I did a search and found only a short mention on Kabbalah in FMA, so I hope it is okay that I start a new topic even though I'm new. I don’t know very much about Kabbalah (which is really, really complicated and confusing) but I was able to pick up a few things that relate to FMA.
What Kabbalah is:
Kabbalah is a discipline within Judaism that seeks to explain the relationship between God and the mortal world. Kabbalah is very complicated and I don’t understand it very well myself, so I’m not going to try to explain all of it but only describe the parts of it related to FMA. If you want a general understanding, Wikipedia is okay: Wikipedia-Kabbalah.
Kabbalah and Alchemy:
Kabbalah and alchemy have a number of things in common: both Kabbalah and alchemy were methods of trying to use reason to understand the world; both are considered esoteric disciplines; both were prominent in the Middle Ages but lost prominence with the rise of modern science; and both were thought of by many practitioners as a science.
Kabbalah and alchemy overlapped as well, since many Jewish alchemists also believed in Kabbalah. According to at least one book, reliance on Kabbalah became at trend in alchemy from the 16th to 18th centuries. For more on the relationship between the two, see this book: Kabbalah-Alchemy links.
Proof that Kabbalah is in FMA:
It is not a speculation that Kabbalah is part of FMA: it is observable fact. The “Tree of Life,” the central belief of Kabbalah, is the image on the Door of Truth, as can be seen below.
Image of the Tree of Life:
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In the picture below, you can clearly see the word “Sephiroth”, the name of the 10 attributes on the Tree of Life. Interestingly, you can also make out “Ie” and “ho” and with a possible “va” below: Iehova (Jehovah) is the Hebrew name of God.
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The attachment below seems to indicate Keter/ Kether- the crown on the Tree of Life. The origin of the word “Corona” is crown and a crown is clearly visible. There is also what looks like a version of Keter (Chator) on it. Either way, it is in the same position as Keter and appears to have the same meaning.
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While I’ve not seen roots on the Tree of Life, the words that can be made out on the roots in the picture below clearly represent the Sephiroths: Netzeth = Netzach (victory); Geburah = Gevurah (judgement); Malc… = Malchut (kingdom).
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I have not looked up the pictures of the second time Ed sees the gate- but I think this is plenty of proof that this is, in fact, the Tree of Life.
I don’t really understand the Tree of Life, but it has to do with understanding the nature of creation and the link between God and humans. While I don’t really understand the Door of Truth either, passing beyond it was indicated to give the person some kind of understanding of Truth and the ability to create without a transmutation circle, so there is a similarity in these concepts.
Here’s more information on the Sephiroth: Wikipedia- Sephiroth
“All is one and one is all”:
This idea appears to come from Kabbalah rather than alchemy. The idea of God in Kabbalah is a version of monistic panentheism. (It was listed as this in Wikipedia and I confirmed it with other sources). Monism refers to a belief in the unity of all things (Wikipedia- Monism) or “All is one”- and panentheism is the belief that all things are part of the one God (Wikipedia- Panentheism) or “One is all.” While “all is one and one is all” was explained in the context of the “circle of life” by Ed and Al in the manga, they ended by saying it means “All is the world and the one is me,” which combined with the previous statement means “I am the world and the world is me,” consistent with monistic panentheism.
More importantly, Truth introduces himself like this: “I am what you humans refer to as "the world", also known as “the universe”, or “God”, or “true knowledge,” or “all”, or “one,” and… I’m you.” This is pretty much the definition of God in monistic panentheism, and is consistent with Kabbalah. God is all things and individuals are merely manifestations of God. Reinforcing the influence of Kabbalah on Truth’s statements, we view the Door of Truth as he says this.
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The Nature of Truth:
It is hard to get a handle on what the soul is in Kabbalah, because not only is the soul a manifestation of God, but the body is also. I suspect that the manifestation of Truth that speaks to Ed is his own soul. I don’t think this is counter to Kabbalah- but the only way Kabbalah supports this is that the soul is a part of God.
