The Two Trees and Jacob’s Ladder

The Qabalah

The Qabalah is a system of thought that emerged primarily from Jewish mysticism that has been adopted by other religious groups including the Christians and the Western Hermetic tradition. There are a number of good introductions to the subject such a “The Garden of Pomegranates” by Israel Regardie. The Qabalah is a pattern for understanding  a system or process and is used especially to map out the nature of spiritual attainment; it is most well known in its diagrammatic format. 

People seeking spiritual attainment begin from the earthly sphere, Malkuth, and ascend through the intervening spheres, known as sephiroth,  to enlightenment represented by the topmost sphere, Kether.  The ascension moves from the solid and material to the intangible and ethereal through layers of decreasing ‘density’. Two particular spheres are of interest in this discussion, Yesod, also known as ‘the Foundation’, and Daath, also known as ‘Knowledge’.

Yesod is the first sephiroth following from the base sphere of Malkuth and thus represents the first attainment of a spiritual system. Here we find the spiritual aspirant moving into the socio-sexual aspects of the human condition. Social structures, such as hierarchies, and socially-based systems of spiritual attainment, such as the Man of Earth initiations, can be thought to exist within this sephirah.  One interpretation of this sphere is that Yesod represents the fusion of the higher spheres with the material plane (Malkuth) to create the world that we live in. Thus the physical world is integrated with the intellectual and emotional worlds to produce ‘reality’ as it is experienced. It is the foundation upon which an individual stands and builds upon. Though it appears solid and real, it can be radically changed by changes in either its physical underpinnings or through intellectual or emotional manipulations of those aspects of its structure. It is the seat of our society and, through social conditioning, our perception of the world around us; sexual energy represented by this sephirah is channelled via the social conditioning found here (such as a desire-based hierarchy).

Daath is not seen as a ‘proper’ sephirah, hence it being drawn with a dashed border, but represents the unification of all the surrounding sephiroth and thus the totality of all knowledge contained in the Qabalah. Sometimes the Qabalah is drawn without Daath to represent life before the Fall, when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge .  Daath is also seen to stand for the Tree of Knowledge in the Qabalistic Tree of Life and is intimately connected with the energies of Yesod. This link between Yesod and Daath will now be further explored with the help of an extension of the Qabalah, known as Jacob’s Ladder.

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder describes the path from Earth to Heaven given to Jacob of the biblical Old Testament. The idea of Jacob’s Ladder has been used by Qabalists to expand the idea of the Tree of Life to include the Four worlds of  reality Assiah (Earth), Yetzirah (Air),  Beriah (Water) and Atziluth (Fire).This Qabalistic interpretation can be found in both the Jewish and Hermetic traditions.  Each of the worlds contains a complete Qabalah with 10 sephiroth and ‘stack’ on top of each other in order to describe the ladder from Earth into Heaven. The inner spiritual world detailed by the traditional Qabalistic Tree of Life, above, is attributed in the Sefer Yetzirah to the world of Yetzirah, the airy world of mind.

When considering the qabalistic Tree of Life found in the World of Yetzirah, Yesod is identical to the ‘Daath’ sephirah of the underlying World of Assiah.  The Daath  of the Tree of Life is also seen to be identical to the ‘Yesod’ of the overlying World of Beriah. Only Yesod of Assiah and Daath of Atziluth exist without overlap. We can thus further see the important link between Yesod and Daath. From the definition of Daath, we know that it is not a ‘real’ sephiroth but rather a ‘virtual’ sephiroth which represents all sephiroth within that tree.  Similarly, Yesod must also be a ‘virtual’ sephiroth.

The nature of the interrelationship between Yesod and Daath becomes more apparent when the system of sephiroth within Yetzirah is extracted from Jacob’s Ladder, as can be seen in the animation below. Two extra sephiroth become apparent in the ‘tree’ and the extracted system is symmetrical above and below the central sephiroth. The extracted system has two virtual sephiroth which both must represent the unity of all the sephiroth in the system – but how can they then be different? The apparent contradiction can be solved if one sees this extracted system as two separate trees superimposed – the Tree of Life (ToL) and the Tree of Knowledge (Tok). With two trees, Daath now represents the totality of the Tree of Life in microscosm, as defined, and Yesod becomes the totality of the Tree of Knowledge. The imagery now becomes strongly suggestive of the Yin-Yang symbol, a symbol that depicts a dynamic dualistic system, within which two complementary forces continually act and react to each other. In the animation below this mapping of the two trees onto the Yin-Yang symbolism is shown.

