing left to connect."\
- Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford
"Of the methods of increasing Understanding those of the Holy Qabalah are perhaps the best, provided that the intellect is thoroughly awake to their absurdity, and never allows itself to be convinced."\
- Aleister Crowley
"The Qabalah, that is, the Jewish Tradition concerning the initiated interpretation of their Scriptures, is mostly either unintelligible or nonsense. But it contains as it ground-plan the most precious jewel of human thought, that geometrical arrangement of names and numbers which is called the Tree of Life. I call it the most precious, because I have found it the most convenient method hitherto discovered of classifying the phenomena of the Universe, and recording their relations. Whereof the proof is the amazing fertility of thought which has followed my adoption of this scheme.\ Since all phenomena whatsoever may be referred to the Tree of Life (which may be multiplied or subdivided at will for convenience's sake) it is evidently useless to attempt any complete account of it. The correspondences of each unit - the Ten Sephiroth and the Two-and-Twenty Paths - are infinite. The art of using it consists principally in referring all our ideas to it, discovering thus the common nature of certain things and the essential differences between others, so that ultimately one obtains a simple view of the incalculably vast complexity of the Universe."\
- Aleister Crowley
"The Tree of Life has got to be learnt by heart; you must know it backwards, forwards, sideways, and upside down; it must become the automatic background of all your thinking. You must keep on hanging everything that comes your way upon its proper bough.\ At first, of course, all this is dreadfully confusing; but persist, and a time will come when all the odd bits fit into the jig-saw, and you beholdâ€”with what adoring wonder!â€”the marvellous beauty and symmetry of the Qabalistic system.\ And thenâ€”what a weapon you will have forged!\ What power to analyze, to order, to manipulate your thinking!\ And please remember when people compliment you on your memory or the clarity of your thought, to give credit to the Qabalah!\ That's fine, I seem to hear you purr; that looks a lovely machine. The Design is just elegant; that scarf-pin of yours is perfectly sweet."\
- Aleister Crowley
[http://www.esnips.com/doc/44c6e98e-04ee-427d-a059-37f1af632886/DuQuette---Chicken-Qabalah Chicken Qabalah] by Lon Milo DuQuette. An admirable and highly recommended introduxion that actually succeeds in making Qabalah entertaining.\ An Introduction to the Study of The Kabalah by William Wynn Westcott\ Sepher Yetzirah. A foundational text of the Qabalah.