The Tree of Life is an ancient, composite symbol of both the macrocosm and the microcosm--the cosmos and the individual--graphically presenting ten states of being as spheres, with the top sphere, the Crown, representing the most profound spiritual energy, and the bottom sphere, the Kingdom, representing the densest physical manifestation. These spheres, known in Hebrew as “sephiroth” (“sephira” singular), are considered objective states of being and are treated as the first ten “paths” of the Tree of Life. Twenty-two other paths, eleven through thirty-two, are treated as subjective states that connect the spheres.
The glyph of the Tree is spatial in nature, with the sephiroth piled on top of each other, when in reality they all exist in the same space and time in the cosmos and in each individual. Eventually, over many lifetimes, after fully developing all the energies represented by the Tree of Life, one experiences the culmination of the Great Work: Union with the divine Source.
Behind the first state of manifestation are three veils of “negative existence,” aspects of the Source currently unknowable to the human mind. The process of the original creation, known as involution, takes place in the first ten paths, or sephiroth, in the Way of the Lightning:
KETHER, the first sephira, is the Crown of Creation from which everything in manifestation originates. Known as the first swirlings, this most primal stage of manifestation is a state of unity in action, like a vortex that holds the undifferentiated identities of all that exists. Identities flow in differing vibrations and densities from the otherwise primal essences, from the finest spiritual vibrations to the densest physical manifestations. Kether emanates all states of being, and all states of being, represented by the sephiroth, exist inside of Kether.
CHOKMAH, or Wisdom, assigned to the fixed zodiac, is the primordial Father, the second supernal sephira, containing the potent, stimulating life-force, the highest expression of the "masculine" principle, in the sense that it creates by going outside itself. Also considered the phallus of God, it contains the fiery seed of life, its force dynamic and expansive on all levels of being--physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual--but restricted by the opposite sphere on the Pillar of Severity.
BINAH, or Understanding, assigned to Saturn, is the primordial Mother, the third supernal sephira, which is limiting, formative, fertile, and nurturing, establishing polarity with Chokmah. The womb of the Goddess, Binah is the highest expression of the "feminine" principle, in the sense that it creates by bringing what is outside into itelf. Binah restricts the forces of Chokmah, creating the ideal patterns that ultimately manifest as the diverse forms within creation, the many within the One. As the root of form, it also ushers in death below the abyss through the ceaseless cycles of creation and destruction, since all form dissolves to allow new life and regeneration. As a river flows to the sea, so all things return to Binah, which is therefore given the additional title of Marah, the great sea.
A quasi-sphere called DAATH, or Knowledge, which is not a level of being in its own right, exists as a point of intersection between the Supernal triad and the spheres below the abyss, functioning as both a barrier and a gate between the realms of unity and those of individual being.
CHESED, or Mercy, assigned to Jupiter, is the first sephira below the perfect supernal triad, the creative, anabolic, up building, organizing sphere below the abyss where the ideal patterns issue forth. Chesed is also known as ‘Gedulah,’ which means ‘greatness, ‘magnificence,’ ‘glory,’--the glory of creative force organizing in patterns that result in harmonious order. As a level of consciousness, Chesed is the awareness of structure, of the inner patterns and possibilities that underly the world we experience. It is the highest point reached by the conscious mind of the Individuality, or soul, before the awakened personality can journey to the transpersonal realms.
GEBURAH, or Severity, assigned to Mars, establishes polarity with Chesed. Like Binah, it is restricting in nature, cutting back excess creative force, but it is also katabolic, breaking down complex substances to release beneficial energy. As such, it is also in a sense a necessary destructive force, burning away whatever does not serve the true Will. It eliminates falsehood for truth, disease for health, injustice for lawfulness, and the transitory for the Real. Imposing discipline, it removes obstacles and sacrifices a lesser for a higher good. As a level of consciousness, it is the awareness of inner freedom, the power to eliminate limitations--self-imposed or otherwise--and choose one's own path.
TIPHARETH, or Beauty, is the sphere that harmonizes and balances all the energies in the other sephiroth of the Tree of Life. As such, it is the Christ center, reflecting Kether above it and equilibrating the energies to manifest divine harmony within the cosmos and the individual human being. Here resides the higher self which recognizes the unity of all creation, the light of consciousness in its most balanced and harmonious expression. As a level of consciousness, it is a state of absolute inner honesty in which we truly see ourselves. To it is assigned the sun.
