What is Kabbalah?
The literal English translation of the Hebrew word kabbalah means “receiving” or “that which has been received.” The study of Kabbalah, which can also be described as the study of Jewish mysticism, defines the content of what is or will be received – of what one might desire to receive. And what is that content exactly?
On the one hand, Kabbalah refers to tradition, ancient wisdom received and treasured from the past. On the other hand, if one is truly receptive, wisdom appears spontaneously, unprecedented, taking you by surprise. The Jewish mysticism tradition combines both of these elements. Its vocabulary teems with what the Zohar – the canonical text of the Kabbalah – calls ‘new-ancient-words.’ For example, ‘the world that is coming,’ a traditional phrase often understood as referring to a far-off messianic era, turns into ‘the world that is constantly coming,’ constantly flowing, a timeless dimension of reality available right here and now, if one is receptive.” (Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, page 1)
Judaism can be traditionally understood as a religion “of the book.” It is a religion of the tangible, corporeal world. There is a deep focus on the here-and-now; Jews are famous for not believing in an afterlife, after all. Jewish mythos likes to leave the unknown out of things – instead of focusing on life after death, young Jewish children are told to “make heaven on Earth” instead. This often leads to a wonderful sense of philanthropy and charity among Jewish people – the Jews I knew growing up were always involving themselves in volunteer work, nature clean-ups, food drives and cooking for the poor, etc. In short, modern Judaism tends to shy away from anything less concrete than what we can see and feel with our hands, “the physical world that God has made.” Books and texts are studied and interpreted over and over again, candles are lit, and people often gather to (yet another famous trend among Jews) eat. Judaism is a religion of and for the people, the people of Israel, a human vision – with the main goal, the longheld dream, being a mass return to the Holy Land (the very physical land of Israel). In many ways, Israel is the heaven of Judaism – located right here on Earth.
So what’s all this about Jewish mysticism then? The notion of Jewish shamanism, or mystical practice, might seem like an oxymoron to many, including many modern Jews. The sad thing is, many Jewish people don’t even really know that Kabbalah exists and is accessible to them. We are often told at a young age, especially growing up in more conservative Jewish families or communities, that Kabbalah is some crazy weird scary thing that only men above 40 are allowed to study. This is not true. Perhaps among the more Orthodox sects of Judaism, Kabbalah might still be restricted today, but contrary to popular belief, Kabbalah is not as ridiculously forbidden as it is sometimes made out to be. I’m a 24 year old woman, and I’ve studied it for several years already.
The History of Kabbalah: Why So Mysterious Today?
In many ways, it is not entirely the fault of modern Jews that they do not know anything about Kabbalah, or, more importantly, how to access it. Conservative Jewish scholars have been criticizing and ignoring Kabbalah for centuries. And ironically, as Gershon Winkler writes in his book Magic of the Ordinary:
What’s even more tragic is that the information lies suffocating in the dust of libraries and archives, in books and in manuscripts, often on the very shelves of those same scholars who dismiss the notion altogether.” (Winkler, Magic of the Ordinary, page 1)
Let’s back up for a minute, though. How did the practice of Kabbalah – that so many scholars then snubbed – begin, anyway?
In 1286, a Spanish Jew (a Sephardi in Hebrew) from Guadalajara named Moses de Leon met a wandering Palestinian mystic named Isaac ben Samuel of Acre (who later wrote about the experience in his diary, which is how we have the record), and confided in him that he had uncovered a centuries-old mystical text called the Zohar (of which de Leon claimed he did not know the exact author, but suspected it had been written by a man named Simeon ben Yohai). In truth, we know now that it was likely written by Simeon ben Yohai, who was one of the more eminent disciples of the martyred and famous Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph. In any case, de Leon promised to show the manuscript to Isaac ben Samuel, but died before he could do so. His death caused a bit of controversy, de Leon’s wife claiming later that it was actually de Leon who had written the Zohar, when that was not necessarily the case.
