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Emmanations: Qabalah as a neoplatonic philosophy

An introduction to the Qabalistic theory of emmanations and its parralels in the writings of Plato and other neoplatonic philosophies

Qabalah subscribes to an essentially emmanationist philosophy, describing the creation of the universe in terms of a series of emmanations issuing from the divine source. There are ten fundamental emmanations in the process of Gods creation which are depicted on the Tree of Life diagram as the ten sephira or spheres. All things which exist in the world are created from these ten spheres which in many ways play a similar role to the Ideas or Ideals of Platos philosophy and later neoplatonic philosophies. Platos `Ideas' were basically divine and idealised templates from which all things are created. Thus, for example, Plato and neoplatonic philosophers would say that all horses are the manifestations of the divine Idea of the horse in the realm of plurality. Both Qabalah and Plato, as well as later neoplatonic philosophers who extended and built upon Plato's work are describing a kind of `formative causation', in which the ultimate cause of all forms is not found by following back linear chains of causation through time but rather in more fundamental or primary forms.

Tree of Life pendant
Five metal ring Ana becoach ring
Tree of Life pendant
Five metal ring
Ana becoach ring

Kabbalah Jewelry

By the Artist - David Weitzman

Within Qabalah an understanding of the process of creation plays a central role, and not simply as an article of faith or an abstract intellectual study, but also from a very practical perspective. According to the teachings of Qabalah the act of creation was not just a one of event many aeons ago which is now over and done with, but is actually a continuing process which is still happening today and in which human beings can play a role, either hindering or helping the manifestation of the divine. It also provides us with a powerful tool for understanding our own nature by understanding how we came to be as we are and how our lives came to be the way they are, what forces act to keep us that way, and exactly what power is available to us to effect change within ourselves and our lives. Such practical considerations are addressed elsewhere in this site, for this page I would like to stick to the underlying philosophy itself.

Although the theory of emmanations describes the process of creation in a sequential unfolding of the ten sephira, from Kether to Malkuth, there is such interconnection between the spheres that it is not, strictly speaking, accurate to say that first kether existed but the others did not, then kether and chokamah and son on. It is more accurate to think simply that the higher spheres come before the lower spheres when considering the emmanations as a system of cause and effect. This may seem like exactly the same thing, but there is a subtle difference.

Firstly one must remember that the first three spheres - kether, chokmah and binah, which are known as the Qabalistic trinity and together form the highest of the four worlds (Atziltuth) are actually a unity, and are separated only for ease of understanding and are not actually separate entities. Anything above `the abyss' which separates Atziluth from the rest of the Tree is not part of the realm of plurality and must therefore exist in a state of unity.

What's more, it is said of the Tree of life that `its end is contained within its beginning, and its beginning contained within its end'. As Kether is the beginning and Malkuth is the end of the process of emmanations this can be taken to mean that Malkuth is contained within Kether and Kether within Malkuth. Or more accurately still, the highest of the four worlds, Atziluth, is contained within the lowest, Assiah, and vice versa. You can get a sense of what is meant by this with a quite simple explanation: Atziluth is the realm of causes, and Assiah the realm of effects; also Atziluth is the subject of all knowledge, the knower which can never itself be known, whereas Assiah is the object of all knowledge. It should be clear that these two opposite natures are dependent on one another - you cannot have a `knower' unless there is something to know, and neither can you have a cause without a corresponding effect. The definition of nature of one necessarily contains the nature of the other. Thus in reality the act of creation, which is described as a sequential unfolding, in reality happens within a single moment, with no temporal separation between the stages. This underlying unity is sometimes represented by saying that there is an entire tree contained within each sphere, and that each sphere contains the whole of eternity.

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