Spirit & Symbols
Understanding symbols is essential in learning esoteric, or hidden, knowledge. All esoteric schools have passed knowledge throughout history with symbols as the preferred form for several reasons. Firstly, wisdom that may take many pages of written words are contained in a compact form. Secondly, a symbol's content transcends all languages, so nothing is lost in translation. Thirdly, the meaning of a symbol is available to any individual with a desire for knowledge. Interpretation of symbols requires as much effort as digging for buried treasure; it is only through hard work that one reaps the rewards.
The above symbol is not as widely recognized by sight as it is by its name; it is the Tree of Life glyph from the tradition of Hebrew mysticism called the Cabala. Unquestionably, one of the most difficult symbols to decipher due to its intricacy, its sophistication is a representation of humanity's entire existence within the cosmos.
There are 10 sephiroth (emanations) we may call "branches" in keeping with the tree symbolism. There are ten digits, 0 through 9, by which we quantify all things. Ancient esoteric traditions understood numbers to represent qualities as much as quantities. Therefore, if we can compute all things with ten digits, we can qualify all of human life into 10 fundamental categories.
Each branch has a name as follows: 10. Malkuth (Kingdom), 9. Yesod (Foundation), 8. Hod (Renown), 7. Netzach (Achievement), 6. Tiphereth (Harmony), 5. Geburah (Severity), 4. Chesed (Mercy), 3. Binah (Understanding), 2. Chockmah (Wisdom), 1. Kether (Crown).
Here we have the 10 qualities necessary to exist as a cosmic being. We are to have a firm foundation upon our kingdom as we wear a crown and keep harmony central to our existence and maintain balance between our renown and achievements, our severity and mercy, and our understanding and wisdom.
There are 3 columns, known as, left to right, the Black, Middle, and White Pillars. The Black Pillar is associated with the Feminine because all 3 Sephirah are involved with receptivity or containment as in a woman's body. In Hod (Renown), one is renowned, or known again; in other words, one has a reputation that precedes one, so the past contains it. Geburah (Severity) is the ability to set limits and say, "enough", very clearly a form of containment. Binah (Understanding) is being able to "stand under", or receive, rather than generate, patterns. Climbing up the Tree by the Black Pillar is known as the Hermetic Path; the intellect is necessary to do so, because the mind can receive, contain, and limit knowledge. The Pillar is black, like the Void that receives and contains all light.
The White Pillar is associated with the Masculine because the 3 Sephirah are generative and outgoing in nature. Netzach (Achievement) is attaining the next goal; Chesed (Mercy) is a boundless sense of compassion; Chockmah (Wisdom) is the ability to generate patterns of knowledge. Ascending the Tree by the White Pillar is following the Orphic Path and the power of emotions is required to do so. It takes desire to achieve, love to show mercy, and a higher love to be wise. The Pillar is white, like the outpouring light of the sun and stars.
The Middle Pillar is the recommended way for climbing the Tree. Yesod (Foundation) and Tiphereth (Harmony) is being firmly set and in balance with reality, never going to extremes. Kether (Crown) and Malkuth (Kingdom) have everything to do with living as a king or queen in one's domain. The Middle Pillar is Masculine-Feminine in nature, so one exists here with traits from both genders.
Above Malkuth, there are 3 triangular rungs, so called because the Tree of Life is also called the Ladder of Lights. They are, from bottom to top, the 9. Yesod/ 8. Hod/ 7. Netzach rung, the 6. Tiphereth/ 5. Geburah/ 4. Chesed rung, and the 3. Binah/ 2. Chockmah/ 1. Kether rung. In climbing the Tree, the first step is to aim for the Foundation as the White/Masculine/Emotion energy initiates the movement upward with the Black/Feminine/Intellect following closely in order to balance in the Middle. At this level, temporal control of mundane power is reached; success, fame and fortune are all that is possible here. The next step up occurs as before, with the emotional urge towards bringing karmic balance and fairness to bear upon temporal affairs. At this level, mercy is given to the merciful and severity is given to the severe in order to reach true harmony of existence; a more enlightened state brings a perspective that begins to look more at the inner treasures, rather than the earthly rewards, of life. The last step is the most difficult of all because the urge is towards complete wisdom and understanding. At this level, the perspective becomes completely spiritual in nature. With this last step, a Sephirah, which does not exist like the other 10, is crossed; it is the Abyss that separates Earth from Heaven and is called Daath (Knowledge). Knowledge gained from earthly experience is necessary in order to reach the heavenly realms.
Looking at the Tree of Life glyph as a whole, it teaches simple, yet profound, truths about reality. Firstly, there are limits to our existence; cosmic principles, acting as laws, create boundaries within which we function. Beyond these limits, there is nothing. Secondly, the Tree shows us that going to extremes create imbalances; optimum existence is one that follows a Middle Path. One lives between, and partakes in, all dualities; we are light and dark, masculine and feminine, spirit and matter. Ultimately, the Tree of Life presents a blueprint for being in Heaven while living on Earth.