Only man can fall from God
No animal, no beast nor creeping thing
no cobra nor hyaena nor scorpion nor hideous white ant
can slip entirely through the fingers of the hands of god
into the abyss of self-knowledge,
knowledge of the self-apart-from-god.
For the knowledge of the self-apart-from-God
is an abyss down which the soul can slip
writhing and twisting in all the revolutions
of the unfinished plunge
of self-awareness, now apart from God, falling
fathomless, fathomless, self-consciousness wriggling
writhing deeper and deeper in all the minutiae of self-knowledge, downwards, exhaustive,
yet never, never coming to the bottom, for there is no bottom;
zigzagging down like the fizzle from a finished rocket
the frizzling, falling fire that cannot go out, dropping wearily,
neither can it reach the depth
for the depth is bottomless,
so it wriggles its way even further down, further down
at last in sheer horror of not being able to leave off
knowing itself, knowing itself apart from God, falling.
"Only Man", D. H. Lawrence
The triad of Binah, Chokmah and Kether are a Kabbalistic representation of the manifest God. A discussion on this triad presents me with a problem. The problem is that while I have used the word "God" in many places in these notes, I have done so with a sense of unease, understanding that the word means so many different things to so many people that it is effectively meaningless. I have chosen to use the word as a placeholder for personal experience, with the implicit assumption that the reader understands that "God" is a personal experience, and not an ill-defined abstraction one "believes in". My view is not novel, but there are still many people who are uncomfortable with the idea of experiencing (as opposed to "believing in") God. A second assumption implicit in the use of the word "God" as a placeholder is that it stands only for experience; your experience, and hence your God, is as valid as mine, and as there are no formal definitions, there is no scope for theological debate or dispute. This leaves me with nothing more to say.
However.....these notes were intended to provide some insight into Kabbalah, and it would be odd, having begun to write them, to then turn around and say "sorry, I won't say anything about the three supernal sephiroth". I think I have to say something. Balanced against this is my original intention, at every stage in these notes, to relate the objects of discussion to something real, to make a personal contribution by adding my own understanding to the subject rather than simply pot-boiling the same old material. I cannot see how to put flesh on the bare bones of the supernal sephiroth without discussing my own conception of God and whatever personal experience I might have. I am loth to do this. For a start, it isn't fair on those people who study and use Kabbalah (many Jewish) who do not share my views, and secondly, remembering the parable of the blind men and the elephant, impressions of God tend to be shaped by the part one grabs hold of, and how close to the bum end one is standing.
Like it or not, my explanations of the supernal sephiroth are going to be lacking in substance. I can only ask you, the reader, to accept that the primary purpose of Kabbalah has always been the direct, personal experience of the living God, a state Kabbalists have called "devekuth", or cleaving to God, and the way towards that experience comes, not from a studious examination of the symbolism of the supernals, but from the practical techniques of Kabbalah to be discussed in a later chapter.
The title of the sephira Binah is translated as "understanding", and sometimes as "intelligence". The title of the sephira Chokmah translates as "wisdom", and that of Kether translates as "crown". These three sephiroth are often referred to as the supernal sephiroth, or simply the supernals, and they represent that aspect of God which is manifest in creation. There is another aspect of God in Kabbalah, the "real God" or En Soph; although En Soph is responsible for the creation of the universe, En Soph manifests to us only in the limited form of the sephira Kether. An enormous amount of effort has gone into "explaining" this process: one book on Kabbalah  in my possession devotes eight pages to the En Soph, twelve pages to the supernal trio of Kether, Chokmah and Binah, and five pages to the remaining seven sephiroth, a proportion which seems relatively constant throughout Kabbalistic literature.
Briefly, the hidden God or En Soph crystallised a point which is the sephira Kether. In most versions (and this idea can be found as far back as the "Bahir" ) the En Soph "contracted" (tsimtsum) to "make room" for the creation, and the crystallised point of Kether manifested within this "space". Kether is the seed planted in nothingness from which the creation springs - an interesting metaphor turns the Tree of Life "upside down" and shows Kether at the bottom of the Tree, rooted in the soil of the En Soph, with the rest of the sephiroth forming the trunk, branches and leaves. Another metaphor shows Kether connected to the En Soph by a "thread of light", a metaphor I used somewhat whimsically in the section on "Daath and the Abyss", where I portrayed the Tree of Life as a lit-up Christmas tree with a power cord snaking out of the darkness of the En Soph and through the abyss to Kether. Like the Moon, Kether has two aspects: manifest and hidden, and for this reason its magical image is that of a face seen in profile: one side of the face (the right side, as it happens) is visible to us, but the other side is turned forever towards the En Soph.