NETZACH, or Victory, assigned to Venus, is where the unified light of the sun in Tiphareth breaks into the diverse colors and patterns of multiplicity. It is the victory of the Many reflecting the glory and love of the One within manifestation. On the human level it is the sphere of emotion, beauty and the arts. At the base of the Pillar of Mercy, it is also known as the sphere of illusion because below the veil emotions as well as forms are ultimately transitory.
HOD, or Glory, assigned to Mercury, at the base of the Pillar of Severity, is another sphere of severity and restriction, which limits and embodies the diverse forces of Netzach with types of form. Hod is a state that divides and distinguishes between things in forms of thought and perception. It is therefore considered to be the sphere of the thinking mind, the intellect that disciplines the force of emotion.
YESOD, or the Foundation, assigned to the Moon, completes the third triad, crystallizing the elemental energies before they become fixed in matter. The light of Tiphareth above as well as the forces and forms below the veil are stabilized and given final shape before manifestation in the material universe. As a sphere of the Moon, it is watery, suggesting fluid strength within the flux of force and form, as well as the depths of the subconscious mind, which contains the basic drives and instincts. In human terms, Yesod is the realm of dreams and visions and psychic phenomena.
MALKUTH, or the Kingdom, which stands alone, receiving the influx from all of the other sephiroth, is essentially the stable interaction of the all the elements of the Tree reaching their fulfillment within manifestation. Dense, and therefore at times oppressive and harsh, the elements also achieve solidity and the quality of endurance, achieving the full expression of the divine will. Symbolically, the Bride in the Kingdom, conceived by the supernal Father and Mother, unites with the King in Tiphareth to form the complete expression of all of the elements.
The Tree of Life is capable of incorporating all spiritual traditions because it factors out the different energies behind existence that cultures from time immemorial have represented as symbols and archetypal figures; over time different Gods and Goddesses have become associated with the different spheres or “paths” on the Tree of Life because cultures throughout history have personified the same spiritual forces behind nature in different symbolic forms. If one tunes to a particular energy represented on the Tree intensely and sympathetically, that energy in the cosmos heightens the corresponding energies of the self. The channels to the energies in the macrocosm represented on the Tree are the symbols and the archetypal figures of the Gods, which allow the energy of the sephiroth to flow into the mind, thereby strengthening the soul and hastening evolution, if used positively. In other words, whenever one touches the energy of a God or a Goddess, one actually brings through an aspect of the energy of a sephira, or state of being, from the Tree, and concentrates it in the mind. If one, for instance, concentrates the energy of Tiphareth, the sphere of the Sun, the Christ-center, one might experience the vision of harmony, understanding the field upon field of energies interwoven harmoniously in one vast tapestry of life. Or, one might experience the opposing energy of pride, which selfishly exalts the ego above the One, a common experience, unfortunately, in too many churches. Polarity is inescapable: How the energy manifests depends entirely on the character and experience of the individual who is handling it.
Very real dangers exist when dealing with the Gods, no matter what culture has fashioned them, however. The energies invoked each have a positive and negative pole, a virtue and a vice, so to speak. The danger is that when concentrating a specific force during a ritual, one tends to heighten at some point in the operation the corresponding aspect of one’s personality, depending on the sphere one is contacting. If one is greedy (Malkuth), “idle” or spacey (Yesod), dishonest (Hod), lustful (Netzach), egocentric (Tiphareth), angry or cruel (Geburah), or prejudiced (Chesed), for example, there is a strong chance that one will become more so if one lacks the discipline to polarize from the negative to the positive poles when dealing with the forces. For instance, with any Goddess of Love, such as Venus or Hathor, on the positive end of the energetic spectrum is high spiritual love and compassion; on the other end is lack of chastity and lust. If one cannot polarize the force, moving, if necessary, from the adverse extreme to the positive pole, the energy is very likely to manifest in its adverse aspect. One can receive greater energy and courage from the martial Gods, but if one does not polarize from the negative pole, cruelty and destructiveness are the inevitable results. Truth is the highest ideal in the Mercurial realm of the intellect, the adverse side being dishonesty, which can, of course, have disastrous consequences.
