The Qabala is a system developed sometime during the Middle Ages by Jews as an explanation of the structure of the mystical universe. The teachings were originally oral, but by the 1300's were written down and solidified into a somewhat uniform set of teachings and doctrines. The symbol of the Tree of Life was standardized around that time. During the Renaissance, Christian mystics and magicians took the system and added more doctrine and teachings and adopted Qabala into their magickal workings. During the 1850's Eliaphas Levi made the connection between the pathways and the Tarot Trumps. The secret societies of the 1800's and 1900's, especially the Golden Dawn, made Qabala the foundation for their magickal systems. The system of High Magick is based upon the Qabala in various forms.
For those not familiar with Qabala it seems almost too simplistic. How can life, the universe and everything be contained in and explained by ten circles and twenty-two lines between them? Like any symbolic language, Qabala seeks to categorize things into similarities, thereby allowing fuller understanding by experiencing the commonalities each group of things exhibits. There are many ties between Qabala and astrology, Tarot, color, angels and archangels, incenses, emotions, qualities and attributes. There are many lists of correspondences for Qabala.
Even the name Qabala isn't standard, there are about 27+ ways to spell this word which is a transliteration from Hebrew, and therefore only approximate anyhow. Cabalah, Kabbala and QBL are three of the more common other ways to "spell" this word.
At the heart of the Qabala are the ten spheres or sephiroth. Each governs an area of life and experience. By traveling up and down the tree one can gain wisdom and knowledge and experience what each sphere has to offer. One studies and works with each sphere and its' correspondences and thereby refines one's character and soul with the endpoint of returning to God--one aspect of the Great Work.
Starting at the bottom, sphere 10 is Malkuth (mal-kooth) The Kingdom, which is Earth, solid matter, where we are. Colors-black, citrine, russet and olive (a blending of the other colors). It is the tangible world, here-and-now the material plane. Everybody starts here. Malkuth represents the contact between the body and external world experienced through the senses. Virtues-discrimination and skepticism, vices-inertia and avarice.
Moving up to sphere 9 is Yesod (yay-sod) The Foundation, which corresponds to the Moon, emotion and instinct. Color-purple. Yesod can also be likened to the unconscious mind, the energy of the sexes, and the past. Virtue-independence, Vices-idleness and stagnation.
Sphere 8 is Hod, Glory, which corresponds to Mercury, mind, thought and intellect. Color-orange. Here is our stream of consciousness, awareness of self and learning. Virtue-truthfulness, Vices-falsehood and dishonesty.
Sphere 7 is Netzach (net-tsakh; with a soft "ch"), Victory, which corresponds to Venus, feelings, the senses, beauty, artistic expression and appreciation. Color-green (or pink). Netzach can be linked to that which is beautiful and pleasant. Virtues-unselfishness, altruism, Vice-lust.
Hod and Netzach form a polarity of thinking and feeling. The ideal is to balance between the two.
Sphere 6 is Tiphareth (tiff-err-eth), Beauty or Harmony, which corresponds to the Sun, personal identity, self awareness, center and soul. Color-golden yellow. Virtue-devotion to the Great Work, vices-pride and selfishness. Tiphareth is the center of the Tree, and symbolizes the center of the self. It has paths directly linking it to all the other spheres except Malkuth.
Sphere 5 is Geburah (gay-boo-rah), Strength or Severity, which corresponds to Mars, personal will or power and doing. Color-red. Virtues-energy and courage, vices-cruelty and restriction.
Sphere 4 is Chesed (khes-edd, soft "ch"), Mercy or Love, which corresponds to Jupiter, personal love, awareness and being. Color-blue. Virtue-obedience to love, Vices-bigotry and hypocrisy.
Geburah and Chesed form a polarity of severity and mercy, sternness and love, and again a dynamic balance is desirable for too much or too little of either can lead to various undesirable traits.
"D" Next on the tree is a blank space, the un-numbered sphere called Da'ath (day-ath), the Abyss, knowledge without understanding. Da'ath is the abyss which separates man from Deity, that which corresponds to a person's link with the collective unconscious. Above the Abyss, all opposites are reconciled, below the Abyss everything is duality. Da'ath connects the upper and lower spheres and there are many correspondences which have to do with this link. Some attribute Pluto, some also attribute Chiron to Da'ath.
Sphere 3 Binah (bee-nah), Understanding, which corresponds to Saturn, spiritual awareness and love. Color-black (which absorbs all other colors--representing the lower spheres on the tree). Virtue-silence, Vices-avarice or greed. Binah represents the eternal receptive feminine principle.
Sphere 2 Chockmah (Hokh-mah, soft "ch's"), Wisdom, which corresponds to Uranus or Neptune and to the Fixed Stars, the zodiac itself. It is spiritual will or purpose. Color-gray, the color of emerging light, or the mixture of the black of Binah and the white of Kether. Virtue-Devotion to the Great Work, Vice-none, for the illusion of duality has been transcended. Chockmah represents the eternal active male principle, also the principle of fully knowing oneself.
Sphere 1 is Kether (key-thur), The Crown, which corresponds to Neptune or Uranus and what is beyond the sphere of the Zodiac (Deity). It is Union with Deity, and is attributed to the pure spirit of the transpersonal self. Color-white brilliance, which obscures what Kether really is (Deity). Virtue-Attainment and Completion of the Great Work, Vice-none.
The spheres can be divided into groups, by triangles, the three pillars, pairs, and then studied and better understood within the context of the groupings. All these combinations, and some which are not obvious (like the hidden pathways between sephiroth which are not on the tree, and the Qliphoth (cliff-off) a mirror-image Qabala or the "dark side" which still ends up at Kether) add to the complexity and depth of understanding which can be obtained by studying Qabala.
There are whole books written about the Qabala, and this short article can only be a very brief introduction. But this mystical construct of the universe has been studied and analyzed for centuries, and still fascinates seekers. There is much we could all learn from the Qabala, and as a magickal seeker, it is worth a look.
© 1997, 2002 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.