Kether has many titles: Existence of Existences, Concealed of the Concealed, Ancient of Ancients, Ancient of Days, Primordial Point, the Smooth Point, the Point within the Circle, the Most High, the Inscrutable Height, the Vast Countenance (Arik Anpin), the White Head, the Head which is not, Macroprosopus. Taken together, these titles imply that Kether is the first, the oldest, the root of existence, remote, and its most accurate symbol is that of a point. Kether precedes all forms of existence, all differentiation and distinction, all polarity. Kether contains everything in potential, like a seed that sprouts and grows into a Tree, not once, but continuously. Kether is both root and seed. Because it precedes all forms and contains all opposites it is not like anything. You can say it contains infinite goodness, but then you have to say that it contains infinite evil. Wrapped up in Kether is all the love in the world, and wrapped around the love is all the hate. Kether is an outpouring of purest, radiant light, but equally it is the profoundest stygian dark. And it is none of these things; it precedes all form or polarity, and its Virtue is unity. It is a point without extension or qualities, but it contains all creation within it as an unformed potential.
The "Zohar"  is packed with references to Kether, and it is difficult to be selective, but the following quote from the "Lesser Holy Assembly", is clear, simple, and subtle:
"He (Kether) hath been formed, and yet as it were He hath not been formed. He hath been conformed so that he may sustain all things; yet is He not formed, seeing that He is not discovered.
When He is conformed He produceth nine Lights, which shine forth from Him, from his conformation.
And from Himself those Lights shine forth, and they emit flames, and they rush forth and are extended on every side, like as from an elevated lantern the rays of light stream down on every side.
And those rays of light, which are extended, when anyone draweth near unto them so that they may be examined, are not found, and there is only the lantern alone."
Polarity is contained within Kether in the form of Chokmah and Binah, the Wisdom and Understanding of God, and Kabbalists have represented this polarity using the most obvious of metaphors, that of male and female. Chokmah is Abba, the Father, and Binah is Aima, the Mother, and the entire world is seen as the child of the continuous and never-ending coupling of this divine pair. The following passage is taken again from the "Lesser Holy Assembly":
"Come and behold. When the Most Holy Ancient One, the Concealed with all Concealments (Kether), desired to be formed forth, He conformed all things under the form of Male and Female; and in such place wherein Male and Female are comprehended.
For they could not permanently exist save in another aspect of the Male and Female (their countenances being joined together).
And this Wisdom (Chokmah) embracing all things, when it goeth forth and shineth forth from the Most Holy Ancient One, shineth not save under the form of Male and Female. Therefore is this Wisdom extended, and it is found that it equally becometh Male and Female.
ChKMH AB BINH AM: Chokmah is the Father and Binah is the Mother, and therein are Chokmah, Wisdom, and Binah, Understanding, counterbalanced together in the most perfect equality of Male and Female.
And therefore are all things established in the equality of Male and Female, for were it not so, how could they subsist!
This beginning is the Father of all things; the Father of all Fathers; and both are mutually bound together, and the one path shineth into the other - Chokmah, Wisdom, as the Father; Binah, Understanding, as the Mother.
It is written, Prov. 2.3: 'If thou callest Binah the Mother."
When They are associated together They generate, and are expanded in truth.
And concerning the continuing act of procreation:
"Together They (Chokmah & Binah) go forth, together They are at rest; the one ceaseth not from the other, and the one is never taken away from the other.
And therefore is it written, Gen 2.10: 'And a river went forth from Eden' - i.e. properly speaking, it continually goeth forth and never faileth."
