The first being that came into existence when God created the world, primordial man, a spiritual being. Not to be confused with the ‘material’ Adam who was expelled from Paradise together with Eve.
The alchemical process (the Magnum Opus or Great Work) includes several phases:
- Nigredo: blackness. Putrefaction as a necessary step to be able to work with the materials.
- Albedo: whiteness. After the breakdown of the Nigredo phase, the impurities are removed.
- Citrinitas: yellowness. The third step which symbolises the transmutation of silver into gold.
- Rubedo: redness. The fourth and final step in the Magnum Opus. Both gold and the Philosophers’ Stone are associated with the colour red, symbolising the successful completion of the Great Work.
- Cauda pavonis: the peacock’s tail. This term indicates a phase in which many iridescent colours appear on the surface. Some alchemists thought this phase preceded the albedo, others believed it succeeded it.
A term used by some alchemists to refer to alchemists who were involved in the metallurgic aspect of alchemy.
The term Azot is made up of the first and last letters of the Latin, Greek and Hebrew alphabets: A-Z, alpha-omega and alef-tav. It originally referred to mercury, one of the most important elements in alchemy which also stands for the primordial stage of the metals and a universal medicine.
Understanding, the third sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name JHVH, pronounced as Elohim.
The use of kabbalistic methods in alchemy, also the absorption of kabbalah in Western alchemical thought.
A model of the cosmos devised by the classical Greek philosophers. The rotation of the celestial bodies is here presented as embedded in ten transparent spheres. The earth is at the centre, followed by the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, the sun, Jupiter, Saturn, the fixed stars, the ninth sphere and the tenth, which is the ‘primum mobile’ or ‘first mover’ setting in motion the other nine spheres.
In the biblical book Ezekiel the prophet Ezekiel has a vision of heaven and God’s Throne-Chariot. It inspired kabbalists to speculate on the mystical dimensions of the vision.
Loving-kindness, name of the fourth sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name El or El elyon and corresponds with the right arm.
Wisdom, name of the second sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name Yah.
Mystical clinging to God.
The names of God, such as El, Elohim, Adonai, Shaddai and Adonai Tsvaot, were believed to give special powers to those who knew them. The Spanish kabbalist Abulafia believed that the knowledge of the divine names was the highest form of kabbalah.
The mysterious nothing prior to creation, from which everything flows.
The endless one, the unending essence of God, which becomes manifest through the sefirot.
Kabbalistic linguistical technique to interpret words on the basis of their numerical equivalents, with the aim of discovering hidden
connections between the various words. One of three kabbalistic methods, the others are notarikon and temurah.
Justice, the fifth sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name Elohim and corresponds with the left arm.
A creature made of clay and magically brought to life on the basis of letter mysticism. Medieval commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah explained some passages as treating of the golem.
Legendary wisdom teacher of ancient Egypt and alleged author of numerous works, including the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of wisdom teachings, and the Tabula smaragdina, the Emerald Table. The philosophy attributed to Hermes Trismegistus formed the basis of Hermetism and was a major influence on Renaissance thought.
Wisdom teachings attributed to the legendary Egyptian wisdom teacher Hermes Trismegistus, containing mystical, cosmological, magical, astrological and alchemical revelations. A central idea is to gain knowledge of God, the cosmos and man. One of the most
characteristic principles of Hermetism is that of ‘As above, so below’, referring to the close bond between the macrocosm (the universe) and the microcosm (man).
Splendour, name of the eighth sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name Elohim tsva’ot (Lord of Hosts) and corresponds with the left leg.
The ilan ha-kodesh or ‘holy tree’ has been compared to a ‘cosmic map’. By meditating on the images (including Ein sof, the sefirot), the kabbalist hoped to gain insight in the divine world.
- Practical kabbalah
Practical kabbalah is concerned with the use of magic (i.e. spells, amulets, communication with angels, spirits, demons) based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet or the divine names to gain protection, assistance or more mundane goals.
- Prophetic or ecstatic kabbalah
Prophetic or ecstatic kabbalah is associated with Abraham Abulafia, the Spanish kabbalist who provided precise instructions for meditations on the divine names (e.g. El, Adonai) or the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet to achieve prophetic or ecstatic visions and/or closeness to God.
- Theosophical kabbalah
Theosophical kabbalah is mostly associated with meditations on the sefirot, the ten attributes of the revealed God.
- Christian kabbalah
Christian kabbalah (mostly spelled as cabala) resulted from the interest of Christian scholars in aspects of the mystical tradition of Hebrew kabbalah. These scholars also attempted to harmonise Hebrew Kabbalah with Christian religion.
Intention, the sincere mindset necessary for prayers and a precondition for Devekut.
Crown, name of the first sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name Ehiyeh.
