Getting to know the Tree of Life

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Nemia
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Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Nemia » 04 Dec 2017, 02:56

1. The Supernal Triangle

For many years, I was sure that I'd never be able to tell one sephira from the other, and the whole Tree of Life seemed to me like an artifical construct, something that others can understand but I simply can't. I even met the kabbalah as a student and read Gershom Sholem... but it took many years until all of a sudden, some years ago, the penny dropped.

So the first thing I can tell you is: you need patience and time to absorb the wisdom and beauty of the kabbalah. Your brain will only absorb it when it's ready. Until then, don't consider it a waste of time to read what you can about the kabbalah, consider it as steps on the way. I don't know much and what I write now will probably be torn to pieces by others who feel they know so much more and indeed do so. I don't rely in my explanation on any other source but my own understanding - I'll add sources later.

The Tree of Life is only a part of the whole kabbalah philosophy which actually wants to understand God and the world and our human lives.... based on the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew language and numbers. The Tree of Life is a model of the workings of God - how the world was made. If you follow the Tree from the top to the root, you see how God created the world (or how the world came into being) - we're living in the root area. But you can also climb upward and try to reach an understanding of creation.

So this Tree connects the divine sphere and the human, material plane.

I started to understand it once I started to imagine divine energy as light that flows through a fountain, from bowl to bowl. All the bowls are colourful, and the light absorbs these colours on the way down. That makes it beautiful and interesting, but it also dims the light.

Light is such a wonderful metaphor for divine energy; it's such a basic human instinct to turn to the source of our light, the sun, if we want to understand God, and look for our metaphors there.

But what was before light? The kabbalah says, there was nothing, Ein אין . Ein means in Hebrew "not there". If you're looking for something and don't find it, you say "ein" and shrug. Ein kesef - no money. Ein davar - it doesn't matter. Ein ish - nobody there. Ein sabon - soapless.

We can't imagine an Ein. Even in negation, we always say WHAT is not there, money or people or soap. But before the creation, there was nothing. Ein.

A first definition of this Ein came with the next stage, Ein Sof אין סוף - No ending. The moment you say that there are NO borders, separations, limits, you imply their existence. The moment you think infinity, you imply finitiy. (Sof סוף means ending)

And the third step comes with Ein Sof Or אין סוף אור - limitless light. (Or means light אור) Do you see how we came just by abstract words from a place of Nothing through Infinity to Limitless Light?

You can imagine it like watching dawn. The Ein is the darkest darkness. With Ein Sof, you don't see any light yet but you can sense that it's about to break - one part of the sky is still dark but hints to the existence of light. And with Ein Sof Or, you see that there is light. You don't see the sun yet, but you know there is light.

These three stages are also the stages of creation in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

Look at the three upper "veils": Ein, Ein Sof, Ein Sof Or.

Image

(it doesn't matter whether you transcribe אור as or Or or Aur, letters in Hebrew work differently from Latin letters)

All this has happened before creation has crystallized into spheres. But it happens when light, pure divine light, crystallizes into Keter, the first sephira. It's the first manifestation of the divine will to create.

Before we talk about the sephiroth, the "bubbles" on the Tree of Life, I want to explain the word sephira ספירה

All Hebrew words are built from roots, usually three consonants. You add to these three consonants all kind of things to make different words. It's like in English where to fall and to fell are related, and where you can add word parts until you get downfall, fallible etc. Hebrew is only more consequent. Nearly every Hebrew word you meet can be reduced to these three consonants that make up the root.

Sephira's root is SPR, ספר which is one of the most interesting roots of all imo. (P and F are the same letter in Hebrew, P is just an explosive F)

Sefer = book, sofer = writer, sippur= story, sfira = count, mispar = number.

You see already in this root SPR that in Hebrew, letter and number are the same. Alef counts as 1, bet as 2 etc. And accordingly, the words for writing and for counting are derived from the same root.

So a sephira is actually the act of counting.

