Kabbalah (Also Cabala, Kabala, and Qabalah) is an ancient Jewish tradition based on the concept of achieving spiritual union with god and understanding of the physical world. It is derived from the writings of many prominent figures in Jewish theological history, and has a long oral history prior 1280 CE. The practicing of Kabbalah is usually a lifelong pursuit, as it requires a great deal of meditation and thinking. Despite this, Kabbalah is a widespread practice, chiefly in orthodox Jewish churches, but also within other belief systems.
Kabbalah is claimed to have been taught to Adam by archangel Gabriel near the dawn of creation, but even if you disregard this it has a very long and definite history in Judaism. It was passed orally from generation to generation until roughly 1000 BCE, when it faded from Jewish tradition due to external events. It was rediscovered 2 millennia later, and Moses ben Shem Tob de Leon transcribed all the information he could find on the topic into a work known as the Sefer ha-Zohar. It rapidly re-gained a footing in Jewish tradition, and is still found in orthodox Jewish churches today.
In the mid 14th century CE Kabbalah began to spread to mainland Europe, resulting in many changes to its practice outside of the original Jewish circles, and largely affecting the development or traditions of many smaller European practices and beliefs, such as Paganism, Tarot, Wicca, and Astrology. Kabbalah became almost unrecognizable during this period, and this resulted in the majority of the newer branches of Judaism abandoning it.
It faded in popularity by the 18th century CE, but reemerged at the beginning of the 20th, with it’s focus shifted back towards its original structure, and is practiced by many people within orthodox Judaism and without.
Kabbalists believe that God is comprised of 2 parts. The first, Ein Sof, is the divine essence, utterly incomprehensible, and limitless in power. Ein Sof is also spelt Ayn Sof. The second is the physical manifestation of the first, used to interact with the mortal world, and is split into 10 different aspects, called Sephiroth, each corresponding with a Hebrew word for God. The 10 Sephiroth are arranged into the Tree of Life, starting with the mortal world and ending with union with creation and God. The 10 Sephiroth, starting at the highest and working down the list, are as follows:
- Kether – Union with God
- Chochmah – Highest level of potential thought
- Binah – Understanding Chochmah
- Daat – Knowledge
- Chesed – Compassion
- Gevurah – Justice and strength
- Tiphereth – Mercy
- Netzach – Victory
- Hod – Glory
- Yesod – Foundation
- Malkuth – The mortal world
While there is 11 Sephiroth listed here, Kether and Daat are regarded as 2 levels of the same aspect, leaving 10 in total. The Sephiroth are said to show how humans can achieve their greatest potential, and the Tree of Life Shows the pathway. A person who has achieved Chochmah is known as Yahweh, or Tetragrammaton, a word considered too holy to be spoken. Once someone has achieved Chochmah they are considered to be one with all bar God himself.
The Hebrew alphabet is linked to the Sephiroth, and considered sacred symbols linked with creation, also called Arcana. The meditation on and study of the Hebrew alphabet and the Sephiroth is the way Kabbalists progress along the Tree of Life, and each links to the others, resulting in over 30 different paths to Chochmah.
Meditating on these is challenging, as each Sephiroth requires you to consider all of creation in a slightly different way. You must consider how too little of each Sephiroth can cause troubles, yet also how too much can, as an excess of mercy may lead to justice not being served, and over-zealous justice can lead to the punishment of innocents, and the loss of mercy and compassion. The balance between Sephiroth is known as the Golden Mean, and understanding of this is required to achieve Chochmah. Meditation often includes visualising Hebrew letters, the Sephiroth, and even planets. Each Sephiroth can require years of meditation and study, and some people may never be able to achieve some of them. Chochmah requires all of this and more.
Kabbalah is split into three schools of thought, the last being very uncommon, each with slightly different goals:
- Theosophy – Understanding and description of the divine realm
- Ecstaticism – Spiritual union with God
- Magico-theurgical – Altering the physical world
Theosophy is the most common, as it is the easiest to achieve by far, as described above. It was the first of the schools to arise, as a rival to Jewish rationalism. Ecstaticism is also very common, although technically impossible, as Chochmah is the highest Sephiroth achievable by man, and was made as an alternative to Theosophy. Magico-theurgical is very rare, as it involves the use of magic, and was largely destroyed during the middle-ages. Magico-theurgicalists believe the Tree of Life can be used as the basis for any kind of magic, making its followers very diverse in beliefs.
Kabbalah is an increasingly widespread practise today, as many people find it attractive for it potential to deepen thought and understanding, even if one does not achieve one of the Sephiroth. This increase in popularity may lead to it being re-adopted by un-orthodox Jews, and return to being a central concept in Judaism