The Tree of Life/Kabbalistic Symbol meaning

The Tree of Life is also known as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Kabbalah is a Hebrew word, its English equivalents are Cabala, Kabala and Qabalah. Kabbalah is the mysticism of Judaism, which is said to be derived from Egyptian culture. It is said that the concept of Kabbalah is completely described in the Torah, the Jewish code of laws, by its writer Moses. The Tree of Life is the core of Kabbalah. It is deemed as the blueprint with which the God created the universe, or the structural map of Godhead. It is not something on the paper, but an existing three-dimensional universe, the one where we exist.

The Tree of Life is a mysterious symbol used in Judaism, and part of the Jewish philosophical tradition Kabbalah. The Tree of Life is used to describe the path to God (which is usually called Jehovah or YHWH in Kabbalist literature), and how God created the world from nothing. Kabbalists used the Tree of Life as a diagram of the Creation, and thus developed the concept of Creation into a completely realistic model. It is believed that Kabbalistic Tree of Life is equivalent to the Tree of Life mentioned in the Genesis. According the 8th and 9th section in the 2nd chapter of The Old Testament, Book of Genesis, the Tree of Life was located in the center of Eden: 

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The YHWH built a garden in the Eden in the East to accommodate the human he created. He made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground to please and feed people. There were both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in this garden. ”

The symbol and meaning of the Tree of Life

Tree is a supreme symbol of flourishing, seasonal withering and regeneration in nature. The worship of tree can be traced back to remote ancient times when people believed that there were deities or elves living on the trees. In European folklores about tree-god or the god associated with greenery, we can still find imprints of such animistic viewpoints. The trees in myths sometimes protected people or met their wishes; while sometimes they also showed themselves horribly, stood barring people’s way, even became devils and antagonized people.

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There were also guardian elves who collect pollen from the Tree of Life. With the development of myths and legends, trees became the center of the flow of vitality, as well as the bond between natural world and supernatural world. In legends, the Tree of Life was born in the water of Hell, grew through the human world and stretched upward to the paradise. Such legends perfected the sympolic meaning of tree. The Tree of Life represents the whole theoretical system of the Creation, and is widely accepted throughout the world. The Tree of Life in many legends was rooted in some holy moutain or growing in the paradise, with spring water full of spiritual nourishment coming out of its root. Snake also settled down at its root, symbolizing that the energy drawn from the ground ascending in a spiral shape. Big snake also represents the destructive power. Birds inhabited on the twigs of the crown of Tree of Life, symbolizing the messengers or souls in the sky. Through the Tree of Life, human nature can be raised from general level to higher level, divine counsel will be received, souls will be saved and the reincarnation in human world can also be avoided.

Yggdrasil is an immense ash tree which connects human world, paradise and hell in Norse mythology. There are springs under its root, including the Mimirsbrunnr. The appearance of Yggdrasil is the symbol of evolution: the branches represent variation, and the trunk reprsents the oneness during the evolution. In Indian painting, a tree which sprouts and grows out of the cosmic egg is the symbol of this colorful world created by the Brahman. In Jewish Kabbalah system and the other mysterious doctrines, the Cosmic Tree grows in the opposite direction. Its root draws spiritual energy from the sky, and stretchs outwards and downwards to the ground.

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As the symbol of Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is a diagram of the ten Sephiroth that constitute the foundation of the world. The ten Sephiroth symbolize the course that the God ascends from an infinite and unknowable being to the almighty creator of universe. Every level or Sephirah represents a different level of the relationship between a person and the God. The Trees of Life are mostly foodbearing trees: peach tree in China, sycamore tree in Egypt, apricot tree in Iran, as well as olive tree, palm tree and pomegranate tree in elsewhere in the Middle East or in the Semitic tradition. They represent the whole universe for the same simple reason: they are all incarnations of the productive Mother Earth. The religious rituals to pray for offsprings usually center on some deciduous trees. Naked branches in winter and blossoms in spring naturally make people think of the cycle of changing seasons.

The Kabbalah uses the Tree of Life (which grows in the paradise) to symbolize the whole universe. It is very difficult to interpret its meanings, in brief, the Tree of Life represents the vast universe, human body as small universe, as well as the spritual traversal of reaching the state of God. The Tree of Life consists of 10 circles (Sephiroth) and 22 paths. Human are located in the Malkut (kingdom), they take a journey of meditation via the 22 paths and 10 Sephiroth till they reach the Keter (crown). Besides, It is said that there is an archangel who is guarding and guiding people in every Sephirah. The Tree of Life can be divided into principal components including Three Pillars, Ten Sephiroth, Four World and 22 Paths.

