II - Quabbalah

The Jewish Element of the Western Tradition

Qabbala is one of the central elements of the Hermetic Tradition, and will play an important part in Golden Aeon.  As with most of the bluesheets, you don’t need to memorize all this information.  This text will be available in some form during the event.  An excellent period reference for Qabbala is, of course, MacGregor Mathers "The Kabbalah Unveiled."  Major elements of this bluesheet were originally assembled for the VIA production "Dark Summonings: Brooklyn."

GM Hint: 

The Concept of Qlippoth (see below) occurs again and again in Golden Dawn related literature, and is an especially important concept to grasp for Golden Aeon.  The concept of The Abyss is also important 



How do you spell it? 

The Hebrew characters are QBLH.  The word can be spelled Kabbalah, Kabbala, Cabbala, Quabbalah, and many other variants.  Most modern Judaic scholars prefer Kabbalah, while Hermetic Scholars use either Kabbalah or Qabbalah.  I’ve used Quabbalah, because it is common in some of the Turn of the century source material I’ve read, and because it adds a “antique” flavor to the mysticism.   Note that in the history below I’ve used “before common era B.C. and common era C.E., rather than B.C. and A.D. , when describing dates.  These are the Judaic standard, and are rapidly becoming the standard among historians and archaeologists. 

Please note that this description is not meant to be precise.  It is meant to convey enough information to understand basic references to the Quabbalah,   In many areas I’ve made generalizations or cut corners that I’m well aware of.  At the bottom of this description, I’ll give a list of recommended readings for  deeper information. 

Metagame Note: What is the History of the Quabbalah and Where did it Come from?

The Quabbalah is a body of Jewish mystic learning and teaching that dates back at least to the 12th century A.D., and probably goes back in rudimentary form much farther.  Jewish faith is based on the “written law” the Torah (the Judaic scriptures, which are very roughly the same books as the first five books of the Christian Old Testament, and the “oral law” which is tradition handed down through generations.  During the last four centuries B.C.E. traditionalists (primarily Sadducees) who adhered strictly to the written law were slowly marginalized by sects (primarily the Pharisees) who felt that oral law had equal weight.  The tradition of adherence to the written law only was snuffed out in the C.E. 70 Jerusalem Rebellion.  Modern Rabbitanial Judaism is descended from the oral-traditionists, who in subsequent centuries wrote down the Talmud as a repository of the oral-law.  In the middle-ages, and later times, various scholars added Commentaries to the Talmud.   At the same time, some scholars believed in a body of “secret” written law, set down in the Torah, and set out to study it.   Their mystical observations constitute the body of Literature known as the Quabbalah.   The earliest “formal” work in this body is attributed to Isaac the Blind (c. 1160-1236 C.E.) 

How important is the Quabbalah in contemporary Judaism?

Not very.  It is a profound influence on some heretical Judaic sects like the Hasadim or Lubavichers, who have a strong  community in modern New York City.  In the 1920s there was not yet a Hasadic or Lubavicher community of any size in New York – these groups primarily immigrated after the Second World War., in the aftermath of the Holocaust.   Mainline Jews do not deny the legitimacy of some of the Quabbalistic work.  The work of some of the majority of  Kabbalist Rabbis is of historical importance, and their place as legitimate commentators is not denied (though some such as the heretical Nathan of Gaza are minimalized or excluded from consideration).  On the other hand, the points on which the Quabbalistic Rabbis differ from mainline Jewish theology are routinely minimalized.   For the most part, Quabbalah is an esoteric side-track which is neither denied nor pursued by most modern Jewish scholars, and its influence on everyday Jewish practice and life outside of the abovementioned sects is so minimal as to be nearly non-existent. 

