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| Commentary |
I. Profile Report
- Full name of the group: Qabalah (modern "cultic"
spelling, also known as Hermetic Qabalah), Kabbalah (traditional
Jewish spelling), Cabala (Christian spelling). All of these spellings
are merely transliterations of the word in Hebrew. Therefore,
one spelling is not necessarily right over another, but each
group tends to spell it differently.
- Founder: Isaac the Blind (It is not known for sure
that he was the original founder, but he is considered the Father
of Kabbalah. Aspects of Kabbalah can be traced back to the first
- Date of Birth and Death: c. 1160-c. 1236
- Birth Place: Provence
- Year of founding: Kabbalah can be traced as far back
as the first century A.D. It was formed as a scholarly group
sometime during Isaac the Blind's lifetime (c. 1160-1236), but
the exact year is unknown.
- Why and how it was founded: The first Kabbalistic
ideas emerged in ancient times as an attempt by the Merkabah
mystics to reach what they called the "higher throne"
of G-d. Isaac the Blind was the first to name Jewish mysticism
Kabbalah, and he formed a scholarly group based on the tradition.
- Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied
when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed
in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage
seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the
positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human
cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do
not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed
discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts
"cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing
"Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will
find additional links to related issues.
- Sacred or Revered Texts:
- Sepher Yetzirah , or the Book of Formation (c.
first century A.D.)
- Bahir (12th Century)
- Sepher ha Zohar, or the Book of Splendour by
Moses de Leon of Spain (late 13th century)
- Key of Solomon (Middle Ages) This text is considered
part of the magical aspect of Qabalah which is not accepted by
Kabbalah means "to receive"
or "to accept." It is believed that when Moses brought
the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai he also brought with him
oral law, or Kabbalah. People who know this secret oral tradition
claim to know the true meaning of the Torah which has hidden
messages. Therefore, the main principles of Kabbalah are a belief
in the divinity of the Torah and that by studying the Torah you
can understand the creation of the world. Kabbalists also believe
that a prophet was someone "chosen by G-d as a mouth-piece."
(Low, Colin. Hermetic Kabbalah. "Frequently Asked Questions."
http://www.digital-brilliance.com/kab/) They saw G-d as a being
not as an abstraction.
"It is probably accurate to say
that from the Renaissance on, virtually all occult philosophers
and magicians of note had a working knowledge of some aspect
of Kabbalah . . ." (Low, Colin. Hermetic Kabbalah. "Frequently
Asked Questions." link)
Groups that currently practice Qabalah are the Hermetics, the
Gnostics, the Neoplatists, the Pythagoreanists, the Rosicrucianists,
Tantra, the English Order of the Golden Dawn, and the French
magician Eliphas Levi. Some Qabalists practice ritual magic --
"names of power, the magic circle, ritual implements, consecration,
evocation of spirits, etc." (Low, Colin. Hermetic Kabbalah.
"Frequently Asked Questions." http://www.digital-brilliance.com/kab/)
Some Christians see Cabala as a way
to reveal hidden meaning in scriptures and others see it as a
mechanism to be used to convert Jews to Christianity. The main
Christian Cabalist leader was Giovanni Pico, Count of Mirandola.
He claimed, "No science can better convince us of the divinity
of Jesus Christ than magic and the Kabbalah." (Walden, Michael.
Qabalistic Tarot: Table of Contents. "Introduction to Qabalah."
- Size: Not known
- Remarks: As I said in the beliefs section, the Kabbalists
of all kinds believe in hidden meanings in the Torah. Kabbalists
believe that every letter of the Hebrew Aleph Beth (alphabet)
has a hidden meaning. Qabalists expand that idea and give each
letter a tarot key and an affiliation with a constellation. The
Cabalists say that they know Jesus is the son of G-d because
the Hebrew name for G-d is spelled Yod Heh Vav Heh. By adding
a fifth letter, Shin, the name of Jesus in Hebrew is formed (Yod
Heh Shin Vav Heh). To the Cabalists, Yod is fire, Heh is Water,
Vav is air, the final Heh is Earth, and the Shin is spirit. (Walden,
Michael. Qabalistic Tarot: Table of Contents. "Introduction
to Qabalah." http://www.tcd.net/~mwalden/qbl/contents.html)
III. Links Qabalah/Kabbalah Web Sites
In Colin Low's words, "This site is dedicated to publishing
modern material on Kabbalah and related topics." This page
inclues articles, information, and links. Colin Low has also
included a helpful Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page with
background information on Kabbalah. (unofficial home page)
Virtual Tree of Life
This page is a "reference tool for the Qabalah as used in
Western Occultism." This page provides useful techniques
for learning about Qabalah. It also includes a bibliography and
other links. (unofficial home page)
"This site is dedicated to the introduction of Qabalah,
as a component of what is commonly called, the 'Ancient Mysteries.'"
