What are the Qlippoth?
The word “qlippah” or “klippah” (plural “qlippoth”) means “shell” or “husk”.
The idea of a covering or a garment or a vessel is common in Kabbalah, where it used, at various times and with variousdegrees of subtlety, to express the manner in which the light of the En Soph is “encapsulated”. For example, the sephiroth, in their capacity of recipients of light, are sometimes referred to as kelim, “vessels”. The duality between the container and the contained is one of the most important in Kabbalistic explanations of the creative moment.
The word “qlippah” is an extension of this metaphor. A qlippah is also a covering or a container, and as each sephira acts as a shell or covering to the sephira preceding it in the order of emanation, in a technical sense we can say the qlippoth are innate to the Tree of Life. Cut a slice through a tree and one can see the growth rings, with the bark on the outside. The Tree of Life has 10 concentric rings, and sometimes the qlippah is equated to the bark. The word is commonly used to refer to a covering which contains no light: that is, an empty shell, a dead husk.
It is also the case that the qlippoth appear in Kabbalah as demonic powers of evil, and in trying to disentangle the various uses of the word it becomes clear that there is an almost continuous spectrum of opinion, varying from the technical use where the word hardly differs from the word “form”, to the most anthropomorphic sense, where the qlippoth are evil demonesses in a demonic hierarchy responsible for all the evil in the world.
One reason why the word “qlippah” has no simple meaning is that it is part of the Kabbalistic explanation of evil, and it is difficult to explain evil in a monotheistic, non-dualistic religion without incurring a certain complexity….
If God is good, why is there evil?
No short essay can do justice to the complexity of this topic. I will indicate some of the principle themes.
The “Zohar” attributes the primary cause of evil to the act of separation. The act of separation is referred to as the “cutting of the shoots”. What was united becomes divided, and the boundary between one thing and another can be regarded as a shell. The primary separation was the division between the Tree of Life (Pillar of Mercy) from the Tree of Knowledge (Pillar of Severity).
In normal perception the world is clearly characterized by divisions between one thing and another, and in this technical sense one could say that we are immersed in a world of shells. The shells, taken by themselves as an abstraction divorced from the original, undivided light (making another separation!) are the dead residue of manifestation, and can be identified with dead skin, hair, bark, sea shells, or shit. They have been referred to as the dregs remaining in a glass of wine, or as the residue left after refining gold. According to Scholem, the Zohar interprets evil as “the residue or refuse of the hidden life’s organic process”; evil is something which is dead, but comes to life because a spark of God falls on it; by itself it is simply the dead residue of life.
The skeleton is the archetypal shell. By itself it is a dead thing, but infuse it with a spark of life and it becomes a numinous and instantly recognisable manifestation of metaphysical evil. The shell is one of the most common horror themes; take a mask, or a doll, or any dead representation of a living thing, shine a light out of its eyes, and becomes a thing of evil intent. The powers of evil appear in the shape of the animate dead – skulls, bones, zombies, vampires, phantasms.
The following list of correspondences follows the interpretation that the qlippoth are empty shells, form without force, the covering of a sephira:
|Netzach||Routine, Repetition, Habit|
A second, common interpretation of the qlippoth is that they represent the negative or averse aspect of a sephira, as if each sephira had a Mr. Hyde to complement Dr. Jekyll. There are many variations of this idea. One of the most common is the idea that evil is caused by an excess of the powers of Din (judgement) in the creation. The origin of this imbalance may be innate, a residue of the moment of creation, when each sephira went through a period of imbalance and instability (the kingdoms of unbalanced force), but another version attributes this imbalance to humankind’s propensity for the Tree of Knowledge in preference to the Tree of Life (a telling and precognitively inspired metaphor if ever there was one…).
The imbalance of the powers of Din “leaks” out of the Tree and provides the basis for the “sitra achra”, the “other side”, or the “left side” (referring to pillar of severity), a quasi or even fully independent kingdom of evil. This may be represented by a full Tree in its own right, sometimes by a great dragon, sometimes by seven hells. The most lurid versions combine Kabbalah with medieval demonology to produce detailed lists of demons, with Samael and Lilith riding at their head as king and queen.
A version of this survives in the Golden Dawn tradition on the qlippoth. The qlippoth are given as 10 evil powers corresponding to the 10 sephiroth. I referred to G.D knowledge lectures and also to Crowley’s “777″ (believed to be largely a rip-off of Alan Bennett’s G.D. correspondence tables), and found several inconsistencies in transliteration and translation. Where possible I have reconstructed the original Hebrew, and I have given a corrected list.
|Kether||Thaumiel||Twins of God (TAVM, tom – a twin)|
|Chokmah||Ogiel||Hinderers (? OVG – to draw a circle)|
|Binah||Satariel||Concealers (STR, satar- to hide, conceal)|
|Chesed||Gash’khalah||Breakers in Pieces (GASh Ga’ash – shake, quake KLH, khalah – complete destruction, annihilation)|
|Gevurah||Golachab||Flaming Ones (unclear)|
|Tipheret||Tagiriron||Litigation (probably from GVR, goor – quarrel)|
|Netzach||Orev Zarak||Raven of Dispersion (ARV, orev – raven ZRQ, zaraq – scatter)|
|Hod||Samael||False Accuser (SMM, samam – poison)|
|Yesod||Gamaliel||Obscene Ass (GML, gamal – camel? alt. ripen?)|
|Malkut||Lilith||Woman of the Night (Leilah – Night)|
Most of these attributions are obvious, others are not. The Twins of of God replace a unity with a warring duality. The Hinderers block the free expression of the God’s will. The Concealers prevent the mother from giving birth to the child – the child is stillborn in the womb. The Breakers in Pieces are the powers of authority gone bersek – Zeus letting fly with thunderbolts in all directions. The Flaming Ones refer to the fiery and destructive aspect of Gevurah. Lilith is the dark side of the Malkah or queen of Malkuth.
