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Notes on Kabbalah
by Colin Low
Reprinted with permission.
The Tree of Life
At the root of the Kabbalistic view of the world are three fundamental concepts and they provide a natural place to begin. The three concepts are force, form and consciousness and these words are used in an abstract way, as the following examples illustrate: - high pressure steam in the cylinder of a steam engine provides a force. The engine is a form which constrains the force. - a river runs downhill under the force of gravity. The river channel is a form which constrains the water to run in a well defined path. - someone wants to get to the centre of a garden maze. The hedges are a form which constrain that person's ability to walk as they please. - a diesel engine provides the force which drives a boat forwards. A rudder constrains its course to a given direction. - a polititian wants to change the law. The legislative framework of the country is a form which he or she must follow if the change is to be made legally. - water sits in a bowl. The force of gravity pulls the water down. The bowl is a form which gives its shape to the water. - a stone falls to the ground under the force of gravity. Its acceleration is constrained to be equal to the force divided by the mass of the stone. - I want to win at chess. The force of my desire to win is constrained within the rules of chess. - I see something in a shop window and have to have it. I am constrained by the conditions of sale (do I have enough money, is it in stock). - cordite explodes in a gun barrel and provides an explosive force on a bullet. The gas and the bullet are constrained by the form of the gun barrel. - I want to get a passport. The government won't give me one unless I fill in lots of forms in precisely the right way. - I want a university degree. The university won't give me a degree unless I attend certain courses and pass various assessments. In all these examples there is something which is causing change to take place ("a force") and there is something which causes change to take place in a defined way ("a form"). Without being too pedantic it is possible to identify two very different types of example here: 1. examples of natural physical processes (e.g. a falling stone) where the force is one of the natural forces known to physics (e.g. gravity) and the form is is some combination of physical laws which constrain the force to act in a well defined way. 2. examples of people wanting something, where the force is some ill-defined concept of "desire", "will", or "drives", and the form is one of the forms we impose upon ourselves (the rules of chess, the Law, polite behaviour etc.). Despite the fact that the two different types of example are "only metaphorically similar", Kabbalists see no fundamental distiniction between them. To the Kabbalist there are forces which cause change in the natural world, and there are corresponding psychological forces which drive us to change both the world and ourselves, and whether these forces are natural or psychological they are rooted in the same place: consciousness. Similarly, there are forms which the component parts of the physical world seem to obey (natural laws) and there are completely arbitrary forms we create as part of the process of living (the rules of a game, the shape of a mug, the design of an engine, the syntax of a language) and these forms are also rooted in the same place: consciousness. It is a Kabbalistic axiom that there is a prime cause which underpins all the manifestations of force and form in both the natural and psychological world and that prime cause I have called consciousness for lack of a better word. Consciousness is undefinable. We know that we are conscious in different ways at different times - sometimes we feel free and happy, at other times trapped and confused, sometimes angry and passionate, sometimes cold and restrained - but these words describe manifestations of consciousness. We can define the manifestations of consciousness in terms of manifestations of consciousness, which is about as useful as defining an ocean in terms of waves and foam. Anyone who attempts to define consciousness itself tends to come out of the same door as they went in. We have lots of words for the phenomena of consciousness - thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, emotions, motives and so on - but few words for the states of consciousness which give rise to these phenomena, just as we have many words to describe the surface of a sea, but few words to describe its depths. Kabbalah provides a vocabulary for states of consciousness underlying the phenomena, and one of the purposes of these notes is to explain this vocabulary, not by definition, but mostly by metaphor and analogy. The only genuine method of understanding what the vocabulary means is by attaining various states of consciousness in a predictable and reasonably objective way, and Kabbalah provides practical methods for doing this. A fundamental premise of the Kabbalistic model of reality is that there is a pure, primal, and undefinable state of consciousness which manifests as an interaction between force and form. This is virtually the entire guts of the Kabbalistic view of things, and almost everything I have to say from now on is based on this trinity of consciousness, force, and form. Consciousness comes first, but hidden within it is an inherent duality; there is an energy associated with consciousness which causes change (force), and there is a capacity within consciousness to constrain that energy and cause it to manifest in a well-defined way (form). First Principle of / Consciousness \ / \ / \ Capacity Raw to take ________________ Energy Form Figure 1. What do we get out of raw energy and an inbuilt capacity for form and structure? Is there yet another hidden potential within this trinity waiting to manifest? There is. If modern physics is to be believed we get matter and the physical world. The cosmological Big Bang model of raw energy surging out from an infintesimal point and condensing into basic forms of matter as it cools, then into stars and galaxies, then planets, and ultimately living creatures, has many points of similarity with the Kabbalistic model. In the Big Bang model a soup of energy condenses according to some yet-to-be-formulated Grand-Universal-Theory into our physical world. What Kabbalah does suggest (and modern physics most certainly does not!) is that matter and consciousness are the same stuff, and differ only in the degree of structure imposed - matter is consciousness so heavily structured and constrained that its behaviour becomes describable using the regular and simple laws of physics. This is shown in Fig. 2. The primal, first principle of consciousness is synonymous with the idea of "God". First Principle of / Consciousness \ / | \ / | \ Capacity | Raw to take _____________ Energy/Force Form | \ | / \ | / \ | / Matter The World Figure 2 The glyph in Fig. 2 is the basis for the Tree of Life. The first principle of consciousness is called Kether, which means Crown. The raw energy of consciousness is called Chockhmah or Wisdom, and the capacity to give form to the energy of consciousness is called Binah, which is sometimes translated as Understanding, and sometimes as Intelligence. The outcome of the interaction of force and form, the physical world, called Malkuth or Kingdom. This quaternery is a Kabbalistic representation of God-the- Knowable, in the sense that it the most primitive representation of God we are capable of comprehending; paradoxically, Kabbalah also contains a notion of God-the-Unknowable which transcends this glyph, and is called En Soph. There is not much I can say about En Soph, and what I can say I will postpone for later. God-the-Knowable has four aspects, two male and two female: Kether and Chokhmah are both represented as male, and Binah and Malkuth are represented as female. One of the titles of Chokhmah is Abba, which means Father, and one of the titles of Binah is Aima, which means Mother, so you can think of Chokhmah as God- the-Father, and Binah as God-the-Mother. Malkuth is the daughter, the female spirit of God-as-Matter, and it would not be wildly wrong to think of her as Mother Earth. One of the more pleasant things about Kabbalah is that its symbolism gives equal place to both male and female. And what of God-the-Son? Is there also a God-the-Son in Kabbalah? There is, and this is the point where Kabbalah tackles the