Health, Happiness, and Love

This is an unusual post for me, so far. It’s not about game mechanics, directly, but my game, Tribute provides game rules that can represent everything here. This post represents a turning point in my mentality with regards to the game. I’m not going to shy away from the (Kabbalistic) messages that the game is being designed to teach, just because a few gamers are uncomfortable with the spiritual roots of the game. If you’re one of these people, and can accept it for what it is, you just might find a powerful game engine to enjoy for a long time. Having multiple layers and perspectives doesn’t mean that the layer or perspective you like isn’t there. Use what you want to. I’m actually planning to publish the game in such a way that this will be easier to do.

Tribute is a universal roleplaying game and roleplaying game design toolkit that is based on Lurianic Kabbalah. I need to connect both aspects if I’m going to do it right.

Here’s the real post.

Health, Happiness, and Love

Spoilers ahead. Watch the video first, if you’d prefer.

In this video, Anjali Kumar reveals that while on her quest to find God (who she says she never found), she offered to bring prayers to a holy man on behalf of anyone who emailed her. She needed to know which three requests they would ask this man to relay to God.

The vast majority of requests were for three things:

  • (Lasting) Health
  • (Persistent) Happiness
  • and (Legendary) Love

In that order. The order is important.

These were secret prayers. Many of the respondents asked her not to reveal their wishes to anyone but the holy man (She did not name names when she did), and yet, even those who wrote in a skeptical tone included their addresses, as if to ensure that God knew where to send their gifts. Imagine- atheists, subconsciously including their addresses, just in case.

This video reveals a deep truth about people, to me.  I’ve always suspected that “deep down” we all want the same thing, but have often had that belief challenged, or outright turned on its head, by the actions I observed in myself and others- whether it be self-destructive behavior,  a deep commitment to a negative mindset, or a proclamation that true love didn’t exist as anything other than a biologically advantageous chemical reaction, and that anyone who believed in it as nothing more was a fool.

Cynicism. Fear.

The order of those desires is important, because they’re a chain. You can’t have a perfected form of the next one without acceptance of the form of the previous one. Even if your health is terrible, or you have a terminal disease, as long as you accept, and don’t fixate on your lack of Health, you can move onto the next ones, and even perfect them.

This corresponds to Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs.



I’m about the make the argument that true love belongs to the top of this pyramid, and that the love/belonging layer is part of happiness. Family, friends.

A true love of your life helps you self-actualize- to become the greatest version of yourself possible. A soul mate is someone who does that for you, and who you do that for.  It’s quite possible for one person to be actualized by another, but to be unable to actualize their partner. This is tragic, but to me it hints that the proper relationship is possible.

Is that a romanticization? Maybe. It makes sense to me, though.

So, if you’re shaky on any of the three desires- Health, Happiness, or Love, you cannot perfect the layers above.  As long as you’re stable- which can be achieved by obtaining that level, or by accepting your level (whatever it is), you can move on. The prize of obtaining or accepting your amount of these three things, I believe, is self actualization.

A couple of side notes.

1)   I do believe that accepting our current level of any of these three desires in the present does not necessarily mean that we’re stuck there. That’s what hope is for.  I think it’s fine to hope for a better future, as long as we don’t resent our present. Because resentment attacks happiness, at the very least. By all means, use your Hope to work on changing your circumstances.  But having a realistic level of acceptance of our circumstances ensures that negativity doesn’t destroy what we do have. That’s one way to write your life as a  tragedy, in the Greek sense.

2)   If everything I said is true,  then we all want Health. Health is a human need, the foundation of Happiness. With zero health, you're dead, and have no hope of happiness (at least on Earth). So the next time a “patriotic” politician , pundit, or voter decries healthcare programs, point them to the Declaration of Independence. 

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.

These are our unalienable rights, as Americans. Apologies to my international readers.  Also apologies to anyone who isn’t a “man” on behalf of the founders. They meant well. Regardless, the argument I'm making can be adapted you your local culture's ideals, and includes all genders. It's about humanity. 

Preservation of life entails Health. And without Health (or acceptance of your state of health) to preserve your life as long as possible, you cannot maximize the pursuit Happiness. Again, though, acceptance and hope can help when something’s missing. 

It’s just that it’s cruel to demand acceptance of others. Commanding or forcing others to accept their fate, is wickedness incarnate- it attacks hope. And you certainly can’t force someone to hope, either. The kind of acceptance that leads to hope comes only from within, or from love, not anger or fear.

If my case is convincing, explain your perspective on this issue to them, in your own way.  Maybe you can express it better than me.

The Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto Part 2-The Rabbit Hole

Part 1 is HERE

The Solution to the puzzle is posted here. Needless to say, my path was not involved, in any way. I could easily feel like a fool right now, and yet I don't. The images I found are real, and I am glad I was able to find them. 

I now believe that my path was an elaborate Rabbit Hole. Those who know me know that Rabbit Holes are my kryptonite; if you've followed Tribute, you know it well. It's humbling to be shown how susceptible I am to an endless mystery, and a lesson about overconfidence. But that's enough self absorption. I'd like to show you some of the cool images I found down this amazing set of Rabbit Holes. These will mostly be closeups of larger images, that will prove that there was in fact something to find (and that I'm not quite as crazy as I seem).

I'm just going to post images, with little to no explanation. I think it would be cool if you could find these images, and others on your own.

First, a closer look at an image I called "The Red Queen and The Cheshire Cat". Note the moths near the borders. 

5-The Red Queen and the Cheshire Cat.jpg
The Red Queen is in the center, and the eyes of the Cheshire cat look on as an overlay. 

The Red Queen is in the center, and the eyes of the Cheshire cat look on as an overlay. 

Death Goddess.jpg
I called this one "Praylien", because it features a devout creature of unknown origin. 

I called this one "Praylien", because it features a devout creature of unknown origin. 


Death comes.png
Taking Flight.png
Rabbit underwater-mantis-toad.png
Intricacy 3.jpg
Crossed Swords AMA.jpg
That's all for now. If you can't see anything in these images, I can't convince you that there is anything here. 

That's all for now. If you can't see anything in these images, I can't convince you that there is anything here. 

The Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto Part 1-overview (Long)

I apologize for the sloppiness of this post. I am writing it to get my disappointment with not solving this puzzle out of my system, and I am pressed for time. I'd have liked to have included more of a narrative to it, and to explore the genius of the puzzle's design, but I don't have time. Thanks for understanding. I'll write future posts that dig a bit deeper. -R. Scott Kennan

I'm going to tell you how I *almost* (arguably) solved a puzzle [Update: I was so very wrong-but the images are there] that was worth nearly $100,000 when I started it, but worth about $40,000 at the time of this writing. I'm leaving a lot of it vague, because this puzzle is worth exploring even if there's no money behind it. It's astonishing how much data its creators embedded into a seemingly simple image. 

Around three years ago, an artist called "Coin_Artist" created a cryptographic puzzle that hid the key to a wallet containing 4.87 bitcoin. Others deposited coins to increase this value to over 5 Bitcoin. It was the final step of a multi-part puzzle called The Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto. Coin_Artist had a small team of coders to help her, but each one of them must be a true genius. 

I found out about it just before Christmas, and quickly made significant progress. I didn't solve it in time, though --someone else finished it before me. Though disappointed, to be honest, I'm proud of the progress I made with no experience in cryptography,  armed only with some photomanipulation skills.   

This is the original image, size adjusted: 



In this image, it was said, was the key.

My first thought on seeing this was that it related to the Shakespearean poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle" which I wasn't directly familiar with, though I had heard of.  Reading it didn't give much information (to me).I couldn't figure out the chess symbolism directly, but once I looked up more information on the puzzle, I found clues related to "Through the Looking Glass" and "Alice in Wonderland" that had been posted on forums and twitter. Of particular note was the phrase "Follow the White Rabbit". 

I thought about how I could use this image to unlock more data. I eventually tried making a copy of the image, flipping it horizontally, and screening it over itself. I found this image, which I called "The Crest".: 

2-The Crest.jpg

New data had appeared. On the bottom, upside down is the White Rabbit. I was on the right track. 

But wait, there was sort of a heraldric crest image in the center, that if you squinted, seemed to have a crown over it. The image looked familiar. I googled "Two headed bird"  and a few other things.  To be honest, I don't remember the exact terms, but I did find this: 


This is a symbol of Freemasonry, and my next clue. In the same search results, I noticed this:


These words, "Subtract, Multiply, Divide, Add" immediately leaped out at me as layer effects in a photo-editing program. So flipping the image over itself again, I began applying these Effects, which I thought of as moves. After some work, more was revealed. I'm skipping steps. Note the White rabbit, in prismatic color, mirrored vertically.   

4-ish Kings and Moths.jpg

The puzzle went on like this for a while. It became evident that the whole puzzle was about making moves that were contrary to each other- flipping the image, rotating it, inverting it, or applying these kinds of layer effects in increasingly complex patterns. Usually, an image would have clues within it, regarding how to progress. It felt like cracking a safe, on one hand, or moving from one room to another (in a video game like "The Legend of Zelda"), as more and more images were revealed. 