Why Samael is placed in Hod is unclear, unless he has been christianised and turned into the father of lies. In Kabbalah he is almost always attributed to Gevurah, sometimes as its archangel. Yesod is associated with the genitals and the sexual act, but why Gamaliel is unclear to me. I could easily concoct fanciful and perhaps even believable explanations for the attributions to Tipheret and Netzach, but I prefer not to.
In “777″ Crowley also gives qlippoth for many of the 22 paths. If the transliterations and translations are as accurate as those for the sephiroth, I would be tempted to reach for my lexicon.
The G.D. teachings on the qlippoth are minimal in the material in my possession, but a great deal can be deduced from those fascinating repositories of Kabbalistic myth, the twin pictures of the Garden of Eden before and after the Fall. There are so many mythic themes in these pictures that it is difficult to disentangle them, but they seem strongly influenced by the ideas of Isaac Luria, and it is now time to describe the third major interpretation of the qlippoth.
Luria’s ideas have probably received more elaboration than any others in Kabbalah. The man left little in a written form, and his disciples did not concur in the presentation of what was clearly a very complex theosophical system – this is a subject where no amount of care will ensure consistency with anyone else.
Luria made the first step in the creation a process called “tzim tzum” or contraction. This contraction took place in the En Soph, the limitless, unknown, and unknowable God of Kabbalah. God “contracted” in a process of self-limitation to make a space (in a metaphorical sense, of course) for the creation. In the next step the light entered this space in a jet to fill the empty vessels of the sephiroth, but all but the first three were shattered by the light. This breaking of the vessels is called “shevirah”. The shards of the broken vessels fell into the abyss created by contraction, and formed the qlippoth. Most of the light returned to the En Soph, but some of it remained in the vessels (like a smear of oil in an empty bottle) and fell with the qlippoth.
Scholem describes the shevirah and the expulsion of the qlippoth as cathartic; not a blunder, an architectural miscalculation like an inadequately buttressed Gothic cathedral, but as a catharsis. Perhaps the universe, like a new baby, came attached to a placenta which had to be expelled, severed, and thrown out into the night.
One way of looking at the shevirah is this: the self contraction of tzim tzum was an act of Din, or Judgement, and so at the root of the creative act was the quality which Kabbalists identify with the source of evil, and it was present in such quantity that a balanced creation became possible only by excreting the imbalance. The shevirah can be viewed as a corrective action in which the unbalanced powers of Din, the broken vessels, were ejected into the abyss.
Whether cathartic or a blunder, the shevirah was catastrophic. Nothing was as it should have been in an ideal world. The four worlds of Kabbalah slipped, and the lowest world of Assiah descended into the world of the shells. This can be seen in the G.D. picture of the Eden after the Fall. Much of Lurianic Kabbalah is concerned with corrective actions designed to bring about the repair or restoration (tikkun) of the creation, so that the sparks of light trapped in the realm of the shells can be freed.
The final word on the shells must go to T.S. Eliot, who had clearly bumped into them in one of his many succesful raids on the inarticulate:
“Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;”
“Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost,
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.”
What does the word “Kabbalah” mean, and how should I spell it?
The word “Kabbalah” is derived from the root “to receive, to accept”, and in many cases is used synonymously with “tradition”.
No-one with the slightest interest in Kabbalah can fail to notice thatthere are many alternative spellings of the word, the two most common being Kabbalah and Qabalah. Cabala, Qaballah, Qabala, Kaballah (and so on) are also seen. The reason for this is that some letters in the Hebrew alphabet have more than one representation in the English alphabet, and the same Hebrew letter can be written either as K or Q (or sometimes even C). Some authors choose one spelling, and some choose the other. Some (the author for example) will even mix Q and K in the same document, spelling Kabbalah and Qlippoth (as opposed to Qabalah and Klippoth!). A random selection of modern Hebrew phrase books and dictionaries use the K variant to represent the letter Kuf, so anyone who claims that the “correct” spelling is “Qabalah” is on uncertain ground.
There has been a tendency for non-Jewish books on Kabbalah published this century to use the spelling “Qabalah”. Jewish publications are relatively uniform in preferring the spelling “Kabbalah”.
What is the “Tradition”?
According to Jewish tradition, the Torah (Torah – “Law” – the first five books of the Old Testament) was created prior to the world and she advised God on such weighty matters as the creation of humankind. When Moses received the written law from God, tradition has it that he also received the oral law, which was not written down, but passed from generation to generation. At times the oral law has been referred to as “Kabbalah” – the oral tradition.
The Torah was (and is) believed to be divine, and in the same way as the Torah was accompanied by an oral tradition, so there grew up a secret oral tradition which claimed to possess an initiated understanding of the Torah, its hidden meanings, and the divine power concealed within it. This is a principle root of the Kabbalistic tradition, a belief in the divinity of the Torah, and a belief that by studying this text one can unlock the secrets of the creation.
Another aspect of Jewish religion which influenced Kabbalah was the Biblical phenomenon of prophecy. The prophet was an individual chosen by God as a mouthpiece, and there was the implication that God, far from being a transcendental abstraction, was a being whom one could approach (albeit with enormous difficulty, risk, fear and trembling). Some Kabbalists believed that they were the inheritors of practical techniques handed down from the time of the Biblical prophets, and it is not impossible or improbable that this was in fact the case.
These two threads, one derived from the study of the Torah, the other derived from practical attempts to approach God, form the roots from which the Kabbalistic tradition developed.