Monday, December 20, 2010

Qabbalah For Pagans and Witches - Part 2

Practical Qabbalah

We have examined the ten sephirah and the structure of the Tree of Life, and we have seen how the thirty-two categories of the sephiroth and paths can be used as a powerful table of correspondences. What are the other practical uses for the Qabbalah that might be used by a ritual magician?

There are three techniques of practical Qabbalah that are very important for magickal work. The first method is a form of numerology that ascribes numeric values for the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet and tabulates them - it is called Gematria.

The concept that letters are also numbers may seem a bit foreign to us, with our present distinct set of numbers used apart from letters. Yet the numbering system that we use today, which is of Arabic and Hindu origin, was also derived originally from letters, except, of course, the brilliant addition of the number zero. This Arabic/Hindu numbering system has completely supplanted earlier and more primitive systems of numeration based on letters or tallies (Roman numerals). A vestige of the Arabic source of our numbering system is that numbers are tabulated from right to left, which is the direction that Semetic letters have been written using the Syrian or Arabic alphabet.

Still, the Greeks and Hebrews utilized their alphabets as both systems of numeration and writing. It’s possible that this relationship was only deliberately manipulated later on, but a form of numerology was developed by the occult literati of the time. They did this by using only certain examples of an obscure relationship between numbers, letters and words, since only certain examples were meaningful, while the rest were merely arbitrary.

To find the occult number associated with a word, the Qabbalist would total up the numbers associated with each letter. This operation could also be done to phrases, as well as proper names. A Qabbalist could then make some judgements based upon the number associated with words, phrases or proper names. Thus it was believed that words which had the same numeric value also had the same corresponding meaning. For instance, the Hebrew word AHBH (beloved), which has the individual letter values of 1, 5, 2, and 5, when added together, is associated with the occult number 13.

Additionally, the Hebrew word AChD (unity), which has the values 1, 8, and 4, when added together also produces the occult number of 13. A Qabbalist would then contemplate upon the subtle interconnection between the words “beloved” and “unity,” noting their analogy, and that they could be interchanged as formula key-words in a ritual.

The number 13 is then given the significance of the two words (beloved, unity) whose numeric value are equivalent, so the number 13 now has these additional attributes other than just being a number. Using this numerologic methodology, the Qabbalist would produce a book of numbers and their associated words (Sepher Sephiroth). This book of numbers would show the numeric values of all of the important words, such as phrases from the holy books as well as the various names of the Godhead, Angels, Demons and other spirits.  Looking into such a book, a Qabbalist would also find other words associated with the number 13, such as Hated - AYB, Emptiness - BHV, and a Locust - ChGB, and many others.

All of These words would be used together to build up a set of attributes for each number, although it would be quite difficult to determine a specific unified meaning amongst so many diverse words, phrases and names. Noting the above collection of words associated with the value of 13, I myself would find it impossible to think up a single semantic meaning that would fit all of these words. Still, in theory, that is how one would complete a Sepher Sephiroth, by creating a semantic structure for a full range of numbers and words. Generally, a Qabbalist will choose the words associated with a specific number that has the most significance, and then ignore the rest. An example of this kind of selectivity is to choose the two words “beloved” and “unity” and ignore the other words that have nothing in common with these two. Basically, Gematria is used to find connections between different words, but only where those connections would have some kind of significance or importance.

Gematria is a word derived from the Greek Grammateia, meaning tabulation (denoting an account book or domestic listing). That was the first methodology that we just examined. The two other systems of numerology are called Notariqan and Temura. Notariqan is from the word Notarius; it’s an ancient method of shorthand writing which the Qabbalist used to create or define acronyms. Temura is a method of permutation that substitutes letters so as to encrypt or decode words or phrases. There are supposedly 22 different methods of substitution, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Temura is also used to create signatures and sigils from formula words or important names, such as Angelic or Demonic names. These are used particularly in the rituals of invocation and evocation.

I use Notariqan to build and craft magickal acronym formulas, or to determine acronyms from a given sentence or phrase. Temura is useful for crafting sigils or signatures from the names of spirits, using magickal squares or the system of Aiq Bkr to create them. Using ciphers or decoding messages is less useful to me, particularly since I am not prone to using archaic grimoires or books that might employ them. I have also found only limited use for Gemtria, since it seems kind of contrived to me, but other occultists have used it extensively to prove obscure or subtle connections, such as the writings and books authored by Kenneth Grant.  

To recap - I use the Qabbalah extensively in the follow ways:

  • Tree of Life as a model of the Inner planes,
  • Sephiroth and paths are used in a massive set of tables of correspondence,
  • Gematria can be used to determine connections between words, names and phrases,
  • Notariqan is used to create or explode magickal acronyms,
  • Temura is used to craft sigils or signatures from the names of various spirits.
As you can see, the Qabbalah is very useful and important, even if you are a pagan or a witch. If you practicing ritual magick, the Qabbalah is a critically important tool for determining analogies and connections between different symbologies. We will get deeper into these techniques and methodologies in future articles.

