Interview by Amber C. Snider
Jack Chanek’s Qabalah For Wiccans explores the magical practice of Hermetic Qabalah with a Pagan audience in mind. Here, the author discusses the Tree of Life, how it serves as a map of the magical universe and human soul, and ways to harness this sacred knowledge in your everyday life.
In conversation with Jack Chanek, author of Qabalah for Wiccans
Amber C. Snider: Okay, let’s start with the basics. How do you define Hermetic Qabalah?
Jack Chanek: Qabalah has its roots in Jewish mysticism. Hermetic Qabalah is spelled with a “Q,” while Jewish Kabbalah is spelled with a “K.” Jewish Kabbalah emerged in medieval Iberia as a form of mysticism that blended the study of the Torah with various esoteric subjects like alchemy and astrology.
Qabalah, as a hermetic practice, is a magical system that aims to understand various aspects of the individual soul, the structure of cosmos, and various magical principles. It takes all these disparate things and it lays them out in a handy reference system so that everything connects to everything else. You can explore one thing by further studying other things that are symbolically connected to it.
ACS: Hermetic Qabalah provide us with a visual framework in which to understand and examine the nature of the universe, especially the different planes of existence, yes?
JC: Yes, the central image in Hermetic Qabalah is the symbol called the Tree of Life. It's composed of ten spheres of energy that represent different kinds of magical power, planes of existence, or different themes you can explore in magical practice. These spheres are connected to each other and map out the magical universe.
ACS: How does the Tree of Life demonstrate the connection between divine energy and our physical experiences?
JC: One of the beautiful things about this is it shows that divine energy pervades every aspect of existence. It’s not like divine power is something way out there, far away, inaccessible, or impossible to reach. It’s here now in the world. It’s here in all sorts of different ways that overlap and intersect with each other. Divine power can manifest in different ways.
As a very simple example, the ninth sphere Yesod connects to the moon, so in a very literal sense, the moon up in the sky is a manifestation of divine power. But it’s also connected to the way that we intuitively and emotionally process the world around us. Any time you draw on your intuition, divination, or when you have dreams or physic experiences, that’s all a manifestation of this particular divine power of Yesod. Full moon rituals or wearing the color purple with a particular consciousness are ways of accessing that same divine power which is present throughout everything we do.
You can understand the Tree of Life as exploring separate planes of existence, different psychological factors you have in your being, physical things about the structure of the solar system, literary themes, tropes, mythology, or symbolism. It’s all around you. All the Tree of life is present in everything you do.
ACS: How can we use the Tree of Life in our individual magical practices?
JC: You can use the Tree of Life as a way of symbolically exploring spell casting, astrology, personal development, psychology…all of those things are encoded into it. I like to talk about it like a card catalog. It has references to all sorts of information, so if you’re trying to understand one thing –– like compassion –– as it manifests in magic, you go to your sphere in the Tree of Life and there are other correspondences that help you explore that. Whether it’s with color, shape symbolism, or a particular deity you want to work with, there is so much is encoded in this handy, visual symbolic medium.
The goal of those correspondences is to take a lot of information and condense it down into a symbolic structure that’s accessible and easy to use.
ACS: You wrote that the Tree of Life is the central glyph of Qabalah; a symbol that at once serves as a map of the universe and the human soul. How does the Tree of Life reflect this?
JC: For starters, there's a principle you find in magic, “As above, so below.” There's a sense in which what's going on in the universe at-large is also happening on a smaller scale. This is also reflected in the relationship between the individual human soul and the cosmos as a whole.
Each individual person is a microcosm of the universe itself. A famous quote from Aleister Crowley is that “Every man and every woman is a star." There's a sense in which each of us is a reflection of the entirety of the world, the indescribable vastness of the universe and everything that's in it. So the Tree of Life describes the metaphysical structure of the universe and the various divine energies that are present that help to shape it and bring it into being. But they're also present within us.
ACS: What are the Sephiroth?
JC: On the Tree of Life there are ten pools of energy. These are the main flavors of divine power, known individually as Sephirah or collectively as Sephiroth, or in English, spheres.