A river or spring metaphor is often used for Chokmah, to emphasise the continuous nature of creation. The primary metaphor is that of a phallus - Chokmah is the phallus which ejaculates continuously into the womb of Binah, and Binah in turn gives birth to phenomenal reality. Phallic symbols - a standing stone, a fireman's hose, a fountain, a spear etc, belong to Chokmah, and womb symbols - a cauldron, a gourd, a chalice, an oven etc, belong to Binah. In an abstract sense, Chokmah and Binah correspond to the first, primal manifestation of the polarity of force and form. To repeat a metaphor I have used previously, Binah is a hot-air balloon, and Chokmah is the roaring blast of flame which keeps it in the air. The metaphor is not completely accurate: Binah is not form, but she is the Mother of Form - she creates the condition whereby form can manifest.
The colour of Binah is black, and she is associated with Shabbatai ("rest"), the planet Saturn. The symbolism of Binah is twofold: on one hand she is Aima, the fertile mother of creation, and on the other hand she is the mother of finiteness, limitation, restriction, boundaries, time, space, law, fate, and ultimately, death; in this form she is often depicted as Ama the Crone, who broods (like many pictures of Queen Victoria) in her black widow's weeds on the throne of creation - one of the titles of Binah is Khorsia, the Throne.
The magician and Kabbalist Dion Fortune had a strongly intuitive grasp of Binah, not just as a sphere of a particular kind of emanation, but as the Great Mother herself, as the following rhyme from her novel "Moon Magic"  shows:
"I am she who ere the earth was formed
Was Rhea, Binah, Ge.
I am that soundless, boundless, bitter sea
Out of whose deeps life wells eternally.
Astarte, Aphrodite, Ashtoreth -
Giver of life and bringer in of death;
Hera in heaven, on earth Persephone;
Diana of the ways, and Hecate -
All these am I, and they are seen in me.
The hour of the high full moon draws near;
I hear the invoking words, hear and appear -
Shaddai El Chai and Rhea, Binah, Ge -
I come unto the priest who calleth me - "
One of the oldest correspondences for Binah is the element of water, and she is called Marah, the bitter sea from which all life comes and must return. She is also the Superior or Greater Mother; the Inferior or Lesser Mother is the sephira Malkuth, who is better symbolised by nature goddesses of the earth itself - e.g. the trinity of Kore, Demeter, and Persephone. The Tree of Life has many goddess symbols, and it is not always easy to see where they fit:
Binah is the Great Mother of All, with symbols of space, time, fate, spinning, weaving, cauldrons etc.
Malkuth is the Earth as the soil from which life springs, matter as the basis for life, the spirit concealed in matter, best symbolised by goddesses of this earth, fertility, vegetation etc.
Yesod in its lunar aspect is the Moon, a hidden reality with the ebb and flow of secret tides, illusion, glamour, sexual reproduction etc, and is sometimes in invoked in the form of lunar goddesses - Selene, Artemis etc.
Gevurah is on the Pillar of Form; the whole Pillar has a female aspect, and Gevurah is sometimes invoked in a female form as Kali, Durga, Hecate, or the Morrigan, although it must be said that all four goddesses also share definite Binah-type correspondences.
Netzach has the planet Venus as a correspondence, and its aspect of sensual pleasure, luxury, sexual love and desire is sometime invoked through a goddess such as Venus or Aphrodite.
The Spiritual Experience of Binah is the Vision of Sorrow: as the Mother of Form Binah is also the Mother of finiteness and limitation, of determinism, of cause and effect. Every quality comes forth hand-in-hand with its opposite: life and death, joy and despair, love and hate, order and chaos, so that it is not possible to find an anchor in life. For every reason to live I can find you, buried like a worm in an apple, a reason not to live; the Vision of Sorrow is a vision of a life condemned to tramp along the circumference of a circle while forever denied a view of the unity of the centre. At its most extreme the creation is seen as an evil trick played by a malign demiurge, a sick, empty joke, or a joyless prison with death the only release. The classic vision of sorrow is that of Siddhartha Gautama, but Tolstoy records  a terrible and enduring psychic experience which contains most of the elements associated with the worst Binah can offer - it drove him to the very edge of suicide.
The Illusion of Binah is death; that is, the vision of Binah may be compelling, but it is one-sided, a half-truth, and the finiteness it reveals is an illusion. Our own personal finiteness is an illusion.
