Notes on Kabbalah 

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Release 2.0     
Copy date: 15th. January 1992

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


Chapter 4: The Sephiroth (continued)
     This  chapter  provides a detailed look at each of  the  ten 
sephiroth  and  draws together material scattered  over  previous 


     "Nothing is left to you at this moment but to burst out into 
     a loud laugh"
                    From "The Spirit of Zen"

     The sephira Tiphereth lies at the heart of the Tree of Life, 
and like Rome all paths lead to it.  Well, not all, but Tiphereth 
has  a  path linking it to every sephira with  the  exception  of 
Malkuth.  If  the Tree of Life is a map then the  sephira  titled 
Tiphereth,  Beauty,  or Rachamin,  Compassion, clearly represents 
something of central importance.  What does it represent? Can you 
imagine in your mind's eye what it might be? Do you feel anything 
within  you when you contemplate Tiphereth?  If asked  could  you 
define  what it stands for?  Well,  if you can do any or  all  of 
these things you are almost certainly barking up the wrong  Tree. 
As Alan Watts comments [1]:
     "The method of Zen is to baffle,  excite, puzzle and exhaust 
     the intellect until it is realised that intellection is only 
     thinking  *about*;  it  will  provoke,  irritate  and  again 
     exhaust  the emotions until it is realised that  emotion  is 
     only  feeling  *about*,  and then  it  contrives,  when  the 
     disciple  has been brought to an intellectual and  emotional 
     impasse,  to  bridge the gap between second-hand  conceptual 
     contact with reality, and first-hand experience."

The  sephira  Tiphereth presents the student of Kabbalah  with  a 
conundrum. Whatever you say it is, it isn't; whatever you imagine 
it to be it isn't; whatever you feel it might be, it isn't; it is 
an empty room. There is nothing there. The modes of consciousness 
appropriate  to  Hod,  Yesod  and Netzach  respectively  are  not 
appropriate to something which is clearly and unambiguously shown 
on the Tree as being distinct from all three.  So what is it? The 
student  is told that the Virtue of Tiphereth is Devotion to  the 
Great  Work.  What  is this "Great Work"?  The  student  is  told 
solemnly that in order to find the answer he or she should obtain 
the Spiritual Experience of Tiphereth, which is the Knowledge and 
Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.  So the student runs off 
and  duely reports (after some work in the library perhaps)  that 
the Great Work is the raising of a human being in every aspect to 
perfection.  Or  it is the saving of the planet  from  industrial 
pollution.  Or it is the retrieval and perpetuation of knowledge, 
or  perhaps  it  is the spiritual  redemption  of  humanity.  The 
student  then burns enough frankincense to pay off  the  Somalian 
national  debt,  records  endless  conversations  with  the  Holy 
Guardian  Angel  in the magical record,  and  impresses  all  and 
sundry  with  an unbending commitment to  the  Great  Work.  This 
enthusiasm,  commitment,  personal  sacrifice and sense of  moral 
purpose  leads  to the development of a special kind  of  person: 
pious,  preaching,  judgemental,  a humble servant of the highest 
powers  with a blind spot of intolerance.  Those who inhabit  the 
vicinity  of such moral incandescence may have reason  to  recall 
that the Vice of Tiphereth is self-importance and pride.
     A  student  can  spend  years  running  around  in  circles, 
bringing  to  the  planet  the  benefits  of  advanced  spiritual 
consciousness,  and this seems to be a necessary exercise. People 
need  to sweat various personal obsessions out of their  systems, 
and  the empty room of Tiphereth is an excellent set on which  to 
act out a personal drama. If the devotion to the Work is genuine, 
and  if  Tiphereth  and  the HGA are  invoked  with  passion  and 
determination, then sooner or later the hand of fate lends a hand 
and the student has the shit knocked out in a big way. An attempt 
to  penetrate  the nature of Tiphereth does seem to  bring  about 
that  state  which the Greeks  called  "hubris",  an  overweening 
arrogance,   self-importance  and  pride,  until  eventually  the 
inevitable  happens  and one's life comes  crashing  down  around 
one's ears.  The resulting mess varies from person to person;  in 
some  people every idea about what is important is turned  upside 
down,   while  in  others  an  emotional  attachment  to  habits, 
lifestyle, possessions or relationships turns to dust. The daemon 
of the false self is dealt a massive blow and sent  reeling,  and 
in that moment there is a chance for real change and the  dawning 
of the golden sun of Tiphereth.
     This  is how I interpret the word "initiation":  there is  a 
state  of  being represented by the sephirah Tiphereth  which  is 
absolutely  distinct from what most people experience  as  normal 
consciousness.  Once  attained  the change  is  irreversible  and 
permanent;  it  causes  a  permanent change in the  way  life  is 
experienced.  When it occurs it is recognised instantly for  what 
it is...as if every cell in one's body shouted simultaneously "So 
*that's*  all  there  is  to it!"  This  state  has  been  widely 
documented  in  many parts of the world,  and  Alan  Watts'  book 
(referenced  below) is as guarded and explicit on the subject  as 
any worthwhile book is likely to be.

