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Tree of Life

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Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a tool used to categorize and organize various mystical concepts and is central to the teachings of the Qabbalah. At its most simple level, it is composed of ten spheres, or emanations called sephiroth (sing. “sephira”) which are connected by twenty-two paths. The sephiroth are represented by the planets and the paths by the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, which are subdivided by the five elements, the seven classical planets, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

In the Gnostic works, included within the Neo- platonic writings, in the wilful obscurities of the Alchemists, among the literature emanating from the Rosicrucians-in all of these we may find luminous vestiges of the philosophy and practice of that Magic of Light which, pieced carefully together upon the synthetic foundation provided by the Tree of Life, form a sublime and workable system bestowing the radiance of understanding on whomsoever will see. The principal ingredients of the magical system are the source of reference which is the Tree of Life of the Qabalists, and the hieratic religion of the sacerdotal caste of Egypt.

Within the western magical tradition, the Tree is used as a kind of conceptual filing cabinet. Each sephira and path is assigned various ideas, such as gods, cards of the Tarot, astrological planets and signs, elements, etc. Within Thelema, the seminal book which defines all these correspondences is Liber 777 by Aleister Crowley, although there have been other influential writers on the topic, including Israel Regardie and Eliphas Levi.[1]

The Tree of Life is mentioned in the Bible as a tree in the Garden of Eden whose fruit imparts eternal life (Gen. 3:22–24). But this symbol is also present in many cultures under different names and similar meanings. H. P. Blavatsky wrote:

Trees of Life. From the highest antiquity trees were connected with the gods and mystical forces in nature. Every nation had its sacred tree, with its peculiar characteristics and attributes based on natural, and also occasionally on occult properties, as expounded in the esoteric teachings. Thus the peepul or Âshvattha of India, the abode of Pitris (elementals in fact) of a lower order, became the Bo-tree or ficus religiosa of the Buddhists the world over, since Gautama Buddha reached the highest knowledge and Nirvâna under such a tree. The ash tree, Yggdrasil, is the world-tree of the Norsemen or Scandinavians. The banyan tree is the symbol of spirit and matter, descending to the earth, striking root, and then re-ascending heavenward again. The triple-leaved palâsa is a symbol of the triple essence in the Universe–Spirit, Soul, Matter. The dark cypress was the world-trek of Mexico, and is now with the Christians and Mahomedans the emblem of death, of peace and rest. The fir was held sacred in Egypt, and its cone was carried in religious processions, though now it has almost disappeared from the land of the mummies; so also was the sycamore, the tamarisk, the palm and the vine. The sycamore was the Tree of Life in Egypt, and also in Assyria. It was sacred to Hathor at Heliopolis; and is now sacred in the same place to the Virgin Mary. Its juice was precious by virtue of its occult powers, as the Soma is with Brahmans, and Haoma with the Parsis. “The fruit and sap of the Tree of Life bestow immortality.” A large volume might be written upon these sacred trees of antiquity, the reverence for some of which has survived to this day, without exhausting the subject.[2]

Manly P. Hall in his book ” The Secret Teaching of all ages” elaborates on the Tree of Life in the following way:

“Under the appellations of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is concealed the great arcanum of antiquity–the mystery of equilibrium. The Tree of Life represents the spiritual point of balance–the secret of immortality. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as its name implies, represents polarity, or unbalance–the secret of mortality. The Qabbalists reveal this by assigning the central column of their Sephirothic diagram to the Tree of Life and the two side branches to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “Unbalanced forces perish in the void,” declares the secret work, and all is made known. The apple represents the knowledge of the procreative processes, by the awakening of which the material universe was established. The allegory of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a cosmic myth, revealing the methods of universal and individual establishment. The literal story, accepted for so many centuries by an unthinking world, is preposterous, but the creative mystery of which it is the symbol is one of Nature’s profoundest verities. The Ophites (serpent worshipers) revered the Edenic snake because it was the cause of individual existence. Though humanity is still wandering in a world of good and evil, it will ultimately attain completion and eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life growing in the midst of the illusionary garden of worldly things. Thus the Tree of Life is also the appointed symbol of the Mysteries, and by partaking of its fruit man attains immortality.”

