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Hermetic Qabalah

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Hermetic Qabalah (from Hebrew קַבָּלָה (qabalah) 'reception, accounting') is a Western esoteric tradition involving mysticism and the occult. It is the underlying philosophy and framework for magical societies such as the Golden Dawn, has inspired esoteric Masonic organizations such as the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, is a key element within the Thelemic orders, and is important to mystical-religious societies such as the Builders of the Adytum and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.

Hermetic Qabalah arose alongside and united with the Christian Cabalistic involvement in the European Renaissance, becoming variously Esoteric Christian, non-Christian, or anti-Christian across its different schools in the modern era.[citation needed] It draws on a great many influences, most notably: Jewish Kabbalah, Western astrology, Alchemy, Pagan religions, especially Egyptian and Greco-Roman, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and the symbolism of the tarot. Hermetic Qabalah differs from the Jewish form in being a more admittedly syncretic system; however, it shares many concepts with Jewish Kabbalah.


Conception of Divinity[edit]

Syncretism of Cabala, Alchemy, Astrology and other esoteric Hermetic disciplines in Stephan Michelspacher's Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur: in Alchymia (1615)

A primary concern of Hermetic Qabalah is the nature of divinity, its conception of which is quite markedly different from that presented in monotheistic religions; in particular there is not the strict separation between divinity and humankind which is seen in classical monotheism.[1] Hermetic Qabalah adheres to the Neoplatonic conception that the manifest universe, of which material creation is a part, arose as a series of "emanations" from the "godhead".[2]

These emanations arise out of three preliminary states that are considered to precede manifestation. The first is a state of complete nullity, known as Ain (אין "nothing"); the second state, considered a "concentration" of Ain, is Ain Suph (אין סוף "without limit, infinite"); the third state, caused by a "movement" of Ain Suph, is Ain Suph Aur (אין סוף אור "limitless light"), and it is from this initial brilliance that the first emanation of creation originates.[3]


The Sephirothic tree showing the lightning flash and the paths
The Qabalistic Tree of Life in the Servants of the Light organisation's Hermetic theory

The emanations of creation arising from Ain Suph Aur are ten in number, and are called Sephiroth (סְפִירוֹת, singular Sephirah סְפִירָה, "enumeration"). These are conceptualised somewhat differently in Hermetic Qabalah to the way they are in Jewish Kabbalah.[4]

From Ain Suph Aur crystallises Kether, the first sephirah of the Hermetic Qabalistic tree of life. From Kether emanate the rest of the sephirot in turn, viz. Kether (1), Chokhmah (2), Binah (3), Daath, Chesed (4), Geburah (5), Tiphareth (6), Netzach (7), Hod (8), Yesod (9), Malkuth (10). Daath is not assigned a number as it is considered part of Binah or a hidden sephirah.[5]

Each sephirah is considered to be an emanation of the divine energy (often described as 'the divine light') which ever flows from the unmanifest, through Kether into manifestation.[6] This flow of light is indicated by the lightning flash shown on diagrams of the sephirotic tree which passes through each sephirah in turn according to their enumerations.

Each sephirah is a nexus of divine energy, and each has a number of attributions. These attributions enable the Qabalist to form a comprehension of each particular sephirah's characteristics. This manner of applying many attributions to each sephirah is an exemplar of the diverse nature of Hermetic Qabalah. For example, the sephirah Hod has the attributions of: Glory, perfect intelligence, the eights of the tarot deck, the planet Mercury, the Egyptian god Thoth, the archangel Michael, the Roman god Mercury and the alchemical element Mercury.[7][8] The general principle involved is that the Qabalist will meditate on all these attributions and by this means to acquire an understanding of the character of the sephirah including all its correspondences.

Tarot and the Tree of Life[edit]

Hermetic Qabalists see the cards of the tarot as keys to the Tree of Life. The 22 cards including the 21 Trumps plus the Fool or Zero card are often called the "Major Arcana" or "Greater Mysteries" and are seen as corresponding to the 22 Hebrew letters and the 22 paths of the Tree; the ace to ten in each suit correspond to the ten Sephiroth in the four Qabalistic worlds; and the sixteen court cards relate to the classical elements in the four worlds.[9][10] While the sephiroth describe the nature of divinity, the paths between them describe ways of knowing the Divine.[11]

Orders of angels[edit]

According to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn's interpretation of the Kabbalah, there are ten archangels, each commanding one of the choirs of angels and corresponding to one of the Sephirot.[12] It is similar to the Jewish angelic hierarchy.