After de Leon’s death, Kabbalah (which is what they called the tradition surrounding the study of that mystical and very mysterious manuscript of the Zohar de Leon had uncovered) remained an esoteric are of study in Spain for two centuries, practiced only by a few highly learned men (which, is in all likelihood where the more modern rumor began that only older men could study Kabbalah to begin with). In 1492, however, the Spanish Inquisition mandated that all Jews either convert or leave Spain, which forced many of the Kabbalah-studying mystics to flee to the town of Tzfat in the Galilee (what is now in northern Israel, and still the center of Jewish mysticism and magic in the world today). By the sixteenth century, Tzfat had become a center for mystical studies, with Isaac Luria, a shamanistic poet, as the leader of said studies. During this time, Kabbalah ended up developing a lot of the concepts that actually became, believe it or not, what we know of as European Chassidism (or “Jewish law”) today.
However…with the coming of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism began to suffer a significant decline in popularity. The rabbinical leaders of the time, due to a multitude of influences, were more interested in putting “superstition” behind them, rather than hold onto the depths of the Kabbalistic tradition. Winkler chalks a lot of this attitude up to Christianity’s long-time influence on Judaism historically, and during the many years to come:
Clearly, the Church did not tolerate any other form of spirituality than its own, and the Jews’ refusal to relinquish their ways and become Christian was then, and remains to this day, a theological irritation to Church doctrine in spite of well-intentioned latter-day papal apologetics. But in order to survive, the Jewish people had to compromise. For example, Jews had to tone down the roles of their women in religious life and function to avoid suspicions of witchcraft, a suspicion held of all women – their religious affiliation notwithstanding – who exhibited independence, learning, and mystical prowess.” (Winkler, Magic of the Ordinary, page 3).
Winkler also talks about the famous quote, that appears from within both Christian and Judaic scripture, which states that, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, and how the quote actually reflects more the intentions of the Anglican translators of the Bible, rather than the intentions of those who originally wrote the Bible. He goes on to compare the Hebrew translations, showing that the more accurate translation would say, instead, “Thou shalt not sustain a witch”, meaning instead, that one should not rely on a witch: don’t get into a habit of supporting the livelihood of a magician – at the time, to spend money on a fortune teller or anything similar was thought foolish, and it was seen as waste for one to spend so much time trying to figure out the future, when they could be living their life actively and fully. So in the end, the phrase had more to do with historical occupation and financial pursuits originally than with magic as something evil or worthy of death (clearly the sentiment was never meant to be that dramatic).
Regardless of whether or not the decline of Kabbalah and mystical study from within Judaism had more to do with a change in tradition or with Christian influence and cultural persecution (likely both, in my opinion), the fact of the matter remains that Kabbalah began to disappear from modern Jewish religion…with more and more scholars either ignoring it or writing it off, so much so, that today, many Jews have forgotten about it, don’t know anything about it, and/or see it as something foolish, beyond them, or forbidden.
When really, Kabbalah has so much to teach, and so much to explore.
What Kabbalah Has to Say
Kabbalah is a window into the very oldest, very primal beginnings of Judaism: beginnings that were directly influenced by the polytheistic, ancient religions and cultures of Canaan and its surrounding areas. Very simply, Kabbalah provides the wisdom to establish a link between the soul and the mysteries of the living Earth. As Winkler describes it:
My ancestors were a tribal people, they lived and practiced a Judaism that in very few ways resembles the more urbanized Judaism of today. Once upon a time, my people enjoyed a relationship with the earth that was more about spirituality than about commerce or industry. Our visionaries came not from rabbinical seminaries and academies of higher learning but from solitary walkabouts and vision quests deep in the wilderness and far from the reaches of civilization. They were masters of sorcery and shamanism, dancing comfortably between the realms of spirit and matter, celebrating the magic of the worlds around them and the worlds beyond them.” (Winkler, Magic of the Ordinary, XIX)
Despite its obviously complex nature, the study of Kabbalah can be categorized into the following major topics:
- Eis Sof (and the mysteries of creation: the Torah re-told)
- The Tree of Life (and the Ten Sefirot)
- Meditation and Enlightenment (connecting with Ayin, or Nothingness)
- The Magic of the Hebrew Alphabet (Gematria) and Shamanistic healing
- The Four Elements (and the study of angels, demons, and animal associations)
All of these things are discussed in the two primary texts of Kabbalah: The Zohar and the Sefer Yetzirah. What do these texts contain exactly?