At the top of the Tree, you have a Sephirah that is associated with divine unity and transcendence, the ultimate oneness of everything. All the way at the bottom is the sphere associated with the presence of the divine manifest in the world. The actual ‘go out and touch grass, look at the sun’ world that we all live in.
In between those, you have various spheres that are associated with things like the intellect or compassion. They’re abstract principles that are sometimes personal and psychological, and sometimes more large and cosmic. The Tree of Life arranges all ten of these types of divine energy and that's the way through which we map what that power is like in our magic (or our psychology/ the cosmos as a whole).
ACS: Can you give an example of these spheres?
JC: There are two spheres in the Tree of Life called Chesed and Gevurah. In English they are Mercy and Severity. At the cosmic level, these represent divine energies that have to do with notions of justice. Do we forgive people or demand accountability and enforce the rules? This can exist at the level of human society, at a broader sense, as a governing ethical law that structures the universe, but it's also within the individual human psyche. We have both these impulses within ourselves.
Part of the work we do with magical Qabalah is not just leveraging [these energies] to get a house or a lover, we're also looking at the balance of divine energies within ourselves and thinking about how to bring those things into harmony.
Someone who has a lot of anger, who can't let anything go, who can't forgive, has too much Gevurah and can balance that out with some more lenient, compassionate, clement energy. Conversely, someone who's a bit of a doormat, who doesn't know how to stand up for themselves, needs to bring some of that more strident, powerful energy from Gevurah into themselves to find a balance in their soul.
The magical work we do with the Qabalah isn't just the universe at-large, it's additionally about the universe written small –– the universe within us.
ACS: Is that why you also mention how it's not about polarity, but more about finding this divine balance?
JC: Polarity is such a delicate magical concept. There's a tension with things that appear to be opposite. Mercy and severity, thinking and feeling, the self and the other, various pairs of opposites, seems to be pulling away from each other, but there's also a sense in which they're kind of the same. They combine into each other and produce something new. There's this constant process of division and recombination; where you take a thing, separate it into two parts, and bring them back together to create something new.
That principle of division and recombination is present throughout the Tree of Life.
ACS: You include meditations, journal prompts, and rituals in the book. How do they serve as a bridge between Hermetic Qabalah and Wicca?
JC: [I use them to show] the ways these magical principles can show up in Wiccan rituals. Qabalah is already present in what most Wiccans do. It's not this new alien thing that has to be brought in –– you just have to learn how to look for it; and meditations are a way to make that feel very accessible.
They're organized around two of the spheres at once. They're designed to help people feel that push and pull of the magical polarity between the spheres. A lot of Qabalah books discuss each sphere individually, as an isolated unit, because they want to give each concept its due. But when they do that they give the illusion that these things are independent of each other. I think that can detract from the experience of the Tree of Life because it really is this big, dynamic, interconnected thing.
ACS: You mention in the book how the spheres can correspond to individual Pagan deities, but that a “plug-and-play” attitude towards deities can be understandably problematic. Given the diversity of Paganism, some people may feel the Gods are metaphors or archetypes, while others maintain they’re literal entities requiring devotion and worship.
You seem to unify these ideas as well, when you write: "I believe in the Gods as literal spiritual entities with the power to act upon the world, but I also think they exist as archetypes in the unconscious mind. I believe that each deity has their own individual personality, but also that there is a sense in which the Gods all share some common divine nature.”
So who are the Gods in Hermetic Qabalah and how does that relate to Wiccan practice?
JC: The answer is so deeply subjective. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the principal Qabalistic societies, tended to view the Gods primarily as symbols for archetypes (not the word they used, but the same concept). Thought forms that humans have built up that pooled a certain kind of divine energy that we can call on or invoke in a ritual.
The Golden Dawn was primarily a magical order and not a religious one. Their focus was using divine energy as a tool for magic, rather than on a relationship of devotion or worship (which may seem more common among some Wiccans, although certainly not all).
