Kabbalah is a form of Jewish mysticism. Like Gnosticism (which it's sometimes said to be descended from), in its most basic form it concerns the division between the material world and a spiritual world of nothing but light. Due to a complicated chain of events, every human being has a fragment of this light in them, which is the soul. The realm of light is the Jewish god "as He is in Himself", AKA the godhead. This godhead has absolutely no qualities, as to give Him qualities is to limit Him; instead, He is said to contain and transcend anything and everything. However, He can manifest in the material world through ten virtues called "Sephirot" or "Sephiroth" (the singular is "Sephira"), and following these ten virtues makes a Kabbalist a more godly man until he shines with the Divine Light.
The origins of the doctrine depend on who you talk to. Either it took shape in 13th century Spain with a group of Jewish mystics, or it was divinely revealed to Moses during the Exodus, or even to Adam in the Garden of Eden, if you're a believer. Different Jewish denominations have different stances towards Kabbalah. More modern denominations, such as Reform and Conservative Judaism, think Kabbalah itself is nonsense but the academic study of Kabbalah is valid scholarship. Chassidic Judaism, on the other hand, takes Kabbalah pretty seriously, and Orthodox Judaism has views in both camps (and sometimes a position in the middle). It has reached wide popularity via a shiny, Power-of-Positive-Thinking version that Madonna has been wearing since about 1997, but this is only one of the dozens of movements trying to claim the word as their own. Books about Kabbalah tend to have less in common with one another than books about cooking do.
The word means "The Tradition" in Hebrew, and it usually means "The Secret Traditional Explanation of Everything," so it has been fights and collaborations between rivals since the beginning. Who wouldn't want to fight over that? The version of the Kabbalah that got big in the 13th century Spain was deeply entrenched in the Jewish religion and tended to deal with the questions that bothered 13th century Jews, such as "Why are we following these Laws?" "How did the Universe come about?" "What's with all these contradictions in the Bible?" They weren't new questions, but kabbalists found some new ways of asking them, usually by looking for hidden messages in the Torah using MATHS, reading Hebrew words as numbers, and numbers as the stuff the universe is made of. Particulars were debated, but the hidden message tended to be that the Universe is made of parts that are out of harmony, but if all Jews were to follow Jewish Law, the universe would be fixed. The Zohar and the writings of Abulafia are the classic from this period, the first being more like sacred adventure stories, and the second being training manuals for prophets. They both claimed to have the ancient secrets, but they disagreed on most specifics.
And since then people have continued claiming that their newly discovered version of the ancient tradition is truer than all of the other newly discovered versions. In the Renaissance, Christians discover that the secrets were actually Christian secrets, and Masons later discover that those Christian secrets were also Egyptian or Babylonian secrets. People like Aleister Crowley discovered that these Masonic had always been magical secrets, or that they explained everything from Taoism to Quantum Physics. From the Jewish side, the "Ari" (an acronym meaning "Lion") Isaac Luria discovers some details about how our universe is on top of a shattered previous one, in the sixteenth century. Hasidism makes it folksy, dancey, and dynastic in the eighteenth century. The popular new ones are strange, but it would be hard to show that they were stranger than the ones that were new before.
The Kabbalah is also known for the snazzy tree pattern known as the Tree Of Life, whose leaves are the Ten Sephirot, connected by 22 paths (each associated with one letter of the Hebrew alphabet). These ten spheres are connected in a pattern that shows ten virtues through which God emanates into our level of reality, and conversely how humans can ascend back up and reach Him. The ten Sephiroth, along with what they represent (note that there are many possible transliterations of their names from Hebrew) are as follows:
- Kether, the Crown. Represents consciousness, the connection between the human and divine
- Chokmah, Wisdom. Represents creativity, intuition, male energy.
- Binah, Understanding. Represents stability, female energy.
- Chesed, Mercy, Kindness. Represents benevolence, order, laws.
- Geburah, Power, Severity. Represents strength, courage, righteousness.
- Tiphereth, Heart, Beauty. Represents individuality, coordination of parts, balance, symmetry.
- Nezach, Victory. Represents emotion, art.
- Hod, Glory, Splendor. Represents intellect, determination.
- Yesod, the Foundation. Represents energy, imagination, communication.
- Malkuth, the Kingdom. Represents the physical world and body, self-expression.
- Daath, which is not numbered, but is the central state of unity of the other ten.
These meanings may become important in Theme Naming.
- 666 Satan: The Kabbalah is shown throughout the series as a sort of sandwich on the earth.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Tree of Life is one of the mystical symbols appearing on the mysterious Gate.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion loves its Kabbalistic symbolism. Now, whether it means anything...
- The entire tree is lovingly drawn on Gendo Ikari's office floor, and considering how hip deep he is in reenacting key parts of the original story to bring back his wife and initiate Third Impact, it may have somewhat more meaning, insofar as he and SEELE are concerned.
- In Psyren, Amagai Miroku's Sephirot attack is based on the Tree of Life.
- Digimon Frontier references it a couple of times. First is Mercuremon's evolved form of Sephirotmon, which is actually composed of orbs in the same pattern as the Tree of Life (complete with the Crest of Light from Digimon Adventure on the central orb). Ophanimon has an attack called Sephirot Crystals, in which she summons crystals in the same Tree of Life pattern as well.
- In Gunnm/Battle Angel Alita, the floating city inhabited by the wealthy is known as Tiphares. (Or Salem, depending on the version.)
