There are various methods by which the Ten Holy Sephiroth can be grouped upon the Tree of Life. Of these it cannot be said that one is correct and another incorrect; they serve different purposes and throw much light upon the meaning of the individual Sephiroth by revealing their associations and equilibrium.
They are also of value because they enable the decimal system of the Tree to be equated with the three, four, and sevenfold systems.
The primary conformation of the Tree is into three Pillars. It will be observed by reference to the diagrams that the Sephiroth readily lend themselves to this threefold vertical division, for they are arranged in three columns. These are called the Right-hand Pillar of Mercy, the Left-hand Pillar of Severity, and the Middle Pillar of Mildness or Equilibrium (see diagram I)
Before proceeding any further we must make clear the significance of the right and left sides of the Tree. As we look at the Tree in the diagram we see Binah, Geburah, and Hod upon the left side, and Chokmah, Chesed) and Netzach upon the right side; this is the way we view the Tree when We are using it to represent the Macrocosm. But when we are using it to represent the Microcosm, that is our own being, we, as it were, back into it, so that the Middle Pillar equates with the spine, and the Pillar that contains Binah, Geburah, and Hod with the right side, and the Pillar that contains Chokmah, Chesed, and Netzach with the left side. These three Pillars can also be equated with the Shushumna, Ida, and Pingala of the Yoga system. It is very important to remember the reversal of the Tree when it is used as a subjective symbol, otherwise confusion results. In his valuable book Upon the literature of the Qabalah, The Holy Kabalah, Mr Waite, in the frontispiece, for some reason best known to himself, reverses the usual presentation of the Tree; but it may be taken for granted that most representations of the symbol give the objective Tree, not the subjective. When the Tree is being used to indicate the lines of force in the aura, it is the subjective Tree that must be used, so that Geburah equates with the right arm. In all cases, of course, the Middle Pillar remains steadfast.
The Pillar of Severity is considered to be negative or feminine, and the Pillar of Mercy to be positive or masculine. Superficially it may be thought that these attributions lead to incompatible symbolism, but a study of the Pillars in the light of what we now know concerning the individual Sephiroth will reveal that the incompatibilities are purely superficial and that the deeper significance of the symbolism is entirely consonant.
It will be observed that the line which indicates the successive development of the Sephiroth zigzags from side to side of the glyph and has been aptly named the Lightning Flash in consequence. This indicates graphically that the Sephiroth are successively positive, negative, and equilibrated. This is a far better representation of the process of creation than if the Spheres were represented one above another in a straight line, for it indicates the difference in the nature of the Divine Emanations and their relations to each other; for when we look at the glyph of the Tree we readily perceive the relations existing between the different Sephiroth, and see how they group, reflect, and react upon each other.
At the head of the Pillar of Severity, the negative, feminine Pillar, is Binah, the Great Mother. Now to Binah is assigned the Sphere of Saturn, and Saturn is the Giver of Form. At the head of the Pillar of Mercy is Chokmah, the Supernal Father, a male potency. Thus we see that we have here the apposition of Form and Force.
In the Second Trinity we have the apposition of Chesed (Jupiter) and Geburah (Mars). Again we have the pairs of opposites of construction in Jupiter, the lawgiver and beneficent ruler, and destruction in Mars, the warrior and destroyer of evil. It may be asked why such a male potency as Geburah should be placed in the feminine Pillar. It must be remembered that Mars is a destructive potency, one of the infortunes in astrology. The positive builds up, the negative breaks down; the positive is a kinetic force, the negative is a static force.
These aspects appear again in Netzach at the base of the Pillar of Mercy, and Hod at the base of the Pillar of Severity. Netzach is Venus, the Green Nature Ray, elemental force, the initiation of the emotions. Hod is Mercury, Hermes, the initiation of knowledge. Netzach is instinct and emotion, a kinetic force; Hod is intellect, concrete thought, the reduction of intuitive knowledge to form.