Neoplatonic Elements Found in the Qabbalah

You might be wondering by now where all of the ideas and insights came from that were used to build up the discipline and knowledge base of the Qabbalah. I previously stated that a lot of the ideas for the Qabbalah came from Neoplatonism, and that is why the product is more like a heterodoxy than representative of a purely monotheistic religion. This why some orthodox jews reject the Qabbalah, and many Christians are suspicious of its tenets, and rightly so. To follow the philosophical beliefs of the Qabbalah is to admit to the possibility of multiple aspects or attributes of the Deity. The Qabbalah is a monist based philosophy, but that does not give it any purchase with a strict monotheistic definition of Deity - they are in fact, incompatible. If Jews or Christians are also Qabbalists, then their concept of Deity would have to be very mutable, which would make them occultists who would espouse a very esoteric definition of their religious faith.

The reason that the Qabbalah is incompatible with a strict monotheistic definition of Deity is because its roots are in Neoplatonism, which was a system of philosophy that was inherently pagan and polytheistic, even though it had developed a decided monist perspective. Most of the concepts that I have already explained as central to the Qabbalah were first described and elucidated by the Neoplatonists of the third and fourth century C.E., most notably, Plotinus and Iamblichus. Iamblichus is important because he postulated a system of Theurgy that later became the impetus for the birth of modern ritual and ceremonial magick.

Neoplatonism taught that there was a greater godhead or source of all of the gods, which was called the One, and also the Good. The One was thought to be pre-existent, self-begotten and fully self-determined. That One also existed as the greater union of all of the gods, goddesses, daimons, demigods, spirits and souls in existence. The One, which was also called the Good, was the cause and source of all things, thus nature itself was good. Not only was nature inherently good, but all things in the natural world ultimately led back to the One.

The material world was created by a nested process called emanation, through which the One proceeded to generate three levels extending out from itself. These four levels were called the Hypostasis of the One, Intelligence, Soul and Body. The Hypostasis of Intelligence represented the Universal Mind which contained the Platonic forms or ideas. The Hypostasis of Soul was the producer and organizer of the sensible. There was the group or collective Soul of the World, known as the Anima Mundi, and there was the souls of individual people. The Body, of course, was the natural world, animated and ensouled by an interpenetrating of the essence of the One.

The process of creation involved what was called procession, where the higher level would automatically and without intention or will, generate the level below itself, which in turn, led the next level, creating the level below it. There was a natural tendency to “process” from the highest One to the many, and there was a corresponding pull attracting the many back to the One, which was called the return. The act of creation in no way diminished or diluted the source, since there was no dissipation of power from higher to lower. The higher was unaffected by the act of creating the lower, since it created without movement, inclination or will. It retained its integrity and wholeness, and did not need to engage with what it created, since the created lower level automatically inherited the structure and order of the higher. The full cycle of creation always involved a procession and a return, with a later stage called Abiding added in, which represented the state of immanence preceding creation. The Neoplatonists also consider the process of emanation to be continuous, infinite and outside of space and time, which is pretty much the same as what the Qabbalists thought about creation via the Tree of Life.

Iamblichus himself added an important rule, which he called the Law of Mean Terms. This law stated that in order for there to be any kind of communication or linkage between two things, that a third thing that acts as a mediator between the two must exist. This concept of intermediation is applied to all levels, which produces a seamless bonding between all levels of creation. Thus the concept of levels and divisions completely disappears, making the universe dynamic and continuous. This is an important concept when thinking about the divisions in the Tree of Life, because of the Law of Mean Terms, there really isn’t any actual boundaries or divisions between the levels.

Another important point is that Neoplatonism freely mixed with another related discipline, and that was Neopythagoreanism. Iamblichus used Pythagorean concepts in his philosophy, and even wrote a biography on the life of Pythagorus. Many of the great philosophers of the first and second century subscribed to pythagorean beliefs and practices, including some of the Stoic precursors to Neoplatonism. If we substitute Plato’s ideal forms with pure numbers, and apply that to all of the rest of Neoplatonic philosophy, then something of the Neopythagorean perspective is derived. Because the Qabbalah uses numbers and letters in the structure of the Tree of Life, and in the creative emanation of the material universe, one could also see a Neopythagorean influence at work in the fashioning of the first major book on the Qabbalah, the Sepher Yetzirah. 

Now that we have gone over some of the more elementary components of Neoplatonism, it should be pretty obvious that the concept of emanation, the levels of hypostasis, the manner of creation, procession and return - all of these concepts are used in describing and explaining the Qabbalah. I could, of course, bring up even more concepts and ideas from Neoplatonism, but that would over emphasize the points that I have already made. While there were indeed original beliefs and perspectives that have a Jewish origin in the philosophical underpinnings of the Qabbalah, the more important concepts were taken and adapted from Neoplatonism. I think it’s sufficient to say that great ideas don’t need to be constantly reinvented, and that the Neoplatonic sources of the Qabbalah are neither problematic nor do they devalue the overall quality of what has been adaptively created.

If you want to read up and study Neoplatonism, and perhaps find the sources of my above statements, I would recommend the book “Neoplatonism” by R. T. Wallis (Bristoll Classical Press - 2002).

Frater Barrabbas

1 comment:

  1. Would you do an article on the uses of Tziruph, Frater Barrabas?