Kabbalah, Tree of Life, Colin Low











You are here:
world-mysteries.com guest writers Colin Low

   Colin LowGuest Writers 

Articles by Colin Low

Notes on Kabbalah 

by Colin Low

Reprinted with permission.
The author grants the right to copy and distribute these Notes provided
they remain unmodified and original authorship and copyright is retained.
The author retains both the right and intention to modify and extend
these Notes. 

Release 2.0      
Copy date: 17th. Jan 1992 

Copyright Colin Low 1992 [email protected]

The Tree of Life

At  the root of the Kabbalistic view of the world are  three 
fundamental  concepts and they provide a natural place to  begin. 
The  three concepts are force,  form and consciousness and  these 
words  are  used in an abstract way,  as the  following  examples 

     -  high  pressure steam in the cylinder of  a  steam  engine 
     provides a force.  The engine is a form which constrains the 

     -  a  river runs downhill under the force  of  gravity.  The 
     river channel is a form which constrains the water to run in 
     a well defined path.

     - someone wants to get to the centre of a garden  maze.  The 
     hedges  are a form which constrain that person's ability  to 
     walk as they please.

     -  a  diesel engine provides the force which drives  a  boat 
     forwards.   A  rudder  constrains  its  course  to  a  given 

     -  a  polititian wants to change the  law.  The  legislative 
     framework  of  the country is a form which he  or  she  must 
     follow if the change is to be made legally.

     - water sits in a bowl. The force of gravity pulls the water 
     down. The bowl is a form which gives its shape to the water.

     -  a stone falls to the ground under the force  of  gravity. 
     Its  acceleration  is constrained to be equal to  the  force 
     divided by the mass of the stone.

     - I want to win at chess.  The force of my desire to win  is 
     constrained within the rules of chess.

     - I see something in a shop window and have to have it. I am 
     constrained  by  the conditions of sale (do  I  have  enough 
     money, is it in stock).

     - cordite explodes in a gun barrel and provides an explosive 
     force on a bullet. The gas and the bullet are constrained by 
     the form of the gun barrel.

     - I want to get a passport. The government won't give me one 
     unless I fill in lots of forms in precisely the right way.

     - I want a university degree.  The university won't give  me 
     a  degree unless I attend certain courses and  pass  various 

In all these examples there is something which is causing  change 
to  take  place ("a force") and there is something  which  causes 
change to take place in a defined way ("a form").  Without  being 
too pedantic it is possible to identify two very different  types 
of example here:
     1.  examples of natural physical processes (e.g.  a  falling 
     stone) where the force is one of the natural forces known to 
     physics (e.g.  gravity) and the form is is some  combination 
     of physical laws which constrain the force to act in a  well 
     defined way.
     2.  examples of people wanting something, where the force is 
     some ill-defined concept of "desire",  "will",  or "drives", 
     and  the form is one of the forms we impose  upon  ourselves 
     (the rules of chess, the Law, polite behaviour etc.).

Despite  the  fact that the two different types  of  example  are 
"only  metaphorically  similar",  Kabbalists see  no  fundamental 
distiniction  between  them.  To the Kabbalist there  are  forces 
which  cause  change  in  the  natural  world,   and  there   are 
corresponding psychological forces which drive us to change  both 
the world and ourselves,  and whether these forces are natural or 
psychological they are rooted in the same  place:  consciousness. 
Similarly,  there  are  forms which the component  parts  of  the 
physical  world  seem  to  obey  (natural  laws)  and  there  are 
completely  arbitrary forms we create as part of the  process  of 
living (the rules of a game, the shape of a mug, the design of an 
engine, the syntax of a language) and these forms are also rooted 
in the same place:  consciousness. It is a Kabbalistic axiom that 
there is a prime cause which underpins all the manifestations  of 
force  and form in both the natural and psychological  world  and 
that prime cause I have called consciousness for lack of a better 
     Consciousness is undefinable.  We know that we are conscious 
in different ways at different times - sometimes we feel free and 
happy,  at other times trapped and confused,  sometimes angry and 
passionate,  sometimes  cold  and restrained -  but  these  words 
describe  manifestations  of consciousness.  We  can  define  the 
manifestations  of  consciousness in terms of  manifestations  of 
consciousness,  which is about as useful as defining an ocean  in 
terms  of  waves  and  foam.   Anyone  who  attempts  to   define 
consciousness  itself tends to come out of the same door as  they 
went in. We have lots of words for the phenomena of consciousness 
- thoughts,  feelings, beliefs, desires, emotions, motives and so 
on  -  but few words for the states of consciousness  which  give 
rise to these phenomena,  just as we have many words to  describe 
the  surface  of a sea,  but few words to  describe  its  depths. 
Kabbalah  provides  a  vocabulary  for  states  of  consciousness 
underlying the phenomena,  and one of the purposes of these notes 
is to explain this vocabulary,  not by definition,  but mostly by 
metaphor  and analogy.  The only genuine method of  understanding 
what  the  vocabulary  means is by attaining  various  states  of 
consciousness in a predictable and reasonably objective way,  and 
Kabbalah provides practical methods for doing this. 
     A fundamental premise of the Kabbalistic model of reality is 
that  there  is  a  pure,   primal,   and  undefinable  state  of 
consciousness which manifests as an interaction between force and 
form.  This is virtually the entire guts of the Kabbalistic  view 
of  things,  and almost everything I have to say from now  on  is 
based  on  this  trinity  of  consciousness,   force,  and  form. 
Consciousness  comes first,  but hidden within it is an  inherent 
duality;  there is an energy associated with consciousness  which 
causes   change  (force),   and  there  is  a   capacity   within 
consciousness  to constrain that energy and cause it to  manifest 
in a well-defined way (form).

                       First Principle             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /                    \                  
                   /                      \            
               Capacity                   Raw                          
               to take  ________________ Energy
                          Figure 1.                       
What do we get out of raw energy and an inbuilt capacity for form 
and structure?  Is there yet another hidden potential within this 
trinity waiting to manifest? There is. If modern physics is to be 
believed we get matter and the physical world.  The  cosmological 
Big  Bang  model of raw energy surging out from  an  infintesimal 
point and condensing into basic forms of matter as it cools, then 
into  stars and galaxies,  then planets,  and  ultimately  living 
creatures,  has  many points of similarity with  the  Kabbalistic 
model. In the Big Bang model a soup of energy condenses according 
to  some  yet-to-be-formulated  Grand-Universal-Theory  into  our 
physical  world.  What Kabbalah does suggest (and modern  physics 
most  certainly does not!) is that matter and  consciousness  are 
the  same  stuff,  and  differ only in the  degree  of  structure 
imposed  -  matter  is consciousness so  heavily  structured  and 
constrained  that  its behaviour becomes  describable  using  the 
regular and simple laws of physics.  This is shown in Fig. 2. The 
primal,  first principle of consciousness is synonymous with  the 
idea of "God".

                       First Principle             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
               Capacity       |           Raw                          
               to take  _____________ Energy/Force
                Form          |
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                          The World
                          Figure 2                       
The glyph in Fig.  2 is the basis for the Tree of Life. The first 
principle of consciousness is called Kether,  which means  Crown. 
The  raw energy of consciousness is called Chockhmah  or  Wisdom, 
and  the capacity to give form to the energy of consciousness  is 
called Binah, which is sometimes translated as Understanding, and 
sometimes  as  Intelligence.  The outcome of the  interaction  of 
force and form,  the physical world,  called Malkuth or  Kingdom. 
This  quaternery  is  a Kabbalistic  representation  of  God-the-
Knowable,  in the sense that it the most primitive representation 
of God we are capable of comprehending;  paradoxically, Kabbalah 
also  contains  a notion of God-the-Unknowable  which  transcends 
this glyph,  and is called En Soph.  There is not much I can  say 
about En Soph, and what I can say I will postpone for later.
     God-the-Knowable has four aspects,  two male and two female: 
Kether and Chokhmah are both represented as male,  and Binah  and 
Malkuth are represented as female.  One of the titles of Chokhmah 
is Abba,  which means Father,  and one of the titles of Binah  is 
Aima,  which means Mother,  so you can think of Chokhmah as  God-
the-Father,   and  Binah  as  God-the-Mother.    Malkuth  is  the 
daughter, the female spirit of God-as-Matter, and it would not be 
wildly  wrong to think of her as Mother Earth.  One of  the  more 
pleasant things about Kabbalah is that its symbolism gives  equal 
place to both male and female.
     And  what  of God-the-Son?  Is there also a  God-the-Son  in 
Kabbalah?  There is, and this is the point where Kabbalah tackles 
the interesting problem of thee and me.  The glyph in Fig. 2 is a 
model of consciousness,  but not of self-consciousness, and self-
consciousness throws an interesting spanner in the works.

The Fall

     Self-consciousness  is like a mirror in which  consciousness 
sees itself reflected.  Self-consciousness is modelled in Kabbalah 
by making a copy of figure 2.