Qabalah itself doesn't have an official stance on this. It says here are the different types of divine power in the world and here are some structural principles about how they relate to each other. But it's up to you as the practitioner to feel out how Gods relate to that.
A love Goddess like Aphrodite is going to be very comfortable in [the sphere] Netzach, the sphere that deals with love and pleasure and social connection. There are some practitioners that think Aphrodite just is Netzach. There are others who think Aphrodite is an independent spiritual being who just happens to really like all of the things you find in Netzach. It's a place she likes to hang out. But there is no official stance on theology in Qabalah. It's really up to the practitioner to figure out what feels right in figuring out what feels right.
ACS: I think that's very true for Paganism as a whole. Everyone has their own practices and some look at the Gods/Goddesses as energy forms, thought forms, or even manifestations of the singular God or Goddess. So all of that can exist within the Tree of Life, within the Hermetic Qabalah universal view?
JC: Qabalah really does accommodate the plurality of perspective that we find in the Pagan community. It doesn't just accommodate it, it encourages it.
*Interview has been edited.
Jack Chanek has been reading tarot since he was eleven years old, and he has been publicly writing about tarot since 2015. He has taught workshops on tarot, Qabalah, and Wicca around the country and is the author of Qabalah for Wiccans. Jack has appeared on Seeking Witchcraft, The Magic Monday Podcast, and The Witching Hour with Patti Negri, as well as teaching at festivals such as Free Spirit Gathering and LlewellynCon. He lives in New Jersey, where he works as an academic philosopher specializing in Immanuel Kant's philosophy of science. He can be found online at his website here. You can purchase his book Qabalah For Wiccans in-store at Enchantments or order online direct from the publisher.
The Spring Equinox is finally here and we have some magical tips to help you celebrate this new cycle of life.
Refresh and renew
Ostara Formula, a Sabbat blend for the Spring Equinox, will help you refresh and renew your space for spring. Burn the incense during a ritual for spring, wear the oil to enhance your magic throughout the day, and set an intention to welcome in new beginning, creativity, and abundance in your life. All things are possible now, so dream big and put your intentions out there.
Clear the clutter
Spring cleaning has become a ubiquitous yearly ritual (you know, deep cleaning the house, scrubbing the floors, and dusting away all those cobwebs), but it can also be done with intention, mindfulness, and magic. Add Florida Water to white vinegar, a touch of Castile soap, and a few drops of lemon essential oil for a magical floor wash and/or all-purpose cleaner; Chant positive mantras as you dust; light uncrossing incense as you sweep or vacuum; Be present in each task and give thanks to your house. After you’re done, light a white, pink, or green candle to welcome in new abundance and prosperity.
Virgo Full Moon
The Full Moon has lasting effects several days after it peaks, so channel that recent Virgo Full Moon energy into getting organized. Whether it’s your work space, closet, kitchen cabinets, spice racks, or magical tools, this is a great time to get organized. Get rid of the things that no longer serve you (Marie Kondo style), sort everything you want to keep, and find creative ways to neatly store all your items. After all, Ostara is also associated with the Moon! To read more about Moon Magick, click here.
Begin a new creative project
Fertility and fecundity doesn’t always have to do with procreation –– we’re creative beings by nature and now is a time to “birth” something new. This is a great time to begin an outline for a book, plan out a business idea, begin a painting or photo series, sign up for that pottery or herbalism class, etc.! Or maybe it’s a simple self-care plan for the next couple months. Whatever it may be, fill your notebook or Excel sheets with practical, strategic, and creative ways to achieve your goals during this time.
These custom-carved candles are also great for spring and can help invoke creativity, renewal, and abundance in your life.
Ever wonder what the Easter bunny and eggs have to do with each other? After all, bunny rabbits don’t lay eggs, so why are they a symbol for the spring season as it leads to Easter? It goes back to the ancient Germanic/Celtic Goddess Ostara (also spelled Ēostre), whose symbol include the hare and represents fertility, renewal, awakening, and spring. To put it simply, bunny rabbits/hares reproduce fairly rapidly, so their abundance and virility has become a symbol of the season, making it a good time for love/sex magic. For an extra boost of this fecund energy, try Enchantments’ Great Sex Formula or Passion’s Torch Formula.
