The Kabbalistic Teaching Painting of Princess Antonia of Württemberg in Bad Teinach


Die Kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia zu Württemberg in Bad Teinach

Village Church at Bad Teinach in Germany


The Kabbalah

The modern term "Kabbalah" is from the Medieval Latin word cabala which, in turn, is from the Hebrew word qabbālâ. This term, in Hebrew, means a received doctrine or tradition and derives from the word qibbēl - to receive. There are approximately two dozen variant spellings of "Kabbalah" the most common of which include kabbalah, kabala, kabalah, qabalah, qabala, cabala, cabbala, kaballah, kabbala, kaballah, and qabbalah. This sort of multiplicity is frequently seen with Hebrew words borrowed into English because there exist several different systems of transliterating the Hebrew alphabet into Roman letters. The fact that the Hebrew alphabet does not as a rule indicate short vowels or the doubling of consonants compounds the difficulties. Spelling "Kabbalah" with either one or two b's are equally correct, insofar as the single b accurately reproduces the spelling of the Hebrew, while the double b represents the fact that it was once pronounced with a double b. At this website, the spelling "Kabbalah" will be used throughout.

The underlying philosophy of the Jewish Kabbalah is essentially Neoplatonic in origin. Neoplatonists believe that the phenomenal world and the human soul were produced by a process of emanation from the highest level of Reality - the First Hypostasis - otherwise known as "The One'". This belief system includes practical techniques designed to enable an individual soul to retrace the path of emanation in reverse, literally an ascent, or return back to the original condition of being. Emanation is an ancient way of explaining how our physical world, which contains a chaotic diversity of entities, can have an underlying order and a connection with a single, unified source of all being.

The most important proponents of the concept of emanation as a theory to explain the nature of existence is the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 B.C.) and his successors, most notably Plotinus (205-270 A.D.), Porphyry (235-305 A.D.), Iamblichus (245-325 A.D.), and Proclus (410-485 A.D.). Emanation bridges the distance between "The One" (or "The Good") and the diversity of existence found in the material world by postulating intermediate levels of being. There are many different elaborations of this idea; perhaps the most detailed and complete expositions of the Platonic view is described in The Elements of Theology by Proclus. It should also be noted that this Neoplatonic idea system was closely mirrored in the philosophy of the 17th century Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza, a descendant of Portuguese Jews, is believed by many scholars to have been strongly influenced by Kabbalism. Spinoza's philosophy was extremely influential on many later European philosophers.

Such mystical beliefs and practices were fairly commonplace among the Gnostics in the Roman Empire of Late Antiquity and this form of mysticism had adherents, not only among Jews, but among Christians and Pagans as well. In Europe, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, believers in such a system greatly diminished in numbers and went underground, but they did not entirely die out. During the Renaissance, this belief system was revived and played a temporary but important (although sometimes underground) role in European culture until the mid-17th century, when the system began to be overshadowed by the rise of secular Materialism. In later centuries, down to the present day, this belief system has continued to enjoy a small group of adherents who are now, in North America and Europe, classified as members of the so-called "New Age" community.

It should be clearly understood that most elements of the Neoplatonic belief system have been and are now rejected as being heretical by the mainstream, orthodox groups in Judaism, Christianity (both Roman Catholic and Protestant), and Islam. However, certain mystical groups in all three of these religions, e.g., Kabbalists among the Jews, Rosicrucians among the Christians and Sufis among the Moslems, embrace most if not all of the Neoplatonic beliefs espoused by the great philosophers of Late Antiquity, i.e., Plotinus, Iamblichus and Proclus.  

Although Jewish emanational mysticism may be dated back to Late Antiquity, the actual practice of the Kabbalah is much more recent. The most important Jewish scholar of the Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), has concluded that the Kabbalah originated in Medieval Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. The earliest identifiable centers of this practice were in the Provence region of southern France, and northern Spain. These regions enjoyed a high culture at that time, and were much stimulated by contact with the Arab world, both through Moorish (southern) Spain, and also because the Crusades had caused large numbers of Europeans to visit Palestine. For Scholem, Kabbalism is based upon a book entitled the Zohar, a pseudo-epigraphic commentary on the Hebrew Torah. Modern scholars believe that the Zohar was written by the Spanish Kabbalist, Moses of Leon (ca. 1250-1305), in the late 13th century. The essence of the Jewish Kabbalah is comprehension of the divine, both intellectually and experientially, and as such it presupposes a personal God. The situation in Jewish Kabbalah is clear: the God of Kabbalah is the God of Judaism, and as such Kabbalah, although unorthodox, is intended to be an extension and elaboration of Judaism.