     The  symbolism  of  Tiphereth  is  three-fold:   a  king,  a 
sacrificed   god,   and  a  child.   This  three-fold   symbolism 
corresponds  to  Tiphereth's place on the extended  Tree  (to  be 
explained  in  a later chapter),  where it appears as  Kether  of 
Assiah, Tiphereth of Yetzirah, and Malkuth of Briah, and to these 
three aspects correspond the king,  the sacrificed god,  and  the 
child  respectively.  One interpretation of this symbolism is  as 
follows:  if the kingdom is to be redeemed then the king (who  is 
also  the son of God - see below) must be  sacrificed,  and  from 
this sacrifice comes a rebirth as a child.  This is a metaphor of 
initiation. It is also markedly Christian in symbolism, an aspect 
many explicitly Christian Kabbalists have not failed to elaborate 
upon,  but  it  would be a mistake to make too much  out  of  the 
apparent Christian symbolism. The king, the child and the son are 
synonyms  for  Tiphereth in the  earliest  Kabbalistic  documents 
(e.g. the Zohar), and the introduction of divine kingship and the 
sacrificed  god  into  modern Kabbalah owes a  lot  more  to  the 
publication  of  "The Golden Bough" [2] in 1922 than it  does  to 
     The  theme of death and rebirth is an important  element  in 
many esoteric traditions,  and provides continuity between modern 
Kabbalah  and  the  mystery  religions  and  initiations  of  the 
Mediterranean  basin.  The initiatory rituals of the Golden  Dawn 
[3],  an  organisation  which did much to  reawaken  interest  in 
Kabbalah,  were  loosely inspired by the Eleusinian mysteries  of 
Demeter  and  Persephone  - at least to extent  that  the  Temple 
officers   were  named  after  the  principal  officers  of   the 
Eleusinian mysteries.  The Golden Dawn Tiphereth initiation  was, 
like most Golden Dawn rituals,  a witch's brew of symbolism,  but 
it was strongly based on the mysteries of the crucifixion and the 
resurrection - at one point the aspirant was actually lashed to a 
cross - and took place in a symbolic reconstruction of the  vault 
and  tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz.   The following  extract  [3] 
gives the flavour of the thing:

     "Buried with that Light in a mystical death, rising again in 
     a mystical resurrection,  cleansed and purified through  Him 
     our Master, O Brother of the Cross and the Rose. Like Him, O 
     Adepts  of  all  ages,  have ye toiled.  Like  Him  have  ye 
     suffered  tribulation.  Poverty,  torture and death have  ye 
     passed through.  They have been but the purification of  the 

