In Kabbalah, the ten states of being/aspects of God/divine emanations depicted as spheres on the Tree of Life. Plural of sephira.

The ten sephiroth are:

Forgive any errors in this node - I've just began reading about the Kaballah, and it's a deep subject. You can't rely on Neon Genesis Evangelion for a good overview of this subject, kiddies.

Speaking of Evangelion, you can see a picture of the Sephiroth in the opening credits of said anime, and on the ceiling of Gendou Ikari's office. (It's entirely possible that the Kaballah and the Sephiroth have much more to do with the series; I've only viewed the first 10 episodes.)

Now, more substantial noise. The Sephiroth is laid out in a tree; hence, the easier English name, the Tree of Life. It describes the 'descent of divinity into the human realm'; sort of a trickle-down theory of divine grace. It starts at the head, the Kether (or crown) and reaches the Malkuth (the Earthly Kingdom). Here's the whole list of the sefirot (or sephira) :

These separate virtues aren't all really separate, supposedly; it's a package deal. Divinity generated from the ineffable will flow downward through the tree, energizing each sefirot like so many LEDs. Divine grace joins wisdom joins understanding joins mercy joins... And this analogy extends one step further; divinity flows down to us groundlings, not up from us. Those LEDs, they are diodes, and the Tree of Life is a one-way street. Trying to force power up the tree will lessen each sefirot. It won't care if you just became a Zen Master last night, your understanding won't translate to others until they are so blessed. It's not unlike enlightenment.

Each sefirot has two relationships. The first is a duality. Kether to Malkuth, Chokmah to Yesod, they are not opposites, but rather complementing halves. It's related to a male-female relationship. And then there's the standard religious trifecta. The number three pops up in many religions (the Holy Trinity, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, etc.) and the mystic Kaballah is no exception. Here, the Sephiroth is divided into three groups twice over...

The branches are mini-trees; as each sefirot has divinity flow through them from Kether to Malkuth, it also flows down directly from Binah to Geburah to Hod. And divinity flowing up from Hod will both negatively affect Netsach and Geburah. At this point, I'm not sure what the triangles are for.

Now this is all well and good, but what does it all mean? That is deliberately left as an exercise to the reader. In keeping with the mysticism of the Kaballah, they give you the tools, but don't say how to use them; supposedly, your intuition shall lead the way. Practically, this boils down to the following rule of thumb : if you think the Sephiroth may apply to a given situation, then it does.

There's one more sefirot, inside of the tree but not connected to any of the others. It's called Da'ath, or knowledge, and it's totally separate from the Sephiroth; at times, it's considered to be Binah and Chokmah blended together.

The Ten Sefiros are the ten character traits of the soul attributed to every person by Chassidism and Tanya.

The first seven sefiros are the Emotional Attributes of the Soul:

  1. Chesed, kindness
  2. Gevurah, severity or might
  3. Tiferet, harmony or beauty
  4. Netzach, victory
  5. Hod, splendor
  6. Yesod, foundation
  7. Malchut, royalty
  8. The last three sefiros are considered to be the Intellectual Attributes of the Soul:

  9. Chochmah, wisdom
  10. Binah, understanding
  11. Da’at, knowledge

The last three attributes condense into the acronym Chabad, a smaller sect within the chassidic movement.

2:39 PM, EST

The word 'seifra' is said to have come from sapar, the Hebrew word meaning 'to count'. However there is an uncanny resemblance to the Greek word saphaira, which means 'sphere'.

I'd just like to add a little to discofever's writeup.

While all the sephiroth are considered somewhat spiritual, the triangles mentioned by discofever are correlated to different "levels of consciousness," for lack of better terminology.
The supernal triangle can be seen as purely spiritual,
the ethical triangle represents the subconscious mind,
and the astral triangle may be seen as the conscious mind.

Sometimes Malkuth is considered part of the astral triangle, although it bears a stronger correlation with the body and physical surroundings. I've even seen a text saying to read a physics or chemistry textbook to gain a better understanding of Malkuth.

One correction I would like to make is that most of what I have read indicates Da'ath(knowledge) is not an eleventh sephira, but a "hole." According to those sources, the biblical fall of man resulted in a loss of direct knowledge of divinity (expulsion from Paradise), and the Kabballistic Tree of Life was restructured.

Sephiroth was more than just the bad guy from Final Fantasy VII, he was the definitive bad guy of the Final Fantasy series. I've played them all (well, the ones that've been translated), and none were as starkly evil and methodical as Sephiroth. Sure, one might argue that Kefka was a pretty evil guy, but he doesn't wear Eau d'Evil as his trademark scent, nor does he walk around with a big fucking sword and a black cape, or kill a close friend of the main character's. Sephiroth is so arrogant and powerful, he doesn't need to use an evil laugh to communicate how utterly bad he really is.