Jewish Kabbalah

As previously mentioned, several key concepts in Kabbalah owe a great deal to Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. The outlines of Gnostic and Platonic influences can be discerned and have been documented by scholars. Kabbalah is strongly emanationist. Emanationism in Kabbalah is expressed primarily through two metaphors: "Four Worlds" and "Ten Sephiroth." The Kabbalistic Four Worlds are shown in the following diagram and compared to the equivalent Neoplatonic structure:

Four Worlds of the Kabbalah

Neoplatonic Levels of Reality



Atziluth - Archetypal World of Pure Divinity

"The One" or "The Good"

Briah - Archangelic Creative World

The Intelligible (Nous)

Yetzirah - Angelic Formative World

World Soul

Assiah - Material World of Man and Animals

Physical World and Individual Souls

The Sephiroth is a grouping of 10 "enumerations" or emanations through which God (referred to as "Ein Sof" - The Infinite) reveals himself and continuously creates both the physical realm and the chain of higher metaphysical realms. The doctrine of the Sephiroth is the essence of the Kabbalah and distinguishes it from other forms of Jewish mysticism. The ten stage Sephiroth (in the singular each stage is called a Sephirah) is quite similar to the Pythagorean/Platonic concept of the "Holy Tetraktys." The Holy Tetraktys explains the creative process in terms of the first ten numbers; this concept has first been attributed to Pythagoras (569-475 B.C.). According to the philosopher Iamblichus, Pythagoras spent 22 years studying in Egypt and subsequently spent 12 years in Babylon whereby he acquired most of the esoteric knowledge of both those societies.   By Roman times, the Pythagorean tradition ran in parallel with the teachings of Plato, and often overlapped, so that it is sometimes hard to distinguish between Platonism and Pythagoreanism. Many prominent Platonists, such as Iamblichus, regarded themselves as inheritors of the Pythagorean wisdom tradition, and believed that Plato derived many of his teachings from Pythagorean sources. I will first briefly explain the Tetraktys concept and then compare it to the Sephiroth tradition.

Holy Tetraktys

The number 10, depicted in Pythagorean fashion, is a triangular configuration of 10 pebbles (see above) that was given the impressive name "Holy Tetraktys." This method of displaying the number 10 as the sum of the numbers 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 presents the Pythagorean idea that the number 10 contained within itself the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4. Each of these numbers represented a fundamental idea concerning the Pythagorean Cosmos, i.e., the natural world (represented by the number 4) and three levels of higher, unchangeable reality called "hypostases."

In Greek, the word "hypostasis" (υπόσταση) means underlying state or underlying substance. In other words, beyond the sensory world of visible matter and detectable energy (the phenomenal world) are three higher, uniquely defined, levels of existence (the Hypostases); each subsequent Hypostasis is more sublime than the level which precedes it. The three levels are:

First Hypostasis (represented by the number "1") = named "The Idea of the Good" by Plato and referred to as "The One" (Hen) by Plotinus;

Second Hypostasis (represented by the number "2") = The Nous (Intellect); and

Third Hypostasis (represented by the number "3") = The World Soul.

Each of these levels is produced from its higher level by a process called emanation. The three Hypostases are both ultimate ontological realities and explanatory principles. All Neoplatonists believed that these three Hypostases were recognized, not only by Plato, but by the entire subsequent Platonic tradition. Below the level of the World Soul is the phenomenal world as perceived by the human senses (= Nature = number "4"); unlike the three higher hypostases, this material world is in a constant state of flux or change.


