The Four Worlds

Azilut: World of Emanation, Beriah: World of Creation, Yezirah: World of Formation, Asiyyah: World of Action. The Four Worlds interlock to form Jacob’s Ladder

The Kabbalistic view of Existence is based upon the concept of four Worlds as depicted in the diagram of Jacob’s Ladder. The primordial Tree of Life sets out the governing laws and principles in Azilut, the Divine World. This model is repeated in the three lower Worlds: Beriah or the World of Creation, Yezirah or the World of Formation and Asiyyah, the World of Action.

The elements of Fire, Air, Water and Earth symbolise these four Worlds. They also define the four levels within each World: Fire relates to consciousness, Air to the spirit, Water to the psyche and Earth to physicality. This scheme applies to both the macrocosm of Existence and the microcosm of a human being. Humanity is unique in that it has access to all four Worlds, while all other creatures are limited to their particular levels on the Ladder of Existence.

The Four Worlds: Questions and Answers

A large part of Halevi’s oral teaching came in responding to students’ questions. Such group discussions sometimes covered topics that were not written down in books. These questions and answers articles are compiled from group and workshop recordings over the years to give insights into Kabbalah as a living tradition.

Q: Where is the notion of four Worlds coming from?

A: The recognition of the four Worlds is ancient but expressed in the language of symbolism, so that one needs to look deeper to perceive the principles. For example, the layout of temples often had an outer court, an inner court, a sanctuary and a Holy of Holies. According to the biblical story of Genesis, in the midst of the Garden of Eden (Yezirah) was a Tree of Knowledge (Beriah) and a Tree of Life (Azilut). You can perceive the four Worlds in Ezekiel’s vision, or in the phrase “called forth, created, formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7). Later, Greek metaphysics defined the One, the World of Ideas, the World of Forms and the Sensible World. In Kabbalah, we call them the divine, spiritual, psychological and physical Worlds.

Q: What is the difference between angels and archangels?

A: Both angels and archangels are celestial principles. The archangels in Beriah hold the balance between creation and destruction, between order and chaos. The angels in Yezirah are concerned with forms and have more specific functions. For example, there is an angel whose job is to make snowflakes when the conditions are right. It can not do anything else. People give names to storms in recognition that it is an angelic entity coming into being and going out of being.

At the earthly level, there are Nature spirits, who look after organic life or are attached to certain places like mountains or lakes. Some sensitive people can see them, and there are many folk tales about such encounters.

Q: Do angels have free will?

A: No. They are like bus drivers, whose job is to drive a bus. Within limits, there are certain variables like they can drive slower or faster, but they can not change the route. If they could, it would create chaos at every level of existence. We can observe that the universe is very well run. It is only people who do have free will and can break the laws; causing problems.

The angels and archangels are arranged into a celestial hierarchy according to their ranks, and they are often likened to a well organised army. The -el attached to their names indicate that they are under the will of God, for example Gabriel and Michael. They may be very powerful entities, but their scope of action is limited to their particular functions.

Q: What does it mean “as above so below”?

A: It is an ancient Hermetic saying. In the kabbalistic context, we see on the Jacob’s Ladder how the principles of the first Tree of Life manifest in the lower Worlds. However, there are increasing numbers of laws and regulations as the process comes down. It is a hierarchic arrangement, an interacting chain linking the most subtle dimension to the densest level of materiality.
The microcosm of a human being corresponds to the macrocosm of the universe. Ultimately, humanity was created in the image of God and has the potential to become fully self-realised.

Q: What is evolution?

A: In the World of Beriah, the seven Days of Creation set up the Holy One’s plan for Existence. Then the creative impulse descended through the World of Forms or Paradise all the way down to the bottommost sefirah of the physical World. From this level of materiality began the return journey of evolution.

Organic life has evolved over millions of years into the seven levels of Nature that we see today. Some species have already reached their peak, while others are still being refined. The early prototype of a horse looked clumsy compared with today’s racing horse. The sensitive layer of organic life is fulfilling a cosmic function in transforming celestial influences for the planet.

Human beings are in a unique position, because they originate from Adam Kadmon. They can continue development beyond Nature through the seven levels of psychological and spiritual consciousness, and they can become aware of the divine purpose of Existence.

Q: How do the four Worlds interact?

A: The contact points where three Worlds meet are important connections. The lower junction is at Keter of the physical, Tiferet of the psychological and Malkhut of the spiritual World; the three components of self-consciousness. The higher one is at Keter of the psychological, Tiferet of the spiritual and Malkhut of the divine World; the level of enlightenment. 

