The Qabalah Tattoo

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

This ancient mystical tradition of the Hebrews possessed three literatures: the Books of the Law and the Prophets, which are known to us as the Old Testament; the Talmud, or collection of learned commentaries thereon; and the Qabalah, or mystical interpretation thereof. Of these three the ancient Rabbis say that the first is the body of the tradition, the second its rational soul, and the third its immortal spirit. Ignorant men may with profit read the first; learned men study the second; but the wise meditate upon the third.

–from The Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune

A good friend yesterday reminded me of the qabalah tattoo.

Last fall I had mentioned something about qabalah to one of my best students and she said, “I don’t know what qabalah is. I mean, I know Britney Spears does it and got the tattoo…” This might suggest to you my student’s age. Most of my friends respond to any mention of qabalah with, “Isn’t that what Madonna does?” Certainly these different generations of superstars have made this a household word, but that doesn’t mean there is a common understanding of this mystical tradition.

Qabalah means “to receive,” and refers to receiving this oral tradition “from mouth to ear.” However, I see it as also meaning that the understanding of the system can be received directly from the Divine, through our study and contemplation of its symbols. No one can tell you what qabalah means, but you can learn to open yourself to receive what is important and relevant for you.

There are a lot of different ways of approaching the qabalah, and the tradition I follow is not that of Britney or Madonna. In fact, the qabalah can be divided into three very broad styles, each with many subsects. The different spellings you see often reflect these broader categories: kabbalah with a “k” generally refers to the traditional Jewish mysticism, and is what the other styles derive from. Cabala with a “c” is the spelling often preferred by Christians who engage in this study, and qabalah with a “q” refers to the Hermetic qabalah, which is taught in the Western Mystery Tradition that I am trained in.

But don’t get too fond of these definitions: the spelling cabala is the only one not highlighted by spell check, and some people use it for that very practical reason. Likewise, kabbalah is probably the most common spelling, and I frequently choose that because it’s what people are more familiar with and more likely to search for. The mutability of the spelling of this spiritual tradition already starts to provide some clues about it: it is adaptable, not set in stone; it changes and transmutes according to need. There is no right way of doing it, although there are certainly more traditional ways to approach it.

My friend yesterday said, “Really? There’s a qabalah tattoo?” I responded sardonically, “Well, apparently.” He nodded with a focused but distant gaze. I watched him. I felt the need to clarify. “No, there’s no tattoo in traditional qabalah.” “Oh!” he said.

I imagine—and I don’t have the slightest desire to bother Googling it—but my guess is that Britney, if she did get the alleged tattoo, most likely has etched into some part of her body the symbol called the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the primary glyph of qabalah and is a meditative tool that opens the way to profound wisdom. (Hopefully Britney has her tat where she can easily see it so she can gain the benefits of contemplating it; this is only conjecture, but I suspect that the benefits cannot be gained solely from the inking experience.)

The Tree of Life is a brilliantly simple yet complexly layered symbol. It arises geometrically from the interstices of four overlapping circles. These four circles represent the four worlds of qabalistic philosophy. They describe a process for bringing inspiration into reality, or traversed in the other direction, for rising from the material world to that emanating from the Divine. The interstices show the landing points or stops along the way and represent different states of consciousness. If we draw lines linking the interstices to each other, we gain pathways that can lead us from one state of consciousness to another, and ultimately provide ways of moving between the different worlds.

So, what is the qabalah in twenty-five words or less? The qabalah is a map to the Divine, a blueprint for manifestation, and a meditative tool that lets us journey between heaven and earth.

The Tree of Life is also a system of correspondences. Each interstitial point—or sphere—and each linking line—or path—has a series of associations assigned to it. The correspondences include colors, planets, tarot cards, parts of the body, plants, incenses, gemstones, angels, deities from cross-cultural mythologies, and on and on. We can use these correlations to help us explore the states of consciousness with our senses or meditate on the relationships to find new insights.

The labyrinth of correspondences winds ever deeper providing fascinating insight and sometimes devious detours, but walking these paths truthfully eventually leads us to the still center. The Tree exhibits certain symmetries that through reflection provide ways of approaching even the most hidden mysteries. It is through the sussing of these secrets that we learn to understand ourselves and through that understanding approach the unattainable Divine.

Of course, there is another meaning for tattoo–a rhythmic series of raps, as on a drum. Sometimes the dance between correspondences becomes so syncopated that it brings us into an altered state. As the mind circles through the sometimes paradoxical symbols, we are forced to release reason and sway in the cadences of intuition. And here in this rhythm we receive the revelations from beyond the veil. Here in the rhythm of the qabalah tattoo we hear the heartbeat of the Divine.


If you are interested in seeing how the systems of correspondence from the Tree of Life can be used in a fun and practical manner, please check out my Valentine’s Day tarot spreads that I developed for the Denver Tarot Meetup. These aren’t typical “find your soul mate” spreads, but I played off the idea of finding soul connections. They can be used to gain insight and clarity into any type of relationship. One is a fun predictive spread, one is designed to help us understand our relationship in comparison to the vision we hold for it, and one is a deeply transformative spread that uses my Empyrean Key process to forge soul connections or heal deep wounds from past relationships. Enjoy!

Joy Vernon is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Reiki Teacher in Denver, Colorado. Her specialty is the Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which combines energetic and esoteric modalities to help her clients break through blocks and align themselves with their higher purpose. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit

© 2012 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit

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