The Sephiroth and the Tree of Life

The oldest philosophical roots of the Sephiroth of the Kabbalah, diagrammatically expressed in the Tree of Life, are found in the Sepher Yetzirah, a book that has been dated to about 3rd or fourth centuries A.D. - many centuries later than the original teachings of Pythagoras and Plato. A relationship exists between the emanational beliefs of the Sepher Yetzirah and the Jewish mystical system described in the 13th century Zohar, that directly gave rise to the Kabbalah. There are many differences between the Kabbalah and the system laid down in the Sefer Yetzirah, but it is the first documented link in the development of the Kabbalistic ideas.

Emanational belief systems, similar to those expressed in the Sepher Yetzirah are still preserved in many Hermetic orders, where training and initiation by ritual, drama, and internal experience, enable an aspirant to ascend through the levels of emanation. The Sephiroth depicted on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (see above) provide such a scheme, and it is usually overlaid with the historically older idea of the ascent through the planetary spheres. This dramatic and (sometimes) spiritual ascent is mirrored in the various Temple grades, which entitle the holder to positions of greater authority within an Hermetic order. For example consider the grade system of the Golden Dawn.

The Sephiroth are arranged in three columns of circles. The left column is called the Pillar of Severity. This represents the female side of man and contains three Sephirah:  Binah (Understanding), Geburah (Severity) and Hod (Splendor). The right column is called the Pillar of Mercy. This represents the male side of man and also contains three Sephirah: Chokmah (Wisdom), Chesed (Kindness) and Netzach (Victory). The middle pillar is called the Pillar of Equilibrium and contains four Sephirah: Keter (Crown), Tipereth (Beauty, Yesod (Foundation) and Malkuth (Kingdom). The "zigzag" yellow line connecting all the spheres shows the pattern of descending emanations from "Ein Sof" down to the material world (Malkuth). Although there are ten Sephiroth, in three cases two Sephiroth are on the same level. Accordingly, the path of descent/ascent passes through only seven levels! This scheme is directly equivalent to the Platonic/Pythagorean and Mithraic ascent/descent through the seven planetary spheres! If you are a Fourth Way student, this scheme of ascent/descent is also analogous to the "Ray of Creation" (Cosmic Octave) described by P. D. Ouspensky in his book In Search of the Miraculous, chapters 7 and 8.

An additional, eleventh Sephirah occasionally appears in some Tree of Life diagrams. This Sephirah, Daath (Abyss), is shown in the above diagram colored in light blue. Daath is considered to be the conscious manifestation of the first Sephirah (Kether), thus conserving the ten categories.

The Ascent of the soul up to the Godhead would follow the same line of connections except in reverse. Spiritual ascent may be thought of as a movement through the worlds or levels of emanation in which the coverings of impurity that create distance from the Divine are progressively removed. The descriptive framework of emanation provides many images, metaphors, concepts and entities which can be utilized to create a program of ascent; that is, the process can be conceptualized in stages, and the spiritual aspirant attempts to work through these stages. More detailed information concerning these stages are outside the scope of this introductory essay; however, an excellent lecture by Colin Low entitled Emanation & Ascent in Hermetic Kabbalah is available online.

Christian Kabbalah

As noted above, the practice of the Jewish Kabbalah originated during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, mainly in the Moslem and Christian kingdoms of Spain. The Spain of that era was one of unusual religious tolerance.  Unfortunately, such tolerance was short lived and completely came to an end during the 15th century with the final destruction of the Moslem Kingdom of Granada and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

The philosophical beginnings of a Christian Kabbalah began with the writings of of the Spanish Christian mystic, Ramon Llull (1232-1317); however, there was little notice of his work outside of Spain. In the late fifteenth century, primarily to avoid expulsion, many Spanish Jews converted to Christianity. Many of these people had been practitioners of the Jewish Kabbalah; they sought to modify the practice to give a distinctly Christian context to the Kabbalistic doctrines. This movement gained strong support in Italy from the Florentine Platonists, who believed that the Kabbalah might contain the key to explaining the mystical secrets of the Roman Catholic faith. This fortuitous convergence resulted in the foundation of a distinctly Christian Cabala by the Florentine Platonist, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). Pico saw in the Kabbalah a link to Neoplatonist philosophy that might also provide proof of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Pico’s writings, and subsequently those of the German scholar, John Reuchlin (1455-1522), created an interest in Kabbalah that spread throughout the entire European intellectual community.