Philosophical concept

First of all, the philosophy of the Qabalah is a philosophy of evolution. The universe, with all its planets and worlds and independent beings, was conceived to be the emanation from a primeval substance-principle which some have called God, the Absolute, the Infinite, the All, and so forth. In the Qabalah, this principle which is the One Reality is named Ain Soph, the Infinite. The Sepher haZohar, the most important perhaps of all Qabalistic texts, conceives it to be unchangeable, unknowable to the mind, illimitable, unmanifest and absolute. Beyond all intellectual comprehension in Itself, inasmuch as it could never be grasped by a mentality which is but a segment of its all-inclusiveness, It is stated to be Ain– Nothing. Since it does surpass all finite understanding, immutable and boundless as its expanses are to the human mind whose most profound speculation could not approach to the faintest adumbration of what It is in Itself, It must ever remain a mysterious emptiness-No-thing. In this connection, the graphic conception of the early Egyptian is very fosrceful as well as picturesque. The Sky, or Space anterior to all manifestation, was conceived as the naked body of the goddess Nuit, the queen of infinite space, and from her breasts, the milk of the Stars, the primordial waters of substance, were portrayed as issuing forth.

Numbers are very important to Kabbalists, and the Hebrew letters of the alphabet also have a numerical value for the Kabbalists. Each stage of the emanation of the Universe on the Tree of Life is numbered meaningfully from one, or the Sephirah of Kether to ten, or the Sephirah of Malkuth. The nature of each number is thought to express the nature of its Sephirah. [6]

The first three Sephiroth, called the Supernal Sephiroth, are considered to be the primordial energies of the Universe. The next stages of evolution on the Tree of Life are considered to exist beyond a space on the tree, called the Abyss, between the Supernals and the other Sephiroth, because their levels of being are so distinct from each other that they appear to exist in two totally different realities. The Supernal Sephiroth exist on a plane of divine energy. This is why another correspondence for Binah is the idea of suffering, because the Supernal Maternal energy gives birth to a world that is inherently excluded from that Divine Union. After Binah, the Universe gets down to the business of building the materials it will need to fulfill its evolution, and creating new combinations of those materials until it is so dense that, by the stage of Malkuth, the initial pure limitless energy has ‘solidified’ into the physical Universe. Since its energies are the basis of all Creation, the Tree of Life can potentially be applied to any area of life, especially the inner world of Man, from the subconscious all the way to what Kabbalists call the higher self.

As the Crown surmounting the emanation system, as the apex of the Tree of Life which has its roots in the heavens, descending in growth towards the earth, Keser is the deepest sense of selfhood constituting the substratum of human consciousness and the ultimate root of substance. This central sensitive spiritual point, this metaphysical centre or monad of consciousness, fulfils both of these requirements, existing as the real individuality, and the ultimate division of matter. From the Monad issues duality, two distinct principles of activity permanent throughout an entire period of manifestation, co-existent and co-eternal. These are Consciousness and the metaphysical substantive basis on which consciousness ever acts cosmic root Substance. The one is named Chokmah-Wisdom; and to the other is attributed the title of Binah -Understanding. To render abstract things somewhat more comprehensible to the minds they were endeavoring to instruct in this metaphysic, one of the characteristics of the Qabalistic philosophers was to explain, so far as is possible, their complex and difficult theorems in terms of human conduct and human activity and human emotion. So given to Chokmnh we find given the title of the Father and to Binah the Mother. All the Sephiros, as these emanations are called, below that named the Crown are given masculine and feminine attributions, and the activity between male and female Sephiros in reconciliation is a ” child,” so to speak; a neutral Sephirah acting in equilibrium. Thus the Tree of Life, comprising these ten emanations, develops from the highest abstraction to the most concrete material in several triads of potencies and spiritual forces. Male, female, and child; positive, negative, and their resultant commingling in a third reconciling factor.[3]

These two principles or Sephiros, in being entitled the Father and the Mother, are also attributed to letters of the so-called Tetragrammaton, whose four letters are YHVH.

