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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

(also: Cabala, Cabbala, Cabalah, Cabbalah, Kabbala, Kabalah, Kabala, Qabala, Qabbala, Qabalah and Qabbalah.)

The Kabbalistic 'Tree of Life

Generically, Jewish mysticism in all its forms; a mystical Hebrew study of methods for controlling spirits and Demons; Jewish mystical tradition developed since the Middle Ages, and comprising an important part of Western occultism.   It has been reinterpreted in accordance with Christianity.

More specifically, Kabbalah (the preferred spelling of scholars) signifies "doctrines received from tradition," specifically oral tradition and secret, mystical knowledge not revealed to the masses.   Traditionally the Kabbalah was not taught to females - at all - and males could not even begin study of the Kabbalah until after turning 40, as it was believed that prior to this age they did not possess sufficient maturity to either understand or 'cope with' the revelations held within it!

According to legend, the Kabbalah was taught by God to a group of Angels, who, after the Fall, taught it to man in order to provide man with a way back to God.   It was passed from Adam to Noah to Abraham, who took it to Egypt, where it was passed on to Moses.   Moses alledgedly included it in the first four books of the Pentateuch but left it out of Deuteronomy.   Kabbalists believe he initiated 70 elders into the Kabbalah who continued the tradition of passing it on orally and that David and Solomon were Kabbalistic Adepts.  

Eventually, as the story goes, the wisdom was written down.

The Kabbalah is a body of writings by anonymous authors.   The main works are the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation, and the Zohar, or Book of Splendor.

The origins of the Sefer Yezirah date to the 8th Century.   The Zohar is believed to have been written by Moses de Leon of Guadalajara, Spain, in the 13th Century.

From its beginnings, the mysticism of the Kabbalah was similar to that of Gnosticism, including concepts of magic, Cosmology and Angels.   The Kabbalah holds that God is both immanent and transcendent; God is all things, both good and evil; all things make up the whole of an organized universe; and letters and numbers are the keys to unlocking the mysteries of the universe (see GEMATRIA).

God (En Soph or Ain Soph) is boundless and fills the universe.   From God come ten emanations, called sephiroth, of Angels and men, which form the structure of the Tree of Life and represent aspects of the divine.

The Tree of Life shows the descent of the divine into the material world and the path by which man can ascend to the divine while still in the flesh.   Each sephirah is a level of attainment in knowledge.

The sephiroth are organized in three triangles, with the tenth sephirah resting at the base.   The triangles represent a portion of the human body: the head, arms and legs; the tenth sephirah represents the reproductive organs. The triangles are aligned on three Pillars, with Mercy (the male principle), on the right, Severity or Judgment (the female principle) on the left and in the middle Mildness, a balance between the two.

The sephiroth and their names and aspects are:
  1. Kether, supreme crown
  2. Chokmah, wisdom
  3. Binah, understanding
  4. Chesed, mercy, greatness
  5. Geburah, strength, rigor
  6. Tiphareth, beauty, harmony
  7. Netzach, victory, force
  8. Hod, splendor
  9. Yesod, foundation
  10. Malkuth, kingdom

The cosmos is divided into Four Worlds: Atziluth, the world of Archetypes, form which are derived all forms of manifestation; Briah, the world of creation, in which archetypal ideas become patterns; Yetzirah, the world of formation, in which the patterns are expressed; and Assiah, the world of the material, the plane we perceive with our physical senses.

Each sephirah is divided into four sections in which the Four Worlds operate.

The sephiroth also comprise the sacred name of God, which is unknowable and unspeakable.   The Bible gives various substitutes, such as Elohim and Adonai.   The personal name of God is the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, usually pronounced as Yahweh, and which appears in some translations of the Bible as Jehovah.

The four letters of YHWH correspond to the Four Worlds (see NAMES OF POWER).

Magical applications of the Kabbalah were recognized as early as the 13th Century. During the Rennaissance, alchemists and magicians used combinations of Kabbalistic numbers and divine names in rituals and Incantations.

The Tetragrammaton was held in great awe for its power over all things in the universe, including Demonic spirits.  

Beginning in the late 15th Century, the Kabbalah was harmonized with Christian doctrines to form a Christian Kabbalah, the proponents of which claimed that magic and the Kabbalah proved the divinity of Christ.

Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim included the Kabbalah in his De Occulta Philosophia (1531), which resulted in its associations with witchcraft.   Also in the 16th Century, alchemical symbols were integrated into the Christian Kabbalah.

The Kabbalah has been regarded with much skepticism by many Jews.

Its study and analysis peaked by the 19th Century and began to decline, though interest in the Kabbalah was revived by non-Jewish Western occultists.  

It was held in great esteem by members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, including Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edward Waite, all of whom were influenced by it.   Dion Fortune called the Kabbalah the "Yoga of the West."

Western occultists have linked the Kabbalah to the Tarot and Astrology, which scholar Gershom Scholem terms "supreme charlatanism."   Nonetheless, such associations persist in Western occult study.

Although not understood - or probabably even known - by many of the newer self-taught Wiccans, many Wiccan Rituals have their basis in Kabbalistic theory and practice, which puts paid to (at least to some extent) the theory/belief that Wicca is a revival of the pre-Christian nature religions of Europe.   Probably the best known, and most widely practiced of these Kabbalistic based Wiccan Rituals is the 'Lesser Banishing Ritual'

Interest in the Kabbalah has 'exploded' recently, being promoted by the likes of pop idols, Madonna and Britney Spears.


(Opens in a New Window)
THE KABBALAH at Apologetics Index
TKABBALAH: GETTING BACK TO THE GARDEN at Christian Answers for the New Age

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One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc
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