This has some support within FMA, however. After the attempted transmutation of their mother, Ed and Al both see Truth, but do not see each other. It is likely that each sees the manifestation of Truth that is his own soul. After Ed pulls Al’s soul out, the realms of their souls merge, which is why Ed sees two doors when he returns. It is notable that Al’s body is seated in front of his Door of Truth in the same position that Ed saw Truth previously. It seems Al simply got reversed, with his body and soul on the wrong sides of the door. His body seems to still get enough nourishment to survive through his connection with Ed due to it being located in Ed’s soul’s realm, and his mind remains connected to the soul, allowing him to retain his memories and personality. The idea of Truth being Ed's soul is also supported by Truth being the same size as Ed and Ed forgetting what he was doing when faced with Truth, as the mind separating from the soul may have caused some confusion.
If this is correct, the soul is likely the closest part of a human to God and it has knowledge that is unavailable to the mind and body. In this case, all souls may have some shared consciousness and knowledge.
All this is consistent with Kabbalah, but this admittedly involves more speculation on my part than the clear link between Kabbalah and the two previous ideas.
The Nature of Father:
The nature of Father himself may, in fact, be in like with Kabbalah. Father is a very mysterious being- he came into existence as a shadow in a jar but already had incredible knowledge. His nature and his goals are not yet known in the manga, but they seem like they could be in line with Sitra Achra (“The other side”) in Kabbalah.
Evil exists in Kabbalah as the absence of God’s will. Because God is everything and God is good, evil can only exist where God is absent. God is absent because he withdraws his will from reality in order to allow free will and human autonomy. This allows “evil” or Sitra Achra into the world. However, Sitra Achra does not have a true existence- it is variously described as something like a shadow from God’s light or a parasite on the physical universe. It underlies reality but has no life or existence of its own- it can only derive life as a parasite and it will be eradicated at the end of time when God extends his will. ( Sitra Achra- I’ve read a number of links with different information, but this one is short and easy to understand. It is just one interpretation, though, and others get really complex. Also, see the Wikipedia Kabbalah page above for more).
Father may actually be a manifestation of Sitra Achra. He is an entity that had knowledge beyond what he could have attained when created in the flask, indicating another existence. His manifestation in the physical world required a creation by Hohenheim’s master using Hohenheim’s blood- this can be seen as an example of his parasitic nature, as he was unable to attain physical form without both a human creating him and human blood. His original form is a shadow, which is also consistent with Sitra Achra, which is a kind of shadow from God’s will. His confinement to the flask may be due his existence requiring the absence of God- he may only be able to maintain his physical form in a small realm where he can keep out God (Truth), since the rest of the physical world belongs to Truth.
His parasitic existence is further indicated by his need for human beings to create a body for him through evil acts (he cannot do this himself), as well as his body being made up of human souls. It is of interest that Father has grown older and decayed over time, but Hohenheim hasn’t. This may again be due to Father being a parasite: he needs to draw energy from these souls simply to maintain his existence in the world and has grown older as he wore them out. Hohenheim, on the other hand, would have an intrinsic existence. Even in the present, Father is still a parasite who requires humans to perform evil deeds to complete his plans and needs humans for the transmutation he wants performed- he simply cannot do these things himself. It is also worth noting that Hohenheim refers to him as still being trapped- Father may be more powerful now, but he must still stay where he can keep God out. It is possible that the absence of God is the weird thing that the Xingese characters felt within Amestris.
(Note: I may be wrong on some elements of the manga in the discussion of Father since I did not double check that all of it is correct with the manga. Please let me know if I screwed anything up).
This is just a quick note about the link between Ishbala, the Ishbalan god, and Kabbalah. The name Ishbala could come from Jewish Kabbalah (the version of Kabbalah that I'm referring to here). If this is the case, it is likely that the Ishbalans have a better understanding of the world than the Amestrians because the world’s true nature appears to be governed by Kabbalah, not alchemy.
That’s all I can write on this, but Kabbalah is much deeper and more complex than this- honestly I don’t understand it at all. Hopefully I did not screw too much up. There are also many types of thinking within Kabbalah, since it was derived by many different rabbis over many centuries- it is hard to know which perception of Kabbalah Arakawa has based this on. But this explains some of the main principles of Kabbalah as they could relate to FMA, as best as I am able to interpret them. Maybe someone else can do better with a little research.
There are many, many things in the manga that I have not discussed here and could potentially be related to Kabbalah: I'm hoping this thread can be used for discussion of these things, as well as discussions of reasons for and against some of the possible interpretations listed above. (Possible things of interest: Ishbalan teachings, the second time at the gate, Scar's brother's research, etc.)
(Edited 5/21/09 to put links within text instead of at the end and make some minor changes).