Rooted in the ancient Egyptian Mysteries, three different versions of basically the same teachings can be identified by three different spellings: Kabbalah, Cabala and Qabalah.
The Kabbalah is an essentially Jewish mystical or esoteric school. Although the Christian Church Fathers of the first century were demonstrably Kabbalists, mystical or gnostic elements within the Church largely disappeared within the first three centuries, only to reappear as a Christian Cabala during the Renaissance. A third, often hidden, stream of mystical Western philosophy absorbed many Egyptian, Jewish and Christian mystical elements and termed them the Qabalah.1
Christian writers such as Agrippa, in his De Occulta Philosophia Libri III (1533), or Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and also the Roman Catholic Church, spell it “Cabala,” the Latin spelling transferred over to English. Contemporary neo-hermeticists, following MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918) and Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), will use “Qabala” or some other derivitive.
The word comes from the Hebrew קַבָּלָה, meaning “to receive”. According to Ben-Yehudah’s Hebrew-English Dictionary, in context it is a received body of knowledge, passed down orally, which serves as an exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Torah or Pentateuch. A direct experience of God is central to the ideas of Kabbalah.
Mackey’sEncyclopedia of Freemasonry devotes almost three pages to the Kabbalah, noting “It has sometimes been used in an enlarged sense, as comprehending all the explanations, maxims, and ceremonies which have been traditionally handed down to the Jews; but in that more limited acceptation, in which it is intimately connected with the symbolic science of Freemasonry, the Cabala may be defined to be a system of philosophy which embraces certain mystical interpretations of Scripture, and metaphysical and spiritual beings.”
“Buxtorf (Lexicon of the Talmud) defines the Kabbalah to be a secret science, which treats in a mystical and enigmatical manner of things divine, angelical, theological, celestial, and metaphysical; the subjects being enveloped in striking symbols and secret modes of teaching. Much use is made of it in the advanced degrees, and entire Rites have been constructed on its principles. Hence it demands a place in any general work on Freemasonry.”2
These quotes from the 19th century, and others like them, give anti-masons free rein to claim Freemasonry is cabalistic without really understanding either Freemasonry or the Kabbalah.
The Kabbalah defined
The Kabbalah is divided into two kinds, the Practical and the Theoretical. The Practical is occupied with the construction of talismans and amulets and is of no interest to Freemasonry.
Practical Kabbalah has its ancient roots in the “Thirteen Enochian Keys” of Enoch son of Qain, along with a highly eclectic admixture of material taken from Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and other non-Hebrew sources. The “Thirteen Enochian Keys” of Enoch son of Qain are reflected in such works as The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, the Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon, and mediaeval grimoires such as the Armadel, Goetia/Lemegeton, etc. The primary text of the mystical Kabbalah that appears to occupy a central place of importance in the hermetic Kabbalah is the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation). The two most prominent contemporary schools of Practical or Hermetic Kabbalah are the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). 3The bulk of the mainstream orthodox Jewish Kabbalists focus primarily on the Sefer HaZohar (Book of Splendor) and the Etz HaChayyim (Tree of Life). They engage in practices of spiritual refinement (avodah) and meditation (devekut, “cleaving to God”) gleaned from the writings left by Abraham Abulafia, Azriel of Gerona (disciple of Yitza’aq the Blind), Chayyim Vital (recorder of the teachings of Yitza’aq Luria), Dov Baer (Mezhirecher Maggid and successor to Israel ben Eliezer), Nachman of Bretzlav, and others. These practices include a variety of visualization techniques, breathing exercises, movements coordinated with the permutation and combination of Hebrew letters, mantric intonation of sacred phrases, meditative prayer, and chanting devotional songs. 4
The Theoretical Kabbalah is divided into the Dogmatic, which is a summary of rabbinical theosophy and philosophy, and the Literal, which teaches a mystical mode of explaining sacred things by assigning numerical values to the letters of words.
The Literal Cabala — divided into Gematria, Notaricon, and Temura — was made use of in the writing of what Mackey termed the “Advanced” degrees of Freemasonry. These more properly should be termed the additional degrees of concordant masonic bodies. The Kabbalah plays no role in regular Craft Freemasonry.
