Hermetic Kabbalah
An Introduction to this Site

Welcome. This site attempts to be the broadest, least partisan, and most informed source about Kabbalah available on the WWW.

Kabbalah is an exploration of the relationship between human beings and God. It is an attempt to understand the divine context of existence. It originated in Jewish communities in medieval Europe at about the time of the Crusades. It draws on many ancient mystical traditions from the Middle East dating to the time of the Roman and Byzantine Empires.

A significant part of the content of Kabbalah is a vastly expanded conception of God. Most people of Jewish or Christian origin will have some familiarity with the Biblical God, the God of Jewish history. The Bible describes the relationship between God, the patriarchs, and the people of Israel in the form of narratives, such as the story of Moses. God is an actor in the world, participating in the history of the Jewish people.

Kabbalah takes the view that Biblical narrative is the manifestation of a larger reality. The actions of God are the phenomena, the outward appearance of an inner realm of the divine. The inner realm of the divine is described and accessed via a complex interplay of symbols, and new kinds of narrative emerge, narratives of symbols. Kabbalah contains many overlapping and entangled symbolic narratives. The best known is the Tree of Life, but there are others as important.

Just as we view the actions of a human being as the coherent manifestations of a personality, so Kabbalah views the actions of God as the integrated and coherent manifestations ... of divine being. There is a sense in which the Tree of Life represents the internal psychodynamics of the divine.

Kabbalah does not stop with its symbols and often startling metaphors. It attempts, using language and symbol, to go beyond language and symbol. It repeatedly transcends itself. It provides us with a new vocabulary of symbols, and then we discover how slippery and fluid and limited they are. Each new conception of God, broader and deeper than the one before, presents a cognitive challenge that is resolved, not only by retreat and mystical contemplation, but by living in the world. There are no Kabbalist monasteries. Most of the best-known Kabbalists had families and businesses. In Kabbalah (and Judaism) the material world, where we have our families and businesses, is not an antithesis of spirituality - it is a manifestation of the divine. If there is a single idea that pervades Kabbalah, it is an unnegotiable insistence on the fundamental unity of all being.

The importance of Kabbalah is that it richens and deepens our understanding of God, and so transforms the kind of relationship that is possible.

In The Western Esoteric Traditions, Prof. Goodrick-Clarke characterises the Hermetic outlook of late antiquity by the following themes:
  • "As above, so below". Nous [divine intellect] instructs us to reflect the universe in our own mind and to grasp the divine essence in nature. This we are equipped and able to do because the human being possesses a divine intellect.
  • There is an emphasis on will, both divine and human.
  • The universe is a book to be "read". The Creator God is known by the contemplation of his creation.
  • The universe is full of the manifestation of God, and with our divine intellect we can decifer the symbols it contains which point towards God. We should therefore be interested in everything that is in the world. The concrete and particular are important, as incarnation and embodiment are the ways in which God makes himself manifest to our experience.
  • There is an absense of dualism, since the world is recognised as being of divine origin. There is an acceptance of the world, even though there may be some pessimism or discouragement about the consequences of the Fall and the restraint of matter on spirit.
  • The Hermetic project is one of transmutation of lower, baser and more material into higher,finer and more spiritual.
  • Humanity is called to a regenerative work of reascension and reintegration with the divine.
  • Our intellect can connect to intermediary spiritual intelligences and use them as ladders of ascent. An astrological cosmos of an ascending hierarchy of planetary spheres exists and is part of the initiatory process and spiritual ascent. The earth is part of this cosmos and is susceptible to improvement.
  • Because humanity is connected both to the divine and to the earthly realms, it is able to help the earth to recover its former glorious state.
  • Hermetic treatises present a guide of mentor figure who helps to raise souls by reawakening them to their divine nature, assisting in their spiritual transmutation, and leading them toward their heavenly destiny. "
Hermeticism is a religious philosophy that developed in Egypt during Greek and Roman occupation (c. 200 CE), and was rediscovered during the Italian Renaissance. During the Renaissance it was thought that there was an original ancient wisdom, a prisca theologia, that had originated in the figure of the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth, and had found its way into Judaism, into Christianity, and into Hellenistic philosophy. It was believed that Kabbalah preserved traditions going back to Moses and beyond, to the Egyptian priesthood. The Kabbalah was adopted for its symbolic vocabulary and integrated into an Hermetic mystical tradition that continues to the present day. Although the idea of a prisca theologia is discredited, there is a considerable overlap and concordance between core ideas in traditional Kabbalah, and Hermetic themes (see right).

Kabbalah is vast. People have been writing about it for 900 years. Prior to that (if we choose to begin with Pythagoras) we have another 1600 years of highly relevant esoteric and philosophic tradition. This site is an attempt to distill the core ideas, the key influences. A good place to begin is the Tree of Life, a central organising idea in Kabbalah. Also of great importance are the Partzufim, a description of the Godhead in terms of divine archetypes; the Primordial Man, a description of the divine in terms of the human body; and the Four Worlds, a layering of reality. Each of these viewpoints interrelates with and complements each other, something that can be confusing.

The history of Kabbalah is important. When trying to understand an idea, it is useful to understand something about the culture and people of the times ... and their reverance for even older traditions. Several of the foundation texts of Kabbalah originated in the Middle East, and were preserved and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in medieval Europe. Philosophy was important - as important to the medieval world as science is today. Islam, Christianity and Judaism confronted the challenge of Hellenistic philosophy ... and made space for it. Aristotle and Plato penetrated deeply into all three major religions of the Mediterranean world. Kabbalah shares many ideas with later Platonism - so-called Neoplatonism.

Anyone with a real interest in Kabbalah will go on to look at some of the original source texts. Some source texts are online, and this site provides links to what is available. The real meat is mostly still in printed books, and for this we are all grateful to Don Karr for his research-grade bibliographies. There is a reading list, biased mainly towards scholarly texts - the reason for this bias is to counterbalance some of the more fanciful popularisations of the tradition. 

Lastly, Kabbalah is still very much a living tradition, and I would like to thank various individuals who have contributed their work to this site.

Colin Low 2011