What do Quabbalists believe about the history of the Quabbalah

"The Qabalah was first taught by God himself to a select company of angels, who formed a 
theosophic school in Paradise. After the Fall the angels most graciously communicated this heavenlydoctrine to the disobedient children of earth, the furnish the protoplasts with the means of returning to their pristine nobility and felicity. From Adam it passed over to Noah, and then to Abraham, the friend of God, who emigrated with it to Egypt, where the patriarch allowed a portion of this mysterious doctrine to ooze out. It was in this way that the Egyptians obtained some knowledge of it, and the other Eastern nations could introduce it into their philosophical systems. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, was first initiated into the Qabalah in the land of his birth, but became most proficient in it during his wanderings in the wilderness, when he not only devoted to it the leisure hours of the whole forty years, but received lessons in it from one of the angels. By the aid of this mysterious science the law-giver was enabled to solve the difficulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, in spite of the pilgrimages, wars, and frequent miseries of the nation. He covertly laid down the principles of this secret doctrine in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but withheld them from Deuteronomy. Moses also initiated the seventy elders into the secrets of this doctrine, and they again transmitted them from hand to hand." 

     - McGregor Mathers, Introduction to The Kabbalah Unveiled

What is the Quabbalah

Kabbalah is an aspect of Jewish mysticism. It consists of a large body of speculation on the nature of divinity, the creation, the origin and fate of the soul, and the role of human beings. It consists also of meditative, devotional, mystical and magical practices which were taught only to a select few and for this reason Kabbalah is regarded as an esoteric offshoot of Judaism. 
 - Colin Low, Kabbalah FAQ 

     Into this mysterious universe we are born, with no apparent set of instructions, 
     no maps or equations, no signs or guideposts, nothing but our equally 
     unfathomable instincts, intuitions, and reasoning abilities to tell us where we 
     came from, why we are here, and what we are supposed to do. What we do 
     posses - perhaps it the key to our survival as a species - is an almost 
     unquenchable need to know. A human being comes into this world with a 
     passionate sense of wonder and inquisitiveness and an equally powerful need for 
     self expression. Yet, somehow these seemingly indelible primal imperatives 
     become eroded, as a rule, after only a few years exposure to modern reality and 
     contemporary educational methods. 

Rabbi Dr. Philip S. Berg, tells in the Preface to, "The Zohar - Parashat Pinhas", 
Research Center of Kabbalah Press. 

To Jewish mystics, every letter in the Hebrew alphabet was a channel to the life force of God and 
possessed of sacred meaning. Hebrew numbers were also represented by letters so that names and words had numerical values. Finding associations of words with the same value revealed a complex series of hidden meanings beneath the text of the Torah, the book of law attributed to Moses. In fact, the entire Torah can be considered to be a single long word spelling out one of the names of God. The significance of the name of God goes back to ancient Egypt where knowing the name of a god allowed one to gain power over that god. 

What is the Hermetic Quabbalah

The following is condensed from Colin Low’s excellent explanation in the Quabbalah FAQ: 

“Many people who study Kabbalah are not Jewish. This has been happening for 500 years or so. It is difficult to know what to call this variant of Kabbalah. "Non-Jewish" is inaccurate, as I have 
personally known several Jews who opted for Hermetic Kabbalah in preference to the traditional 
variety! At one time it was called "Christian" Kabbalah, but this is also very misleading. 

The origin of this variant can be placed in Renaissance Italy in the last decade of the 15th. century. It was an amazing decade. In 1492 Christopher Columbus set sail for America. In that same year the King of Spain expelled all Jews from Spain on pain of death, bringing to an end centuries of Jewish culture in Spain, and causing a huge migration of dispossessed Jews through Europe, many of whom were welcomed by the Turkish sultan, who is reputed to have observed that the King of Spain had enriched Turkey by beggaring his own country. 

At around the same time, at the court of the great banking family of the Medicis in Florence, 
Marsilio Ficino had established the Platonic Academy under the patronage of the Medicis and was 
translating the works of Plato. A bundle of manuscripts, lost for centuries and dating back to the 1st. and 2nd. centuries A.D. was discovered; this was the Corpus Hermeticum, a series of documents relating to Hermes Trimegistus, identical with the Egyptian god Thoth, god of wisdom. Cosimo de Medici told Ficino to stop translating Plato and to concentrate on the Corpus instead. 