Here are some of the other images I found. There are hundreds more than this.  

6-The Dragon Realm.jpg
11-Heavenly Ascension.jpg
Draconis Continuum.jpg
Hopefully not another Rabbit Hole.jpg

 In this one, you can clearly see division symbols, which were the clue to the next step- the "divide" Layer Effect. 

Though you can't see it in these images, you often had to zoom way in, or way out to find the clues you needed. Tiny figures, similar to Sergio Aragonés cartoons, but in many different styles, filled these images ,and combined to make larger ones. often you'd see a face from one perspective, and it would be the body of a creature seen from another. 

The whole thing was about changing perspective, as quickly and fluidly as possible. It was a rabbit hole, and in more than one way. There seemed to be two parallel stories; that of the mythical Satoshi Nakamoto (anonymous creator of Bitcoin), told as the story of a heroic warrior, at times, and the story of the White rabbit, leading the viewer through the multiverse- full of heavens and hells from every tradition. One image might consist of Hindu imagery, another might be a world of demons, lizards or insects.   

These images gave clues. Demons obviously meant you were heading the wrong way, and to backtrack, while a moth appearing meant that you needed to be patient, and press on. Lizards, like Frogs, were always cool. 

Sometimes you'd find yourself in a world of light or darkness, and have to determine if you should press on, or backtrack to an earlier image. 

Together, these images seemed to describe a space, at least three dimensions, but maybe more. Each of the 22 layer Effects was like moving in a different direction in the space the puzzle described. As a side note, in Kabbalah, the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet describe space in a similar way, with each letter representing a direction, in a model called "The Cube of Space".

At one point in Satoshi's story, I found myself at a treasury filled with mean guards and piles of gold, that was locked up- walled off, as streams of little figures tried to get in. I sliced the image into quadrants, and flipped each quadrant to open the treasury, allowed the people to stream in. Later, the image morphed, and A scroll was revealed, and upon manipulating the image to open it, This happened: 


And with this, Satoshi Nakmoto's thread in the puzzle was done. His story was told, but there was no code. The white rabbit's story continued on, however. 

Apologies for not posting more, but I had to resize them individually, as the originals are huge. It's also hard to dig through the literally hundreds of images and load them, with as slow as my computer is. I may update the post  with more, later. 

So now, my role was to follow the White Rabbit, in the hopes that he would lead me to the Bitcoin wallet. 

There were a lot of red herrings. At one point, I found this: 


If you squint (I didn't have to because I was so deep into the puzzle), you see a sort of stoned-looking White Rabbit, his head diagonally Northwest, and feet to the Southeast, clearly holding an invisible object- a square. I thought it might be a QR code like this: 


Such a code, once scanned by a phone app, could lead to a bitcoin wallet. I thought it might be a simple matter of manipulating the image the right way to find it. I tried everything I could think of, and decided to go down another branch of the puzzle. 

Eventually, after exploring a huge number of possible paths, I came to a point where the image began to separate into what looked like CMYK color. The image I was working with was RGB, but the hint was clear- separate the color channels. I did that, and suddenly I was working in pure black and white. I layered the color channels and applied separate layer effects and manipulations to them. I saw some cool stuff like this: 

Kandinsky Combo with cheese.jpg

 After weeks of hard work on such a mind-bending puzzle, I was getting punchy. The filename for this one was "Kandinsky Combo with Cheese", because it reminded me of a Kandinsky painting. Note the highy stylized white rabbit.  

There were a ton of these black and white images. All told I spent more than half of my time working in black and white. It was a lot harder than color. 

The last image I was working on was a few minor steps beyond this: 

Intricacy 2.jpg

As you can see, it got very intense. It was increasingly hard to see what was going on. This may very well have been the wrong track, but it seemed promising. When the final image is revealed by the puzzle's winner, I'll know for sure.  

So that's it for now. It was an amazing experience, that seemed to describe a path to enlightenment. It was full of wonder and dread, and even jokes, low brow and high brow. Despite not solving it, it was a worthy endeavor. I recommend that others explore this puzzle on their own. This post might be a sort of guide, but don't rely too heavily on it. Some images may be out of order, and I kept things vague to allow others to find what I've found on their own.  I've glossed, and possibly misremembered, a lot. 

One last hint for now: 

In the initial image it was immediately clear that the squared spirals, Clockwise, Counterclockwise, Counterclockwise, and Clockwise would play a role in the solution. I don't know if it was involved in the solution, but it was important. That order, specifically. It didn't always involve strict rotation- sometimes it was inverting the colors of the image, or flipping it vertically or horizontally. That kind of thing. Think about contrary qualities, and how to use them. 