Rank Choir of Angels Translation Archangel Sephirah
1 Hayot Ha Kodesh Holy Living Ones Metatron Keter
2 Ophanim Wheels Raziel Chokmah
3 Erelim Brave ones[13] Tzaphkiel Binah
4 Hashmallim Glowing ones, Amber ones[14] Tzadkiel Chesed
5 Seraphim Burning Ones Khamael Geburah
6 Malakim Messengers, angels Raphael Tipheret
7 Elohim Godly Beings Haniel Netzach
8 Bene Elohim Sons of Elohim Michael Hod
9 Cherubim [15] Gabriel Yesod
10 Ishim Men (man-like beings, phonetically similar to "fires") Sandalphon Malkuth


Hermetic views of Qabalah origins[edit]

The "Kircher Tree": Athanasius Kircher's 1652 depiction of the Tree of Life, based on a 1625 version by Philippe d'Aquin. This is the most common arrangement of Sephiroth and Paths on the Tree in Hermetic Qabalah.

Both Jewish tradition and mainstream academic scholarship understand Kabbalah to have originated within Judaism, developing concepts and ideas from earlier Medieval Jewish neoplatonism. In the mid-twentieth century, Gershom Scholem hypothesized that Medieval Kabbalah had its roots in an earlier Jewish version of Gnosticism; however, contemporary scholarship of Jewish mysticism has largely rejected this idea.[16] Moshe Idel instead has posited a historical continuity of development from early Jewish mysticism.[17] In contrast, some Hermeticists see the origins of Qabalah in a western tradition originating in classical Greece with Indo-European cultural roots, later adopted by Jewish mystics.[18]

Renaissance occultism[edit]

Jewish Kabbalah was absorbed into the Hermetic tradition at least as early as the 15th century when Giovanni Pico della Mirandola promoted a syncretic worldview combining Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah.[19] Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486–1535), a German magician, occult writer, theologian, astrologer, and alchemist, wrote the influential Three Books of Occult Philosophy, incorporating Kabbalah in its theory and practice of Western magic. It contributed strongly to the Renaissance view of ritual magic's relationship with Christianity. Pico's Hermetic syncretism was further developed by Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest, hermeticist and polymath, who wrote extensively on the subject in 1652, bringing further elements such as Orphism and Egyptian mythology to the mix.[20]

Enlightenment era esoteric societies[edit]

Rosicrucianism and esoteric branches of Freemasonry, such as Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, taught religious philosophies, Qabalah, and divine magic in progressive steps of initiation. Their esoteric teachings, and secret society structure of an outer body governed by a restricted inner level of adepts, laid the format for modern esoteric organisations.[citation needed]

Nineteenth-century magical revival[edit]

Post-Enlightenment Romanticism encouraged societal interest in occultism, of which Hermetic Qabalistic writing was a feature. Francis Barrett's The Magus (1801) handbook of ceremonial magic gained little notice until it influenced the French magical enthusiast Eliphas Levi (1810–1875). Levi presented Qabalism as synonymous with both white and black magic. Levi's innovations included attributing the Hebrew letters to the Tarot cards,[citation needed] thus formulating a link between Western magic and Jewish esotericism which has remained fundamental ever since in Western magic. Levi had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn[edit]

Hermetic Qabalah was developed extensively by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,[21] Within the Golden Dawn, the fusing of Qabalistic principles such as the ten Sephiroth with Greek and Egyptian deities was made more cohesive and was extended to encompass other systems such as the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee and certain Eastern (particularly Hindu and Buddhist) concepts, all within the structure of a Masonic or Rosicrucian style esoteric order.

Aleister Crowley passed through the Golden Dawn before going on to form his own magical orders. Crowley's book Liber 777[22] is a good illustration of the wider Hermetic approach. It is a set of tables of correspondences relating various parts of ceremonial magic and Eastern and Western religion to the thirty-two numbers representing the ten spheres (Sephiroth) plus the twenty-two paths of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. The panentheistic nature of Hermetic Qabalists is plainly evident here, as one may simply check the table to see that Chesed (חסד "Mercy") corresponds to Jupiter, Isis, the colour blue (on the Queen Scale), Poseidon, Brahma, and amethyst.

Aftermath of the Golden Dawn[edit]

Many of the Golden Dawn's rituals were published by Crowley, some altered in various ways to align them with his own New Aeon magickal approach. Israel Regardie eventually compiled the more traditional forms of these rituals and published them in book form.[23]

Dion Fortune, an initiate of Alpha et Omega (an offshoot of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), who went on to found the Fraternity of the Inner Light wrote The Mystical Qabalah, considered by her biographers to be one of the best general introductions to modern Hermetic Qabalah.[24][25]

A∴A∴ and Ordo Templi Orientis[edit]

After the dissolution of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Crowley integrated Hermetic Qabalah into his new religious philosophy, Thelema. Crowley's works, such as Magick, 777, and The Book of Thoth emphasize the Tree of Life and Sephiroth, utilizing Qabalistic principles to explore human consciousness and spiritual growth. Thelema's development continued through organizations like the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) and the A∴A∴, which further embedded Hermetic Qabalah into their rituals and teachings, perpetuating its influence within modern esoteric practices.[26]

English Qaballa[edit]

There are various systems of English numerology, sometimes referred to as English Qabalah,[27] that are related to Hermetic Qabalah. These systems interpret the letters of the Roman script or English alphabet via an assigned set of numeric values.[28][29] The spelling "English Qaballa", on the other hand, refers specifically to a Qabalah supported by a system of arithmancy discovered by James Lees in 1976.[30]