interesting problem of thee and me. The glyph in Fig. 2 is a model of consciousness, but not of self-consciousness, and self- consciousness throws an interesting spanner in the works. The Fall Self-consciousness is like a mirror in which consciousness sees itself reflected. Self-consciousness is modelled in Kabbalah by making a copy of figure 2. Consciousness of / Consciousness \ / | \ / | \ Consciousness | Consciousness of ________________ of Form | Energy/Force \ | / \ | / \ | / Consciousness of the World Figure 3 Figure 3. is Figure 2. reflected through self-consciousness. The overall effect of self-consciousness is to add an additional layer to Figure 2. as follows: First Principle of / Consciousness \ / | \ / | \ Capacity | Raw to take _____________ Energy/Force Form | \ | / \ | / \ | / Consciousness of / Consciousness \ / | \ / | \ Consciousness | Consciousness of ________________ of Form | Energy/Force \ | / \ | / \ | / Consciousness of the World | | | Matter The World Figure 4 Fig. 2 is sometimes called "the Garden of Eden" because it represents a primal state of consciousness. The effect of self- consciousness as shown in Fig. 4 is to drive a wedge between the First Principle of Consciousness (Kether) and that Consciousness realised as matter and the physical world (Malkuth). This is called "the Fall", after the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. From a Kabbalistic point of view the story of Eden, with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the serpent and the temptation, and the casting out from the Garden has a great deal of meaning in terms of understanding the evolution of consciousness. Self-consciousness introduces four new states of consciousness: the Consciousness of Consciousness is called Tipheret, which means Beauty; the Consciousness of Force/Energy is called Netzach, which means Victory or Firmness; the Consciousness of Form is called Hod, which means Splendour or Glory, and the Consciousness of Matter is called Yesod, which means Foundation. These four states have readily observable manifestations, as shown below in Fig. 5: The Self Self-Importance Self-Sacrifice / | \ / | \ / | \ Language | Emotions Abstraction_______________Drives Reason | Feelings \ | / \ | / \ | / \ Perception / Imagination Instinct Reproduction Figure 5 Figure 4. is almost the complete Tree of Life, but not quite - there are still two states missing. The inherent capacity of consciousness to take on structure and objectify itself (Binah, God-the-Mother) is reflected through self-consciousness as a perception of the limitedness and boundedness of things. We are conscious of space and time, yesterday and today, here and there, you and me, in and out, life and death, whole and broken, together and apart. We see things as limited and bounded and we have a perception of form as something "created" and "destroyed". My car was built a year ago, but it was smashed yesterday. I wrote an essay, but I lost it when my computer crashed. My granny is dead. The river changed its course. A law has been repealed. I broke my coffee mug. The world changes, and what was here yesterday is not here today. This perception acts like an "interface" between the quaternary of consciousness which represents "God", and the quaternary which represents a living self-conscious being, and two new states are introduced to represent this interface. The state which represents the creation of new forms is called Chesed, which means Mercy, and the state which represents the destruction of forms is called Gevurah, which means Strength. This is shown in Fig. 6. The objectification of forms which takes place in a self-conscious being, and the consequent tendency to view the world in terms of limitations and dualities (time and space, here and there, you and me, in and out, God and Man, good and evil...) produces a barrier to perception which most people rarely overcome, and for this reason it has come to be called the Abyss. The Abyss is also marked on Figure 6. First Principle of / Consciousness \ / | \ / | \ Capacity | Raw to take _____________ Energy/Force Form | | |\ | /| | \ | / | --------------Abyss--------------- | \ | / | Destruction | Creation of_____\_____|_____ /____of Form \ | / Form | \ \ | / / | | \ \ | / / | | \ Consciousness / | | of | | / Consciousness \ | | / | \ | |/ | \| Consciousness | Consciousness of ________________ of \ Form | Energy/Force \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ Consciousness / \ of / \ the World / \ / \ | / \ | / \ | / Matter The World Figure 6 The diagram in Fig. 6 is called the Tree of Life. The "constructionist" approach I have used to justify its structure is a little unusual, but the essence of my presentation can be found in the "Zohar" under the guise of the Macroprosopus and Microprosopus, although in this form it is not readily accessible to the average reader. My attempt to show how the Tree of Life can be derived out of pure consciousness through the interaction of an abstract notion of force and form was not intended to be a convincing exercise from an intellectual point of view - the Tree of Life is primarily a gnostic rather than a rational or intellectual explanation of consciousness and its interaction with the physical world. The Tree is composed of 10 states or sephiroth (sephiroth plural, sephira singular) and 22 interconnecting paths. The age of this diagram is unknown: there is enough information in the 13th. century "Sepher ha Zohar" to construct this diagram, and the doctrine of the sephiroth has been attributed to Isaac the Blind in the 12th. century, but we have no certain knowledge of its origin. It probably originated sometime in the interval between the 6th. and 13th. centuries AD. The origin of the word "sephira" is unclear - it is almost certainly derived from the Hebrew word for "number" (SPhR), but it has also been attributed to the Greek word for "sphere" and even to the Hebrew word for a sapphire (SPhIR). With a characteristic aptitude for discovering hidden meanings everywhere, Kabbalists find all three derivations useful, so take your pick. In the language of earlier Kabbalistic writers the sephiroth represented ten primeval emanations of God, ten focii through which the energy of a hidden, absolute and unknown Godhead (En Soph) propagated throughout the creation, like white light passing through a prism. The sephiroth can be interpreted as aspects of God, as states of consciousness, or as nodes akin to the Chakras in the occult anatomy of a human being . I have left out one important detail from the structure of the Tree. There is an eleventh "something" which is definitely *not* a sephira, but is often shown on modern representations of the Tree. The Kabbalistic "explanation" runs as follows: when Malkuth "fell" out of the Garden of Eden (Fig. 2) it left behind a "hole" in the fabric of the Tree, and this "hole", located in the centre of the Abyss, is called Daath, or Knowledge. Daath is *not* a sephira; it is a hole. This may sound like gobbledy-gook, and in the sense that it is only a metaphor, it is. The completed Tree of Life with the Hebrew titles of the sephiroth is shown below in Fig. 7. En Soph /-------------------------\ / \ ( Kether ) / (Crown) \ / | \ / | \ / | \ Binah | Chokhmah (Understanding)__________ (Wisdom) (Intelligence) | | |\ | /| | \ Daath / | | \ (Knowledge) / | | \ | / | Gevurah \ | / Chesed (Strength)\_____|_____/__ (Mercy) | \ | / (Love) | \ \ | / / | | \ \ | / / | | \ Tipheret / | | / (Beauty) \ | | / | \ | | / | \ | |/ | \| Hod | Netzach (Glory) _______________(Victory) (Splendour) | (Firmness) \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ Yesod / / \ (Foundation) / \ / \ | / \ | / \ | / Malkuth (Kingdom) Figure 7 From an historical point of view the doctrine of emanations and the Tree of Life are only one small part of a huge body of Kabbalistic speculation about the nature of divinity and our part in creation, but it is the part which has survived. The Tree continues to be used in the Twentieth Century because it has proved to be a useful and productive symbol for practices of a magical, mystical and religious nature. Modern Kabbalah in the Western Mystery Tradition is largely concerned with the understanding and practical application of the Tree of Life, and the following set of notes will list some of the characteristics of each sephira in more detail so that you will have a "snapshot" of what each sephira represents before going on to examine the sephiroth and the "deep structure" of the Tree in more detail.
