Qabalah, Kabbalah, or Cabala?
Sometimes Spelling Really Does Matter
I am not a Qabalist (or Kabbalist or Cabalist). I came across the concept while doing research for the urban fantasy novel I’m working on. It should be said first off that Qabalist study is, by its nature, complicated and somewhat confusing. I will do my best to give a basic overview.
What is it?
Qabalah is an originally Jewish “complex and highly structured tradition of study and meditation, based partly upon an intense analysis of the Hebrew scriptures and Talmudic texts, and partly upon the writing of several influential thinkers of the Medieval and Renaissance period… in a perpetual quest for the revealed word of God,” according to The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford by Lon Milo Duquette (more on him later).
Qabalah, as it is today, was developed in Spain and Southern France in the twelfth century, though its roots stretch back to older oral tradition and its theories are based on the foundation presented in the Sepher Yetzirah, the Book of Creation which was written sometime between the second and seventh centuries in Palestine, according to Tarot historian Robert M. Place in his book The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination.
Why am I referencing a book on Tarot? Well, historically, people have associated Qabalah and the Tarot. Partially because there are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet and partially because of Eliphas Levi (aka Alphonse-Louis Constant) a 19th-century occultist and author of the Transcendental Magic. In his book, Levi makes his case for linking the two practices. However, Place argues against this. “Levi discusses only the aspects he chooses to delve into and freely ignores others… He enthusiastically places everything in one neat basket. …However, the images and symbols suggested by the letters are not the images on the cards and the correlations do not naturally flow together.”
What’s with the different spellings?
There are many ways to spell Qabalah, in fact, there are twenty-four different ways. This is because the word is being transliterated from Hebrew (a formerly dead language) and reflects the fact that traditional Hebrew does not have vowels. The Hebrew root letters at Qoph (ק), Beth(ב), and Lamed(ל). However, the different spellings also delineate the various types of Qabalah.
Though not always true, it is generally held that Kabbalah refers to the original tradition as practiced by those of the Jewish tradition. Meanwhile, Cabala is used Christian Cabalists and Qabalah is used by a wide range of non-traditionalists “including mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, entertainers, as well as students and practitioners of the Western Hermetic traditions of esoteric Freemasonry, Tarot, Ceremonial Magick, Rosicrucianism, Astrology, and Alchemy.” (Duquette, xx) In short, occultists and New Agers.
The practice, however it’s spelled, is convoluted. It involves a lot of study and exploration of concepts like the Tree of Life (pictured above in a simplified form), angels (in various forms depending on your type of Qabalah from literal angels to “manifestations of creative essence,” [Rankine and d’Este, 14]), different levels of reality, enumeration (counting out the value of the word then finding the corresponding passage in the 777), the Hebrew alphabet, the Name of God, and the four parts of the soul. All of these are means to an end–to get you to a state where you can reach enlightenment.
Qabalah is very focused on using words and numbers as the way to climb the Tree of Life to more knowledge and eventually enlightenment. If that’s something that interests you, check out these resources below. They are very much weighted towards the occultist Qabalah because that is what I have studied.