English Qaballa (EQ) assigns numerical values to the English alphabet to interpret esoteric texts, particularly The Book of the Law. Initially overlooked, the system gained recognition through Cath Thompson's publications, which detailed its methods and applications. EQ provides an alternative to traditional Hebrew and Hermetic Qabalah, emphasizing the linguistic and numerical properties of English.[31]

Various Thelemic practitioners use English Qaballa in rituals and textual analysis, exploring its unique insights into Crowley's work. Ongoing research continues to expand its applications within modern occult practices, demonstrating its adaptability and relevance. This system offers a distinct perspective on esoteric interpretation, contributing to a deeper understanding of Thelemic texts and practices.[30] Lon Milo DuQuette has praised the system for its innovative approach.[32]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Fortune 1987, p. 44.
  2. ^ Fortune 1987, pp. 37–42.
  3. ^ Fortune 1987, pp. 29–36.
  4. ^ Fortune 1987.
  5. ^ Regardie 2000, p. 51.
  6. ^ Fortune 1987, p. 1.
  7. ^ Regardie 2000, pp. 20–21.
  8. ^ Fortune 1987, pp. 238–251.
  9. ^ Regardie 2000, pp. 540–593.
  10. ^ Fortune 1987, p. 107.
  11. ^ Fortune 1987, p. 102.
  12. ^ Regardie 2000, p. 69.
  13. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 691. אֶרְאֵל (erel) - perhaps a hero". Biblesuite.com. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
  14. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 2830. חַשְׁמַל (chashmal) - perhaps amber". Biblesuite.com. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
  15. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 3742. כְּרוּב (kerub) - probably an order of angelic beings". Biblesuite.com. Retrieved 2014-02-13.
  16. ^ Dan 2007, chapter on early Jewish mysticism discusses contemporary views that Gnosticism did not form a distinct religion.
  17. ^ Idel 1988.
  18. ^ Barry 1999, p. [page needed].
  19. ^ Farmer 1999.
  20. ^ Schmidt 2001–2002.
  21. ^ Howe 1972, p. ix.
  22. ^ Crowley 1973.
  23. ^ Cicero & Cicero 1998, p. xix.
  24. ^ Fielding & Collins 1998, p. 151.
  25. ^ Richardson 1991, p. 137.
  26. ^ Sutin 2002; Kaczynski 2012.
  27. ^ Nema 1995, p. 24–25.
  28. ^ Hulse 2000.
  29. ^ Rabinovitch & Lewis 2004, p. 269.
  30. ^ a b Thompson 2018.
  31. ^ Thompson 2016.
  32. ^ DuQuette 2020, p. 85.

Works cited[edit]

Primary sources
Secondary sources
  • Barry, Kieren (1999). The Greek Qabalah: Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World. Samuel Weiser. ISBN 1-57863-110-6.
  • Cicero, Chic; Cicero, Sandra (1998). Self Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition. Llewellyn. ISBN 978-1-56718-136-4.
  • Dan, Joseph (2007). Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. ISBN 978-0195327052.
  • DuQuette, Lon Milo (2020). Allow Me to Introduce: An Insider's Guide to the Occult. Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN 978-1-57863-654-9.
  • Farmer, S. A. (1999). Syncretism in the West: Pico's 900 Theses (1486). Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies. ISBN 978-0-86698-209-2.
  • Fielding, Charles; Collins, Carr (1998). The Story of Dion Fortune. Thoth Books. ISBN 978-1-870450-33-1.
  • Howe, E. (1972). The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order, 1887-1923. Routledge and K. Paul. ISBN 978-0710073396.
  • Hulse, David Allen (2000). The Western Mysteries: An Encyclopedic Guide to the Sacred Languages and Magickal Systems of the World. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 1-56718-429-4.
  • Kaczynski, Richard (2012). Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (rev. & exp. ed.). North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-58394-576-6.
  • Nema (1995). Maat Magick: A Guide to Self-Initiation. York Beach, Maine: Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-827-5.
  • Rabinovitch, Shelley; Lewis, James (2004). The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-2407-3.
  • Richardson, Alan (1991). The Magical Life of Dion Fortune. Aquarian Press. ISBN 978-1-85538-051-6.
  • Schmidt, Edward W. (Winter 2001–2002). "The Last Renaissance Man: Athanasius Kircher, SJ". The World of Jesuits and Their Friends. Vol. 19, no. 2.
  • Sutin, Lawrence (2002). Do What Thou Wilt: A life of Aleister Crowley. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-25243-9. OCLC 48140552.
  • Thompson, Cath (2016). The Magickal Language of the Book of the Law: An English Qaballa Primer. Hadean Press Limited. ISBN 978-1-907881-68-8.
  • Thompson, Cath (2018). All This and a Book. Hadean Press Limited. ISBN 978-1-907881-78-7.

Further reading[edit]

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