It includes links to Project Mind, Gateway to Qabalah, and the
Alchemy Home Page. (unofficial home page)
[Size = 3K] This is Doug Evans' page of information on Jewish
mysticism and Qabalah. It includes resources such as books, essays,
and other Web sites. This page has a unique chart on the Qabalistic
relationships of the Aleph Beth. (unofficial home page)
Christopher Ward says about his site, "This page is a collection
of graphics, articles, and pointers which deal with that part
of the Western Mystery Tradition known as Qabalah." It includes
links, books, and information on Qabalah. (unofficial home page)
Michael Walden's page on basic Qabalah, patterns of the Sephiroth,
the tree of life, and practical work with the tarot. This is
an in-depth information source the origins, teachings, and practice
of Qabalah. The page also includes recommended readings. (unofficial
Age Web Works -- Qabalah
Del Enterprise's Inc.'s page on Qabalah. It includes links, information
on Qabalah, and information on the New Age Web Works. (author-unknown)
New Living Qabalah
Exerpts and information from Will Parfitt's book The New Living
Qabalah. The book is based on, "Bringing the Qabalah alive
[and] making it accessible and relevent to the modern world."
This site encompasses all occult knowledge. You will not only
find information and links to Qabalah, but also to Paganism,
Tarot, and other Esoterica. (author-unknown)
Anders Sandberg's page on magick and mysticism. This page includes
information on Qabalah and other Hermetic groups. This page also
includes articles and links. (author-unknown)
IV. Selected References on Kabbalah
- Blumenthal, David R., 1978.
- Understanding Jewish Mysticism. New
York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc.
- Crowley, Aleister, 1986.
- 777 and other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley:
Including Gematria and Sepher Sephiroth with an introduction
by Israel Regardie. York Beach, ME: S. Wesier.
- Encausse, Gerard Anaclet Vincent (Papus), 1977.
- The Qabalah: Secret Tradition of the West. Wellingborough:
- Fine, Lawrence, ed., 1995.
- Essential Papers on Kabbalah. New York: New York University
- Gutwirth, Israel, 1987.
- The Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism. New York: Philosophical
- Hoffman, Edward, 1995.
- Opening the Inner Gates: New Paths in Kabbalah and Psychology.
- Hoffman, Edward, 1981.
- The Way of Splendor: Jewish Mysticism and Modern Psychology.
Boulder, CO: Shambhala.
- Levi, Eliphas, 1973.
- The Book of Splendours. Wellingborough: Aquarian Press.
- Levi, Eliphas, 1974.
- The Mysteries of the Qabalah. New York: S. Weiser.
- Luzzatto, Rabbi Moses C. Translated by the Research Center
of Kabbalah, 1970.
- General Principles of the Kabbalah. New York: The
Press of the Research Centre of Kabbalah.
- Matt, Daniel C., 1995.
- The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism.
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
- Scholem, Gershom, 1987.
- Origins of the Kabbalah. New Jersey: Princeton University
- Sperling, Harry, and Maurice Simon (translators), 1970.
- The Zohar. New York: The Soncino Press.
- Waite, Arthur Edward, 1902.
- The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabbalah. London:
The Theosophical Publishing Society.
- Newspaper Articles
- Feldman, Ron H, February 25, 1996.
- "A Gateway to Jewish Mysticism." San Francisco
Chronicle. REV, 8:1.
- Kosman, Joshua, October 6, 1991.
- "Stewart Wallace: Kabbalah." San Francisco Chronicle.
- Silk, Mark, May 27, 1995.
- "Unraveling Mysteries of the Hebrew Bible." Atlanta
Journal Constitution. F, 6:4.
- Magazine and Journal Articles
- Alter, Robert, 1990.