Mother Earth is awakening in all her glory, so get out there and enjoy it. Set an “away” message on Slack, emails, and your phone at least once a day to go outside and be fully present in nature. No distractions, no emails, no texts. Connect with the natural world around you and notice all the details: the sounds, sights, smells, textures. Even a 15 minute meditative walk can do wonders for the mind and spirit.
Plant something new
A new houseplant can really refresh a space and welcome good vibes in the home. Maybe you’ve been thinking of starting a window sill herb garden or propagating one of your plants –– now that spring is here, it’s the time to experiment with that green thumb. At the very least, take a day to head to your local farmer’s market and pick out a plant that really speaks to you. There are also several amazing books on plant witchery and herbalism out there. We recommend Plant Witchery by Juliet Diaz and Scott Cunningham's classic Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs.
For more on plant magic, check out our Herbalism Series here.
Make a sea salt bath
Add a few drops of lemon or lemongrass essential oil with a few drops of lavender oil (or use dried/fresh French lavender) and mix together with sea salt. This protective, invigorating blend will enliven your nightly ritual. As you soak, envision your life in its most abundant form (What do you look like? What’s around you? Who’s around you? What does it feel like?). Before draining water the tub, say a prayer of thanks for the existing abundance in your life.
By Amber C. Snider
We know the importance of regularly cleansing our homes and auras, but what about when we’re on a road trip or traveling abroad?
As a journalist covering arts, culture, and spirituality, travel is an essential part of my work; But all those new places, faces, and sensory experiences can leave me feeling energetically drained and depleted at the end of the day. It’s a different kind of “tired” that has nothing to do with jet lag — and high empaths, witches, and intuitive folks all understand this.
Traveling opens us up to new worlds, cultures, ideas, and expressions, but it’s okay to “shut off” that openness when it’s time for rest or just whenever you need it. In my experience, being grounded is absolutely necessary in maintaining an openness to new experiences, as well as connecting with my spirit guides and tapping into my higher power.
Whether you’re staying in a 1 star hotel, a luxury suite, or backpacking in a foreign land, each new place contains its own unique energy and power. Spaces and places (as well as our auras) hold on to energy, and sometimes it can be pretty heavy stuff. We can, inadvertently, end up “carrying” that energy from place to place, too. Here are a few travel tips that keep me sane and grounded while on-the-go.
Take a piece of Mother Earth with you on the plane
I love to take stones and crystals with me on the plane to help me feel connected to the Earth. Sure, airport security may give me weird looks when they open up a bag of rocks, but honestly that’s the least of my cares. I love clear quartz, rose quartz, obsidian, onyx, amber, and any blue-green stone (malachite, aventurine, lapis, etc) while traveling. Obsidian absorbs negative energy, rose quartz helps invoke calmness and compassion, amber is healing and grounding, and blue stones help activate the throat chakra (which is particularly great when you’re speaking in a second language!).
I recommend cleansing your crystals and stones overnight in sea salt before traveling and charging them with a specific intention before your trip (safety, love, peace, protection, joy, communication, etc).
Trees and branches, too…
I also love to take small branches of natural plants with me and tuck them into my pockets. It could be a simple leaf, twig, or tree bark, but keeping a tiny part of a tree with me has always brought a lot of comfort. I especially love carrying a sprig of rosemary around in my pocket or purse — it smells wonderfully delicious without being overpowering to others.
Walk softly and carry a big (incense) stick
It’s not always reasonable for me to carry all my herbs, charcoals, cauldrons, and wood-based incenses while traveling, but incense sticks or palo santo always does the trick. Not only can you do quick smudging sessions in the hotel or Airbnb, incense can also help personalize the new space for you, bringing along a sense of comfort. I burn a lot of copal and amber incenses at home (as well as palo santo) and its easy to bring along a few sticks or buy new ones on the road. Plus, not every hotel or Airbnb has 5 stars in the scent department (whether it’s stale air or overly perfumed chemical-y scents), so incense also helps with practical matters.
