Qabala is queer, and it isn't even sneaky about it

Many magickal practitioners are turned off by Hermetic Qabala because, at first glance, it appears to be a deeply patriarchal and hierarchal tool with strong Abrahamic underpinnings: something both familiar and often repellant to those of us brought up in conservative, Abrahamic faiths. Today, we seek tools and traditions that are egalitarian, inclusive, and empowering – why bother studying this dusty, complicated, old magical tool?

In my work with the Tree, however, I’ve found that both the glyph and its associated imagery and energy flows are decidedly queer.

Nonbinary aspects of the Tree

In many areas of magic that I’ve worked with, we talk a lot about working with “masculine” and “feminine” energy, but rarely that which lies between or apart from them. As a nonbinary person, I was delighted to find my gender identity baked into the Tree in several ways.

First, we have the three pillars: The Masculine Pillar (AKA Pillar of Force, Pillar of Mercy), the Feminine Pillar (AKA Pillar of Form, Pillar of Severity), and the Pillar of Balance in the middle – effectively, the nonbinary or agender pillar.

A simple Tree of Life glyph, showing the masculine, feminine, and balance pillars.
Note that this glyph dates back to the 1600s.

And on this Pillar of Balance we have, arguably, the most important spheres of the tree: Kether and Malkuth, the spheres representing ultimate unity/potential and ultimate manifestation. In this way, the glyph acknowledges that these powers transcend gender and binary polarity.

Genderfluid aspects of the Tree

Each of the spheres, or Sephiroth, send energy in various directions on the Tree. If you look at the energy pattern of the “lightning flash”—the flow of energy from Kether to Chokmah to Binah and so on, down to Malkuth—you’ll note that each sphere both sends energy to the spheres after them and receives energy from the spheres before them – demonstrating both projective (“masculine”/”force”) energy and receptive (“feminine”/”form”) energy.

A glyph of the Tree, showing how energy flows down, making each sphere receptive and projective simultaneously.
“Wait,” you say. “It looks like Kether only projects and Malkuth only receives.” They don’t. Malkuth is in Kether, and Kether is in Malkuth – they project and receive from each other, too. (And then we get into the Four Worlds and it gets more complicated still…but that’s another blog post/book entirely.)

If you look at the Hebrew names of the spheres, Geburah and Chesed each have an alter-ego with an opposite-gender name (in Hebrew, Geburah is a feminine name, whereas Din is a masculine name; similarly, Chesed is a masculine name and Gedulah is a feminine name).

What I find even more interesting is that the masculine vs. feminine names of the spheres do not correspond with whether they are on the masculine vs. feminine pillar.

A glyph of the Tree showing the Hebrew names of each sphere and whether they are masculine or feminine.

If we then look at the telesmic images (AKA magical images, those to meditate upon to gain better understanding of each sphere), which date back over 100 years, you’ll find masculine images associated with spheres on the feminine pillar or with spheres that have feminine names, and vice-versa. The image of the naked woman, Netzach, lies on the masculine pillar and its sphere has a masculine name, for example, and that sphere is associated with the planet Venus.

And even more interesting, the telesmic image for Hod is that of an intersex person. Intersex representation has been part of the Tree for over 100 years, and yet we still struggle to see intersex representation in pop culture today.

Why it matters

Many magical traditions focus on the interplay of “masculine” and “feminine” energies as the most basic form of raising energy. And that’s what it is: basic. And incomplete. And alienating to those of us who don’t identify as strictly masculine or feminine.

Expanding our magical symbol sets to include things like Qabala opens our eyes to multivalent, rather than binary, polarities and the complex magical workings you can create with them, and enables queer people to see ourselves in our magical tool sets and vocabularies.

If you’re interested in learning more about Qabala, check out my Recommended Reading page for resources.

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