The Pillars & the Lightning Flash
In Chapter 1. the Tree of Life was derived from three concepts, or rather one primary concept and two derivative concepts which are "contained" within it. The primary concept was called consciousness, and it was said to "contain" within it the two complementary concepts of force and form. This chapter builds on the idea by introducing the three Pillars of the Tree, and uses the Pillars to clarify a process called the Lightning Flash. The Three Pillars are shown in Figure 8. below. Pillar Pillar Pillar of of of Form Consciousness Force (Severity) (Mildness) (Mercy) Kether / (Crown) \ / | \ / | \ / | \ Binah | Chokhmah (Understanding)__________ (Wisdom) (Intelligence) | | |\ | /| | \ Daath / | | \ (Knowledge) / | | \ | / | Gevurah \ | / Chesed (Strength)\_____|_____/__ (Mercy) | \ | / (Love) | \ \ | / / | | \ \ | / / | | \ Tipheret / | | / (Beauty) \ | | / | \ | | / | \ | |/ | \| Hod | Netzach (Glory) _______________(Victory) (Splendour) | (Firmness) \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ | / / \ \ Yesod / / \ (Foundation) / \ / \ | / \ | / \ | / Malkuth (Kingdom) Figure 8 Not surprisingly the three pillars are referred to as the pillars of consciousness, force and form. The pillar of consciousness contains the sephiroth Kether, Tiphereth, Yesod and Malkuth; the pillar of force contains the sephiroth Chokhmah, Chesed and Netzach; the pillar of form contains the sephiroth Binah, Gevurah and Hod. In older Kabbalistic texts the pillars are referred to as the pillars of mildness, mercy and severity, and it is not immediately obvious how the older jargon relates to the new. To the medieval Kabbalist (and this is a recurring metaphor in the Zohar) the creation as an emanation of God is a delicate *balance* (metheqela) between two opposing tendencies: the mercy of God, the outflowing, creative, life-giving and sustaining tendency in God, and the severity or strict judgement of God, the limiting, defining, life-taking and ultimately wrathful or destructive tendency in God. The creation is "energised" by these two tendencies as if stretched between the poles of a battery. Modern Kabbalah makes a half-hearted attempt to remove the more obvious anthropomorphisms in the descriptions of "God"; mercy and severity are misleading terms, apt to remind one of a man with a white beard, and even in medieval times the terms had distinctly technical meanings as the following quotation shows : "It must be remembered that to the Kabbalist, judgement [Din - judgement, another title of Gevurah] means the imposition of limits and the correct determination of things. According to Cordovero the quality of judgement is inherent in everything insofar as everything wishes to remain what it is, to stay within its boundaries." I understand the word "form" in precisely this sense - it is that which defines *what* a thing is, the structure whereby a given thing is distinct from every other thing. As for "consciousness", I use the word "consciousness" in a sense so abstract that it is virtually meaningless, and according to whim I use the word God instead, where it is understood that both words are placeholders for something which is potentially knowable in the gnostic sense only - consciousness can be *defined* according to the *forms* it takes, in which case we are defining the forms, *not* the consciousness. The same qualification applies to the word "force". My inability to define two of the three concepts which underpin the structure of the Tree is a nuisance which is tackled traditionally by the use of extravagent metaphors, and by elimination ("not this, not that"). The classification of sephiroth into three pillars is a way of saying that each sephira in a pillar partakes of a common quality which is "inherited" in a progressively more developed and structured form from of the top of a pillar to the bottom. Tipheret, Yesod and Malkuth all share with Kether the quality of "consciousness in balance" or "synthesis of opposing qualities", or but in each case it is expressed differently according to the increased degree of structure imposed. Likewise, Chokhmah, Chesed and Netzach share the quality of force or energy or expansiveness, and Binah, Gevurah and Hod share the quality of form, definition and limitation. From Kether down to Malkuth, force and form are combined; the symbolism of the Tree has something in common with a production line, with molten metal coming in one end and finished cars coming out the other, and with that metaphor we are now ready to describe the Lightning Flash, the process whereby God takes on flesh, the process which created and sustains the creation. In the beginning...was Something. Or Nothing. It doesn't really matter which term we use, as both are equally meaningless in this context. Nothing is probably the better of the two terms, because I can use Something in the next paragraph. Kabbalists call this Nothing "En Soph" which literally means "no end" or infinity, and understand by this a hidden, unmanifest God-in- Itself. Out of this incomprehensible and indescribable Nothing came Something. Probably more words have been devoted to this moment than any other in Kabbalah, and it is all too easy to make fun the effort which has gone into elaborating the indescribable, so I won't, but in return do not expect me to provide a justification for why Something came out of Nothing. It just did. A point crystallised in the En Soph. In some versions of the story the En Soph "contracted" to "make room" for the creation (Isaac Luria's theory of Tsimtsum), and this is probably an important clarification for those who have rubbed noses with the hidden face of God, but for the purposes of these notes it is enough that a point crystallised. This point was the crown of creation, the sephira Kether, and within Kether was contained all the unrealised potential of the creation. An aspect of Kether is the raw creative force of God which blasts into the creation like the blast of hot gas which keeps a hot air ballon in the air. Kabbalists are quite clear about this; the creation didn't just happen a long time ago - it is happening all the time, and without the force to sustain it the creation would crumple like a balloon. The force-like aspect within Kether is the sephira Chokhmah and it can be thought of as the will of God, because without it the creation would cease to *be*. The whole of creation is maintained by this ravening, primeval desire to *be*, to become, to exist, to change, to evolve. The experiential distinction between Kether, the point of emanation, and Chokhmah, the creative outpouring, is elusive, but some of the difference is captured in the phrases "I am" and "I become". Force by itself achieves nothing; it needs to be contained, and the balloon analogy is appropriate again. Chokhmah contains within it the necessity of Binah, the Mother of Form. The person who taught me Kabbalah (a woman) told me Chokhmah (Abba, the Father) was God's prick, and Binah (Aima, the mother) was God's womb, and left me with the picture of one half of God continuously ejaculating into the other half. The author of the Zohar also makes frequent use of sexual polarity as a metaphor to describe the relationship between force and form, or mercy and severity (although the most vivid sexual metaphors are used for the marriage of the Microprosopus and his bride, the Queen and Inferior Mother, the sephira Malkuth). The sephira Binah is the Mother of Form; form exists within Binah as a potentiality, not as an actuality, just as a womb contains the potential of a baby. Without the possibility of form, no thing would be distinct from any other thing; it would be impossible to distinguish between things, impossible to have individuality or identity or change. The Mother of Form contains the potential of form within her womb and gives birth to form when a creative impulse crosses the Abyss to the Pillar of Force and emanates through the sephira Chesed. Again we have the idea of "becoming", of outflowing creative energy, but at a lower level. The sephira Chesed is the point at which form becomes perciptible to the mind as an inspiration, an idea, a vision, that "Eureka!" moment immediately prior to rushing around shouting "I've got it! I've got it!" Chesed is that quality of genuine inspiration, a sense of being "plugged in" which characterises the visionary leaders who drive the human race onwards into every new kind of endeavour. It can be for