In the sixteenth century, the appearance of Kabbalistic texts in Latin translation further enhanced attempts to draw further parallels between Jewish mysticism and Christianity. French scholar, Guillaume Postel (1510-1581), translated into Latin and published the main Hebrew emanational manuscripts, Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah, before they were published in Hebrew. These Latin texts were influential in standardizing the teachings of the Christian Kabbalists of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe.

In the 17th century, the main centers for the study of the Christian Kabbalah moved from Italy to Protestant England and Germany. The theosophical writings of German mystic, Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), and the Kabbalistic studies by German Hebraist, Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (1636-1689), greatly enhanced the status of the practice among Protestant Christians. The German Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kirchner (1602-1680), in his monumental work entitled Oedipus Aegyptiacus (published 1652-1654), promoted a syncretic world view combining Kabbalah, Hermeticism,  Orphism and ancient Egyptian mythology.


"Kabbalistic Tree of Life" by Athanasius Kircher
The "Kabbalistic Tree of Life" is an illustration from a book by the Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), entitled "Oedipus Ægyptiacus" (published 1652).

Kircher's version of the "Tree of Life" has been popular among mystical groups in both Europe and North America. It is the version that was used by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The layout of the paths, and the association of the letters to the paths, varies in different versions, but the Golden Dawn adopted the basic scheme utilized by Kircher with only minor adjustments.

One interesting feature of Kircher’s version of the Tree of Life is the way in which the names of the planets are associated with principles of the Sephiroth. Kircher attributes the lowest Sephirah, Malkuth, to the Moon, Yesod to Mercury, Hod to Venus, Netzach to Mars, Tiphareth to the Sun, Geburah to Saturn and Chesed to Jupiter, so that the planets are not connected with the three highest Sephiroth. This scheme entails reversing the normal order of Jupiter and Saturn, placing Saturn between Jupiter and Mars, against tradition and actual orbit, and the Sun is placed between Saturn and Mars, which goes against tradition. The Golden Dawn associations are almost entirely different: Malkuth is associated with Earth and Yesod with the Moon, Mercury with Hod and Venus with Netzach; Tiphareth is still attributed to the Sun, but Mars to Geburah, Chesed is still attributed to Jupiter, but Saturn to Binah. The Golden Dawn rearrangement means that the planets follow the ‘Babylonian order’ (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) exactly, but one of the three highest Sephiroth is now given a planetary association.

Shown at the right are two versions of the Kircher Sephirot: The first is the Tree of Life as it originally appeared in Kircher's book with Latin text; the second version was prepared with English translations of the Latin text by the 33° Mason, Manly Palmer Hall (1901-1990).

Christian Kabbalah reached the final phase of development during the 17th and 18th centuries, when it incorporated alchemical symbolism and Rosicrucian philosophy. Those who believe, as I do, that Freemasonry is rooted in both Rosicrucian and Hermetic belief systems, will also see the influence of the Kabbalah as well.

Concept of the Trinity in the Christian Kabbalah

In John Reuchlin’s book entitled, De Arte Cabbalistica (published 1517), we find various "proofs" that Christian doctrines are contained in Jewish texts. One class of proofs is based upon application of a literary methodology called "notaricon" - the art of reading Hebrew word forms not as sound cues pointing to specific meanings, but as graphic statements of interacting principles. Letters are read as words and phrases. Notaricon has a rule which says that every first (or last) letter of every word of a sentence gives a word that says something about that sentence. Also, one word could be read as a complete sentence. For example: the first word of the Hebrew Bible is “BRAShYT.”   In notaricon, the word “BRAShYT” could be understood as an entire sentence. In Hebrew, the first letters of the sentence: “In the beginning Elohim saw that Israel would receive the law.” form the word “BRAShYT” Accordingly, one could then say that the Bible, in its first word, promises that the people Israel will receive the Torah. However, a Christian Cabalist could and would make another sentence for this same word. For example: “Son, Spirit, Father, their Trinity, complete oneness.” also can be derived from “BRAShYT.” Thus, he would say that an important Christian doctrine is contained in the Jewish Bible!