Well, the Zohar (remember Moses de Leon?), which is the foundational text of Kabbalah, is actually an entire re-write of the Torah, or what many know of as the Old Testament. The Zohar is believed to be, essentially, the “true story” of the Torah – think of it like, the Old Testament we know (what is contained in the Torah) as the outer layer of an apple: the thick, red skin. It is only the surface layer, the literal interpretation, only what we can see with our eyes upon first glance. The Zohar, though, is the depths of juicy fruit within, the spiritual meaning of the Torah – that we can not just see, but taste, feel, and smell. If the Torah is the base description of the experiences of the Israelites with the essence of God, then the Zohar is that experience, is that essence. The Zohar is the metaphysical, intangible, experiential, poetic version of the very literal, straightforward, surface-layer Torah.
The Sefer Yetzirah, on the other hand, is believed to have come after the Zohar, and is the supplemental stories and commentaries on several Kabbalistic themes, notably the origin story of the Hebrew Alphabet. The letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are believed to not just be constructs of language created by humans, but also breathing, living, and in many ways, sentient entities. Such is the reason why magic can be done with them, and why names and words are so vitally important from within Kabbalistic tradition. Words literally have the power to heal, to create, to destroy – and the Sefer Yetzirah explores this. The Sefer Yetzirah also explores the Tree of Life, and the Sefirot – which are, in the simplest of terms, very much like the chakras of Vedic medicine/mysticism. In many ways, the Sefirot are also levels of reality – that with many years of practice and study, a human can learn to experience.
Ein Sof: And in the Beginning…
One of the core concepts from within Kabbalah is that of Ein Sof: which translates roughly from Hebrew to “infinity.” Ein Sof is believed to be the birthing place (entity, being, realm) and first emanation of Divinity, or God, and in many ways, it is similar to a Pantheistic concept, as the Zohar states: “Ein Sof is in everything, and everything is in Ein Sof.” Ein Sof itself is not God, or a God, however, it is the place-from-which-God-came.
To give you a good idea of what the Zohar sounds like, and how Ein Sof is described, here is an excerpt from the first chapter of Genesis (Bereshit), the very same chapter that many Christians and Jews know of today as being that first “And God said ‘let there be light’, and there was” chapter from within the Old Testament:
Tune had begun. Its great pendulum, whose beats are the ages, commenced to vibrate. The era of creation or manifestation had at last arrived. The nekuda reshima, primal point or nucleus, appeared. From it emanated and expanded the primary substance, the illimitable phosphorescent ether, of the nature of light, formless, colorless, being neither black nor green nor red. In it, latent yet potentially as in a mighty womb, lay the myriad prototypes and numberless forms of all created things as yet indiscernible, indistinguishable. By the secret and silent action of the divine will, from this primal luminous point radiated forth the vital life-giving spark which, pervading and operating in the great, enteric ocean of forms, became the soul of the universe, the fount and origin of all mundane life and motion and terrestrial existence, and in its nature and essence and secret operation remains ineffable, incomprehensible and indefinable. It has been conceived of as the divine Logos, the Word, and called Brashith, for the same was in the beginning with God.” (Zohar, section I Genesis).
