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Posted Under Magic & Ritual

10 Lessons on How to Fall Through the Tree of Life

Tree of Life

 

The Tree of Life is depicted and mythologised through many different cultures. There are Trees of Life sheltering birds and animals in tapestries, carpets, and paintings. We think of Druidic groves, the World Tree, Ydraggsil; sometimes a tree is invoked as a method of passage between the upper, middle, and underworlds. Kabbalah's more staid glyph of the Tree of Life—ten (sometimes eleven) circles spaced in strict relationship to each other—doesn't come as close as these other examples to representing the emotional impact of an actual tree. Yet perhaps the two are not that far apart. Traditionally the Kabbalistic Tree of Life depicts the descent of the divine into the manifest, as well as the ascent of the manifest towards the divine. But Kabbalah always has multiple layers and meanings, so we come to understand that the divine is the manifest, and the manifest divine.

When we fall through the Tree of Life we are surrendering—like falling in love—to our embodied journey through this universe. How would we really try to control that? We've got no control over what has already happened. We've been born, to this time, place, and body, and here we are on earth, doing our best to learn, to love, to create beauty and joy, to be present with pain and suffering, to care for those around us, to engage with the magical tides of life. So we're already falling through time and existence. It's not that we have no choice (clearly in each moment we have choices), but I'd argue that those choices are about the way we fall, not whether to fall or not. Falling—into aging, into circumstance, into connection and disconnection, embrace and release—is the condition of life. We can no more stop this falling than we could stop the turn of the seasons, and the trees' turnings through bud and leaf, flower and fruit.

Given that we are falling, irredeemably, we begin to examine what powers we do have within this fall, and what wisdom we can reach towards. The Kabbalah has a lot to say on both these topics. The ten sephirot (the plural for the disks on the Tree of Life, the singular is sephira) each teach a different lesson about this surrendering, this becoming, this falling life of ours where divine and manifest appear to court each other but in the end are revealed to have always been the same.

Tree of Life Illustration from Falling through the Tree of Life by Jane Meredith

At KETHER, the very top of the Tree of Life, we understand that all things are one. Energy and matter merge to be essentially indistinguishable the closer we look. At the instant of the Big Bang all things were gathered together and all that has happened since then is … they've spread further out, and evolved, and become. This is the great falling—atoms fall and spill outwards through the universe, changed and changing, but all from one origin, still all parts of the one thing. Surrendering to this version of divinity can bring deep peace and comfort, as well as revelation and bliss.

The next sephira, HOKMAH, is a division within that essential oneness. It's the face of the beloved, the other, and creates the possibility of dancing through the multiverses not alone forever, but with other parts of the whole: other pieces of ourselves, our beloveds, our children, our gods, and even our nemesis or shadow parts. Once we fall far enough from the All to realise ourselves as separate we learn of love, as well the pain of loss and grief. And we keep falling …

We fall through BINAH, the third sephira and the place where manifestation becomes possible. If we were one, then divided, we can continue to divide. So the potential of multiplicity is revealed, as great clouds of stardust appear and galaxies are birthed within the dark nothingness of space. Every union of two brings a third: the child, the community, the love story, the synthesis, whatever is created by that union. This space of creativity or generation is where we fall through the dark womb of the mother, surrendering to the vast unknowns of becoming.

Between the third and fourth sephirot lies the ABYSS, the great gap in the worlds separating the top trio of sephirot from the rest of the Tree, as the sparks of existence fall from the divine on their immense journey towards the earthly. Cradled within the Abyss, at some unknown point (like a darting electron) is DA'ATH, the unrealised non-sephira, reminding us of all unknowables: black holes, alternate universes, dark matter, dark energy.

Out the other side of the Abyss awaits the fourth sephira, CHESED, where the endless flow of atoms and the universe is celebrated. This is like a river, an ocean—a great outpouring of light or love or possibility and we tumble through it, in love with this glorious revelation of all possible worlds. We surrender to wherever love will take us, learning again and again to trust and to risk in the falling.

