Most practitioners familiar with Left-Hand Paths will most assuredly have been exposed to the concept of the Qliphoth. Like Kabbalah itself, the Qliphoth have often played a central role in many of the practices of Occultists and Ceremonial Magicians. The Qliphoth Itself, if it can even be justly referred to as one ‘thing’, can be a confounding topic and for this reason many new to Ceremonial practices are rather keen to avoid It altogether. However it must be understood that the Qliphoth can mean many different things depending upon context and the inclinations of the Magician.
It would be impossible to discuss the Qliphoth without also including Kabbalah as a whole. If you are not familiar with the basic concepts behind Kabbalah, I suggest that you consider undertaking Magicka School’s exceptional course, “Introduction to the Magician’s Kabbalah” by Marcus Katz. Additionally, there are specialised forums within the boards which deal exclusively with discussions pertaining to the Kabbalah. Further information can be sought online or through books such as my personal favourite, David Ariel’s Kabbalah: The Mystic Quest in Judaism.
To understand the Qliphoth is to first understand the Kabbalah. The problem with this arises due to the numerous interpretations of what the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life actually are. There are many variations of Kabbalistic study—one of the most popular within the magickal community is commonly referred to as the Esoteric Kabbalah. Within some magickal circles, the Esoteric Kabbalah is less favoured in comparison with the other traditional interpretations of the Kabbalah and aspects of Jewish mysticism such as Merkabah. Because of these differences in interpretations, there is rarely little consensus within Occultism as to exactly what the Qliphoth is, how It originated and what It means to the magician.
There are several accounts of how the Qliphoth originated. Some portray the Qliphoth as the ‘shells’ or ‘husks’ of God’s first aborted attempt at creation. In this account, the Qliphoth is the realm of dark energies which some consider to be evil or demonic in nature. In other accounts, the Qliphoth are the ‘reflection’ of the Sephiroth upon the waters of the Abyss. Still others consider the Qliphoth to be the nightime or reverse side of the Tree of Life, opposite but still connected to the realm of Light by Da’ath. In most of these accounts however a common theme is present—the Qliphoth is essentially the ‘dark half’ of the Tree of Life, sometimes referred to as the Tree of Death.
While such a generalisation is by far an inaccurate and unjust summation of the Qliphoth, it is a viable introduction to the concept of the polarity which exists between the Qliphoth and the Sephiroth. The Tree of Life consists of ten ‘emanations’ or ‘numerations’ which are known as Sephiroth (Sephirah in the singular). Each of these numerations essentially represents a different aspect of God’s creative process. Many magicians view the Sephiroth as literal realms while others consider Them to be allegorical, comparable to states of mind. Whatever the case may be, most practitioners who choose to work with the Qliphoth regard It as a collection of the flawed or severe expressions of creation.
The word Qliphoth, like the word Sephiroth, is plural. In the Hebrew language, Sephiroth roughly translates as ‘numerations’ whereas Qliphoth (Qliphah in the singular) translates as ‘peels’ or ‘husks’. Generally the Qliphoth is referred to as a single entity, an area of study—however the Qliphoth in the truest sense consists of ten essential ‘husks’ which mirror the ten numerations of the Tree of Life.
Within some practices, magicians imply that the Sephiroth are present in all things and yet are removed from the earthly realm of Man. Because of the seemingly contradictory nature of Kabbalistic theory, many students are intimidated and resistant to undertaking the study of the Tree of Life. While it is visible from the aforementioned example that Kabbalistic theory can be quite complex, it is again dependent upon the individual interpretations and convictions of the individual as to what the Sephiroth, and Qliphoth, mean to that individual.
In revisiting the concept of the Sephiroth’s presence within the world, while aspects of the Sephiroth exist within all things, all but one of the numerations are said to wholly exist beyond the realm of Man. The tenth Sephirah, Malkuth, is also known as the Shekinah—the fundamental feminine aspect of God which is alone accessible to and knowable by humanity. Malkuth is sometimes equated with the tangible world and Universe - many adherents of modern Goddess-dominated religions have equated the Shekinah with the great Goddess archetypes such as Diana, Gaia or Isis. But deeper still than the Shekinah reside the Qliphoth.
As with the diversity found within the accounts of the creation of the Qliphoth, there is much debate pertaining to other fundamental questions surrounding Their very nature, limitations and location. Second only to the question of what the Qliphoth are is the question of where They reside. In some depictions, the Qliphoth are said to reside ‘behind’ the Tree of Life, directly ‘below’ it or ‘below and behind’ it. Regardless, many accounts of the Qliphoth depict Them as residing amongst us, within the world of Assiyah, the earthly realm itself and, in some ways, within the Shekinah.
Within a polarised perspective, the Qliphoth may then be assumed to encompass all of the negativity and evildoing of this world. While this may be a very appealing and simple explanation of the Qliphoth for some, it is not entirely accurate. The Sephirah of Geburah would in fact better fit such a description as It, not the Qliphoth, is the unrestrained element of God’s severity.
What then, one may ask, is the Qliphoth and how would understanding such forces contribute to magickal practice? Depending upon what one’s personal interpretation of the Qliphoth is, there is great potential in working with Qliphothic forces within the context of magick. Generally, many practitioners of Left-Hand Paths consider the Qliphoth to be something comparable to the ‘Satanists’ Tree of Life’. This is a very inaccurate description of the Qliphoth as it is not simply a Tree of Life for Satanists, but a container of forces which encapsulate the potential for destruction on many levels. However, Qliphothic sorcery - like aspects of any powerful magickal system, path or practice – is not intended for the casual dabbler.
Why would anyone endeavour to work with such destructive forces? Like anything within the Universe, the Qliphoth not only has the potential to destroy but also to create. While the emanative process of the Sephiroth does not function in the same manner, the Qliphoth have been employed by practitioners of many different magickal systems with favourable results. For some practitioners who are inclined towards psychological allegory within magick, the Qliphoth represent the negative states of existence. Some view the Qliphoth in a similar manner as one would view an astronomical Black Hole – perpetually drawing into Itself the Universe surrounding It.
If we were to indeed view the Qliphoth as the “anti-Sephiroth”, it would be marginally feasible that this “drawing into” aspect of Its Nature could be utilised for constructive ends. An example would be to examine each Qliphah and Its unique signature in order to harness the particular “artery” in concordance with the task at hand – for example, if one wished to counter his or her feelings of inner conflict over a decision, the artery of Thaumiel could be focused upon the aspect of his or her life in need of reparation. In this context, the individual arteries of the Qliphoth could be analogised as vacuums, drawing out accumulated energies which are no longer beneficial to the individual. This use of Qliphothic magick, however, is less akin to sorcery than it is to self-examination and self-cleansing. The Qliphoth can also be utilised for projective magick.
Some practitioners of Qliphothic Sorcery ascertain that the Qliphoth Themselves are inherently receptive – that is, as aforementioned, it is believed that the Tree of Death only draws Into Itself and therefore does not project Itself into the Universe. However, within the context of Judaic Kabbalism, this is not the case as it is believed that the Qliphoth are ever-influencing the world of Man – that it is Man, not the Qliphoth, which draws the Peels unto Himself. If this is the case, then utilising Qliphothic energies for projective magick can be rather straightforward – the invocation of a particular Qliphah may be sufficient. However, many magicians who believe that the Qliphoth are wholly receptive also believe that the key to utilising Qliphothic energy within the context of projective magick is not the Qliphoth Themselves, but the entities who govern Them. In the next article, we will explore some of the entities aligned with the Qliphoth and Their functions within.