Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Q is for Qabalah

This post is for the Pagan Blog Project.

In my late teens, I remember seeing a copy of 'The Mystical Qabalah' by Dion Fortune in the local metaphysical bookstore. I leafed through it... and put it back on the shelf.

Part of what turned me off was the fact that the subject matter seemed to be very deeply rooted in Biblical tradition. I was a teenage transplant to a city that was the buckle of the Bible Belt, and anything that mentioned Yaweh was pretty much automatically on my 'do not want' list.

Later on, I bought 'The Witches Qabala' by Ellen Cannon Reed. The book presented the concept of the Tree of Life in a way that seemed easier to relate to. It included meditations on the spheres, with descriptions of the temples of each should you decide to travel up the tree in trance. I attempted this. I never got past Yesod.

And that was about it for the Qabalah in my life for years.

"These are weird fucking balloons..."
When you work with tarot a lot, as I do, the Qabalah tends to pop up in a lot of the reading material as the Major Arcana cards are associated with the paths between the sephiroth on the Tree. I eventually wound up with 'The Forest of Souls' by Rachel Pollack, which relates both the Qabalah and the Zohar to tarot throughout the text. I wound up purchasing 'Dreams of Being Eaten Alive' by David Rosenberg in a used bookstore because it was mentioned in Pollack's book, and it was after reading that in conjunction with 'Forest' that I really started to see the Qabalah as more than a diagram in old books.

In my personal experience, a lot of pagans don't seem overly interested in the Qabalah. Magicians do, but then magicians tend to gravitate more towards definite structure than, say, eclectic witches. There also seems to be something of a gender bias, as Qabalah has a long tradition in Western Ceremonial magic and although there are certainly women in magical lodges, there is a definite emphasis on the masculine as good in those systems that can put women off. I think perhaps this is why I never saw much about it outside of tarot books, as I was usually reading neo-Wicca sources or Chaos Magic stuff, before moving on to folk magic and hoodoo. (And honestly, all the chaos magic shit I was reading also seemed geared towards men, which certainly didn't make me want to read more Ceremonial stuff.)

Recently, I acquired 'The Kaballah Tree' also by Rachel Pollack. Actually, I also got 'The Mystical Qabalah' by Fortune after all these years too, but I started with Pollack's and I'm glad I did. The book has, for me, opened up the subject in a way that is utterly fascinating and something that I can relate to my own life. Unlike a lot of the other things I've read about the Qabalah, this book seems to give a reason to give a shit about it. (There is a good review of the book here.)

The Qabalah, as I understand it, is a method for understanding the universe. Ooh, lofty. It is at once both vast and simple; it's a subject people can and do devote their lives to studying. I... uh, don't. I don't even go to a trendy Qabalah centre and wear one of those little red cords Madonna has. I am honestly only now am beginning to truly look at the details of the whole thing and go, "ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

The Qabalah, for me anyway, was a diagram. One I didn't really care to understand - it seemed one-dimensional and overly intellectual. More Ceremonial wankery, basically. But as with so many things I dismissed when I was younger, there's a lot more depth to it. Looking at the Qabalah with a more open mind, it seems to make sense regardless of what religious tradition you're following. If the true nature of an ultimate god is hermaphroditic, and the universe exists because this unknowable force wanted to know itself, then we can then see a reflection of the divine in everything. It seems to transcend Judaism or Hermeticism and become a truly universal way of discovering the world and our place in it. Gods, angels, devils, spirits... they all seem to fit naturally onto the tree without it merely becoming a classification system.

The Tree of Life is a living thing. It exists in our bodies as well as our souls. It moves through different levels of existence, and ultimately forms a ladder by which we can achieve god-consciousness.

...told you it was lofty. Ooh.

Now. Back on earth... Is there sexism in Qabalah? I would say it depends on who is interpreting it. There seems to be such a cross-fertilization on the tree that even though the pillars are described as 'male' and 'female' with the stereotypical associations of those attached, there really isn't a cut and dry gender to any one sephiroth. It seems, to me anyway, that if we place gender bias on the Tree it's our own fault for being fallible human beings, and not the fault of the Tree itself.

It's a fascinating subject. I've only really just begun to study it, and I feel that it's one of those things that may need to be experienced and not just read about. The path up the tree is fairly daunting, and I've always been afraid of heights.

But maybe I'll at least make it past Yesod this time.

1 comment:

  1. I've had the same trouble, but consider it something worth understanding, helped by reading Benedict de Spinoza, a Jewish/Hermetic philosopher, who helps you understand the pantheistic idea of god.