At the time it was believed that the Corpus really was the religion of the ancient Egyptians, and that 
Hermes was a kind of Egyptian Moses. The fact that they were written much later, and heavily 
influenced by Neoplatonism, had the effect of convincing readers at that time that Greek philosophy was founded on much older, Egyptian religious philosophy - this had a huge influence on liberal religious and philosophical thinking at the time. Into this environment came the Kabbalah, brought in part by fleeing Spanish Jews, and it was seized upon as another lost tradition, the inner, initiated key to the Bible. 

Two figures stand out. One was Giovanni Pico, Count of Mirandola, who commissioned several 
translations of Kabbalistic works, and did much to publicise Kabbalah among the intellectuals of the day. The other was Johannes Reuchlin, who learned to read Hebrew and became deeply immersed in Kabbalistic literature. It must be said that Jews were suspicious of this activity, finding that Christian scholars were using the Kabbalah as a bludgeon to persuade them to convert to 

It was out of this eclectic mixture of Christianity, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Kabbalah and 
Renaissance humanism that Hermetic Kabbalah was born. Over the centuries it has developed in 
many directions, with strong influences from Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, but continued input 
from Jewish Kabbalah has meant that many variants are not so different in spirit from the original. Its greatest strength continues to be a strong element of religious humanism - it does not attempt to 
define God and does not define what an individual should believe, but it does assume that some level of direct experience of God is possible and there are practical methods for achieving this. In a 
modern world of compartmentalised knowledge, scientific materialism, and widespread cultural and historical illiteracy, it provides a bridge between the spirit of enquiry of the Renaissance (the homo universalis or - in Hebrew - hakham kolel) and the emergence of a similar spirit of enquiry in our own time. 

What is the Sephiroth or “Tree of Life”

The Sephiroth which mean “Emanations of Deity” are ten spheres that are arranged into a pattern called the “Tree of Life.” This is a symbol developed by Quabbalists to explain how God structured the universe when he created it.   In both Judaic and Hermetic Quabbalah, many symbols relate to, or are attributed to, the Sephiroth.   Each Sephira has its own color, Archangel, Choir, and in Hermetic Quabbalah, Tarot attribution, planetary sign, etc.  The Tree of Life is often depicted projected over the human body. 

The meanings of the Sephiroth:

Kether   The Crown Primal Chaos
Chokmah Wisdom  Sphere of the Zodiac
Binah  Understanding Saturn
Chesed  Mercy  Jupiter
Geburah  Severity  Mars
Tiphareth Beauty  Sol
Netzach  Victory  Venus
Hod  Glory  Mercury
Yesod  The Foundation Luna
Malkuth  The Kingdom The Elements

The Left hand pillar of the Tree of Life is called the “Pillar of Severity” 
The Center pillar is called the “Pillar of Mildness” 
The Right hand pillar is called the “Pillar of Mercy” 

The Hermetic Qabalists add the “invisible sephira” of  Da’ath which does not exist in itself, but is made up of the mingling of the rays of  Binah  (Understanding) and Chokmah (Wisdom). 

What are the Qlippoth?

The following is condensed from Colin Low’s excellent explanation in the Quabbalah FAQ: 

The word "qlippah" or "klippah" (plural "qlippoth") means "shell" or "husk".   It is in simplified terms the outer covering of which the sephira are made to contain the light of the deity.  The duality between the container and the contained is one of the most important in Kabbalistic explanations of the act of creation. 

