Light, Chaos, and Redemption:

The Kabbalistic Cosmology of Isaac Luria


Isaac Luria (1534-1572), nicknamed "Ari" (the Lion) for his spiritual presence and force was one of the greatest Kabbalists of Medieval/Renaissance Europe, and was instrumental in the development of many aspects of the Kabbalah that we are familiar with today. Though he wrote little, some of what he taught was preserved by his students, and it is from this body of information that we derive what we know of his philosophy.

Much of Lurianic thought seems to be a profound reconciliation of Western (Judaic/Christian), Eastern (Indian), and modern (scientific) cosmology. To take one important example, Luria taught the doctrine of gilgul, a version of reincarnation. Whether Luria deliberately set out to reconcile differing world-views, or if this result is a natural by-product of true inspiration, is not known.


Three Veils (Ain, Ain Soph, Ain Soph Aur)

While Luria did not himself originate the concept of the Three Veils of Negative Existence, it is crucial to be familiar with this fundamental Kabbalistic cosmology in order to understand Lurianic thought, as it was a launching point for his own inspiration. Ain is the primordial nondual basis of the Universe; emanating from it (but existing simultaneously with it) is Ain Soph, "the Limitless," infinite as well but at a lower level of abstraction than the primordial. Most important in Lurianic cosmology is the final emanation, Ain Soph Aur, "the Boundless Light," which for our purposes encompasses the Tree of Life and is the field (so to speak) from which Kether sprouts. These three concepts are far too abstract for the concerns of practical magick and kabbalah, so they will not be further dealt with here. Suffice it to say that advanced Adepts will spend much of their time contemplating and engaging in subtle work with these planes.

The main thing that any Initiate of the Golden Dawn should know at this point is that the Light which we draw down into ourselves in various rituals (such as the Middle Pillar and others), and which is called upon by such invocational rubrics as Khabs Am Pekh - Konx Om Pax - Light in Extension, has its ultimate origin in the Ain Soph Aur, filtered and channelled through Kether (the crown of the head, in microcosmic terms), Tiphareth (the heart-center), Yesod, to Malkuth (the "grounding" place or locus of final crystallization, from whence the upward return circuit begins again.) The Light also zigzags its way through the other Sephira, of course, but this movement is not directly drawn upon during the above mentioned rituals but has more specialized, limited functions.



Zimzum (Contraction / Inhalation)

The first concept that is uniquely Lurianic is the idea of zimzum, by which Luria envisioned the Ain Soph mystically inhaling or drawing in the Light of the unimaginable Ain, and exhaling or emitting this Light -- subtly but profoundly transformed -- as the seed of Kether. From here the first Universe was emanated.



ADM KDMN (Primordial Human)

Adam Kadmon is the priomordial human, the archetype of the microcosmos (humanity or the individual human conceived of as a type.) This Man (probably an androgynous figure, actually) is represented on the Tree of Life, the Sephira of which outline his form much as they do in the individual human of our material plane. (I.e., Kether at the crown of the head, Tiphareth at the heart center, and so forth.) This archetype is not to be confused with the "Adam" of the Garden of Eden, though the latter is certainly a miniature projection of the former. ADM KDMN contained the Four Worlds (Levels of Reality) within him, which later became differentiated.


Distillation of Four Worlds (Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah, Assiah)

The concept of the Four Worlds or Levels of Reality was dealt with on an earlier page. They represent a level ranging from abstract/archetypal (Atziluth) to concrete/individual (Assiah.) Our physical, earthly reality is a tiny part of the realm of Assiah. Higher realms are encounted, sometimes, during deep meditative states or advanced magickal rituals (when those rituals are properly peformed.)



Breaking of the Vessels of the first Universe (Sheviret HaKelim)

Luria envisioned, after the initial creation of the first Universe, an intense projection of the Light of Ain from Kether down into the successive Sephiroth. (In Luria's scheme, by the way, the Sephiroth are seen as concentric spheres, Kether being outermost -- closest to the Ain Soph -- and Malkuth being in the center.) This projection was envisioned as being so powerful that the Vessels (Sephiroth) of this primordial Universe somehow could not contain the energy and thus shattered. The fallen shards of this cataclysmic universal shattering fell to make our own "fallen" world and also served as the raw material for the shells of the Qlippoth. The Breaking of the Vessels has also been called, metaphorically, the "Death of the Kings," referring to a passage in Genesis relating the death of the Edomite rulers, which has thus been Kabbalistically interpreted.

The concept of the sheviret ha-kelim functions, like the story of the Garden of Eden and the Fall, to explain the admittedly imperfect and perhaps evil state of the material world at the present time. It also sets up the possibility for repairing the destruction caused by the shattering of the first Universe, a process of redemption outlined below.


Partzufim (Faces)

The "Faces" described in Lurianic Kabbalah refer to what we can only describe as several lesser Deities (or projections of the transcendent Deity) who possess distinct personalities and who, in their relationship to humanity, somehow work toward the Great Work of Restoration or Redemption of the Universe. They came into manifestation immediately following the Breaking of the Vessels, being composed of the reconstituted fragments, as a way of mediating the Divine Will in a manner which served to bridge God and humanity. They essentially exist in the world of Atziluth (the world of Archetypes) and serve as channels between God and mankind.

These personae consist of:

Arin Anpin, the "Great Countenance" (Macropropsopus) more popularly known as the Ancient of Days (Aatik Yomin), associated with Kether.

Abba, familiar to readers of the New Testament as Christ's term for God. Of course it literally means "Father." It is associated with Chokmah.

Aima (Mother) is the divine Mother and is the counterpart of Abba; she is associated with Binah.

Zaur Anpin, the "Lesser Countenance" or Microposopus is the Son of Abba and Aima, and later came to be associated with the divine Christ as it incarnated into Jesus (in Christian rather than Lurianic kabbalah.) It is associated with Tiphareth and also with the six central Sephiroth taken as a group (Chesed, Geburah, Tiphareth, Netzach, Hod and Yesod).

Kalah, called the Bride of the Son and also known as Malkah (the Queen.) She is the counterpart to Zaur Anpin and is associated with Malkuth.

From the above scheme, it should be clear to the discerning Initiate how the "Great Work" is mystically accomplished within the individual body -- viz. the mystical marriage of the Bride (Malkuth or physical body) with the Son (Tiphareth or the Heart Center.) One can also extrapolate from this to a larger social or collective awakening as the Bridge (Malkuth as Earth) is united with the esoteric Sun/Son, but this is a work for Adepts.

This introduces us to the final important concept here:


Redemption / Restoration (Tikkun)

The final concept in Luria's Kabbalah deals with soteriology (salvation). His idea of tikkun (redemption or restoration) follows naturally out of the vision of a shattered universe and the projection of the Faces (or Family) of God. It also enables an Initiated group of humanity to participate in the restoration of the fallen universe by means of establishing a link to the higher worlds and to the higher aspects of Deity (such as Abba and Aima, the Father and Mother God.)

Clearly the Order of the Golden Dawn, in its various Initiatory and magickal work, is part of the effort of that enlightened portion of humanity to perform the "Great Work" of Restoration. It begins with the bringing down of the Light of the Golden Dawn, by which the microcosmos (the individual initiate) begins in a very small-scale way the work of Tikkun. As a group, the Order continues this on a larger scale -- from the immediate local group (through the consecrated Temple) to the worldwide scale. This is the mission of the Order of the Rose and the Cross and of its higher Adepts, properly speaking.

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