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  • Writer's pictureDavid Rankine

Misconceptions, the Tree of Life and Hermaphrodites

There are three misconceptions which I regularly hear repeated, often parrot fashion, about the Qabalah. These are that it is patriarchal, it is very complex, and it requires mathematical skill. In fact the Qabalah is manifestly not patriarchal with a complete emphasis on polarity and balance, and any patriarchal overtones are more likely the influence of the magicians and magical orders of the last one hundred and fifty years. Likewise the Qabalah is not complex, it is actually very simple, but is often portrayed with only a few pieces of the metaphorical jigsaw, resulting in an incomplete and hence muddled and complex perception. As to mathematical skill, being able to do simple arithmetic on a calculator is within the grasp of even severe arithmophobes!

It is the first of these misconceptions that I wish to explore today, as a dig into the roots of the Tree of Life soon produces hermaphrodites and divine sex! Some of the early Qabalistic texts talk about Adam Kadmon (or Qadmon), who is also called the Primordial Man. To understand the concept of Adam Kadmon it is important to realise that the Adam who was expelled from Eden with Eve was actually the fourth of the Adams, and that the Adams were not all simply male! The first Adam was Adam Kadmon, the primordial human, who was viewed as the fifth World, containing the potential of the other four Worlds within him. These Four Worlds represent the manifestation of the divine creative impulse down the Tree of Life, through the worlds of Atziluth (Archetypal World), Briah (Creative World), Yetzirah (Formative World) and Assiah (Making World). The Tree of Life is the glyph created by the ten Sephiroth (‘emanations’), connected by twenty-two paths, in a symbol map which represents both the human body and the classical universe – ‘As above, so below.

This fifth World is actually another name for the Ain Soph, or veil of limitlessness, which exists before the Tree of Life, and was described as being the dwelling place of Tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable divine name which contains all creative power. Adam Kadmon is sometimes equated with the dot on the Yod of Tetragrammaton, as the first impulse of the ultimate.

The Qabalah teaches that Adam Kadmon was formed by a single beam of light sent forth from the Ain Soph, which burst forth from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth as the lights of the Sephiroth. The light from the eyes filled the vessels of light that were the Supernal Triad of the top three Sephiroth, Kether (‘Crown’), Chokmah (‘Wisdom’) and Binah (‘Understanding’). However when the light filled the vessels of the lower Sephiroth it was so intense that the vessels broke. This was the act known as the ‘Breaking of the Vessels’ (Shevirah). The Tree of Life which was subsequently created was the second more perfect version where all the Sephiroth could both receive and give, rather than just being receptacles.

Some sources consider Adam Kadmon to have been the first template of divine manifestation, the ‘first Adam’, reflected through the Four Worlds in different manifestations. This is part of a doctrine known as the ‘Five Adams’. The second Adam is the one referred to in Genesis 1:27, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” This hermaphroditic Adam contained both male and female, undivided, and is known as the Atziluthic Adam, or ‘Adam of light’. You may have noticed a significant word here, which is ‘them’, implying that this Adam was one of many, not a single being, and also that ‘male and female created He them’ showing the presence of both genders, not male first, and also that the divine contains both genders!

The third Adam is referred to in Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This Adam is known as the Briatic Adam, or the ‘Adam of dust’. This is the Adam who gives names to all the creatures (Genesis 2:19-20). The Zohar specifically brings the Shekinah, or divine feminine, in to this stage, emphasising the divine polarity involved in creating life, saying:
“‘And the Lord God formed the man out of dust from the earth and breathed into his nostrils or soul the breath of life,’ the divine Shekinah. Man is a threefold product of life (Nephesh), spirit (Ruach), and soul (Neshamah), by the blending and union of which he became a living spirit, a manifestation of the Divine.1

The fourth Adam is the Adam from whom Eve is “created” in Genesis 2:21-23, formed by the separation of the third Adam. The original word is actually ‘side’ not ‘rib’, as the Zohar explained, which implies that the third Adam was still a hermaphrodite. The expressions in Genesis, “closed up the flesh” (2:21) and “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (2:23) also lend credence to this argument. This Adam is known as the Yetziric Adam, and was said to be the source of all human souls, having received the divine influence of the Shekinah (the feminine divine who is wisdom). It could equally be argued that Adam was created from Eve, as both exist as part of the same being before they were separated. Eve’s divine influence from the Shekinah may be seen in her name, which in Hebrew is spelt HVH (Heh, Vav, Heh), i.e. IHVH (Tetragrammaton) minus the initial I (Yod).

The fifth Adam is Adam after expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23-24). This Adam is known as the Assiatic Adam. Mankind, as children of the fifth Adam, are striving to return to the state of the fourth Adam, dwelling in the perfection and paradise of Eden. Eden is also an analogy for the Shekinah as representing a perfected earth, something that a large portion of mankind seems determined to move further away from by the day!

From the tenth century CE onwards the Shekinah began to be more openly revealed as the divine feminine power opposite the masculine Yahweh, with German Qabalists of this time expressing the doctrine that the Greater Shekinah encircled God as a circle of flame, and their union created not only the universe and the divine throne (as described in the Book of Ezekiel), but also the angels and human souls.

The Greater Shekinah was seen as the divine bride, united with the masculine God in an equal relationship. This pattern was also repeated with the Lesser Shekinah being seen as the bride of the Sun/Son. The Heavenly Shekinah was viewed as the Mother and Yahweh as the Father, with the Lesser Shekinah being the Earth and divine Daughter, and the Sun (Tiphereth on the Qabalistic Tree of Life) being the divine Son.

This depiction of the divine family is one of the key expressions of the greatest word of power, the Unpronounceable Name of God, or Tetragrammaton. This fourfold name is comprised of the Hebrew letters Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh, and the correct pronunciation, which was said to be immensely powerful and capable of destroying the universe, has been lost for centuries. Yod is the Father and Heh is the Greater Shekinah is the Mother, and together they form the divine name Yah (IH), which is also known as the Inner Chamber due to its sexual connotations. Vav is the Son and the final Heh is the Lesser Shekinah as the Daughter.

The famous Kabbalist Rabbi Eleazer of Worms (1176-1238), who was one of the first great propagators of the Kabbalah, said of the Earthly Shekinah that:
The Shekinah is called the daughter of the creator … and she is also called the tenth sefirah and royalty (Malkuth), because the crown of the kingdom is on his head.2

Associations of Tetragrammaton

1 Zohar I.27a.

2 Sefer ha-Hokhmah, C13th CE.

(first published in SilkMilk4)

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