Sephirah, plural, Sephiroth (Hebrew «emanations»), used in Kabbalistic lore the term implies a divine emanation from God; on the Tree of Life there are ten, the Sephiroth, from God. The doctrine or concept of the Sephiroth is the essence of the Kabbalah and distinguishes it from other previous forms of Jewish mysticism.
The concept of special emanations from God originated well before the Kabbalah with both this idea and the Sephiroth appearing in the Sepher Yetzirah, an ancient text probably derived from the Ma’aseh Berashith. During the Kabbalah’s early evolution various names and attributes were applied to the Sephiroth, but by the mid 13th century the present names were fairly standardized. Although a great variation still resides among the various Kabbalah traditions concerning the names of God and other attributions corresponding to the Sephiroth.
The Kabbalistic evolution is interesting itself and indicates by the various names given to the Sephiroth that the Kabbalah possibly meant different things at different times. Some of the names were «sayings,» «names,» «lights,» «powers,» «crowns,» «stages,» «garments,» «mirrors,» and many others.
These enumerable names suggest the Sephiroth has many different aspects. Each Sephirah contains a Tree of Life within itself. Older Kabbalistic teachings hold that each Sephirah «descends into itself,» thus creating infinite realms and worlds within itself. Therefore, hidden worlds of mercy, justice, beauty, and many more unfold in each Sephiroth.
The Sephiroth, or Tree of Life, is frequently viewed as the human body, thought to symbolize the first man Adam Kadmon or, as some think, symbolizing the Universe. Each Sephirah within the Sephiroth represents a limb or organ of this Primordial Man.
In current practices of the Kabbalah by those of Hermetic and neo-Pagan traditions the Sephiroth are frequently equated to gods and goddesses of worship.
The Sephiroth, central to Kabbalistic thought, are a complex and profound aspect of Jewish mysticism. They represent emanations or attributes of God, forming the structure known as the Tree of Life. This concept is key to understanding Kabbalah and has been interpreted and reinterpreted in various ways over the centuries.
Definition and Structure
- Emanations from God: The Sephiroth (singular: Sephirah) are conceptualized as emanations or manifestations of the Divine. They are ways in which the Ein Sof (the Infinite or Unknowable aspect of God) reveals itself to the creation.
- Ten Sephiroth: Traditionally, there are ten Sephiroth on the Tree of Life. Each represents a different aspect of God, a specific divine attribute or quality.
- Origins in Jewish Mysticism: The concept of the Sephiroth predates the Kabbalah, with early mentions in texts like the «Sepher Yetzirah.» The development of the Sephiroth is a distinguishing feature of Kabbalistic mysticism.
- Evolution of Names and Attributes: Over time, the names and attributes associated with each Sephirah became standardized, though variations exist among different Kabbalistic traditions.
Symbolism and Interpretation
- Multiple Aspects: The Sephiroth have been called by various names such as «sayings,» «lights,» «powers,» and «crowns,» indicating their multifaceted nature.
- Infinite Realms: Older teachings suggest that each Sephirah contains a Tree of Life within itself, descending into itself and creating infinite realms and worlds.
The Tree of Life
- Representation of the Universe: The Sephiroth, collectively forming the Tree of Life, are often viewed as symbolic of the entire universe or the structure of reality.
- Adam Kadmon: They are also seen as representing the Primordial Man, Adam Kadmon, with each Sephirah corresponding to a part of his body.
Influence and Application
- Influence on Western Esotericism: The concept of the Sephiroth has influenced various Western esoteric and mystical traditions, including Hermeticism and neo-Paganism.
- Contemporary Practices: In modern esoteric practices, the Sephiroth are sometimes equated with deities or archetypal forces.
- Interfaith Interest: The Sephiroth are of interest not only within Jewish mysticism but also in comparative religion and interfaith studies.
- Psychological and Philosophical Interpretations: They are sometimes interpreted in psychological terms, representing different aspects of the human psyche or stages of spiritual development.
Greer, John Michael. The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. St. Paul, MN, Llewellyn Worldwide. pp. 429-430