Spoilers ahead

In FF7, Sephiroth is concerned with the promised land, and merging directly with the planet. He believes that by using the black materia to summon Meteor and rip a gigantic hole in the lifeforce of the planet that it will absorb him and he and the planet will be one. To this end, he goes about randomly killing people (He seems to almost be the epitome of chaotic evil), destroying towns, creating/releasing big fugly creatures to kill the main characters, directly controlling the main character, and generally being a not too nice guy.

His downfall seems to be the very trait that makes him so evil, his rampant arrogance. He laughs (and rightly at first) at Cloud as he tries to stop him from doing evil things, and then later on, when he should just use his massive planet energy or whatever to create a BIG FREAKING AVALANCHE (no pun intended) to kill Cloud, he just lets him down into his crater and fights him then and there. Bad Idea.

Sephiroth is quite often compared to Kefka in terms of evilness, but I think Sephiroth takes the cake. Kefka might have destroyed towns and been a Machiavellian bitch, but Sephiroth was a mutant alien energy creature bent on ripping a hole in the planet so he could be absorbed by it. Kefka got his power from other people, Sephiroth starts off as a level 50 badass with a big fucking sword and an almost Hitokiri Battousai-esque grimness about him.

Pronounced: 'Sef-i-ro(th)
Alternate spellings include:

A Sephira is a node on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The Sepherot, combined, account for the first 10 of the Paths of Wisdom on the Tree of Life. In addition to their correlation with the Paths of Wisdom, each Sephira correlates with a spiritual experience, an emotional focus, a divine name in the Jewish tradition, and an archangel (which differs based on the particular traditions). If that weren't enough, they also each have parallels with an element, an image, a symbol, a color, a plant, a mineral, a metal, an animal, and an incense. There are also personal and psysiological correspondances; each pertains to a part of the body, a personal virtue, and an illusion.

"The essence of the unwritten Qabalah lies in the knowledge of the order in which certain sets of symbols are arranged upon the Tree of Life. This Tree consists of the Ten Holy Sephiroth arranged in a particular pattern and connected by lines which are called the Paths of the Sefer Yetzirah, or Divine Emanations. The Qabalists further placed upon the Paths of the Tree the Signs of the Zodiac, the Planets, and the Elements. which fit accurately and, correctly placed, are found to correspond perfectly with the Tarot trumps, and giving the keys to esoteric astrology and Tarot divination."
-- Dion Fotune

Although much more well known for his heroine stabbing antics in Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth, one of the baddest mofos ever in gaming history, makes an appearance in the surprisingly solid Square/Disney collaboration, Kingdom Hearts, as a challenging optional boss.

His voice actor is none other than the world infamous *NSYNC singer, Lance Bass. Despite the obvious objections and controversy of choosing a teenie bopper hero for the voice of the most villainous of villains, I have to admit he does a good job. The haunting, hatred filled curses Lance shouts do fit Sephiroth's character very well.

Souped up on Playstation 2 graphics, Sephiroth's former polygon blockiness is gone. Now sporting a single black angel wing that matches his insidiously long dark cloak, he looks much more threatening. Sleek and smooth, his twisted smile and evil blue eyes are extremely unsettling. He carries his Masamune sword, about the length of a school bus, behind him much like a stereotypical samurai would. His characteristic silver anime hair (nearly as long as his sword) whirls behind him, but never gets in his way.

Sephiroth can only be fought in a one on one duel with the main character, Sora. After winning all the previous coliseum matches, the Sephiroth duel is opened up under the title "?????". This option isn't available until near the end of the game.

After clicking on the ambiguous "?????", Sora is led to an area where some flashy black hole opens up in the sky and Sephiroth slowly descends from. If it's the first time someone is fighting him, the player will likely be dead in about seven seconds.

The duel with Sephiroth is the most difficult battle in Kingdom Hearts, easily much more so than the final boss. Sephiroth, besides possessing an exorbitant amount of hit points, dealing out bundles of damage, and moving quick as lightning, goes through various stages during the battle, each one increasingly difficult. Initially, he carelessly saunters around the arena in Sora's general direction, only to teleport behind him and attack with his sword. If the player is skillful or powerful enough to survive or dodge the initial beatings, he is met by pillars of flame emanating from Sephiroth's body. Several other devastating attacks occur if player lives long enough: a charged magic attack that automatically reduces Sora's hit points to 1, a series of dark balls that protectively hover around Sephiroth, and a gigantic meteor strike.

What is your reward for vanquishing such a tremendous foe? Well, besides the satisfaction of pounding on old Seph, not much: 18000 XP. Although that is a massive amount, it is inconsequential by the time you could actually beat him. Some people recommend repeatedly defeating Sephiroth if you desire leveling your characters to 99.

Sources: Playing the game

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