Kabbalah originated as Jewish mysticism and probably originated in oral teachings. It involves advanced understanding of religion, the wider universe, the nature of God, and man's place within everything. Much of it involves intense study and deciphering of Jewish scriptures, seeking additional, underlying meanings within the texts.
Kabbalah also involves additional teachings and understandings, such as the Tree of Life. This is completely inline with Jewish thought on religious documents in general, as additional Jewish texts have continued to be developed long after the creation of the Torah and other Jewish scriptures.
Central TextsThe Zohar is the primary text for Kabbalistic study and was probably written in the 13th century CE (although the author claimed that it was much older, a common problem with esoteric texts whose authors generally praise antiquity and age), making it almost two millennium younger than the Torah. It includes a colossal body of work spanning multiple volumes.
There are, however, a variety of other documents that also discuss Kabbalistic themes, such as the Sefer Yetzirah, probably written in the first or second centuries CE.
Non-Jewish KabbalahNon-Jews have adopted Kabbalah since at least the 15th century. Kabbalah constitutes a significant portion of Renaissance occult thought, which was developed by European Christians. Kabbalah retained its influence on Western occult thought throughout the proceeding six centuries, even when occult thought started shift away from strictly Judeo-Christian worldviews.
These later, non-Jewish developments are sometimes referred to by alternate spellings such as Qabala or Cabala. However, their use is by no means consistent, so for the sake of simplicity and clarity I refer to all forms by the standard Jewish spelling of the word: Kabbalah.
The Alternative Religion site will focus on non-Judaic applications of Kabbalah. The Judaism site provides information on Jewish Kabbalah.
Separating Jewish and Non-Jewish KabbalahThere is no easy way to distinguish which Kabbalistic ideas are Jewish and which are not. Non-Jews generally work from Jewish sources like the Zohar, but they may apply that knowledge in ways that Jews find contrary to Judaism. Since many Jews consider Kabbalah to be an integral part of a wider Jewish belief system, they find such un-Jewish applications to be insensitive, insulting, or downright illogical.
Spelling "Kabbalah"There are a variety of alternative spellings for the word Kabbalah. Some are simply differences in transliteration of the Hebrew term, such as Kaballah. Others may or may not carry additional meaning with them. Cabala is sometimes used when discussing Christian Renaissance approaches to Kabbalah, while Qabala is sometimes used in reference to later 19th century interpretations of Kabbalah such as that employed by the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley.
For the sake of brevity and clarity, this site shall always use the term Kabbalah when discussing all approaches to this material.