Saturday, July 30, 2011

Qabbalah and Sacred Sexuality

One of the more supposedly interesting and fascinating themes that was proposed by various commentaries in the Zohar was the focus on sacred sexuality. This would have been, of course, a regimen of sexual activity completely in accord with orthodox rules and regulations concerning sex between married couples, yet colored with a symbology which would suggest that such activity emulates the unity of the Deity. We are not talking about the proper conduct of a husband and wife, which would be completely understood by a classical qabbalistic practitioner. What we are talking about is how that conduct could have a powerful symbolic provenance in regards to the Godhead polarities (and their union) as specifically found in the Tree of Life, and generally, in qabbalistic symbology.

It would seem that a qabbalistic practitioner would not only meditate, contemplate and perform other operations by himself, but he would also engage his spouse in some of these activities, so that when they would physically unite, it would briefly bring them into an ecstatic realization of the Godhead. Since there was a masculine and a feminine pillar in the Tree of Life, then the place of mediation (the middle pillar) would be symbolized in the perfect union of masculine and feminine attributes. Of course, it was also expected that the Jewish qabbalist would adhere to the strictest rules associated with bodily purity, which would require avoiding one’s wife at certain times (menstruation, pregnancy, and a period of time after postpartum), avoiding unlawful emissions of semen (either accidental or through masturbation), and to fast, perform regular ablutions (bathing), and many other practices and prohibitions.

Some of these prohibitions have been famously incorporated into the moral foundation of various laws that ban sodomy, prostitution and all other supposed unnatural forms of sexual congress. Masturbation isn’t illegal (it is considered immoral), but oral sex is illegal in some locales. These laws have been lionized by conservative Christians, strict followers of Islam, Orthodox Jews, and many others. However, since I am a pagan and a witch, I consider these various sexual prohibitions and rules to be highly unjust, unwarranted and completely irrelevant to my spiritual practices and beliefs. If others wish to enforce these prohibitions in their personal lives, then they may do so, provided that they don’t force their restrictive and repressive beliefs on the greater populace who don’t share their views. I also believe that laws which ban or discriminate against same sex relationships as well as victimless crimes (prostitution) should be eliminated. From the standpoint of civil liberties, I am a firm believer in allowing the populace to govern their own libidos between consenting adults without government interdiction or interference. (You could call me a radical in regards to social liberties, and in some ways, I admit that I am.) 

Therefore, I can honestly say that the various titillating tropes found in the Zohar are at best, mildly interesting, but certainly not compelling enough for me to attempt to read and somehow incorporate them into my spiritual work. In fact, since the Hebrew Bible is only marginally interesting to me personally and to my work, then a Midrash, which is an exegesis or commentary on that work, is not something that I need to study or intimately know (unless I have a lot of spare time). The essential Qabbalah has all of the symbols and qualities that I need to develop a profound perspective on sacred sexuality. Of course, my interpretation and use of the Qabbalah is guided by a pagan spiritual point of view, which tends to be polytheistic with a strong emphasis on being compassionate, non-judgmental and highly inclusive. I will, therefore, use the same perspective in determining a sexualized Qabbalah.

Now that I have set the stage to discuss a sexual interpretation of the Qabbalah, you might be wondering how we should proceed? If we have rejected the moral code of orthodox Judaism, then what do we put in its place. Obviously, approaching sexuality in a disciplined and spiritual manner should be the hallmark of a sexual Qabbalah. Otherwise, one’s spiritual practice would disintegrate into nothing more than a pathetic excuse for unrestrained libido. So if sex is your goal, then why bother sugar coating it with spiritual pretensions? It also tends to make sexuality into an overly complex and even boring proclivity. I will make the assumption that as the sexual act is heightened by symbolism, physical practices and through a program of rigorously controlled sexual activity, then the ecstatic result will be nothing short of profound. This is the underlying assumption that I will use in assembling this article. One other point that I would like to make is that because this is a brief article it will not be a comprehensive study of a system of western sexual mysticism and magick. A comprehensive study would require a fully developed book in its own right. What I am interested in providing in this article are a number of insights and suggestions, which will effectively guide any knowledgeable student into creating their own system.

Qabbalah has been, since its inception, a system and methodology primarily dominated by men. Therefore, all of the themes and the point of view have had a decidedly masculine perspective. The relationship of a male qabbalist to his study and practices was decidedly sexist, to say the least. While the practicing qabbalist, who would have been a married man, did peripherally involve his wife in his work, she was never to be taught any of the deeper meanings nor would she be engaged in the work as anything other than a worthy and respected assistant. Unlike alchemy and magick, there were no famous women qabbalists prior to the late 19th century, so we must assume that if any women studied this subject, it was either in secret or not at all. It was only when the Qabbalah became an occult tradition that women began to examine this discipline, and then only because women’s role in traditional society had expanded to the point of being on an equal parity with men.

For this reason, a modern approach to a sexualized Qabbalah must include women along with men, and that they must be equal partners and given the same consideration and respect. It should also be stated that where men and women differ from each other in terms of their physical bodies, there would also be some differences between their spiritual perspectives and associated practices. These differences can be great or small, depending on the cultural background associated with one’s gender. However, a woman has the potential to give birth to a living being, whether she is either willing or even physically capable, and a man is an important participant, initiator and helpmate in that process. Beyond these obvious differences, everything else is to be considered culturally and individually determined, since in reality, there are more than two genders, and therefore, more than two kinds of sexual preferences and types of pairing. I am not going attempt to examine all of these variations in this article, except to state that students will need to work these out for themselves. Therefore, I will assume that practicing qabbalists will either elect to work with a suitable partner or they will decide to work alone. Either approach can be accommodated by a true engagement with the practical Qabbalah.

