The following excerpt is from Daniel Pineda’s essential guide to all things occult and esoteric, The Book of Secrets. Enjoy!
Every magician, therefore, should study the Holy Qabalah.
Once he has mastered the main principles,
he will find his work grow easy.
—Magick in Theory and Practice by Aleister Crowley
Qabalah, or QBL as it is spelled in Hebrew, is a word meaning “to receive” and refers to a system of classifying various phenomena as well as discovering the hidden meaning of the Bible and other Holy Scriptures. Many distinct philosophical movements use qabalistic symbolism and methodology, each attributing their own meaning to its mystical concepts and parables. Among these are the Jewish and Hermetic interpretations. Though Qabalah is a Hebrew word, it did not arrive from Judaism fully formed, borrowing from Greek, Arab, and Egyptian philosophy and dogma to form its deep and transcendent character. These other sects also borrowed from the Jewish sages, and in time, the advanced students could begin to see an underlying unity connecting all ancient philosophy.
In modern occultism, the Qabalah forms the theoretical and operational foundation. It is the language of the secret tradition shared by practically every group. Its study can be divided into three parts: the Literal, the Practical, and the Cosmological. Study of the Literal, or written, Qabala may be divided into three parts:
1. Gematria: Discovering the hidden meaning of words by calculating their numerical value. Some ancient languages tend to have alphabets in which each letter may also represent a number. For example, the Greek words for will (Thelema) and love (Agape) both add up to ninety-three. It is therefore to be assumed that there is some sympathy between these two concepts, or that one word will shed light on the meaning of the other.
2. Notariqon: Finding a secret message by either taking each letter of a word to be the first letters of words forming another sentence, or doing the reverse and taking the first letter of each word in a sentence and forming a new word. For example, BRAShiTh is Hebrew for “in the beginning,” and can be expanded to BRAShiTh RAH ALHIM ShIQBLV ThVRH, or “In the beginning Elohim saw that Israel would accept the law.”
3. Temura: The permutation of a word into another word using a cipher. For example, by using the method of ALBTh, or Albath, in which the Hebrew alphabet is folded in half, and the letters of a word are substituted for its match, the word KOL or Kol, “master,” is transmuted into ChMA or Chema, “heat or fury.” According to this method, we can gain deeper insight into the nature of the master, meditating on the sentence, “The master may reveal himself as the fury of fire.” By using this method we can make many wonderful discoveries, each aiding in the apprehension of spiritual truth.
The Practical Qabalah involves the use of symbolism and scripture in the creation of spells, amulets, astrological interpretation, and ceremonial magic. Among the most famous instances of the use of the Practical Qabalah, is the story of the Golem of Prague, created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel in the 16th century. Rabbi ben Bezalel used the golem (a creature made of clay that is brought to life by reciting special incantations) to defend the Jews from an antagonistic and corrupt government. He finally deactivated the creature after the Holy Roman Emperor promised to end the persecution of the Jews. It is said that to this day, the golem lies dormant in the attic of a synagogue in the Czech Republic.
The Qabalistic Tree of Life
Qabalistic cosmology has its foundation in the Otz Chayim, or Tree of Life. It is a glyph that allows Adepti to catalog all experiences and ideas in its twenty-two paths, and the ten Sephira or emanations. Preceding these emanations are three veils of negative existence (AIN, AIN SOPH, and AIN SOPH AUR) expressed numerically as (–1) + (+1) = 0. In this case the word negative refers not o numerical value, but to the pre-manifest state, the prerequisite polar tensions of potentiality necessary to manifestation. The universe cannot know the particular without first limiting itself, thus the first Sephira, called Kether (The Crown) is the point of view, being one, individual, and eternal. From Kether issues forth the other Sephira until reaching the tenth emanation called alkuth, or the Kingdom. Below this are the Qliphoth, the shells or husks of materiality that are empty images and are considered to be evil by most schools of qabalistic philosophy.
Each Sephira represents a state of divine consciousness, acting like the layers of an onion, enveloping the innermost core of being. The twenty-two paths each correspond with a Hebrew letter, connecting the Sephira to one another and instructing mystics on the proper method of peeling away each layer from the cosmic onion.
The Four Worlds
Within the Tree of Life are Four Worlds, or levels of being. These Worlds each have their own function and correspond to the Tetragrammaton, IHVH:
I, Yod: The First of these is Atziluth, the realm of pure divinity.
H, Hé: The Second is Briah, the realm of creation and archangels.
V, Vauv: The Third is Yeztirah, the realm of ideas and formation.
H, Hé: The Fourth is Assiah, the realm of materiality and the heavenly bodies.
Armed with this symbol, Qabalists can organize their mind and thoughts while affirming the underlying unity of phenomenal cause. They ascend the Tree of Life, from Malkuth to Kether, touching every possible plane of existence along the way while balancing each idea with its opposite.