                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
              Consciousness   |      Consciousness                     
                   of  ________________   of  
                  Form        |       Energy/Force
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                            of the
                          Figure 3            

Figure 3.  is Figure 2. reflected through self-consciousness. The 
overall  effect  of self-consciousness is to  add  an  additional 
layer to Figure 2. as follows:

                       First Principle             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
               Capacity       |           Raw                          
               to take  _____________ Energy/Force
                Form          |
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
              Consciousness   |      Consciousness                     
                   of  ________________   of  
                  Form        |       Energy/Force
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                            of the
                          The World
                          Figure 4                       

Fig.  2  is  sometimes  called "the Garden of  Eden"  because  it 
represents a primal state of consciousness.  The effect of  self-
consciousness as shown in Fig.  4 is to drive a wedge between the 
First Principle of Consciousness (Kether) and that  Consciousness 
realised  as  matter and the physical world  (Malkuth).  This  is 
called "the Fall",  after the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden 
of Eden. From a Kabbalistic point of view the story of Eden, with 
the  Tree  of Knowledge of Good and Evil,  the  serpent  and  the 
temptation,  and the casting out from the Garden has a great deal 
of   meaning   in  terms  of  understanding  the   evolution   of 
     Self-consciousness    introduces   four   new   states    of 
consciousness:  the  Consciousness  of  Consciousness  is  called 
Tipheret,  which means Beauty;  the Consciousness of Force/Energy 
is  called  Netzach,   which  means  Victory  or  Firmness;   the 
Consciousness  of Form is called Hod,  which means  Splendour  or 
Glory,  and  the Consciousness of Matter is called  Yesod,  which 
means  Foundation.  These  four states  have  readily  observable 
manifestations, as shown below in Fig. 5:
                           The Self            
                     /        |         \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
                Language      |         Emotions                     
                 Reason       |         Feelings  
                   \          |           /
                    \         |          /
                     \        |         /
                      \   Perception   /
                           Figure 5

Figure 4.  is almost the complete Tree of Life,  but not quite  - 
there  are  still two states missing.  The inherent  capacity  of 
consciousness  to take on structure and objectify itself  (Binah, 
God-the-Mother)  is  reflected through  self-consciousness  as  a 
perception of the limitedness and boundedness of things.  We  are 
conscious of space and time, yesterday and today, here and there, 
you  and  me,  in and out,  life and  death,  whole  and  broken, 
together and apart.  We see things as limited and bounded and  we 
have a perception of form as something "created" and "destroyed". 
My  car was built a year ago,  but it was  smashed  yesterday.  I 
wrote an essay, but I lost it when my computer crashed. My granny 
is dead. The river changed its course. A law has been repealed. I 
broke  my  coffee  mug.  The world changes,  and  what  was  here 
yesterday  is  not  here today.  This  perception  acts  like  an 
"interface"   between  the  quaternary  of  consciousness   which 
represents  "God",  and the quaternary which represents a  living 
self-conscious  being,  and  two  new states  are  introduced  to 
represent this interface. The state which represents the creation 
of new forms is called Chesed,  which means Mercy,  and the state 
which  represents  the destruction of forms  is  called  Gevurah, 
which   means  Strength.   This  is  shown   in   Fig.   6.   The 
objectification  of forms which takes place in  a  self-conscious 
being,  and the consequent tendency to view the world in terms of 
limitations and dualities (time and space,  here and  there,  you 
and me,  in and out,  God and Man,  good and evil...) produces  a 
barrier to perception which most people rarely overcome,  and for 
this reason it has come to be called the Abyss. The Abyss is also 
marked on Figure 6.

                       First Principle             
                     /  Consciousness   \                                   
                    /         |          \                  
                   /          |           \            
               Capacity       |           Raw                          
               to take  _____________ Energy/Force
                Form          |            |
                  |\          |           /|
                  | \         |          / |
                  |   \       |        /   |
             Destruction      |        Creation
                 of_____\_____|_____ /____of
                Form     \    |     /    Form
                  | \     \   |    /    /  | 
                  |  \     \  |   /    /   | 
                  |   \ Consciousness /    |      
                  |          of            |                 
                  |  /  Consciousness   \  |                                
                  | /         |          \ |                
                  |/          |           \|           
              Consciousness   |      Consciousness                     
                   of  ________________   of  
                \ Form        |       Energy/Force
                 \ \          |           / /
                  \ \         |          / /
                  \  \        |         /  /
                   \    Consciousness     /
                   \         of           /
                    \     the World      /
                     \                  /
                      \       |        /
                       \      |       /
                        \     |      /
                          The World
                           Figure 6

The  diagram  in  Fig.   6  is  called  the  Tree  of  Life.  The 
"constructionist"  approach I have used to justify its  structure 
is  a little unusual,  but the essence of my presentation can  be 
found  in  the "Zohar" under the guise of the  Macroprosopus  and 
Microprosopus, although in this form it is not readily accessible 
to  the average reader.  My attempt to show how the Tree of  Life 
can be derived out of pure consciousness through the  interaction 
of an abstract notion of force and form was not intended to be  a 
convincing exercise from an intellectual point of view - the Tree 
of  Life  is  primarily  a gnostic  rather  than  a  rational  or 
intellectual  explanation  of consciousness and  its  interaction 
with the physical world.
     The  Tree is composed of 10 states or  sephiroth  (sephiroth 
plural,  sephira singular) and 22 interconnecting paths.  The age 
of  this diagram is unknown:  there is enough information in  the 
13th.  century "Sepher ha Zohar" to construct this  diagram,  and 
the  doctrine of the sephiroth has been attributed to  Isaac  the 
Blind in the 12th.  century,  but we have no certain knowledge of 
its  origin.  It  probably originated sometime  in  the  interval 
between the 6th.  and 13th.  centuries AD. The origin of the word 
"sephira"  is unclear - it is almost certainly derived  from  the 
Hebrew word for "number" (SPhR),  but it has also been attributed 
to the Greek word for "sphere" and even to the Hebrew word for  a 
sapphire (SPhIR).  With a characteristic aptitude for discovering 
hidden meanings everywhere, Kabbalists find all three derivations 
useful, so take your pick.
     In the language of earlier Kabbalistic writers the sephiroth 
represented  ten primeval emanations of God,  ten  focii  through 
which  the energy of a hidden,  absolute and unknown Godhead  (En 
Soph)  propagated  throughout  the  creation,  like  white  light 
passing  through  a prism.  The sephiroth can be  interpreted  as 
aspects of God,  as states of consciousness,  or as nodes akin to 
the  Chakras  in the occult anatomy of a human  being  .  
     I  have left out one important detail from the structure  of 
the  Tree.  There is an eleventh "something" which is  definitely 
*not* a sephira,  but is often shown on modern representations of 
the  Tree.  The Kabbalistic "explanation" runs as  follows:  when 
Malkuth "fell" out of the Garden of Eden (Fig.  2) it left behind 
a "hole" in the fabric of the Tree,  and this "hole",  located in 
the centre of the Abyss,  is called Daath,  or Knowledge. Daath is 
*not* a sephira; it is a hole. This may sound like gobbledy-gook, 
and in the sense that it is only a metaphor, it is.
     The  completed  Tree of Life with the Hebrew titles  of  the 
sephiroth is shown below in Fig. 7.     

                           En Soph
                /                           \
               (            Kether           )
                       /   (Crown)    \                       
                      /       |        \                                   
                     /        |         \                  
                    /         |          \            
                Binah         |        Chokhmah                       
            (Understanding)__________  (Wisdom)
             (Intelligence)   |           |
                  |\          |          /|
                  | \       Daath       / |
                  |  \   (Knowledge)   /  |
                  |   \       |       /   |
               Gevurah \      |      /  Chesed
              (Strength)\_____|_____/__ (Mercy)      
                  |      \    |    /    (Love)
                  | \     \   |   /     / | 
                  |  \     \  |  /     /  | 
                  |   \   Tipheret    /   |      
                  |   /   (Beauty)    \   |                 
                  |  /        |        \  |                                
                  | /         |         \ |                
                  |/          |          \|           
                 Hod          |        Netzach                         
               (Glory) _______________(Victory)
              (Splendour)     |       (Firmness)
                 \ \          |           / /
                  \ \         |          / /
                  \  \        |         / /
                   \  \       |        /  /
                   \   \    Yesod     /  /
                    \    (Foundation)   /
                     \                 /
                      \       |       /
                       \      |      /
                        \     |     /
                           Figure 7

From  an historical point of view the doctrine of emanations  and 
the  Tree  of  Life are only one small part of  a  huge  body  of 
Kabbalistic speculation about the nature of divinity and our part 
in  creation,  but it is the part which has  survived.  The  Tree 
continues  to  be used in the Twentieth Century  because  it  has 
proved  to be a useful and productive symbol for practices  of  a 
magical,  mystical and religious nature.  Modern Kabbalah in  the 
Western   Mystery  Tradition  is  largely  concerned   with   the 
understanding and practical application of the Tree of Life,  and 
the following set of notes will list some of the  characteristics 
of each sephira in more detail so that you will have a "snapshot" 
of  what each sephira represents before going on to  examine  the 
sephiroth and the "deep structure" of the Tree in more detail.