Follow coin_artist on Twitter for more puzzles like this. There's a new one currently worth around $9,000 in Ethereum, I believe. 

Finally, if you explore the rest of this site, I apologize for its state. This is a personal blog, not a professional website, and there are a lot of half-begun creative projects of mine. Not all information on them is up to date. 

Part 2 is up HERE




The Aleph-Bet; 22 Paths of the Tree of Life


I am not going to attempt to describe how Hermetic Kabbalah interprets the individual paths of the Tree of Life, other than to say that each path represents a certain "mission", procedure, or experience that you are meant to have upon traversing the Tree of Life, as I understand it. 

In both Hermetic and Lurianic Kabbalah, the paths correspond to letters in the Hebrew Alphabet. In Lurianic Kabbalah, they *are* the letters, and any correspondences to things like the seven ancient astrological planets or zodiac signs are secondary to their role as letters which represent the forces of creation.

In Lurianic Kabbalah, the Letters are forces of reality. The Sepher Yetzirah describes how the Creator literally spoke everything into existence, and continues to do so, using them. The Legend of the Golem hinges on this idea; the word for Truth (Emet) was inscribed alternately on a scroll in the golem's mouth or on it's forehead, and when it ran amok, the Aleph was removed to spell Death (Met) in order to destroy it. 

In this sense, everything in reality is considered to be constructed of the letters, or at least the forces they represent. The letters provide the content of the message that the creator speaks, and the sephirot are like the tone of voice or inflection that gives the contents meaning. They also correspond to the hidden Hebrew vowels. In essence, though, the sephirot add meaning and context to the words spoken with the letters. 

As Hebrew is based on a pictographic language, where complex words are created from smaller ones, represented by the letters in ancient times, the Hebrew Alphabet is virtually a list of words of power. These words of power have evolved in the modern day such that you can't get much meaning across to an Israeli, for example, simply by spouting off a list of letters. But originally, I've been told, they were part of a proto-language, which predates Phoenician, which could be used to communicate. Larger concepts were built as compound words, which later simply became the words a Hebrew Speaker uses everyday. 

As an example, the letter Bet, or Beit, means "House". A house is a container, fundamentally, and so the letter Beit stands for containment or separation from a group. In Lurianic Kabbalah, it stands for our reality; seen as the house of god. But it also stands for any object; even a thought, which is just a nonphysical object. It's a frame of reference that can close things off, or which can be explored. A box, of any size. 

Tribute uses this letter for the House Key, which helps to model things like your body, mind, soul, the game world itself, or any other place, like the Matrix or the Dream world. Each House can contain its own "House Rules", or laws of physics. 

The Hebrew letters are also numbers. The letter Beit is the number 2, in the Hebrew system. 2 stands for duality, separation, and the idea of a simple relationship- you and me. 

This fact, that the letters are also numbers, is what Gematria is all about. It lets a Kabbalist find the numerical value of any word and compare it to other words with the same value to find out what the deeper relationship between ideas or verses in the Torah is. It works the other way, too. You can take a number, and find the words that relate to it. For example, the number 18 is considered auspicious, because it stands for the word "Chai", or life. Gifts are given in multiples of 18, whenever possible, as a blessing.

I'll leave the gematria conversation here, for now, but can get more into it later, if anyone wants me to. Back to the letters and the paths on the Tree of Life. 

Here, again is the Hermetic Tree of life with its Paths:


And here is the Lurianic Tree: 


The reason I like the second tree more, is that it corresponds more directly to the seminal text, the Sepher Yetzirah, or "Book of Formation". This text describes how everything is constructed from letters, and was alleged to be the text used to create the Golem. There are many versions of it, and they often disagree on details. 

In the Sepher Yetzirah, the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are divided into three groups; 3 Mother letters, 7 Double letters, and 12 Simple letters. 

mothers doubles and simples.gif

The Three Mother Letters are root sounds of speech: Aleph, Mem, and Shin. These are primary forces of creation, with several interpretations including ideas similar to Wuji, Yin, and Yang (not a traditional idea, of course). They correspond to the Elements of Air, Water, and Fire, respectively. 

The Seven Double Letters are letters with a hard and soft pronunciation: Bet/Vet, Gimmel/Djimmel, Dallet/Thallet, Khaf/Chaf(?), Peh/Feh, Resh/?, and Tav/Thav. Resh once had a second pronunciation, but it has been lost to history, and I'm not sure about Khaf's. 

These double letters correspond to binary qualities like Life/Death, Wealth/Poverty, and Freedom/Subjugation. Therefore, they are sort of "measuring" letters that are determining factors for these states, or describe the degrees of these kinds of qualities. 

