Kircher's Jewish sources

This post goes a little beyond my self-imposed limit of early 16th century. Kircher published his material on Kabbalah in 1653. The Jewish material that is relevant, however, is mid-16th century and earlier. It's a long post, but it's something I've been wondering about for a long time and finally have something to say.

As is well known, Athenaeus Kircher in his book Oedipus Aegypticus presented a highly influential version of the Kabbalists' tree of life", which the Golden Dawn and its successors, as popularly now as ever, used for the purpose of interpreting the 22 "major arcana" of the tarot. Kircher's diagram (far left below) indicated 22 paths (or "canali") and assigned a different Hebrew letter to each. The diagram, which is a pull-out sheet in volume 2, published in 1653 (not 1652 as often reported online), also assigned a planet to each of seven of the sefirot, a set of assignments that has largely been ignored by the occultists.

Now that Kircher's book is online, we can see where he actually does make these assignments in the text. The "canali" start on p. 305, at ... ur&f=false. The planetary assignments are listed on p. 347 (Luna near the top of the page and the rest near the bottom). But he gives no source for either. Did he make them up, get them from a Jewish source verbally, or possibly from a convert from Christianity, or from a Jewish Kabbalist text, or did he, Kircher, take a Jewish source as his basis but make changes or additions of his own? Or what?

A couple of scholars have addressed the issue of the paths, but not in a definitive way.


Daniel Stolzenberg saw a relationship between Kircher's diagram of the tree (at left below) and one published in 1625 (at right above) by Philippe d'Aquin, a converted Jew, in 1625 Paris ("Four Trees, Some Amulets, and the Seventy-two Names of God: Kircher Reveals by Kabbalah", in Athenasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything , p. 152, online at ... er&f=false ). But as Kwaw (SteveM here) pointed out on Aeclectic ( ... 62780.html), the d'Aquin tree is missing some of Kircher's paths (the three between Hod, Yesod, and Netzach). Also, the upper horizontal path seems to divide at the quasi-sefirah Da'at. Kircher may have used d'Aquin for his tombstones, altars, and menorah, but at least some of the paths come from elsewhere.


In the sections immediately before the list of paths, Kircher names as his source for other material a work called "Pardes"; that would be the Pardes Rimonim ("Orchard of Pomegranates") of Moses Cordovero, finished 1548, published 15. So is Kircher's tree in there? In the 1862 edition online ( ... up;seq=311), there is a diagram, but it only has 20 paths and is not Kircher's. Here is the top two-thirds of the page:
It looks as though Malkhut does not have a black circle, but probably the ink has worn off.

I reproduce on the left below Leonora Leet's rendition of the diagram - perhaps from a different edition, I don't know. (These are from The Secret Doctrine of Kabbalah, 2002, p. 14 and p. 16). If not for missing two horizontals, it would be the standard so-called "Jewish" tree, which I give for comparison on the right below.

It is possible, although speculative, that the diagram was different in the original manuscript. SteveM/Kwaw said on Aeclectic in 2016 (above link) that there is a manuscript of the Pardes Rimonim in the Vatican Library with notes and annotations in Kircher's handwriting. I do not know how trustworthy that information is. It would help, of course, to have not only scans of the manuscript but a sufficiently full translation of Cordovero's text, to see what he actually said.
In the two Trees above, the translations of the Hebrew names for the sefiroth are sometimes different. The fact is that some of these sefiroth had several terms attached to them, and some of the terms ahad several meanings, based on their use in the Hebrew Bible. "Judgment" is also "Severity"; "Mercy" is also "Greatness" (and "Loving-Kindness"); "Eternity" is also "Victory".

In another 2016 post (, post 2) SteveM refers us to Leet's book The Universal Kabbalah. That book has only a summary, and refers the reader to the earlier (Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah,, online at ... &q&f=false), pp. 13-24.