The Pillars & the Lightning Flash

     In  Chapter  1.  the  Tree of Life was  derived  from  three 
concepts,  or  rather  one  primary concept  and  two  derivative 
concepts which are "contained" within it. The primary concept was 
called consciousness,  and it was said to "contain" within it the 
two complementary concepts of force and form. This chapter builds 
on  the idea by introducing the three Pillars of  the  Tree,  and 
uses the Pillars to clarify a process called the Lightning Flash.
     The Three Pillars are shown in Figure 8. below.

               Pillar      Pillar       Pillar
                 of          of           of
                Form    Consciousness   Force
             (Severity)  (Mildness)    (Mercy)

                       /   (Crown)    \                       
                      /       |        \                                   
                     /        |         \                  
                    /         |          \            
                Binah         |        Chokhmah                       
            (Understanding)__________  (Wisdom)
             (Intelligence)   |           |
                  |\          |          /|
                  | \       Daath       / |
                  |  \   (Knowledge)   /  |
                  |   \       |       /   |
               Gevurah \      |      /  Chesed
              (Strength)\_____|_____/__ (Mercy)      
                  |      \    |    /    (Love)
                  | \     \   |   /     / | 
                  |  \     \  |  /     /  | 
                  |   \   Tipheret    /   |      
                  |   /   (Beauty)    \   |                 
                  |  /        |        \  |                                
                  | /         |         \ |                
                  |/          |          \|           
                 Hod          |        Netzach                         
               (Glory) _______________(Victory)
              (Splendour)     |       (Firmness)
                 \ \          |           / /
                  \ \         |          / /
                  \  \        |         / /
                   \  \       |        /  /
                   \   \    Yesod     /  /
                    \    (Foundation)   /
                     \                 /
                      \       |       /
                       \      |      /
                        \     |     /
                           Figure 8

Not surprisingly the three pillars are referred to as the pillars 
of  consciousness,  force and form.  The pillar of  consciousness 
contains the sephiroth Kether,  Tiphereth, Yesod and Malkuth; the 
pillar  of  force contains the  sephiroth  Chokhmah,  Chesed  and 
Netzach; the pillar of form contains the sephiroth Binah, Gevurah 
and Hod.  In older Kabbalistic texts the pillars are referred  to 
as  the pillars of mildness,  mercy and severity,  and it is  not 
immediately obvious how the older jargon relates to the  new.  To 
the  medieval Kabbalist (and this is a recurring metaphor in  the 
Zohar)  the  creation  as  an emanation  of  God  is  a  delicate 
*balance* (metheqela) between two opposing tendencies:  the mercy 
of  God,  the outflowing,  creative,  life-giving and  sustaining 
tendency in God, and the severity or strict judgement of God, the 
limiting,   defining,  life-taking  and  ultimately  wrathful  or 
destructive tendency in God. The creation is "energised" by these 
two tendencies as if stretched between the poles of a battery.
     Modern  Kabbalah makes a half-hearted attempt to remove  the 
more  obvious  anthropomorphisms in the  descriptions  of  "God"; 
mercy and severity are misleading terms,  apt to remind one of  a 
man with a white beard,  and even in medieval times the terms had 
distinctly  technical meanings as the following  quotation  shows 
     "It must be remembered that to the Kabbalist, judgement [Din 
     - judgement,  another title of Gevurah] means the imposition 
     of limits and the correct determination of things. According 
     to  Cordovero  the  quality  of  judgement  is  inherent  in 
     everything  insofar as everything wishes to remain  what  it 
     is, to stay within its boundaries."

