four worlds of kabbalah

The Psychonaut’s Guide to Kabbalah and Spiritual Journeying

What the ‘Four Worlds’ of Kabbalah can teach us about spiritual highs and lows.

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The spiritual journey—whether through the use of psychedelics, prayer, or other forms of divine connection—often consists of an ascension and a descension process—or more accurately, first a descension and then an ascension. Perhaps this sounds counterintuitive, as the psychedelic experience takes us on flight to higher dimensions, before we inevitably cascade back to mundane consciousness  (what “gets high” or goes up must come down). But the truth is, we need to confront ourselves, our shadows, our fears to penetrate through to authentic higher consciousness. When we embark on a medicine journey—especially one in which our intentions are personal growth—we face the blocks that keep us in a limited reality before we can truly ascend. Sometimes this appears as the fear of letting go, or the fear of what is to come. Whatever traumas hold us back from witnessing the mystical truths that are all around us must be worked through. This is why we descend first: to travel through the dark realms before we can reach the light that comes at the other end of the tunnel, so to speak. As the adage goes, the only way out is through.  

The wisdom of spirituality is available to us in our everyday life. We can attain it through spiritual practice such as meditation, rituals of song and dance, or other forms of embodied prayer. Yet while spiritual truths are all around us, we are often blocked by our own psychology that keeps us in bounded consciousness. Psychedelic medicine can help us clear these blocks and expand our narrow perspective. This process enables us to open channels of reception to higher dimensions, where we are met with great depths of experience, and mystical wisdom to guide us. 

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For millennia, Jewish mystics have intimately studied this process, while creating frameworks to help guide the spiritual seeker. Kabbalah, which means “reception,” is one of the most potent channels of Jewish mysticism, and speaks to the need to be open on the inside in order to understand spiritual wisdom. The wisdom of Kabbalah is available to all those, from beginners to advanced learners, who seek a greater understanding of the self and our world. The study of Kabbalah, one of the most potent channels of Jewish mysticism, articulates the cosmology of creation through the Four Worlds: Atzilut (emanation), Beriah (creation), Yetzirah (formation), and Asiyah (action). These worlds exist simultaneously and help us understand the different dimensions of existence. 

Read: How Psychedelics are Reigniting Judaism

Kabbalah teaches that the spiritual journey of descension and ascension can be traveled through the Four Worlds. In Hebrew the word for “world” is olam, which etymologically shares a root with the Hebrew word for “hidden.” This means that worlds are actually aspects of consciousness that are hidden from our view. When we engage in spiritual practice (not to mention, a psychedelic experience) we are choosing to reveal the hidden realms. Through the articulation of the Four Worlds, we can find a framework to understand this multi-dimensional travel experience. 

The cosmology of the Four Worlds comes from the teachings of Kabbalah around the creation of the world. To understand how we can apply these teachings to our life, let’s take a look into the Kabbalistic view. 

כֹּ֚ל הַנִּקְרָ֣א בִשְׁמִ֔י וְלִכְבוֹדִ֖י בְּרָאתִ֑יו יְצַרְתִּ֖יו אַף־עֲשִׂיתִֽיו׃ 

Every one that is called by My name and for My glory, I have created, I have formed, even I have made.” — Isaiah 43:7

The Kabbalistic Four Worlds find their root in scripture from the book of Isaiah. Here God (which can be understood as the Source of Light) reveals the stages of creation. The Source of Light is the eternal Divine nature that is the power of all that is. The emanation of Light travels through stages of development to create the world as we know it. Each world is a state of consciousness necessary for creation to take place. These levels of consciousness are embedded throughout reality and in our bodies. When we desire to connect with God—the Source of Light—we can work through these states of consciousness and travel through the Four Worlds to reach the heart of spiritual truths. States of consciousness are simply qualities of being, meaning we can access them through working with our internal world. We can notice these ways of being through our experience of the mind and body. 