If a qabbalist has decided to work with a partner, then that other person must be as engaged and committed to the work as his/her partner. They must be completely equal and committed to the work in order for the results to be uniformly consistent and rewarding. Goals associated with the individual student are therefore shared by both members of the pairing. An important point in working with partners is that their combined abilities and efforts will only achieve what the weakest member is able to achieve. This is why it is important for both of them to be equally zealous and engaged with the work, since the objective is for them to be capable of producing the same equal level of results. Imbalances in this kind of work can either thwart and frustrate the results, or it could cause some real problems, due to the inherent disharmony and dissonance that such an ill matched bond would produce. Perhaps this is the reason why some qabbalists prefer to work alone.

There are three considerations that must be thoroughly examined if one is to consider engaging in a regimen of sacred sexuality while studying and practicing the Qabbalah. Mixing these two major topics isn’t necessary, especially for someone who is just starting out or lacks a suitable partner. Qabbalah by itself is challenging enough to learn and master, and adding to it a level of sacred sexuality could make it far more difficult than most people could handle. It’s important for anyone who wants to integrate these two disciplines that they have a certain confidence and familiarity with them both. Lacking those two essential elements is certainly a recipe for disaster. If it takes the student an adequate period of time to be fully acquainted and knowledgeable about sacred sexuality before applying it to a study of the Qabbalah, then I believe that it would be time well spent.

The first consideration is that if the student is working with a partner, then they both must perform and independently engage in their practices and study in a regular and consistent manner. This is also true for solo practitioners. A constant, periodic and regular practice will produce the best results. Partners can perform their practices separately, and they can also perform them together. Eventually, they will perform all of their more important work together and act as a team, thereby assisting the process of reinforcing and objectifying everything that happens. The basic regimen consists of the following five operations (these have already been expounded upon).

1. Meditation session - cyclic and periodic - represents the essential foundation of the discipline.

2. Contemplation session - periodic - incrementally more frequently performed and for greater duration.

3. Pathworking - cyclic - performed first singly, then in partnership.

4. Invocation/Evocation - strategic - performed in partnership for specific angelic entites.

5. Godhead assumption - periodic - performed first singly, then later in partnership

The second consideration is that in the disciplines of contemplation and Godhead assumption, the practitioner should begin to engage in a sexual interpretation of the various qabbalistic symbolism. An important fact is that the Tree of Life is formulated through three pillars, creating a kind of dialectic process. Advanced techniques using these structures would consist of following the flow of masculine and feminine energies in the Tree of Life and observe how they are mediated in the Middle Pillar.

Sephiroth have specific sexual attributes, since they are masculine, feminine and also neutral. In Hebrew, a noun has only two genders (unlike Greek and Latin), so therefore, when one considers the gender of the name of one of the sephirah, it creates a complex fusion of genders. For instance, Chokmah is a feminine noun occupying the top place on the masculine pillar, so it would seem to indicate a blending or combining of genders, making Wisdom into a complex quality in regards to the Tree of Life. This same examination can be done to other sephirah as well, such as the planet Venus (Netzach) being associated with the masculine pillar, the Sun (Tiphareth) to the middle pillar (making it neutral), and Mercury (Hod) to the feminine pillar. All of these associations make for a very complex and integrated metaphysical system.

These complex symbologies imply that genders and polarities are much more complicated than one would suppose, and this would accord well with actual occurrences in the real world. Men behaving like women or women behaving like men is completely supported by the symbology of the Tree of Life, even though its original authors had not intended such an interpretation. To develop a system of a sexualized Qabbalah, students should very carefully and thoroughly examine the various subtle attributes of gender and polarity in regards to the Tree of Life. The full development of this analysis will greatly impact the disciplines of path working and Godhead assumption.

The third consideration is the nature and power of the Shekinah, and its importance in advanced qabbalistic work. The Shekinah, which means “place” or “presence,” symbolizes the actual materialized presence of the overall Godhead, known as the One. This entity is analogous to the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit or the Islamic concept of the Baraka. It is the tangible manifested blessing or grace of the Deity. It can be seen as both a spiritual aspect that blesses and manifests to an entire religious organization (analogous to an egregore), or as the individual intermediary between a person and their Deity. Thus, to the occultist, the Shekinah can represent (but is not limited to) an aspect of an individual’s higher self, known to qabbalists as the Yechidah. In fact, one of the most important goals that a qabbalist can accomplish is to invoke the Shekinah and make it become tangible. The personal Shekinah then becomes the embodiment of the mediator (Neschamah) between a person’s conscious self (as the Ruach) and his/her higher self (Yechidah), and facilitates their union.

How does one invoke the Shekinah into a materialized form? To accomplish this goal, we can perhaps take a few ideas from the Jewish qabbalists of four centuries ago. The most important factor is to create a spiritual environment that is both harmonious and favorable for the Shekinah to reside. Such a spiritual environment would be greatly determined by the qabbalist’s personal spiritual discipline and regular practices. Frequent and continual spiritual work are an important part of this process, but they are not exclusive to it. A qabbalist must not be an insular practitioner who performs his work in complete secrecy. Personal holiness is also associated with acts of spiritual service and charitable gifts to one’s community.

A true qabbalist not only performs her personal spiritual discipline in a regular and intense manner, but she also engages with her community, giving money to charities and offering herself to help others less fortunate. In other words, she presents a compassionate and engaged persona in regards to her fellow humanity. She will also live the spiritual code of the Qabbalah, and not engage in any behavior that she might consider as immoral or unethical. Being true to herself and acting as a force for the greater good in the community but also seeking the spirit of the Shekinah as if she were seeking for the veritable “lover within;” all of these practices are a prerequisite for the Shekinah to become fully manifested to the seeker. The key to fully manifesting the Shekinah is to approach it as a Godhead assumption, and to engage in that practice until the process becomes completely tangible and experiential. Achieving this goal is no small event, since it requires the greatest single effort from the student in order to be realized. Encountering the Shekinah symbolizes that the qabbalist is ready for the final stages in her spiritual and magickal regimen, so it is the key to this whole process.