They correspond to the seven ancient astrological planets. I won't get into which ones correspond to which, as there is much debate. I've made my choices as to which letters I believe correspond to which planets, but It's not material to this conversation, and could greatly derail things.

The 12 Simple letters correspond to basic forces of reality, and ostensibly, are easiest to understand. They are: Heh, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yud, Lamed, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Tzaddi, and Quf. They are described as ruling over human experiences like Sight, Laughter, Motion, or Coition. Understanding the fundamental principles at work in each helps you understand what that letter contributes by way of forces. 

Why does this matter with regard to the two trees? 

Well, the two trees each have 3 horizontal paths, 7 vertical paths, and 12 diagonal paths. These would seem to correspond to the 3 mother letters, 7 double letters, and the 12 simple letters. And yet, in the Hermetic Tree, they don't. In the Lurianic Tree, they do. 

I'm not claiming that the Lurianic Tree is "right", even though I like it more, as it makes more sense to me. It might have seemed simplistic to simply map the letters to horizontal, vertical, or diagonal paths, or maybe there's a deeper reason to do so. 

I often think that any correspondences we come up with for the letters are just that, and don't say anything real about the letters themselves. In other words, the letters and paths are just slots, and some ideas fit better into the slots than others, for different purposes. A Hermetic placing the idea that traditionally corresponds to the letter Dalet into the horizontal path at the top of the tree might have an effect on the tool that the Hermetic Tree represents, while a Lurianic practitioner placing it into the vertical path from Kether to Tiphereth might make the system more stable and balanced for their needs. It might neutralize the force, in a way. In other words, the Lurianic tree might be less volatile and reactive than the Hermetic one, spiritually.

So here are the basic meanings of the 22 Letters of the Alphabet. 



Edit (6/28/18). I just noticed that there are some significant differences from what I was taught and the image above, but it was the best one available online when I posted this initially. According to what I've been taught:

Bet, though initially signifying a tent, means "House".

Tet (listed as Teth) means "Basket".

Samech means "Support". "Prop" is a synonym, but might be misleading. 

Quf (Called Qoph, above) means "Monkey", "Back of Head", or "Eye of a Needle" 

Tav (Tau) means "Impression" or "Seal". 

Some are debatable, like the fact that Vav means "hook",  Zayin means "weapon", and chet means "fenced field".

The idea in Lurianic Kabbalah is to find the deeper meanings of the letters, beyond the idea that Aleph means "Ox". What does an Ox mean in the context of Jewish experience? It's a powerful animal, and in ancient times an older Ox was often tied to a younger Ox when it needed to learn to plow. The younger Ox would be dragged along until it learned. An Ox was also a symbol of wealth, which is a symbol of power. So the Lurianic Kabbalistic take on the letter Aleph is that it represents Mastery, Teaching, Power, and the paradox between God and Man; at once distant from God in humility, and yet face to face with him or her, as per the form of the letter: 

Two dots separated by a bond (the diagonal line) that divides them, and linking to that bond. The upper dot (a letter Yud) represents the Creator. The lower dot/yud represents us, and the line (a vav) represents connection, that simultaneously distances by its very existence. You wouldn't need to connect if there was no distance, and you wouldn't have distance if you were fully connected.

Aleph corresponds to the numbers 1 and 1,000, by some counting systems. It has become a mathematical symbol for orders of infinity for perhaps related reasons. A surprising number of mathematicians are interested in gematria and Kabbalah. So Aleph is taken to mean unity from multiplicity, or leadership. 

Aleph's placement on the Lurianic Tree, separating and linking Chesed and Gevurah says something about what it's all about. Chesed is endless giving (Saying "Yes"), and Gevurah is limitation and restriction (Saying "No"). Aleph governs this relationship. It's the point of commonality between the two ideas, and the translator between these forces. It decides between them. The Sepher Yetzirah calls Aleph a "Tongue of Balance" between Mem and Shin; "Merit" and "Liability", but it serves a similar role here. 

That's how it goes for all of the letters. Each letter's chosen form describes a Kabbalistic concept related to the letter. 

So that's the gist. I'll avoid going too much deeper into things than this as this is already long. But feel free to ask any questions, and I'll do my best to answer them as well as I can.

The Differences Between Lurianic Kabbalah and Hermetic Kabbalah, Part 1

This is an informal post, not an academic treatise, so forgive any informal language or references to things that seem to lack reverence for the subject matter. I’m trying to explain this stuff as I would to a friend. I may also be wrong about any of it- this is just my take on the subject matter, and I am not a Hermetic.