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Humans have been gifted the power of consciousness and with that, the ability to travel these worlds. We can shift our states of consciousness by engaging in various practices such as breathwork, dance, prayer, and psychedelics. Through these practices, we have the capacity to attain a higher form of awareness known as Divine Awareness, the eternal clear seeing view of reality. It is only through this Divine Awareness that we have the capacity to move into higher dimensions of being. Without Divine Awareness, we can become stuck in low states of mind such as fear, shame, guilt, and resentment. These low frequencies loop in our minds and form a narrow sightedness that leaves us spiraling in confusion and doubt. We get lost and our perception of reality becomes distorted. 

We need a tool to help us pierce through these psychological blocks. Often we are powerless in the face of our patterns. But the intentional use of psychedelics can help us pierce through these delusions of life and get to the heart of the truth. Psychedelics have the power to penetrate through our blocks and help us reach back into Divine Awareness. Because of their expansive nature, psychedelics have the wisdom to work with our limited consciousness and open us back up. They are our guide in the mystical travel through the Four Worlds. 

Truth reveals itself through a spectrum of existence starting from the physical to the spiritual. The physical is dense, seen, and concrete. The spiritual is subtle, hidden, and abstract. Kabbalah teaches that the physical and the spiritual are intimately related, what happens in the physical world impacts the spiritual world and vice versa—“as above, so below.” There is a spectrum of continuity between them—meaning they are not two discrete worlds, but rather partners in a relationship. The purpose of traveling through the Four Worlds is to harmonize between the physical and the spiritual, and thus bring healing and alignment into our life. 

The first and highest world is that of Atzilut, Emanation. The light of Ein Sof (literally, “without end”), The Infinite Divine, permeates everything. Here, the unity of all is known and revealed. In scientific terms, psychedelic researchers have identified this sense of oneness or unity as a critical component in what they’ve defined as the “mystical experience,” or an experience of the Divine: In addition to a sense of oneness or unity, other criteria include an ineffability or inability to describe the experience with words, a deeply felt positive mood, sense of sacredness, transcendence of time and space, and a noetic quality. The limitations of the world disintegrate and all we experience is the pure light of the world. We access this world through surrendering our ego and releasing into the Divine Field. 

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With this primordial light, we travel down to the second world of Beriah, Creation. This world corresponds to Mind, meaning the Divine Wisdom that manifests the world into being. It is beyond energy or form, as it is the original thought that gives the power to creation. It is subtle in that it is not seen but purely felt through the Higher Mind. This corresponds to the thought patterns that govern our lives. Through shifting the ways we think, we also shift our external reality. The world of thought is subtle yet powerful. Beriah is a higher world because it does not have a material reality and is experienced more internally. The practices that develop this world further are ones that engage with the mind and our thoughts, such as meditation and witnessing the nature of our minds. 

The third world is that of Yetzirah, Formation. This is the world of movement and energy. It is dynamic and creative, filling the empty space with full aliveness. This is the realm of our emotional body and creative energy. Through feeling and expressing the dynamic flow of life, we cultivate the presence of this world. The practices here are ones of embodiment such as dance, song, and expression.  

The fourth world is that of Asiyah, Action. The last step in creation is physical reality. This world encompasses all material creation including the body and what we perceive. It is the most concrete and corresponds to the world we see. The interactions here include the basics of life such as eating, drinking, and sleeping. By engaging in practices of nourishing our physical body, we engage in a deeper understanding of this world. 

Mystics would travel up and down these worlds to integrate the spiritual with the physical. Through this integration, we create harmony and healing in our life. This traveling happens by cultivating an embodied presence that moves through states of consciousness. There are various rituals to guide us here such as practices of prayer, ritual, and meditation. But the important message is that this journey of ascension and descension is about our internal world. We are engaging in these practices to develop ourselves from the inside—working with our minds, emotions, and bodies. 

This internal work of learning how to travel between states of consciousness can be supported by psychedelics. Psychedelics take us on a journey through their own intelligence, but as we cultivate our own awareness we can learn from this medicine how to understand this journey of integration and healing. By integrating the dimensions of the physical with the spiritual, we bring unity in our awareness. We return to a wholeness of experience that carries tremendous power for great healing. Through the journey of the Four Worlds, we realize our true power in bringing healing and liberation to the world.

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