Notes on Kabbalah 

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The author retains both the right and intention to modify and extend
these Notes. 

Release 2.0      
Copy date: 17th. Jan 1992 

Copyright Colin Low 1992 (cal@hplb.hpl.hp.com)


Chapter 1.: 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 

     -  high  pressure steam in the cylinder of  a  steam  engine 
     provides a force.  The engine is a form which constrains the 

     -  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 

     -  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 

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 
     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             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /                    \                  
                   /                      \            
               Capacity                   Raw                          
               to take  ________________ Energy
                          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             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
               Capacity       |           Raw                          
               to take  _____________ Energy/Force
                Form          |
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                          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   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
              Consciousness   |      Consciousness                     
                   of  ________________   of  
                  Form        |       Energy/Force
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                            of the
                          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             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
               Capacity       |           Raw                          
               to take  _____________ Energy/Force
                Form          |
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
              Consciousness   |      Consciousness                     
                   of  ________________   of  
                  Form        |       Energy/Force
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                            of the
                          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 
     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            
                     /        |         \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
                Language      |         Emotions                     
                 Reason       |         Feelings  
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                      \   Perception   /
                           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             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
               Capacity       |           Raw                          
               to take  _____________ Energy/Force
                Form          |            |
                  |\          |           /|
                  | \         |          / |
                  |   \       |        /   |
             Destruction      |        Creation
                 of_____\_____|_____ /____of
                Form     \    |     /    Form
                  | \     \   |    /    /  | 
                  |  \     \  |   /    /   | 
                  |   \ Consciousness /    |      
                  |          of            |                 
                  |  /  Consciousness   \  |                                
                  | /         |          \ |                
                  |/          |           \|           
              Consciousness   |      Consciousness                     
                   of  ________________   of  
                \ Form        |       Energy/Force
                 \ \          |           / /
                  \ \         |          / /
                  \  \        |         /  /
                   \    Consciousness     /
                   \         of           /
                    \     the World      /
                     \                  /
                      \       |        /
                       \      |       /
                        \     |      /
                          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)   /
                     \                 /
                      \       |       /
                       \      |      /
                        \     |     /
                           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.

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