These final steps represent where the two paired seekers focus their efforts on emulating the spiritual union of the ultimate Godhead. They join at all levels of their being with the Shekinah guiding them to that final blissful glory of total at-one-ment with the Deity. If a solitaire qabbalist is performing this work, then the Shekinah becomes his or her complete focus and surrogate spiritual mate. Either of these two types of practices will require the addition of five high level operations to be mastered in order for the seeker(s) to experience spiritual union. These five high level operations would consist of the following practices. It’s assumed that the practitioner is able to invoke and summon the Shekinah whenever needed, and this entity will be the medium that will facilitate full spiritual union with the Deity.

1. Paired meditation and contemplation - beginning with the mirrored Opening Self technique done to allow the other to touch, merge and enter into a whole unified embrace.

2. Contemplation on all of the symbols of union found in the Qabbalah, these would represent a completely sexualized variation of the Tree of Life, where the ultimate symbol is the joining of the archetypal female (Binah) with the archetypal male (Chokmah) to produce the symbolic child, which is an emulation of the One.

3. Charging and physically realizing the Tree of Life superimposed on the body, and then joining analogous sephirah from one body to another, thus linking them.

4. Assumption of polarized Godhead aspects, and witnessing and experiencing them in combination with each other. Focus is placed on the polarity of the masculine and feminine sephiroth (Chokmah to Binah, Chesed to Geburah, Netzach to Hod, and Tiphareth to Yesod). Each Godhead should be revealed, shared, worshiped and loved in turn, alternating between the paired seekers.

5. Assumption of Kether and Malkuth Godheads, alternating between the roles of the pair of seekers, and in that state, performing various actual physical techniques and positions for sexual union. This rite should be performed as a personal and intimate ceremony, with all the trappings of a spiritual wedding rite, with particular emphasis on physical consummation.

When a couple is able to perform all five of these incredible and powerful operations, then they will experience, over time, total union with the Deity. These steps and procedures are based upon analogous steps and procedures found in other traditions, such as Indian Tantra and a highly ritualized version of the Great Rite as found in traditional Witchcraft. It has analogues in both Western and Eastern Alchemy, as well as in Tantric Buddhism. Wherever ecstasy is the key to spiritual enlightenment, you can find these kinds of operations being used.

As you can readily see, adopting and fulfilling this regimen would complete the sole spiritual objective of achieving union with the Deity. However, being able to perform it in its entirety would be the most challenging thing anyone could possibly imagine. All sorts of interferences and issues would emerge to attempt to thwart such an achievement. While I am able to determine what these steps and stages would need to be in order to produce the desired results, I have yet to do them myself. I am certain that I would add other exercises and augment what I have written here, but the basic idea is quite sound and true.

Accomplishing this great work does not end the overall process of spiritual effort and work. In fact, it is only the beginning of a whole new set of tasks, all of which characterize the work of an enlightened being seeking to guide and help others to the same goal. Spiritual service would be the essence of what a student does when he or she has achieved enlightenment. All others things would suddenly diminish in importance, since doing the work of the Deity would become the seeker’s sole objective. Where that would lead to is anyone guess, but achieving that sublime state would at least answer the ancient questions in the Halls of the Mystery Temple,  “Who serves the Grail, what is its source and where does it travel?” I look forward to that day and time when I am faced with such an amazing set of questions.   

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Qabbalah and the God Names

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Qabbalah and Non-Hebrew Languages

Hebrew is the paramount language that is used in the Qabbalah, with perhaps some consideration for the Aramaic language. The original books written about the Qabbalah were either written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but both used the same alphabet consisting of twenty-two letters. Almost all of the sacred books of the Hebrew scriptures, including much of the apocrypha, were written in Hebrew, only a few books were written in Aramaic. Commentaries on the laws and the scriptures were mostly written in Aramaic, but still used the same alphabet. Thus, for this reason, the Hebrew alphabet was used to engineer the Qabbalah and drive the structure of the Tree of Life.

The relationship between the alphabet, language, holy scriptures, theology, theosophy, metaphysics, and magic were tightly bonded to create a unique system of occult contemplation and speculation. This combination has been powerfully reinforced due to the fact that the Qabbalah has thirty-two mystical paths that consist of the numbers 1 through 10 and the twenty-two letters, Aleph through Thav. It is a metaphysical system based on numbers and letters, so it is both language-based and also founded on the base-ten system of numeration. Even so, there is at most the possibility of maybe having 24 pathway slots in an expanded Tree of Life configuration, due to the fact that there is an overlap with the Elements and the Planets.

If we would consider a system where the elements of Earth and Spirit would be separate and distinct from Saturn and Fire, respectively, then it could be possible to have 24 distinct pathways, and therefore, the same number of letters. We have already discussed the possibility of at least two additional pathways (from Binah to Chesed, and Chokmah to Geburah), but that would likely be the most that even an ambitious student could readily justify in order to add to the structure of the Tree of Life. Further expansions would tend to clutter up the efficient structure of the Tree, and would force the erstwhile occultist to add additional Tarot trumps and path based correspondences. For this reason, it is likely that an accommodation of alternative language alphabets, such as Greek, Latin, Coptic, Ancient Egyptian, Arabic or even English, would be restricted to a system of Gematria, and not be included with an expansion of the Tree of Life. (This, of course, is my opinion, and others may feel free to dispute what I am declaring here.)

What this means is that the Qabbalah is a system that is based on the Hebrew alphabet, and that other language based variations would represent additional alphabetic to numeric tables. These tables would be used to acquire the numerations of strategic words and phrases as found in various holy scriptures and occultic writings, incorporating a form of Gematria.