Ein Sof by Rhosauce (2010)
Pretty intense, isn’t it? Imagine reading an entire version of the Bible like that! You can see why only the more patient and learned scholars made time for such texts in the past. A lot of it hardly made sense – and it took a lot of time, interpretation, and meditation to figure it all out, so to speak. I personally find it to be deeply and poetically beautiful, and far more interesting to read and mull over than the plain old text of the typical Old Testament. I also find the above passage curiously similar to descriptions I have read of the Big Bang – the scientific explanation for the creation of the universe and everything in it. Perhaps the Kabbalah’s greatest secret is that the spiritual constructs of creation and the scientific ones really aren’t so different after all.
The Tree of Life & The 10 Sefirot
Tree of Life by Richard Quinn
The Tree of Life, or Etz Chayim, is a blueprint – a map of all the varies levels of realities and existences one can experience throughout life (and perhaps even after death, too). It is said that when Ein Sof began creation, 32 “pathways” were built – 10 sefirot and 22 Hebrew letters, with there being 22 connections/possible combinations between the sefirot. These “pathways” make up the Tree of Life (one interpretation pictured above). I like to equate the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, in many ways, with the Norse Yggdrasil – as both act as bridges between worlds, and various existences.
Sefirot is plural for the word sefira, which means “a single emanation.” Each sefira is a concept or “chakra” that emanates from the place of Divinity, and appears tangibly on the physical plain in various different ways. Some are “higher up” on the Tree than others; there is a certain hierarchy to them, and certain order by which they were originally emanated from Ein Sof. Those with any former knowledge of Kabbalah may be familiar with the following type of image:
The 10 Sefirot
The 10 Sefirot are as follows:
- Keter – Crown
- Chokhma – Wisdom
- Binah – Understanding
- Chesed – Lovingkindness
- Gevurah – Power
- Tiferet – Beauty
- Nezach – Endurance
- Hod – Majesty
- Yesod – Foundation
- Malkhut – Knigdom
It is said that Malkhut (kingdom) is the closest sefira to Earth (as we know and experience it), to the physical and material plane, the one we encounter the most in our daily lives. As we climb the Tree, we reach higher and higher into the metaphysical, into the conceptual, into the Divine. We leave the tangible, and seek out a higher existence. The uppermost sefira, Keter (Crown), is said to express the highest form of understanding, of enlightenment, that we (as humans) are able to reach…beyond that, there remain only the mysteries of Ein Sof to discover and comprehend (if full comprehension is even possible). It is said that “one who has attained Keter has reached God.”
Like with the more well-known Vedic chakras, the Sefirot are also often assigned colors, parts of the body, and other correspondences that can be used to meditate on, do magic with, heal, etc. I won’t list all of them here, but instead, recommend any of the sources listed below in my bibliography as good places to start learning about the ways in which the Sefirot can be used to better the self (through meditation, medicine, etc.).
Ayin: The Power of Nothing
Speaking of meditation, the Kabbalah has quite a lot to say about Nothing…or rather, how to achieve Nothingness, which, like the Buddhist concept of Enlightenment, is something to be desired. Ayin is actually a Hebrew letter – this one: ע. Remember what I said about letters having both personality and power? Well Ayin is the “silent letter” – it is the only letter in the Hebrew Alphabet, save perhaps Aleph (who has a different story, and “speaks with action”), that “does not speak at all.” And while speech and words are certainly considered powerful from within a Kabbalistic context, there is a place for silence too. In fact, it is a very important place: as the Kabbalistic scholars are known to say – “Wisdom comes into being out of Ayin.” Remember the Sefirot? Wisdom (Chokhma) is the second highest on the Tree – the last step before Keter is reached.
Kabbalah reinforces and recommends the need for humans to meditate and focus on Ayin often, harnessing our own abilities to attempt enlightenment on the road to Keter. As Daniel C. Matt writes in The Essential Kabbalah:
Think of yourself as Ayin and forget yourself totally. Then you can transcend time, rising to the world of thought, where all is equal: life and death, ocean and dry land. Such is not the case if you are attached to the material nature of this world. If you think of yourself as something, then God cannot clothe himself in you, for God is infinite. No vessel can contain God, unless you think of yourself as Ayin.” (Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, page 71).