These word manipulations seemed to have assisted in convincing recently "converted" Spanish Jews to embrace this extremely important tenet of the Christian faith - the Trinity! More should be said about this concept. As far back as the 13th century (1292), a Franciscan monk, Arnoldo de Villanova (1235-1315), said that the fact that there are three different letters in the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or in Hebrew: יהוה‎) - the Hebrew word for God - was a sign that God is really a Trinity. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Christian Cabalists did their utmost to cite other proofs of the Trinitarian concept from Jewish texts. Giovanni Pico said that the first three elements of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life - the Sephiroth: Kether, Hokhmah, and Binah - actually represent the Trinity. John Reuchlin referred to God as a threefold principle of unity and the Venetian monk, Francesco Giorgi (1466-1540), found the trinity in the Jewish names for God: 1) AHYA (Eheieh, which Giorgi identifies with the Father), YHWH (for the son) and ADNY (Adonai, for the Holy Ghost). Three other Jewish holy names are folded into a trinity by John Reuchlin: He (He), Eheih (I am) and Esh (fire).

At the beginning of this essay, I stated that the Zohar was the most important document expressing the doctrines of the Jewish Kabbalah. The following is an excerpt from the Jewish Encyclopedia (published 1906) article on the Zohar:

The enthusiasm felt for the Zohar was shared by many Christian scholars, such as Pico de Mirandola, Reuchlin, Ægidius of Viterbo, etc., all of whom believed that the book contained proofs of the truth of Christianity. They were led to this belief by the analogies existing between some of the teachings of the Zohar and certain of the Christian dogmas, as for instance the fall and redemption of man, and the dogma of the Trinity, which is expressed in the Zohar in the following terms:

 "The Ancient of Days has three heads. He reveals himself in three archetypes, all three forming but one. He is thus symbolized by the number Three. They are revealed in one another. [These are:] first, secret, hidden 'Wisdom'; above that the Holy Ancient One; and above Him the Unknowable One. None knows what He contains; He is above all conception. He is therefore called for man 'Non-Existing' [Ayin] (Zohar, iii. 288b)."

This and also the other doctrines of Christian tendency that are found in the Zohar are now known to be much older than Christianity; but the Christian scholars who were deluded by the similarity of these teachings to certain Christian dogmas deemed it their duty to propagate the Zohar. Shortly after the publication of the work (Mantua and Cremona, 1558) Joseph de Voisin translated extracts from it which deal with the soul. He was followed by many others, among whom was Knorr, Baron von Rosenroth, who rendered into Latin the introduction, the "Sifra di-Ẓeni'uta," the "Idra Rabbah," and the "Idra Zuṭa" ("Kabbala Denudata," Sulzbach, 1677).

My personal view as to the reason why Jewish mysticism, as expressed in the Zohar and elsewhere, seems to give credence to a threefold division of the Godhead is the same reason why the Christian concept of the Godhead evolved into the Doctrine of the Trinity. The reason is simple, even though both religions will vigorously deny it. Jewish mysticism and Christian higher theology are both based upon the Neoplatonic philosophy of Late Antiquity as expressed by Plotinus, Iamblichus, Proclus and others. These philosophers espoused a basically threefold division of higher reality - the Three Hypostases which I briefly discussed in the first part of this essay. To me, it is quite understandable that Christian scholars were able to find expression of beliefs in the Jewish Kabbalah that seemed to resemble Christianity. Both of these belief systems were based upon the same philosophical foundation, i.e., Neoplatonism!

The number three was important in the Christian Kabbalah in other ways. They divided the Cosmos into three divisions: elemental, celestial, and intelligible. These three can be found in the Heptaplus of Pico, De Verbo Mirifico of Reuchlin and De Harmonia Mundi of Giorgi. Giovanni Pico wrote that the first division, the black pit of darkness, is the Earth, the intelligible division is the world of pure light and, in the celestial division, light and darkness are in perfect balance. The three souls of the Jews, called nephesh, ruach,  and neshamah , may be compared to the threefold soul of Renaissance Neoplatonism. Francesco Giorgi wrote about these three souls in his book De Harmonia Mundi. He described a high, middle, and lower soul in the long poem contained in the book. The high soul is the divine soul - the immortal Neshamah; the middle soul is the mediator, the breath of life or Ruach;  and the lower soul is the animal soul or nephesh in Hebrew.


