One of the things that has always intrigued me about the Kabalah is the focus by many Kabalists on the Sephiroht of the famous symbolic image, the Tree of Life. The Sephiroht (the ten spheres shown in the image of the Tree below) are less than 1/3 of the 32 aspects of the Tree, the others being the paths between the Sephiroht. Why focus on only ten rather than on the other 22? (That’s like some people who focus on the 10 Commandments of the Jewish bible and ignore the more than 600 others.) Many books on the Kabalah and the Tree of Life, such as Dion Fortune’s famous Mystical Qabalah, spend almost their entire length covering the Sephiroht and ignoring or at least slighting the paths.
Obviously there are more paths than Sephiroht, so perhaps this is simply due to the idea that it’s easier to memorize and think about ten things than it is to think about 22 things (the paths) or 32 things (the entire Tree). However, I think there may be another reason. Simply put, the Sephiroht are easier to to understand.
The Sephiroht, in a sense, are way stations for the energy of Divinity (Ruach El-oh-heem in Hebrew) as it descends from the spiritual to the physical. This is represented by moving down the Tree of Life. At each Sephira the energy forms a relatively static pool. It’s stable. The paths indicate how the energy changes and evolves as it moves through the Tree. How can you describe and understand something that is in a constant state of change?
Just as the current “punctuated equilibrium” theory of evolution proposes jumps in evolution rather than changes at a steady rate, so too does the energy traversing the Tree of Life change neither slowly nor evenly. In its path from its ultimate pure form to the physical manifestations around us, it changes until it reaches the utmost point of a certain level or quality, a Sephirah, and collects there. Then it goes in a different direction.
In the diagram to the right you can see how a form of vibrational energy, color, changes from white to black. It can definitely be said that within the circle labeled “white” it looks white, and in the circle labeled “black” it appears black. But what about in between? Where is it pure grey? Where is it light grey? To complicate matters even more, two people seeing the same shade of grey might label it differently. If you can’t really describe what grey is, you can’t fully describe what a path on the Tree of Life is.
This is exactly the problem faced when trying to understand and describe the paths on the Tree. The Sephiroht in some Kabalistic literature are called “vessels.” These vessels hold the energy of Divinity until it reaches a maximum in some direction and then moves out a path toward another Sephirah.
The fact that the paths are about changing and evolving spiritual energy and are difficult to describe also gives them their impressive value as tool for describing change. It is for this reason that a good Tarot reading can be given using only the Major Arcana of the Tarot. They are associated with the paths on the Tree (as shown in the illustration above) and thus demonstrate the changing energies in a person’s life. The Minor Arcana are associated with the Sephiroht and are thus more related to static situations. The Minor Arcana adds more details. The Major Arcana gives more information as to the direction of a person’s life and the forces in play about that life and how things are changing and evolving. The Minors can be seen as simply describing things as they currently are.
The very fact that the paths represent changing energy patterns make them a bit complex to work with. But their study is more than worth the time of any magician.
This post has been adapted from one small section of Lesson Six in the forthcoming edition of my Modern Magick. And speaking of which…
The Cover Revealed!
I can now reveal the entire cover for the new, revised and greatly expanded edition of Modern Magick that will be available in just a few months! You can still get the current edition, but when it’s sold out it will be gone forever. You might want to get a new copy of the current edition because it will be a collector’s item for sure.
The new cover, however, is just so exciting to me. And the fact that there is 40% new material, an entire new chapter and loads of great new illustrations make this the best version of Modern Magick ever. It’s going up to a full 8.5 x 11 inches in size, too! So here it is, the new cover for the forthcoming edition of Modern Magick: