The following article is an excerpt from a longer introduction to key concepts of Lurianic Kabbalah. The full article covers elements of the history of Lurianic Kabbalah, the cosmology, a more in-depth description of the Sephiroth and their evil counter-forces (Qlippoth) as well as an introduction to classic techniques of the Practical Kabbalah. Obviously, there is wonderful and plenty of literature available on Kabbalah and no need to reproduce concepts here that are well explored already. The nature of the Qliphoth, however, is something that I found less accessible with much fewer (qualified) information available online.
I hope these brief meditations on names and nature of the Qliphoth will therefore be helpful to shed some light on a naturally ‘dark’ topic. Additionally, I decided to provide some additional background and make the chapter on the origin of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah available as well. Let me also point out that all comments below are made from a perspective of Philosophical rather than Practical Kabbalah. The intention of this page is to increase the understanding of the nature of the Qliphoth, rather than providing a framework or method for actively working with them. Should you be interested in the latter, I keep it with Israel Regardie and recommend a qualified psychotherapy as your starting point.
Finally, for a more in-depth introduction to the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah let me point you to Gershom Sholem’s groundbreaking book ‘Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism’. It provides an excellent idea of the fluidity of kabbalistic - and more specifically qliphothic - traditions in Jewish history. As a brief internet search will proof to everyone, until today many different interpretations, Latin spellings of Hebrew words and most importantly opinions exist side by side. This offers only one path to the interested reader - to create an authentic and personal understanding (Binah) of the forces dealt with according to one’s own study, meditation and practice.
Note: as the Qliphoth tend to be a relatively unexplored topic in western humanities I haven’t come across an official spelling neither of the term Qliphoth (Kelipoth, Klipot, etc.), nor of the actual names of the ten qliphothic forces. Thus, please consider the spelling below just one option which might be closer to the German literary sources than English language ones. - Also, just to repeat this here, I am not a native English speaker. Any hints on grammar or spelling errors, as well as general feedback are welcome. Simply drop me a note by use of the contact fields in the left sidebar.)
The dark side of the Etz Chiim is also called the Tree of Death and considered to represent the reverse or occult side of the Tree of Life. It is a diagram of the evil forces or Qliphoth (hebrew, Shells) assigned to each Sephiroth. They represent the counter-forces of the ten divine emanations as described in Lurianic Kabbalah. The Tree of Death, however, essentially is a creation of 20th century Western occultism rather than genuine Jewish Kabbalah. The orthodox origin of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah is described in an abbreviated version in the last chapter of this page.
(Tree of Death or reverse side of the Tree of Life according to Western Occultism)
The following chapter will briefly describe each Sephiroth as well as the nature of its equivalent Qliphoth. The intention is to foster a deeper understanding of how the respective divine and demonic forces are related to each other. Bringing together the nature of each Sephiroth and the literal translation of the respective demonic name might proof to be a valuable key for unlocking the dark side of the tree.
Kether (hebrew, Crown) represents the first and purest emanation of the Divine. Kether also represent the first moment of creation. It marks the moment of first motion, before non-self turns into self. With regards to spiritual development Kether is the highest point that can be conceptualized theoretically, yet it can not be accessed by our rationale minds. Its symbol is a single point as all differentiations or qualifications merge together in a single indivisible union in Kether.
The name of Kether’s Qliphoth Thaumiel hasn’t been passed down with a precise translation unfortunately (just like the word Sephira itself). However, its archetype is the nature of the two conflicting forces and thus suggest a translation of ‘The Contending Forces’ (german, ‘Die Widerstreitenden Kräfte’). Thaumiel being the evil side of Kether represents the eternally aggressive tension or duality between two opposing polarities. If all is one and unified in the first ray of light in Kether, all is divided and cleaved in its most inner essence in Thaumiel.