Leet argues that Cordovero's text supports two versions of the Tree. One she calls "The Cordovero Tree of Emanation" and is similar to Kircher's Tree. The other one she calls "The Luria Tree of Return", after the famous Isaac Luria, who came immediately after Cordovero. The distinction Emanation/Return is based on how Luria's main disciple Chaim Vitale characterized the difference between Luria and Cordovero.
Leet's view is that between Cordovero's writing the manuscript in 1548 and its (posthumous) publication in 1591 Cracow, Cordovero's text and diagram were edited to reflect the Lurianic thinking of that time. In support of this view, she quotes from two chapters of the Pardes Rimonim, in her own translation. In the first (pp. 17-18), she finds that two alternative paths are put in parentheses, with the abbreviation "d.v."; which she takes to indicate "editorial insertion." Then later two other alternative placements are indicated with "as some say" (which is a bit different from "editorial insertion". Here is her translation, with my highlighting of the alternatives:
"Tzinnor" is a channel [pipe] in which water travels from place to place and Kabbalists relate this to the influx [Shefa] which runs from Sefirah to Sefirah. . . The number of channels that flow from Keter are three. One to Chokhmah, one to Binah., and one to Tiferet. Three more (d.v. four) flow from Chokhmah: one to Binah, one to Chesed (d.v. and one to Gevurah), and one to Tiferet. Another two (d.v. three) flow from Binah (one to Chesed), one to Gevurah, and one to Tiferet. Another three flow from Chesed: one to Gevurah, one to Tiferet, and one to Netzach. Two more flow from Gevurah: one to Tiferet and one to Hod. Three more flow from Tiferet: one to Netzach, one to Hod, and one to Yesod. Two more flow from Netzach: one to Hod and one to Yesod and some believe also one to Malkhut. Another channel flows from Hod to Yesod and some say also to Malkhut. Another one flows from Yesod to Malkhut, making a total of twenty-two.

In one alternative, the paths on the Tree are like Kircher's; in the other, they are like the "Jewish" tree from Luria on.

Her second quote is a set of excerpts from his more lengthy commentary on the paths in the next chapter. This time there is only one of the alternatives, the same one Kircher used. She quotes from the parts that show that there is nothing from Chokhmah to Gevurah or from Binah to Chesed, but two channels from Netzach and Hod to Malkhut:
Another three channels stretch from Chokhmah. One is to Binah. .. A second channel stretches from Chokhmah to Chesed... . The third channel stretches from Chokhmah to Tiferet. . . . The reason may be because Tiferet is the son of Chokhmah and Binah, and there must be something 'of the influence of the father in the son as well as of the influence of the mother, for a person has three partners [God plus the two parents]. Two more channels stretch from Binah. One is to Gevurah. . . The second channel is from Binah to Tiferet. This channel is similar to the one explained above, the third channel stretching from Chokhmah to Tiferet. . . . Another three channels go from Chesed, the first to Gevurah. . . . Through this channel Chesed is included in Gevurah and Gevurah in Chesed without including Tiferet, as explained in the Zohar. . . . A third channel goes from Netzach to Malkhut. . . . Another two channels go from Hod, one to Yesod . . . and a second to Malkhut.
This layout by itself could explain the origin of Kircher's text and diagram. Working from the Vatican manuscript he used, and ignoring any differences between text and diagram and any earlier ambiguities, all he has to do is follow Cordovero's list. Kircher's order of presentation is exactly the same as Kircher's. Not only that, but Kircher gives a second, presentation on p. 308 that is much in the same format as Cordovero's, i.e. "There are three channels coming out of Crown {Keter)", etc.. Kircher's only innovation tis that he gives each channel a letter, starting with Aleph and ending with Tau. This is not an innovation that the later Jewish Kabbalists followed, preferring instead to use the Sefer Yetzirah's division of three "mother" letters for the horizontals, 7 "double" letters for the verticals, and the 12 "simple" letters for the diagonals. The 19th century occultists, however, went with Kircher.


Since the publication of Leet's books (2002, 2004), the relevant treatise in the Pardes Rimonim has become available in translation: Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim: Orchard of Promegranates, Parts 5-8:5, trans Talib Din, Providence University, 2010, So now we can see Leet's quotes in their larger context. Since the book does not mention source texts, I assume that Din used the standard (1591 or 1862) printed versions and not any manuscripts.

The treatise's diagram, which is essentially the same as Leet's, lies between two chapters, pp. 88-89 of Din's translation as well as in Hebrew at the back of the book.

In Din's translation of the first quote that Leet uses (listing the channels in summary form), there is only one significant translation difference. Din translates the "d.v." as "some say", which Leet had only for the second set of alternatives. Otherwise, Leet omitted the sentences just before and after her quote, which Din takes as the beginning and end, as indicated by his paragaphing. I highlight these differences and the later instances of "according to some" (which Leet translated as such).
After explaining the meaning of the channels and their purpose, we are now going to explain their number, according to the agreement of the commentators. There are three channels coming out of Crown: one to Wisdom, one to Understanding, and one to Beauty. Another three (some say four) come out of Wisdom: one to Understanding, one to Loving Kindness (some say to Severity), and one to Beauty. Furthermore, two (some say three) come out of Understanding (some say one to Loving Kindness): one to Severity, and one to Beauty. Another three come out of Loving Kindness: one to Severity, one to Beauty, and one to Victory. Another two come out of Severity: one to Beauty, and one to Glory. Another three come out of Beauty: one to Victory, one to Glory, and one to Foundation. Another two come out of Victory: one to [p. 88] Glory. and one to Foundation (and according to some, another one goes to Kingdom). Another channel goes from Glory to Foundation, but according to some, it goes to Kingdom. Another one goes from Foundation to Kingdom. All together. they are twenty-two, as in "By you (Beka), shall Israel bless" (Genesis 48:20) - (Beka = Bet-Kaf, which equals twenty-two). We have drawn a diagram to facilitate the understanding of the reader.
The differences are important. In Din's translation, it appears that Cordovero is giving a summary of what the commentators say about the channels, not his own view, and it seems that they disagree about where two of them should go.