     I understand the word "form" in precisely this sense - it is that 
which  defines *what* a thing is,  the structure whereby a  given 
thing is distinct from every other thing.      
     As for "consciousness",  I use the word "consciousness" in a 
sense so abstract that it is virtually meaningless, and according 
to whim I use the word God instead,  where it is understood  that 
both  words are placeholders for something which  is  potentially 
knowable  in  the  gnostic  sense only  -  consciousness  can  be 
*defined* according to the *forms* it takes, in which case we are 
defining   the  forms,   *not*  the   consciousness.   The   same 
qualification applies to the word "force". My inability to define 
two  of  the three concepts which underpin the structure  of  the 
Tree  is a nuisance which is tackled traditionally by the use  of 
extravagent  metaphors,   and  by  elimination  ("not  this,  not 
     The classification of sephiroth into three pillars is a  way 
of  saying  that each sephira in a pillar partakes  of  a  common 
quality  which is "inherited" in a progressively  more  developed 
and  structured form from of the top of a pillar to  the  bottom. 
Tipheret,  Yesod and Malkuth all share with Kether the quality of 
"consciousness in balance" or "synthesis of opposing  qualities", 
or but in each case it is expressed differently according to  the 
increased degree of structure imposed. Likewise, Chokhmah, Chesed 
and   Netzach   share  the  quality  of  force   or   energy   or 
expansiveness,  and Binah,  Gevurah and Hod share the quality  of 
form,  definition  and limitation.  From Kether down to  Malkuth, 
force  and  form  are combined;  the symbolism of  the  Tree  has 
something  in common with a production line,  with  molten  metal 
coming  in one end and finished cars coming out  the  other,  and 
with  that  metaphor we are now ready to describe  the  Lightning 
Flash,  the process whereby God takes on flesh, the process which 
created and sustains the creation.
     In  the beginning...was Something.  Or Nothing.  It  doesn't 
really matter which term we use,  as both are equally meaningless 
in this context. Nothing is probably the better of the two terms, 
because  I can use Something in the  next  paragraph.  Kabbalists 
call  this  Nothing "En Soph" which literally means "no  end"  or 
infinity,  and  understand by this a hidden,  unmanifest  God-in-
     Out of this incomprehensible and indescribable Nothing  came 
Something.  Probably more words have been devoted to this  moment 
than  any other in Kabbalah,  and it is all too easy to make  fun 
the effort which has gone into elaborating the indescribable,  so 
I  won't,   but  in  return  do  not  expect  me  to  provide   a 
justification for why Something came out of Nothing. It just did.
A  point  crystallised in the En Soph.  In some versions  of  the 
story  the En Soph "contracted" to "make room" for  the  creation 
(Isaac  Luria's  theory of Tsimtsum),  and this  is  probably  an 
important clarification for those who have rubbed noses with  the 
hidden  face of God,  but for the purposes of these notes  it  is 
enough  that a point crystallised.  This point was the  crown  of 
creation, the sephira Kether, and within Kether was contained all 
the unrealised potential of the creation.      
     An  aspect of Kether is the raw creative force of God  which 
blasts into the creation like the blast of hot gas which keeps  a 
hot air ballon in the air. Kabbalists are quite clear about this; 
the creation didn't just happen a long time ago - it is happening 
all  the time,  and without the force to sustain it the  creation 
would crumple like a balloon. The force-like aspect within Kether 
is  the sephira Chokhmah and it can be thought of as the will  of 
God,  because  without it the creation would cease to  *be*.  The 
whole of creation is maintained by this ravening, primeval desire 
to  *be*,  to  become,  to  exist,  to  change,  to  evolve.  The 
experiential distinction between Kether,  the point of emanation, 
and Chokhmah,  the creative outpouring,  is elusive,  but some of 
the  difference  is  captured  in  the  phrases  "I  am"  and  "I 
     Force by itself achieves nothing;  it needs to be contained, 
and the balloon analogy is appropriate again.  Chokhmah  contains 
within it the necessity of Binah,  the Mother of Form. The person 
who  taught  me Kabbalah (a woman) told me  Chokhmah  (Abba,  the 
Father) was God's prick,  and Binah (Aima,  the mother) was God's 
womb,   and  left  me  with  the  picture  of  one  half  of  God 
continuously ejaculating into the other half.  The author of  the 
Zohar  also makes frequent use of sexual polarity as  a  metaphor 
to describe the relationship between force and form, or mercy and 
severity  (although the most vivid sexual metaphors are used  for 
the  marriage of the Microprosopus and his bride,  the Queen  and 
Inferior Mother, the sephira Malkuth).
     The sephira Binah is the Mother of Form;  form exists within 
Binah  as a potentiality,  not as an actuality,  just as  a  womb 
contains  the  potential of a baby.  Without the  possibility  of 
form,  no thing would be distinct from any other thing;  it would 
be impossible to distinguish between things,  impossible to  have 
individuality  or  identity  or  change.   The  Mother  of   Form 
contains the potential of form within her womb and gives birth to 
form  when a creative impulse crosses the Abyss to the Pillar  of 
Force and emanates through the sephira Chesed.  Again we have the 
idea of "becoming", of outflowing creative energy, but at a lower 
level.  The  sephira  Chesed is the point at which  form  becomes 
perciptible  to the mind as an inspiration,  an idea,  a  vision, 
that  "Eureka!"  moment  immediately  prior  to  rushing   around 
shouting  "I've got it!  I've got it!" Chesed is that quality  of 
genuine  inspiration,   a  sense  of  being  "plugged  in"  which 
characterises  the  visionary leaders who drive  the  human  race 
onwards into every new kind of endeavour.  It can be for good  or 
evil; a leader who can tap the petty malice and vindictiveness in 
any  person  and  channel it into a vision of  a  new  order  and 
genocide  is  just  as much a visionary as  any  other,  but  the 
positive  side  of Chesed is the humanitarian leader  who  brings 
about genuine improvements to our common life.
     No  change  comes easy;  as Cordova points  out  "everything 
wishes to remain what it is". The creation of form is balanced in 
the sephira Gevurah by the preservation and destruction of  form. 
Any impulse of change is channelled through Gevurah, and if it is 
not  resisted then something will be destroyed.  If you  want  to 
make  paper you cut down a tree.  If you want to abolish  slavery 
you have to destroy the culture which perpetuates it. If you want 
to  change  someone's  mind you have  to  destroy  that  person's 
beliefs about the matter in question.  The sephira Gevurah is the 
quality  of strict judgement which opposes change,  destroys  the 
unfamiliar,  and  corresponds  in many ways to an  immune  system 
within the body of God.
     There has to be a balance between creation and  destruction. 
Too much change,  too many ideas,  too many things happening  too 
quickly  can have the quality of chaos (and can literally  become 
that), whereas too little change, no new ideas, too much form and 
structure and protocol can suffocate and stifle.  There has to be 
a  balance  which  "makes sense" and this "idea  of  balance"  or 
"making  sense" is expressed in the sephira Tiphereth.  It is  an 
instinctive  morality,  and  it isn't present by default  in  the 
human species.  It isn't based on cultural norms; it doesn't have 
its roots in upbringing (although it is easily destroyed by  it). 
Some people have it in a large measure,  and some people are  (to 
all  intents and purposes) completely lacking in it.  It  doesn't 
necessarily  respect conventional morality:  it may laugh in  its 
face.  I  can't  say  what it is in any  detail,  because  it  is 
peculiar  and individual,  but those who have it have  a  natural 
quality   of integrity,  soundness of judgement,  an  instinctive 
sense of rightness,  justice and compassion, and a willingness to 
fight or suffer in defense of that sense of justice. Tiphereth is 
a  paradoxical  sephira because in many people it is  simply  not 
there.  It  can  be developed,  and that is one of the  goals  of 
initiation,  but for many people Tiphereth is a room with nothing 
in it.      
     Having  passed through Gevurah on the Pillar  of  Form,  and 
found its way through the moral filter of Tiphereth,  a  creative 
impulse picks up energy once more on the Pillar of Force via  the 
Sephira Netzach,  where the energy of "becoming" finds its  final 
expression  in  the form of "vital urges".  Why do  we  carry  on 
living?  Why bother?  What is it that compels us to do things? An 
artist  may have a vision of a piece of art,  but  what  actually 
compels the artist to paint or sculpt or write? Why do we want to 
compete  and  win?  Why do we care what happens  to  others?  The 
sephira  Netzach  expresses the basic vital creative urges  in  a 
form we can recognise as drives,  feelings and emotions.  Netzach 
is pre-verbal; ask a child why he wants a toy and the answer will 
     "I just do".      
     "But why," you ask,  wondering why he doesn't want the  much 
more  "sensible" toy you had in mind.  "Why don't you  want  this 
one here."
     "I just don't. I want this one."
     "But what's so good about that one."
     "I don't know what to say...I just like it."
This  conversation  is  not fictitious  and  is  quintessentially 
Netzach.  The structure of the Tree of Life posits that the basic 
driving  forces which characterise our behaviour  are  pre-verbal 
and non-rational; anyone who has tried to change another person's 
basic  nature or beliefs through force of rational argument  will 
know this.
     After  Netzach we go to the sephira Hod to pick up our  last 
cargo of Form.  Ask a child why they want something and they  say 
"I  just  do".  Press  an adult and you will  get  an  earful  of 
"reasons".  We  live  in a culture where it is  important  (often 
essential) to give reasons for the things we do,  and Hod is  the 
sephira  of form where it is possible to give shape to our  wants 
in  terms  of reasons and explanations.  Hod is  the  sephira  of 
abstraction,  reason,  logic,  language and communication,  and a 
reflection  of the Mother of Form in the human mind.  We  have  a 
innate  capacity  to  abstract,   to  go  immediately  from   the 
particular  to  the general,  and we have an innate  capacity  to 
communicate these abstractions using language,  and it should  be 
clear    why   the   alternative   translation   of   Binah    is 
"intelligence";  Binah  is  the "intelligence of  God",  and  Hod 
underpins what we generally recognise as intelligence in people - 
the ability to grasp complex abstractions, reason about them, and 
articulate this understanding using some means of communication.
     The   synthesis  of  Hod  and  Netzach  on  the  Pillar   of 
Consciousness  is  the sephira Yesod.  Yesod is  the  sephira  of 
interface, and the comparison with computer peripheral interfaces 
is an excellent one. Yesod is sometimes called "the Receptacle of 
the  Emanations",  and it interfaces the emanations of all  three 
pillars to the sephira Malkuth,  and it is through Yesod that the 
final abstract form of something is realised in matter.  Form  in 
Yesod  is  no  longer abstract;  it  is  explicit,  but  not  yet 
individual  -  that last quality is reserved for  Malkuth  alone. 
Yesod  is  like  the mold in a bottle factory -  the  mold  is  a 
realisation  of  the  abstract  idea "bottle" in  so  far  as  it 
expresses  the  shape  of a particular  bottle  design  in  every 
detail, but it is not itself an individual bottle.
     The final step in the process is the sephira Malkuth,  where 
God  becomes  flesh,  and  every abstract  form  is  realised  in 
actuality,  in the "real world". There is much to say about this, 
but I will keep it for later.     
     The process I have described is called the Lightning  Flash. 
The Lightning Flash runs as  follows:  Kether,  Chokhmah,  Binah,  
Chesed,  Gevurah, Tiphereth, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malkuth, and if 
you  trace the Lighning Flash on a diagram of the Tree  you  will 
see  that  it has the zig-zag shape of  a  lightning  flash.  The 
sephiroth are numbered according to their order on the  lightning 
flash:  Kether  is  1,  Chokhmah is 2,  and so  on.  The  "Sepher 
Yetzirah" [2] has this to say about the sephiroth:

     "When  you think of the ten sephiroth cover your  heart  and 
     seal  the  desire of your lips to announce  their  divinity. 
     Yoke your mind.  Should it escape your grasp,  reach out and 
     bring it back under your control.  As it was said,  'And the 
     living  creatures  ran and returned as the appearance  of  a 
     flash  of  lightning,'  in such a manner  was  the  Covenant 

The  quotation within the quotation comes from  Ezekiel  1.14,  a 
text   which  inspired  a  large  amount  of  early   Kabbalistic 
speculation,  and  it  is probable that the  Lightning  Flash  as 
described  is  one  of the earliest components  of  the  idea  of 
sephirothic emanation.
     The   Lightning  Flash  describes  the   creative   process, 
beginning with the unknown, unmanifest hidden God, and follows it 
through ten distinct stages to a change in the material world. It 
can be used to describe *any* change - lighting a match,  picking 
your  nose,  walking the dog - and novices are  usually  set  the 
exercise   of analysing any arbitrarily chosen event in terms  of 
the Lightning Flash.  Because the Lightning Flash can be used  to 
understand  the inner process whereby the material world  of  the 
senses  changes  and evolves,  it is a key to  practical  magical 
work,  and because it is intended to account for *all* change  it 
follows that all change is equally magical,  and the word "magic" 
is   essentially   meaningless  (but  nevertheless   useful   for 
distinguishing   between  "normal"  and  "abnormal"   states   of 
consciousness, and the modes of causality which pertain to each).
     It also follows that the key to understanding our "spiritual 
nature"  does  not belong in the  spiritual  empyrean,  where  it 
remains  inaccessible,  but in *all* the routine  and  unexciting 
little  things  in life.  Everything is is  equally  "spiritual", 
equally  "divine",  and there is more to be learned from  picking 
one's nose than there is in a spiritual discipline which puts you 
"here" and God "over there". The Lightning Flash ends in Malkuth, 
and it can be followed like a thread through the hidden  pathways 
of  creation  until  one arrives back at  the  source.  The  next 
chapter  will  retrace  the  Lightning  Flash  by  examining  the 
qualities of each sephira in more detail.

[1]  Scholem,  Gershom  G.  "Major Trends in  Jewish  Mysticism", 
                            Schoken Books 1974

[2]  Westcott, W. Wynn, ed. "Sepher Yetzirah". Many reprintings.