We must remember, however, that each Sephirah is negative, that is to say feminine, in relation to its predecessor, whence it emanates and whence it receives the Divine Influence; and positive, masculine, or stimulating in respect of its successor, to whom it transmits the Divine Influence. Therefore each Sephirah is bi-sexual, like a magnet of which one pole must of necessity be negative and the other positive. We may perhaps explain matters further by an analogy with astrology, and say that a Sephirah in the feminine Pillar is well-dignified when it is functioning in its negative aspect, and ill- dignified when functioning positively; and that in the masculine Pillar the position is reversed. Thus Binah, Saturn, is well-dignified when providing stability and endurance, but ill-dignified when the overplus of resistance causes it to become actively aggressive and we get obstruction and the accretion of effete matter. On the other hand, Chesed, Mercy, is well-dignified when ordering and preserving all things harmoniously; but ill- dignified when mercy becomes sentimentality and it usurps the Sphere of Saturn, preserving that which the fiery energy of Mars, its opposite number, the Sephirah Geburah, should sweep out of existence.
The two Pillars, then, represent the Positive – negative forces in Nature, the active and passive, the destructive and constructive, concreting form and free-moving force.
The Sephiroth on the Middle Pillar may be taken as representing levels of consciousness and the planes on which they operate. Malkuth is sensory consciousness; Yesod is astral psychism; Tiphareth is illuminated consciousness, the highest aspect of the personality with which the individuality has coalesced; this is the condition which really constitutes initiation; it is the consciousness of the higher self brought through into the personality. It is a gleam of higher consciousness coming from behind the veil Paroketh. It is for this reason that the Messiahs and Saviours of the world are assigned to Tiphareth in the symbolism of the Tree, for they were the Light-Bringers to humanity; and as all who bring fire from heaven must do, they died the sacrificial death for the sake of mankind. It is here, too, that we die to the lower self in order that we may rise in the higher self. ‘In Jesu morimur.”
The Middle Pillar rises through Daath, the Invisible Sephirah, which we have already seen is Knowledge according to the Rabbis, and conscious awareness or apprehension according to the terminology of the psychologist. At the head of this Pillar is Kether, the Crown, the Root of all Being. Consciousness, there, reaches from the spiritual essence of Kether, through the realisation of Daath, which carries it across the Abyss, into the translated consciousness of Tiphareth, whither it is brought by the sacrifice of the Christ which rends the veil Paroketh; then on into the psychic consciousness of Yesod, the Sphere of the Moon, and thence to the sensory brain consciousness of Malkuth.
Thus does consciousness descend in the course of involution, which is the term applied to that phase of evolution which leads down from the First Manifest through the subtle planes of existence to dense matter; the esotericist should, strictly speaking, only use the term evolution when describing the ascent from matter back to spirit, for then is evolved that which was involved in the descent through the subtle phases of development. It is obvious that nothing can be evolved, unfolded, which was not previously involved, unfolded. The actual course of evolution follows the track of the Lightning Flash or Flaming Sword, from Kether to Malkuth in the order of development of the Sephiroth previously described; but consciousness descends plane by plane, and only begins to manifest when the polarising Sephiroth are in equilibrium; therefore the modes of consciousness are assigned to the Equilibrating Sephiroth upon the Middle Pillar, but the magical powers are assigned to the opposing Sephiroth, each at the end of the beam of the balance of the pairs of opposites.
The Way of Initiation follows the coilings of the Serpent of Wisdom upon the Tree; but the Way of Illumination follows the Path of the Arrow which is shot from the Bow of Promise, Qesheth, the rainbow of astral colours that spreads like a halo behind Yesod. This is the way of the mystic as distinguished from that of the occultist; it is swift and direct, and free from the danger of the temptation of unbalanced force that is met with in either pillar, but it confers no magical powers save those of sacrifice in Tiphareth and psychism in Yesod.