Christian Kabbalist at Work? - An Etching by Rembrandt

The German scholars who inspired the design of the "Lehrtafel of Princess Antonia" were almost certainly Freemasons and Rosicrucians who were familiar with the philosophy of the Christian Kabbalah. At left is an engraving by one of their Dutch contemporaries, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669):  "The Inspired Scholar" (completed ca, 1652), ink on paper (dry point etching and engraving), dimensions 21 x 16 cm, print on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Rembrandt's title for this very famous engraving is unknown; art historians have used several names over the centuries. The names most frequently used are "Doctor Faustus" or "The Practicing Alchemist." The name I prefer is the one used by the English Academic, Dame Francis Yates (1899-1981). She called the engraving "The Inspired Scholar."

The Rijksmuseum describes the engraving in the following words:

"An old man looks up from his work. A bright, radiating disk has appeared at the window of his study. Within the circle of light is a mysterious text. It is an anagram - that is, words in which the letters are in a different order. Reading from the inside out, it says: INRI ADAM TE DAGERAM AMRTET ALGAR ALGA S TNA, although just what that means is unclear. To the right of the disk, a hand can be distinguished, which points to something resembling an oval mirror. Although the room is poorly lit, many things can still be perceived; the books, the globe [scientific instrument also known as an astrolabe], and the skull [just behind the old man's head], all suggest that the man is educated."

Dame Francis Yates (1899-1981), in her book The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (published 1979, provides the following description:

"The artist who lived near the Jews of Amsterdam and studied them so deeply shows here a figure who has been immersed in profound studies, as shown by the globe and other evidences of deep involvement in science. The melancholy and thoughtful student turns in surprise to see a vision, rays of light passing through a circular combination of letters, the central circle marked with the letters INRI, the monogram of Christ.

"One of the earliest and most persistent interpretations of this impressive composition is that it represents Faust and is depicting a profound search for forbidden knowledge. This interpretation is now generally abandoned; it does not fit with the dignity and religious intensity of the subject. Further, a discovery was made by H. van de Waal that the outermost ring of the diagram when read in reverse, contains the letters AGLA, a formula referring to the Eighteen Benedictions, recited thrice daily in Jewish liturgy. The letters AGLA refer to the first words of the Second of the Eighteen Benedictions: Attah gibbor le-dam Adonai. The vision is therefore seen now as profoundly religious in content, both Christian and Jewish. The vague forms glimpsed outside the window are interpreted as half-seen angels, reflecting the supernal light into the diagram.

"I would suggest that this etching is related to the subject of inspired melancholy, ... the student being a Christian Kabbalist to whom, in the dark night of his melancholic labors, the Divine Name is revealed."


Use of the Christian Kabbalah in the Lehrtafel of Princess Antonia

Portion of Lehrtafel center panel showing Sephiroth 1 through 6, each indicated by a white oval.

Portion of Lehrtafel center panel showing Sephiroth 6 through 10, each indicated by a white oval.

The German scholars who inspired the design of the "Lehrtafel of Princess Antonia" were almost certainly Freemasons and Rosicrucians who were familiar with the philosophy of the Christian Kabbalah. As shown in the above photograph, a Kabbalistic "Tree of Life" diagram is hidden within the center panel of the triptych. The German scholar and theologian, Otto Betz (1917-2005) has performed a brilliant analysis of the Kabbalistic elements contained within the Lehrtafel in his book entitled: Licht vom unerschaffnen Lichte. Die kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia. People who are deeply interested in the Christian Kabbalah should refer to his book; unfortunately, it has never been translated into English. My elementary discussion of some of the Kabbalistic and other esoteric aspects of the Lehrtafel is given in the following paragraphs.

The overall design of the Lehrtafel displays a contrasting yet complementary, twofold structure. This twofold structure is presented on many different levels of understanding, but only a single theme is contained within each level. That theme concerns the positioning of Moses vis-à-vis Christ. Let me mention just a few examples:

1) The left panel of the triptych depicts a scene from the New Testament concerning the nighttime flight to Egypt by the Holy Family; the right panel of the triptych depicts a scene from the Old Testament where Pharaoh's daughter and her entourage find the baby Moses in the bulrushes alongside the Nile in Egypt. Two different babies, one in each picture - baby Jesus and baby Moses - but the story concerning each child takes place in Egypt. The triptych is subtly pointing out that both Moses and Jesus were in Egypt as children.