good or evil; a leader who can tap the petty malice and vindictiveness in any person and channel it into a vision of a new order and genocide is just as much a visionary as any other, but the positive side of Chesed is the humanitarian leader who brings about genuine improvements to our common life. No change comes easy; as Cordova points out "everything wishes to remain what it is". The creation of form is balanced in the sephira Gevurah by the preservation and destruction of form. Any impulse of change is channelled through Gevurah, and if it is not resisted then something will be destroyed. If you want to make paper you cut down a tree. If you want to abolish slavery you have to destroy the culture which perpetuates it. If you want to change someone's mind you have to destroy that person's beliefs about the matter in question. The sephira Gevurah is the quality of strict judgement which opposes change, destroys the unfamiliar, and corresponds in many ways to an immune system within the body of God. There has to be a balance between creation and destruction. Too much change, too many ideas, too many things happening too quickly can have the quality of chaos (and can literally become that), whereas too little change, no new ideas, too much form and structure and protocol can suffocate and stifle. There has to be a balance which "makes sense" and this "idea of balance" or "making sense" is expressed in the sephira Tiphereth. It is an instinctive morality, and it isn't present by default in the human species. It isn't based on cultural norms; it doesn't have its roots in upbringing (although it is easily destroyed by it). Some people have it in a large measure, and some people are (to all intents and purposes) completely lacking in it. It doesn't necessarily respect conventional morality: it may laugh in its face. I can't say what it is in any detail, because it is peculiar and individual, but those who have it have a natural quality of integrity, soundness of judgement, an instinctive sense of rightness, justice and compassion, and a willingness to fight or suffer in defense of that sense of justice. Tiphereth is a paradoxical sephira because in many people it is simply not there. It can be developed, and that is one of the goals of initiation, but for many people Tiphereth is a room with nothing in it. Having passed through Gevurah on the Pillar of Form, and found its way through the moral filter of Tiphereth, a creative impulse picks up energy once more on the Pillar of Force via the Sephira Netzach, where the energy of "becoming" finds its final expression in the form of "vital urges". Why do we carry on living? Why bother? What is it that compels us to do things? An artist may have a vision of a piece of art, but what actually compels the artist to paint or sculpt or write? Why do we want to compete and win? Why do we care what happens to others? The sephira Netzach expresses the basic vital creative urges in a form we can recognise as drives, feelings and emotions. Netzach is pre-verbal; ask a child why he wants a toy and the answer will be "I just do". "But why," you ask, wondering why he doesn't want the much more "sensible" toy you had in mind. "Why don't you want this one here." "I just don't. I want this one." "But what's so good about that one." "I don't know what to say...I just like it." This conversation is not fictitious and is quintessentially Netzach. The structure of the Tree of Life posits that the basic driving forces which characterise our behaviour are pre-verbal and non-rational; anyone who has tried to change another person's basic nature or beliefs through force of rational argument will know this. After Netzach we go to the sephira Hod to pick up our last cargo of Form. Ask a child why they want something and they say "I just do". Press an adult and you will get an earful of "reasons". We live in a culture where it is important (often essential) to give reasons for the things we do, and Hod is the sephira of form where it is possible to give shape to our wants in terms of reasons and explanations. Hod is the sephira of abstraction, reason, logic, language and communication, and a reflection of the Mother of Form in the human mind. We have a innate capacity to abstract, to go immediately from the particular to the general, and we have an innate capacity to communicate these abstractions using language, and it should be clear why the alternative translation of Binah is "intelligence"; Binah is the "intelligence of God", and Hod underpins what we generally recognise as intelligence in people - the ability to grasp complex abstractions, reason about them, and articulate this understanding using some means of communication. The synthesis of Hod and Netzach on the Pillar of Consciousness is the sephira Yesod. Yesod is the sephira of interface, and the comparison with computer peripheral interfaces is an excellent one. Yesod is sometimes called "the Receptacle of the Emanations", and it interfaces the emanations of all three pillars to the sephira Malkuth, and it is through Yesod that the final abstract form of something is realised in matter. Form in Yesod is no longer abstract; it is explicit, but not yet individual - that last quality is reserved for Malkuth alone. Yesod is like the mold in a bottle factory - the mold is a realisation of the abstract idea "bottle" in so far as it expresses the shape of a particular bottle design in every detail, but it is not itself an individual bottle. The final step in the process is the sephira Malkuth, where God becomes flesh, and every abstract form is realised in actuality, in the "real world". There is much to say about this, but I will keep it for later. The process I have described is called the Lightning Flash. The Lightning Flash runs as follows: Kether, Chokhmah, Binah, Chesed, Gevurah, Tiphereth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth, and if you trace the Lighning Flash on a diagram of the Tree you will see that it has the zig-zag shape of a lightning flash. The sephiroth are numbered according to their order on the lightning flash: Kether is 1, Chokhmah is 2, and so on. The "Sepher Yetzirah"  has this to say about the sephiroth: "When you think of the ten sephiroth cover your heart and seal the desire of your lips to announce their divinity. Yoke your mind. Should it escape your grasp, reach out and bring it back under your control. As it was said, 'And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning,' in such a manner was the Covenant created." The quotation within the quotation comes from Ezekiel 1.14, a text which inspired a large amount of early Kabbalistic speculation, and it is probable that the Lightning Flash as described is one of the earliest components of the idea of sephirothic emanation. The Lightning Flash describes the creative process, beginning with the unknown, unmanifest hidden God, and follows it through ten distinct stages to a change in the material world. It can be used to describe *any* change - lighting a match, picking your nose, walking the dog - and novices are usually set the exercise of analysing any arbitrarily chosen event in terms of the Lightning Flash. Because the Lightning Flash can be used to understand the inner process whereby the material world of the senses changes and evolves, it is a key to practical magical work, and because it is intended to account for *all* change it follows that all change is equally magical, and the word "magic" is essentially meaningless (but nevertheless useful for distinguishing between "normal" and "abnormal" states of consciousness, and the modes of causality which pertain to each). It also follows that the key to understanding our "spiritual nature" does not belong in the spiritual empyrean, where it remains inaccessible, but in *all* the routine and unexciting little things in life. Everything is is equally "spiritual", equally "divine", and there is more to be learned from picking one's nose than there is in a spiritual discipline which puts you "here" and God "over there". The Lightning Flash ends in Malkuth, and it can be followed like a thread through the hidden pathways of creation until one arrives back at the source. The next chapter will retrace the Lightning Flash by examining the qualities of each sephira in more detail.  Scholem, Gershom G. "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism", Schoken Books 1974  Westcott, W. Wynn, ed. "Sepher Yetzirah". Many reprintings.
