Transpersonality: Trees of Life & Death [Shoreline]
“One thing meanwhile stands firm: the real, the original, way from the whirlpool lies in heaven. With this finding, one may plunge again into the bewildering jungle of ‘earthly’ myths concerning the Waters from the Deep.” ~Giorgio de Santillana & Hertha von Dechend [Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and Its Transmission Through Myth p.219]
“I don’t think that you’ve got to pretend,
I see God in birds and Satan in long words.”
~Sink, Band New
A great deal of legwork has been done throughout this novel thus far to demonstrate how and why human beings developed symbols as an adaptational propulsion, like guiding arrows for their personal existence. And as they developed, the need for their beliefs to meet the complexity of their cultures became increasingly apparent, and models such as the Trees of Life and Death were subsequently developed. It is here in this chapter that I will expand on these concepts of memetic adaptation and maladaptation. This chapter, much like Chapter 1, will likely serve as a reference point for the reader while reading upcoming chapters that elaborate on specific symbolisms. Compared to Chapter 1, however, these details will tend to remain in the philosophical realms of discussion, since God and the extents of morality are beyond the current scientific paradigm. For those who already have an idea of God and perhaps even a Devil, I am not here to disprove your beliefs, but, perhaps at worst, re-conceptualize them. To the atheist, these models are intended to come across as empirical methods of consideration for the relevance of spiritual principles in the mundane life.
Kabbalah is said to be the ancient mystical doctrine of Israel—inspired heavily by the Egyptian Mysteries—and the Tree of Life was its most sacred concept. If Jung proposed irreducible archetypes in the mind, the circular fixtures on the Tree of Life, known as the sephiroth, are the irreducible archetypes of the world that relate to the mind. Considered as an anatomical diagram of “God’s body”, each sephirot is allegorically considered as a piece of the body, and it is axiomatic to understanding how mythological esoteric symbolism has very literal archetypal qualifications. By using what is now known as chaos theory and memetic theory, the ancient theologians of the mysteries hypothesized that “as above, so below” and that if man was the effect of some cause, then studying this effect would help them further define the cause.
There is of little doubt that the tree of life was largely inspired by the Egyptian Mysteries. Egyptian mythology has a great deal to do with the alchemical symbolism of relating the growth of human toward god as a plant toward a human. The Tree of Life itself is described, in example, as being instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris. The only real question is whether the ancient Hebrew were the first to come up with the diagrammatical system that is known today as the Kabbalistic or Qabalistc Tree of Life, or whether this too was borrowed from Egypt.
Kabbalah is used specifically in reference to ancient Judaism, while Qabalah is considered the renaissance and post-renaissance incorporation of these ancient Judaic principles into the full body of esoteric knowledge, specifically Rosicrucianism (Christian alchemy) and Hermeticism. Qabalah is considered a large precursor to today’s New Age movement, and this can often make it easy to toss the baby out with the bathwater, but it is extremely important to remember the extensive history that Qabalah has within the western esoteric tradition, having been a staple for deciphering esoteric symbols since the medieval renaissance.
The Bible marks in Genesis that the Tree of Life is the source of eternal life and it is believed by some Christians that Christ was to represent the very fruit of the Tree of Life, since he was “of the body of God” by being His son. The Norse as well had a depiction of this very tree, Yggdrasil, that is nearly identical to the Judaic version in archetypal function. The Greek Neoplatonists were heavily involved with dissection of the Tree of Life, calling it the Tree of Porphyry. Buddha sat underneath the bodhi tree as he meditated and transcended beyond the deepest layers of his karmic barriers, even being tempted by Mara the demoness. In Islamic tradition, the tree of immortality, i.e. the tree of life is the only tree present in the Garden of Eden. The Persian mysteries rites of Zoroastrianism called the Tree of Life haoma. It can also, not very surprisingly, be found in varying but equal archetypal degrees in Native American mythology.
Aleister Crowley developed his “religious philosophy” of Thelema with heavy influences of classical Hermetic Qabalah, and some of his writing on the subject has proven thorough and insightful, but it is important to emphasize that Crowley is just one small voice in history’s annals, one that happens to be recent in comparison, causing him to stick out a bit more. This chapter draws some references from Crowley only regarding data, and I am not here to condone the more heinous aspects of Crowley’s legacy.
For the reader’s consideration: since I as the writer have written this as a discussion of Hermetic Qabalah, allow me to state that my personal favorite rendition of these principles is found within Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is here that I may claim my innermost connection to these ideas, although I find the models of both the pagan trees to be irreplaceable details.