The Qlippoth of Binah is fatalism, the belief that we are imprisoned in the mechanical causality of form, and not only are we incapable of changing or achieving anything, but even if we could, there wouldn't be any point. Why try to be happy - happiness leads inexorably to sadness. Why try to build and create - it all ends in decay and ruin soon enough. As the author of "Ecclesiastes" says, all is vanity.
The Vice of Binah is avarice. Form is only one-half of the equation of life - change is the other half - and to try to hold onto and preserve form at the expense of change would be the death of all life. The Virtue of Binah is silence. Beyond form there are no concepts, ideas, abstractions, or words.
The Spiritual Experience of Chokmah is the Vision of God Face-to-Face. The tradition I received has it that one cannot have this vision while incarnate i.e. one dies in the process. One Hasidic Rabbi liked to bid farewell to his family each morning as if it was his last - he feared he might die of ecstacy during the day. In the "Greater Holy Assembly" , three Rabbis pass away in ecstacy, and in the "Lesser Holy Assembly"  the famous Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai passes away at the conclusion. There is a fairly widespread belief that to look on the naked face of God, or a God, means death, but fortunately there is no historical evidence to suggest that the majority of Kabbalists died of anything other than natural causes. Having said that, I would not like to underplay the naked rawness of Chokmah; unconstrained, unconfined, free of form, it is the creative power which sustains the universe, and talk of death is not melodramatic.
The Illusion of Chokmah is independence; at the level of Binah we seem to be locked in form, separate and finite, but just as death is seen to be an illusion so ultimately is our independence and free-will. We seem to be independent, and we seem to have free-will, but at the level of Chokmah we draw our water from the same well.
The Virtue of Chokmah is good, and the Vice is evil. Regardless of your definition of good or evil, Chokmah encompasses every possibility of action, circumstance and creation, and modern Kabbalists no longer try to believe God is good, and evil must reside elsewhere. Medieval Kabbalists liked to hedge their bets, but one has only to plumb the bottomless depths of personal good and evil to find they spring from the same place.
The Qlippoth of Chokmah is arbitrariness. The raw, creative, unconstrained energy of God at its most primal and dynamic can seem utterly arbitrary and chaotic, and some authors [e.g. ] have seen it this way. This removes the "divine will" from the energy and leaves a blind, directionless and essentially mechanical force which is unbiased - creation and destruction, order and chaos, who cares? The Kabbalistic view is that this is not so: Chokmah contains form (as Binah) in potential, and it is not correct to view Chokmah as a purely chaotic energy. It is an energy biased towards an end - "God's Will", for lack of a better description.
The Spiritual Experience of Kether is Union with God. My comments on the Spiritual Experience of Chokmah apply also to Kether. The Illusion of Kether is attainment. We can live, we can change, but there is nothing to attain. Even Union with God is no attainment; we were always one with God, and knowing that we are changes nothing of any consequence - as long as we live, there is no goal in life other than living itself. As the Kabbalist Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said :
"No matter how high one reaches, there is still the next step. Therefore, we never know anything, and still do not attain the true goal. This is a very deep and mysterious concept."
The Qlippoth of Kether is Futility. Perhaps the creation was a bad idea. Maybe the En Soph should never have emanated the point- crown of Kether. Perhaps the whole of creation, life, the entire, ghastly three-ring circus we are forced to endure is nothing more than a complete waste. The En Soph should suck Malkuth back into Kether, collapse the whole, crazy house of cards, and admit the mistake.
The God-name of Binah is Elohim, a feminine noun with a masculine plural ending. When we read in the Bible "In the beginning created God...", this God is Elohim. The name Elohim is associated with all the sephiroth on the Pillar of Form, and is taken to represent the feminine aspect of God. The God-name of Chokmah is Yah (YH), a shortened form of YHVH. The God-name of Kether is Eheieh, a name sometimes translated as "I am", and more often as "I will be".
The archangel of Binah is Tzaphqiel; I have been told this means "Shroud of God", but I have not been able to verify this. If it does not mean "Shroud of God", it most certainly should. The archangel of Chokmah is Ratziel, the Herald of the Deity. According to tradition, the wisdom of God and the deepest secrets of the creation were inscribed on a sapphire which is in the keeping of the archangel Ratziel, and this "Book of Ratziel" was given to Adam and handed down through the generations . The archangel of Kether is Metatron, the Archangel of the Presence. According to tradition Metatron was once the man Enoch, who was so wise he was taken by God and made a prince among the angels.
