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“Kabbalah” is a Hebrew word meaning to “receive” and is a tradition of wisdom which traces its origins to early biblical times. There are many other systems which run somewhat parallel to Kabbalah since this wisdom is universal and which therefore appears in different forms to suit different cultures and eras.
According to Kabbalah, when Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden he was given a book of secrets by the Archangel Raziel which explained the workings of the universe and which was designed to help him live in his changed circumstances.
This knowledge was transmitted through the ages by such biblical figures as the mysterious priest-king, Melchizedek, and the Patriarchs of Judaism - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
As the Jewish population dispersed through Europe the teaching was preserved and transmitted, sometimes openly and sometimes secretly at great peril. Powerful expressions of Kabbalah were seen in eleventh and twelfth-century Spain (especially in Toledo and Gerona) and Southern France, particularly in the Languedoc in such towns as Beziers, Montpelier and Narbonne and in the small villages such as Lunel and Posquieres/Vauvert.
The conflict between faith and reason which we see in modern times is nothing new - some of the medieval Kabbalists who were also Orthodox rabbis were opposed by others such as Maimonides who preferred a more rational approach.There was even a correspondence between Maimonides and the Rabbis of Montpelier on the subject of astrology.
Others, such as Abraham ibn Ezra - who included the chilly shores of England in his travels from his native Spain - managed to encompass both the rational and the mystical in their work. Ibn Ezra’s output included treatises on astrology as well as Hebrew grammar and his biblical commentaries - although not his astrological ones - are included in editions of the Chumash (first five books of Moses, or Torah) even in the present day.
One of the essential features of Kabbalah is that it is an oral tradition, passed from generation to generation and, while books and articles (including this one) may be written about the subject, these are only peripheral. They are about Kabbalah rather than the essence of Kabbalah itself. William Lilly noted in his autobiography “I had not that learning from any Bookes or Manuscript... it is deduced from a caball lodging in Astrology.”1
When the Jews were re-admitted to England in 1656 (having been expelled in 1290) it is quite possible that the first settlers coming from Holland had received the tradition of Kabbalistic learning from their Spanish ancestors, many of whom found their way to Holland after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
It would be surprising if, in a city such as London, a man of Lilly’s learning and interests did not come into contact with this wisdom from the new Dutch-Jewish immigrants.
One of the frequent misconceptions about Kabbalah is that it is centred on the performance of secret, magical rituals. Although such rituals may exist they offer a temptation for the practitioner to use them for personal gain. This runs counter to the real intent of Kabbalah which is to unify the visible and invisible worlds into a perfect universe enabling God to behold His own image.
The principle tool of Kabbalah which facilitates a statement of universal principles is the diagram of the Tree of Life. This consists of ten Sefirot (circles) each symbolising an aspect of God which are linked by twenty-two paths.
It is said that when the universe came into being God withdrew from existence and, into the resulting void, entered the ten vessels or Sefirot which were then filled with the ten aspects of God - a process known as Tzimtzum, or contraction.
There is also a "non-Sefirah,” Da’at, which represents a place of knowledge and which offers access to other worlds. The Sefirot are arranged in three vertical columns, the right-hand one signifying energy, the left-hand one signifying form and the central column being the column of consciousness.
From an astrological point of view, each of the planets and the earth may be placed at one of the Sefirot. The diagram above shows the Hebrew transliteration of each of the Sefirot together with the planetary correspondence.2
One of the most frequent surprises to the newcomer to Kabbalah who has some knowledge of astrology is that the assertive planet Mars is to be found on the passive side of the Tree while the peace-loving and harmonious Venus is found on the active side of the Tree.
This is usually explained by using the analogy of the martial artist whose essential mode of attack is non-movement, striking only occasionally at precisely the right moment. Such discipline and judgement is the hallmark of Gevurah.
Conversely, the Sefirah Netzach corresponds to Venus, the young girl, symbolising the principal of attraction - typically she may “make eyes” or move her body in a suggestive sort of way to attract her mate - she is anything but passive.
To the astrologer with a “traditional” outlook, however, the Kabbalistic placing is more logical for the right hand side of the Tree emphasises growth and therefore contains what are known as the benefic planets, Venus and Jupiter, while the left-hand side symbolising destruction and decay contains the malefic planets, Mars and Saturn.
Mercury, changeable in its nature, is placed on the left hand side of the Tree at Hod - reverberation. Although Mercury takes on the nature of any planet with which it is placed in a chart its essential nature is that of the juggler, throwing balls in the air but not actually moving forward. It is therefore more representative of form than energy and properly belongs on the passive side of the Tree of Life.
The Moon and Sun represent ego consciousness and self-consciousness respectively - the everyday world of one who follows mass consciousness and the world of the true individual who acts according to his or her own conscience. The path between them is known as the path of honesty.