Most of the next chapter is, as Teet indicates, a very affirming presentation of what is in fact the Kircher version (if I may call it that), relating it to the Zohar and "the commentators", written as though he were endorsing it. For example we read (p. 98):
... A third channel [from Victory] goes out from Victory to Kingdom. It is through it that a thread of Loving-Kindness is conducted to Ester. Through it, she receives emanation from Loving Kindness before union, but from Glory too, for she needs to receive emanation from two places, from the right and the left, in the mystery of "His left hand is under my head, etc." (Song of Solomon 2:6). This will be explained in the Treatise on Substance and Conduct (chapter 21).
It appears that he is endorsing channels from both Victory and Glory to Kingdom (I presume that "Ester" is a name for Malkhut). But then, immediately following, he says something else (p. 98):
Another two channels come out of Glory. The first one goes to Foundation, and we explained its behavior above. The second one goes to Kingdom. The author of the sheet explained that it is through this channel that the primeval snake threw its impurity into 'hava (Eve). But his words are as a dream and a vain vision, for who introduced a drunkard among the Nazirites? As we will explain, there is no place for shells in the realm of holiness! This will be explained in the Treatise on Channels. It was however possible to claim that this channel carries Judgment from Glory to Kingdom, but this is unfounded, as will be explained in the next chapter.
Here he is denouncing the commentator ("the author of the sheet") as the producer of a "vain vision" of "shells in the realm of holiness", God forbid. However even the milder claim that all it does is to carry "Judgment from Glory to Kingdom" is incorrect, as he will show in the next chapter.

The next chapter is rather pointedly entitled "The Two Channels from Victory to Kingdom and from Glory to Kingdom". It starts out (p. 99):
It must be said that what the commentators have said concerning two channels (1) from Victory to Kingdom and (2) from Glory to Kingdom is inappropriate, for it is clear that Kingdom only receives emanation from Foundation. This is proven from the Zohar. ...
He goes on for 12 and a half pages of argument about how it is contrary to the Zohar, the sacred texts, and all sacred tradition to posit more than one channel to Kingdom.

If so, how does he reconcile what he said in the previous chapter about the union of right and left being rquired for the mystery of "His left hand is under my head, etc.", which he will explain later?
A third channel [from Victory] goes out from Victory to Kingdom. It is through it that a thread of Loving-Kindness is conducted to Ester. Through it, she receives emanation from Loving Kindness before union, but from Glory too, for she needs to receive emanation from two places, from the right and the left, in the mystery of "His left hand is under my head, etc."
He gives his answer at the end of the chapter:
All this shows that none besides Foundation emanates into Kingdom. It is true that Victory emanates into Kingdom, and so it is with Glory; and above it is with the thread of Loving Kindness, and the second thread [85] from the side of Severity. But this does not mean that they have other channels. Rather, everything goes through Foundation, which gives all sustenance and emanation into Kingdom. Just as we insist about Kingdom, so too with Foundation, which emanates only there, as shown from the above discourse.

In other words, Glory, Severity, etc. do emanate into Kingdom, but only by means of Foundation.

In other words, attributing the Kircher tree to Cordovero, writing in 1548, is dead wrong, despite appearances. It is Cordovero and not Luria who established definitively the shape of the Tree (with the possible exception of Da'at) that has been accepted by Jewish Kabbalists ever since.