The tree allegories such as the tree of life, of death, and of knowledge eventually became the allegories for the humanistic implications of agriculture, horticulture, and even medicine, among other things. The apocryphal biblical Book of Enoch has some very interesting and vivid descriptions of these ideas and how they affected humankind to come, claiming that the Nephilim were the ones to teach humanity about the classifications of plants and how to use them. Soon upon reading, it can be seen why this book was left out of the standard Bible—Enoch’s story is very much a symbolic wedding of the traditional pagan mysteries with fundamental Christian theology. There is a strict tone of condemnation within the book, consistent with other biblical writings, but it simultaneously emboldens certain pagan concepts of theurgy, for example, as Enoch intentionally communes with angels and acquires special knowledge through his efforts—and special knowledge is generally frowned upon in Christianity for its relationship to the bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge.
Regarding the Tree of Life itself, it is daunting and perhaps somewhat impossible to entirely summarize all its aspects, but suffice it to say that it is something similar to the Graphics Processing Unit or GPU of the cosmos’ computing hardware, because it has literal physical implications as well as psychodynamic. Overall, the tree represents transpersonality, which is the threshold of personality found within the unconscious mind. Since the human being once existed without personality as it is defined today, these states of non-personal awareness still exist in the mind and serve as operant mechanisms or software programs for self-identity. As a best-case scenario, this implies adaptation allowing humankind and nature to flourish all together at its fullest potential.
The Tree is separated by two pillars on either side, the left being the Pillar of Severity and the right being the Pillar of Mercy. Decorating the tree are ten spherical sephiroth which denote the ten most archetypal and irreducible manifestations—they are the ten utmost meta-spaces that a human specifically must always struggle to attain out of the chaos they themselves create. The Pillar of Mercy holds the second, fourth, and seventh sephiroth, and the Pillar of Severity holds the third, fifth, and eighth. Down the middle are the first, sixth, ninth and tenth. The Tree essentially serves as a filing system for archetypal symbolism, with ten essential folders for filing a countless number of esoteric symbols. By degrees of separation, essentially any esoteric symbol can be classified under the Tree of Life (or Death) with a bit of research. The dynamics between these trees can be related to the Yin and Yang but represent an infinitely more complex web of symbolism than the simplistic, poignant Taoist symbol.
First listed is the name of each specific sephirot, followed by its planetary correlate, its archetypal descriptions, then the correlates to Dante’s Divine Comedy. These are the best-case meta-spaces.
- 1. Kether – Neptune – Supreme Crown; the unknown, transcendent point; the most hidden of all things – Dante’s Ninth Sphere of Paradise: The Primum Mobile (Angels)
- 2. Chokmah – Uranus – Wisdom; the seed – Eighth Sphere of Paradise: The Fixed Stars (Faith, Hope & Love)
- 3. Binah – Saturn – Understanding, discernment, transmutation – Seventh Sphere of Paradise: The Contemplators
- 4. Chesed – Jupiter – Mercy, grace, divine love; the bridge over troubled waters – Sixth Sphere of Paradise: The Just Rulers
- 5. Geburah – Mars – Severity, power, judgement, the consequences of actions – Fifth Sphere of Paradise: The Warriors of Faith
- 6. Tiphareth – the Sun – Beauty, glory, the humility and comfort of truth – Fourth Sphere of Paradise: The Wise
- 7. Netzach – Venus – Victory, endurance; that which is ceaseless – Third Sphere of Paradise: The Lovers
- 8. Hod – Mercury – Splendor, majesty; mystery of forms and organization of those forms —Second Sphere of Paradise: The Ambitious
- 9. Yesod – the Moon – Foundation, that which can bring something from one condition to another, like the waves of the ocean; connection – First Sphere of Paradise: The Inconstant
- 10. Malkuth – the Earth – Kingdom, the steps towards Heaven, roots firmly supplanted – Mt. Purgatory, River of Lethe
Pluto is often fit into the symbolism with the Da’ath, which is the zero-point where all the sephirot are united as one in a state of primordial unbeginning—the absence of the beginning. If one prefers a metaphor, Da’ath is like the theoretical point of existence right before the Big Bang.
It should be noted that in the Divine Comedy, Dante meets God after transcending the Tree of Life from the Kether sephirot, meaning that if the tree is the body of god, then beyond the tree is god’s mind, its personality or transpersonality. Ultimately, the Tree of Life is a map of a human’s relationship with the divine, and while there is a masculine quality to this tree, the “mind of God” entirely transcends even archetypal femininity and masculinity.