From the first triad, then, the second triad of emanations is reflected or projected below the Abyss. They, likewise, are composed of a male and female potency with a third Sephirah produced in direct reconciliation to harmonize and balance their powers. The fourth is named both Chesed meaning Grace, and Gedulah meaning Greatness, and to it the ancient philosophers allocated the astrological quality called Jupiter. Four is a number signifying system and order, these latter being the qualities attributed by astrological tradition to the planet Jupiter. According to some authorities, this is the first number to show the nature of solidity, and since we have seen above that Chesed is the first Sephirah below the Abyss, and is the first of the ” Actual ” Sephiros, these remarks obtain justification. The male Sephirah Chesed is symbolical of the potentialities of objectivized Nature, and by way of confirmation of the astrological attribution of Jupiter, including also the mythological figure of the tutelary deity by that name, the Pythagoreans called Four, ” The greatest miracle, a God after another manner than the triad.”

The fifth is Gevurah-Might, and although a feminine emanation in quality, its nature would appear to be highly masculine. Some of the ancients have said that five is a symbol of creative power, and in this concept of creativity and power we have the character of Gevurah. It is a formative force, as its name Might and the planetary attribution of Mars would lead one to imply, by which the plan formulated in the Cosmic Imagination and projected as an image into the root substance below the Abyss in Chesed, is whirled into activity and manifestation. Five is composed of three and two, the former representing the passive energy of the Mother and the latter the wisdom of the Father. I t expresses not so much a state of things as an act, a further passage, and a transition of ideality into actuality.

Six is the Sephirah which is evolved to give harmony and equilibrium to the former forces and is named Tiphareth, a Hebrew word meaning Beauty and Harmony. The number is a symbol of all that is well balanced, harmonious, and of pleasing proportion, and inasmuch as it is the double of three, reflects again the variegated ideas represented by that number. Since, therefore, three represents the real motivating powers of evolution, the Macroprosopus or the Logos, likewise in Tiphareth we find a due and equable reflection in a lesser Logos, the Microprosopus. To this Sephirah the Qabalists attributed the Sun, the lord and center of the solar system. By consulting the chart, the reader may perceive that Tipharas occupies a conspicuous position in the center of the whole structure of the Tree of Life. The Pythagorean number philosophers said that six was the symbol of the soul, and later we shall discover that in the human being Ti$haras, the harmonious emanation of the Sun, is the sephirah of the soul of man, the center of the microcosmic system, and the luminous intermediary between the brooding Spirit above and the body with the instincts below. The Zoharic doctors of the divine philosophy allocated the third letter ” V ” of the divine name to Tiphayas, and since the latter is the child of the Celestial Father and Mother it is called the Son. The Seal of Solomon, the interlaced triangles, a true symbol of equilibrium, is the appropriate token.

The processes of reflection continue still further, and the second triad composed of the numbers four, five, and six-though they themselves were projected by the Supernal Sephirot-in turn give rise to a third triad, by reproducing themselves on a yet lower plane. The first of these Sephiros is male-Netsach, meaning Triumph or Victory. Seven is conceived to be a complete number, representing a consummation of things, completion of a cycle, and its return into itself. So in the Seventh Sephirah, beginning a new triad and in closing the second series of Sephiros, is summed up anew all the former potencies. Its nature is one of love and the force of attraction; the power of cohesion in the universe, binding one thing to another thing and acting as the instinctual intelligence among living creatures. The planet Venus, the emblem of love and emotion, is the planet attributed by the magical philosophers to this Sephirah ; likewise the colour green, which, traditionally, belongs to Aphrodite, as the forces pertaining to that Sephirah are peculiarly connected with growth, harvest, and agriculture.