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The history of the Tree of Life

The principles of Kabbalah are from the Genesis and the Revelation of the Bible, as well as the Sepher Yetzirah appeared between the 3th and 6th century. It is said to be able to see “the mysterious causality of universe” through the study of Kabbalah. The Sefer ha-zohar edited in the 13th century has an important position in the archetype of Kabbalah.

Next, we are going to talk about the Tree of Life. The Kabbalah uses the Tree of Life (which grows in the paradise) to symbolize the whole universe. It is very difficult to interpret its meanings, in brief, the Tree of Life represents the vast universe, human body as small universe, as well as the spritual traversal of reaching the state of God. The Tree of Life consists of 10 circles (Sephiroth) and 22 paths. Human are located in the Malkut (kingdom), they take a journey of meditation via the 22 paths and 10 Sephiroth till they reach the Keter (crown). Besides, It is said that there is an archangel who is guarding and guiding people in every Sephirah. The Tree of Life can be divided into principal components including Three Pillars, Ten Sephiroth, Four World and 22 Paths.

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The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life are not the same tree. The course that human degenerate from the state of perfection is called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There is nothing either good or bad in the universe until human have the concept of “self” after their degeneration. When human awaken and want to restore to the state of perfection, the path of reversed ascending is the Tree of Life. At first, Adam and Eva fed on the fruits from the Tree of Life and lived forever; however, they were expelled from the Eden by God and lost the immortality after eating the fruits from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The entrance and exit of the Tree of Life which reversedly promotes the spirituality of human are respectively guarded by angel and devil. This means that human must overcome the lure of the demon inside and make a final breakthrough to obtain the power stronger than that of god (angel), so as to enter the Tree of Life and regain the immortality. As is known to many people, Christianity is derived from Judaism. But few of us know that Judaism itself is divided into two sects. The sect believed in by most Jews is usually referred to as Judaism, the view about YHWH and theological concept in its doctrine are largely the same as those of Christianity, Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and they all regard YHWH to be a personalized God. However, there are a small proportion of Jews who believe in an impersonalized God. Normally this belief is called the Jewish Mysticism. The division of Jewish religion is similar to the split between Esoteric Buddhism and Exotoric Buddhism.

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Different doctrines

The doctrine of Jewish Mysticism is that the teachings of Moses are divided into two parts: one part is for the most average and debased lambs; while the other part will only be imparted to the few lambs who are more intellectual and willing to dedicate himself to the pursuit of truth. The secret of this part is, Moses revealed the mystery that god and human are consubstantial. This state is referred to as “Adam Kadmon”, which is actually the perfect state of human before their degeneration.

The Jewish Mystics believe that, one must pass the practice of Kabbalah (which represents the Tree of Life) to reach the state of “Adam Kadmon”. This practice is similar to the Taoist practice. The contents of Kabbalah mainly include: the secret of the Creation, the secret of life, the fate-precognition of individuals and even all human in the universe, the mystique of fate-changing, the secret inside the Bible, the mystery of god and devil. Apart from those mysteries recorded in ancient Hebrew books (for example, Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer ha-Bahir), the other mysteries were passed down by the prophet. The prophet first observed his disciples, picked out the best candidate, then passed down the mysteries orally from generation to generation. And these mysteries were only allowed to be spread among the descedents of the twelve tribes of Israel (this is also the true reason why Moses claimed that Israelites were the chosen people). The doctrine of Kabbalah is divided into three parts: the Theoretical Kabalah, the Meditative Kabalah and the Practical Kabalah.

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However, the mysteries of the Story of Creation and the Tree of Life still cannot be completely interpreted from the doctrine of Jewish Mysticism, because some mysteries are not passed down. Therefore, we must learn the origin of both Kabbalah and the Tree of Life to continue the exploration of these mysteries. You know, the Israelites had been living around Egypt and Babylon for a long time before Moses led them out of Egypt. The oldest diagram of the Tree of Life is originated from Babylon, the Kabbalah in Jewish Mysticism also shares much in common with the Kabbalah spread in Egypt. If we put all the religious beliefs of Egypt, Babylon and Jewish Mysticism, as well as various records of ancient legends and archaeological materials together, we will have a similar conclusion.

In terms of the viewpoint of Jewish Mysticism, Eden is only a state instead of a real existence. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In fact, the Word is the impersonalized God, “Adam Kadmon” is the state of harmony between human and nature. The degeneration of Adam and Eva is actually the story recorded in the Agama: the devas from the Abhasvara-deva realm (the Heaven of Light-Sound) came to human world, and became human due to edacity. There is the concept of “all-souls” in the Jewish Mysticism, all the souls are created after the separation of all-souls. Actually what Moses passed down is a practice of proving divinity personally. But during the time when he did preaching, the Hebrew nation was ignorant and even worshipped over one hundred deities. Moses had to turn various deities into one and created a religious sect similar to the Pure Land school of Buddhism for the most people. As for the real practice, it was only available to the few who were more intellectual.

