The Sefirotic Tree of the Hebraic World
The ten sefirot
The ten sefirot, the ten divine aspects are distributed horizontally into three columns and vertically into four worlds.
The three columns associate unity and duality:
- The right column, called Mercy, is relatively active in comparison with the left one;
- The left column, called Rigour, is relatively passive in comparison with the right one;
- The middle column, neuter, unifies two by two the sefirot of the two other columns.
More precisely the right column is relatively masculine, luminous and active in comparison with the left column which is feminine, dark and passive. In other words, the left sefirot are nothing without the right ones and vice versa. The third neuter column reflects the interaction of sefirot, apparently opposed, but complementing each other in reality.
The four worlds ally potentiality and manifestation:
- The so-called world of Emanation (olam-haatsiluth), of the source of the manifestation of the universe (macrocosm) and being (microcosm);
- The world of Creation (olam-haberiah) or celestial (macrocosm) and spiritual (microcosm);
- The world of Formation (olam-hayetsirah) or intermediary (macrocosm) and psychic (microcosm);
- The world of Action (olam-haasiah) or terrestrial (macrocosm) and bodily (microcosm).
These four worlds are interwoven for creation partakes of the source, formation of creation and action of formation. That also means that formation is beginning to take root in action, creation in formation and the source in creation. In other words, the four worlds can be crossed according to the descending way, the way of manifestation, and the ascending way, the way of return to the source.
The ten sefirot are receptacles that receive and pour the waters of the divine influence originating in the "higher river"; they are distributed among the columns and worlds as follows:
Worlds and columns of the Sefirotic Tree
Let us note that the preceding image of the ten sefirot represents a ternary shaped as an arrow pointing upwards, towards the Principle, the source of everything, whereas the two others are shaped as arrows pointing downwards, towards the manifestation of beings and things. These arrows are inverted to underline that the manifestation appears to us as a reflection here below of the Principle beyond.
Keter, Hochmah and Binah
Let us firstly specify that the word the most commonly used, “Emanation”, is inappropriate. Indeed, if something could get out of the Principle, of the Whole at the source of everything, it would see itself amputated. All the same, the Emanation concerning, not the Principle, but the Being, the One raises similar objections. As beings have something of the nature of the Being, they can not emanate from…
The sefirah Keter symbolizes the Centre of the highest world, the world of Emanation representing the universe at a potential, unified and principial state. Keter symbolizes the motionless point, the Centre of the wheel from which everything radiates. At the level of the macrocosm, it is the image of the point generating the axis of the celestial poles, the World Axis, around which the stars are apparently turning. At the level of the microcosm, it is equivalent to the point generating the vertical axis linking zenith to nadir and crossing right through the being. As the Centre of the universe, Keter can consequently be depicted by the point of intersection of the two preceding axes (For an illustration, see the three-dimensional cross).
Keter represents the sefirah that crowns the manifestation of the universe and being. It is said that a crown topped the head of the primeval being, the Adam Kadmon.
The sefirah is associated with white colour, the colour of the Centre. Just as white contains all the other colours of the spectrum of the visible light in an indistinct state, the Centre contains the whole manifestation of the universe in a unified state. It follows that white symbolizes the source of manifestation perceived from the world here below. The non-manifested source is beyond all worlds and associated with black, the absence of colours.
According to different sources, the colours of the other sefirot are various and difficult, if not impossible, to interpret.
Hochmah and Binah
The Hochmah/Binah polarity results from Keter, the unity, and represents two complementary if not indissociable principles.
Hochmah, pure Wisdom, goes much beyond the inner knowledge of outer beings and things. It is the principle at the source of the transcending Knowledge where the being and the universe are only one. It is not only a matter of having a perfect knowledge of things, but to be Knowledge. This supra-cosmic and supra-individual state comes under the informal domain, the essence of things, not their substance.
Binah, the pure Intellect, differs from the mind, reason or consciousness. It is not an individual or human faculty as comprehension, understanding or even discernment. It does not take after discursive reasoning, but Light that illuminates everything, direct Intuition of the Whole. It is the "All Seeing Eye", medium of the supra-cosmic and supra-individual Knowledge.
Keter pours its waters into Hochmah, Binah and Tiphereth.
Hesed, Gevurah and Tiphereth
Creation is truly a Judaic idea, which was taken over by Christianity and Islam. When people wrote that God has "created the world from nothing", it means from nothing outside Him. As the One, God was, indeed, unable to create the world from any external substance. Nothingness (Ain) is nothing but the whole set of Possibilities of manifestation and non-manifestation inherent to the Principle, to the Whole at the source of everything. As Nothingness is beyond worlds, no sefirah stands at the centre of the world of Creation, even if an eleventh sefirah of Knowledge (Daath) came later in between the sefirot Hochmah and Binah on one hand and Hesed and Gevurah on the other hand.