Consciously moving by degree from a negative pole to a positive pole can liberate an individual and radically change a circumstance or even a civilization by altering detrimental patterns of behavior. For example, our society currently values Mars and Jupiter archetypes. The positive pole, or virtue, of the martial archetype is great strength and courage and energy, as well as the ability to burn away whatever does not serve the greater good of an individual or a community. The adverse pole, or vice, of the Mars archetype is destructiveness and cruelty. The virtue of the Jupiter archetype is obedience--the ability to obey the spiritual impulse for the highest good and to follow the leader who respects the needs of natural and human communities and maintains a positive social order. The adverse pole of Jupiter consists of bigotry, hypocrisy, gluttony, tyranny--the attitude, in other words, that ignores the needs of the community and inflates the individual ego at the expense of others. Western civilization has evolved to the point that people have generally “contacted” the energies of Gevurah and Chesed, the spheres of Mars and Jupiter respectively, but too often the adverse aspects of the archetypal energies dominate.
Each sphere on the Tree contains its own spiritual experience. In the Kingdom, known as "Malkuth," where we move and live and have our being, the experience is "The conversation and knowledge of the Holy Guardian Angel," which is actually the soul, or the higher self, which transcends space and time. One must cleanse the subconscious and harmonize the energies of the psyche associated with the Kingdom before the lower personality can begin to have a dialogue with the soul. The elements of the wise, Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, of course, are not the same as elements found in the periodic table; they represent states of being, modes of manifestation, types of energy originating in a fifth state, the formless state of Spirit, or Aether. The plane of Earth, or physical manifestation, is usually the only plane that a materialistic society accepts as real. However, sensitive people throughout history have experienced the other states of being. The state just “higher” than Earth, known in Western esoteric traditions as the astral plane, which forms the foundational matrix of manifestation and reflects what occurs in the Earth plane, is represented by the element of Air. The plane associated with the element of Water is a still higher vibration, receiving the abstract, archetypal ideas from the element of Fire and shaping them into symbols and archetypal forms. The creative impulse originates in the element of Spirit and manifests “down” through the vibrational states of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, respectively, the two “masculine” or stimulating elements of force being Fire and Air, and the two receptive “feminine” elements of form being Water and Earth. An important ritual follows this order of manifestation when invoking the energies of the Archangels who rule the elements: Michael (Fire), Gabriel (Water), Raphael (Air), and Auriel (Earth).
Over an evolution, the divine spark, or core personality, extends into various levels of manifestation, taking on diverse forms and personalities to experience a range of spiritual, mental, astral, and physical vibrations. The essence of these experiences remains as the soul, or evolutionary personality, which layers the divine spark, or spirit, like a pearl around a grain of sand. The soul is the subtle body, which can perceive with subtle senses the unseen vibrations that surround and penetrate the aura. Over an evolution, the human soul experiences denser and denser energies, from the finest spiritual vibrations to the grossest physical manifestations, the Fire, Water, Air, and Earth of the wise, until experience of these energies forms the human Individuality. Cultures in modern industrial and technological societies tend to emphasize concrete mentality, which focuses primarily on the material realm and tends to ignore, even vilify, the other aspects of the psyche, conditioning the individual to accept a reality that excludes the subtle energies. All too often, the subtle body shuts down its senses, just as in some cases the physical senses shut down when overwhelmed by traumatic or consistently adverse circumstances, leading to psychological dysfunction. Because collectively we have agreed to shut down the subtle senses of the soul, a kind of spiritual insanity has gripped modern society, leading to horrific wars and catastrophes. Slowly opening the subtle senses of the soul, essentially a healing process, is the main purpose of the rituals of the elements of the wise, allowing all aspects of the psyche to function harmoniously.
After one cleanses the subconscious, one experiences the elements one by one in order to integrate them eventually into unified consciousness. After cleansing and unifying consciousness, one can begin to sense and contact the powerful energies of the cosmos, best represented by the symbols on the Tree of Life, to strengthen the corresponding energies within oneself, the ultimate goal being unity with the divine Source. The process does not have a schedule; rather, it is an evolutionary, spiraling cycle where one continues to gain more experience, confidence, and enlightenment.
Create your own game board.
Take the Way of the Serpent.
The Basics of the Pentagram Spread.
Ther Hero's Journey.