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In addition, to tell you more, the snake on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is actually the Ananda in Hinduism and Yoga as well as the Yiyangsheng in Taoism. You should know what that is if you have practiced Kundalini. Some of the content of the Revelation is actually about the methods of practice. The “Seven Angels”, “Seven Lamps” and “Seven Bowls” are all refer to the seven Chakas on human body. Some secret denominations in the west can completely crack these secrets.

In the western traditional mysticism, the creation of Kabbalah starts from the diagram known as “the Tree of Life”. This diagram contains ten circles known as “Sephiroth” (the plura of “Sephirah”), which mean “spheres”, “figures” and “emanations”. In the order of one to ten, the Sephiroth are elaborately arranged at the domains where they used to be. There is an archetypical concept corresponding to each Sephirah. In other words, Sephiroth represent godhead and the procedure to create the world. In the Assiah, according to the old concepts, they are represented in the sphere of godhead.

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After getting over the first Sephirah “Keter” (which means “Crown”), there is a loop of three layers of energy.

The first layer is Ain,

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The next layer is Ain-Soph,

and the last layer is Ain-Soph Aur.

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These processes show the procedure from the original nonexistence to the existence of individuals (Keter is seen as an existing individual). They have no specifc numbers, even Aleister Crowley could only assign their value as 0, 00 and 000.

But they are only lower-level concepts in the Kabbalah, because they still have material existence. In fact, there are total four Trees of Life, what we just discussed is the one of the lowest level and the most matter, the Assiah (World of Action). The Trees of Life also exist in the other three higher-level spacetimes. The following world of higher level and less matter is the Yetzirah (World of Formation), that might be what Plato’s world is like.

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At Atziluth, every Sephirah is associated with a rare and special name of god.

For example, the god associated to Geburah is Elohim Gibor (“the Almighty God”), who acts as the harsh judge not reconciled by mercy and the distributor of justice. In ancient Greek and Roman mythologies, the similar deity is named Mars. The next world is Briah (World of Creation), where the Sephiroth are related to archangels.

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The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life consists of 10 Sephiroth and 22 paths. Human are located in the Malkut (Kingdom), they take a journey of meditation via the 22 paths and 10 Sephiroth till they reach the Keter (Crown). Besides, It is said that there is an archangel who is guarding and guiding people in every Sephiroth.

Keter – Metatron: the junction between two large universes over the head of human. It means the springhead of creation, pure existence and fountain of vitality. Numbered as 1, its corresponding color is white, and the jewel associated with it is diamond. Neptune is its symbolic planet, representing the flank of king. The name of God related to Keter is Eheieh.

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Its archangel is Metatron,

and it also corresponds to Malkut (which is known as the last sword).

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Chokmah – Raziel: Chokmah is also known as Abba Ila’ah (“the higher father”), and it is the symbol of masculinity and “mobility”. Numbered as 2, its corresponding color is grey, and the jewel associated with it is turquoise. Uranus is its symbolic planet. The name of God related to Chokmah is Yod, and its archangel is Ratziel.

Binah – Zaphkiel: Binah is also referred to as Imma Ila’ah (“the higher mother”). It corresponds to the right arm, and gives shape to everything. Numbered as 3, its corresponding color is black, the jewel and metal associated with it are respectively pearl and lead; Saturn is its symbolic planet. It is the symbol of femininity, representing mature women. The name of God related to Binah is Elohim, and its archangel is Zaphkiel.

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Chesed – Zadkiel: Chesed means the pure and divine law of universe – “love”. Chesed is also called Gedulah. Numbered as 4, its corresponding color is blue, and the metal, geometric figure and jewel associated with it are respectively tin, regular tetrahedron and sapphire; Jupiter is its symbolic planet. It also represents the king on the throne. The name of God related to Chesed is EL, and its archangel is Zadkiel.

Gevurah – Camael: Gevurah is known as “the Surgeon of Angels”. Numbered as 5, its corresponding color is red, and the geometric figure, metal and jewel associated with it are respectively pentagon, iron and ruby; Mars is its symbolic planet. It is also referred to as “Celestial Surgeon”. The name of God related to Gevurah is Elohim・Gibor, and its archangel is Camael.

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Tiferet – Rafael: Tiferet is located at the center of the Tree of Life, which is also the center of energy for all creatures. Numbered as 6, its corresponding color is yellow, and the metal associated with it is gold; sun (which is also seen as a planet) is its symbolic planet. The name of God related to Tiferet is Eloha, and its archangel is Rafael.