The Four Worlds & the Souls


The  sephirothic Tree of Life presents a metaphor where  creation 
takes  place  in ten steps and there is the suggestion  that  ten 
potencies (or emanations, or vessels, or garments, or crowns) are 
involved.  There  is  an alternative picture where  the  creation 
takes  place  in  four steps;  this model  is  called  "the  Four 
Worlds". The four worlds can be mapped onto the Kabbalistic Tree, 
and the two models have become complementary. 

The four worlds are

Atlizuth - the world of emanation or nearness
Briah - the world of creation
Yetzirah - the world of formation
Assiah - the world of making

The names of three of the four worlds can be found in Isaiah 43.7 
where  the  Lord  (speaking through the  mouth  of  the  prophet) 

"...for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, 
I have made him."

It is interesting to compare the Kabbalistic four worlds with the 
neoplatonic scheme of Plotinus [ ], where we find a similar four-
fold division into the One, the Divine Mind, the All-Soul and the 
Sensible World. A comparison can also be made with the "celestial 
hierarchies"  of  the gnostic Psuedo-Dionysus,  where we  find  a 
super-celestial  world of the Nous,  the Real;  a celestial  (and 
potentially  hostile)  world  of  the  demiurge,   guardians  and 
Archons;   and  the  sub-lunary  world  of  the   elements.   The 
Kabbalistic   model  of  four  worlds  shares  with  both   these 
alternative and older views an attempt to bridge the gap  between 
the  perfection of a transcendent Godhead and the finiteness  and 
imperfection of the material world - it would seem inevitable for 
metaphysical speculation to attempt to bridge the gap between the 
two extremes.

Atziluth is the world of pure emanation,  the outflowing light of 
God which we see refracted through the glass of consciousness  as 
the  ten lights of the sephiroth.  "To emanate" is to  "flow  out 
from",  and Atziluth is the world which flows directly out of the 
infinite and unknowable En Soph. The word atziluth can be derived 
from the root ezel,  meaning "near by",  empasising the closeness 
of  this world to the hidden,  unmanifest En Soph.  Another  term 
used  to  describe  the nature of the  emanation  is  hamshakhah, 
"drawing  out",  with the suggestion that the emantion is only  a 
part of something greater, just as we draw water from a well. 

The  sephiroth  as  an expression of the Holy Names  of  God  are 
normally  attributed to Aztiluth and this is an  indication  that 
early  Kabbalists  viewed the pure energies of the  sephiroth  as 
being   exceedingly   remote,    and   inaccessible   to   normal 
consciousness.  The  world of Atziluth is remote from  the  world 
where  it  is possible to form representations of  the  sephiroth 
(Yezirah), and this tells us that the pictures of the sephirothic 
Tree  normally  employed for communication  and  instruction  are 
representations of something unimaginable and incommunicable:  we 
must  constantly  remember  that the map is  not  the  territory. 
Intellectually we know that sunlight is composed of a spectrum of 
colours, and even young children can draw a picture of a rainbow, 
but we do not see the colours in sunlight directly. We do not see 
the colours until the light is refracted in a shower of rain  and 
it is worth bearing this in mind when considering the  importance 
(or otherwise) of the sephirothic correspondences.

     Atziluth is the world of closeness or nearness to  God,  the 
world where one is bathed in the undifferentiated light.  In  the 
terminology  of  the Merkabah mystics,  it is the  world  of  the 
Throne. There is very little that one can usefully say about it.

Briah  is  the  world  of creation,  creation  in  the  sense  of 
"something  out of nothing".  The author of the Bahir  makes  the 
amusing observation that as light is an attribute of  God,  light 
did  not have to be created,  but was formed,  "something out  of 
something";  darkness,  on the other hand,  was not a part of God 
and had to be created.  This ties in with the Kabbalistic  notion 
of contraction,  or tzimtzum,  the idea that for the creation  to 
proceed  there had to be a space where God was not.  If one  also 
supposes that the ultimate nature of God is good,  then one  must 
also conclude that evil was created, that the goodness, light and 
peace of God were deliberately withheld in some measure to create 
the  universe,  and this reflects the separation of  Kether  into 
Chokhmah and Binah, the right and left sides of the manifest God. 
This  is  a  key kabbalistic  idea:  the  negative  qualities  of 
existence,  the  rigour  and severity of God as depicted  by  the 
lefthand  Pillar  of the Tree of Life,  are not the result  of  a 
malevolent  third  party - a diabolical anti-God  fouling-up  the 
works. They are the very essence of the creative act.
     The  suggestion  that the fundamental creative act  was  the 
creation  of  evil  is  not  (for  obvious  reasons)  given  much 
prominance  in Kabbalistic literature,  but hints to this  effect 
can be found everywhere.  The Bahir uses the metaphor of gold and 
silver to make the point that the essence of the creative act was 
"holding back". That which was held back was so much greater than 
that which was given,  and so that which was given,  the mercy of 
God,  is associated with silver,  while that which was held back, 
the severity of God,  is associated with gold. The essence of the 
creative act was the withholding of God, and nowhere have I found 
a  suggestion that an entity other than God was involved -  there 
is no demiurge in Kabbalah.  The essence of the creative act  was 
separation.  One becomes two,  Kether becomes Chokhmah and Binah, 
and  in  this  primary  duality can be  found  the  root  of  all 

When  I  first began thinking about Briah,  and I tried  to  make 
sense of the word "creation",  I assumed that something  tangible 
was created, and I found I could not differentiate the end result 
from  formation - a rose is a rose whether it is created  out  of 
nothing  or grown in a garden.  Does it matter whether I  make  a 
cake  miraculously by conjuring it out of nowhere,  or whether  I 
make it synthetically by mixing ingredients and baking them in an 
oven?  I  presume  both  cakes will  taste  the  same.  Synthetic 
creation,  the  creation  of  "something  out  of  something"  is 
commonplace,  but miraculous creation is not, and if Briah is not 
the  world  of  synthetic creation  (which  belongs  properly  in 
Yetzirah), then what does it represent?

The creation which takes place in Briah is differentiation;  that 
is,  Briah predicates the *possibility* of creation. The creation 
which  takes  place in Briah is *not* the  creation  of  anything 
tangible,  but the creation of those necessary (but abstract  and 
definitely  intangible) conditions which make creation  possible. 
It  is  difficult  to find a good example  without  resorting  to 
abstract  forms  of theoretical physics which attempt  to  answer 
questions  concerning "why is the universe the way it  is?",  but 
the nature of Briah is elusive unless the attempt is made, and so 
I will make the attempt. 

Pottery  is  a  creative  activity,   the  creation  of  new  and 
completely original forms out of clay and it is clearly synthetic 
creation.  A potter wants to make a jug to hold water.  Note  the 
use  of the word "make";  jug making is an activity  which  takes 
place in Assiah,  the world of making. The potter may incorporate 
some  novelty of design into the jug he or she is about to  make, 
and if this novelty is sufficiently unusual we might consider the 
design  itself to be creative - this is an example of  Yetziratic 
     Let  us now go back through history to a remote time in  the 
past  when there were no jugs.  Should the creation of the  first 
jug be regarded as truely creative in the Briatic  sense,  rather 
than synthetically creative in the Yetziratic sense?  I would say 
that  the creation of the first jug would have been an  evolution 
from  past  experience;  there must have been  an  experience  of 
"containment"  which  was almost certainly derived  from  cupping 
hands  to drink water,  or from drinking water held in  pools  in 
rocks.  The  idea for the first pottery jug was almost  certainly 
derived  from a prior experience of using a variety of  artifacts 
to contain water, and all of these artifacts would have in common 
the quality of "containment".  Containment would not be  possible 
without  the basic physical properties of the world we  live  in, 
such  as  the  existence  of  individually  identifiable  objects 
extended  in space with a specific shape.  The abstract  physical 
properties themselves would not be possible without...what?  What 
was it that determined the most abstract properties of the  world 
and  made  it possible for us to conceive of  containment  as  an 
abstract  property?  In the terminology of Kabbalah,  this  takes 
place in Briah;  the world of creation creates the conditions for 
form  by  providing  differentiation and  identity.  This  is  an 
abstract concept,  and difficult to grasp;  Wittgenstein put  his 
finger  on the problem when he observed that the solution of  the 
riddle of life in time and space lies outside time and space.

Traditionally,  Briah  is  the world  of  the  archangels;  these 
attributions vary greatly from period to period,  and from writer 
to writer. The author uses the attributions given in Chapter ???.  

Yetzirah is the world of formation where complex forms are  built 
synthetically,   "something  out  of  something",   what  I  have 
previously called synthetic creation. We are not yet in the world 
of tangible things;  to use an analogy I gave when describing the 
sephira Yesod,  we are more in the world of bottle moulds than  a 
world of glass bottles,  and more accurately still,  in the world 
where one designs bottle moulds for glass bottles.