The Tree of Death holds the ten qliphoth instead of sephiroth. Instead of God presiding over this Tree, most occultists place the classical Hebrew demoness, Lilith, as the Queen of the Qliphoth (a lesser few naturally attribute Satan to the ruler of the qliphoth). Traditional Kabbalistic studies placed here as the first woman given to Adam by God, not Eve, and she was said to become a corrupter of humankind, especially men, ever since. Her first appearance in Jewish symbolism is through the Babylonian Talmud, but her archetype can be seen wherever religious systems have developed (like many other archetypes.)
There will be plenty more on Lilith and her synonymous archetypes in a later chapter, but for now it is extremely important to note the feminine touch to the Tree of Death. As discussed in the former chapter, mystery, darkness, and femininity are the classic symbols for the unconscious mind, whereas profundity, lightness and masculinity are associated with the conscious mind. Remember that this is not misogynistic at all, especially when read in proper context of modern physics and the sacred alchemical marriage.
However, that Lilith is given the title of demoness here is something I should address. Demonology and the circles of hell, et cetera, are meant as symbolic units of psychological distance between the human and gnosis. Gnosis represents a depolarization of the light and dark within the self, and this means every individual coming to terms with both their archetypal mother and father, and the sacred alchemical marriage that occurs when we become reacquainted with them both. For the man, his depolarization is found within his quest for the anima, his inner feminine archetype—for the woman, her depolarization is found within her quest for the animus and her inner masculine archetype. However, recognizing the masculine and feminine archetypes within each individual is the key—without recognition of the polarity, depolarization cannot occur. So, that Lilith is the demoness of the Tree of Death naturally implies a sense of un-union with the sacred masculine, thus the calm waters of the unconscious mind become a turbulent storm. Conversely, that “God’s body” represents the Tree of Life naturally implies the harmonious union of the archetypal masculine with the feminine. It is important to emphasize the archetypal specificity with these terms, so as not to falsely assume misogyny or patriarchy. God is not archetypally feminine or masculine—God is the transpersonal union of the two, i.e. adaptation. The Tree of Death is not a damnation of womanhood, it is an expression of what happens when the archetypal femininity within is unloved, unkept.
It is here that I will also state that I am not presenting the Tree of Death as some fixed state of hell that souls are damned to after death (nor am I saying this of the Tree of Life and heaven)—this tree is a representation of the human’s separation from the mystical transpersonal state termed as God. Take as an example the allegory of the regular tree during winter—its leaves fall, and it becomes a skeletal, dead version of what it used to be. But winter is not evil—it is harsh and unforgiving—and the tree is only sleeping, reserving its energy for the day when it will finally be allowed to flourish at its fullest extent—and this day of flourishment is summer. Succumbing to winter is death, but winter also promises summer if dealt with properly.
In the long run, my humble view of good and evil is this: do what thou will in the name of love—act out of an altruism that does not affect someone else’s ability to do what they want in the name of love. However, everyone must abide by this rule of love for there to be peace, and when someone does not act out of altruism, sometimes wrongs do have to be righted in ways that aren’t the most ideal. Good is an ideal that describes the nature in the human that wants to flourish and wants to see all humans and nature flourish, and evil is the self-destructive and the misanthropic streak in us all. We all have good and evil tendencies, and it is up to the individual to learn how to balance the light and the dark, so that the dark doesn’t bring about evil and the light doesn’t blind us all. Those who abuse the dark will inevitably come to find that karma is a bitch and some light is inevitably going to be blinding. Those who abuse the light will naturally fear the dark.
Also: that the Tree of Life is represented by the masculine quality of God and that the Tree of Death is represented by the feminine quality of Lilith does not mean that both these trees are exclusive to either the conscious or unconscious realms of explanation. The key is understanding that the Tree of Life, in documented ways, also describes the inner relationship that nature has with itself (this notion will receive more attention in the upcoming chapter discussing Pythagoreanism and sacred geometry). The Tree of Death does no such thing. It is purely an expression of the human. The Tree of Life innately implies a synthesis of man with nature, and the Tree of Death implies total maladaptive dissent. It is the worst-case scenario that occurs when a human has fallen into their own inner chasm and shut themselves off from the outside world. Without the outside world, the inner self is a cave without an exit, where neurosis grows like mold.
The idea of the Tree of Death is a practical evolution of concept that has, in a sense, been around as long as the Tree of Life itself. But in literal terms, the origins of the qliphoth can be dated to the 16th century-era of Kabbalistic mysticism. Rabbi Isaac Luria is one of the foremost acknowledged progenitors of the Tree of Life into less of a fragile secret, and more of an idea worthy of literature and philosophical conjecture. He was, of course, not the only one.