The Four Worlds & the Souls
The sephirothic Tree of Life presents a metaphor where creation takes place in ten steps and there is the suggestion that ten potencies (or emanations, or vessels, or garments, or crowns) are involved. There is an alternative picture where the creation takes place in four steps; this model is called "the Four Worlds". The four worlds can be mapped onto the Kabbalistic Tree, and the two models have become complementary. The four worlds are Atlizuth - the world of emanation or nearness Briah - the world of creation Yetzirah - the world of formation Assiah - the world of making The names of three of the four worlds can be found in Isaiah 43.7 where the Lord (speaking through the mouth of the prophet) states: "...for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him." It is interesting to compare the Kabbalistic four worlds with the neoplatonic scheme of Plotinus [ ], where we find a similar four- fold division into the One, the Divine Mind, the All-Soul and the Sensible World. A comparison can also be made with the "celestial hierarchies" of the gnostic Psuedo-Dionysus, where we find a super-celestial world of the Nous, the Real; a celestial (and potentially hostile) world of the demiurge, guardians and Archons; and the sub-lunary world of the elements. The Kabbalistic model of four worlds shares with both these alternative and older views an attempt to bridge the gap between the perfection of a transcendent Godhead and the finiteness and imperfection of the material world - it would seem inevitable for metaphysical speculation to attempt to bridge the gap between the two extremes. Atziluth is the world of pure emanation, the outflowing light of God which we see refracted through the glass of consciousness as the ten lights of the sephiroth. "To emanate" is to "flow out from", and Atziluth is the world which flows directly out of the infinite and unknowable En Soph. The word atziluth can be derived from the root ezel, meaning "near by", empasising the closeness of this world to the hidden, unmanifest En Soph. Another term used to describe the nature of the emanation is hamshakhah, "drawing out", with the suggestion that the emantion is only a part of something greater, just as we draw water from a well. The sephiroth as an expression of the Holy Names of God are normally attributed to Aztiluth and this is an indication that early Kabbalists viewed the pure energies of the sephiroth as being exceedingly remote, and inaccessible to normal consciousness. The world of Atziluth is remote from the world where it is possible to form representations of the sephiroth (Yezirah), and this tells us that the pictures of the sephirothic Tree normally employed for communication and instruction are representations of something unimaginable and incommunicable: we must constantly remember that the map is not the territory. Intellectually we know that sunlight is composed of a spectrum of colours, and even young children can draw a picture of a rainbow, but we do not see the colours in sunlight directly. We do not see the colours until the light is refracted in a shower of rain and it is worth bearing this in mind when considering the importance (or otherwise) of the sephirothic correspondences. Atziluth is the world of closeness or nearness to God, the world where one is bathed in the undifferentiated light. In the terminology of the Merkabah mystics, it is the world of the Throne. There is very little that one can usefully say about it. Briah is the world of creation, creation in the sense of "something out of nothing". The author of the Bahir makes the amusing observation that as light is an attribute of God, light did not have to be created, but was formed, "something out of something"; darkness, on the other hand, was not a part of God and had to be created. This ties in with the Kabbalistic notion of contraction, or tzimtzum, the idea that for the creation to proceed there had to be a space where God was not. If one also supposes that the ultimate nature of God is good, then one must also conclude that evil was created, that the goodness, light and peace of God were deliberately withheld in some measure to create the universe, and this reflects the separation of Kether into Chokhmah and Binah, the right and left sides of the manifest God. This is a key kabbalistic idea: the negative qualities of existence, the rigour and severity of God as depicted by the lefthand Pillar of the Tree of Life, are not the result of a malevolent third party - a diabolical anti-God fouling-up the works. They are the very essence of the creative act. The suggestion that the fundamental creative act was the creation of evil is not (for obvious reasons) given much prominance in Kabbalistic literature, but hints to this effect can be found everywhere. The Bahir uses the metaphor of gold and silver to make the point that the essence of the creative act was "holding back". That which was held back was so much greater than that which was given, and so that which was given, the mercy of God, is associated with silver, while that which was held back, the severity of God, is associated with gold. The essence of the creative act was the withholding of God, and nowhere have I found a suggestion that an entity other than God was involved - there is no demiurge in Kabbalah. The essence of the creative act was separation. One becomes two, Kether becomes Chokhmah and Binah, and in this primary duality can be found the root of all dualities. When I first began thinking about Briah, and I tried to make sense of the word "creation", I assumed that something tangible was created, and I found I could not differentiate the end result from formation - a rose is a rose whether it is created out of nothing or grown in a garden. Does it matter whether I make a cake miraculously by conjuring it out of nowhere, or whether I make it synthetically by mixing ingredients and baking them in an oven? I presume both cakes will taste the same. Synthetic creation, the creation of "something out of something" is commonplace, but miraculous creation is not, and if Briah is not the world of synthetic creation (which belongs properly in Yetzirah), then what does it represent? The creation which takes place in Briah is differentiation; that is, Briah predicates the *possibility* of creation. The creation which takes place in Briah is *not* the creation of anything tangible, but the creation of those necessary (but abstract and definitely intangible) conditions which make creation possible. It is difficult to find a good example without resorting to abstract forms of theoretical physics which attempt to answer questions concerning "why is the universe the way it is?", but the nature of Briah is elusive unless the attempt is made, and so I will make the attempt. Pottery is a creative activity, the creation of new and completely original forms out of clay and it is clearly synthetic creation. A potter wants to make a jug to hold water. Note the use of the word "make"; jug making is an activity which takes place in Assiah, the world of making. The potter may incorporate some novelty of design into the jug he or she is about to make, and if this novelty is sufficiently unusual we might consider the design itself to be creative - this is an example of Yetziratic creativity. Let us now go back through history to a remote time in the past when there were no jugs. Should the creation of the first jug be regarded as truely creative in the Briatic sense, rather than synthetically creative in the Yetziratic sense? I would say that the creation of the first jug would have been an evolution from past experience; there must have been an experience of "containment" which was almost certainly derived from cupping hands to drink water, or from drinking water held in pools in rocks. The idea for the first pottery jug was almost certainly derived from a prior experience of using a variety of artifacts to contain water, and all of these artifacts would have in common the quality of "containment". Containment would not be possible without the basic physical properties of the world we live in, such as the existence of individually identifiable objects extended in space with a specific shape. The abstract physical properties themselves would not be possible without...what? What was it that determined the most abstract properties of the world and made it possible for us to conceive of containment as an abstract property? In the terminology of Kabbalah, this takes place in Briah; the world of creation creates the conditions for form by providing differentiation and identity. This is an abstract concept, and difficult to grasp; Wittgenstein put his finger on the problem when he observed that the solution of the riddle of life in time and space lies outside time and space. Traditionally, Briah is the world of the archangels; these attributions vary greatly from period to period, and from writer to writer. The author uses the attributions given in Chapter ???. Yetzirah is the world of formation where complex forms are built