2) The "heart" of the center panel of the Triptych, depicts the inner sanctum of a great temple (similar to the Temple of Solomon) in which two crucifixions are shown. This is another juxtaposition of the Moses and Christ themes. The standard crucifixion of Christ scene is set alongside a scene involving a crucified serpent, derived from the story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent (see Numbers, Chapter 21, Verses 4-9). The basic message conveyed by these two crucifixions is quite clear. Just as an Israelite who had been bitten by a viper could be purified from the effect of the venom simply by gazing upon a brazen serpent nailed to a pole, so could a sinner who was poisoned by his own sins have them purified or washed away by the blood of Christ who had been nailed to a cross.

3) The Jewish Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism; the traditional story concerning its origin is that the Kabbalah is the esoteric, oral teaching of Moses, while the Torah is his written, exoteric teaching. Conversely, most Christian mystics believe that their belief system is based upon the secret, oral teaching of Jesus, while the Gospels contain his written, exoteric teaching.

4) The simple porportion may be used to show the equivalence between Moses and Jesus and between Jews and Christians. The esoteric Kabbalah compared to exoteric Judaism is equivalent to esoteric Rosicrucianism compared to exoteric Protestant Christianity.

5) The Egyptian theme running through much of the Lehrtafel iconography is there to provide a cryptic allusion to the Rosicrucian and Masonic belief that the secret, oral teachings of the ancient Egyptian temple schools were the source not only of the teachings of Moses but that of Christ as well! There is little scriptural evidence to support this position, but I am able to make the following comments.

Re Moses:  Exodus Chapter 11, verse 3 states: "And moreover, the Man Moses was exceedingly important in the land of Egypt." Also, Acts Chapter 7, verse 22 states: "And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds."

Re Jesus:  There is no scriptural comment concerning the time that Jesus and his family spent in Egypt. However, certain, mostly oral, alchemical and Gnostic traditions assert that Jesus, as a young man, studied for a time in Alexandria, which then had a large Jewish community. Indeed, historians have stated that, in that era, more Jews lived in Egypt than in Palestine! Jesus is supposed to have been initiated into the mysteries of the Serapis religion and also into certain other secret societies. There was and still is a Coptic and Gnostic tradition that Jesus had not only been in Alexandria, but that he and his family had initially settled in the city of Leontopolis, at which a Jewish colony was located; this colony flourished from about 170 B.C until it was destroyed by order of the Emperor Vespasian in 73 A.D. Leontopolis was near the city of Heliopolis which had been one of the greatest centers of learning among the native Egyptians.

Otto Betz (see above) believed that the Lehrtafel is intended to show that the pathway to human salvation, in both the Christian and Jewish understanding, is concerned with the connections between nature and history, love and suffering, kingship and service, et al. The Tree of Life, with its ten Sephiroth, helps explain this belief. It is arranged as a stylized tree or as a pattern of a human figure. The following table compares the ten Sephiroth of the Jewish Kabbalah with the corresponding Christian Sephiroth depicted in the Lehrtafel:

Hebrew Word Meaning in the Jewish Kabbalah Meaning in the Christian Kabbalah of the Lehrtafel Comments
1. Kether - Conscious Intellect 1. Crown 1. God the Father Christian Trinity occupies the first 3 Sephiroth
2. Chokhmah - Conscious Intellect 2. Wisdom 2. God the Son (Jesus as God)  
3. Binah - Conscious Intellect 3. Understanding 3. God the Holy Spirit  
4. Chesed - Primary Emotion 4. Kindness 4. Mercy  
5, Geburah - Primary Emotion 5. Severity 5. Justice  
6. Tiphareth - Primary Emotion 6. Beauty 6. Love  
7. Netzach - Secondary Emotion 7. Victory 7. Victory  
8. Hod - Secondary Emotion 8. Splendor 8. Praise  
9. Yesod - Secondary Emotion 9. Foundation 9. Foundation Means a Vessel which enables one to take action
10. Malkuth - Secondary Emotion 10. Kingdom 10. Jesus as Man Christ appears twice as both God and man