It's also not a good introduction to Kabbalistic concepts for someone who has never encountered them or other mystical thought. To serve in that capacity is way beyond the scope of this article. If you're smart, attentive, and open-minded, however, you might get a decent overview. This article is mainly for people with at least passing familiarity with at least Hermetic Kabbalah. I'm sorry that I'm not a good enough writer to make it easier for everyone else.


My game, Tribute, is based on my understanding of Lurianic Kabbalah, rather than Gnostic, Christian, Hollywood, or Hermetic Kabbalah. I’ve studied it for almost 14 years, in order to write this game, which is still awaiting a final document. As of now, I have two different versions of the game that are playable, and am making my final decisions about which version to put out into the world.

These two different versions involve making the choice between an intricate and nuanced take on the subject matter that some, but not all, would consider unplayable and a more straightforward take that anyone can understand, but which might gloss some important Kabbalistic ideas. Despite a previous post that indicated I planned to go forward with the former, I am currently reconsidering the latter. A playable game that gets people curious might be more effective than a less easily understood one that turned part of the audience away. I had worried that the latter version wasn’t interesting enough, but it’s on me to make it interesting.

Today, I wanted to begin to talk about the kind of Kabbalah that Tribute’s based on, and to compare it with another, more well known version; the Hermetic Kabbalah used in the Western magical tradition; proponents of which include such groups and individuals as The Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley. 

Lurianic Kabbalah is one school of traditional Jewish Mysticism, which cannot be separated from Torah; religious tradition and study.

I’m not going to speak about which one is true, or accurate, as I believe that they have different purposes. Lurianic Kabbalah is largely descriptive of a model of reality that practitioners are meant to work with and within, and my understanding of Hermetic Kabbalah is that it’s proscriptive-designed to be used to create results in the real world.  It’s almost like Lurianic Kabbalah is a reference, and Hermetic Kabbalah is a tool. They’re going to have to be configured differently.

That’s not to say that Lurianic Kabbalah has no practical use; there is a Lurianic oral tradition of “Practical Kabbalah”, that I admit I know little about.

But on to the differences. I admit I’m not fully versed in Hermetic Kabbalah, so there will be gaps.

A Tale of Two Trees

The first and most notable difference between the two traditions is that they each have their own version of the Tree of Life, a central glyph that describes the nature of creation and the forces at play in the universe. In the Lurianic view, it describes the process of creation that the Creator used, and uses every moment to sustain the world. It's a model of everything, and how the universe works. It's a pattern present in everything that exists- people, objects, ideas, emotions, processes,  and reality itself. Its the base code of the Matrix, except the characters are in Hebrew. When it's said that God made humanity in "his" image, this is the image.  By working on it and using it, in the Hermetic view, you can change reality. 

Here is the Hermetic Tree:

qbl_traditional_tree (1).gif


 Oddly, it is an earlier version of the Jewish Tree, minus the current path attributions (I don't think anyone agreed as to which letter should go where early on) but modern Lurianic Kabbalists prefer this one:



Both have 3 horizontal Paths, 12 diagonal, and 7 vertical paths, but the most obvious difference is that there is only one path to Malkuth in the Lurianic Tree. This is in keeping with Lurianic Kabbalah’s take on the second sephirah (circle) from the bottom’s role in creation. That sephirah, Yesod, is believed to serve as a translator for the forces of the higher sephirot, which are said to exist in the upper worlds, and Malkuth- the “Kingdom”, or world as we know it. To the Lurianic Tradition, the idea that Hod and Netzach could directly link to our world would make Yesod redundant, or at least cause problems. Yesod is the Foundation of our reality; the background pattern that supports our world. Connecting Hod and Netzach to the real world (Malkuth) permanently would be like creating a short circuit and would overwhelm our world with the raw and primal forces of the upper worlds. However, doing so intentionally, and in the framework of magical working, might be useful, and so it makes sense that the Hermetics prefer the former tree. This is just my guess on why they use it. 

It’s not just the placements of the paths that are different, though we’ll return to those in the next post. The Sephirot (spheres) actually take on different meanings in the two different systems. The further you go from Malkuth towards Kether, the larger the differences in interpretation.

I'll be discussing the sephirot from the bottom of the tree, Malkuth, up. Though in Kabbalistic thought, the energies of creation descend from Kether to Malkuth and back again. In Lurianic Kabbalah, our job here at the bottom is to send or reflect them back up the Tree. As a result, you may begin to perceive more of the Tree without ever leaving Malkuth in the phyiscal or even spiritual sense- you just become aware of the parts of your soul that are already on the higher levels. In Hermetic thought, it seems that the idea is to do much the same thing, but in a more directly involved way, and to "climb" the tree. 