History of the Kabbalah
After the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem (70 CE), many Jews who relocated to Egypt were influenced by the Alexandrian Pythagoreans. Jewish leaders and intellectuals such as Artapanos, Philon the Alexandrian, the historian Josephus Flavius, the Hasmoneans, Johanan Hurcanus, Alexander Jannean, Hanoch, Hillel, Johanan ben-Zakkai, and others were central figures of this spiritual-scientific development. The esoteric Jewish theosophy, or religious mystic philosophy, developed from about this time. In the absence of a central spiritual leadership, under foreign and hostile rule, some regional Jewish schools developed into sects such as the Essenes, Nazarenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees.
The Jewish Kabbalah reached its peak during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, arguably responsible for the development of both science and mysticism in Europe. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the greatest contributions to science were made by Jewish scholars, especially in Spain. Names known from religious sources as “Rabbis” and “Kabbalists”, are known in history books of mathematics and science as outstanding inventors and developers. 5
A distinctly Christian Cabala may be said to have started with the work of Ramon Lull (1232-1317) during a period of religious tolerance in Spain. Starting in the late fifteenth century CE, a movement arose among some Jewish converts to Christianity in Spain to ascribe a distinctly Christian context to the hidden meanings of Kabbalistic doctrines. This movement gained momentum from speculation among Florentine Platonists that the Kabbalah contained a lost revelation that explains the secrets of the Catholic faith. This cross-pollination led to the emergence of a distinctly Christian Cabala founded by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). Pico saw in the Cabala a link to the Greek philosophers as well as a proof of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Pico’s writings, and subsequently those of John Reuchlin (1455-1522), created an interest that spread throughout the intellectual European community.
In the sixteenth century, the appearance of Kabbalistic texts in Latin translation enhanced attempts to draw further parallels between esoteric Jewish doctrines and Christianity. Guillaume Postel translated and published the Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah into Latin even before they were published in Hebrew. Latin texts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were influential in standardizing “Cabala” as the spelling commonly associated with the Christian perspective on Kabbalistic teachings.
In the seventeenth century, the centre of Christian Cabala study moved to England and Germany, where its status was boosted by the theosophical writings of Jacob Boehme and the compendium of Christian Knorr von Rosenroth. Von Rosenroth and Athanasius Kirchner extrapolated the Cabalistic allusion of Adam Kadmon to be a reference to Jesus as the primordial man in Christian theology. In the final phase in the development of the Christian Cabala in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it became permeated with alchemical symbolism and conjoined with the emerging doctrines of theosophy and rosicrucianism.
Those who believe Freemasonry’s roots are found in rosicrucian and hermetic teachings will therefore see the influence of the Kabbalah in its development.
Claims and accusations
Those who claim Kabbalistic roots for Freemasonry are of two, widely different, perspectives. The first group are generally religious fundamentalists who, a priori, condemn Freemasonry, Judaism, and the Kabbalah as being anti-Christian and often equate the whole with satanism.
Theywillalso make such accusations as “Freemasonry and the New World Order are Nazism revived.” 6; “…that one key ritual in freemasonry involves drinking from human skulls….” 7; and “Freemasonry is the instrument created to carry out this return to paganism.” 8They will also quote, out of context, from Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma: “all the Masonic associations owe to it their Secrets and their Symbols.” 9 and claim that Freemasonry is divided into two branches. “There is the branch of the Scottish Rite and the branch of the Shriners. Scottish Freemasonry is the Christian branch while the Shriners are actually the Islamic branch.” The Prophecy Institute in Keene Texas will, for a “donation” of $26, “inform you of what is the Cabala, and how it influences Today’s governments.” To anyone who has made an objective study of either Freemasonry or the Kabbalah, these accusations and claims are patently ridiculous.
The second group is composed of freemasons and kabbalists who promote the theory of Freemasonry’s link to the Kabbalah. They are entitled to their opinions, but it must be stressed that they do not speak for Freemasonry. They are only expressing their opinions. They view the study of both as enhancing their relationship with God and have come to some personal conclusions about what they perceive as similarities. Whatever intellectual or spiritual similarities there may be between Freemasonry and the Kabbalah, any historical links are strictly conjectural and unsupported.
The Practical Kabbalah guidebook, C. J. M. Hopking. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2001. pb. ISBN: 0-8069-3121-3.
Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, vol. i. p. 166.
Gerald Rose, Schiller Institute Conference, September, 1993. Noted in The American Almanac, The New Federalist.
References: Understanding the Kabbalah, Edward Albertson.
The Holy Kabbalah, A.E. Waite.
A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, Gareth Knight.
also see The Kabbalah Society <www.kabbalahsociety.org>.
The Inner Dimension <www.inner.org/channel/basics.htm>.