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Qabalah for the 'Spiritual but not Religious'

Many people today describe themselves as being 'spiritual but not religious'. This trend, in which people are moving away from organized and doctrinal religious teachings and instead defining their own spiritual path and building their own world-view or belief system, is perhaps the largest shift in the spiritual lives of human beings since the monotheistic 'religions of the book' such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam first began to push aside the old pagan religions of our ancestors and wrestle control over the hearts and souls of the largest part of the world's population.

It could be said that there was an inevitability to this shift. In the past, religion and spirituality were inseparably entwined, and were deeply connected to the culture and community in which a person was born. For most of the people in the world the idea of choice in religious or spiritual matters was an utterly alien concept. You were simply born into a religion, and if you were a spiritual person then you would follow that religion's teachings and traditions devoutly. Most people would not even come into contact with another religion, or be exposed to the teachings of any alternative spiritual path, let alone have the choice to pick and choose the religious tradition which suited them best. Religion in these times was what bound the community together, often providing the only welfare system, and in most cases it would also be linked into the ruling system of government - providing it with both perceived legitimacy and also its authority. Today the world is very different; our modern world is very much smaller and more integrated. The rise of the internet and other communication systems mean that most of us are well aware of the diverse beliefs and religious traditions from all around the world, whilst ease of travel means that many of us live in culturally mixed communities where a wide range of different religions are practiced in close proximity.

Not only does this afford us with the opportunity to learn about and explore different ideas and traditions, but it also erodes the authority and credibility of religious clerics claiming to represent the 'one true god' and only legitimate spiritual path. Today we are sceptical of religions claiming exclusivity – we can see the absurdity of these traditions all laying claim to the absolute truth and the only path to salvation and often damning each other's followers to hell. We can see that these traditions are more about power structures and cultural conservatism than they are about spirituality. But yet many people still feel a deep yearning for a greater truth, and harbour deep seated suspicions that there is more to this world and this life than immediately meets the eye.

For these people spirituality remains important, despite the fact that they have abandoned the dogma and rituals of organized religion.

Being 'spiritual but not religious' is both an opportunity and a burden. It is an opportunity because it allows us to ask the big questions which affect us all, as well as to cultivate the higher aspects of ourselves, whilst maintaining an open mind and an ability to discern the truth rather than simply accept what we are told. It allows us to find a path to peace, serenity, happiness, fulfilment and self improvement which fits perfectly with our own personal experiences and character. It allows us to seek a connection to a higher truth or power, without giving up our own free will or abandoning our own unique perceptions of reality.

But yet it is a heavy burden – because it is much easier to simply accept what you are told is true and to do what you are told to do. To forge your own spiritual path requires a great dedication, a great deal of time and effort, and a great risk of being mistaken or deceived. For many people being spiritual but not religious degenerates into a woolly nothingness of empty platitudes, or tangled mass of contradictory and demonstrably false beliefs collected like pretty ornaments on a mantelpiece.

Finding your own spiritual path without the crutch of organized religious, but also without loosing your way entirely, requires study and discipline, and a healthy dose of scepticism. Anybody walking this path will need to develop a set of tools and some kind of conceptual framework through which to interpret and contextualize their experiences and the things that they learn. This is one of the things that appealed to me about Qabalah – the way that it can be used as conceptual framework for independent spiritual study, or as a 'spiritual filing cabinet' as Aleister Crowley once described it.

An Introduction to Hermetic Qabalah

Kabalah was originally a mystical discipline within Judaism. This Judiac Kabalah included methods for interpreting the Torah and looking for hidden messages within it, as well as an entirely new set of mystical techniques and teachings.

Over time the Kabalistic teachings were gradually suppressed by the Jewish orthodoxy and either forgotten or abandoned by the vast majority of Jews. During the middle ages Christian monks rediscovered many of these ancient teachings and revived them within the context of their own religion. To distinguish this new incarnation of the this ancient mystical tradition from its specifically Jewish origins the Christian monks called it 'Cabala'. Since then the same teachings have been applied within an Islamic context, and also within the context of the 'hermetic tradition', which is also sometimes known as the 'western mystery tradition'. This hermetic tradition itself, which traces its own history back to ancient Egypt but which we can trace back as far as the alchemists of the middle ages, draws upon many of the world's ancient mystery traditions as well as the more mystical or esoteric aspects of many of the world's great religions. Qabalah, spelt with a Q, is the hermetic incarnation of the Kabalistic teachings.

Because the hermetic tradition itself is not explicitly rooted in any one religion, but rather is best described as the revival of ancient mystery traditions and the attempt to assimilate them into a single body of work, the hermetic Qabalah has become the perfect tool through which to explore different religious teachings and traditions, and to attempt to understand spiritual truths within the context of the student's own body of knowledge and experience.

The Tree of Life as a 'Spiritual Filing Cabinet'

One of the most popular parts of the hermetic Qabalah is a diagrammatic representation of both the human being, and the universe at large (as above, so below; as within, so without) called the 'Tree of Life'.

The Tree of Life glyph consists of ten spheres, with 22 paths connecting them. Each of these spheres and paths is said to represent a different aspect of the natural world and of our experience of it. But rather than being provided with a dogmatic description of each path which we are simply asked to believe, the study of each sphere and path is approached primarily through a set of associations. What's more, these associations are not only drawn from Kabalah, but are actually drawn from a wide range of different religions, mystery traditions, and mythologies. In addition, the student is invited to build up their own set of associations. The student therefore begins to get a feel for the ineffable spiritual truths behind the world's religions through studying the various different ways through in which they are manifested.

For someone studying different spiritual paths and teachings, and trying to understand the world around them through the lens of their own experiences, this is a very valuable tool. It allows you to gradually put the things you learn into some kind of context and perspective, as well as to draw parallels between very different schools of thought and gain an understanding of the deeper truths which they hold in common.

This is accomplished through both study and meditation or prayer.

If you are looking for a good place to start studying Qabalah then I can recommend that you pick up and read a book by Israel Regardie (a pen name) called simply 'The Tree of Life'.

Categories: Religion | Esoteric and Occult


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