Other than the ninth Sephirah, all of the principles of the Christian "Tree of Life" differ from the Jewish version. The ninth Sephirah, called Foundation in English, also can mean a vehicle or device through which action may be taken; in the Lehrtafel, this Sephirah has been given a likeness of Princess Antonia herself. I interpret this to mean that she is expected to perform a major role in the promulgation of the mystical, emanationist philosophy symbolized in the painting. A major difference between Jewish and Christian Trees of Life is that the first three Sephiroth pertain to the Trinity in the Christian version. I find that one of the most interesting characteristics of the Lehrtafel Tree is that the images representing seven of the Sephiroth are women; the only exceptions are Kether (God the Father), Chokhmah (God the Son) and Malkuth (which is a depiction of Christ as a man holding the Cross). 

Kabbalah and the Tarot

In recent times, many "New Age" practitioners of the Kabbalah do so in conjunction with the use of the Tarot.  I consider this to be a completely spurious approach, if one's goal is the achievement of higher states of consciousness. Accordingly, I will conclude this essay with a quote from a recent interview given by the noted artist and Tarot expert, Robert M. Place. His words are well expressed and reflect my sentiments exactly:

In the 1800's, the French occultist Eliphas Levi was enamored with the Kabbalah and tried to synthesize all occult teachings into one Kabbalistic system. He also became interested in the Tarot and for him to make it part of his synthesis he had to demonstrate that the Tarot was Kabbalistic. He picked up on an idea that was mentioned before him by Court de Gebelin, namely, that the 22 trump cards are related to the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew letters in the Kabbalistic system are also each related to a sign of the zodiac, a planet, or an element. So, once the cards are assigned to the letters, they also are connected to the astrological system.

Many people still find this a satisfying way to think about the Tarot. But I find it disappointing. The symbolism of the Hebrew alphabet and the zodiac simply does not fit with the images that are in the Tarot trumps. Levi force fit it for the sake of his theory. This system of correspondences leads one away from the symbolism that is actually presented in the pictures on the cards. It denies the story that is there. It is based on the false idea that the Tarot was consistent in the number and ordering of the trumps and that this order is a secret code. At its worst, this type of thinking reduces the symbols in the Tarot to mere signs and stops one with interacting with the pictures. It is unlikely that Jewish Kabbalists would have created a set of icons like the Tarot trumps because they felt that it was sacrilegious to create icons and the Christian Kabbalah developed almost a century later than the Tarot.

Some people are enamored with the idea of unlocking a secret code that will give them mystical insight into the workings of the universe. However, I think that this not a true mystical quest. To understand what is in the Tarot, I feel that it is essential to look at its origins in the Italian Renaissance and study the iconography and symbolism of that time. They are related to the iconography of the period and depict an allegorical parade. The Renaissance was a time when the power of symbols and images was fully recognized. It was part of their attempt to reclaim the ancient Classical world. This is why the arts flourished in the Renaissance. By reclaiming the art and wisdom of the ancient world they also reclaimed the ancient mystical philosophy that was centered on the work of Plato. This is what we call Neoplatonism and it is this mystical Neoplatonism that is expressed in the Tarot.


The two principal scholarly works on the Jewish and Christian Kabbalah are as follows:

Jewish Kabbalah: Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (first English edition 1941).

Christian Kabbalah: Joseph Leon Blau (1909-1986), The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance (1965).

For the purposes of this short essay, I have used the following sources:

1) Arthur Edward Waite, The Doctrine and Literature of the Kabbalah (London: 1902)

2) Colin Low, Online Article: Kabbalah - Frequently Asked Questions (1996).

3) Frances A. Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (London: 1979).

4) Nicholas Goodricke-Clarke, The Western Esoteric Traditions (Oxford: 2008).

5) Robert M. Place, The Tarot - History, Symbolism and Divination (2005). pages 68-73.

6) Rudolf Steiner, The Secret Storm (2000), pages 206-238.

7)  Otto Betz, Licht vom unerschaffnen Lichte. Die kabbalistische Lehrtafel der Prinzessin Antonia (1996).

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