The angel orders of Binah, Chokmah and Kether can be derived directly from the vision of Ezekiel. In the Biblical text, Ezekiel describes successively the Holy Living Creatures, the great wheels within wheels, and lastly the throne-chariot (Merkabah) of God. The vision of Ezekiel had a great influence on early Kabbalah, and it is no coincidence that the angel order of Binah is the Aralim, or Thrones, the angel order of Chokmah is the Auphanim or Wheels, and the angel order of Kether is the Chiaoth ha Qadesh, or Holy Living Creatures. The forms of the Chiaoth ha Qadesh - lion, eagle, man and ox - have survived to this day in many Christian churches, and can be found on the "World" card of most Tarot packs.
It is difficult to grasp the nature of Chokmah and Binah from symbols alone, just as it is difficult to grasp interstellar distances, the energy output of a star, the number of stars in a galaxy, and the number of galaxies visible to us. The scale of the observable physical universe relative to our planet (and the planet is a big place for most of us) is staggering; there are something like a hundred stars in our galaxy alone for every person on this planet. When I think of Chokmah and Binah I attempt to think of them on this scale; the physical universe where we have our home, considered as Malkuth, is vast, mysterious, and contains inconceivable energies - to consider the Father and Mother of creation on any less a scale seems arrogant to me. Which brings me to the question "Can one experience, or be initiated into, the supernal sephiroth?".
If the Kabbalah is to be considered as based on experience, and not an intellectual construction, then the answer has to be "yes". The supernals represent something real. What do they represent? Is it possible to "cross the Abyss"? The answers to these questions depends on which Kabbalistic model one chooses to use, and precisely how one interprets the Tree of Life. For the sake of argument I have chosen three alternative models:
All three models can be found in Kabbalistic writing, and it is rarely clear which version an author is using at any given time. I admit the fault myself. Model A differs radically from Models B and C: Model A is an all-embracing model of everything, whereas in Models B and C the Tree has been applied recursively to a component of the whole, namely a human being considered a divine spark. This is a valid (if confusing) Kabbalistic technique: take a whole, and find a new Tree in each of its components; apply the method recursively until you generate enough detail to explain anything. This idea is summed up in the aphorism: "there is a Tree in every sephiroth".
Is it possible to experience the supernals in Model A? I would say that it is only possible to experience them at a remove via the paths crossing over the Abyss from Tipheret; that is, as a living, incarnate being my consciousness rises no further up the Pillar of Consciousness than Tiphereth (or Daath), but it is possible to apprehend the supernals via the linking paths. To experience the consciousness of Binah in this model would be tantamount to being able to modify the physical constants of nature - Planck's constant, the speed of light, the Gravitational constant, the ratio of masses of particles etc. - the consequences don't bear thinking about! To experience Chokmah would be to experience the force which underpins a billion galaxies. I do not believe even the most arrogant twentieth century magician would claim to have achieved either of these initiations - the continuing existence of the planet is probably the best evidence for that.
Model B is a model of the Microprosopus as a complete Tree. There is some evidence in the "Zohar" that the author thought about the Macroprosopus and Microprosopus in precisely this way, with references to "the greater Chokmah" and "the lesser Chokmah". Model C is substantially similar to Model B, but cast in a slightly different model. With this interpretation it is certainly possible to consider "the lesser Chokmah" as an accessible state of consciousness, but "the Greater Chokmah" remains as in Model A; that is, we can experience the God within, "God-in-the-Small", and experience our essential unity with all other living beings considered as "Gods-in-the-Small", but beyond that lies a greater mystery, that of "God-in-the-Large". We may each be a chip off the old block, but individually we are not identical with the old block.
This discussion may seem arcane, but there is a natural tendency in people to exalt spiritual experience to the highest level, which does nothing more than inflate and devalue the currency of the language we use to describe these experiences. The universe is too large, too mysterious, and too full of infinite possibilities of wonder for anyone to claim initiation into Malkuth, far less Kether.
