Kabalah and the Four Worlds
We are not just physical beings but exist on many different levels. Though we may not be aware of this fact all of the time, when we think about this we know it to be true. That we are not our physical bodies is something that can be easily understood and seen. At times of crisis or when under the influence of certain drugs (legal as well as illegal) we may find ourselves in a state where we are dissociated from not just our bodies but our minds too. In this state, similar in some respects to that which can be achieved through the practice of yoga, we find ourselves ‘watching’ what is happening to our body and mind from the perspective of a spectator. Provided it is not over-done, alcohol intoxication can have the effect of producing such a detachment. Indeed, it seems likely to me that in the early church, the esoteric school originally founded by Jesus, wine was used to produce just such a state of self-observation.
There are four worlds that interpenetrate one another. These can be illustrated by the following diagram:
From time immemorial it has been understood that man is a being who has the potential to exist within multiple ‘worlds’. It is not so much that after we die we go off to some different world or place, be it heaven or hell, but that we cease to be anchored in the physical. To be present in the physical requires that we possess a physical body and when this dies we become separated from it, as though we are in a dream.
The second world is usually referred to as the astral or astral plane. If we think of it at all it is as a realm of ghosts or of elemental entities that we may contact through mediums or via channelling. This, however, is a distortion. In reality we are in touch with this ‘world’ all the time. We exist within it just as much as we do in the material world but mostly we are unaware of this. This is the world of our psyche and its main characteristics are desire. It is because we have a psyche that we are attracted to some things and repelled by others. Our desires are what pull us and fuel our ambitions. It is called the ‘astral’ world because the nature of the desires we feel are governed by the planets, most specifically by those that were rising or culminating at the time of our birth. The planets give us our character, that is to say what type of person we are. Our strengths (and corresponding weaknesses) are determined by our astral nature. For example those with Mars prominent at birth will have a proneness to anger as well as stamina. Venusians may be gentle and kind but they are also prone to laziness. Solarians may be natural leaders but they can also be arrogant and egotistical…and so on.
Much of our work in terms of self-development consists in coming to terms with our astral natures. In order to know yourself you need to known both your strengths and weaknesses. The two are nearly always opposite sides of the same coin.
Beyond the realm of the Astral world lies what is usually referred to as the Mental World. This is the world of ideas or abstractions and we inhabit it too. We have access to this world through our minds though our perceptions of it are generally speaking a dim reflection of its real nature. The real characteristic of this world is consciousness as opposed to the dream state we are normally in. This is something that is very difficult for us to understand except by analogy. Our ordinary life is like a video game that we inhabit. We are identified with the characters (there are always more than one) that we play in this game: manager, father, lover, politician or whatever. We interact with one another within the ‘matrix’ worlds of the astral and physical, convinced that this is reality. I fact this life (and even after-life in the astral) is only a game a shadows.
Through our minds we can discover this but it is not something we can control from the astral or physical planes. Our minds, however, are always seeking to influence us to fulfil what is generally referred to as our personal destiny. This, however, is a big subject that goes far beyond this short introduction.
The highest of the four worlds is even harder for us to understand as it transcends even our awakened consciousness. All that we can really say about is that it is the source of true love, which is not the same thing at all as the desire for sex, which comes from the astral level of our being. The highest level of our being belongs to this world and gives us our yearning to return there, however in order to do so we have to sacrifice everything that we think we are. This is extremely difficult to do. Nevertheless we do sometimes get glimpses of this world in the form of transcendent experiences. At these times we know that our real essence is divine and not the conditioned self we identify with normally.
Knowledge of the four worlds is the basis of the mystical Jewish teaching called Kabbalah. The earliest exposition of this system of ideas (2nd or 3rd century AD) is to be found in a book called the Sepher Yetzirah. It contains the following words:
“Yah, the Lord of hosts, the living God, King of the Universe, Omnipotent, All-Kind and Merciful, Supreme and Extolled, who is Sublime and Most-Holy, ordained and crated the Universe in thirty-two mysterious paths of wisdom by three Sepharim, namely: 1) S’for; 2) Sippur; 3) Sapher which are in Him one and the same. They consist of a decade out of nothing and of twenty-two fundamental letters…
The appearance of the ten spheres out of nothing is like a flash of lightning, being without an end, His word is in them, when they go and return; they run by His order like a whirlwind and humble themselves before his throne.”
To comprehend these statements, the Kabbalists developed the ‘Tree of Life’ diagram: a representation of spheres (sephirot) connected by pathways. The positioning of the spheres is determined by sacred geometry, in particular the overlapping of circles drawn using a common radius. The Primum mobile is the unseen, hypothetical sphere beyond that of the zodiac. We can think of it as being the level of the milky way, which connects with the zodiac at the cross-over points of the sky we call the star-gates. Below the zodiac or sphere of the fixed stars is the sphere of Saturn, which as far as the ancients knew was the outermost planet. From here the lightning flash progresses from one sphere to another until it reaches the earthly sphere at the bottom of the diagram.
This diagram is adequate for explaining the descent of power through descending spheres of the astral creation and it has much in common with Gurdjieff’s theory of octaves (which will be explained elsewhere on the website in due course). However, for kabbalists the diagram in this simplified form does not go far enough. To be of most use it must be further elaborated with pathways. We then arrive at the following diagram.
This diagram looks very strange at first and not terribly logical. However, it becomes much clearer once we remember that it is intended to show the relationship between different worlds. We then see that the positioning of the spheres or ‘sephirot’ to give them their Hebrew name, is derived from the intersection and centre points of larger spheres representing the different world.
For it to be successful, the work of self-development has to take place across the worlds. For this reason the faculty is split into four parts. Appropriate material will be published in each part with relevance to the particular world in question. This will begin with what is most familiar to us: the Material world. More will be written about the tree of life itself in other lectures on the Hermeticism faculty.