The Kabbalah (a Hebrew word meaning “handed down”, or “oral tradition”) is the term used to denote a general set of esoteric or mystical teachings originally held within Judaism, but later promulgated to a wider audience in the 12th century onwards through centres of learning such as Spain. It consists of a body of teachings and analysis dealing with the nature of the Universe, the aspects of divinity, and the method of creation. From this set of teachings is derived the role of man in the revealed scheme of things.
It is an incredible way of learning to see the patterns of the Universe and engaging in structured mystical experience. It is so widely used in the Western esoteric initiatory system, through the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn which flourished in the 1890-1910 period, that its learning leads to a deeper appreciation of ritual, esoteric psychology, and Tarot, amongst many other subjects.
The history of the Kabbalah is difficult to fix to dates and linear sequences of succession due to its nature as oral, traditional, teachings. Long before printing presses, the Kabbalistic teachings were passed from teacher to pupil as oral teachings and collections of manuscripts, which in turn may have been copies of other sets being used by other teachers. The original impulse of Kabbalah, however, emerged from a first century school of Jewish mysticism termed “Merkabah”, meaning “chariot”. These mystics utilised secret methods of “spiritual ascent” in order to attain mystical experience. These experiences can be recognised as those common to any modern adept following the occult initiatory system, for example; “the world changed into purity around me, and my heart felt as if I had entered a new world”.
The teachings of the Merkabah mystics became part of the “Heikhalot” school, whose name means “palace”, referring to the spiritual planes through which the mystics ascended. The description of these journeys seems to bear similarities to the journey of the soul into the Underworld depicted in the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth by Day, with magical words or appropriate names of the gods to be spoken before each door is passed and each palace entered.
Three classical texts formulate the basic structure of traditional Kabbalah, being ;
The Sefer-ha-Zohar; Book of Splendour – First printed 1558-60 and 1559-60
The Sefer Yetzirah; Book of Formation – First printed in Mantua 1562
The Sefer-ha-Bahir; Book of Light – First printed in Amsterdam 1651
To discover more about Kabbalah, enrol on our one-year self-study course in 12 lessons, and read the Magicians Kabbalah book.