We have noted the Three Trinities of the Tree in our preliminary discussion of the Ten Sephiroth. Let us recapitulate these again for clearness’ sake. Mathers calls the First Trinity of Kether, Chokmah, and Binah the Intellectual World; the Second Trinity of Chesed, Geburah, and Tiphareth the Moral World; and the Third Trinity of Netzach, Hod, and Yesod the Material World. To my way of thinking, this terminology is misleading, for these words do not connote in our minds what is meant by these Worlds. The intellect is essentially a concreting of intuition and apprehension, and as such is an unsuitable term for the World of the Three Supernals. With the use of the term Moral World for Chesed, Geburah, and Tiphareth I agree; it is identical with my term, Ethical Triangle; but with the term Material World for the Trinity of Netzach, Hod, and Yesod I emphatically disagree, for this term belongs exclusively to Malkuth. These three Sephiroth are not material but astral, and for this Trinity I propose the term Astral, or Magical World; it is not well to wrest words from their dictionary meaning, even if you define your use of them, and this Mathers has not troubled to do.
The Intellectual Sphere is not so much a level as a Pillar, for the intellect, being the content of consciousness, is essentially synthetic. These terms, however, are apparently taken from a somewhat crude translation of the Hebrew names given to the four levels into which the Qabalists divide manifestation.
These four levels permit of yet another grouping of the Sephiroth. The highest of these is Atziluth, the Archetypal World, consisting of Kether. The second, Briah, called the Creative World, consists of Chokmah and Binah, the Supernal Abba and Ama, Father and Mother. The third level is that of Yetzirah, the Formative World, consisting of the six central Sephiroth, viz. Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. The fourth World is Assiah, the Material World, represented by Malkuth.
The Ten Sephiroth are also conformed into Seven Palaces. In the First Palace are the Three Supernals; in the Seventh Palace are Yesod and Malkuth ; and the rest of the Sephiroth each has a Palace to itself. The grouping is of interest as revealing the intimate relationship of Yesod and Malkuth, and enabling the tenfold scale of the Qabalah to be equated with the sevenfold scale of Theosophy.
There is also a threefold division of the Sephiroth which is very important in Qabalistic symbolism. In this system Kether is given the title of Arik Anpin, the Vast Countenance. This is manifested as Abba, the Supernal Father, Chokmah, and Ama, the Supernal Mother, Binah, these being the positive and negative aspects of the Three in One. These two differentiated aspects, when united, are, according to Mathers, Elohim, that curious Divine Name which is a feminine noun with a masculine plural attached to it. This union takes place in Daath, the invisible Sephirah.
The next six Sephiroth are conformed into Zaur Anpin, the Lesser Countenance, or Microprosopos, whose special Sephirah is Tiphareth. The remaining Sephirah, Malkuth, is called the Bride of Microprosopos.
Microprosopos is also sometimes called the King; Malkuth is then called the Queen. She is also called the Lesser Mother or Terrestrial Eve as distinguished from Binah, the Supernal Mother.
These different methods of classifying the Sephiroth are not competing systems, but are designed to enable the decimal system of the Qabalists to be equated with other systems, using a threefold notation, such as the Christian, or as we have already noted, a sevenfold system like Theosophy; they are also valuable as indicating functional affiliations among the Sephiroth themselves.
The final system of classification which we must note is under the presidency of the Three Mother Letters of the Hebrew alphabet: Aleph, A; Mem, M; and Shin, Sh. These three, according to the Yetziratic attribution of the Hebrew alphabet, are assigned to the three elements of Air, Water, and Fire. Under the presidency of Aleph is the Airy triad of Kether, in which is the Root of Air, reflecting downward through Tiphareth, the Solar Fire, into Yesod, the Lunar radiance. In Binah is the Root of Water (Marah, the Great Sea), reflected through Chesed into Hod, under the presidency of Mem, the Mother of Watei. In Chokmah is the Root of Fire, reflected downwards through Geburah into Netzach, under the presidency of Shin, the Mother of Fire.
These groupings must be borne in mind, for they aid greatly in understanding the significance of individual Sephiroth, for, as we have already pointed out in various connections, a Sephirah is best interpreted by its affiliations.