I have found that the attempts at comparing other language based alphabets to the Sephiroth and Pathways of the Tree of Life to be cumbersome, awkward and completely unconvincing. They seem to me to be ultimately very contrived. I believe that if a student wants to base a qabbalah like occult system on another language, then he can do the work creating a new glyph, building up various tables of correspondences and the myriad of other elements required to fashion an occult meta-system and a foundational meta-knowledge base. Anyone who wants to do this monumental task, I wish them lots of luck - they’ll need it. It’s possible to do this, but just really difficult to accomplish. Perhaps the hardest part would be to convince enough people to use it so that it would be something more than just an occult “pipe dream.”

For myself, I have found that using the Hebrew language or alphabet as an occult language structure isn’t a problem, even though I am a pagan and a witch. That language is part of the foundation of my spiritual and occult heritage, which includes Greek and Latin as well. Since the Qabbalah was born out of a heterodoxic synthesis of Jewish gnosticism and pagan Greek philosophy, I can find elements in it that are necessary and important to my own work.

I don’t have to be either Jewish or Christian to find great value in the occult version of the Qabbalah. So for this reason, I am content to allow the qabbalistic system that I use to be defined by the Hebrew language and alphabet. It is also true that I have found many pagan elements in the Hebrew scriptures as well as in the Christian, so I have lulled myself into a comfortable state of being inclusive rather than exclusive. This attitude is unlike some of my pagan brothers and sisters, who feel that they must emphatically reject the whole of the Judeo-Christian cultural matrix in order to be truly pagan. I guess you could say that I am quite happy to be merely a Milquetoast kind of pragmatic heterodox in a world of extremes.

That brings me to my main subject, which is to use other languages besides Hebrew in formulating a system of Gematria. I would like to examine two of these languages, the first is Greek, and the second is Latin. The English Qabbalah is a special case, so I will also attempt to deal with that in a separate section. Since both Latin and Greek have important cultural and occult language foundations, and because there are plenty of holy scriptures and esoteric writings in these two language, then it might benefit me to have a system of reducing phrases or words written in these languages into a numeric value, and then comparing that numeric value to other words with a similar value. This is the nature of the tool of Gematria, and unless you have some kind of numerical lexicon, then it becomes much more difficult to find all of the significant words and phrases that might be relative. I will therefore write up a section for Greek, Latin and the English language systems of Gematria and refer the reader, wherever possible, to useful sources for finding a numerical lexicon, which is also called a “Sepher Sephiroth,” or Book of Numbers.

Finally, before I go on to these subjects, I would like to briefly say a few things about the overall usefulness of Gematria. I have seen this tool used in a brilliant manner to show an interesting connection between words and phrases, and I have seen it terribly abused to show the most tenuous and nonsensical of connections. Aleister Crowley used Gematria in a sparse, strategic and brilliant manner, and Kenneth Grant abused it, attempting to prove nearly anything that he wanted to prove, however absurd. After slogging through some of Grant’s worst books (and even a few of his better ones), and having to make sense out of an innundation of gematric proofs (and nothing else to back them up), I have to admit that my love affair with that tool was been worn very thin. I prefer Crowley’s method of using Gematria to add significance to an already proven connection, instead of using it to fish for connections. Also, while quite a number of words or phrases may have the same numeric value when determined through Gematria, only some of them are significant. I think that it is more of an art than a science to be able to select strategic gematric congruencies and use them in occult arguments, and it should be used in a manner that is transparent and obvious to the reader.

In my opinion, there is nothing more frustrating and exasperating than reading some occult bunk that is pasted over with a vast amount of numerological nonsense. I can appreciate strategic numeric congruencies that are straightforward, useful and obvious, but I think that it is something that should be used very selectively and carefully. Since Gematria seems to be so easy to abuse and overuse, I have found myself looking for meaning and significance in other sources, and avoiding it altogether. That being said, I would recommend to those who have a powerful urge to use this tool, that they should use it elegantly, wisely and only occasionally. Writing an occult paper, article or book that consists mostly of gematric proofs of congruency is guaranteed to make the author appear as a certifiable nut case.

Greek Qabbalah

Classical Greek has an alphabet consisting of 24 letters, and these were derived from the same source as the Hebrew letters, which was the ancient Phoenician alphabet. Recent speculation has shown that the Phoenician alphabet was derived as a single consonant syllabary from the ancient Egyptian system of writing, and unlike Cuneiform, both writing systems lacked vowels. Therefore, the main difference between the Hebrew and Greek alphabets is that all of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are consonantal, in other words, there are no vowels. The Greek alphabet has seven vowels, eight semi-vowels, and nine voiceless consonants, for a total of 24 letters. As I have stated previously, one could add two more pathways to the Tree of Life and accommodate all of the letters of the Greek alphabet, but maintaining the traditional structure ensures a miss-match between Greek and Hebrew. From a linguistic perspective, the Greek alphabet only has 17 consonants, while the Hebrew alphabet has 22, amplifying the mismatch between them. So it would seem that Semitic languages are consonant rich and vowel poor, and this is the basic definition of that language group, according to linguists. It also makes the mapping of Indo-European languages to Semitic languages difficult and unsatisfactorily incomplete.

The Classical Greek language is probably the only language that would deserve to have it’s own distinct version of the Qabbalah, including a glyph, Tarot cards and all that goes with it. This is because many of the crucial elements of qabbalistic mysticism and metaphysics can be found in Greek philosophy, occultism and magickal practices. Greek Gematria, which is known under the name of Isopsephy, has a very long and venerable history. Since a distinct numbering system was not yet invented, letters were often used as numbers, especially in the Greek language. Many of the Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, typically spelled out the name of numbers. Still, there appears to be a large body of evidence that isopsephy was invented well before the Jews discovered Gematria, and in fact, they may have borrowed it from the Greeks back in the Geonic period, when the focus of Jewish intellectualism was centered in Babylon. Where Gematria is often used to determine the numeric equivalencies of words or phrases already found in the scriptures, the Greeks seemed to prefer to craft or select words and phrases deliberately because of their numeric value.