You also need to consider, how the upper face of a lower World interacts with the lower face of a higher World. They are at the same level but in different realities. At the human scale, the electromagnetic field of the body affects the lower psyche, and vice versa. The non-sefirah of Daat is an access point to Yesod of the next World, so that the subtle part of the body can influence how we act, think and feel.

An analogue can be seen in terrestrial elements. Water moistens the earth and rises up into the atmosphere as vapour, while light permeates the air. Your senses are based on the same scheme; sight relates to light and hearing to air and radiance, or vibration, while smell is a blend of air and water, taste is a blend of water and earth, and touch corresponds to earth.

Q: What is the difference between Heaven and Paradise?

They are two different realities. Heaven is the World of Beriah, and Paradise is the World of Yezirah. Both Paradise and Heaven are also different levels of consciousness that can be experienced while incarnate, for example in meditation or contemplation. 

The lower Paradise is sometimes called the Summerland, which is like a more beautiful and luminous version of earthly existence. Most ordinary people reside there in their afterlife between incarnations. It is said that people gravitate to their appropriate level depending on the stage of their development. The upper Paradise attracts those who are interested in a more abstract or transpersonal view of Existence. There are the so-called Academies on High where, for example, artists and scientists can meet their peers and learn more about their particular subject.

The more spiritually advanced, devout and righteous individuals may spend some of  their afterlife in the lower part of Heaven. The upper Heaven is the domain of the Great Holy Council or the Company of the Blessed. It is a hierarchy of so-called Watchers who oversee history and civilisations.

There is a story about a couple who met in Heaven and fell in love. They went to St. Peter and said that they wanted to get married. “It is not that easy here, but I will see what I can do”, said St. Peter. After about a year, he came with a priest and the couple was married in a proper ceremony. However, in the long run they realised that they did not get on. They went to St. Peter saying that they wanted a divorce. “Are you crazy!” said St. Peter. “You saw how long it took to find a priest. How do you think I can find a lawyer?”

Q: What is matter?

A: What we perceive through our senses is the densest level of physicality. At the more subtle level, the interaction between subatomic particles results in atomic and molecular forms of physical substance. The substance is constant but the forms are changing, controlled by the laws of creation and destruction in Beriah. For example, the cosmic impulse of the seasons brings forth new growth in the spring, seemingly out of nowhere. In the autumn, these forms dissolve in decay and death.

Q: Where is the Astral World?

A: The Astral World is another name for the World of Yezirah. It is the intermediary between the physical and spiritual Worlds. As the word ‘astral’ indicates, it is related to celestial principles represented by the sun, moon and the planets. All organic life responds to these influences. Astrology is a detailed study of how an individual or collective psyche can be affected.

It is a fluidic world where forms are continually changing. Some people perceive colours and shapes, while others are sensitive to the atmosphere of astral levels and their inhabitants. This is the domain of both discarnate human souls and non-human entities as well as living people. It is the area of conscious and unconscious interior processes, and dreams.

Q: What is Divinity?

The Divine Names associated with the Azilutic Tree are not God but the attributes, which are the reflection of God. The Holy One is unmanifest. Divinity is like a garment which both conceals and reveals God.

This level of Existence is so vast and beyond the psyche’s understanding that only the deepest meditation is capable of giving a glimpse of its scale, while contemplation is largely limited to theory. However, brought together they could bring about a revelation in which one actually comprehends the Divine reality.

Suggested Reading

Kabbalistic Contemplations by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi

Contemplation is a working method for expanding the mind and deepening one’s understanding of Existence. This book of contemplations considers the macrocosmic aspects of the universe, as well as the crucial role of humanity. Each topic is a basis for further contemplation in both individual and group work.


Basic introduction to the Four Worlds, lecture at Hawkwood College


Guided Meditations by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi

Four Worlds

Voice: Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi
Recorded in New York in 1989.

This meditation describes the long journey from Nothingness to the appearance of human beings. Through the stages of radiance, gaseousness, liquidity and solidity emerges the physical universe. Earth becomes slowly habitable, and then a molecular body moves across the barrier from inorganic to organic; the planet’s level of consciousness is raised as more and more refined creatures evolve. Eventually into this scene of organic life appear the first humans who are conscious of being conscious.

Four Elements.

Voice: Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi
Recorded in New York in 1988.

This meditation invites us to focus on our body. The four elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire that compose our body also relate to our senses, without which we could not recognise the physical world.

Ladder of Creation

Voice: Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi
Recorded in London in 1993

Ladder of Creation is a panoramic view of Existence from the lowest to the highest levels. The meditator is invited to observe and experience each stage and learn how to transform imagination into a vision. Halevi recommended this meditation to regain a sense of proportion when one becomes too bogged down with the mundane and personal.