synthetically, "something out of something", what I have previously called synthetic creation. We are not yet in the world of tangible things; to use an analogy I gave when describing the sephira Yesod, we are more in the world of bottle moulds than a world of glass bottles, and more accurately still, in the world where one designs bottle moulds for glass bottles. Yetzirah is a curious world, because its contents are both intangible and real. Money is an example of an abstraction that people will kill over. Criminal law is something clearly abstract and synthetic in nature, but not something to meddle with too often. Several times in these notes I have attempted to point out the "real but intangible" nature of mathematical objects, with computer programs being the most important examples; the development of virtual reality systems drives home the point that there is a world of objects which are not real in the sense of being physical, but they are real in another sense: they are real in the sense that they can be differentiated in some way, real in the sense of having specific properties and behaviour. The world of intangible but differentiated objects is the world that Kabbalists call Yetzirah, and it is a world that spans thought, from slippery abstractions like beauty and truth down to something as specific and detailed as an engineering blueprint. It is difficult to write about Yetzirah because it contains the whole of human culture; our myths, legends, music, poetry, law, cultural behaviour, literature, sciences, games, and so on; these fall into the "intangible but real" category - things which have no substance but which constitute our inheritance and define our experience of being human. It is a kind of "mind-space" where all the forms ever conceived can be found, a space where it is possible to interact with form. One of the most interesting developments in recent times is the realisation that it is becoming possible to bridge the gap between Yetzirah and Assiah using computer technology, and the term "cyberspace" is widely used to describe this idea. Computer programs have become the medium for turning form into something that can be shared; a program which defines a jug in all its respects allows us to share the form of the jug without any potter having to get her hands dirty. It isn't a real jug, and it won't hold real water, but it can hold the form of water, the Yetziratic representation of liquidity, and I could pour Yetziratic "water" out of my Yetziratic "jug". The fact that we can share the form of an object without having to *make* it (and this is increasingly the way industrial designers work today) means that humans will have the ability to interact in Yetzirah (as magicians have always done) without any form of magical training. Writing was the first breakthrough in recording the contents of Yetzirah and it gave the contents an independent (if static) existence. Cyberspace will be an even greater breakthrough in that it will not only record the contents, it will enable us to bring them to life in a limited way. Yetzirah is in the process of "becoming real". The world of Yetzirah is traditionally the realm of the Angel Orders, but like the Archangels, the attribution to specific sephiroth vary greatly from writer to writer. Assiah is the world of making, the world where forms "become real". The essential quality of the "world of making" that permits us to make things is stability, the fact that the material world has stable properties and behaves in a predictable way. Our sciences are an outcome of this predictability - there would be no science if there were no stable properties. Our technology is an outcome of our scientific knowledge, and our ability to make increasingly complex artifacts is an outcome of our technology. If I make a chair at lunchtime, then (left to itself) it will still be a chair at dinnertime, and it won't be a towel, a giraffe, or an igloo. An ounce of gold remains an ounce of gold. A pound of lead weighs the same on each successive day of the week. It is this stability and predictability which allows us to have a shared experience of the world. If you place the pound of lead on the chair I made at lunchtime, then I will find the same pound of lead on the same chair at dinnertime, and both of us can behave with some confidence that this will indeed be the case. An unstable world where you leave a pound of lead on a chair, and I find a hedgehog in a goldfish bowl, and this happens in a completely unpredictable way would not, in my opinion, be a world of shared experience - each person would have their own individual and private experience of the world, and we would have a world more resembling Yetzirah than Assiah. The stability and predictability of Assiah forms the rock on which we have build our material culture of "things" - millions of different types of thing - screws, nails, tools, books, hairbrushes, trouser presses, shoes, pens, paper ... list goes on almost indefinitely. It is interesting to ask whether any life could be sustained in a world with less stability; we know living organisms have a distressing tendency to die when their environment changes. It is also interesting to speculate whether life could exist in a more predictable world, and we must consider the possibility that our world is unpredictable in ways we do not appreciate because we have no other experience to compare with. Perhaps there are more predictable worlds which are too predictable and mechanical for life - I am reminded of the Zoharic myth of the kings of Edom, the kingdoms of "unbalanced force" which contained a preponderance of Din, judgement and were destroyed. If this is so, then it is probable the properties of the Assiah we know and love are necessary in a deep and fundamental way. I have a somewhat mystical perspective that the godhead, the root of existence, had an urge to become conscious of itself, and the cosmogenic descriptions in Kabbalah, of which the "four worlds" model forms a part, are an attempt the show the necessary steps for this to take place, with Assiah being a final and necessary step. The problems of living in a finite world suffering the attendent ills of the flesh has lead to some prejudice against Assiah, but there is nothing "wrong" with Assiah. What we perceive to be its imperfections are necessary components of its perfection. Everything is right with Assiah; if there is a flaw in the creation, it is that when "God wished to behold God" and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge it did not become conscious of its own nature. It was seduced by the beauty of Assiah, overwhelmed by the miracle of its own making, and the Yetziratic consciousness, which should have united the worlds of Assiah and Briah, turned away from Briah and faced Assiah exclusively, creating the Abyss. The four worlds can be related to the sephirothic Tree, and there are many ways of doing this. There is general agreement that Atziluth corresponds to Kether, Briah to Chokhmah and Binah, Yetzirah to the next six sephiroth, and Assiah to Malkuth. This is too simple however. The four worlds represent four distinct "realms" of consciousness, and there is more in this idea than a simple attribution to sephiroth. Out of the many ways of presenting the four worlds I will present two schemes which I consider to offer more in the way of real, useful substance than other schemes I am familiar with. There is no question of "rightness" or "wrongness" - any map, unless it is grossly or maliciously misleading, is bound to contain some useful information. It is a question of how useful the map is, and in my opinion the following attributions of the four worlds to the Tree are outstandingly useful and enrich the basic sephirothic Tree considerably. The first attribution relates the four worlds to a single Tree; the second makes use of four separate Trees and is called "The Extended Tree". The first attribution begins with a small amount of simple geometry, and if you have not done this before then it is well worth doing. Draw a vertical line on piece of paper. At the top of the line place the needle of a pair of compasses and draw a circle with a diameter approximately half that of the length of the line. Without altering the compasses, draw a second circle where the first intersects the line. Repeat this for the second circle, and then for the third. You now have a line and four intersecting circles. Label the centre of the first circle "Kether", the second "Daath", the third "Tiphereth", and the fourth "Yesod". It should be obvious where to place Malkuth, and the rest of the sephiroth can be placed at the intersection points of the four circles. The four circles represent the four worlds. The first circle, Atziluth, is centred on Kether, reaches up into the Unmanifest, takes in Chokhmah and Binah, and reaches down to Daath. It is entirely on the other side of the Abyss. The second circle, Briah, is centred in Daath, reaches up as far as Kether and down as far as Tiphereth, and takes in Chokhmah, Binah, Chesed and Gevurah. The third