The Holy Qabalah, whose disciplines include the occult sciences of astrology and the Tarot, plays a major part in the Western Mystery Tradition and is the primary tool of many Ceremonial Magicians. Sometimes called the "Yoga of the West," the Qabalah is a system of mystical knowledge and spiritual development based upon the 32 "paths" of the Tree of Life and their relationship to one another.
The word Qabalah (sometimes spelled Kabbalah, Cabala, etc.) derives from the Hebrew word meaning "to receive," which probably refers to the oral tradition, but also has some interesting esoteric implications. The origin of the word "Qabalah" as a label for this tradition is attributed to Isaac the Blind (1160-1236 CE). The variant spellings of Qabalah encountered are the result of a difficulty in precise transliteration of Hebrew words into English.
The true roots of Qabalah are unknown. The tradition is believed to have been passed "mouth-to-ear" for many generations before the written texts appeared. Qabalistic legends tell us that this Holy science was taught to Adam by an angel after the Fall and banishment from Eden, so that mankind might raise itself back up again. However, the tradition was lost, and rediscovered by Moses. Some have speculated that Moses received the tradition while in Egypt, having trained in their Mystery schools, while others insist vehemently that it is a purely Jewish system. There do seem to be elements of ancient Chaldean, Egyptian and various minor Semitic tribes mixed in, but it is difficult to tell who absorbed what. We do know of an early Hebraic system of mysticism called Heichaloht, or Merkabah Mysticism which supplied a basis for the Qabalah.
The first well-known Qabalistic books, the Zohar ("Book of Splendour") and Sepher Yetzirah ("Book of Formation") were written approximately 70 C.E. The Sepher Yetzirah combines much of the Merkabah Mysticism with the more modern concept of emanations from Divinity creating the universe, a philosophy now called Neo-platonism. Whether Neo-platonism influenced the Qabalah, or vice versa, no one is really sure.
In 14th century, Moses de Leon made the first printing of the Zohar. Some of de Leon's contemporaries, as well as modern scholars, believed it is not the original Zohar. However, portions of the text which de Leon published have been found, dating from prior to the 14th century. It does appear that de Leon did edit and add to the text in some ways. Some have flatly stated that it has been proved that he was entirely the author of this fraudelent Zohar. In any way, regardless of authorship, the Zohar is one of the most influential books in the Qabalistic tradition.
The Diaspora, the exile of the Jews throughout the world after the destruction of the second temple, spread the doctrines of the Qabalah. Qabalistic centers were established in Europe, many of the more important ones in Spain. Much of the non-Jewish interest in Qabalah started with attempts to use the Jews' mysticism to prove that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and thus convert all the Jews to Christianity. In great centers of learning like Alexandria, the Qabalah blended with mystical traditions like alchemy. Later mystical groups like the Rosicrucians, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and others incorporated the Qabalah into their esoteric mysteries.
The three branches of the Qabalah which are of interest to the modern occultist are the unwritten Qabalah, the literal Qabalah, and the practical Qabalah.
The heart of the Qabalistic tradition is the unwritten Qabalah. The unwritten Qabalah is based upon the Tree of Life, a diagram consisting of ten circles or Sephiroth connected by twenty-two paths or Navitoth. The Tree is a blueprint of the macrocosm and the microcosm, containing within itself a description of all relationships and phenomena. This Tree must be brought to life in the mind of the student by learning, through correspondences, the basic nature of each of the ten Sephiroth, and their inter-relationships (the twenty-two paths). There are many widely accepted correspondences published for the sake of study, Crowley's 777 probably being the most comprehensive. Once a basic understanding has been reached of these 32 paths, the student begins to use the Tree like a filing cabinet. Every impression, thought, concept and incident is filed under its appropriate Sephira or path. The possibilities are endless, and everyone's unwritten Qabalah is slightly different. In this way, the student begins to understand the True nature of the paths, of which the correspondences are only symptoms. The Tree comes to full fruition in the mind, and it is now possible to understand the relationships which all things have to one another.
The literal Qabalah is of primary importance in studying Holy Books. The Hebrew language consists of 22 letters and does not have separate characters to represent numbers, so each letter has a unique numerical value. Two words or phrases with identical numerical value are presumed to share some quality. For example, the Hebrew word signifying "deep meditation," and the word meaning "purity; innocence" share the numerical value of 21. This practice, called Gematria, is the main method of the literal Qabalah, though there are various ciphers and permutations of words which are used to find alternate or additional meanings for words.
Finally, of utmost import to the ceremonial magician, is the practical Qabalah. The practical Qabalah, for all intents and purposes, is a system of magick. The performance of rituals, making of talismans and amulets is performed by applying the wisdom of the unwritten Qabalah. In processes like pathworking, when the magician is astrally projecting, the authenticity of visions and messages can be checked by both the unwritten and literal Qabalah. It should be clear that until the student is firmly grounded in the unwritten and literal Qabalah, they should not move on to practical workings.
The Holy Qabalah is the basis for much of the
modern Western esoteric tradition, and its disciplines are extremely useful
in conjunction with various other mystical methods. Without a doubt
it is one of the indispensable weapons in the arsenal of the magician.
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