Chokmah (hebrew, Wisdom) correlates to the male aspect of Kether which is still completely indistinct in its presence in Kether. This Sephira is therefore also called ‘the father’. Chokmah expresses the idea of overflowing divine vitality and the yet unshaped forces of creation. As Kether is inaccessible to human perception Chokmah can be understood as the point of origin of all dynamics and the beginning of perception.
Ghogiel (also Ghagiel) represents the antagonism to the well of creative potential and eternal motion in Chokmah. This qliphothic aspect is fully encapsulated in the traditional translation of its name, ‘The Hindering Ones’. Ghogiel itself is the nature of blocking and inhibiting the influx of divine motion. Thus, the Qliphoth of Chokmah represents the death of the first seed of creation and the obstruction of the first movement of creative forces in nature.
Binah is traditionally translated as Understanding or Intelligence and correlates to the female aspect of Kether. Binah is also called ‘the mother’ and within her all formative forces rest which help shaping and balancing the creative potential of Chokmah. If the second Sephira is the archetype of overflowing vitality it is the influence of Binah that grants structure and form to these forces.
If Binah’s light side represents the starting point of clothing unbound creative forces into equivalent shapes (german, Formwerdung), Satoriel represents the death of creative energy in aid of eternal, lifeless structure. The pursue of Satoriel is to becloud the nature of being behind shapes that fail to reflect the essence they represent. Thus perception and contact with these types of lifeless shapes runs dry on the surface and cannot connect with their inner creative forces. Satoriel is translated as ‘The Concealing Ones’ (german, ‘Die Verberger’).
Daath is traditionally translated as ‘Knowledge’ and often called a Pseudo-Sephira or the 11th Sephira. Daath emerges from the union of Chokmah and Binah; the Zohar therefore quotes Daath as the “son of wisdom and intelligence” (Sohar III. fol. 291) who is called Knowledge or Insight (ref. Franck, A.; o.A. (1844); p.137). Daath is described as a Pseudo-Sephira because at its position in the Etz Chiim no original center of divine power is located. However, Daath is the secret entrance and exit point for the influence of the Sephiroth of the First Triad to manifest in creation. Similarly Daath also is an exit and entrance point on the dark side of the tree that leads down to or up from Yesod.
The knowledge of Daath is a door that leads from the First Triad to the Second and Third and equally from the light side to the dark side of the tree. The Qliphoth of Daath is blocking passage through this door by creating the notion of knowledge as an end in itself. When curiosity changes to greed for knowledge one loses the actual intent of one’s (spiritual) journey and gets caught in an ivory tower of (secret) information. The Qliphoth of Daath is knowledge that isn’t brought to or re-unified with life. At the same time the Qliphoth of Daath can take the opposite shape and present itself in the contempt and demise of knowledge. Either way, the Qliphoth of Daath is taking the most precious value from knowledge - making it a door and passage from one perspective and state of being to another. The Qliphoth of Daath is called Belial or ‘Belial‘ which can be translated as ‘TheWorthless Ones’ (german, ‘Die Wertlosen’).
Chesed (hebrew, Mildness) is the forth Sephira and the first of the Second Triad. In kabbalistic sources Chesed also is referred to as ‘the extension of the divine will’, whereas the following Sephira is described as ‘the concentration of the divine will’. This interpretation is supported by the fact that mildness (Chesed) can be understood as the reflection of divine wisdom (Chokmah) on a spiritual level: Chokmah was identified as the overflowing yet still unshaped source of divine creative forces. Chesed accordingly is the reflection of this Sephira on a spiritual level. Thus at this point in the tree the forces of Chokmah have been shaped by the influence of Binah and are now ready to expand as the spiritual reflection of the divine will.
The Qliphoth of Chesed is the divine force that spreads so far and thin that it breaks due to its own weakness. This Qliphoth represents the misguided and imbalanced love which exhausts and ultimately suffocates its object with its borderless benevolence and tenderness. The Qliphoth of Chesed is called ‘Gha Agsheblah’ which can be translated as “The Smiting Ones” (german, ‘Die Zerbrechenden’).