Understanding the relationship between the Sun and Moon in this context can provide a fresh perspective in a natal chart. The Moon at Yesod symbolises the everyday world and the way we react to situations whereas the Sun shows our considered, detached decisions.
The Moon at Yesod makes a good servant for we live in the everyday world and must deal with it for which purpose our ego is invaluable but when the ego tries to usurp the position of the Sun as ruler of the personality it makes a poor master. When we observe someone apparently behaving out of line with their sun sign it is often because they are letting their Moon take charge.
In the coloured diagram of the Tree of Life the three large outer circles show the limit of what may be experienced when one is centred at the various levels.
So, when one’s consciousness is at Tiferet (self-consciousness, the Sun) one has access to the ego (Yesod) which is helpful in navigating everyday life provided it is under the control of the self rather than vice versa. One also has access to Da’at which is a window on to the world of spirit enabling knowledge to be received from the higher worlds.
However, if one is centred on Yesod (the ego) then the limits of experience are physicality (Malkhut) and self-consciousness (when one is awake) but there is no direct access to the higher worlds and the help that they offer.
If one places the world of astrology itself on the Tree we can see the current debates accurately reflected. On the one hand we have the innovators of the right-hand pillar while on the other hand we have the Traditionalists of the left-hand pillar. In Kabbalah, the answer is to plot one’s path along the central column drawing on the functional aspects of the Sefirot on either side as required while gradually raising one’s consciousness. This is not a quick fix but a job lasting throughout one’s life (lives).
While the diagram of the Tree is relatively well known a much wider perspective can be observed by using the diagram known as Jacob’s Ladder. This was re- formulated in the nineteen seventies by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (Warren Kenton) based on diagrams that are believed to originate from tenth-century Oman.
In this diagram there are four interleaving worlds - Physical, Emotional (or Form), Spiritual (or Creation) and Divine which are symbolised by earth, water, air, and fire respectively.
The world of form is the second from the bottom and the planets can be placed within it since the they represent psychological principles which are consistent with this world. Lilly’s correspondences between the planets and the angels (considered to be archangels in Kabbalah) are also predominantly in line with Kabbalistic tradition. These beings belong to the world of Beriah (Creation or Spirit), the next world above Yezirah, the world of form.
The correspondences are as follows:
Moon = Gabriel, Mercury = Raphael, Venus = Hanael (Uriel), Sun = Michael, Mars = Samael, Jupiter = Zadkiel. Where Lilly equates Saturn with Captiel, Kabbalah gives Zaphkiel to this position.3 They may perhaps be alternative names for the same angel.
Note how the Worlds interleave so that while Saturn is placed at Binah in the psychological world of Yezirah and corresponds to the archangel Zaphkiel in the world of Beriah, Saturn also has an affinity with the archangel Raphael since Hod in the world of Beriah occupies the same place on the ladder as Binah in the world of Yezirah.
Note how the worlds interleave so that while Saturn is placed at Binah in the psychological world of Yezirah and corresponds to the Archangel Zaphkiel in the world of Beriah, Saturn also has an affinity with the Archangel Raphael since Hod in the world of Beriah occupies the same place on the ladder as Binah in the world of Yezirah.
The central column of Jacob’s Ladder is known as the Great Tree - or Kav - with each of the Sefirot from the ordinary Tree placed along it in order rising from the lowest Malkhut to the highest Keter. Placing the planets along this column provides some interesting insights. Here it can be seen much more clearly that the Moon, Mercury and Venus are below the Sun thus making sense of the verse “There is no new thing under the Sun.”4
As stated above, one of the chief aims for a human being is to raise his or her consciousness from Yesod (symbolised by the Moon) to Tiferet (symbolised by the Sun). In psychological terms this may be seen as the equivalent of shifting from unthinking identification with one’s blood family or tribe to one’s place in the world as an individual. On the Jacob’s Ladder this place at the Sun
is also the entrance to the spiritual world, a point known as the Kingdom of Heaven.
Venus and Mercury, while physically orbiting the Sun, do not appear to do so when seen from the Earth and are condemned in chains to go around the Earth (symbolically) at the same pace as the Sun, never making any major aspect to it.
Only when one looks at the superior planets are there other aspects possible - trines, square, and oppositions. When we reach the place of the Self (the Sun) we can one start to individuate rather than being a member of the masses and tribes symbolised by the Moon.
While the Moon is able to make all the aspects to the other planets this is because it circles the Earth and not the Sun. Seen from the context of the diagram the ego is orbiting the Ascendant; the influence of the Moon (ego) therefore is concerned with the needs of the body rather than the growth of the soul. It is forever making its protest heard to the sun (self) whose job is to keep the moon in order.