- Il Sole penetra le illusioni ties the Sephirot to its Tarot Motifs by associating the 22 paths with the 22 Major Arcana - an idea that's been around since the 18th century.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, the Tree of Life appears when Z-One uses his Temporal Machine Gods/Timelords. Each monster represents a spot on the Tree, with his 11th ace monster representing Daath.
- In A Certain Magical Index, the Tree of Life is used to explain the hierarchy of humans and angels, with God representing Daath. As humans become more powerful, they can ascend to another level, but cannot if a level is full. If a higher level is full, a human can only ascend by making an inhabitant of that level (usually an angel), fall to a lower level. Some Magic Side characters compare Academy City's goal of creating a Level 6 esper to people trying to ascend the Tree of Life.
- In Fate/stay night and in other spin-offs taking place in Fate worlds with a Holy Grail War system, the lines of summoning for a Heroic Spirit contains an implicit reference to the Tree of Life: "The four gates shall close and come out the Crown. Let the three-forked road to the Kingdom cycle", with the Crown and the Kingdom referring to Kether and Malkuth respectively.
- Alan Moore's Promethea series is strongly oriented by the Occult Kabbalah of Aleister Crowley and the sex magick tradition that has been riffing on him (whether or not he liked it then, or his devout like it now) for the last century. A trip through the Tree of Sefirot fills up all of books 3 and 4.
- Ben Katchor's The Jew of New York includes Kabbalistic meditation on the word 'Greptz,' a Yiddish burp sound.
- Kate Kane is heavily associated with Kabbalistic imagery. Her apartment building has an enormous tree growing up through its center, she has a print of the Kabbalah hanging on her wall, the stand for her Batwoman uniform is shaped like it, and upon seeing her uniform for the first time, she immediately describes its red-and-black color scheme as "Gevurah... the Pillar of Severity... the colors of war."
- Bee Season (both the novel by Myla Goldberg and the Film of the Book starring Richard Gere) has Abraham Abulafia's prophetic techniques, Isaac Luria's idea of fixing the world, and Hasidic dancing. Of course, this is in a family with serious problems, so these get translated into obsessive compulsion and Hare Krishna.
- Illuminatus!'s chapter names are named for sephirot.
- So are those of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.
- Gustav Meyrink's Golem is heavily influenced by Kabbalah (and by antisemitism). Not very surprisingly so, seeing as the Golem legend is itself heavily kabbalistic, and Meyrink was deeply involved with the esotericism of his time.
- UNSONG takes place in an alternative present where kabbalistic magic has returned and started to replace technology.
- Tsun-Tsun TzimTzum takes place in a universe based on the Kabbalah, divided into eleven spheres that are each simultaneously a physical place, a philosophical concept and a stage of the universe's creation.
- Touch features both Kabbalistic numerology as well as the concept of the 36 hidden righteous ones, of which Jake may be one.
- Both Hellgate: London and Clive Barker's Jericho have heroes who could count as Kaballah Punk.
- Trickster Online takes place on Kabbalah Island and includes all sorts of specific references to Sefirot.
- Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth takes the name from the Tree of Life. True to his name, his ultimate plan involves ascension and becoming one with the game's version of the godhead, called the Lifestream.
- It's often speculated that the name "Tifa" comes from Tiferet.
- Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward has a Primal based around the concept (and Fiend from Final Fantasy VI). The appropriately name Sephirot. Unlike the similar named Sephiroth mentioned above, the symbolism is more apparent: many of his attacks and minions use the names of the ten Sephira (such as Binah, Chokhmah, Chesed, and Malkuth) and he has abilities referencing the concepts of Ein, Ein Soph, and Ein Soph Ohr. His affinity for plant life comes from the literal interpretation of the Sephirot as the "tree of life."
- The back wall of the bathroom where you start the game in Silent Hill 2 has kabbalistic drawings on it.
- In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, each of the Fiends is given a candelabra symbolizing one of the ten sephiroth. When the Demi-Fiend gets close to one of them, his own candelabra begins to glow, and you know that you're about to get into a really tough boss fight.
- Fireworld, the second game of the Swordquest series, is based off of the Tree Of Life.
- The occult-obsessed school nurse in Persona 3 will lecture the main character about Kabbalah and various derivative practices.
- Tales of the Abyss derives much of its mythology from Kabbalah, instead of the series' habit of drawing on Norse Mythology. Sephiroth are Auldrant's ten major magical 'hotspots', the Qliphoth is a lifeless underground sea of hot mud and poisonous gas, and several towns in Malkuth take their names from the actual Sephirot. Malkuth itself is named for the lowest Sephirot, which means 'kingdom'.
- The Witcher has ten Sephirot Stones that must be be collected.
- Xenosaga has the Zohar as an important element, along with many biblical references.
- The conflict in Devil May Cry 5 centers around the Qliphoth, an ancient demonic tree that gathers human blood over thousands of years before bearing a single fruit able to imbue demons with divine power. The last of these fruits was consumed by Mundus, who used this power to become King of the Underworld. After Mundus's defeat at the hands of Sparda, the Legendary Dark Knight placed a seal upon the Qliphoth, preventing it from manifesting in the human world and producing any more fruit. With the seal broken in the present day, the Qliphoth sprouts in Red Grave City as an upstart conqueror by the name of Urizen seeks to claim its fruit's power for his own.
- In the SCP Foundation, the most dangerous and most difficult to contain objects are given the class "Keter", taken from the highest point. Objects created or exploited by the Foundation to aid their mission, meanwhile, are classified as Thaumiel: Keter's Shadow Archetype counterpart on the Qliphoth, symbolizing spiritual conflict. Fitting, as the Foundation considers using anomalous phenomena against anomalous phenomena to be at best a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, and at worst tapping into The Dark Side.