There is a belief that runs deep within Kabbalah, as it does in Buddhism, that letting go of excess material desires leads to a better understanding of the spiritual, and of “truth.” By letting go of selfishness, of baggage and lavishness, one is able to become a better person, and by default, become able to do more for the physical world around them. As Jennifer Hunter writes in Magickal Judaism:
The Kabbalist considers herself a partner in creation with God. When material existence was created, the vessels of the Sefirot, unable to hold in such a powerful force as the splendor of the Divine, shattered, causing sparks of Divinity to fly apart into time and space. Luria taught that when this happened, sparks of holiness (nitzotzot) got mixed up with more base matter (klipot, or husks). It is considered the Jews’ job to raise up the sparks so that they can be joined with each other again. This process is called tikkun ha nefesh, mending the soul, or tikkun olam, mending the world.” (Hunter, Magickal Judaism, page 71)
Remember what I said earlier about Judaism being a religion very much concerned with the physical and material world? With making “heaven on Earth?” And how that has caused Jews (in general) to become some of the most charitable people in the world? Remember how I also said that a long time ago, Kabbalah was the direct influence and foundation for what became modern Judaism (the Chassidic Judaism of Europe)?
Starting to see some connections here? The influence still shines through, despite so many having forgotten Kabbalah and its place within modern Judaism.
Kabbalah teaches that we can make the world a better place by bettering ourselves first – not just through focusing on the 21 “loud” letters of the material world, but also by focusing on the nothingness, the spiritual level, of Ayin. In the end, Kabbalah reminds us that Judaism has always had a place for the mystical and the spiritual, that the focus on the physical only is merely an illusion, a product of forgotten roots. It’s very much about balance: the seen and the unseen, the material and the spiritual, the human and the Divine…and this balance has been affecting us all along. Bettering the world around us is inherently tied to the process of bettering the inner world within us.
The Magic of the Hebrew Alphabet
The Hebrew Alphabet alone has a multitude of mysteries and magical uses surrounding it: by now it’s likely clear how deep the story of the Alphabet goes – each letter has its own personality, its own origin story (which can all be read in the Sefer Yetzirah), and its own numeric value.
Jewish mysticism teaches that the Hebrew letters are the very building blocks of the world, and hidden within Torah are the answers to all questions. It is said that the Torah was written with “black fire on white fire,” that even the spaces between the letters have power and meaning. It requires a certain amount of creativity and persistence to puzzle it all out, however. First, Torah is written without vowels, so although most of the words can be deciphered based on context, there are some occasions where they are unclear. This leaves room for mystical speculation. Some letters may be codes symbolizing other letters. And since each letter has a numeric value, words with the same total value can be seen as related.” (Hunter, Magickal Judaism, page 78).
The system of assigning numeric values to the Hebrew letters is called Gematria. There are many different types of Gematria, but the most common system, called the Standard Method (or Mispar Gadol), is as follows:
Standard Method Gematria
And so, with such a method, every word in Hebrew has a double meaning – a numeric value, an equation. The magical possibilites for this are endless. One of the main ways of using Gematria magically is through sigil creation. Kabbalah teaches much on letter and number combinations, and the outcomes of such combinations. Remember the Sefirot? Remember the 22 Hebrew letter pathways of the Tree of Life? Sigils can be created with each of those combinations in mind, with certain Sefirot in mind. Invoking the power of the Hebrew letters and their number associations is a powerful way to use Kabbalah to influence the world around you.