The triangle on the diagram of the Tree of Life formed between Tiferet, Gevurah, and Hesed (Sun, Mars and Jupiter) is known as the triad of the soul - this is where soul growth starts. The strength of these planets and the connection between them in a chart can offer invaluable clues to the way in which a person might best further their personal and spiritual development.
When the planets are placed on the central column of the Jacob’s Ladder the Ascendant (earth) and Moon are present in only the physical world of Assiyah. Mercury and Venus are present in the physical and psychological worlds of Assiyah and Yetzirah while the Sun and Jupiter are present in three worlds.
The Sun is present in the physical, psychological and spiritual worlds of Assiyah, Yetzirah and Beriah and Jupiter is present in Yetsirah, Beriah and Atsilut. Mars is present in the worlds of Yezirah and Beriah. We then come to the issue of what to do about the modern planets.
In the diagram of the planets on the Tree of Life, Uranus is placed at Hokhmah, Neptune at Keter and Pluto at Da’at.
Traditionally, however, the zodiac itself (representing the accumulated wisdom of all twelve constellations) was placed at Hokhmah and the First Swirlings (Reishit Hagalgalim, the beginnings of the universe) at Keter.
Since the discovery of the modern planets the signs of the zodiac have been distributed around the various triangles of the Tree of Life - the placings and reasons for these attributions is outside the scope of this article.
On the Great Tree this means that Uranus is at the place of Metatron or Adam Kadmon - the first perfected man - of whom Melchizedek and Enoch were both incarnations.
Enoch, (who appears in the early chapters of Genesis) is said not to have tasted death and it is therefore assumed that he ascended directly from the earth. Such a character is clearly something special. This Sefirah is also known as the place of vision where one can gain glimpses of great inspiration.
Uranus and Saturn are only present in two worlds on the Jacob’s Ladder - of Beriah (Creation) and Azilut (the Divine). As such they indicate the ever broadening influence of the planets as we move outwards from the Sun (or as the view of the heavens moves outwards from earth).
As we move further upwards we find Saturn, traditionally the outermost planet, is only present in the two highest worlds (Beriah and Azilut) but is visible all the time. Uranus is also present in only two worlds but is only visible about one-sixth of the time. Neptune and Pluto are never visible from the earth and are only to be found within the world of the Divine (Atsilut) - significantly they are absent from Beriah (the created world) as well as from the lower worlds of Yetzirah and Assiyah.
Using this perspective we can see that once we pass Saturn we are at a different level of reality. It is perhaps important to emphasise that Uranus is actually visible one-sixth of the time although it is popularly talked of as being invisible to the naked eye.
The Sefirah occupied by Uranus represents the place of vision and inspiration but for the astrologer involved in reading a personal chart its interaction in the chart will be limited compared with the hurly-burly symbolised by the visible planets.
Moving to Neptune we have a planet which is totally invisible - never seen from the earth. Symbolically it is like the presence of God, whose influence is all pervading (if we can but recognise it) but which is also never seen—only the consequences are visible. We are talking here about a planet whose influence is over the whole chart and yet is unidentifiable.
Pluto is something else. Placed at Da’at on the Tree of Life it corresponds to the access point from a lower to a higher world. This is the place of knowledge, of a different level of perception even for a self-conscious individual.
Two dimensional astrology frequently ignores a planet’s declination - the angular distance from the ecliptic - yet this is precisely the measurement which shows best how different Pluto is from any other planet. Pluto’s declination of 17o is far greater than even Mercury’s of 7o.
It is a cosmic snail, taking two hundred and fifty years to orbit the sun and, like Neptune, colours the attitudes of whole generations.
When placed on the central column of the Jacob’s Ladder Pluto is at the Da’at of the Divine world - the final pause before ultimate union with the Divine.
Although Pluto is usually farther from the Sun than Neptune (which is placed at the top of the Ladder) there are periods - such as the years between 1977 and 2001 - when it is actually closer to the Sun than Neptune.
Placing the planets on the Kabbalistic diagrams provides the possibility of additional insights into ourselves and into the workings of the universe not otherwise available and which may prove invaluable in carrying out our task to unify the Worlds so that the Divine may behold His own image.
1. pp. 151-152 - William Lilly’s History of His Life and Times, Ascella Publications
2. The reader is referred to the books of Warren Kenton (Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi) for general reading on the subject of astrology and Kabbalah, particularly The Anatomy of Fate and Kabbalah and Astrology. Diagrams: Jonathon Clark following Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi.
3. Christian Astrology by William Lilly (1647), pages 61, 65, 68, 72, 76, 80, 83.
4. Ecclesiastes 1:9.
© Jonathon Clark 2015
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