Gold is a Tiphereth symbol,  being the metal of Shemesh, the Sun, 
which  also corresponds to Tiphereth.  Gold is incorruptible  and 
symbolises  a  state of being which is not "base"  or  "corrupt"; 
again, it is a symbol of initiation, of a state of being compared 
to which normal consciousness is corruptible dross.
     I do not wish to go any further into this kind of  symbolism 
- there is an awful lot of it.  It is possible to write at  great 
length  and succeed in doing nothing more than losing the  reader 
in  a web of symbolism so dense and sticky that the  inner  state 
one is pointing at becomes a sterile thing of words and  symbols. 
I  wanted  to  provide an idea of how a large  amount  of  exotic 
symbolism  has accreted around Tiphereth,  but that is  all.  The 
state  indicated  by  Tiphereth  is  real  enough,   and  lashing 
comfortably-off  middle-class  aspirants to a cross in  a  wooden 
vault  at the local Masonic Hall and prattling on about  poverty, 
torture and death is somewhat wide of the mark.
     In   the   traditional  Kabbalah  the   sephira   Tiphereth 
corresponds to something called Zoar Anpin, the Microprosopus, or 
Lesser Countenance. As might be expected, there is also something 
called Arik Anpin, the Macroprosopus, or Greater Countenance, and 
this  is  often used as a synonym for  the  sephira  Kether.  The 
symbology  connected with the Greater and Lesser Countenances  is 
extremely complex:  the "Greater Holy Assembly" [4],  one of  the 
books  of  the Zohar,  is largely a detailed description  of  the 
cranium, the eyes, the cheeks, and the hairs in the beard of both 
the  Greater  and  Lesser Countenances.  In  a  crude  sense  the 
Macroprosopus is God,  and the Microprosopus is man made in God's 
image,   hence  the  symbolism,  but  this  is  too  simple.  The 
Microprosopus is also the archetypal man Adam Kadmon,  a mystical 
concept  which  should not be confused with a real  human  being. 
Adam Kadmon is androgynous,  male and female,  Adam-and-Eve in  a 
pre-manifest,  pre-Fall state of divine perfection. The symbology 
of the Macroprosopus,  Microprosopus,  and Adam Kadmon appears to 
exist independently of the concept of sephirothic emanation,  and 
it  is  probably  fair to say that the  former  was  more  highly 
developed during the Zoharic period of Kabbalah, while the latter 
is  used almost exclusively at the present time - I have  yet  to 
encounter   a  modern  Kabbalist  with  much  insight  into   the 
thirteen parts of the beard of the Macroprosopus.
     Another rich set of symbols associated with Tiphereth  comes 
from  the divine name of four letters YHVH,  usually  written  as 
Jehovah or Yahweh. The letter Yod is associated with the supernal 
father  Chokhmah,  and  the  letter He  is  associated  with  the 
supernal mother Binah.  The letter Vov is associated with the son 
of the mother and father,  and is both the Microprosopus and  the 
sephira Tiphereth.  The final He is associated with the  daughter 
(and bride of the son),  the sephira Malkuth.  Tiphereth is  thus 
the "child" of Chokhmah and Binah,  and also "the son of God". In 
Hebrew the letter Vov can represent the number 6, and in Kabbalah 
this  refers to Chesed,  Gevurah,  Tiphereth,  Netzach,  Hod  and 
Yesod,  the  six  sephiroth which correspond to states  of  human 
consciousness and hence also to the Microprosopus. With a typical 
Kabbalistic  flexibility they can also stand for the six days  of 
     The illusion of Tiphereth is Identification.  When a  person 
is asked "what are you",  they will usually begin with statements 
like  "I am a human being",  "I am a lorry driver",  "I  am  Fred 
Bloggs",  "I  am five foot eleven".  If pressed further a  person 
might begin to enumerate personal qualities and behaviours: "I am 
trustworthy",   "I  lose  my  temper a  lot",  "I  am  afraid  of 
heights",  "I love chessecake",  "I hate dogs".  It is  extremely 
common for people to identify what they are with the totality  of 
their beliefs and behaviours,  and they will defend the  sanctity 
of  these beliefs and behaviours,  often to the death - a  person 
might  have behaviours which make their life a misery  and  still 
cling to them with a grip like a python.  This inability to stand 
back and see behaviour or beliefs in an impersonal way produces a 
peculiar  ego-centricity:  the  sense  of  personal  identity  is 
founded  on  a set of beliefs and behaviours  which  are  largely 
unconscious  (that  is,   a  person  may  be  unaware  of   being 
grotesquely selfish, or pompous, or attention-getting) and at the 
same time seem to be uniquely special and sacred.  When behaviour 
and  beliefs  are unconscious and incorporated into  a  sense  of 
identity it becomes impossible to make sense of other people.  If 
I  am  unaware  that  I  regularly  slip  little  put-downs  into 
my  conversation,  and Joe takes umbrage at my sense  of  humour, 
then  rather  than change my behaviour (which is  unconscious)  I 
interpret the result as "Joe doesn't have a sense of  humour;  he 
needs  to  learn to laugh a little".  There are  many  behaviours 
which  may seem innocuous to the person concerned but  which  are 
irritating  or offensive to others,  and when the  injured  party 
reacts  appropriately  it is impossible for me to make  sense  of 
this reaction if my behaviour is unconscious and tightly bound to 
my sense of identity.  Our sense of identity thus becomes a  kind 
of   "Absolute"  against  which  everything  is   compared,   and 
judgements about the world become absolute and almost  impossible 
to change,  even when we realise intellectually the  subjectivity 
of our position.  Referring to this projection of the unconscious 
onto the world Jung [5] comments:  
     "The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his 
     environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is 
     now only an illusory one.  Projections change the world into 
     one's unknown face." 