Another interesting point is that the problem with overlapping correspondences, such as that which is found with Earth and Saturn, Fire and Spirit, completely disappears when using an alphabet that consists of 24 letters instead of 22. This point alone might illustrate that a more elegant system could be based entirely on the Greek language instead of Hebrew. What Hebrew has going for it is the Hebrew Bible, and its importance and relevance to the modern western world. Many significant myths and philosophical systems are based on Christianity and Judaism, and not on the pagan religious systems or philosophy of the Greeks and the Romans. Modern occultism owes a huge debt to Neoplatonism and Neopythagoreanism, as well as Stoic philosophy, and we could easily say that the foundation of the occult is much more Greek than it is Jewish. However, we live in a world where the many various strains of religion, philosophy and occultism are irreparably mixed together into a fusion of ideas, beliefs and practices, and it probably wouldn’t be easy or productive to attempt to separate them out for the sake of determining a purer source. For this reason, a Hebrew and a Greek Qabbalah are relevant and even interdependent.

The following is the Greek alphabet and its associated numerical values. You will notice that three values are missing. These numeric place holders were held by archaic letters borrowed from the Phoenician, which had no Greek phonetic value, and they were Digama (W) as 6, Qoppa (Q) as 90, and Sanpi (Sh) as 900. However, in deriving words or phrase numeric values from Greek letters (used in texts or sacred writings), these extra letters were not employed.

Alpha - A = 1       
Beta - B = 2       
Gamma - G = 3       
Delta - D = 4       
Epsilon - E = 5       
Zeta - Z = 7       
Eta - H = 8       
Theta - Th = 9           
Iota - I = 10       
Kappa - K = 20       
Lambda - L = 30       
Mu - M = 40       
Nu - N = 50
Xi - X = 60
Omikron - short O = 70
Pi - P  = 80
Rho - R = 100
Sigma - S = 200
Tau - T = 300
Upsilon - U = 400
Phi - Ph = 500
Chi - Ch = 600
Psi - Ps = 700
Omega - long O = 800

In addition to Isopsephy being older than Jewish Gematria, and the ease at which correspondences and symbolism are shown to match up with the 24 Greek letters, the other forms of the practical Qabbalah can also be found in Greek philosophic and esoteric writings, long before they were developed in the corresponding Jewish qabbalistic system. As Kieren Barry has so ably pointed out in his book “The Greek Qabalah,” which I do recommend, there isn’t much that the Jews didn’t apparently borrow from the Greeks when it came to the practical application of the Qabbalah. (Although we need to be careful in taking any author’s word on this subject, since some might have a personal axe to grind.)  

“The Greeks .. were also responsible for the development of other aspects of the literal Qabalah later used by the Jews, such as Qabalistic exegesis, alphabetic numerals, isopsephy, notarichon, and pythmenes or aiq beker.” (See Barry, p. 184)

So it would seem that Jewish Gematria is a version of Isopsephy, Notariqon is Notarichon and Temurah is a combination of cipher substitution and Pythmenes, both of these latter methods were known and used by the Greeks. The similarities are more than compelling, but shouldn’t be too surprising. Occultists and esoteric philosophers, not to mention human beings in general, have been borrowing and stealing ideas from each other since the beginning of our species. It would also seem to be a particular behavior in primates and even lower mammals. Great ideas have a capital and a life of their own, and seem to sprout legs at the earliest opportunity.

Having briefly gone over all of these interesting and fascinating esoteric practices that were a significant part of Greek philosophy in antiquity, it would seem that a complete Greek Qabbalah not only could be fully developed and expanded, it should become someone’s personal project. I look forward to seeing a future book with its own Tree of Life glyph, Tarot cards, Godhead names, spirit lists, and everything else that goes into a complete Greek Qabbalah. When that happens, I will happily transfer my allegiance to that system, but until then, I will use what I have.

You can find an excellent Greek concordance index of numbers and associated words in Mr. Barry’s book on pages 218 through 271. There is also another shorter version to be found in Stephen Skinner’s book, “The Complete Magician’s Tables,” from pages 293 through 295.     

Latin Qabbalah

Latin has an alphabet that has twenty-one native letters, and three letters added from the Greek alphabet, making a total of 24. However, two of the letters have no real associated words (“K” and “Y”), so conceivably, we could easily drop them and then have just 22 letters. It would seem that Latin, then, could actually be used in the Qabbalah without either changing the structure or having to add more pathways and tarot trumps. All that is required is to build a table showing where the Hebrew letter could be mapped to a Latin letter. Since there are five vowel letters in Latin (and none in Hebrew), this correspondence might be inconclusive, but we should give it a try.

Comparing the Latin alphabet to the Hebrew alphabet, we are able to match, somewhat conclusively but also somewhat loosely, all but three letters. We are left with Thav, Chet and Shin on the Hebrew side, and E, F and U on the Latin side. We could just cram them into the slots without any consideration and then pretend that the job is done, but then that would very sloppy and artificial. I might exchange the Latin H for Hebrew Chet, and place the Hebrew Heh with the Latin E. That only leaves two letters unmatched. On the slimmest of evidential considerations, we might match the Latin F with the Hebrew Shin, and the Latin U with the Hebrew Thav, and that would produce the table below. It isn’t a perfect match, and I am not completely happy with it, but it could be done, and this match between alphabets might also assist us in mapping English words to Hebrew.

A - Aleph
B - Beit
C - Kaph
D - Daleth
E - Heh
F - Shin
G - Gimmel
H - Chet
I - Yod
L - Lamed
M - Mim
N - Nun
O - Ayin
P - Peh
Q - Qoph
R - Resh
S - Samek
T - Teth
U - Thav
V - Vav
X - Tzadi
Z - Zain

One would assume that the numbering values would be the same as Hebrew, except for the letters that have a double value when they occur at the end of a word. There are Latin letters that have numeric values, but these don’t relate very well to a system of letter to number congruencies.