The word "qlippah" is an extension of this metaphor. A qlippah is also a covering or a container, and as each sephira acts as a shell or covering to the sephira preceding it in the order of emanation, in a technical sense we can say the qlippoth are innate to the Tree of Life. Cut a slice through a tree and one can see the growth rings, with the bark on the outside. The Tree of Life has 10 concentric rings, and sometimes the qlippah is equated to the bark. The word is commonly used to refer to a covering which contains no light: that is, an empty shell, a dead husk. 

It is also the case that the qlippoth appear in Kabbalah as demonic powers of evil, and in trying to disentangle the various uses of the word it becomes clear that there is an almost continuous spectrum of opinion, varying from the technical use where the word hardly differs from the word "form", to the most anthropomorphic sense, where the qlippoth are evil demonesses in a demonic hierarchy responsible for all the evil in the world. 

One reason why the word "qlippah" has no simple meaning is that it is part of the Kabbalistic explanation of evil, and it is difficult to explain evil in a monotheistic, non-dualistic religion without incurring a certain complexity.... 

If God is good, why is there evil? 

No short essay can do justice to the complexity of this topic. I will indicate some of the principle themes. 

The "Zohar" attributes the primary cause of evil to the act of separation. The act of separation is referred to as the "cutting of the shoots". What was united becomes divided, and the boundary between one thing and another can be regarded as a shell. The primary separation was the division between the Tree of Life (Pillar of Mercy) from the Tree of Knowledge (Pillar of Severity). 

In normal perception the world is clearly characterized by divisions between one thing and another, and in this technical sense one could say that we are immersed in a world of shells. The shells, taken by themselves as an abstraction divorced from the original, undivided light (making another separation!) are the dead residue of manifestation, and can be identified with dead skin, hair, bark, sea shells, or shit. They have been referred to as the dregs remaining in a glass of wine, or as the residue left after refining gold. According to Scholem, the Zohar interprets evil as "the residue or refuse of the hidden life's organic process"; evil is something which is dead, but comes to life because a spark of God falls on it; by itself it is simply the dead residue of life. 

The skeleton is the archetypal shell. By itself it is a dead thing, but infuse it with a spark of life and it becomes a numinous and instantly recognisable manifestation of metaphysical evil. The shell is one of the most common horror themes; take a mask, or a doll, or any dead representation of a living thing, shine a light out of its eyes, and becomes a thing of evil intent. The powers of evil appear in the shape of the animate dead - skulls, bones, zombies, vampires, phantasms. 

What is the Abyss?

In modern Kabbalah there is a well developed notion of an Abyss between the three supernal sephiroth of Kether, Chokhmah, and Binah, and the seven lower sephiroth. When one looks at the progress of the Lightning Flash down the Tree of Life, then one finds that it follows the path structure connecting sephiroth except when it makes the jump from Binah to Chesed, thus reinforcing this idea of a "gap" or "gulf" which has to be crossed. This notion of an Abyss is extremely old and has found its way into Kabbalah in several different forms, and in the course of time they have all been mixed together into the notion of "the Great Abyss"; the Great Abyss is one of those things so necessary that like God, if it didn't already exist, it would have to be invented. 

- Colin Low from his Introduction to Kabbala

"The name of the Dweller in the Abyss is Choronzon, but he is not really an individual. The Abyss is empty of  being; it is filled with all possible forms, each equally inane, each therefore evil in the only true sense of the word - that is, meaningless but malignant, in so far as it craves to become real. These forms swirl senselessly into haphazard heaps like dust devils, and each chance aggregation asserts itself to be an individual and shrieks `I am I!' though aware all the time that its elements have no true bond; so that the slightest disturbance dissipates the delusion just as a horseman, meeting a dust devil, brings it in showers of sand to the earth." 

- Aleister Crowley, 1909

For further reading

There are many interepretations of the Quabalah.  The January author takes no responsibility for discrepancies between these sites and the January game.  However, the deeper your overall perspective on Kabbala, the quicker you will be able to make sense of things in game. 

Colin Low's Introduction to Kabbalah

Sefir Yetzirah - an actual Kabbalistic Text

Kabbalah Faq

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