Geburah (hebrew, Severity) is the fifth Sephira and the reflection of Binah in the Second Triad. The forces of giving shape and form are compressed in Geburah to become the severity of court of justice. In order to balance the expansive forces of ChesedGeburah represents the ‘concentration of the divine will’. Equally the fifth Sephira establishes the severity that grants authority to the mildness of Chesed.
The qliphothic aspect of Geburah is the most easy to explain of all: it is the corybantic severity and merciless violence which judges according to biased standards. It is wrath against the wave-like, unpredictable motions of life and creation (Chokmah/ Chesed). The Qliphoth of Geburah is prepared to burn the last seed of life in order to maintain an established structure or law. The Qliphoth of Geburah is called ‘Golohab’ which can be translated as ‘TheFlaming Ones’ (german, ‘DieVerbrenner’).
Tiphareth (hebrew, Beauty) is the sixth Sephira and the reflection of Kether in the Second Triad. Just like the heart in the human body, Tiphareth forms the centre of the EtzChiim. The idea of beauty as represented by Tiphareth, however, doesn’t aim at aesthetic forms of beauty in the first place. Rather, it is an expression of all spiritual and moral qualities that help to establish a harmonic balance between the influences of Chesed and Geburah (Kiesewetter, K., 1987, p.396).
The qliphothic aspect of Tiphareth is represented by all influences that help to conceal rather than unveil beauty. The essence of this demonic nature becomes apparent if one truly tries to understand the meaning of beauty in Tiphareth: here beauty is not a term to coin cultural expressions of physical aesthetics, but it is the most inner nature of creation itself. In order to grasp the mystical or secret beauty of nature one depends on an intuitive access uninfluenced by intellect or rationale, i.e. a state of Gnosis or Henosis. The Qliphoth of Tiphareth thus are the forces that hinder man from experiencing this state of union, communion and beauty. They can take shape in any force that creates confusion rather than fusion of heart and mind. The Qliphoth of Tiphareth is called ‘Tagimron’ which can be translated as ‘TheDisputers’ (german, ‘Die Streitenden’ or ‘DieDisputierer’)
Netzach (hebrew, Victory) is the seventh Sephira and thus the first one of the Third Triad. Its nature is hinted at by its position in the tree as the second reflection of Chokmah and the first reflection of Chesed: the term victory has to be understood as the triumph over the opposing forces which were still immanent in Chesed and are fully expressed in Netzach now. Creation has given birth to the fundamental forces of attraction and rejection which can now unfold harmonically in all principles of physical and biological life.
The Qliphoth of Netzach is represented by these two opposing forces of nature without the influence of wisdom (Chokmah) and mildness (Chesed). If creation starts to produce life as carelessly as it is prepared to destroy it again we can see the demon of Netzach unfold. The Qliphoth of Netzach is called ‘Gharab’ or ‘Areb-Zereq’ which can be translated either as ‘TheCorrosiveOnes’ (german, ‘DieZersetzer’) or as ‘TheRavensofDeath’.
Hod (hebrew, Radiance) is the eighth Sephira and the first reflection of Geburah as well as the second reflection of Binah. Expressed in Hod we find the principle idea of fluctuation. This creative idea lay concealed in the strength of Geburah and is founded on the selflessness of Binah. The fluctuation of Hod is the sparkling and twinkling of reflective objects under rays of light. It is the fluidity and flexibility of our thinking mind. With regard to creation it correlates to the idea of multiplication.
The Qliphoth of Hod similarly is founded on the idea of a radiating object: our eyes are blinded and cannot look behind the radiating surface. Unauthentic brilliance can be understood as the beginning of illusion and deceit. In the realm of the mind the shadow of Hod therefore is represented by the lie, artfulness or beguilement. At the same time the demon of Hod correlates to the ideas of fickleness, hesitation and lack of determination - the negative fluctuations of our mind. The Qliphoth of Hod is called ‘Samael‘ which can be translated as ‘The Deceitful Ones‘ (german, ‘Die Täuscher’) or ‘Poison of God’ (german, ‘Das Gift Gottes’).