- "Jewish Mysticism." Commentary.
- Baigell, Matthew, 1994. (Art)
- "Barnett Newman's Stripe Paintings and
Kabbalah: A Jewish Take." American Art. 8(2):32-43.
- Halbertal, Moshe, 1990.
- "Varieties of Mysticism." The
New Republic. 202:34-9.
- Longstaff, S.A., 1987. (Sociology)
- "Daniel Bell and Political Reconciliation."
Queen's Quarterly. 94, 3, autumn, 660-665.
- Scholem, Gershom, Jean Bollack, and Pierre
Bordieu, 1980. (Sociology)
- "The Jewish Identity." Actes-de-la-recherche-en-sciences-sociales.
35, November, 3-19.
This brief commentary will focus
on the general beliefs of Kabbalah/Qabalah. It will also include
a bit of history on the origins of most Kabbalistic beliefs.
At the end of the commentary, you will find a few quotes by David
Wolfe-Blank. These "Hassidic Sparks" are meant to summarize
many of the fundamental Kabbalisticbeliefs.
- Introductory explanation of Kabbalah versus Qabalah
- "Hassidic Sparks" by David Wolf-Blank
- Note: for more detail on internal documentation see sections
III and IV.
"No one with the slightest interest in Kabbalah can fail
to notice that there are many alternative spellings of the word,
the two most common being Kabbalah and Qabalah . . . The reason
for this is that some letters in the Hebrew alphabet have more
than one representation in the English alphabet, and the same
Hebrew letter can be written either as K or Q (or sometimes even
C) . . . There has been a tendency for non- Jewish books on Kabbalah
published this century to use the spelling 'Qabalah.' Jewish
publications are relatively uniform in preferring the spelling
'Kabbalah'" (Low, Colin. Colin's Hermetic Kabbalah Page:
Kabbalah began in the first century A.D. when Isaac the Blind
formed a scholarly group based on mystical traditions. Like the
Jewish religion as a whole, Kabbalah has thrived throughout the
ages. Even today, Kabbalah interests people of all ages, but
especially the younger generation. "The study of mysticism
has a certain attraction for students in the last quarter of
the twentieth century" (Blumenthal, xv). The Christians
and the Muslims adopted aspects of Kabbalah into their mysticism,
and more recently, a cultic group formed with their basic tenets
centered around Kabbalistic belief.
In a complex modern society, people are seeking their inner-self.
They desire a self- awareness, a spiritual consciousness. Kabbalists
realize that much of the world is unexplainable to humans who
exist in one level of consciousness. Therefore, they seek to
enter other levels of spirituality by detailed study of the Torah,
the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
and Deuteronomy). Kabbalists believe the answers to all human
perplexities can be found in this most sacred work, but the answers
are hidden within a complex network of codes and symbols. Not
only is the Torah all- encompassing, it is also dynamic, meaning
God continues to create.
The first person to record the mysteries of the Torah was
Rabbi Shimon who lived during Rome's rule over Israel. Rabbi
Shimon taught the Torah despite the Roman edict banning all practice
of Judaism. When the Romans sentenced Rabbi Shimon to death,
he fled to a cave with his son, Rabbi El'azar. They hid in the
cave for thirteen years. During this time, Rabbi Shimon developed
spiritually by drawing "on deep levels of memory and vision
stored in his unconsciousness from years of study" (Luzzatto,
xxix). Rabbi Shimon created the Zohar, the Book of Splendor,
which remains the most important book of Kabbalah.
In sixteenth century Safed, a town in the mountainous Upper
Galilee region of Israel, Rabbi Moses Cordovero began to study
Kabbalah. He developed a clear understanding of the main Kabbalistic
teachings, and he, along with his student Rabbi Isaac Luria (the
Ari), composed volumes of writings on their mystical interpretations.
Rabbis Shimon, Cordovero, and Luria along with Isaac the Blind
were the primary founders of Jewish mysticism, and their ideas
remain the basis for most Kabbalistic interpretation.