circle, Yetzirah, is centred in Tiphereth and reaches from Daath to Yesod, and includes Chesed, Gevurah, Netzach and Hod, the six sephiroth traditionally associated with Zoar Anpin, the Lesser Countenance or Microprosopus. The final circle is centred in Yesod and reaches from Tiphereth to Malkuth, taking in the sephiroth Netzach and Hod. This is shown in Fig X. Note that most sephira can be found in more than one world, and this is an important point: the worlds *overlap*. There is a subtle but real distinction between Hod in Assiah and Hod in Yetzirah. The sephira Tiphereth can be experienced in three distinct ways, depending on whether one's vantage point is that of Assiah, Yetzirah or Briah. These are not intellectual distinctions, and an example would be the ways in which one can experience Tiphereth as the King of Assiah, as the Sacrificed God of Yetzirah, or as the Child of Briah (refer to the magical images for Tiphereth). The worlds overlap, but they are distinct, almost like social strata which co-mingle but are nevertheless clearly defined. The upper middle-class nineteenth century household, with its "upstairs" and "downstairs", is a good example of two completely distinct but co-mingling strata. There are ways of trying to articulate this, but they obscure as much as they reveal; I was taught that in going from one world to the next there is a "polarity switch", so that one might regard Assiah as negative, Yetzirah as positive, Briah as negative once more, and Atziluth as positive. This idea can be related to the Tetragrammaton, where the Yod corresponds to Atziluth, He to Briah, Vau to Yetzirah, and He final to Assiah: this points a finger at the deep relationship between Briah and Assiah. Just what a "polarity switch" might be I leave to the reader to explore - there is no way I could attempt to describe this. The second scheme for representing the four worlds is based on the tradition that each of the four worlds contains its own Tree, and these are sometimes shown strung out with the Kether of the world below intersecting the Malkuth of the world above. This is not a very illuminating arrangement, and there is an alternative arrangement called "the Extended Tree" which will require some more draughtmanship to appreciate. Use the "four circles" method for drawing a Tree described earlier, and draw four identical Trees on clear acetate film; an even better method is to draw the Tree once and photocopy it four times onto acetate - any copy bureau should be able to do this. Now observe that the Tree contains two diamond shapes which I will call (incorrectly, as it happens, but it is a useful convention) "the upper face" and "the lower face". The upper face is bounded by the sephiroth Kether, Chokhmah, Binah and Tiphereth; the lower by the sephiroth Tiphereth, Netzach, Hod and Malkuth. Now take your four identical transparencies, label them from Atziluth to Assiah, and lay the lower face of Atziluth over the upper face of Briah, the lower face of Briah over the upper face of Yetzirah, and the lower face of Yetzirah over the upper face of Assiah. You should now have a single, large Tree, some times called "Jacob's Ladder" for reasons which should be obvious when you look at it. The Extended Tree makes clear the dynamics of the four worlds, and is probably the most useful Kabbalistic map you are likely to find. It provides a map of the four worlds, and a method for representing the sephirothic correspondences for each world, and it shows how the worlds overlap and interpenetrate. The representation of the four worlds on a single Tree (given previously) is consistent with the Extended Tree, but the Extended Tree is considerably more useful in that it provides the Kabbalist with a powerful new map - it is like going from a large-scale map of a whole country to a series of detailed, overlapping small-scale maps. The worlds of overlap are Yetzirah and Briah, and in these worlds the sephira Hod overlaps the sephira Binah, the sephira Netzach overlaps the sephira Chokhmah, and the sephira Yesod overlaps Daath. When one makes the polarity switch from one world to the next, then one sephira becomes another; for example, Binah in Assiah, the "Intelligence" of the body, becomes the Hod of Yetzirah, the capacity for abstraction. The mystery of Daath can be fathomed by flipping to the world above, where it becomes its Yesod. The king who wears the crown (Kether) of Assiah becomes the Sacrificed God of Yetzirah in Tiphereth, and is reborn in the Malkuth of Briah as the Child. The four worlds should not be viewed as an arbitrary four-fold "graduation" of the Tree, with little additional content. There is a great deal of experiential worth in this scheme, and it reflects real and important changes in consciousness which can be observed in practice. This is one of several holistic views of the Tree that concentrates less on the sephiroth and paths, and more on its deep structure. I must emphasise that the Extended Tree is not another piece of pretty Kabbalah for the armchair Kabbalist to indulge in, and I say this because there is tendency for many who study Kabbalah to become lost in the pretty patterns. The Vision of Splendour is the curse of those who like pretty patterns. To use the Extended Tree effectively it is necessary to have integrated the model of the sephiroth into one's internal awareness, and be capable of observing (relatively) subtle changes in consciousness - it is pointless having an exceedingly detailed map when one is too short-sighted to observe the countryside as it passes! For this reason I will say no more about the extended Tree. I have stated that the four worlds represented "realms of consciousness", and in support of this view Kabbalah contains a view of the soul which integrates with the four worlds. My interpretation of the word soul is firstly, that it is a vehicle for a particular kind of consciousness, and secondly, it carries with it the connotation of individuality or uniqueness, so that I can imagine my souls as encapsulating, in different realms, that which is unique to me. In Kabbalah there are five parts to the soul. The sephira Binah is the Mother of souls, the letter associated with Binah is He, and the number associated with He is five. The five souls are: Yechidah - uniqueness Chiah - vitality Neshamah - breath soul proper Ruach - wind-spirit intellectual spirit Nephesh - soul vital spirit/soul The attribution to the four worlds is Briah - Neshamah Ruach - Yetzirah Nephesh - Assiah The precise difference between Yechidah, Chiah and Neshamah is unclear; Kaplan gives the following attribution: Yechidah - Kether Chiah - Chokhmah Binah - Neshamah For practical purposes only the Nephesh, Ruach and Neshamah need be considered, and the bulk of the discussion will refer to this trio. The Nephesh is the animal soul, the "soul of the body". Animals possess this soul, and as human beings are animals, we share this inheritance. The Nephesh is concerned with the needs of the body - hunger, pleasure, rest, sexual satisfaction, social status etc. In many cultures, if a person is asked where their soul resides, they will not point to their head: they point to their heart. The Secret of the Golden Flower provides a description of the animal soul: "This heart is dependent on the outside world. If a man does not eat for one day even, it feels extremely uncomfortable. If it hears something terrifying, it throbs; if it hears something enraging it stops; if it is faced with death it becomes sad; if it sees something beautiful it is dazzled." Note the close identification with the body and its feelings. Kabbalists believe the Nephesh comes into being when we are born, and it decays with the body when we die. According to widespread belief, women are more attuned to the body soul than men, and the Nephesh is sometimes depicted as being feminine; whether this is simply sexual stereotyping must remain an open question. The Nephesh is associated with Assiah, the world of making, and this emphasises its close link with the material world, and the body itself. The Ruach is the rational soul, and is associated with air or wind (the word literally means air), and with the world of Yetzirah. Traditionally, the Ruach was not seen as something that one was given automatically; in the words of Scholem, it was a "post-natal increment". It is the case that some people live almost exclusively according to physical needs, and others spend a great deal of time finding a rational basis for their behaviour, but I do not think there is any evidence for a discontinuity, and I think we must assume that the Ruach is everywhere present in some measure. What can be said is that a level of consciousness represented by Ruach exists in varying degrees from person to person. The Ruach is based on the ability to create abstract models of the world in conciousness and reflect on them, so that while a hungry Nephesh might grab a whole pizza and consume it without a moments thought, the Ruach might reflect on the activity of pizza-eating in the context of "Do unto others..." and conclude