Be honest: When you hear the word, "Qabala," what comes to mind?
Hermetic Qabala is a spiritual framework for understanding ourselves and the universe, using a glyph called the Tree of Life. It has tons of practical, magickal uses, but it's not uncommon for someone to take a quick look at Qabala and decide it isn't for them, for any number of reasons. Many people see Qabala as an antiquated spiritual tool bogged down with undesirable concepts like patriarchy, hierarchy, and monotheism.
But I'm one of those weirdos who started digging into Qabala early in my Pagan spiritual journey, and then just couldn't stop. From the moment I read my first Qabala book, The Witches Qabala by Ellen Cannon Reed, I was hooked. And about five years ago, I began to understand the Tree of Life as a deeply queer-inclusive spiritual tool.
I'm not the first person to think of Qabala as innately queer, but written content on the subject is scarce, which is a big reason why I decided to start a blog, and eventually write a book about Queer Qabala, called Queer Qabala: Nonbinary, Genderfluid, Omnisexual Mysticism & Magick. Finding connections between my queer identity and my spirituality has been a deeply empowering experience, and I want to share that with other people.
What Makes Qabala Queer
Surprisingly, it doesn't take a ton of digging to find queer representation in the Tree of Life.
Let's start by looking at the pillars. When you look at the Tree of Life glyph, you'll note that there are three vertical lines, or pillars: the masculine pillar (also known as the pillar of mercy, or pillar of force), the feminine pillar (also known as the pillar of severity, or pillar of form), and the pillar of balance (also known as the middle pillar, though I also like to think of it as the nonbinary pillar). The pillar of balance takes the energies of the masculine and feminine pillars and transmutes them into something entirely new. This pillar also contains the spheres of absolute unity (Kether) and manifestation (Malkuth), as well as those of perfect balance (Tiphareth) and imagination and illusion (Yesod). The fact that these spheres are on the pillar of balance indicates that these key concepts and experiences transcend the gender binary—and, because Kether's energy suffuses all the other spheres, so does the rest of the Tree of Life. This is one way the Tree of Life shows a more expansive view of gender and polarity than you might expect.
Digging a bit deeper, let's look at the concept of polarity in the lightning flash.
First, let's define polarity, in a magickal context. Some Pagan and polytheist traditions teach a concept of polarity, the interaction of so-called masculine/active/projective energy and feminine/passive/receptive energy. (Having these concepts tied to binary gender is pretty problematic, but that's a rant for another day.)
Next, let's define the lightning flash, as it's known in Qabala. The lightning flash is the direction by which energy flows down into manifestation within the Tree of Life. You can trace the lightning flash on the glyph by playing connect-the-dots with the spheres, in numerical order, from the top to the bottom.
Now let's try applying the concept of binary polarity to the Tree of Life. When we envision energy flowing down the lightning flash, starting at Kether and ending in Malkuth, we notice that every sphere acts in both a projective/masculine way and a receptive/feminine way. Each sphere, in turn, receives every from the sphere before it, then projects energy to the next sphere. (Yes, this even includes Kether and Malkuth: Kether is receptive to Malkuth and Malkuth is projective to Kether.) By this logic, every sphere is genderfluid: each performing the "masculine" projective role and "feminine" receptive role. And furthermore, each sphere is bisexual: engaging with one sphere that is behaving in a projective/masculine way and another sphere that is behaving in a receptive/feminine way.
Digging deeper still, let's look at the Hebrew names of the spheres. Each sphere has a Hebrew name, and Hebrew names have masculine or feminine endings.1 Intriguingly, the gender of each sphere's name doesn't always correspond with the pillar it resides on, nor does it always correspond with the magickal imagery or astrology associated with that sphere. For example, Chokmah is a feminine name, but the sphere named Chokmah sits on the masculine pillar and corresponds with masculine AllFather deities, like Odin and Zeus. Meanwhile, Netzach has a masculine name and sits on the masculine pillar, but is aligned with Venus and has the magickal image of a beautiful naked woman. And in still another example, Hod has a masculine name, but sits on the feminine pillar, and its magickal image is an intersex person. (It still blows my mind that the Tree of Life has intersex representation as of the early 1900s, yet we still struggle to find intersex representation in pop culture.)