An important idea Kabbalists teach is that there are ten Sephirot,
emanations, "which the Creator issued to serve as channels
through which His bounty might be transmitted to man" (Luzzatto,
3). These ten stages are Keter (crown) also called Da'at (knowledge),
Hokmah (wisdom), Binah (intelligence), Hesed (mercy), Geburah
(power), Tif'eret (beauty), Nezah (triumph), Hod (glory), Yesod
(foundation), and Malkut (kingdom). These Sephirot can be imagined
in the form of a human. For example, Keter is the head, Hokmah
and Binah are the two halves of the brain, Hesed and Geburah
are the hands, and the others make up the rest of the body. Both
good and bad actions find root in the vessels, but all God's
actions are good. Therefore, when everyone on earth discovers
spiritual unity with God, people will realize that all God's
actions are good.
For Kabbalists their ultimate aspiration is to reach a oneness
with God. Every person should strive to attain this spiritual
oneness by ascending from one world to another. The bottom world
is the world of action, Assiah; the second level is the world
of formation, Jetzirah; the third world is the world of creation,
Briah; the fourth and highest world is the world of emanation,
Atziluth. At the final level, a person, usually through extensive
meditation and a departure from the body, arrives in a state
of total knowledge of the universe. All creation evolves around
Light plays an important role in the spiritual life of a Kabbalist.
They refer to the Impression of Light as the source of humanity,
the lower beings, who exist in the fallible state. God hovers
above the fallible lower beings as the Infinite Encircling Light.
He interacts with the fallible beings through a Line of Light
in an attempt to help them reach perfection. The Line of Light
is God's way of instilling perfection and abolishing all imperfection.
Qabalah is the "cultic" branch of Kabbalah. To the
Qabalists, man exists parallel to the universe as a whole. Man's
organs are like elements of the Universe. For example, blood
maintains human life as it flows, much like the Universe is maintained
by the "flow" of sunlight. Man's "nervous fluid"
also governs his actions, but this fluid is entirely separate
from the blood. There is only one connection between the nerve
cell and the nerve receptor. Similarly, there is only one connection
between God and man, a fluid that God emanates, the spirit of
the Universe. Occultists call this spirit Universal Magnetism,
but the Qabalists call it Aour. Therefore, both man and the Universe
have the same three components: a body (physical), a life (blood
and light), and a will (nervous fluid and Aour), but ".
. . like Man, the Universe is subject to periodic involution
and ultimately it will be reintegrated in its origin: God"
Another aspect of Qabalah is the importance of numbers. Certain
numbers found in the Torah can be analyzed to show their significance.
For example, in the prophecy of Ezekiel, the first sentence reads,
"And it came to pass in the thirtieth year of the fourth
month." J. Charrot explains, "3x10=30 decans, and 30x12=360
and 3x24=72 which is the ternary divided by four, giving 18.
30 decans in the cycle of 12, 12x30, give 360 divisions of the
church year in the cycle of 12 months pertaining to the 4 seasons
of a civilization. By adding a 0 we arrived at 3600, 6 times
the week of Moses; it is to be understood then that 1800 is only
half a double civilization" (Levi, 25). Complicated explanations
of individual passages from the sacred texts characterize the
essence of mystical Qabalah.
Qabalists also believe that man is made of three elements:
Nephesh, Neshamah, and Ruah. Nephesh is the lowest element and
it is the "determining principle which accounts for the
appearance of the material form" (Encausse, 171). The Neshamah
is the highest element. It is the divine spark and "the
spirit of the occultists" (Encausse, 171). The Ruah, the
life or the soul, is the uniting force between the other two
In the words of Everett Gendler, "Mysticism is an intense
experience of direct connection with life's Source and Surrounding
Purpose." For believers of both Qabalah and Kabbalah, mysticism
brings them an understanding of the world around them. As they
seek answers to the complexities of the universe, they ultimately
by David Wolfe-Blank
- "God alone has real existence and all else is illusion.
The Divine is everywhere. There is none beside the Divine means
that there is nothing beside the Divine."
- "Human fulfillment depends on the overcoming of separations
and balancing disharmonious relation-ships on every level of
- "Every individual should be regarded as potentially
good as each has a 'holy spark.' The goodness within the other
should be encouraged. No one is ultimately evil."
- "One never knows what one's full resources are until
one attempts the deed asked. Only then does one discover the
limits of one's capacities."
- "Activities like prayer, song, and dance, in which one
opens one's self directly and wholeheartedly are powerful means
to personal unification."
- "Despair is the greatest evil."
Prepared by Erin Ghelber
Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1996
Last Modified: 07/16/01