Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Spelled also Cabala, Kabbala or Qabbalah, a set of esoteric doctrines which claim to represent in diagrammatical form the manner in which the ultimate and unknowable God (a deus absconditus or hidden God who much resembles the God of Gnosticism) unfolds his full nature (which may be called the pleroma) into the Universe, which is the shape of this unfolding. The central cabbalistic image of this process is that of a Tree of Life, which comprises 10 interlinked spheres, the Sephiroth (singular: Sephirah), each of which is an aspect of God, and each of which interacts with all the other spheres in order – and according to rules whose complexity is staggering – to generate and maintain the Universe.

Cabbalism, as a genuine form of mysticism, is less important in the history of fantasy than in that of Supernatural Fiction. Algernon Blackwood's The Human Chord (1910); several of the novels of Gustav Meyrink, in particular The Golem (1915), Charles Williams's Many Dimensions (1931) and Harold Bloom's The Flight to Lucifer (1979) all learnedly engage with aspects of the Cabbala (much of Bloom's critical work has also been devoted to it). In a far more general sense, the cabbalistic Tree of Life – which in some of its diagrammatic representations has an uncanny resemblance to the kind of fantasy Map that joins up Plot Coupons – may be one of the underlying images responsible for the large number of Stones of Power to be found in modern tales, and which must be linked together to generate (or to preserve) the whole of Reality. "Cabbalistic" patterns found on the robes or in the tomes of Wizards may or may not be relevant. [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.