In Luria’s writings, there can be noted the concepts of these “shells” of existence that remain as a type of barrier that must be traversed to ascertain any wisdom from the sephirot that the shell encapsulates. However, while the Tree of Death was instigated by classical Kabbalists, it was not fully concepted into a full model until the spike of 20th century western occultism. Classical esoteric scholars like Aleister Crowley and SL Macgregor Mathers did a great deal of elaboration on the Kabbalah throughout their careers and helped significantly to develop the qliphoth. The qliphoth are these “shells”, also called “anti-poles”.
This is a table I have developed through the study of the different authors on the subject and it is meant to be an introductory table into the symbolism of the qliphoth. The Tree of Death is a bit more open for interpretation than the Tree of Life, and some authors disagree on minor details of the symbolism in certain cases, but it is the overall context of the symbolism and what it represents that is of importance, and the titles themselves are lesser. This is my overall analysis of the subject material— a meta-analysis from the works of Aleister Crowley, Frater Acher, and Thomas Karlsson, and others.
First listed is the name of the qliphot; the second listed is the “demon” which resides over the qliphot. The third listed is the corresponding circle of Hell that Dante’ traversed in the Divine Comedy. The fourth listed is the sephirot of the Tree of Life. The definitions of the qliphothic shells are to be taken as the exact opposite, inverted interpretations of the sephirot that they encase. These are the depersonal meta-spaces, the winter of the soul—the waves of the unconscious mind’s deepest waters.
- 1. Thamiel – Moloch – the twins of God – Treatury – Kether
- 2. Chaigidel – Beezlebub – the hinderers – Fraud – Chokmah
- 3. Sathariel – Lucifuge Rofocale* – the hiders – Violence – Binah (*not to be confused with Lucifer.)
- 4. Gamchicoth – Ashtaroth – the devourers – Hersey – Chesed
- 5. Golachab – Asmodeus – the flaming ones – Wrath – Geburah
- 6. Thagirion – Belphegor – those of grief and tears – Greed – Tiphareth
- 7. Harab Serapel – Baal – the ravens of dispersion – Gluttony – Netzach
- 8. Samael – Adrammelek – the false accuser – Lust – Hod
- 9. Gamaliel – Naamah (some place Lilith here) – the obscene ass – Limbo – Yesod
- 10. Nehemoth – Lilith (some place Naamah here) – the woman of the night – Mount Purgatory / River of Lethe – Malkuth
Pluto and its symbolic associate, Da’ath, have the anti-pole of Belial, representing worthlessness.
In The Kabbalah Unveiled, translated by SL Magregor Mathers in the early 20th century, we find consideration of the qliphoth: “The demons are the grossest and the most deficient of all forms. Their ten degrees answer to the decad of the Sefiroth, but in an inverse ratio, as darkness and impurity increase with the descent of each degree. The first two are nothing, absence of visible form and organization. The third is the abode of darkness. Next follow seven Hells occupied by those demons which represent incarnate human vices, and torture those who have given themselves up to such vices in earth-life.” [p.30] It is here that we find more distinct correlates to Dante’s Inferno. Not only was Dante’s Divine Comedy dealing with the inversion of life and death, heaven and hell, encapsulating the very same dichotomy of the Trees of Life and Death, but it played a historically critical role in detailing the human’s personal relationship to all this information.
It is commonly taught that the highest sephirot on the Tree of Life, Kether, is within the lowest sephirot, Malkuth, and that they represent a continuum—a feedback loop, like chaos theory, and perhaps even something like a mobius strip. Since it is suggested that the Trees of Life and Death are connected at their “roots” or “base”, it is deduced that the sephirot Malkuth and its anti-pole, Nehemoth are like the symbolic entrances to Heaven and Hell, and that they are both accessed by way of the material realm. Malkuth, representing the material realm, is the only sephirot that is said to not emanate from “God” directly, although it is a crucial part of the Tree’s function all the same. This separation from the concept of divinity that Malkuth has is a further emphasis on learning the spiritual through the material. It is for these reasons and more that I assert that Dante’s Mount Purgatory, with the River of Lethe (forgetfulness) at the mountain’s summit, within the Garden of Eden, represents Malkuth/Nehemoth for it is both the entry to Hell from earth, and symbolically it is the closest material threshold to Heaven. Since this symbolism seems to fit quite seamlessly, Dante’s Nine Circles become “Ten Realms”, if you will, and the synthesis of the Divine Comedy with the classical Tree of Life is completed.