that sharing it might be a Good Thing. We see here the basis for morality, the ability to make a conscious choice between good and evil, and it is here that the Ruach is elevated above the Nephesh in the eyes of traditional Kabbalah. This ignores the possibility that the Ruach might well knock the Nephesh over the head (making an impeccable ethical case, well argued) and not only grab the whole of the pizza, but attempt to corner the market in Mozarella. If we ignore the questionable value of being able to reflect on the morality of our decisions, we are still left with the ability to reflect; we have the ability to reflect on ourselves, perhaps even to reflect ourselves, and create a "self-image". The Nephesh lacks this ability to reflect upon itself - I have never seen an adult cat study itself in a mirror. Because the Ruach can reflect upon itself, and create a self image, it can become an entity in its own right, perhaps even dissociating itself from the body and its needs, perhaps even producing someone who feels guilt at indulging in the "sins of the flesh". We find the "spiritual" person who cannot accept their physicality and lives in hope of achieving a mythical dreamland. We have millions of people reflecting upon themselves and concluding that they are "wrong" in some way - the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong age, and other people trying to manipulate our language to fix a problem that is unlikely ever to go away in a culture hedged around with so many taboos - sex, death, danger, natural religious expression, pain. It is unlikely that someone who thinks they are the wrong size is going to ever feel good about themselves as long as they view the body as a means to an end, a vehicle, a carriage which conveys them through life, a fashion accessory. There are strong taboos connected anything which points too directly towards our physical and animal nature. My own view of the Ruach is profoundly negative. Our culture develops this single aspect of consciousness to such an absurd degree that the Ruach is incapable of forming a sensible notion concerning either the Nephesh or Neshamah, and turning its face away from both the lower and higher worlds, becomes obsessed with its own creations. The Ruach has a tendency to reduce the body to an object and often lives a life completely at odds with the needs of the Nephesh. Where there is a spiritual aspiration, the Ruach produces a monstrous and bloated reflection, "itself-made- perfect", and aspires towards this caricature of itself. The Ruach is a patchwork monster, a grotesque reflection of its creator, and it lurches about the world trying to make sense of what is happening, sometimes playing like a child, sometimes leaving a trail of destruction. It is the king that needs to be slain, the god that must be sacrificed. The Neshamah is the Breath of God. In the Bible it states "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul". The "breath of life" is the Neshamah, and unlike the Nephesh and the Ruach it is a gift from God, and the source of our ability to intuit the realm of the divine. It is difficult to write about the Neshamah. The Ruach tends to idealise the Neshamah, and in the absence of a genuine contact projects a distorted reflection of itself. An attempt to describe the Neshamah encourages the creation of such reflections. A characteristic of the World of Briah, to which the Neshamah is attributed, is that it is beyond space and time, and from the point of view of those living in space and time the Neshamah has an eternal quality of being...just being. It is the hub around which the wheel of personality turns. As we live our lives, we change, but something at the centre of our being does not change. The magician Aleister Crowley wrote about "True Will", and while this concept is no easier to grasp than the Neshamah, both refer to a part of us that exists outside of the ebb and flow of life in the mundane world. Writing about the three souls, Crowley comments: "The Neschamah is that aspiration which in most men is no more than a void and a voiceless longing. It becomes articulate only when it compels the Ruach to interpret it. The Nephesch, or animal soul, is not the body itself; the body is excremental, of the Qlippoth or shells. The Nephesch is that coherent brute which animates it, from the reflexes to the highest forms of conscious activity. These again are only cognizable when they translate themselves to the Ruach. The Ruach lastly is the machine of the mind converging on a central consciousness, which appears to be the ego. The true ego, is however, above Neschamah, whose occasional messages to the Ruach warn the human ego of the existence of his superior. Such communications may be welcomed or resented, encouraged or stifled." The relationship between the Neshamah and the Holy Guardian Angel is unclear. What can be said is that in many cases people approach Neshamah through the medium of an entity which acts as an intermediary between the Ruach and the Neshamah. There is no doubt that in many cases the HGA is the Ruach's own idealised projection, but that does not invalidate the notion that it is capable of linking the two levels of consciousness. The HGA is associated with the sephira Tiphereth, the point on the Pillar of Consciousness where Briah overlaps with Yetzirah. A discussion of souls carries with it, far more so than any of the Kabbalalistic framework discussed so far, the temptation to indulge in metaphysical speculation. Traditional Kabbalah is filled with this, and there is much speculation on the origin of souls, the nature of souls, the fate of the soul, reincarnation, and so on. This traditional material is adequately presented elsewhere: I feel public speculation on such topics is counterproductive as it simply provides more material for the never-ceasing elaborations of the Ruach. In Kabbalah there is a view that if there is a defect in the creation, it is a result of separating that which should have been united. I have made my views on the Ruach clear, that here is a level of consciousness which has turned inwards and no longer carries out its task of mediating between higher and lower. A trace of this attitude can be found in the quotation from Crowley above, where one can detect a negative attitude towards both the body and the Nephesh. In the main, Kabbalah has a very positive attitude towards living in the world; the world, far from being the "dead matter" of the Neoplatonists, was infused with the Shekhinah, the indwelling presence of God. In some traditions one sees people turning away from the world and mundane life and seeking a "world of the spirit". In Kabbalah the world and God are two poles of the same thing, and the purpose of the Kabbalist is to bring God into the world, and take the world back to God. I say this to emphasise an important point: the Neshamah is not higher than the Nephesh, the body is not something divorced from spirit. These are ideas which create the separation the Kabbalist tries to overcome. The world, the souls, and god are links in a chain, and there is no higher or lower, spiritual or mundane - they are all parts of the same thing. Plotinus, "The Enneads", Penguin Books 1991
BOOKS by Colin Low
About the Author
Colin Low was born in Scotland in 1951 and attended 14 schools in Scotland, Nyasaland and Australia. In spite of this erratic education he studied physics at the University of Western Australia and graduated with first class honours in 1972. He went on to study star formation at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, UK. His entire professional life has revolved around computers, with four years as a consultant, 9 years as a lecturer in Computer Science at the University of London, and 13 years as an industrial researcher with Hewlett Packard. He has authored several academic papers and is named as inventor on 27 patents.
Colin has three sons, who make him feel outrageously proud.
Kabbalah has been a life-long passion. He began to take an interest in
1968, and studied and practiced it informally in a number of small groups
before meeting a teacher in 1978. He studied and worked with her until her
death in the early 90s.
More information about the author (and pictures) is available
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is one of the most familiar of the Sacred Geometry Symbols. The structure of the Tree of Life is connected to the sacred teachings of the Jewish Kabbalah but can be seen in other traditions such as the ancient Egyptian.
The Tree of Life is explained in Sefer Yetzira ("Book of Creation").
The book explained the creation as a process involving the 10 divine
numbers (sefirot) of God the Creator and the 22 letters of the Hebrew
alphabet. The 10 sefirot together with the 22 letters constitute the "32
paths of secret wisdom".
The Tree of Life pendant forms the key to God's original creation. The
pendant fits exactly to the Seed of Life and the Flower of Life.
The Tree of Life is used as a sign of unity and love.
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