Yetzirah  is  a  curious world,  because its  contents  are  both 
intangible and real.  Money is an example of an abstraction  that 
people will kill over. Criminal law is something clearly abstract 
and  synthetic in nature,  but not something to meddle  with  too 
often. Several times in these notes I have attempted to point out 
the  "real but intangible" nature of mathematical  objects,  with 
computer  programs  being  the  most  important   examples;   the 
development of virtual reality systems drives home the point that 
there  is a world of objects which are not real in the  sense  of 
being physical, but they are real in another sense: they are real 
in the sense that they can be differentiated in some way, real in 
the sense of having specific properties and behaviour.  The world 
of  intangible  but  differentiated objects  is  the  world  that 
Kabbalists call Yetzirah,  and it is a world that spans  thought, 
from  slippery  abstractions  like  beauty  and  truth  down   to 
something as specific and detailed as an engineering blueprint.

It  is difficult to write about Yetzirah because it contains  the 
whole of human culture;   our myths, legends, music, poetry, law, 
cultural behaviour, literature, sciences, games, and so on; these 
fall into the "intangible but real" category - things which  have 
no substance but which constitute our inheritance and define  our 
experience of being human. It is a kind of "mind-space" where all 
the  forms  ever  conceived can be found,  a space  where  it  is 
possible  to  interact with form.  One of  the  most  interesting 
developments  in  recent  times is the  realisation  that  it  is 
becoming  possible to bridge the gap between Yetzirah and  Assiah 
using  computer technology,  and the term "cyberspace" is  widely 
used  to describe this idea.  Computer programs have  become  the 
medium  for  turning form into something that can  be  shared;  a 
program  which  defines a jug in all its respects  allows  us  to 
share  the form of the jug without any potter having to  get  her 
hands dirty.  It isn't a real jug,  and it won't hold real water, 
but it can hold the form of water,  the Yetziratic representation 
of  liquidity,  and  I could pour Yetziratic "water"  out  of  my 
Yetziratic  "jug".  The  fact that we can share the  form  of  an 
object without having to *make* it (and this is increasingly  the 
way industrial designers work today) means that humans will  have 
the  ability  to interact in Yetzirah (as magicians  have  always 
done) without any form of magical training. Writing was the first 
breakthrough  in recording the contents of Yetzirah and  it  gave 
the  contents an independent (if  static)  existence.  Cyberspace 
will  be  an even greater breakthrough in that it will  not  only 
record the contents, it will enable us to bring them to life in a 
limited way. Yetzirah is in the process of "becoming real".

The  world  of Yetzirah is traditionally the realm of  the  Angel 
Orders,  but  like the Archangels,  the attribution  to  specific 
sephiroth vary greatly from writer to writer.

Assiah  is  the world of making,  the world where  forms  "become 
real".  The  essential  quality  of the "world  of  making"  that 
permits  us  to  make things is  stability,  the  fact  that  the 
material world has stable properties and behaves in a predictable 
way.  Our sciences are an outcome of this predictability -  there 
would  be  no science if there were  no  stable  properties.  Our 
technology  is an outcome of our scientific  knowledge,  and  our 
ability  to make increasingly complex artifacts is an outcome  of 
our  technology.  If I make a chair at lunchtime,  then (left  to 
itself) it will still be a chair at dinnertime, and it won't be a 
towel,  a giraffe, or an igloo. An ounce of gold remains an ounce 
of gold.  A pound of lead weighs the same on each successive  day 
of the week. It is this stability and predictability which allows 
us  to have a shared experience of the world.  If you  place  the 
pound of lead on the chair I made at lunchtime,  then I will find 
the same pound of lead on the same chair at dinnertime,  and both 
of  us can behave with some confidence that this will  indeed  be 
the case.  An unstable world where you leave a pound of lead on a 
chair, and I find a hedgehog in a goldfish bowl, and this happens 
in a completely unpredictable way would not,  in my opinion, be a 
world  of  shared experience - each person would have  their  own 
individual and private experience of the world, and we would have 
a world more resembling Yetzirah than Assiah.

The  stability  and predictability of Assiah forms  the  rock  on 
which  we have build our material culture of "things" -  millions 
of  different  types of thing  -  screws,  nails,  tools,  books, 
hairbrushes, trouser presses, shoes, pens, paper ... list goes on 
almost  indefinitely.  It is interesting to ask whether any  life 
could be sustained in a world with less stability; we know living 
organisms   have  a  distressing  tendency  to  die  when   their 
environment changes.  It is also interesting to speculate whether 
life  could  exist  in a more  predictable  world,  and  we  must 
consider the possibility that our world is unpredictable in  ways 
we  do  not  appreciate because we have no  other  experience  to 
compare with. Perhaps there are more predictable worlds which are 
too  predictable and mechanical for life - I am reminded  of  the 
Zoharic  myth of the kings of Edom,  the kingdoms of  "unbalanced 
force" which contained a preponderance of Din, judgement and were 
destroyed.  If this is so,  then it is probable the properties of 
the  Assiah  we  know  and  love are  necessary  in  a  deep  and 
fundamental way.  
     I have a somewhat mystical perspective that the godhead, the 
root of existence, had an urge to become conscious of itself, and 
the  cosmogenic  descriptions in Kabbalah,  of  which  the  "four 
worlds" model forms a part,  are an attempt the show the necessary 
steps  for  this to take place,  with Assiah being  a  final  and 
necessary  step.  The  problems  of  living  in  a  finite  world 
suffering  the  attendent  ills of the flesh  has  lead  to  some 
prejudice  against  Assiah,  but there is  nothing  "wrong"  with 
Assiah.  What  we perceive to be its imperfections are  necessary 
components of its perfection. Everything is right with Assiah; if 
there is a flaw in the creation,  it is that when "God wished  to 
behold God" and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge it did not 
become conscious of its own nature.  It was seduced by the beauty 
of Assiah,  overwhelmed by the miracle of its own making, and the 
Yetziratic consciousness,  which should have united the worlds of 
Assiah  and  Briah,  turned  away from  Briah  and  faced  Assiah 
exclusively, creating the Abyss.

The four worlds can be related to the sephirothic Tree, and there 
are  many  ways of doing this.  There is general  agreement  that 
Atziluth  corresponds  to Kether,  Briah to Chokhmah  and  Binah, 
Yetzirah to the next six sephiroth,  and Assiah to Malkuth.  This 
is  too simple however.  The four worlds represent four  distinct 
"realms" of consciousness,  and there is more in this idea than a 
simple  attribution  to  sephiroth.  Out  of  the  many  ways  of 
presenting  the  four worlds I will present two schemes  which  I 
consider to offer more in the way of real,  useful substance than 
other  schemes  I  am familiar with.  There  is  no  question  of 
"rightness"  or "wrongness" - any map,  unless it is  grossly  or 
maliciously   misleading,   is  bound  to  contain  some   useful 
information. It is a question of how useful the map is, and in my 
opinion the following attributions of the four worlds to the Tree 
are  outstandingly useful and enrich the basic  sephirothic  Tree 
considerably.  The first attribution relates the four worlds to a 
single Tree;  the second makes use of four separate Trees and  is 
called "The Extended Tree". 

The  first  attribution  begins with a  small  amount  of  simple 
geometry,  and  if you have not done this before then it is  well 
worth doing.  Draw a vertical line on piece of paper.  At the top 
of  the line place the needle of a pair of compasses and  draw  a 
circle  with a diameter approximately half that of the length  of 
the line.  Without altering the compasses,  draw a second  circle 
where the first intersects the line.  Repeat this for the  second 
circle,  and  then for the third.  You now have a line  and  four 
intersecting  circles.  Label  the  centre of  the  first  circle 
"Kether",  the  second "Daath",  the third "Tiphereth",  and  the 
fourth "Yesod".  It should be obvious where to place Malkuth, and 
the  rest  of  the sephiroth can be placed  at  the  intersection 
points of the four circles.

The  four circles represent the four worlds.  The  first  circle, 
Atziluth,  is centred on Kether,  reaches up into the Unmanifest, 
takes  in Chokhmah and Binah,  and reaches down to Daath.  It  is 
entirely  on  the other side of the  Abyss.  The  second  circle, 
Briah,  is centred in Daath, reaches up as far as Kether and down 
as far as Tiphereth,  and takes in Chokhmah,  Binah,  Chesed  and 
Gevurah.  The third circle, Yetzirah, is centred in Tiphereth and 
reaches  from  Daath to  Yesod,  and  includes  Chesed,  Gevurah, 
Netzach and Hod,  the six sephiroth traditionally associated with 
Zoar Anpin,  the Lesser Countenance or Microprosopus.  The  final 
circle is centred in Yesod and reaches from Tiphereth to Malkuth, 
taking in the sephiroth Netzach and Hod. This is shown in Fig X.

Note that most sephira can be found in more than one  world,  and 
this  is an important point:  the worlds *overlap*.  There  is  a 
subtle  but  real distinction between Hod in Assiah  and  Hod  in 
Yetzirah.  The  sephira  Tiphereth can be  experienced  in  three 
distinct ways,  depending on whether one's vantage point is  that 
of  Assiah,   Yetzirah  or  Briah.  These  are  not  intellectual 
distinctions,  and an example would be the ways in which one  can 
experience Tiphereth as the King of Assiah, as the Sacrificed God 
of  Yetzirah,  or  as the Child of Briah (refer  to  the  magical 
images for Tiphereth).


