Kabbalah Practices / Practical Kabbalah: The Magic of Kabbalistic Trees

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Kabbalistic trees - ilanot, in Hebrew - are not merely arboreal diagrams illustrating the sefirot and other symbols associated with them. By the fifteenth century, the term ilan (singular) referred to a genre of kabbalistic creativity that fused this schema with a specific medium: an ilan was a diagram of the sefirot inscribed on a parchment sheet or rotulus. Ilanot had a variety of functions, from meditative to mnemonic. The present essay isolates a common element in the various uses of ilanot: they are performative, ritually-used artefacts. The ilan is thus a tool of kabbalistic practice, but is it to be considered part of so-called "Practical Kabbalah"? By the nineteenth century, ilanot were being produced specifically to serve as amulets; these apotropaic rotuli are certainly classifiable as artefacts of Practical Kabbalah. Ilanot not produced as amulets are best regarded as magical - but in the sense that they facilitate opportunities for ritual identification with the divine image that they map, and therefore participation in and manipulation of the divine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-145
Number of pages34
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 1259/14).

Funding Information:
To date, the Ilanot Project team has identified and catalogued approximately 150 such vertical scrolls in libraries and private collections around the world. Recent grants from the Israel Science Foundation and the Volkswagen Stiftung will enable us to upgrade our digital humanities resources significantly. For now, see http://ilanot.haifa.ac.il. Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim (Orchard/Garden of Pomegranates), 34c. For an extended discussion of the ilan as material text, see Chajes, ‘The Kabbalistic Ilan as ?aterial Text’. Rosenroth, Kabbala denudata (Kabbalah Unveiled), 193–255. On the ilanot of Kabbalah denudata, see Chajes, ‘Durchlässige Grenzen’. I am currently preparing a monograph on Knorr’s diagrams, to include a facsimile and translation of this diagrammatic appendix. For a more detailed discussion of these materials, see Chajes, ‘The Kabbalistic Ilan as ?aterial Text’.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2019 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


  • Kabbalah
  • amulets
  • diagrams
  • ilanot
  • magic
  • material text
  • rotuli
  • tree of life

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


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