Invest in the local culture with an open heart
Investing doesn’t always have to translate to dollar signs. You can invest your time and energy into meaningful exchanges with local communities, taking the time to learn from them, sampling their traditional foods, visiting their landmarks and museums, buying from small businesses, and respecting local customs. Cultural appreciation is different than cultural appropriation, of course. The best part of traveling is getting to know the locals and learning new things. By taking care of your own spirit and energy, you’re also leaving room for expansion, as well as compassion for and acceptance of others.
Smoke cleanse > Juice Cleanse
Just kidding, do a juice cleanse if you want. Or at least try all the fresh fruits you can during your travels! But we’re talking about Spirit here, so I’ll stick to that. Have you ever walked into a new place and felt a kind of heaviness? Sometimes it feels like walking through water, sometimes a tightening in the throat, sometimes a gut feeling. However it physically manifests for you, know that a spiritual cleansing may help lighten the energy — and sometimes almost instantaneously. Here’s what I do:
––First, open any and all windows. While walking through the house/apartment/hotel room with your incense, speak the following words aloud, using your most confident/assertive voice: “I command any and all negative entities to leave this space. I am a child of God/Goddess (insert the language or practice that works for you here) and I command any spirits or energy that does not serve my highest good to leave this space.” Sweep any negative energy towards and out the window.
—Then say something like, “I call upon (Insert the language that works for you here, I.e. God/Goddess/My Ancestors/My Spirit Guides/The Universe) to assist me in filling this space with Light and Love. May this be a sacred space free from any negative energy.”
—Visualize a ball of white light 3-6 feet from the top of your head. Try to “see” the ball’s light extend outwards, filling the room and every corner and crevice with light.
—Finalize the cleansing with something like “And so mote it be,” “Amen,” “And it shall be.” I always like to say “thank you” afterwards to the kind spirits who’ve assisted me in the ritual.
––Seal in the goodness you’ve manifested.
With a touch of sea salt….
I love working with sea salt because it’s so universal and abundant. You’re bound to find some variation of sea salt during your travels and it may already be stashed in the cupboard of your Airbnb. After a smoke cleanse, sprinkle some sea salt near the doors and corners (continually visualize pure bright light while you do this) and say “Only goodness can cross these lines. Nothing that wishes me harm can enter here. So mote it be.”
I always like to throw some salt over my left shoulder when I’m done to “keep the devil at bay and away” — yes, it’s an old wives tale, but I still do it, even when cooking.
Get your feet dirty (e.g clean)
As in, when you get a moment to yourself, take off your shoes and ground yourself in the Earth. All that sensory experience from traveling, as well as encountering so many new people, can throw us off our own center, so I like to turn my gaze and body back to the Mother for rejuvenation. The simple act of putting my feet in the dirt, on the ground, in the sand, on a bed of leaves, and releasing any negative or pent up energy can work wonders for my spirit and aura. The thing is, Mother Earth is so abundant and accepting that she can take it all in — and still give back so much strength.
I like to silently and respectfully ask, “Mother Earth, Gaia, please take (insert request) and help rejuvenate my spirit.” Stand for several minutes in this meditation and place your hands on the earth’s surface to say thank you afterwards.
Bring your totems and tiny statues along for the ride
During the recent holidays, the owner of Enchantments, Stacy Rapp, gifted me the perfect statue for my travels. It's a small, 4-inch intricately painted statue of Mother Earth (Gaia) that fits in my carry-on bag and "lives" on my nightstand (wherever I may be). It makes me feel protected when solo traveling and since it was a gift, it's a good reminder of my "home" and community in NYC.
About: Amber C. Snider is an NYC-based journalist, editor and designer for Enchantments, and educator specializing in art & culture, spirituality, and travel with words in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Lonely Planet, Fodor's, Teen Vogue, Atlas Obscura, Unearth Women, Saveur, Domino, Culture Trip and more. You can read more of her work at www.ambercsnider.com