The  worlds overlap,  but they are distinct,  almost like  social 
strata which co-mingle but are nevertheless clearly defined.  The 
upper  middle-class  nineteenth  century  household,   with   its 
"upstairs" and "downstairs",  is a good example of two completely 
distinct  but  co-mingling strata.  There are ways of  trying  to 
articulate this,  but they obscure as much as they reveal;  I was 
taught  that  in  going from one world to the  next  there  is  a 
"polarity switch",  so that one might regard Assiah as  negative, 
Yetzirah as positive,  Briah as negative once more,  and Atziluth 
as  positive.  This  idea can be related to  the  Tetragrammaton, 
where  the  Yod corresponds to Atziluth,  He  to  Briah,  Vau  to 
Yetzirah,  and  He final to Assiah:  this points a finger at  the 
deep relationship between Briah and Assiah. Just what a "polarity 
switch"  might be I leave to the reader to explore - there is  no 
way I could attempt to describe this.
The  second scheme for representing the four worlds is  based  on 
the tradition that each of the four worlds contains its own Tree, 
and  these are sometimes shown strung out with the Kether of  the 
world below intersecting the Malkuth of the world above.  This is 
not a very illuminating arrangement,  and there is an alternative 
arrangement  called "the Extended Tree" which will  require  some 
more draughtmanship to appreciate.  Use the "four circles" method 
for  drawing a Tree described earlier,  and draw  four  identical 
Trees on clear acetate film; an even better method is to draw the 
Tree  once  and photocopy it four times onto acetate -  any  copy 
bureau  should  be able to do this.  Now observe  that  the  Tree 
contains  two diamond shapes which I will call  (incorrectly,  as 
it happens,  but it is a useful convention) "the upper face"  and 
"the  lower  face".  The upper face is bounded by  the  sephiroth 
Kether, Chokhmah, Binah and Tiphereth; the lower by the sephiroth 
Tiphereth, Netzach, Hod and Malkuth. Now take your four identical 
transparencies,  label them from Atziluth to Assiah,  and lay the 
lower  face of Atziluth over the upper face of Briah,  the  lower 
face of Briah over the upper face of Yetzirah, and the lower face 
of Yetzirah over the upper face of Assiah.  You should now have a 
single,  large  Tree,  some  times called  "Jacob's  Ladder"  for 
reasons which should be obvious when you look at it.

The  Extended Tree makes clear the dynamics of the  four  worlds, 
and is probably the most useful Kabbalistic map you are likely to 
find.  It  provides a map of the four worlds,  and a  method  for 
representing the sephirothic correspondences for each world,  and 
it  shows  how  the  worlds   overlap  and  interpenetrate.   The 
representation  of  the  four  worlds on  a  single  Tree  (given 
previously)  is  consistent  with  the  Extended  Tree,  but  the 
Extended Tree is considerably more useful in that it provides the 
Kabbalist  with  a  powerful new map - it is like  going  from  a 
large-scale  map  of  a whole country to a  series  of  detailed, 
overlapping small-scale maps.

The worlds of overlap are Yetzirah and Briah, and in these worlds 
the sephira Hod overlaps the sephira Binah,  the sephira  Netzach 
overlaps  the sephira Chokhmah,  and the sephira  Yesod  overlaps 
Daath.  When one makes the polarity switch from one world to  the 
next,  then one sephira becomes another;  for example,  Binah  in 
Assiah,  the  "Intelligence"  of the body,  becomes  the  Hod  of 
Yetzirah,  the capacity for abstraction. The mystery of Daath can 
be fathomed by flipping to the world above,  where it becomes its 
Yesod.  The  king who wears the crown (Kether) of Assiah  becomes 
the Sacrificed God of Yetzirah in Tiphereth, and is reborn in the 
Malkuth of Briah as the Child.

The  four worlds should not be viewed as an  arbitrary  four-fold 
"graduation" of the Tree,  with little additional content.  There 
is  a  great deal of experiential worth in this  scheme,  and  it 
reflects real and important changes in consciousness which can be 
observed  in practice.  This is one of several holistic views  of 
the  Tree that concentrates less on the sephiroth and  paths, and 
more  on its deep structure.  I must emphasise that the  Extended 
Tree  is  not another piece of pretty Kabbalah for  the  armchair 
Kabbalist to indulge in, and I say this because there is tendency 
for  many  who  study  Kabbalah to  become  lost  in  the  pretty 
patterns. The Vision of Splendour  is the curse of those who like 
pretty  patterns.  To  use the Extended Tree  effectively  it  is 
necessary  to  have integrated the model of  the  sephiroth  into 
one's   internal   awareness,   and  be  capable   of   observing 
(relatively)  subtle changes in consciousness - it  is  pointless 
having an exceedingly detailed map when one is too  short-sighted 
to observe the countryside as it passes!  For this reason I  will 
say no more about the extended Tree.

I  have  stated  that  the four  worlds  represented  "realms  of 
consciousness",  and in support of this view Kabbalah contains  a 
view  of  the  soul which integrates with  the  four  worlds.  My 
interpretation of the word soul is firstly,  that it is a vehicle 
for a particular kind of consciousness,  and secondly, it carries 
with it the connotation of individuality or uniqueness, so that I 
can imagine my souls as encapsulating,  in different realms, that 
which is unique to me.

In Kabbalah there are five parts to the soul.  The sephira  Binah 
is the Mother of souls,  the letter associated with Binah is  He, 
and the number associated with He is five. The five souls are:

Yechidah - uniqueness
Chiah    - vitality
Neshamah - breath     soul proper
Ruach - wind-spirit   intellectual spirit
Nephesh - soul        vital spirit/soul

The attribution to the four worlds is 

Briah - Neshamah
Ruach - Yetzirah
Nephesh - Assiah

The  precise difference between Yechidah,  Chiah and Neshamah  is 
unclear; Kaplan gives the following attribution:

Yechidah - Kether
Chiah - Chokhmah
Binah - Neshamah

For practical purposes only the Nephesh,  Ruach and Neshamah need 
be considered,  and the bulk of the discussion will refer to this 

The Nephesh is the animal soul,  the "soul of the body".  Animals 
possess this soul, and as human beings are animals, we share this 
inheritance.  The Nephesh is concerned with the needs of the body 
- hunger, pleasure, rest, sexual satisfaction, social status etc. 
In many cultures,  if a person is asked where their soul resides, 
they will not point to their head: they point to their heart. The 
Secret of the Golden Flower provides a description of the  animal 

"This heart is dependent on the outside world.  If a man does not 
eat  for one day even,  it feels extremely uncomfortable.  If  it 
hears  something terrifying,  it throbs;  if it  hears  something 
enraging it stops;  if it is faced with death it becomes sad;  if 
it sees something beautiful it is dazzled."

Note  the  close identification with the body and  its  feelings. 
Kabbalists believe the Nephesh comes into being when we are born, 
and it decays with the body when we die.  According to widespread 
belief, women are more attuned to the body soul than men, and the 
Nephesh is sometimes depicted as being feminine;  whether this is 
simply  sexual  stereotyping must remain an  open  question.  The 
Nephesh is associated with Assiah,  the world of making, and this 
emphasises its close link with the material world,  and the  body 

The  Ruach is the rational soul,  and is associated with  air  or 
wind  (the  word  literally means air),  and with  the  world  of 
Yetzirah. Traditionally, the Ruach was not seen as something that 
one was given automatically;  in the words of Scholem,  it was  a 
"post-natal  increment".  It  is the case that some  people  live 
almost exclusively according to physical needs,  and others spend 
a  great  deal  of  time  finding  a  rational  basis  for  their 
behaviour,  but  I  do  not think there is  any  evidence  for  a 
discontinuity,  and  I  think we must assume that  the  Ruach  is 
everywhere  present in some measure.  What can be said is that  a 
level  of  consciousness represented by Ruach exists  in  varying 
degrees from person to person.  The Ruach is based on the ability 
to  create  abstract  models of the  world  in  conciousness  and 
reflect  on  them,  so that while a hungry Nephesh might  grab  a 
whole pizza and consume it without a moments thought,  the  Ruach 
might  reflect on the activity of pizza-eating in the context  of 
"Do unto others..." and conclude that sharing it might be a  Good 
Thing.  We see here the basis for morality, the ability to make a 
conscious choice between good and evil,  and it is here that  the 
Ruach  is elevated above the Nephesh in the eyes  of  traditional 
Kabbalah.  This ignores the possibility that the Ruach might well 
knock  the  Nephesh over the head (making an  impeccable  ethical 
case,  well argued) and not only grab the whole of the pizza, but 
attempt to corner the market in Mozarella.