Numbers have power in Kabbalah as much as the letters do. The famous name of God in Hebrew – YHVH – the name that no-one knows how to truly pronounce, is a sigil in and of itself…a secret code that, in fact, can be interpreted using the number associations in several ways. Some interpret the number associations as standing for four major aspects of Divinity: The Father/King, The Mother/Queen, The Son, and The Daughter (said to originate with the Canaanite Deities of the ancient past – El, Asherah,Ba’al, and Anath – which many religious scholars believe to have merged and became what modern Jews know of as YHVH, or Adonai, today. It should be noted also, that Kabbalah recognizes a definitive female aspect of the Abrahamic God, called Shekinah, Who has also been forgotten in much of modern Jewish practice, which I find to be a great shame). Others see the sum of the YHVH name as being connected to the holy number four. As Rabbi Jill Hammer writes on the Tel Shemesh website:
One of the building blocks of Jewish time, space, and soul is “fourness.” There are four letters of God’s name, four matriarchs, four promises of liberation, four cups at the Passover seder, four prayer times that span the Sabbath, four mystical worlds of being, four guardian angels, and, according to some, four layers of the spirit. On a more physical level, there are four elements, four winds, four seasons, four phases of the moon, and four directions. There are four corners on the ritual garment called the tallit, four species of plants gathered together for the ritual bundle called the lulav, and four poles to hold up the Jewish wedding canopy known as the chuppah. There are four ways of interpreting Torah: pshat, drash, remez, and sod (the plain meaning, the allegorical meaning, the interpretive meaning, and the mystical meaning). There are four rivers in the garden of Eden. Fourness reflects the ages of human experience: youth, maturity and generativity, reaching one’s full power in mid-life, and the challenges and joys of old age. The Jewish world-tree, the etz chayim or tree of life, passes through four levels of existence on its way between heaven and earth.” (Hammer, TelShemesh.org)
It is to “Fourness” that we now turn.
The Four Elements, Angels, Demons, and All the Rest
The most important “foursome” in Kabbalah is that of the four natural elements: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Those familiar with Wiccan practice, as well as other traditional witchcraft and/or shamanistic paths, may find this to be a fairly recognizable and familiar approach to mysticism and magical practice. The four elements are age-old constructs, and they are just as important to meditate on and study the mysteries of as the Sephirot and the Gematria.
Like with other witchcraft and/or shamanistic traditions, in Kabbalah, the four elements are inherently tied to the four seasons, to the four directions, and to various animals and symbols. However, unique to Kabbalah, is the associations the four elements have with four very important angels. Jill Hammer mentions them in the quote above: the four guardian angels, or rather, Archangels. They are:
Michael (Meecha’el), who is associated with the direction of South, and the element of Fire. He/She is the Angel of Cleansing and Reflection, and appears on your right. His/Her animal is the human.
Uriel (Uree’el), who is associated with the direction of North, and the element of Water. He/She is the Angel of Mystery and Illumination, and appears in front of you. His/Her animal is the Eagle.
Raphael (Rafa’el), who is associated with the direction of West, and the element of Earth. He/She is the Angel of Merging and Healing, and appears behind you. His/Her animal is the bull.
Gabriel (Gavree’el), who is associated with the direction of East, and the element of Air. He/She is the Angel of Shining and Balance, and appears on your left. His/Her animal is the lion.
Angels are deeply complex beings, unlike Gods, and yet still unlike spirits – they are androgynous, and their own entities, and it is through Kabbalah that we can get to know them better, and call upon them for magical aid, protection, guidance, and wisdom. There are hundred of angels, minor and major, and learning about them, and invoking their names for practical use, is not an easy process, and takes time and patience. Like with any magical technique or summoning, it should be taken seriously.
After all, angels are not the only metaphysical beings the Kabbalah teaches us that we can summon for magical use. Sheydim are another type of entity that Kabbalistic mystics of the past focused on and studied. In the simplest of English vernacular, the word sheydim can be translated to “demons” – but I personally dislike using that translation, as sheydim are neither as negative, nor as controversial, as the word “demon” might make them out to be. Some sources say sheydim are “half-angel-half-human”; other sources say they are simply “shadows.”