Do you know that in Hebrew, there are no planet-derived weekday names but the days are counted like in the Old Testament? First day, second day, third day... and you count them by their letter. Yom alef is the first day, Yom bet the second day. You count your way through time.

The Greek word sphere and the English cipher and the German Ziffer, they're all children of this root, SPR.

Sephira is the singular, sephiroth the plural. Whenever you read a text where somebody writes about "a sephiroth", you know that person has no idea ("one children"). It's one sephira, many sephiroth.

Now let's talk about the sephiroth that make up the Tree of Life.

Our first sephira, Keter, is our first countable manifestation. Keter כתר means crown - you see it's three letters in Hebrew, three nice consonants, KTR, the vowels are added when speaking. The Tree of Life is crowned by this sephira of undivided, undiluted divine light.

This light divides into three streams that flow beneath Keter, three pillars. One is negative and harsh - the other positive and merciful - and one perfectly balanced between negative and positive.

The divine light will flow through all three pillars and touch them. If you look at the whole tree, you can see that on the negative and positive side, the sephiroth are symmetrical - the divine light always touches first the positive pillar, then the negative side.

The sephiroth on the middle pillar, the pillar of equilibrium, are not on the same level as the the others. It's as though the light flowing through the tree comes to rest in the middle sephiroth.

It comes from Keter and flows positive, negative - again positive, negative - then comes to rest in the middle.

It continues positive, negative, and then again goes to the middle - and flows down to the last sephira, the one we live in.

Follow this flow with your finger or your eyes. You will see that what the light needs is balance but also variety. It can't simply flow in one big stream from Keter down to the last sephira. To make creation dynamic, alive, full of tension, interest and struggle, we need contrasts, we need positive and negative. Divine energy flows or bounces from one to the other, and so do we.

We see colours, the light around is reflected, it absorbs different wavelengths - if Keter just remaind Keter, we'd have no life and death, no development. j

In Keter, the divine light is complete and we can hardly imagine it. It's very far removed from our day to day existence. But it's there, and without it, we wouldn't.

Once the divine light is aware of its own existence, it's thinking. It's reflecting, and it's no longer undivided. The second sephira appears, and it's Chochmah, חוכמה, Intelligence.

Very obvious, isn't it? The moment that the Undivided starts to think about itself, it's no longer Undivided, but divides itself into thinking subject and thought-about object.

The next step is the understanding that now we can create. Keter is Being - Chochmah is thinking about Being, and Bina is the addition of one and one. Once you have A and B, you know they'll start creating C, D and all the rest.

The kabbalah, influenced by the Jewish concept of the Divine as paternal, sees Chochmah as male (the Father) and Bina as female (the Mother) - the Father comes first. These are only metaphors, and if the kabbalah had been developed by a matriarch society, the mother would probably have come first. The old idea of sperm as light, womb as dark etc comes from the same root.

Chochmah is on the positive pillar, Bina on the negative pillar, both influence the sephiroth that are below them.

These three first sephiroth, Keter, Chochmah and Bina, are so far above us that they're called the Supernal Triangle. We know they are there, they have to be there, otherwise nothing could have been created, but we can't really know them.

To be continued. It's too long already!

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Re: Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Nemia » 17 Dec 2017, 12:05

Let's continue a bit. Please - if you know better, correct me, I'm no kabbalah scholar.

You may have noticed that I didn't mention astrological assignations to the supernal triangle. The reason is that there are several different ways to assign planets or the zodiac to the first two sephiroth, and that gets confusing very quickly. Maybe somebody else will write about it or I'll do it later; today I want to continue down the Tree.

Actually, Bina בינה is associated with Saturn and an endless, leaden, dark sea. Now you can ask yourself, and so did I: how do the depth of understanding (BNH is the root for understanding), the maternal principle and Saturn together? You can hardly find a less maternal mythological figure than stern child-eater Saturn.

I have thought about this quite a bit when putting up my tarot calendar, and warning goes out to all kabbalah scholars: I have come up with my own explanation for this riddle.