In opposition to Netzach as the second Sephirah of the third triad is Hod, the Splendour or Glory, which is a feminine quality repeating the characteristics of Chokmah although on a plane less exalted and sublime. It represents essentially a mercurial quality of things–ever-flowing, shifting, and in constant flux, and it has been termed, I believe, ” change in stability.” With it, possessing a nature very similar, is the ninth Sepirah Yesod, the Foundation, which is ” stability in change.” Just as the tremendous speed of the electronic particles ensures the stability of the atom, so the

fleeting forms and the motion of Yesod constitute the permanence and surety of the physical world. It is the ninth Sephirah and hence the ninth digit, comprehending in itself all preceding numbers. Commonly termed the Astral Plane or the Soul of the World, Yesod is that foundation of subtle electro-magnetic substance in which all the higher forces are focussed, and constitute the basis or final model upon which the physical world is built. Yesod is lunar in nature, the Moon being the luminary attributed, inasmuch as a curious relationship exists between the earth’s dead satellite and the Astral Light. It completes the three triads, pendant to which is Malkuth, the tenth and final Sephirah, representing in concrete form, in a complete crystallization visible and tangible to the senses, all the qualities of the preceding planes. The word itself means the Kingdom, the kingdom of the physical world, and the scene of the activities and incarnations of the souls exiled from above, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost. In the Zohar Malkus is given the letter ” H ” of the divine name and is called the Daughter, being the mundane reflection of the first ” H,” which is the Mother. This tenth Sephirah is called elsewhere the Bride, the Daughter, and the Virgin of the World.

Jachin & Boaz

In tree of life the right pillar signifies Jachin–the white pillar of light; the left pillar, Boaz–the shadowy pillar of darkness. These were the names of the two pillars cast from brass set up on the porch of King Solomon’s Temple. They were eighteen cubits in height and beautifully ornamented with wreaths of chainwork, nets, and pomegranates. On the top of each pillar was a large bowl–now erroneously called a ball or globe–one of the bowls probably containing fire and the other water. The celestial globe (originally the bowl of fire), surmounting the right-hand column (Jachin), symbolized the divine man; the terrestrial globe (the bowl of water), surmounting the left-hand column (Boaz), signified the earthly man. These two pillars respectively connote also the active and the passive expressions of Divine Energy, the sun and the moon, sulphur and salt, good and bad, light and darkness. Between them is the door leading into the House of God, and standing thus at the gates of Sanctuary they are a reminder that Jehovah is both an androgynous and an anthropomorphic deity. As two parallel columns they denote the zodiacal signs of Cancer and Capricorn, which were formerly placed in the chamber of initiation to represent birth and death–the extremes of physical life.

In the splendor of mental and spiritual illumination, the High Priest stood between the pillars as a mute witness to the perfect virtue of equilibrium–that hypothetical point equidistant from all extremes. He thus personified the divine nature of man in the midst of his compound constitution–the mysterious Pythagorean Monad in the presence of the Duad. On one side towered the stupendous column of the intellect; on the other, the brazen pillar of the flesh. Midway between these two stands the glorified wise man, but he cannot reach this high estate without first suffering upon the cross made by joining these pillars together. The early Jews occasionally represented the two pillars, Jachin and Boaz, as the legs of Jehovah, thereby signifying to the modern philosopher that Wisdom and Love, in their most exalted sense, support the whole order of creation– both mundane and supermundane.

Practical Kabbalah

There are two paths upon the Tree of Life, each presenting one aspect of the practical kabbalistic work. Ultimately the distinction between these paths is false, however, it is useful for practical reasons to make this distinction. The two paths are the way of the Sword and the way of the Serpent. The sword represents the downward path of the Divine as it manifests upon the earth. This is the way of creation. Upon the path of the sword, a student learns about ritual, morality, magick, and other such things. The path of the Sword has particular resonance with the Pillar of Severity.