They eat and drink like mortals, engage in sexual relations like mortals, and die like mortals; they have wings like angels, can foresee the future like angels, and journey from one end of the universe to the other like angels. The dual nature of sheydim is a result of their having been created during twilight, referred to in ancient Judaic lingo as bein ha-arbayyim, or the time “Between the Blendings,” a period which is neither day nor night.” (Winkler, Magic of the Ordinary, page 89)
Both angels and sheydim have the potential to be dangerous, and helpful. Studying Kabbalah is a way to get to know their natures, and learn the ways in which they can be dealt with and studied. Yet another reason why perhaps Kabbalah had restricted learners for a time, and that the age of study was raised to a more mature level…however, these restrictions should be seen as”recommendations” only: in short, one should only study Kabbalah when one feels ready to (whatever age that might be). I do think a mature mindset is needed, but we all reach maturity and experience the world at different rates. Certainly Kabbalah is not for children, but it may very well have much to teach a young adult.
How to Learn More
The above information is merely meant to be a starting point for anyone interested in Kabbalah. A 101 guide is by no means the be-all-end-all of any topic…so I encourage those inspired by this post to continue reading and continue learning. All of the sources I list below in my bibliography I highly recommend. If you have any questions or comments, I would also be more than happy to hear them.
A Note on Spelling: Please keep in mind that I am coming from a Jewish context when I discuss Kabbalah. I grew up in a Jewish family, studied Hebrew as a kid, and have been studying Kabbalah for several years. Yes, I’m theologically a polytheist now (and this isn’t the post to discuss it, but polytheism actually works quite well with a theology called distributive pantheism, which I find can fit the Kabbalistic model of Divinity in many ways), as well as a Kemetic, but I spent the first 16 years of my life studying and living the religion of Judaism, and I still identify as a Jew (ethnically and culturally). I understand that Kabbalah has ties to what’s often spelled as Qabalah or Cabalah, but these traditions vary, and are based very much in ceremonial magic and Hermetic tradition. All of it’s related, yes, but I can’t speak to Hermeticism or ceremonial magic, or any other alternative Qabalistic or Cabalistic tradition. Spelling is a tricky thing, and I realize that other’s have their own views, but for me, Judaic Kabbalah specifically is always spelled with a K. And for me, the “original” Kabbalah is the Judaic sort.
A Note on Appropriation: As for whether or not Kabbalah is a closed tradition, it’s hard to say. Some of the more conservative Jews that also still study Kabbalah might say it is (see: why Madonna claiming to be a Kabbalist was deeply offensive and annoying for nearly all serious Jews). But as you can see, my religious views have changed since childhood, and I still study it (though I have 100% Jewish heritage). I think anyone can study it academically if they so wish – whether or not you can achieve magical or mystical results with Kabbalistic techniques if you aren’t of Jewish heritage, or have at least some working knowledge of Hebrew…well, I don’t know. I think a great deal of study is needed, and a great deal of understanding into what Judaism is all about is needed. I’m sure it might be possible for a convert to Judaism or someone who is able to connect deeply with its teachings to be able to perform Kabbalistic magic…but again, I’m no expert on this specific subject. This was meant to be a 101 Guide, and nothing more. In many ways, Judaism (and by default Kabbalah) is a closed religion unless you are serious about converting (since Judaism does not proselytize), but it becomes a grey area in some respects…since as I said, I’m Jewish by blood, but perhaps not fully by belief anymore. I promise you that I’m curious about this, though, and will continue to seek out answers.
- Matt, Daniel C. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. HarperOne. 2009.
- Hammer, Jill. The Jewish Book of Days. The Jewish Publication Society. 2006.
- Hunter, Jennifer. Magickal Judaism: Connecting Pagan and Jewish Practice. Citadel. 2006.
- Scholem, Gershom. On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism. Schocken. 1996.
- Winkler, Gershon. Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism. North Atlantic Books. 2003.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Moses de Leon
- Hebrew Gematria
- Peeling a Pomegranate
- Tel Shemesh
- The Internet Sacred Texts Archive: Judaism (where the first-sources The Zohar and the Sefer Yetzirah can be found, with multiple translations)