The Four Worlds

The Qabalah describes the universe as divided into four separate "Worlds," (Figure 9), each of which is represented by one letter of the Divine Name, or Tetragrammaton ( mil' ). The first is Atziluth, the Archetypal World, the world of Pure Spirit which activates all of the other worlds which evolve from it. Here are attributed the Gods of the Sephiroth, and the letter Yod, Primal Fire. The second world is Briah, the Creative World, the level of pure intellect, of the Archangels and of Heh, Primal Water. The third is Yetzirah, called the Formative World because here are found the subtle and fleeting patterns behind matter. It is the realm of angels and of Primal Air, symbolized by the letter Vau. The final World is Assiah, the active world containing both the physical world of sensation and the unseen energies of matter. It is the realm of the Cherubim, the final Heh of the Divine Name and Primal Earth.

Each of these worlds generated the energies beneath it, with the universe becoming increasingly dense as it evolved from nothingness to matter. The Unmanifest produced the Kether of Atziluth, and following the Path of the Flaming Sword sequentially, from Sephira to Sephira, from one world to the next, completion was reached in the Malkuth of Assiah, creating forty Sephiroth in all.

Purists, those who insist that the earlier ideas on the Qabalah are more legitimate than those of more recent Qabalists, tend to espouse a one Tree attribution (compare the methods in Figure 9). However, this is an excellent example of the ways in which the Qabalah has grown as a descriptive system over the centuries. The four Tree attribution is the best for Tarot interpretation.

Four color scales, one for each world, are accepted by the Hermetic Qabalah: The King, Queen, Emperor and Empress, answering respectively to the sequence of the Worlds and the Tetragrammaton. The notion of color is

Sephiroth Four Worlds

Figure 9. The Four Worlds. A) Scheme of separate Trees. B) Attribution to a single Tree.

Figure 9. The Four Worlds. A) Scheme of separate Trees. B) Attribution to a single Tree.

pivotal to the study of Tarot, and painting the Four Worlds in their appropriate colors will provide special insights about the cards. The Golden Dawn Tarot, as published, includes the traditional Tree of Life used for practical work. Here are shown the colors of the Atziluth Paths, and the Sephiroth colors of Briah. There must always be a balance of masculine and feminine in representation involving the Tree, and this is accomplished by combining the two scales in one glyph.

In our discussion of the Four Worlds we have chosen the term Primal to describe Fire, Water, Air and Earth symbolized by the letters of the Tetra-grammaton in the Four Worlds, in an effort to distinguish these energies from other forms of Elements described on the Tree. But in each individual World (Yod) Fire is also attributed to Chokmah, (Heh) Water to Binah, (Vau) Air to Tiphareth and (Heh Final) Earth to Malkuth. We propose to describe these subdivisions of the Primal Elements as Specific Elements. Thus, in Atziluth, Primal Fire, are four such Specific Elements: a Fire (Specific) of Fire (Primal), A Water (Specific) of Fire (Primal), an Air (Specific) of Fire (Primal), and an Earth (Specific) of Fire (Primal). In Briah, the World of Primal Water, there is a Fire of Water, a Water of Water, an Air of Water and an Earth of Water. The pattern follows through Yetzirah and Assiah, and is the basis for attributing the Court Cards to the Tarot. For example, the entire suit of Wands describes Atziluth, the Archetypal World. Wands, therefore are Primal Fire, the Primal Yod. This Primal Fire is divided into four aspects, personified by the Tarot: The King of Wands, related to Chokmah in Atziluth, is Fire of Fire. The Queen of Wands, related to Binah in Atziluth, is Water of Fire. The Prince of Wands, related to Tiphareth in Atziluth, is Air of Fire. And the Princess of Wands, related to Malkuth in Atziluth, is Earth of Fire.

There is also an important tertiary application of the Elements, found on the Paths where different Hebrew letters, called Maternals by the Sepher Yetzirah, are applied. Since all other letters and energies are derived from these three Maternals, the Elements attributed to them will be called Transitional Elements. THE FOOL is the letter Aleph and Air. But this is not the same as that which is represented overall by Vau of Briah (Primal Air) or the Vau of Tiphareth (Specific Air). The Elements of the Paths are Transitional in that they are in a constant state of flow between two Sephiroth.

Having subjected the reader to a bombardment of terms, the suggestion that there are yet three more types of Elements may be less than welcome. However, this is an area of Qabalistic studies which has not been generally explored, and which is a source of constant confusion. Let us quickly consider the other types of Elements, and then attempt to reach some coherent overview of them all.

The Elements, the fourfold division found throughout the Tree of Life, are rooted in Kether. Here they are undefined and unexpressed, and are Primordial Elements. Another application of the term Elements is made to the four lower Sephiroth, Fire to Netzach, Water to Hod, Air to Yesod and Earth to Malkuth. These are Astral Elements. Finally, in Malkuth, are the Base Elements which are the ultimate expressions of those first found in Kether in their primordial state. In every single application of this fluid term Element, the formula of the Yod Heh Vau Heh applies. Wherever Yod appears it has fiery outgoing qualities; wherever Heh appears it has enclosing and fluid qualities of Water; wherever Vau appears it is the airy result of the combination of the Yod and Heh; wherever Heh Final appears, it is the solidified end result of the actions of the Yod Heh and Vau. This pattern is really the only thing to remember, since it is applied to a variety of very different qualities.










Right Leg Sephiroth Kabbalah






Figure 10. The Four Elements ( Ml il "> ) as they describe various aspects of the Tree of Life. Left: The Four Worlds. Right: The Elements as applied to any single Tree. While flirp relates to the Sephiroth, N , 0 and VI relate to Paths.

To reiterate those terms which may be applied to the so-called Elements (Figure 10):

1) PRIMORDIAL ELEMENTS. Found in Kether. Undifferentiated potential.

2) PRIMAL ELEMENTS. The Yod Heh Vau Heh applied to the Four Worlds.

3) TRANSITIONAL ELEMENTS. The Yod, Heh and Vau which are Maternals on the Paths of the Tree of Life.

4) SPECIFIC ELEMENTS. The Yod Heh Vau Heh as applied to Chokmah, Binah, Tiphareth and Malkuth in any of the Four Worlds.

5) ASTRAL ELEMENTS. The Yod Heh Vau Heh applied to the four Lower Sephiroth.

6) BASE ELEMENTS. Found in Malkuth, blended. The ultimate expression of the outpouring of the universe into matter. Taken together, the base elements are a subdivision of Astral Earth.

This is an admittedly complicated scheme, but it is presented to underscore the fact that different types of energies are symbolized by the Fire, Water, Air, Earth scheme on the Tree of Life. The Yod of Atziluth is not commensurate with the Yod applied to the Path of Shin, or Yod applied to a sequence begun in Netzach. Yet these are all described by the word "Fire." Again, what is really important is the sequence represented by the Tetra-grammaton. We might arbitrarily say, for example, that Apple is Fire, Orange is Water, Pear is Air and Lemon is Earth. In this case we would be applying a formula to describe a relationship between Apple, Orange, Pear and Lemon. If, then, the same underlying pattern is found beneath Swing, Chair, Sofa and Footstool, it should not be supposed that because both Apple and Swing begin the sequence they are exactly equivalent. A decription of different energies in the same way seems to be a trap set by the early Qabalists.

Continue reading here: Qabalistic Symbolism

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  • prisca
    What kabalistic sephiriothic world is the queen tarot associated with?
    6 years ago
  • jessica
    Is Atziluth attributed to Fire or Air?
    11 years ago
  • furio
    Which of the sephiroth are in which of the four worlds?
    11 years ago