Lastly, it is worth asking "what is God?". What does the Kabbalistic trinity of Kether, Chokmah and Binah represent in reality? I have deliberately avoided mentioning an enormous amount of Kabbalistic material on these three sephiroth because it is not clear whether it contributes to a genuine understanding. How useful, for example, is it to know that the name Binah (BINH) contains not only IH (Yod, He), the letters representing Chokmah and Binah, but also BN, Ben, the son? There is a level of understanding Kabbalah which is intellectual, and capable of almost inifinite elaboration, but it leads nowhere. What experience or perception does the word "God" denote? If there is nothing which is not God, why are so many people searching for God? Why do so many people feel apart from God? I quoted D.H. Lawrence's poem "Only Man" because of his deeply intuitive view of the Fall from God and the abyss of separation.
I was browsing in my local occult bookshop recently, a shop which contains a catholic selection of books covering Eastern religions, astrology, Tarot, shamanism, crystals, theosophy, magick, Celtic and Grail traditions, mythology, Kabbalah, witchcraft, and so on. I am not sure what I was looking for, but despite a couple of hours of browsing I certainly did not find it. What did strike me was the extent to which so many of these books were written to make human beings feel good about themselves. There is a smug view permeating so much occult literature that "spiritual" human beings are a little bit more "advanced" or "developed" than the pack, that they are "moving along the Path" towards some kind of "enlightenment", "cosmic consciousness", "union with God", "divine love", or one of many more fantastic and utterly sublime goals. It is all so empowering and affirming and cosy. Even in the less starry-eyed and gushy works the view is predominantly, almost exclusively human-centred, and I found it difficult to avoid the impression that the universe was designed as a foam-padded playground for human souls to romp around in. There is more than a little truth in Marx's statement that religion is the opium of the people, and a cynic could justify a claim that occultism and esoteric religion are little more than a security blanket for unfortunate people who cannot look reality in the face. Where are the books which say "you are an insignificant speck of flyshit in a universe so vast you cannot even begin to comprehend its scale; your occult pretensions amount to nothing and are carefully designed to protect you from any experience of reality; all human experience and knowledge is parochial, insignificant and largely irrelevant on a universal scale, and your personal contribution even more so; there are no Masters or Powers, no Secret Chiefs, no Inner Plane Adepti, no Messiahs, and God does not love you; the only thing you possess is your life, and the joy and mystery of living in a universe filled to the brim with life, where little is known and much remains to be discovered; when you die, you are dead." I do not concur with this position in its entirity, but it is a valid position to adopt, and one which is not strongly represented in esoteric and occult literature. Why not? Perhaps people do not want to buy books which say this. I will venture an opinion which reflects my own experience; as such it has no general validity, but it is worth recording nevertheless.
I believe that many religious, esoteric and occult traditions currently extant are unconsciously designed to protect human beings from experiencing God and lead towards experiences which are valid in themselves but which are biased towards feelings of love, protection, peace, safety, personal growth, community and empowerment, all wrapped up in a strongly human-centred value system where positive human feelings and experiences are emphasised. I believe that people are apart from God by choice, that they cannot find God because they do not want to.
It is difficult to justify this statement without resorting to an onion-skin model of the psyche; underneath the surface, unsuspected and virtually inaccessible, is a layer which does its best to protect us from the existential terror of confronting things as they really are. As a child I was terrified of the dark; the dark itself was not malign, but I was deeply afraid, and in this case it was fear which determined my relationship with the dark, not any quality of the dark itself. So it is with God - it is our deeply buried and unrecognised fear which determines our relationship with God. We read books, go to the cinema and theatre, argue, invent, throw parties, play games, search for God, live and love together, and bury ourselves in all the distractions of human society in a frenetic and unceasing effort to avoid the layers of fear - fear of solitude, fear of rejection, fear of disease and decay and disintregration, fear of madness, fear of meaninglessness, arbitrariness and futility, fear of death and personal annihilation. Like an audience in a cinema, we can live in a fantasy for a time and forget that it is dark, cold and raining outside, but sooner or later we have to leave our seats. And underneath all the fears is the fear of opening the door which conceals the awful truth: that we have wilfully, and with great energy and persistence, chosen not to know.