The physical realm is diagrammatically sandwiched in between the Trees of Life and Death, depicted as the roots of the trees. As we make our psychodynamic path through the qliphoth, we find ourselves in Hell. Once we succumb to the qliphoth, we are separated from a sense of unity entirely, and we drop into the abyss of Hell through chaotic anti-thesis, where we are no longer in a battle with our defense mechanisms and neurosis, we are ruled by them. When we remember that Faust is a compendium of Gnostic alchemical symbolism that borrows symbolism from the Divine Comedy directly, we begin to see a web of interconnected esoteric, archetypal symbolism that serves as a possible psychoanalytic codex with limitless potential for investigation and observation. If this model can be applied to psychodynamic analysis, and even to clinical or auto-hypnotic sessions, I assert the results would be profound on a consistent and reproducible level. Surely, an entire novel could be written expounding upon the details within this chapter—and certain aspects of this book will actually do just that in ways—but this chapter is meant to be introductory, to whet the appetite of what is to come and provide further context.
Suffice it for now to say that I propose the Tree of Life as a necessary codex to understanding the hypnotic, cryptogrammatic aspects of gnosis and the mystical experience. I, however, do not recommend at all that the Tree of Death be used during hypnotic sessions, although some darker branches of western esotericism do so anyway.
To explain, I present the allegory of the shoreline, something that is heavily considered throughout Hamlet’s Mill, the land being the angelic archetypes and God itself, and the waters being the demonic archetypes of mystery and monsters. Human society and culture would not be what it is today without oceanic travel, but during a nautical adventure, navigation is entirely crucial, and too much time away from land marks a traveler for death. Stranded at sea, a person will succumb to any number of physical and mental declines until they are no longer able to carry on. Even a person that survives too much time at sea is likely to develop sea-legs, a sense of nausea that follows them on land when the waves are not surrounding them. Therefore, the Tree of Death represents the waves of the ocean and the implications of its deepest depths, while the Tree of Life represents land—and they connect at the shoreline. As important as the ocean and its depths are, let us not remember our maps toward land or how to read these maps. In other words, the Tree of Death is simply a diagnostic tool, but the Tree of Life is pure psychodynamic medicine that one cannot overdose on.
In classical instances, these trees were not just meant to signify meta-spaces of the unconscious mind. They were meant to also symbolize the realms that the soul can visit after death, and the correlating meta-spaces were meant to signify the quickest ways to get a person to those realms. So, whether or not you believe in a literal God or Devil, it would be wise to start considering how both of them might be affecting you from an adaptational standpoint. Transpersonality, ultimately, is the ability to consider whether one is adapting properly—and this state of self-reflection seems to be almost entirely lost within postmodern society.
Chapter Four Coming Soon…
Chapter Three Bibliography:
Acher, Frater. On the Nature of the Qliphoth. Theomagica. https://theomagica.com/on-the-nature-of-the-qlippoth/
Barclay, Joseph (translator). The Talmud. Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/bar/index.htm 2008. First published in 1878.
Carry, Henry (translator). Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy of Dante. Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/dante/index.htm First published in 1888.
Charles, R.H. (translator). The Book of Enoch. Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/ . First published in 1917.
Crowley, Aleister. 777 And Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley: Including Gematria & Sepher Sephiroth. Weiser Books. 1986. First published in 1909.
Goethe, Wolfgang von. Kaufmann, Walter (translator). Anchor. 1962. First part first published in 1806. Second part first published in 1832.
Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Reader’s Edition). TarcherPerigee. 2003. Originally published in 1928.
Harrison, Jane. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. Princeton University Press. 1991. First published in 1909.
Karlsson, Thomas. Qabalah, Qliphoth and Goetic Magic. Ajna Bound. 2017.
Manhar, Nurho de. Zohar: Bereshith to Lekh Lekha. Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/zdm/index.htm . First published from 1900-14.
Mathers, S.L Macgregor (translator). The Kabbalah Unveiled. Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/tku/index.htm First published in 1912.
Mead, GRS (translator). The Corpus Hermeticum. 2017. Andesite. First published in 1906.
Mercer, Samuel (translator). The Pyramid Texts. Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/pyt/index.htm . First published in 1952.
New World Encyclopedia. Isaac Luria. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Isaac_Luria
Reed, Ellen. The Witches Qabala: The Pagan Path and the Tree of Life. Weiser Books. 1997.
Santillana, Giorgio de. Dechen, Hertha de. Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth. Nonperial books. 2014. First published in 1969.
Szanto, Gregory. Astrotherapy: Astrology and the Realization of the Self. Penguin Books. 1988.
Thompson. Campbell R (translator). The Epic of Gilgamesh. SacredTexts.com. First published in 1928. http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/eog/index.htm