Yesod (hebrew, Fundament) is the ninth Sephira and the last of the Third Triad; it is also the first reflection of Tiphareth and the second reflection of Kether. The analogy of Yesod in the human body are the genitals. This correlation expresses the positive harmonization of the forces of Netzach and Hod with fertility as their natural result. The Zohar explains this thought with the following words:
“Everything returns to the base it originated from. All mark, all juice, all might is gathered here. All forces of existence pass from this point through the generative organs.”
(Der Sohar III. fol. 296)
The idea of the fundament, therefore, is materialized in the process of taking shape of the forces of attraction and rejection (Netzach) in all their diversity (Hod) within creation.
The qliphothic aspect of Yesod is represented by a distorted or destructive sense of fertility. On a plain physical level this signifies the sexual urge which is never satisfied but always demanding new and stronger stimuli and thus consuming vitality and creativity without offering anything in return. The more general idea of this Qliphoth, however, is any act of creation which is not based on an intention of beauty (in a sense of Tiphareth) and thus fails to generate a creature of beauty. The Qliphoth of Yesod is called ‘Gomaliel‘ or ‘Gamaliel’ and can be translated as ‘TheObsceneOnes‘ (german, ‘DieObszönen’).
Malkuth (hebrew, Kingdom) is the tenth Sephira and the only point outside of or below the three Triads at the very end of the Etz Chiim. Malkuth therefore cannot be described as a single reflection of any specific Sephira but has to be understood as a reflection or point of culmination of all nine Sephiroth above her. The last Sephira in the Tree doesn’t express a tenth quality of divine forces of creation, yet it is the expression of all focussed and manifested powers above her: Malkuth is the concentration and materialization of all preceding emanations of the divine in a single point. Thus the forces of divine creation take shape in Malkuth just like a king in his kingdom.
Just like the positive forces of the nine Sephiroth above Malkuth are condensed in this single point, the Qliphoth of Malkuth equally is a culmination of all preceding demonic forces. The shape and influence of this Qliphoth is therefore one and many at the same time; just like it is stated in the Bible “My name is Legion, because there are many of us.” (Mark 5:9). The name of the Qliphoth of Malkuth is ‘Lilith’ or ‘Nahemoth’ which can be translated as ‘Queen of the Night’. The Zohar explains “thedisgracing spirit of nature” (Sohar I. fol. 55a) as the source or reason of Lilith and her sister demons ‘Naama’ and ‘Igrith’.
(overview of the Qliphoth according to Western Occultism, for more details on the relation to the paths on the Etz Chiim ref. Skinner, The Complete Magician’s Tables, p.151)
The Qliphoth are the evil forces that exist within creation. Their coming into existence was one of the central philosophical problems dealt with after the forced displacement of Jews from Spain in 1492. Similarly like World War II positioned thetheodicy problem (i.e. ‘How can a merciful God allow evil in creation?’) in the centre of Christian speculation, it was the banishment from Spain in 1492 that was perceived as similar fundamental and unanswerable paradox for the Jewish communities. After all the Jews were God’s chosen people, yet the banishment from Spain had destroyed the first perceived state of freedom and homeland since the destruction of the Second Temple.
During his short years in Safed - where many Kabbalists arrived from Spain - it was Isaac Luria who tried to answer this unanswerable question with revolutionary freedom of thought. His main key was to transcend the idea of a fall of man from the Garden Eden into the actual process of creation of the world itself. Thus, with a single stroke he transcended the origin of evil from human to cosmic level. This revolutionary thought of a cosmogonic fall of creation will be sketched out in a highly abbreviated and insufficient form in this first chapter.