This is our world, including what we can’t fully perceive about it, most of the time.

Malkuth is similar in Lurianic and Hermetic Traditions. It’s our world, plus a bit more. There’s magic, or divine presence here, but it’s hard to tap into. The Lurianic tradition calls this presence the Shekinah- the divine feminine principle, first manifested in Binah, and actualized in Malkuth. A hermetic might see it as linked to magic, and coincidence, and the flow of events that can be tapped into. I’d let one of them describe it a bit better. Either way, Malkuth holds all the forces of the upper sephirot, and balances them into what you see around you. You can get anywhere from here, eventually.

The Lurianic Tactical Sephirot

These three sephirot are concerned with tactics- doing something to achieve something else, in Lurianic Kabbalah.

Yesod is similar in both Lurianic and Hermetic Traditions, but this is where they start to significantly diverge. Yesod means foundation. In Lurianic Kabbalah, that means relationships- not just interpersonal, but between objects and forces. It represents things like the divine covenant between the Creator and the created. I and thou. In Hermetic Kabbalah as I understand it, Yesod is related to the Astral plane- a realm of ideas and concepts- patterns and thought. If it were a place, proximity or distance here would be determined by the relative similarity and interconnectedness between ideas. You can see, though that they are saying similar things, in different clothing. Pattern and relationship.  In Lurianic Kabbalah, this is the realm of Yetzirah, Formation- the place where ideas come together, before entering Malkuth, the World of Assiah, or action- reality.  

Hod, which means "splendor", "awe", or "acknowledgement", is where it gets tricky. In Lurianic Kabbalah, it is the realm of empathy, and making room for others; selflessness. A person who was very Hod focused would be humble, but perhaps a bit calculating. It’s said that it represents the times when the wicked prosper, only to face final judgment later. In teaching, it would be a teacher’s tendency to simplify and to compartmentalize the ideas so the student could understand them.  In the Hermetic Kabbalah, it is much more concerned with the compartmentalization aspect of this principle; things like systemizing animals, language, symbols, and any other way of getting a handle on a concept. It’s also considered a mental sephirot, and the “place” where most magic is done, according to my sources. Back in Lurianic Kabbalah, it is not considered mental- those sephirot are further up- but tactical. It represents giving ground to succeed, at least in my interpretation. Either way, Tribute itself is an exercise in Hod.

Netzach, in Lurianic Kabbalah, is “Victory” or “Endurance”; the ability to put yourself out there. Taking ground, or holding your ground to succeed. A Netzach oriented person would be noticed entering a room, and might dominate conversations. In Hermetic Kabbalah, (I believe) it’s more concerned with emotion and passions in general, and things that move you, like music, drives, or even atmosphere and drama in a ritual. I could be wrong.

The Emotional Sephirot in Lurianic Kabbalah

These are concerned with what humans would call the emotional aspects of the decision-making process in creation. 

Next, is Tiphareth, Beauty. In Lurianic Kabbalah, it is an integration of the two forces above it on the tree (Gevurah and Chesed), and all other forces it connects to. It's the great mediator. A Lurianic take on beauty is one that allows everything to exist, and doesn’t erase anything ,but integrates it into a whole. It’s considered focused compassion or peace. Helping someone who doesn’t strictly deserve it because you love them. In a work of art using black and white paints, it would be a painting with both black and white, but no grey- there’s no blending away of what something is in Tiphareth, instead you find its place and allow it to exist. Another example would be the Federation from Star Trek- every culture is honored, but they work together. It has connotations of balance and rectification/healing. I hope that all makes sense. I am honestly pretty weak on what Tiphareth is to the Hermetic tradition, but I know it has connotations of the higher self, and perhaps ultimate good that we strive for in our actions. Some have called it Christ consciousness, but that’s a bit of a different tradition. A Tiphareth person might be a peacemaker.

Gevurah (along with Chesed, the next sephirah) is one major point of agreement between the two traditions. I think that for gamers these two might be the easiest to understand. Gevurah is severity and might- the destructive, limiting force. The ability to say no, in a number of ways. It’s punishment, defense, and destruction. There is nuance between the two traditions, but if you want to attack, defend, or even limit something, we’re talking about Gevurah. A Gevurah person would be harsh and judgmental, but hold themselves to the same unforgiving standard.