One last thing: the Tree of Life is like a giant fractal. The entirety of the Tree of Life is contained within each of its individual parts. So, for example, within the sphere of Tiphareth is another entire Tree of Life. This means that every sphere contains every gender and sexuality expressed on the Tree, which includes genders and sexualities that have not yet manifested. In other words: The Tree of Life is 100% queer.
Where Queer Experiences Fit on the Tree of Life
As a queer, nonbinary, bisexual person, the more I learned and realized about the queerness of the Tree of Life, the more I began to relate common queer life milestones and experiences to the Tree.
For example, the astral triangle formed by Hod, Netzach, and Yesod speaks to me as being three parts of a queer person's identity. Your name, gender and sexuality labels, and pronouns come from Hod, the sphere of categorization and language. The way you feel your gender and sexuality comes from Netzach, the sphere of passion and primal feelings. And Yesod, the sphere of imagination and the collective unconscious, is where you experiment with gender and sexuality expression. I call this the queer identity triangle.
The ethical triangle formed by Geburah, Chesed, and Tiphareth speaks to me as being three parts of a queer person's coming-out experience. The moment of true self-honesty, coming out to yourself when you realize a newly-revealed aspect of your identity, fits perfectly in Tiphareth, the sphere of integrity. Experiences of loss associated with coming out—perhaps shifting or ending relationships with unsupportive peers or family—align with Geburah, the sphere of removing things that no longer fit, to help you grow. The hope for the future and making room for new dreams fits in Chesed, the sphere of vision and planning. I call this the coming-out triangle.
The Supernal Triangle formed by Kether, Chokmah, and Binah speaks to me as being three parts of the queer community experience. Kether, the sphere of ultimate unity, reminds us that amid all our various identities in the queer community, we are fighting for all our collective rights and needs. Chokmah, the sphere of boundless energy and motion, feels a lot like the effusive, exuberant energy of Pride celebrations. And Binah, the sphere of understanding grief and sorrow, connects with our communal grief for the losses we have sustained in fighting for our rights. I call this the queer community triangle.
Why Queer Qabala is important
The Tree of Life is a diagram that represents humanity's relationship with the Divine, and also expresses everything in the universe. By that description alone, queerness is already baked into Qabala, because queerness exists in the universe. But having the queerness be so explicit on the Tree—with a nonbinary pillar, almost every sphere having inconsistent gender associations, and every sphere acting in both a projective and receptive way—is incredibly validating for me as a queer person. More than that, it makes the Tree of Life an authentic spiritual tool for people whose gender and/or sexuality are marginalized by mainstream culture. Qabala affirms that all genders and sexualities are both magickal and real. And as we look at Qabala through a queer lens, Qabala also becomes a lens itself to better understand queer life experiences.
For those in Pagan and polytheist communities, approaching our magickal tools, rituals, and symbols from a queer perspective can open up new possibilities and empowerment for the queer people in those communities, and can also deepen non-queer people's understanding of those tools, rituals, and symbols by interrogating what works and why. Queering our magickal practice means that we don't blindly accept norms and practices, particularly those rooted in binary polarities, binary gender, and heteronormativity.
If you want to continue digging into the topic of queer Qabala, please check out my new book, Queer Qabala: Nonbinary, Genderfluid, Omnisexual Mysticism & Magick.
For more on Qabala in general, I recommend these books:
For more on queer magick, I recommend the following books:
If you'd like to learn more about queerness in general, I recommend the following books:
For a list of more books I recommend on queerness, queer magick, and Qabala, please visit MajorArqueerna.com.
1Pollack, Rachel: The Kabbalah Tree: A Journey of Balance & Growth (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004), 82–83.