What is the Kabbalah / Cabala / Qabalah?
All of these spellings derive from the Jewish Kabbalah, which is an esoteric method that aims to explain the relationship between deity and humanity. Deity is defined as the unchanging, eternal, and mysterious aspects of reality as opposed to the finite and mortal.
Jewish mystics used Ten Emanations, or spheres, to represent the highest and most abstract ideas of deity. Together, these Ten Spheres (Sephiroth in plural, and Sephira in singular) make up the Tree of Life. They are, in their English names: the Crown, Wisdom, Understanding, Mercy, Severity, Beauty, Victory, Glory, the Foundation, and the Kingdom.
Today, Qabalah is the basis for a plethora of magical and mystical systems.
In order to understand how Hermetic Qabalah came to be, we have to acknowledge a few things from the history of Jewish Kabbalah and note some important people from the Christian Cabala movement.
The What’s What in Jewish Kabbalah and how it’s significant to the Hermetic Qabalah:
- Merkabah Mysticism and the Hekalot: alluded to the hidden knowledge from the prophet Ezekiel. This is the basis of the Sepher Yetzirah and how to “perform” the Great Work. Imagery from the Wheels of Ezekiel and Jacob’s Ladder are precursors to diagrams of the Tree of Life.
- Bereshith Mysticism: expounded the secrets of the creation of the universe from Genesis, including the esoteric “truths” behind Adam and Eve, the Serpent, Satan and so on.
- Lurianic Kabbalah: theorized a new doctrine of creation, providing a basis for the idea of rectification of the soul through righteous devotion to divinity. These theories are crucial to the Hermetic Qabalah, as they depict how human acts influence the balance of creation/reality. They also show how the upper divine world is tied in its fate according to the lower mundane world and vice versa.
- Hasidism: a reexamination of Judaism, giving it a different aim for immediate perception of the Divine amidst the mundane.
Cabala (Christian Mysticism) reinterpreted Kabbalistic doctrine to a distinctly Christian perspective. The three topmost spheres on the Tree of Life (the Crown, Wisdom, and Understanding) are connected to ideas of the Trinity, and the seven remaining spheres are representative of earth and the mundane world. This interpretation filtered down into Aleister Crowley’s later doctrine for the Abyss, a region between the three “supernal” spheres and the seven “earthly” spheres.
The Who’s Who in Christian Cabala and their significance to Hermetic Qabalah:
- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: had a syncretic worldview that combined Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism, and Kabbalah.
- Athanasius Kircher: another syncretic Cabalist who built on Mirandola’s work and wrote the Oedipus Aegyptiacus, which combined Egyptian mythology and traditional concepts from the Jewish Kabbalah. This is illustrated this in his version of the Tree of Life. He was also the first to insert the Hebrew letter Shin into the Tetragrammaton (four-lettered name of God) to denote YHShVH (Yahshuah, or Jesus). His work has led directly into the Occult/Hermetic Qabalah today, and his version of the Tree of Life is still the most widely used Qabalistic diagram among magic practitioners.
- Christian Knorr von Rosenroth: was an editor, translator, and annotator of Kabbalistic texts.
The Hermetic, or Occult Qabalah initially arose alongside the Christian Cabalistic movement during the European Renaissance with the help of magicians such as Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Francis Barrett, and Eliphas Levi. These would later include individuals such as Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune.
Unlike Cabala, however, Qabalah draws on many other influences besides Kabbalah. These include: Western astrology, Alchemy, Egyptian and Graeco-Roman religions, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism and John Dee & Edward Kelley’s Enochian system of angelic magic.
Why Should I Use the Hermetic Qabalah for my Magical Practices?
It is the underlying philosophy and framework for Western Occultism and various magical societies. The Hermetic Qabalah is also a precursor to Neopagan, Wiccan, and New Age systems. Because it is all-inclusive, the practitioner is free to use any of its existing attributions as well as map one’s own personal symbol-set onto the Tree of Life.
It is convenient in both ceremonial and solitary settings, so it can provide you with a language to communicate your experience with others (and yourself).