Netzach – Haniel: Netzach means perpetuity and is related to the number 7. The number 7 here derives from the God’s seven days of creation in the Genesis Of the Bible. It has the meaning of strength and endurance. Its corresponding color is green, and the metal and jewel associated with it are respectively copper and emerald; Venus is its symbolic planet. It also represents naked women. The name of God related to Netzach is Adonai・Tzabaoth, and its archangel is Haniel.

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Hod – Michael: Hod means the “moulding” of physical form. Numbered as 8, its corresponding color is orange, and the metal associated with it is quicksilver; Mercury is its symbolic planet. The name of God related to Hod is Elohim・Tzabaoth, and its archangel is Michael.

Yesod – Gabriel: Yesod means the astral body, the intermediate between the intelligent soul and the mental body. In Kabbalah, Yesod represents the pre-existent matter. Numbered as 9, its corresponding color is purple, and the metal associated with it is silver; moon (which is also seen as a planet) is its symbolic planet. It also represents naked men. The name of God related to Yesod is Shaddai El Chai. and its archangel is Gabriel.

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Malkut – Sandalphon: Malkut means “the kingdom of matter”. It has four corresponding colors: dark yellow, olive, red brown and black; the jewel associated with it is crystal; earth is its symbolic planet. It also represents the young woman on the throne. The name of God related to Malkut is Adonai Melekh, and its archangel is Sandalphon.

Compositional worlds

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Four worlds that compose the Tree of Life

(Atziluth: World of Emanation) archetype: fire

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Adam Kadamon is here. Higher-level devils are said to belong here.

(Beriah: World of Creation) archetype: wind

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Here is the domain of spirit and soul.

(Yetzirah: World of Formation) archetype: water

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The domain of human souls. The differences between men and women emerge here. It is considered to be the world of elements.

(Assiah: World of Action) archetype: earth

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The world where human live, souls and bodies get each other.

Ten Sephiroth

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Ten Sephiroth: alternative configurations of the Sephiroth are given by different schools in the historical development of Kabbalah, with each articulating different spiritual aspects. The tradition of enumerating 10 is stated in the Sefer Yetzirah, “Ten Sephiroth of nothingness, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven”.  As altogether eleven Sephiroth are listed across the different schemes, two (Keter and Da’at) are seen as unconscious and conscious manifestations of the same principle, conserving the ten categories.

The ten Sephiroth in the order from top to bottom and from right to left: 

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Keter: transcence, divinity; also the topmost sky.

Chokhmah: wisdom, pure rationality, the beginning of creativity; also the caelus sideralis.

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Binah: execution, substantive rationality, fountain of creation; also the Arabot.

Chesed: 

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love, mercy, grace, greatness; also the Zebel.

Gevurah: law, right of God, discovery of evil, anger; also the Mahon.

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Tiferet: benevolence, reconcilement, beauty; also the Mahanon. This Sephiroth is the core of the Tree of Life.

Netzach: eternity, inflation, victory; also the Shehkim.

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Hod: dignity, contraction, honor; also the Akira.

Yesod: foundation, the basis of all things, the creativity of God; also the Shiamaim.

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Malkut: kingdom, matter, human; also the synthesis of four elements, that is, the existence of matter.

It is also called the “Path of the Flaming Sword” when we connect these Sephiroth from the 1st to the 10th.

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In the 16th-century Lurianic Kabbalah, there is the 11th Sephirah Da’at (knowledge). The ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life become one and therefore will not be drawn at where Da’at is located. However, sometimes Da’at will also be seen as a Sephiroth, it replaces Keter and appears along the central axis of the Tree of Life, right below Keter and right above Tiferet. At that time, it will be seen as the conscious manifestation of unconscious Keter.

Four Worlds

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Four Worlds

Atzilut (the world of emanation): the highest-level and most perfect world. The other worlds are all created in this world. The pure souls and thoughts here represent the will of deity.

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Beriah (the world of creation): where the light from Atziluth starts to focus and assemble. Thoughts and ideas are given shape here. This is the world of archangels, the heart of deity.

Yetzirah (the world of formation): where the matter created in Briah is shaped. Form appears here. This is the world of angels, the mind of deity.

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Assiah (the world of action): where the primitive light disintegrates and begins to crystallize and form the matter, nature and human being. Abstract ideas become concrete objects here; this is the world of human.

Three Pillars

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Three Pillars: 

From right to left, the Three Pillars are: 

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mercy, balance (middle) and severity

22 Paths: 

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”Path” is the connection between two Sephiroth; the Tree of Life represents the course from spirit to matter.

–END–

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