Chesed (lovingkindness), or sometimes “Gedulah”, which means "greatness" or "Largesse", is the opposite of Gevurah. It’s limitless giving, even to the undeserving. If Gevurah is a dictatorial despot, Chesed is the permissive king that gives away so much that the people have no reason to work for themselves. Want money? Have it. Want weapons to kill each other? Have them. Chesed is the power to say “Yes” to anything and everything. If Gevurah is defense and attacks, Chesed is where “Buffs” come from- those in game effects that boost your abilities way beyond what they should be. A Chesed person is giving, forgiving, and probably beloved. But if they go too far, they may overstep your boundaries, and assume too much good will. They grant themselves the same freedom they want for others, and this can be a problem.


This is not (usually) considered a sephirah, unless Kether is excluded as one, but is instead an emergent property of the tree, when all other sephirot have manifested.

Da’at means "knowledge", in the typical, and biblical senses, as in "Adam knew Eve". In that regard, it's like the "I see you" line from Avatar.  In Lurianic Tradition, it represents direct experience, or the reality/existence of something. It is considered a lower manifestation of Kether, above. It's what you're left with after a transcendent experience of Kether, and you return to the rest of your life. 

Da’at would be knowing that you can’t touch a hot burner because you viscerally remember doing it as a kid. It gets much more esoteric than that, especially when dealing with non-human frames, but that might be good enough for this post. In Hermetic Kabbalah, it seems to refer to a more specific experience one attains through the practice of magic. Direct Knowledge of the Godhead. It’s the “gold” in alchemy, as I understand it. The Lurianic take includes this, but I find it more generally applicable.

The Lurianic Supernal Sephirot

These are concerned with the mental realm of planning in Lurianic Tradition.

Binah (Understanding) is the first feminine principle in Lurianic Kabbalah. It’s on the same column as Gevurah, so it has a similar negative (not bad- negative, or "yin") role as that sephirot. It is called the mother of form, and covers inductive and deductive reasoning- inferring one thing from another. It is considered a womb where ideas gestate. It limits the final result by deciding exactly what it will become. It sort of says “Yes, but” to any good ideas that come from Chochmah, the next sephirot we’ll talk about. It’s not destructive, but it can seem so, much like a woman’s body rejecting a stillborn child can seem cruel. It works towards an ultimate good, finalizing a plan. In the Hermetic tradition, as I understand it, it seems to be much more concerned with time, and death, and is called the Dark Mother. From what I understand, finally understanding and accepting what Binah’s forces are really about, and why they’re necessary and ultimately good, is a big part of crossing “the Abyss”, the dark night of the soul. A binah person might be a stern but helpful administrator who finalizes a plan.

Chochmah (Wisdom) is divine inspiration, the eureka moment that comes out of nowhere, in Lurianic Tradition. It's the inspiring and great idea that you haven't gotten around to implementing. In less personified terms, it’s the potential of anything to be or become what it will be. It’s raw power and energy. This is one of the hardest sephirot to truly understand beyond this, as it’s very close to the ineffable Kether. Essentially, though, it’s the first possibility of manifestation. I don’t really know how Hermetics see it, other than akin to the Prime Sphere from Mage- ultimate power.

Kether (Crown) is the infinite point where the creator first makes contact with our reality and the point through which he limits himself/herself/itself to manifest our world and us. Though said to represent the will to create, and the divine pleasure of the creator, It’s considered ineffable, so the less you try to eff it, the better. An experience of Kether, though is one of oneness- dare I say identity- with the creator. Tribute uses it for the eponymous Tribute Key, that lets you transcend your limits and have a triumphant moment where the universe bows down to you. I’m in the weeds here regarding Hermetic tradition, but I venture that it’s similar there. Maybe it’s the final, not truly attainable stage of the Great Work. Once you get “here”, you keep going forever. It might look like you’ve attained perfection to others, but there’s always more.  Let me know if I’m off the mark.    

So that’s the difference between the two Trees of life as I understand them. In a future post I’ll talk about how the paths between these sephirot differ, and the importance of the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet in Lurianic Kabbalah.

A final Note

Any gendered terminology is used because it is part of the tradition I'm talking about. A true Kabbalist believes that the creator is beyond gender, and capable of manifesting either force.  There is no bearded man in the sky, but our feeble minds use simplistic ideas like that to explain things. 

Furthemore, the Sephirot are not seen as separate beings/gods in Lurianic Kabbalah- they are tools the creator chose to use. The system is only this way because he/she wants it to be, the rules are the rules of solitaire he or she decided upon, not the only way they could be.  Here on Earth, we have to live by them, in Kabbalistic thought, but they're not limitations to the Creator. Lurianic Kabbalah is monotheistic, and so sees sees intermediaries like pagan gods or even angels as to be avoided. This is another difference between Hermetic and Lurianic approaches. 

Thanks for reading.