If  we ignore the questionable value of being able to reflect  on 
the morality of our decisions, we are still left with the ability 
to reflect;  we have the ability to reflect on ourselves, perhaps 
even to reflect ourselves, and create a "self-image". The Nephesh 
lacks this ability to reflect upon itself - I have never seen  an 
adult cat study itself in a mirror. Because the Ruach can reflect 
upon itself,  and create a self image, it can become an entity in 
its own right, perhaps even dissociating itself from the body and 
its  needs,  perhaps  even producing someone who feels  guilt  at 
indulging  in  the "sins of the flesh".  We find the  "spiritual" 
person  who cannot accept their physicality and lives in hope  of 
achieving  a  mythical  dreamland.  We have  millions  of  people 
reflecting  upon themselves and concluding that they are  "wrong" 
in some way - the wrong shape,  the wrong size, the wrong colour, 
the wrong age, and other people trying to manipulate our language 
to  fix a problem that is unlikely ever to go away in  a  culture 
hedged around with so many taboos - sex,  death,  danger, natural 
religious  expression,  pain.  It  is unlikely that  someone  who 
thinks  they are the wrong size is going to ever feel good  about 
themselves as long as they view the body as a means to an end,  a 
vehicle,  a carriage which conveys them through life,  a  fashion 
accessory.  There  are  strong taboos  connected  anything  which 
points too directly towards our physical and animal nature. 

My  own  view of the Ruach is profoundly  negative.  Our  culture 
develops  this single aspect of consciousness to such  an  absurd 
degree  that the Ruach is incapable of forming a sensible  notion 
concerning either the Nephesh or Neshamah,  and turning its  face 
away from both the lower and higher worlds, becomes obsessed with 
its own creations. The Ruach has a tendency to reduce the body to 
an  object  and often lives a life completely at  odds  with  the 
needs of the Nephesh.  Where there is a spiritual aspiration, the 
Ruach produces a monstrous and bloated reflection,  "itself-made-
perfect",  and  aspires towards this caricature  of  itself.  The 
Ruach  is  a patchwork monster,  a grotesque  reflection  of  its 
creator,  and it lurches about the world trying to make sense  of 
what  is happening,  sometimes playing like  a  child,  sometimes 
leaving a trail of destruction.  It is the king that needs to  be 
slain, the god that must be sacrificed.

The  Neshamah is the Breath of God.  In the Bible it states  "And 
the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground,  and  breathed 
into  his nostrils the breath of life;  and man became  a  living 
soul".  The  "breath  of life" is the Neshamah,  and  unlike  the 
Nephesh  and the Ruach it is a gift from God,  and the source  of 
our  ability to intuit the realm of the  divine.
     It is difficult to write about the Neshamah. The Ruach tends 
to idealise the Neshamah, and in the absence of a genuine contact 
projects a distorted reflection of itself. An attempt to describe 
the Neshamah encourages the creation of such reflections.

A characteristic of the World of Briah,  to which the Neshamah is 
attributed,  is  that it is beyond space and time,  and from  the 
point of view of those living in space and time the Neshamah  has 
an  eternal quality of being...just being.  It is the hub  around 
which the wheel of personality turns.  As we live our  lives,  we 
change, but something at the centre of our being does not change. 
The magician Aleister Crowley wrote about "True Will",  and while 
this concept is no easier to grasp than the Neshamah,  both refer 
to  a part of us that exists outside of the ebb and flow of  life 
in  the mundane world.  Writing about the  three  souls,  Crowley 

"The  Neschamah is that aspiration which in most men is  no  more 
than a void and a voiceless longing.  It becomes articulate  only 
when  it  compels the Ruach to interpret  it.  The  Nephesch,  or 
animal soul,  is not the body itself; the body is excremental, of 
the  Qlippoth  or shells.   The Nephesch is that  coherent  brute 
which  animates  it,  from the reflexes to the highest  forms  of 
conscious  activity.  These again are only cognizable  when  they 
translate  themselves  to  the Ruach.  The Ruach  lastly  is  the 
machine of the mind converging on a central consciousness,  which 
appears to be the ego. The true ego, is however, above Neschamah, 
whose occasional messages to the Ruach warn the human ego of  the 
existence of his superior. Such communications may be welcomed or 
resented, encouraged or stifled."

The relationship between the Neshamah and the Holy Guardian Angel 
is  unclear.  What  can  be said is that  in  many  cases  people 
approach  Neshamah through the medium of an entity which acts  as 
an intermediary between the Ruach and the Neshamah.  There is  no 
doubt  that  in many cases the HGA is the Ruach's  own  idealised 
projection,  but  that does not invalidate the notion that it  is 
capable  of linking the two levels of consciousness.  The HGA  is 
associated  with the sephira Tiphereth,  the point on the  Pillar 
of Consciousness where Briah overlaps with Yetzirah.

A  discussion of souls carries with it,  far more so than any  of 
the Kabbalalistic framework discussed so far,  the temptation  to 
indulge  in  metaphysical speculation.  Traditional  Kabbalah  is 
filled with this,  and there is much speculation on the origin of 
souls,  the nature of souls, the fate of the soul, reincarnation, 
and  so  on.  This traditional material is  adequately  presented 
elsewhere:   I   feel  public  speculation  on  such  topics   is 
counterproductive  as  it simply provides more material  for  the 
never-ceasing elaborations of the Ruach.

In  Kabbalah  there is a view that if there is a  defect  in  the 
creation,  it  is a result of separating that which  should  have 
been united.  I have made my views on the Ruach clear,  that here 
is  a  level  of consciousness which has turned  inwards  and  no 
longer  carries  out  its task of mediating  between  higher  and 
lower.  A  trace of this attitude can be found in  the  quotation 
from  Crowley  above,  where one can detect a  negative  attitude 
towards both the body and the Nephesh.  In the main, Kabbalah has 
a very positive attitude towards living in the world;  the world, 
far  from  being  the "dead matter"  of  the  Neoplatonists,  was 
infused with the Shekhinah,  the indwelling presence of  God.  In 
some  traditions one sees people turning away from the world  and 
mundane life and seeking a "world of the spirit". In Kabbalah the 
world and God are two poles of the same thing, and the purpose of 
the Kabbalist is to bring God into the world,  and take the world 
back  to God.  I say this to emphasise an  important  point:  the 
Neshamah  is  not  higher  than the  Nephesh,  the  body  is  not 
something divorced from spirit.  These are ideas which create the 
separation the Kabbalist tries to overcome. The world, the souls, 
and  god are links in a chain,  and there is no higher or  lower, 
spiritual or mundane - they are all parts of the same thing. 

Plotinus,  "The Enneads", Penguin Books 1991


 Source: http://digital-brilliance.com/kab/nok/index.htm

BOOKS by Colin Low


A Depth of Beginning, Notes on Kabbalah

Release 3.0, 7th. July 2001

I had originally intended to publish these notes as a conventional paper book, but decided against it. I am currently receiving 1000 visitors per month to this page alone. An initial print run for a book of this nature might be 5,000 copies, and take years to sell.

Then there is the altruism, which I genuinely (no gagging) believe in. You'll find a heart-warming justification on the fly-leaf of the book.

Please note the license conditions, also on the fly-leaf. This book is for personal downloading and use only. Distribution, electronic or otherwise, is not permitted. If you plan to take a copy and publish it on your own site, don't. 

The book is  in Abobe Acrobat PDF format. You can obtain a free Acrobat reader from Adobe. This is a very widely used format for online publishing of complex documents. It looks very neat indeed.

It has been specially formatted for printing on A4 paper. It should be fine on US Letter. 

DownLoad Here (1.9 Mbytes)

About the Author


Colin Low was born in Scotland in 1951 and attended 14 schools in Scotland, Nyasaland and Australia. In spite of this erratic education he studied physics at the University of Western Australia and graduated with first class honours in 1972. He went on to study star formation at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, UK. His entire professional life has revolved around computers, with four years as a consultant, 9 years as a lecturer in Computer Science at the University of London, and 13 years as an industrial researcher with Hewlett Packard. He has authored several academic papers and is named as inventor on 27 patents.

Colin has three sons, who make him feel outrageously proud.

Kabbalah has been a life-long passion. He began to take an interest in 1968, and studied and practiced it informally in a number of small groups before meeting a teacher in 1978. He studied and worked with her until her death in the early 90s.  

More information about the author (and pictures) is available here: 
(an external link).
You can visit his web site at: http://digital-brilliance.com/kab/index.htm   (an externallink).

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is one of the most familiar of the Sacred Geometry Symbols. The structure of the Tree of Life is connected to the sacred teachings of the Jewish Kabbalah but can be seen in other traditions such as the ancient Egyptian.

The Tree of Life is explained in Sefer Yetzira ("Book of Creation"). The book explained the creation as a process involving the 10 divine numbers (sefirot) of God the Creator and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 10 sefirot together with the 22 letters constitute the "32 paths of secret wisdom".

The Tree of Life pendant forms the key to God's original creation. The pendant fits exactly to the Seed of Life and the Flower of Life.

The Tree of Life is used as a sign of unity and love.

A Golden Symbol of Life, Unity, and Love
Kabbalah-jewelry >>


Copyright 2003-2013 by World-Mysteries.com