In the supernal triangle, there is no real difference between male and female. When we call Chochma male and Bina female, we're using weak human analogies to something that is more complex than we can imagine. It's a model, the idea of male + female = creation. A useful and strong model, but a model.

If I look at Saturn, I see the Father of Time and stern child-eater mentioned before. But I also see Rhea, his sister and wife, who tricked him and made him swallow a stone. I see in the first three sephiroth principles that are above our binary ideas of male and female. That's why I like the association of Chochma with the whole zodiac, and for myself, I associate Bina with Saturn and Rhea.

Okay, I have broken now all the rules of proper Kabbalah, but this really helped me get my head around Bina. I see the mythological scene,

Image

I see Kronos/Saturn as the father afraid of bringing new life into the world that might de-throne him, and I see Rhea who is determined to save her children against her husband.

Image

It is the dark side of parenthood, stripped of all its sentimental additions over time.

Rhea is one of Saturn's moons, and for me, Rhea was the key to understand Bina - and once I understood Bina, in another weak analogy, I could also understand Chochma and Keter better. Basically, I accepted that neither my brain nor my tongue are able to find words that contain, describe or explain them.

So, Bina is by no means cozy. Bringing creation, creatures into this world is difficult, harsh, and it is not smooth. It also means that automatically, we become slaves of time - once we have children, we're the parent generation and no longer important except for keeping the offspring alive.

But now let's continue to Chessed, חסד, a sephirah with a beautiful name: mercy. ChSD is the root, and only kind and good words are derived from it. A Chassid is an especially God-loving person who loves others, too. A chassida is the word for stork, a bird that brings fortune and happiness to the house where it lives - and it always returns. Chessed elyon is higher mercy, and if someone is especially gifted, we say "he's a teacher of chessed elyon", i.e., his gift is divine.

So if we saw the creation of life in the supernal triangle, it is greeted with mercy on the pillar of mercy. A wonderful Blue is the colour of this sephira, and it's associated with Jupiter - jovial, benefic, a powerful influence for more mercy in this world.

Chessed is balanced on the other side by Gvura, גבורה, the red sephirah associated with Mars on the pillar of severity. Chessed gives a second and third chance, gvura is tough and everything has consequences. Chessed is serene and generous, Gvura is disruptive and full of aggressive energy. The thing is: life needs both.

After Gvura, we land on the middle pillar again that we haven't seen since Keter. This sephira is called Tif'eret תפארת and that's maybe the most beautiful name of all. It's a girl's name in Israel, rare but I know one Tif'eret. It's a feminine grammatical form - like Chochma, Bina and Malkuth.

Sorry, I have to stop now - will continue later!

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Re: Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Canid » 12 Feb 2018, 13:07

Thank you. I really like this artists’ work.
Image
The eye thru which I see God is the same eye thru which God sees me.

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Re: Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Nemia » 12 Feb 2018, 13:12

That's a Celtic tree of life. Well, at least it's Celtic knotwork and style. I don't know whether there was a tree of life in Celtic mythology - I know there is Yggdrasil in Germanic mythology but it's quite different from the Kabbalistic/Jewish Tree of Life.

Trees are such universal symbols, connecting earth and sky, living for so long.

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Re: Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Canid » 12 Feb 2018, 19:16

Yes, it’s Celtic. And yes, the tree of Life is mentioned in many cultures. Germanic, Hinduism, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Buddism, Islam...pretty much every culture has a history regarding the Tree of Life, it’s fascinating. It MEANS something, but I haven’t studied the Kabbalah extensively. Yet! Thanks! You pretty much shaved off years of research for me. Wonder what would have happened if Eve had chosen that one instead...
The eye thru which I see God is the same eye thru which God sees me.

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Re: Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Nemia » 13 Feb 2018, 08:00

Eve's tree was the Tree of Knowledge, not the Tree of Life ;-)

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Re: Getting to know the Tree of Life

Post by Canid » 13 Feb 2018, 11:11

I know, I still wonder what would have happened if she had chosen the Tree of Life to eat from instead of the Tree of Knowledge.
The eye thru which I see God is the same eye thru which God sees me.

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