Another possible system is called the Latin Simplex Qabbalah (supposedly developed by Phyllis Seckler), and this system assigns the values of 1 to 22 to the letters in the alphabetic sequence. A simplex structure is analogous to the modern numerology approach, except that those letters with values over 9 have their two digits added together, thus collapsing them into a table of just nine values. Thus, the Latin D, which has a value of 4, would be the same as Latin O, which is 13 (1 + 3 = 4). Any of these methods would produce a decent index of numbers to words and phrases. One of the more obvious congruencies that I have found (off the top of my head) would be DEUS = HOMO = 45, and I am sure that there are a plethora of other congruencies. (I would recommend examining a source document from the periodical, the Black Pearl, Volume 1 , No. 1, Spring 1997.)

English Qabbalah

Probably one of the most controversial systems of qabbalistic gematria is to be found associated with the English alphabet. There have been a number of different systems proposed, and the Thelemites seem to have taken this a lot farther and more seriously than anyone else. The problem of establishing any kind of system with the English alphabet is that it contains 26 letters, one less than a perfect number that would allow it to be collapsed into just the numbers 1 to 9. Another issue is that the English alphabet has no history of ever being used as a numeric system, since it became popular only long after the adoption of the 10 based number system. I could also argue that sacred scripts in English are rare, at least the ones that aren’t a translation of another language (Hebrew, Greek or Latin). Without many original sacred scripts, it becomes difficult to build up a useful numeric to word or phrase concordance. The King James Bible is definitely not a useful source, and while there is a plethora of written material, much of it is secular based. This is where being a Thelemite gives an occultist an incentive for developing an English based gematria, since they have a sacred book written in English. That famous book is Liber Al vel Legis, or the Book of the Law.

I won’t go into the history of the Book of the Law, but I will mention two distinct passages that have motivated Thelemites to develop an English Qabbalah. The first is found in verse 2:55 - “Thou shalt obtain the order & value of the English Alphabet, thou shalt find new symbols to attribute them unto.” This apparent injunction motivated Crowley to write up an attribution of the letters of the English alphabet with the 27 specialized Trigrams, using the broken and solid lines of the I-Ching, with the addition of a dot for the Tao. These Trigrams were published in 1907 in a book entitled, “Liber Trigrammaton.”

That might have settled the whole matter, except that other readers of the Book of the Law were also puzzling over another passage, found in verse 3:76, which consists of a string of 28 characters, followed up by the oblique pronouncement, “What meaneth this O Prophet?” Some have stated that this string of characters is either a key or is the English Qabbalah. Several individuals have attempted to develop an English Qabbalah from this string of characters and numbers, with varying degrees of success. All of the systems thus derived require that one buys into and is a believer that the Book of the Law is sacred scripture and that its contents are spiritually and esoterically relevant. If an occulitst is not a Thelemite, or doesn’t believe that the Book of the Law is sacred, then a methodology based on it wouldn’t be acceptable.

There are a number of systems based on the 28 character string found in the Book of the Law, most notably, the ALW Cipher developed by Carol Smith, the Trigrammaton Qabalah, based on the Liber Trigrammaton and further developed by R. L. Gillis, Liber CXV, developed by Linda Faborio, “The Key of it All,” by David Cherubim, and the latest, by Samuel Vincent, “The English Qabalah.” I have given each of these systems a cursory examination, and they seem to be effective and are able to produce some intriguing congruent values; but all of them are complex and not intuitively obvious. If you aren’t a Thelemite, then these various methods are not going to be relevant or convincing.

Another method that I encountered and found to be simple enough is the one proposed by William G. Gray. In his version, he has correctly decided to omit the five vowels from consideration and has added a new letter from the Anglo Saxon (Thorn - Th), which allows him to perform an adequate match between the Hebrew and English consonantal alphabet. This is probably the most transparent method, but it still has the problems that we saw in matching the letters of the Hebrew and Latin alphabets. There are letters in Hebrew that don’t exist in English, and visa versa. Adding a Th to the English Alphabet might allow for a match with Thav (which really isn’t a “Th”, but an aspirated “T”), but throwing out the five vowels will orphan Aleph, Heh, and Ayin for the Hebrew alphabet, and cause problems matching the English C or K, J or Y, U, and W. It creates more problems than it solves. Perhaps the best solution would be to use the Latin alphabet, and fold the J and Y together with the I, the K with the C, and the W can be two V’s. This might be better, but it still is kind of contrived and weak.

I guess it all boils down to a couple of very simple solutions, and these are the ones that I use. Yes, I admit it, I am not such a fancy thinker or an afficionado for the latest fad. I want to use something that is easy to remember and works every time. One of the things that I typically do is to just map any word that I happen to be working with to its possible and corresponding Hebrew letters. Once that is accomplished, then I can either monkey around with Hebrew gamatric values and congruencies, or even better, I can compare the letters to their associated Tarot Trump cards, and then read the word like a Tarot card reading. Using this method, I have discovered all sorts of amazing things, and it really opens up the inner significance and occult meanings of special words, phrases or even the names of spirits and Godheads.

The other method that I use is very simple, and it is based on modern numerology. The alphabet is split into three groups of nine, with the last group having just eight elements, and they are all compared to the numbers 1 through 9. The attribution table looks like this -

A - B - C - D - E -  F - G - H - I
J -  K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R
S - T -  U - V - W -X - Y - Z
1    2     3    4    5    6    7    8    9

You take the letters of a word and then add them up, using the above key. Then you can either use the resultant value, or continue to add the numbers together until only a one digit number is left. The nine numbers can be compared to the nine planets of modern Astrology in order to further qualify their values. This is a simple technique, and it was one that I learned as a teenager. To get a person’s complete number, though, you should spell out their full name and include their numeric birth date. Using all of these elements in the calculation will ensure a unique number for the final product.

