What is kabbalah

A few words about what Kabbalah really is Most people certainly associate the word "Kabbalah" mostly with laying out the Tarot, i.e. telling fortunes with cards.

This reveals only a part of the truth as tarot cards, used among other things for fortune-telling, are strongly connected to Kabbalistic philosophy and imagery. In fact, Kabbalah is a huge system of esoteric beliefs deriving from Judaism. Presently there are two main, parallel Kabbalah movements: 1. Kabbalah closely related to the tradition and culture of Judaism, practiced only by Orthodox Jews (males), into the mysteries of which only the select few are introduced; 2. Kabbalah related to occultism and ceremonial magic whose secrets every apprentice of magic can learn in the course of studies and their own work (the so-called Hermetic Kabbalah).

It is, nevertheless, true that Orthodox Jews treat Kabbalists and their Ceremonial Magick slightly condescendingly. A huge gap divides the two groups, but they also have much in common ' especially when it comes to their roots and the shared system of symbols and concepts. This does not mean, however, that the occult conception of Kabbalah is wrong. It only differs from the Orthodox current, being more modern and, above all, accessible to everybody without any restrictions. It is worthwhile familiarizing with Jewish Kabbalah, too, however, in order not to miss the core of the matter and to understand it deeper, in a mystical way .

To people who are interested in differences between Ceremonial Magick, Hermetic Kabbalah and Kabbalah I recommend a fairly interesting text entitled "Aspects of Kabbalah in Ceremonial Magick" (I don't know exactly where the link is now). Kabbalah is a part of Jewish mysticism. The system comprises mainly speculations on the nature of divinity, the Creation, the origin and destiny of the soul, and the role of human beings.

It is composed of meditative, religious, mystical and magical practices that were handed down only to the select few. Some aspects of Kabbalah have been examined and used for several centuries not only by Jews (Hermetic Kabbalah). What does the word "Kabbalah" mean? The word 'Kabbalah' derives from a verb whose literal meaning is "to receive, to accept" but it is frequently applied as a synonym of "tradition". In literature both meanings are found. How old is Kabbalah? Nobody really knows this.

The earliest documents that are popularly recognized as Kabbalistic date from the 1st century C.E. But there is a suspicion that the Biblical notion of a parable may have been related to significantly older oral tradition that was a forerunner of the earliest recognizable forms of Kabbalah. Some scholars believe that the tradition dates back as far as to the time of Melchizedek.

Some arguments are also put forward that Pythagoras received his education from Hebrew sources. There is a certain literature of Jewish mysticism dated between the years 100 AD and 1000 AD which is not strictly Kabbalistic in today's understanding, but which was available as source material to medieval Kabbalists. What is Hermetic Kabbalah? Many people who study Kabbalah are not Jewish. This has been true for about past five hundred years.

It is very difficult to find the right name for this type of Kabbalah. "Non-Jewish" is too imprecise a term as there have been cases of Jewish followers of Hermetic Kabbalah. Some called it "Christian" Kabbalah, but this name can be very misleading as well. The origins of Hermetic Kabbalah can be tracked down in Medieval Italy in the final decade of the 15th century. It was a wonderful period. In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America.

In the same year the King of Spain banished all Jews from his territory on pain of death and so put an end to centuries of Jewish culture in Spain. This brought about a great migration of the exiled Jews through Europe. Many of them were received by the Turkish sultan, who became famous for his statement that it was the King of Spain who had enriched Turkey by impoverishing his own country. At about the same time, Marcelio Ficino opened the Platonic Academy at the court of the great banking Medicis family from Florence under the patronage of the Medicis and he was translating Plato's works. A collection of manuscripts dated to the 1st and 2nd century A.

D. that had been lost for hundreds of years were discovered: this was the Corpus Hermeticum, a set of documents devoted to Hermes Trimegistus, identical with the Egyptian deity Thot, the god of wisdom. Cosimo de Medici told Ficino to give up the translation of Plato and focus on the Corpus instead.

At that time people honestly believed that the Corpus was the religion of ancient Egyptians and that Hermes was the equivalent of Egyptian Moses. The fact that those writings appeared much later and were heavily influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy had such an impact on the readers of that time as to persuade them that Greek philosophy was based on still older religious philosophy of Egypt. This influenced greatly the liberal religious and philosophical thinking of the time.

These were the circumstances in which Kabbalah 'came', brought partly by the Jews escaping from Spain, and it was eagerly recognized as another lost tradition, the inner, initiating key to the Bible. Two important figures appeared. One of them was Giovanni Pico ' Count of Mirandola, who commissioned several translations of kabbalistic works and contributed significantly to the popularization of Kabbalah among the intellectual milieu of the day.

The other one was Johannes Reuchlin, who learned to read Hebrew and immersed himself deeply in Kabbalistic literature. It has to be stressed, though, that Jews were very suspicious of such interest in Kabbalah, noticing that Christian scholars were using it as a means of convincing them to convert to Christianity. Such an eclectic blend of Christianity, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Kabbalah and Renaissance humanism was the origin of Hermetic Kabbalah. Over the centuries it has evolved into many directions, with a vital influence of Freemasonry and the Rosicrucian Order. Still, the spirit of all these types does not diverge muchfrom the original, owing to the constant influence of Jewish Kabbalah.

The greatest asset of Kabbalah is a strong element of religious humanism: it does not attempt to define God, nor does it define what each of us should believe in, but it admits that a certain level of direct experience of God is possible and that there are practical methods for achieving this. In contemporary world of highly organized and systematized knowledge, scientific materialism and increasing cultural and historical ignorance, Kabbalah creates a bridge between the inquisitive Renaissance spirit (homo universalis or ' in Hebrew ' hakham kolel) and the waking of a similar questing spirit in our times. Copyright (c) 2008 Adam Nowak.

This article was translated by mLingua Worldwide Translations, Ltd. mLingua provides professional language translations in all major Western and Asian languages, software localization and web site translation services. Please visit

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