Edit March 2015: see note below about the reversal of elemental attributions for Beriah (Briah) and Yetzirah in the following reprinted 2010 article. Then read this page instead if you’re trying to make sense of Hermetic Qabalah and the Tarot. 😀
(Part 2 of an article by Jenwytch, published in the March 2010 edition of Axis Mundi eMagazine)
In Qabalah it is taught that there are four worlds or realms / levels of existence. As with the Tree of Life the four worlds emanate from one another in a series, from the highest and most divine to the lowest material level. The four worlds describe different regions of the Tree of Life, with a number of spheres, or sephira, being attributed to each world. In addition to this it is said that each of the four worlds contain a full Tree within it, and this is depicted in a diagram called ‘Jacobs Ladder’ in which four connected trees are shown, and the bottom sphere of one tree is the highest sphere of the next tree down and so on. In Qabalah all things are interconnected and any abstraction from this inherent unity is recognised to have limitations.
The Four Worlds are:
1. ATZILUTH The World of Emanation
The highest of the four worlds Atziluth is known as the realm of causes. This is a world of pure spirit, unadulterated divine light. It is entirely active and giving and thus is sometimes considered to be symbolically masculine. The three highest spheres, sometimes known as the trinity – Kether, Chokmah and Binah belong to this realm. The various Divine Names of Qabalah are also associated with this world.
Soul: Chayah / Life-soul
In the Body: “Crown” (i.e., no-body)
Human expression: Devekut (merging embrace of the One)
World expression: This moment in its truth; timeless
2. BERIAH – The World of Creation
The second highest of the four worlds Beriah is known as the realm of Ideas. This is a world of pure intellect, but this should not be considered to relate to logic and rational problem solving and such like. Beriah is abstract Intellect, the realm of Plato’s Ideas, the divine archetypes from which all things are created; in Beriah is the Idea of the world, before it is actually created. Beriah is composed of the three spheres directly below the abyss: Chesed, Geburah and Tipareth. The Archangels of Qabalah are associated with this realm, and may be thought of as residing within it just as we reside within the material world.
World of science: field of matter/energy, shaped by wisdom
Soul: Neshamah/ Breath-soul
In the Body: Brain, breath
Self: Faculties of Mind (reasoning, doubting, wisdom, understanding)
Human Expression: Science, contemplation, reasoning
World Expression: Laws of physics, four basic forces, laws of nature
Separation: Hyper-rationalism, separation from heart and body, “living in the head”
3. YETZIRAH – The World of Formation
The second lowest of the four worlds, Yetzirah is known as the realm of formation, or the formative world. This is the realm of the Astral, of the collective unconscious and the Anima Mundi (world Soul) and such like. It is the realm where specific forms are created. Yetzirah is composed of the three spheres directly below the veil of Parekh: Netzhache, Hod and Yesod. The Angels of Qabalah reside within this world.
The energetic world of emotions, sensations, feelings
Soul: Ruach/ wind-water-soul
Self: “Soul” colloquially, Faculties of Heart (compassion, fear & desire)
In the Body: Heart center, lungs, circulation/oxygenation
Human expression: Art, poetry, awe, love
World expression: Eros, forces of love and passion, nature in the Romantic sense
Separation: Sex & Violence, hatred, craving-desire
4. ASSIAH – The World of Action
The lowest of the four worlds, Assiah is known as the realm of effects. It is the world of the body and the senses, and of all objects and matter. Only one sphere belongs to this realm and that is Malkuth.
The material, dualistic-seeming world of matter and energy
Soul: Nefesh, the ‘animal soul’, life-force, or anima
Self: The physical, moving, tasting, pulsing, sexual body
In the Body: The “body of the body,” especially legs and midsection
Human expression: Eating, sleeping, sports, sex, bodily functions
World expression: The material world as it appears
Separation: ‘Flatland’ materialism, alienated carnality, greed
Tree of Life image adapted from greatdreams.com/Qabalah/scan0098.gif
Jacob’s Ladder image adapted from kabbalahtoledanoschool.com/
ATTENTION: Below is more info provided later on my Dark Moon group’s forum that doesn’t quite match with what’s above. 😦 “Above” says Beriah is Air but “Below” says Yetzirah is Air …this is confusing!!! 😥 OK, time to start a new page about the four worlds here and ignore this one for now. Just found a note on the first of the original references I used that could explain the difference: “Note: this presentation brings together the Lurianic, Hasidic, and neo-Hasidic versions of the four worlds model and should not be used for scholarship purposes.” Oh well, live and learn. 😐
“This diagram shows where swords fits in with the four worlds. You can do your own search for information on the four worlds.”