Other languages represent additional complexities, and we won’t be covering them here, but I am sure if one is really a big fan of obscure linguistics, that someone has written material for a gematria based on Coptic, Ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Sanscrit, and just about any other alphabet that you could imagine. Since I have a poor opinion of gematric proofs and I am not really very excited about numeric congruencies unless there is other information linking things, I am probably not the person to write about these subjects in any kind of extensive detail. Still, I hope that you have gotten a good overview and can make your own decisions about these techniques and their usefulness.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, July 22, 2011

Qabbalah, the Four Worlds and the Human Spirit

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lurianic Doctrine of Creation

Garden of Eden Before the Fall

Isaac Luria spent much of his time seeking to discover and expound on certain specific revisions in the Qabbalah of Spain and Sefed so that he might more effectively answer some of the most puzzling questions about the nature of creation and the manifestation of evil. This is very likely where Luria showed his unique brilliance and insightful understanding of those more abstruse speculations. Many of these ideas were later incorporated into the occult variation of the Qabbalah of the 19th and 20th century without either questioning their significance or citing the sources where they were found. However, after examining some of Luria’s ideas and thoughts about these questions, it will be fairly obvious that the later occult Qabbalah took its ideas from him.

Much of this speculation has to do with the mythic concept of the fall of human kind, and the overall impact that event had on the spiritual and material nature of the world. Many cultures believed in a previous golden age epoch that occurred not long after the origin of the world, and that subsequent epochs have resulted in a kind of devolution, particularly in the disposition of the human race and the manifestation of the material world. In the golden age there was no sickness or death, and that humanity lived in a kind of peaceful equality with all creatures and the Godhead itself. This was the fabled Garden of Eden, from which humanity, as Adam and Eve, through sin and transgressions, were expelled, ending the time of idyllic perfection and beginning the time of suffering, trials, sickness and death.

Even Greek myth had such a devaluation of ages, from gold, to silver, bronze and then, to iron, which is our current and much debased age. At each devaluation, the world became less perfect, and humanity became less ennobled and idealized. This process continued until human nature had been completely debased in nature as to be indistinguishable from it. Mythic world views from most cultures talk about the fall of mankind from a greater estate, that this fall also produced a chasm between humanity and the Godhead, and allowed for the inclusion of many disharmonious elements, such as sickness, death, evil and worldly catastrophes, all of which didn’t happen when humanity was in its original sublime state.

Humanity’s fall from grace would then seem to be a way of explaining how the world became imperfect, and why suffering, sickness and death seem to be the lot of all living things. Yet another way of looking at this progression is to see it as the natural process of incarnation within a world where Spirit and Mind existed before matter, and that the fall was actually the process whereby humanity acquired a physical existence. A physical existence has both its positive aspects and negative, where the positives would be the ability to live, experience, grow and acquire wisdom and ultimately, to rejoin with the Deity at the end of life. The negatives, of course, would be having to deal with the innate limitations of being in a physical body, locked within time and space for the duration of that life, however brief or long.

We should also keep in mind that from the standpoint of science, we have physically evolved through a very long chain of living creatures, from primitive single celled life forms, to completely self-conscious, self-determined and individuated human beings. To science, humanity has been engaging in an ascending arc from its most humble beginning; and to religion, humanity has fallen to its lowest estate, yet it now has the opportunity to rise once again to its original height.

As a pagan occultist, I would find truth in both perspectives, seeing the human saga from the perspective of both an involutionary and evolutionary process. This dual manner of perceiving human history allows me to acknowledge that there was no original fault or sin that precipitated the fall of humanity, because all that has occurred is part of the natural overall physical and spiritual process of emanation and evolution. In my opinion, there is no guilt associated with being a human being, and there was no fall from grace. There was just the natural involution, incarnation, physical evolution and ultimate spiritual evolution of our species. So for this reason, I find myself somewhat at odds with the monotheistic perspective of original sin, guilt and the fall of humanity due to its inherent willful nature and predisposition to evil. I believe that there are other ways to frame these concepts, therefore, I have amended the Qabbalistic speculation that is based upon that theological premise.

Now that I have satisfied my need to emphasize this point, I can continue with my discussion about the important Lurian contributions to the modern Qabbalah.

One of the first problems that Luria tackled was the problem associated with the act of creation within the Godhead itself. If the Deity was all that existed, even though it was in a state where it was unmanifest, how could it create anything if there wasn’t any space for that creation to occur? Before one can create something, there has to be empty space for that something to occupy.

Luria proposed that the Ein Sof contracted (zimtzum) into itself, and therefore, produced an empty space (a vacuum), which was the first requirement for manifestation. The second requirement was a form of self-limitation, which is how an infinite Deity would be capable of creating a limited and finite material world. The third requirement was concealment, because the act of creation would essentially reveal what is incapable of being revealed and known, so the Deity contracted, established self-limitations (boundaries) and concealed itself in order to create the world and not violate its integrity.

Thus, the will to create generated the transmission of a “Yod,” as a formulation of power and organization imprinted with divine mercy that proceeded to create the first manifestation.  (It should be recalled that Yod is the first letter of the Tetragrammaton, which is the secret name of the Deity.) What was first created was a manifested aspect of the Deity itself, which was the symbolic act of creating the proto-man known as “Adam Kadmon.” This proto-man as God was a necessary first step, since humanity was created in the image of the Deity, and the Godhead would have to be materialized in order to have an image. Another attribute for this proto-man was called the Glory of the Godhead, who was the driver that sat upon the Throne of Glory in the Divine Chariot, or Merkabah.

This primary phase of creation produced a geometric world consisting of concentric circles, but also simultaneously, one that had a uni-linear structure (as the outer body or skeleton of Adam Kadmon), which formed diagonal zigzags, like the Lightening Flash. The arbitration of these two processes (circles and lines, egression and regression, inner light and outer light, substance and vessels, direct light and reflected light) produced the dialectic process whereby all creation was made manifest, bringing forth the Tree of Life through the three pillars of mercy, severity and mediation. Thus lines and circles joined together to fashion the Tree as we know it. The lines were defined as emanations of the ruach, and the circles were emanations from the nephesh, and combined they produced the body and soul of the proto-man, Adam Kadmon.