Further confirmation is in his Or Ne'erav (Pleasant Light), translated by Ira Robinson in his Moses Cordovero's Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of his Or Ne'erav, 1994. According to Robinson (p. xxvi), it is an "epitome", i.e. condensed account, for beginners of Pardes Rimonim.. Its Part VI, Ch. 2, delineates what it calls the "main paths" (Robinson p. 120f; another translation fo this section is in Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, 1997, p. 42f). They are exactly those of the "Jewish tree," in the same wording as the Pardes Rimonim except for removing the ambiguities, at least pertaining to the "main" channels and adding that there are an infinity of other combinations. He also emphasizes one of the main differences between his view and the one he opposed in Pardes Rimonim, that "Malkhut receives nothing except from Yesod alone":
Indeed there are innumerable channels of various types. Among them are these: one from Keter to Hochmah, and one from Keter to Binah, and one from Keter to Tiferet, totaling three; one from Hokhmah to Binah, one from Hokhmah from (Matt: to) Hesed, one from Hokhmah to Gevurah, and one from Hokhmah to Tiferet, totaling four; one from Binah to Hesed, one from Binah to Gevurah, and one from Binah to Tiferet, totaling three; one from Hesed to Netzah, one from Chesed to Gevurah, and one from Hesed to Tiferet, totaling three; one from Gevurah to Hod [and] one from Gevurah to Tiferet, totaling two; one from Tiferet to Nezah, one from Tiferet to Hod, and one from Tiferet to Yesod, totaling two; one from Hod to Yesod, and one from Yesod to Malkhut. Malkhut receives nothing except from Yesod alone. Through it, it receives from all [the seferot]. Without [Yesod, Malkhut] cannot receive [emanation] from any of them and no one of the [sefirotic] qualities is able to influence the lower [worlds] without it, for it is essential for the guidance of the lower [worlds]. These are the major channels. In addition to them there can be an infinity of [sefirotic] combinations.
There is also a diagram, which is on the cover of Robinson's book ( ... Z6F9XL.jpg). It does not correspond to the text any more than the Pardes diagram does to its, but it lacks a different two sefiroth! This work was first published in 1587 Venice.

Despite all this, Cordovero's Pardes text remains puzzling, He clearly does describe the Kircher paths as though endorsing them. Also, why does he never talk about the paths between Chochmah and Gevurah and between Binah and Chesed? If there is only one path to Malkhut, then there must be two more somewhere, if there are 22 in all. Perhaps he simply forgot. If so, then the "d.v." parenthetical comments might indeed have been additions by an editor, not to reflect later thought, but merely so as to make the total add up to 22, using the two paths that are in his diagram but not mentioned in the text. The question then is, does he ever talk about those two? Unfortunately this volume does not contain much of his treatise 8, which elaborates further on the emanations, sefira by sefira, starting with Crown/Keter. The volume ends with the chapter on Chochmah/Wisdom, and I see the sentence (p. 162), "The intention is to weaken the power of Judgment and Severity by emanating from Wisdom." That isn't much. It might be that he is thinking of an emanation to Severity from Wisdom via Loving Kindness, as opposed to directly from Wisdom. Perhaps I will have to shell out another $89 and get volume 3.


Before Cordovero, as the Pardes Rimonim shows, there seems to have been two ways of drawing the Tree among Jewish Kabbalists at that time in the land of Israel. How far back in Jewish tradition can we suppose the "Kircher Tree" to have been propounded? It is hard to say, because the sefiroth were also positioned differently by different persons, and there are various routes for emanations to pass from one to another sefira. The only definite indications are regarding the paths to Malkhut.

Joseph Gikatilla, writing in late 14th century Spain, speaks of what happens when Malkhut receives from the left side rather than from Yesod (here called TZeDeK, i.e. "Righteous") (Gates of Light, Weinstein translation, p. 44):
If, however, God forbid, the channels that flow from TZeDeK should cease, then the tree would draw its power from attributes of stern judgment, and it is from the left that evil [RA] renews itself in the world.

This passage suggests a channel or path of some sort from the left side, that of stern judgment, to Malkhut. However it is not one that actually exists, or if it exists is very active. It is only if the channels around Yesod are somehow obstructed that the new channel will be activated. In his view channels flow well or dry up depending on the actions of people down below, and things have not deteriorated here to that extent. Yet this passage eerily echoes Cordovero's denunciation of the author who held that the left-hand channel is that by which the "primeval serpent" put its impurity into Eve, implying that evil--the "shells"--has its origin on the left side of the tree. It echoes even more the view that this path "carries Judgment from Glory to Kingdom". Both views, of course, Cordovero rejects.