A partner in every way to this endless flow is GEVURAH, the fifth sephira. Here we learn the hard lessons of what it is to be alive, the limitations, completions and endings, the boundaries. Yes I am composed of endless love but also I need to eat and sleep, to practice self-care. Yes all possibilities exist, but I select only this one, and here are the consequences. The power of choice, the inevitable limits of life and the body. And so we fall…

Into TIFERET, the sixth sephira at the very heart of the Tree. Tiferet is the open heart, where we balance endless flow with current form, accepting and offering all that we can, our unique shape within existence. This open heart is also the broken heart, and every time we fall in love we relinquish ourselves to this breaking open, learning again and again that our hearts keep beating, that falling and falling in love—with people, with place, with community, with divine—is the gift of being alive.

So we fall into the mythical Garden of Eden, NETZACH, which is the seventh sephira. Paradise was made for us, we were made for it, from it, and we fall into the beauty of the natural world reveling in our belonging. We are gardeners. We are innocent. We taste all the fruits that are offered to us—we meet the Other in embodied form—we surrender to transformation and the mysteries are revealed to us and...

In this revelation we fall and fall still further, into HOD, the eighth sephira and the realm where experience is not enough, also we seek to understand, to learn, and to apply knowledge. We analyze, we compare, we categorise, and each time we open a door to knowledge we realise how little we know. So deeper and deeper we quest, falling all the time into the wonder of it, pursuing the patterns closer and closer in ever more detail…

So we discover YESOD, the ninth sephira and the place of mythos, of the collective unconscious, of the symbols and dreams that bind us together. Here are the great underlying patterns that exist within both the garden and the library, where form weaves most intimately with force. Like falling asleep and discovering all that waits within, the endless imagination, creative yearning, and magical interpretation, we can also learn to enter this realm at will through meditation, ritual, trance. And so we continue the fall…

Finally to MALKUTH, the tenth sephira and grounding place of the Tree of Life. Here is the realm of manifestation with this beautiful earth where we live and die. The atoms from the Big Bang have arrived, after their long fall through existence to this moment. Those divine sparks of light have become mountains, trees, rivers, birds and fish, insects, and animals. Humans. We have fallen all the way from completely unmanifest into the manifest, from the Gods, from the stars, from the womb of the Goddess, from our ancestors, from the division of cells that created life on earth. And here we are, breathing and still falling, falling through this life with what grace and joy we can… received by the Tree and falling, into and out of existence.

Some Extra Pointers Along the Way

  • Although the sephirot can be explored individually, as separate realms, or concepts, or experiences, they are never considered to actually be separate from each other. They are not ten different things, that together add up to Kether. They are also not ten different aspects of Kether. Rather, they are all expressions of one thing, Kether. It's as if we were looking at a scene with rose-coloured glasses, and then replaced those with aqua glasses, and then yellow glasses. The scene has not changed at all, only the way we are viewing it.
  • It's natural to identify or feel familiarity with or understanding of one or two of the sephirot, have several others that we more or less grasp, and several that appear as closed books to us. The Kabbalistic approach understands that they are all equally important. Thus, those we feel blocked on may require more of our attention than those we feel comfortable with. We can examine the themes of those sephirot internally, in our relations with others and the world, and philosophically, socially, or politically. Thus if I identify with Chesed rather than Gevurah, my work would lie with Gevurah, in understanding my boundaries and limitations, learning how to honour and implement these within myself and with others, and examining such themes as power, privilege, laws, and social contracts within the wider world.
  • Study is only one way of learning. Creative explorations through dance, music, art, poetry are another equally valid way. Meditation, contemplation, and trance are yet another. Dynamic ritual, alone or with others, is another. Working with different aspects of the Tree we may be drawn to different modalities—perhaps with Kether I spend a lot of time meditating and studying, whereas with Netzach I write poetry and plant a garden, and with Hod I seek to record and catalogue all that I've learnt.

Jane Meredith, 2022

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About Jane Meredith

Jane Meredith is an Australian writer and ritualist. Her books include Magic of the Iron Pentacle, Elements of Magic, Rituals of Celebration, Journey to the Dark Goddess, and Aspecting the Goddess. Jane is passionate about ...

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