The kabbalistic teaching of Isaac Luria (1534-1572), which was disseminated by his followers. Central concerns of Lurianic kabbalah are tzimtzum, shevirat ha-kelim and tikkun.
Various kinds of magic can be distinguished:
- Natural magic: drawing on the forces of nature.
- Ritual magic: communicating with angels, spirits and demons.
- Astral magic: drawing on the special powers of planets, stars and signs of the zodiac.
Kingship, the tenth sefirah, see also Shekinah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name Adonai (our Lord) and corresponds with the feet.
A philosophical current that originated in the third century BCE and combined the philosophy of Plato with philosophies from esoteric and mystical traditions.
Eternity, the seventh sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name YHVH tsvaot (Lord of hosts) and corresponds with the right leg.
One of the three kabbalistic methods to work with words and letters (the other two are gematria and temurah). In notarikon, the first or last letters of a word are used to form another word.
Placing the Hebrew letter shin ש in the middle of the ineffable name of God, (YHVH, the Tetragrammaton) produces the name of Jesus or Jeheshua (YHSVH), according to Reuchlin in his work De verbo mirifico.
The substance capable of transmuting base metals into silver or gold, but also a means to cure all diseases or prolong life.
Planets and metals
In alchemy, each of the seven planets rules a metal:
Sun - gold
Moon - silver
Mercury - quicksilver
Venus - copper
Mars - iron
Jupiter - tin
Saturn - lead
A primordial substance preceding matter, a ‘matter without form’ from which matter proceeds.
The outermost and fastest of the ten celestial spheres that moves the other spheres.
The fifth essence, the fifth element in addition to the four elements earth, water, air and fire. This quintessence could be abstracted from various materials and transcended the qualities of the other four.
An example is the distillation of alcohol: this substance, fluid and flammable, unites the contrary qualities of the elements water and fire.
After the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the rabbis or biblical exegetes codified the laws that provided the basis for the Jewish people in the diaspora.
A city in northern Israel that became a centre for mysticism and kabbalah in the 16th century.
Literally: Book of Brilliance, an important work written in the 13th century and the first kabbalistic work to contain a description of the sefirot in the form of a tree.
Literally: Book of Formation, a mystical work dating from the 1st century and referring to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten sefirot which together make up the 32 paths of wisdom.
Literally: Book of Splendour, the main work of kabbalah which was written in the second half of the 13th century in Castile and traditionally attributed to the 2nd-century sage Simon bar Yochai.
Singular of sefirot.
A central concept of kabbalah, first referred to in Sefer Yetzirah, where it still means ‘number’. In later kabbalistic works it came to mean ‘attribute’, referring to the ten aspects of the revealed God. The ten sefirot are also known as the Tree of Life.
Jews whose ancestors lived in Spain and Portugal. The Jews from Eastern Europe are known as Ashkenazi Jews.
The divine presence in the world according to Rabbinical judaism, in kabbalah the female aspect of God. Also associated with the tenth sefirah, Malkhut.
Shattering of the vessels: according to Lurianic kabbalah, the cosmic disaster whereby the lower seven sefirot could not contain the divine light and allowed evil to enter.
Tabula smaragdina hermetis / Emerald Table
A brief and enigmatic text attributed to Hermes Trismegistus which includes the defining hermetic concept of ‘As above, so below’: man (the microcosm) and the universe (the macrocosm) mirror each other.
One of the three kabbalistic methods to work with words and letters (the other two are gematria and notarikon). Temurah refers to the practice of changing the letters in certain words according to a fixed order to find deeper spiritual meanings in the text.
The ineffable name of God, yud-hey-vav-hey (יהוה). The four letters of the Tetragrammaton form the root meaning ‘to be’. The original meaning has sometimes been interpreted as ‘He-Who-Is’ or ‘He who lives’.
A symbol invented by Pythagoras that is formed by points arranged in four rows. Its basis is a single point, followed by two, three and four points. Together they make ten, the perfect number according to Pythagoras.
Beauty, name of the central sixth sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the Tetragrammaton and corresponds with the torso.
Literally: repair, a process that leads to the restoration of the world and the divine unity after the shattering of the vessels (see shevirat ha-kelim).
In its strictest sense the Torah refers to the five books of Moses, but it can also be used to comprise the entire Hebrew bible (TaNaKh, an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings)) and the whole body of Jewish law, teachings and experience.
The belief in many branches of Christianity that there is one God in three consubstantial persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.
Hebrew is the language of divine communication: God created by speaking. The Hebrew alphabet is made up of 22 letters – all consonants. The letters were believed to exist independently in a
transcendent realm. They are therefore also considered to be mystical tools for contemplation.
Literally: contraction, a Lurianic concept to describe the withdrawal of God to create an empty space where creation can take place.
Foundation, name of the ninth sefirah. This sefirah is associated with the divine name El chai (the living God) or El shaddai (the mighty God) and corresponds with the phallus.