The Lurianic process of creation starts with a voluntary act of the Divine to confine itself within itself. The Divine in the final state before creation is called Ain Soph Aur which can be translated as ‘borderless light of non-creation’. In order for the Divine to become diversified and active in creation it had to create a space, a vacuum of non-being into which it could immerse itself by help of a sequence of ten subsequent emanations from the Ain Soph Aur. Nine of these emanations would express one perfect aspect of the nature of the Divine each and they would all unite and come together in the tenth. For these emanations - and all subsequent creation - however, to be differentiated from the perfect borderless light (Ain Soph Aur) they had to be in a confined space of emptiness which they could subsequently fill with life. This ongoing process of the Divine confining itself within itself in order to create space for creation is a key concept of Lurianic Kabbalah and called Zimzum (also, Tzimtzum).
Into this vacuum of non-being the Divine released a single ray of light. This ray of light emerged from the Ain Soph Aur, entered into the empty space of creation and started to bring forth the matrix of all life in ten distinct emanations. These emanations are illustrated as ten ‘first-lights’ which the author of the Sefer Yetzirah introduces by the name of Sephira (singular) or Sephiroth (plural).
One by one, each light would be captured in a vessel made of clay in order to transfer their state of pure being into one of becoming and creation. Each vessel had a specific name, function and shape, perfectly expressing the idea of creation it represented and brought to life by the light it captured. The sequence of filling these vessels with light is called Seder Hishtalshelus (the order of development).
This process went well for the first four Sephiroth, which all came forth from the veil of non-being into the vacuum of creation. The shell of the fifth Sephira, however, turned out to be not solid enough in order to capture the light that emanated into it. The fifth point or light and vessel in the sequence of creation was dedicated to the idea of Strength or Severity (hebrew, Geburah). Thus the clay vessel broke due to the overflowing light of Strength in it and the process of creation continued with the remaining five Sephiroth.
(Note: the process creating an additional and new fifth vessel in Geburah was the focus of in-depth speculation and part of a highly sophisticated process designed by Luria and his successors. However, due to its complexity we will not explain it here but rather point to the following source for further reading: Scholem, G.,199, p.295)
Yet, even though creation continued the original vessel of Geburah couldn’t be restored. This, finally, is the way how evil managed to enter into creation by shape of untamed Strength or Severity. This momentous event during the first ten emanations is called Schebirath ha-Kelim (hebrew, breaking of the vessels) and marks the birth of the ten original demonic forces, called Qliphoth (hebrew, shells).
The broken parts of the original vessel of Geburah sank down to the bottom of the Zimzum space of creation. Just like droplets of oil remain on the surface of a broken clay vessel the light of creation remained captured on these shells. It is these remains of divine light which are the reason why the broken shells weren’t lifeless but filled with a shadow-like yet highly effective state of demonic being.
This process lays open the essential nature of the Qliphoth according to Lurianic Kabbalah. Just like flames devour its own aliment while burning, the only reason for the Qliphoth to come into being were the original sparks of divine light captured on their shells. In case one managed to separate the oil from the clay surface or the flame from the coal the flame immediately disappeared and the coal was left without life.
The Qliphoth therefore continuously strive for new aliment, just like flames constantly need new coals to keep burning. Yet, at the same time they destroy their very reason for being when they come in touch with it. It is this paradox of using creation to maintain the existence of destruction that marks the essence of demonic forces in Lurianic Kabbalah.
This is also the reason why Western occultists started to call this dark side of the Etz Chiim the Tree of Death. The forces who came to life in the process know as Schebirath ha-Kelim cannot be mistaken for demons in a graeco-egyptian or medieval sense. The Qliphoth aren’t former celestial or chthonic deities related to a foreign cult or religion which were redefined by Kabbalists at a later point. The Qliphoth are an authentic kabbalistic creation in order to explain evil in creation. As each of them reveal by nature of their name their urge is to conceal and suffocate the seeds of life - and to ultimately destroy man’s aspiration and pursuit of finding beauty in every aspect of creation.
May the serpent bite its tail.