The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Kabalah (also spelled Kabala or Kabbalah) literally means “that which is received,” implying “tradition,” but also refers to what was originally an oral tradition, transmitted directly from teacher to student and restricted to a small circle of devotees. Among its other definitions is “received love.”
Kabalah is a broad term encompassing various spiritual and magical traditions.
Although it has recently become popular, it was once a secret tradition, open only to initiates and perceived as dangerous to those unprepared for its wisdom. For centuries, in traditional Jewish mysticism, only married men over the age of forty were officially permitted to study Kabalah. Only they were believed stable, grounded, and sensible enough to withstand its profound spiritual dangers.
Kabalah was controversial and somewhat disreputable (and to some extent remains so) in the conventional Jewish community, heavily influenced by rationalist philosophies such as those of Moses Maimonides. In the Christian community, Kabalah was simply synonymous with magic.
Where does Kabalah come from? According to one legend, when Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai he also received additional knowledge that he was instructed to keep secret. (“Occult” is a synonym for “secret” and so this secret knowledge is the basis for occult wisdom.) (See BOOKS: Grimoires: Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Books of Moses, Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.)
Among Kabalah’s most prominent leaders were Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, and Chaim Vital who was also a skilled alchemist.
There is not one single book known as the Kabalah. Instead various sacred texts are used, including:
Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation): Traditional wisdom suggests that the Sefer Yetzirah was divinely revealed. Another version suggests that it was composed between the third and sixth centuries CE in Palestine. Among its themes is that the Creator formed the universe via the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten sephirot of the Tree of Life, thus the world has thirty-two secret (occult) paths to wisdom.
Sefer Habahir (Book of Brightness): This text emerged in the Jewish community of Provence between 1150 and 1200 CE.
The Zohar (Book of Splendor): In approximately 1280, Moses de Leon (1238—1305), a Spanish Jew, began circulating booklets in Aramaic among his fellow Kabalists. De Leon claimed that he had transcribed them from an ancient book composed in the second-century CE in the academy of Rabbi Simon bar Yochai. These booklets gradually formed The Zohar.
According to The Zohar, the Creator initially taught the Kabalah to angels who then shared them with people. They taught Adam, who passed it on to Noah, who passed it on to his descendants. Abraham brought the teachings to Egypt. Moses, King David, and Solomon were all initiated into the Kabalah’s secrets so these male patriarchs and heroes were all simultaneously occult masters and spiritual adepts. The information was transmitted orally. No one wrote it down until Simon Bar Yochai.
Sephirot are the ten paths or rungs of Kabalah’s Tree of Life. The Sephirot may be diagrammed as a tree or in the form of a candelabrum. The ten sephirot are:
1. Keter (Crown)
2. Chochma (Wisdom)
3. Bina (Understanding)
4. Hesed (Love)
5. Geburah/Gvura (Power)
6. Tiferet (Beauty)
7. Netzach (Endurance, Eternity, Victory)
8. Hod (Glory, Splendor)
9. Yesod (Foundation)
10. Malkuth (The World)
In popular terminology Kabalah has become a catch-all name for any kind of Jewish or Jewishderived magic. (There was even once a type of mass-marketed witch board sold under the name Kabalah.) These may have nothing to do with Kabalah in its pure form. Within the Jewish magical and mystical communities, distinctions are drawn between “theoretical Kabalah” (Kabalah in its pure form) and “practical Kabalah,” which includes various and sundry magical practices.
During the Renaissance, Kabalists developed reputations as powerful sorcerers and magicians. The traditional image of the robed, bearded wizard with a peaked hat and big book is based on the stereotype of a Kabalah master.
Christian practitioners also began to adopt Kabalah for their own spiritual purposes and magical purposes. (See below, Cabala.) During a time of tremendous cultural segregation, metaphysicians were the exceptions to the rule. Christian spiritual and magical seekers including the great Cornelius Agrippa ventured into Jewish ghettoes (Jews were often not permitted to leave) to study and trade secrets with the Kabalists.
Since the fifteenth century, Kabalah has exerted a tremendous influence over mainstream European magical practices, especially Ceremonial Magic and High Ritual Magic. In the sixteenth century it began to be associated with witchcraft and took on a disreputable air.
Kabalah has since evolved into a general term for Jewish mysticism: via techniques such as fasting and the recitation of hymns, prayers, and names of power uttered either in a state of trance or of complete, total focus, the devotee attempts to progress up the ten paths, intelligences, or rungs of ladder of the Sephirot or Tree of Life. Among those greatly influenced by Kabalah were Eliphas Levi, Samuel MacGregor Mathers, and Aleister Crowley.