In summary,  the illusion of Tiphereth is a false  identification 
with  a  set  of  beliefs  or  behaviours.  It  can  also  be  an 
identification  with  a  social  mask   or   Persona,   something 
discussed in the section on Netzach.  So to return to the orginal 
question:  "what are you?".  Is there an answer? If the answer is 
to be something which is not an arbitrary collection of emphemera 
then you are not your behaviours - behaviour can be changed;  you 
are not your beliefs - beliefs can be changed;  you are not  your 
role  in society - your role in society can change;  you are  not 
your body - your body is continually changing.  Out of this comes 
a sense of emptiness,  of hollowness.  The intellect attempts  to 
solve the koan of koans but has no anchor to hold on to. Is there 
no  centre to my being,  nothing which is *me*,  no axis  in  the 
universe,  no  morality,  no  good,  no  evil?  Do I  live  in  a 
meaningless,  arbitrary  universe where any belief is as good  as 
any other, where any behaviour is acceptable so long as I can get 
away  with  it?  This  sense of emptiness or  hollowness  is  the 
Qlippoth or shell of Tiphereth,  Tiphereth as the Empty Room with 
Nothing  In  It.   Jung  [6]  provides  a  memorable  and  moving 
description   of  how  his  father,   a   country   parson,   was 
progressively consumed by this feeling of hollowness.  There  can 
be few fates worse than to devote a life to the outward forms  of 
religion  without ever feeling one touch of that which  gives  it 
     The  God  Name of Tiphereth is Jehovah Aloah  va  Daath,  or 
simply  Aloah  va  Daath.  It is often translated  as  "God  made 
manifest in the sphere of the mind".  The Archangel is  sometimes 
given as Raphael,  but I prefer the attribution to Michael,  long 
associated with solar fire. His name "Who is like God" reinforces 
the  upper/lower relationship between Kether and  Tiphereth.  The 
angel order is the Malachim, or Kings.

     To  cover  all  of  the  traditional  material  related   to 
Tiphereth  is  to cover most of Kabbalah.  Tiphereth  is  at  the 
centre  of  a complex of six sephiroth which  represent  a  human 
being.   This  isn't  a  modern  interpretation,  an  "initiated" 
interpretation of obscure medieval documents. Kabbalah has always 
been  deeply  concerned  with the dynamics  of  the  relationship 
between God and the Creation,  between God and a human being, and 
the  descriptions of the Macroprosopus and Microprosopus  in  the 
Zohar  are  a bold attempt to grasp something ineffable  using  a 
language  built from the most immediate of metaphors,  the  human 
body.  According to the Bible and Kabbalah,  a human being is  in 
some sense a reflection of God,  and to the extent that  Kabbalah 
is an outcome of genuine mystical experience it is a  description 
of the dynamics of that relationship,  and more importantly it is 
a  description of something *real*.  Even if you don't  like  the 
look  of the word "God" (I don't) Kabbalah is trying  to  express 
something important about a relatively inaccessible dimension  of 
human  experience.  Tiphereth  is  a  reflection  of  Kether  and 
represents  the "image of God",  the "God within",  whatever  you 
take that to mean;  it is a symbol of  centrality,  balance,  and 
above  all,  wholeness.  It  can  be  an  empty  room,  a  gaping 
emptiness, or it can be the heart and blazing sun of the Tree. It 
is the symbol of a human being who lives in full consciousness of 
the  outer and the inner,  who denies neither the reality of  the 
world nor the mystery of self-consciousness, and who attempts to
reconcile the needs of both in a harmonious balance.

[1]  Watts, Alan W., "The Spirit of Zen", John Murray 1936

[2]  Frazer,  J.G.,  "The  Golden  Bough,  A Study in  Magic  and 
                      Religion", Macmillan 1976

[3]  Regardie,  I.,  "The Complete Golden Dawn System of  Magic", 
                      Falcon 1984

[4]  Mathers, S.L., "The Kabbalah Unveiled", RKP 1981

[5]  Jung,  C.G., "Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the 
                   Self", RKP 1974

[6]  Jung,  C.G., "Memories, Dreams, Reflections", RKP 1963

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