Wicca, The Tree of Life & The Goddess
This is an article by Sorita d’Este is from the archives, it is based on ideas developed by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine from their research into the magical and practical roots of Western Esoteric Qabalah, as well as the Shekinah and Wiccan History. It was originally written for the Magical Buffet (online e-zine) and has subsequently been published in a couple of community magazines.
This article is written with beginners in mind and you don’t need any previous experience of qabalah to be able to read it, however complete newcomers unfamiliar with the terminology might benefit from first reading What is Qabalah? which is also available here on WTA.
By Sorita d’Este (www.sorita.co.uk)
“She is called the Spirit of Life and through Her do all men understand Wisdom.”
Zohar, 13th century
The Goddess occupies a central role in a number of magickal traditions. These include obvious instances such as the Wiccan tradition, and also less obvious ones such as the Qabalah. In Qabalah the Goddess is commonly known as the Shekinah, a Hebrew word which comes from the root shakhan, meaning “to dwell”. This meaning fits in with the Qabalistic idea that a fragment of the Shekinah is present within every living person, literally the divine spark of the Goddess in all of us!
The best known image in the Qabalah is the glyph of the Tree of Life, representing both the universe and man, and embodying the old magickal axiom of ’As above, so below.’ The Shekinah is sometimes described as the Tree of Life itself, as in Proverbs 3:17-18, which declares:
“Her ways are of pleasantness, and her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.”
On the Tree of Life the Shekinah is also particularly associated with the sephira of Binah (“Understanding”) at the top of the feminine Pillar of Severity. Significantly this Pillar is also known as the Black Pillar, and is on the left as you look at an image of the Tree of Life. Balancing this is the masculine Pillar of Mercy or White Pillar. In Wicca these pillars are represented on the altar by the black and white candles of the goddess and god, which are positioned in the same manner, showing their Qabalistic roots. This symbolism of the pillars is also referred to in the Great Rite, and discussed further in the book I wrote with my partner David Rankine, Wicca Magickal Beginnings.
The Tree of Life can be seen as a symbol map on which different magickal traditions can be mapped, this is particularly true of the Wiccan tradition. Amongst the many divisions and layers of the Tree of Life we can see many parallels with the Wiccan tradition.
Looking at the act of blessing the salt and water to consecrate the magick circle in the Wiccan tradition, we see it is full of Qabalistic significance. The water and salt are blessed, corresponding to the lower spheres of Malkuth (the salt) and Yesod (the water). Yesod is the sphere of the Moon, representing the astral and subtle realms, so by uniting the salt and water you are symbolically uniting the astral and the physical realms. The resulting salt water is also symbolic of the sphere of Binah, the Great Mother, which corresponds to the sea. So from a symbolic perspective the blessing of the salt and water and lustration represents the blessing of the circle with the energy of the mother goddess (Binah), and the journey between the worlds (union of Moon and Earth, Yesod and Malkuth).
The magick circle itself is another symbol shared by Wicca and Qabalah. One of the Qabalistic creation myths (from ninth century CE Germany) tells of how the Shekinah is the circle of fire who surrounds God, and that through their union the universe, human souls and angels come into being. In fact the Shekinah is seen in two forms in Qabalah, as the Greater Shekinah and the Lesser Shekinah. As the Greater Shekinah she is the great goddess who unites with god to create the universe, considered to be unmanifest and omnipresent, and is also known as the Superior Mother, who can be seen as the Great Mother Goddess of Wicca. A description of the Shekinah translated by MacGregor Mathers in The Kabbalah Unveiled shows the similarity in perception of the goddess with Wicca:
“From Her do they receive their nourishment, and from Her do they receive blessing; and She is called the Mother of them all.”
The relationship of the goddess and god, so central to Wicca, is also seen repeatedly on the Tree of Life. As well as the feminine and masculine pillars, it is also seen in the balanced pair of Sephiroth at the top of the pillars, Chokmah (‘Wisdom’) and Binah (’Understanding’), and in the relationship of the central solar Sephira of Tiphereth (’Beauty’) with the bottom Sephira of Malkuth (‘Kingdom’).
Malkuth has many titles and it is also equated to the Lesser Shekinah. This is because Malkuth is the sphere of the elements, and corresponds to the physical world we live in, and nature. Hence we see titles for Malkuth such as the Bride, the Queen and the Mother of all things. As the Bride, Malkuth is said to be married to the Husband sphere of Tiphereth, symbolising the union of the sun god and the earth goddess as also seen in Wicca. Tiphereth as the child of Chokmah and Binah also corresponds to the Child of Promise, reborn at Yule.
These Sephiroth of Chokmah, Binah, Tiphereth and Malkuth can also correspond to the great unpronounceable name of Qabalah, the Tetragrammaton, usually pronounced as Jehovah or Jahweh. This name is comprised of four letters, IHVH, and these letters have many attributions. Amongst these attributions are Father – Mother – Son – Daughter, Fire – Water –Air – Earth, Past – Future – Space – Present. A cursory glance immediately shows have familiar concepts from Wicca are also seen with these attributions, such as Fire and Air as the masculine elements and Water and Earth as the feminine ones. Likewise the relationship between the mother and daughter is emphasised by them both being attributed to the same letter, Heh, which is repeated in the unpronounceable name.
Returning to Tiphereth, the Solar Sephira, it has a unique and interesting position on the Tree of Life, at the centre of the glyph. It is connected by paths to all of the other Sephiroth apart from Malkuth. This means there are eight Sephiroth around the sun, mirroring the symbolism Wheel of the Year, where the sun passes through the year and the eight Sabbats.
So whilst this is only a brief glimpse, hopefully it demonstrates that the Tree of Life can be found in many places with many layers of symbolism and meaning, and that wherever you look, the Goddess is universal.