Hesed and Gevurah
The right column Hesed (Mercy) and the left column Gevurah (Rigour) evoke, for the Christian, the right hand of blessing and the left hand of justice of the Christ. The sefirot Hesed and Gevurah are consequently related to the spiritual authority and temporal power.
Hesed, Mercy, symbolizes the spiritual or sacerdotal authority possessor of the Knowledge of the principles that govern the universe and beings. It does not only preserve the Knowledge in its totality, but transmits it to the beings worth of receiving it. The guardian can only be a Wise person able to attain the global comprehension, the pure Intellect, Binah.
Gevurah, Rigour, characterizes the temporal power generally reserved for the king who receives it directly from the hands of the spiritual authority. He is in charge of the application of the principles, transcribed into laws, and the defence of the territory and beings under his responsibility. He is the guarantor of order and harmony of the civil society and preservation of peace, both essential to the spiritual realization of beings.
Tiphereth, Beauty, occupies the middle column, the column of balance between Hesed and Gevurah, Mercy and Rigour, spiritual authority and temporal power. It is essential that the spiritual authority does not assume alone all the loads of the temporal domain or that the temporal power usurps or rejects the authority proper to the spiritual domain. Only the balance between the spiritual and temporal functions may preserve harmony and peace.
From that standpoint, the middle column deserves the name of column of Beauty, for it actually occupies the midst between right and left, up and down.
Tiphereth pours its waters into Hesed, Gevurah and Yezod.
Netzah, Hod and Yezod
Formation refers here to formal manifestation and concerns the individual states only, i.e. the human states characterized by a form. The informal, supra-individual manifestation comes under the “Emanation” world. Formal and informal manifestation are both under the aegis of the Principle and constitute the various possibilities of Manifestation.
Netzah and Hod
Netzah, Victory, corresponds to the intermediary domain between Heaven and Earth at the macrocosm level and spiritual and bodily spheres at the microcosm one. It characterizes, at once, the divine Breath, the Soul of the universe (universal), and the vital breath, the individual soul. They both play an important role in the formation of the Cosmos and being.
Victory represents the full realization of the human being who has been able to integrate and unify the psychical and physical aspects to become a being centred within himself. The accomplished human being is nevertheless only a pale reflection of the Wise man who has not only regained the centre of the being, but also the Centre of the universe in order to be only one with it.
Hod, Glory, has to do with consciousness. The informal Consciousness or pure Intellect (Binah) is reflected within the individual under the form of the faculty of knowing oneself. Consciousness surpasses the mind that covers reason, memory and imagination. It partakes of intuitive and direct Knowledge of oneself.
Glory is a matter that concerns at once the divine Glory and the individual glory, which only gets the intelligence of crowds. The glory of the satisfaction of the ego is often accompanied by dissatisfaction linked to the sensation of great emptiness, of non-fulfilment that leads us to look here below for what is beyond or outside us what is inside us.
Yezod, Foundation, is the reflection of the informal Consciousness and universe Soul within the individual consciousness and soul. Such an association is essential to let the being become fully human.
Foundation constitutes the basis of the three columns, which are regrouped into Keter. It reflects the Unity proper to the source in the world of Formation.
Yezod pours its waters into Netzah, Hod and Malkuth.
Action concerns the manifested world and more precisely, the world of change. As such, it can not contain its own (immutable) principle. Its existence comes from a principle beyond its domain, i.e. from knowledge. This is why Action is always subordinated to Contemplation, the only one able to attain knowledge.
Malkuth, Kingdom, represents the terrestrial domain of the macrocosm or the bodily sphere of the microcosm.
When "God created Heaven and Earth", Earth appeared as the receptacle of celestial influences. It is the womb where all things and beings are generated by the divine Breath. Earth is the substance potentially containing all the possibilities of the formal manifestation, the development of which corresponds to a passage from potentiality to action.
Malkuth is "the reservoir where waters originating in higher river are gathering", i.e. all spiritual influences. This reservoir contains the spiritual Centre of this world represented by the hill of Zion. As such, it symbolizes the Holy Earth, guardian of the Hebraic tradition. Malkuth depicts here below the Kingdom crowned by Keter beyond.
The body proceeds from the spirit by the intermediary of the soul. Taking account of the being in his totality (spirit-soul-body) is the only way to understand the formation of a being destined to act. However, it is not his only end. Streaming the river up to its source, reintegrating the spirit at the origin of life and climbing the Sefirotic Tree up to Keter constitute the coronation of existence.
- René Guénon:
- “The Symbolism of the Cross”, Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002;
- Particularly, chapter 9 on “The Tree in the midst”.
- “The King of the World”, Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2001;
- Notably, chapter 6 on “Melki-Tsedeq”.