The serpent represents the upward path of material existence reaching back up towards its divine origins. This is the way of return. Upon the path of the Serpent, a student learns about meditation, personal growth, and the quest for knowledge and understanding. The path of the Serpent has particular resonance with the pillar of Mercy.

Path of Sword

The path of the sword is the Way of Manifestation; it is the path of magick, ritual, and religion, which seeks to draw down the power of the divine and to manifest it upon the earth. The ultimate goal of the Way of the Sword is, perhaps, best expressed in the descent of the New Jerusalem at the end of the biblical book of revelations – the perfection of material existence. On the Path of the Sword, the aspirant does not seek to escape from the suffering of the world and attain entrance to immaterial heaven, but rather to create heaven on earth.

All morality and exoteric religion belong to the Way of the Sword, as their aim is to manifest an ideal or to manifest the characteristics of some God-Form on earth through the obedience and devotion of worshippers.

Magick, in this sense, does not describe a specifically supernatural event, but rather the art of ‘causing change to occur in conformity with the Will’; this Will being the higher nature of the operator, and not simply whims and egotistical desires. ‘Pure Will, un-assuaged in the lust for results, is in every way perfect. The purpose of Magick is the material expression of the higher nature of humanity.

The Way of the Sword is in many ways a masculine path (in reference to the divine masculine present in both men and women), concerning itself largely with works of dominion.

Path of Serpent

The way of the serpent is the way of gnosis, mysticism, and self-transformation. It is known as the way of return as it is by this path that the individual returns to their original spiritual nature. It is the journey inwards to find the true and immortal Self. The work of this path is primarily solitary and meditative, requiring one to step beyond the boundaries of ordinary consciousness and consensus reality.

Tree of Life components


The Negative Veil



The Ten Sephiroth (Emanations)


The 22 Hebrew Letters (The Paths)


  • 11. (Aleph, “Ox”)
  • 12. (Beth, “House”)
  • 13. (Gimel, “Camel”)
  • 14. (Daleth, “Door”)
  • 15. (, “Window”)
  • 16. (Vau, “Nail”)
  • 17. (Zain, “Sword”)
  • 18. (Cheth, “Fence”)
  • 19. (Teth, “Serpent”)
  • 20. (Yod, “Hand”)
  • 21. (Kaph, “Palm”)
  • 22. (Lamed, “Ox Goad”)
  • 23. (Mem, “Water”)
  • 24. (Nun, “Fish”)
  • 25. (Samekh, “Prop”)
  • 26. (Ayin, “Eye”)
  • 27. (, “Mouth”)
  • 28. (Tzaddi, “Fish-Hook”)
  • 29. (Qoph, “Back of Head”)
  • 30. (Resh, “Head”)
  • 31. (Shin, “Tooth”)
  • 32. (Tau, “Tau”)

 


References

[1]. The Kabbalah, Thelemapedia: The Encyclopedia of Thelema, accessed April 2020.

[2]. The Theosophical Glossary, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 337.

[3]. The Tree of Life: An Illustrated Study in Magic. Israel Regardi, Llewelyn Publications (2000).

[4]. Mystical Qabalah. by Dion Fortune. Weiser Books , Sep 2000. 1578631505 .

[5]. Malachi, Tau. Gnosis of the Cosmic Christ. A Gnostic Christian Kabbalah. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications. (2005) pp. 19-20. ISBN 0-7387-0591-8

[6]. Encausse, Gerard (Papus). The Qabalah: Secret Tradition of the West. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc. (2000) pp. 83-4. ISBN 0-87728-936-0

[x]. A Garden of Pomagranates: Skrying on the Tree of Life. Israel Regardie, Llewelyn Publications (1999).

[x]. The Kabbalah, Theosophy Wiki. accessed April 2020.

[x]. Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teaching of All Ages.

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