The two points in the Yin-Yang are commonly accepted to represent the totality in microcosm of one force within the other. These two points map themselves neatly onto Daath and Yesod. Here in the animation, the practice of assigning Daath to the Tree of Knowledge  accepts the thesis of drawing the Tree of Life without Daath, as mentioned above. Representing the microcosm of Yang (ToL), Daath maintains its definition as being the totality of the sephiroth of ToL.

This new way of seeing spiritual attainment allows the contemplation of many facets of spiritual life in a new and refreshing way – a few interesting insights based on the Tol-Tok framework are now considered.

A New Dynamism to Jacob’s Ladder

The spinning dynamism of the Yin-Yang system brings a method of motion into the otherwise static Jacob’s Ladder. Rather than laboriously climb the ladder step by step, jumping from one sephiroth to the next in a spiraling upward direction, navigation can now occur by swinging from one tree to another. When thinking about how such a process begins, Yesod is the starting point.

Yesod is the foundation and indeed the reality within which we exist as social creatures. Society fashions the fabric of this reality from available physical and intellectual material into what appears to be a coherent and  unshakable edifice but general initiatory training in most spiritual traditions begins by breaking down this edifice. An example of this initiatory experience is found in the Man of Earth series of initiations run by the Ordo Templi Orientis and its offshoots – the nature of this system in mimicking hierarchical social systems  is discussed elsewhere. The endpoint of the initiations is an annihilation of the social construct leaving the initiate ‘outside’ all systems, falling down the ‘rabbit hole’. What is happening here?  The candidate  ceases to stand’ on the foundation but falls into it. Put another way, the candidate suffers ego loss and the machinery of reality, knowledge forming reality’s mental map , rises up from its place below conscious awareness to swamp the initiate’s conscious mind: he enters the Tree of Knowledge.  Once there, the aspirant finds himself on a vision quest to find a way back to the Tree of Life. Discovering Daath, which is the totality of life within the Tree of Knowledge, allows the aspirant to re-enter the Tree of Life. Daath then becomes the ‘new’ Yesod and the aspirant traverses from one world the next; for example this facilitates spiritual movement between the worlds from  Yetzirah to Beriah. Such an analysis could also be applied to the evolution of societies, represented as Yesod on a grander scale.

The dynamic force, identified as the movement between the the Two Trees, is seen throughout spiritual traditions. The Zoroastrians identified it through the Swastika, a symbol denoting the revolving sun. Crowley identified the fifth spiritual element simply as ‘to Go‘. In the garden of Eden, the Serpent, otherwise known as Lilith, provided the impetus to bite of the apple and thus propel Adam and Eve from blissful ignorance in the Garden of Eden (ToL) into the World of Knowledge (ToK). Using the Two Trees symbolism, a pragmatic source of this dynamic can be seen in a disequlibrium arising between ToK and ToL. The Yesod, as microcosm of ToK within which a person lives, begins to diverge from a accurate description of the Tree of Life. Life then becomes increasingly challenging until the person is forced to dive into the Tree of Knowledge so that a new Yesod can be established, more in line with the nature of the Tree of Life around it.

Spiritual Vibrations

The idea of spiritual vibrations and their meaning has long been an element of spiritual practice.  The dynamic dualistic ToL-Tok system is cyclic in nature and is thus amenable to description in terms of frequencies and vibrations. This opens up the possibility of modelling the ToL-ToK system in terms of harmonic and anharmonic oscillators which, in turn, could provide a tantalising link between the spiritual and the quantum worlds.

A Matter of Interpretation

The above essay outlines the extraction of the Two Trees spiritual system from existing spiritual sources. I have not included my own experiences with the Two Trees since its uncovering though it has now become an invaluable tool for me in interpreting a range of esoteric and exoteric phenomena. It was particularly helpful in giving me a means by which I could comprehend a lot of material in the Western Hermetic tradition (such as aspects of Crowley’s The Book of the Law, the initiatory system of the OTO…) as well as aspects of more traditional religions (such as the Black Pope and the ‘white’ Pope).  The above interpretation does involve some level of personal choice on my part in order to illustrate aspects of the system. One example is applying the ‘Daath’ form of virtual sephiroth, as microcosm of the tree,  over the traditional ‘Yesod’ sephiroth in order to better illustrate their microcosmic counterparts in the Yin-Yang symbol. Another choice was how the Two Trees are mapped onto Yin-Yang. In the choice above, one can think of Yesod representing the black apple of Knowledge within which we have lived since the Fall, as described in Genesis.  An alternative assignment is given below and the reader is encouraged to explore the advantages of using this form.