In the Pardes Rimonim chapter opposing multiple paths to Malkhut, the main argument for one channel only to Malkhut has to do with the covenant, which it is said Noah had to make with God in order to get in the Ark. Here "Ark" becomes a metaphor for the sefiroth above Malkhut. The covenant, and the circumcision that symbolizes it, is one of the meanings of Yesod. In this regard Cordovero's perspective is much like what Pico says about "the sin of Adam", according to the "Hebrew Wisemen" (trans. Farmer, in Syncretism in the West):
28.4. The sin of Adam was severing of kingdom from the other shoots.
28. 31. Circumcision was given to free us from the impure powers that circle about.
28.32. Circumcision occurs on the eighth day because it is superior to the universalized Bride.
28.36. The sin of Sodom came from severing the last shoot.
In other words, circumcision restores what was severed. The "universalized bride" is Malkhut, and "circumcision" is Yesod. As Chaim Wirszubski explains (Pico della Mirandola's Encounter with Jewish Mysticism, p. 45):
What is meant by circumcision being above the "universalized bride" is simply that in the hierarchical configuration of the ten sefirot, the ninth sifirah, Yesod, the "foundation" of all creative potencies, represented by the phallus, is above the tenth.
Wirszubski also says (Ibid) that circumcision is superior to the tenth sefira in another sense, one present in a text by Gikatilla's 14th century Italian follower Recanati that was translated for Pico, that of "going beyond": there has to be a Sabbath between birth and the rite of circumcision; doing it on the 8th day will ensure that this happens. "Sabbath" is another name for Malkhut (see e.g. ... ah-malkhut).

And again Recanati, quoting from the Zohar (Wirszubski p. 42):
The "gathering together of the waters" is Yesod 'Olam [Fundamentum Saeculi, otherwise called Saddiq, Iustus; see Prov. 10:25]; it draws all being to itself, and thence [they flow] to the Shekinah, as it is written [Ecc. 1:7] "all streams run to the sea.
Earlier than Recanati, there is again Gikatilla (Gates of Light translation p. 53):
For all these emanations, pathways, gateways, bridges, various flames and channels flow through the emanations of NeTZaCH and HOD and are fused together through the attribute EL CHaY, which is (more widely) called YeSOD. For:
From there is the well... (Numbers 21:16)
The verse means we enter the highest pool, the BReCaCH, known as the Name ADoNaY, from the attribute YeSOD.
Here "Adonai" and "highest pool" are names for Malkhut.

Going back even further, there is the Bahir, published in 1176 and translated into Latin for Pico c. 1485, section 102 (Kaplan, Bahir, p. 38):
We learned: there is a single pillar extending from heaven to earth, and its name is Righteous (Tzadik). [This pillar] is named after the righteous. When there are righteous people in the world, then it becomes strong, and when there are not, it becomes weak. It supports the entire world, as it is written, "And Righteous is the foundation of the world." If it becomes weak, then the world cannot endure.
This passage is a good example of the relationship between human conduct and the quality of the channels. It also seems to imply only one path - "pillar" - between the sefiroth above Malkhut ("heaven") and Malkhut ("earth"), which indeed is how Kaplan interprets this section (Bahir, p. 161): is evident that, while there are many paths interconnecting the other Sefirot, there is only one path leading from Malkhut-Kingship, the lowest Sefirah, upward, and this is the path leading to Yesod-Foundation. This path is called Tzadik, the Pillar of Righteousness, represented by the letter Tav.
Even the name "foundation" seems to imply only one path: how can something be "the" foundation supporting the world, if that world--either that of the sefirot or that below--has other supports as well? However there is also the possibility, raised by Gikatilla, that when the pillar is weakened, other channels will become active.

So while there seems to have been Jewish speculation early on (i.e. 13th century), at least in Spain, about other main or active channels from Malkhut to the rest of the Tree, that must not have been the dominant view.

It strikes me as very possible that some Kabbalists saw the expulsion from Spain as the kind of evil that would produce other channels, so that "stern judgment" could come down on the evil-doers. Idel has an article ( ... m_djvu.txt) in which he reports that after the expulsion from Spain some Jewish Kabbalists talked of compelling angelic and demonic forces for practical purposes, such as giving them the secret for the preparation of gold (p. 86),, but also to "subdue the entire cosmos, beginning with God and ending with the demonic realm." (!) (p. 87). Native Italian Kabbalists, who had not experienced the suffering of the Spanish Jews, condemned such Kabbalah "from the left side",dealing with demonic issues (p. 88). Such Spanish Kabbalists,also would have come to the land of Israel, and would have been a trend Cordovero opposed, judging from his polemic in Pardes Rimonim. Similarly, such Kabbalists arriving in Italy, it seems to me, might well have been a source of juicy information for Agrippa.

None of this is to deny that there are differences between Cordovero, as a representative of the best of the past, and the new spirit represented by Luria. But they at least agree as far as paths between the ten sephiroth on the Tree (putting to one side the issue of Da'at, which is not mentioned in the "Treatise on Channels"). I would tentatively conclude that both Leet and, Kircher, misread as Cordovero's own his presentation of a view he is against.

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