Breaking and Restoration of the Vessels  
Luria’s qabbalistic speculation answered the problems associated with the speculation of an infinite and unmanifest Deity being able to create a limited and manifest world, but now he needed to explain in a similarly refined manner the nature of evil; how imperfection caused a catastrophe to occur and how the Deity sought to redeem and rectify that creation afterwards. Luria brought into qabbalistic speculation a succinct explanation of the Fall, how it occurred, what happened afterwards, and how it was supposed to be rectified and restored. Luria not only discussed the nature of this redemption, but also talked about when it would occur and who would be its agent in the material world - that agent would be the messiah. For Luria, the messiah wasn’t a military leader or a political leader who would seek to liberate the Jewish people, but a cosmic spiritual agency that would redeem all of mankind, beginning, of course, with the Chosen People.

Luria taught that the Fall was not the fault of humanity, but an inherent weakness in the creation of the lower “vessels” or sephiroth. This inherent weakness was fostered in the subtle effects of what was called “reshimu,” or residual remnants of creation, particularly, the leftover judgement (from Geburah) and the imperfectly reflected or refracted lights from the Ein Sof. This produced what Gershom Scholem has called, using a Gnostic term, a kind of “hylic” substance, or pure matter divorced from Spirit. Another way of looking at this substance is that it could be leftover proto-matter that was used in the creation of the Tree of Life. Regardless, that residual matter, and the periodic leaking transmission of negativity from Geburah, as the sitra achra, joined at the lowest levels of manifested being, where it formed a kind of pool - inchoate and completely inert.

The outer form of the Sephiroth were perceived as acting like vessels, which like a chalice, could contain a form of liquid light, and these were formed out of the circles and lines that made up the body of the Adam Kadmon. The light that filled these vessels had its origin in the light of the negative veils, so it was a pure emanation of the Ein Sof that flowed through them. However, because of the inherent flaw in the vessel of the sephirah Geburah, (due to the potential excess of judgement), the light caused that vessel to shatter, creating a cascading event that proceeded down the Tree of Life, all the way to Malkuth. Another theory was that the light was too great for the lesser sephirah to hold, and so, due to stresses that were overwhelming, they shattered. All six of the lower sephirah shattered, but the lowest, Malkuth, wasn’t broken into pieces and cast down into the realms below as were the rest. Instead, it was broken, cracked, but still managed to function. Some of the light was deflected and returned to its source, but the rest fell down to where the shards of the vessels had fallen and was trapped there. These shards became known as the “Qliphoth,” the dark forms of the sitra achra. This catastrophe profoundly affected the world, from Geburah down to Malkuth, and allowed for the generation of evil forces to infect all of the lower sephiroth. The sinful actions of mankind did not bring forth this calamity, it was due instead to forces and designs that were far greater. Yet the empowerment and release of evil into the world that this event caused had many ramifications, including the expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden. It was the fall of a greater portion of the macrocosm, and the creation of great chasm between the Godhead and much of the manifested world - this chasm would be called the Greater Abyss.

Despite this terrible calamity, the core of the Adam Kadmon was not touched by it - only the lower vessels were effected. Therefore, the proto-man, as Adam Kadmon, took steps to redeem what had been broken, and to restore what had been lost, namely, the light of emanation. This restoration, which was called “tikkun,” first emerged as a light shining from the forehead of Adam Kadmon. That light was the medium through which the chaos that had been unleashed would be calmed and reorganized, and the shattered vessels replaced by a new formulation. The attributes of the effected sephiroth would be merged with the power and majesty of the Adam Kadmon, and new inviolable vessels would thus be created, and these were called “faces” (parzufim). Therefore, through this intercession, the lower six vessels were replaced or repaired, and the light from the Ein Sof continued to flow uninterrupted from level to level. However, the final task was to be the most difficult, for that entailed gathering up all of the points of light that had fallen to the lowest level.

The task of collecting the various points of light was made more complex because they had found their way into the souls of individual human beings and other entities as well. It is not a task that the Adam Kadmon can perform, but is instead the destiny of the messiah to complete it. Such a being is a special incarnation of the Adam Kadmon, but formulated in a microcosmic expression. Therefore, as a godlike messianic figure, he will gather together all of those lost points of light until none are left in the material world. Then, having been united with these points of light, he will ascend again to the greater Adam Kadmon, and therein return the light to its source. When this happens, of course, the material world will become dormant once again, and the light of the Spirit will recede from it, thus marking an end of all space and time.

A cosmic messiah has the central role in the Lurian Qabbalah, and when he manifests in the world, it will represent that the end times have arrived. The Lurian Qabbalah mixed both messianic aspirations along with a belief in the apocalypse or end times, and this was a very intoxicating combination, particularly because Luria believed those end times to be immanent. It was only a matter of time before someone would claim this role as cosmic messiah, and that someone was Shabbatai Zevi . Not only did he not turn out to be the messiah, he probably single handedly helped to invalidate the Qabbalah as a serious form of Jewish Theology. His ignoble end hastened the end of the Qabbalah, which had all but disappeared from mainstream Judaism by the advent of the 19th century.

Garden of Eden After the Fall
Two beautiful illustrations, which are found in the Golden Dawn corpus, encapsulate these ideas of the state before the Fall, and the state that existed afterwards. These illustrations appear to incorporate some elements of the Lurian Qabbalah, although there is a third in the series, which is called the Restoration, and is decidedly Christian. However, the first illustration is entitled “Garden of Eden Before the Fall,” and depicts the harmonious state of the Tree of Life and the 10 Vessels before they were broken. The second illustration is entitled “Garden of Eden After the Fall,” and shows the awakening and arising serpents of the Qliphoth below Malkuth encircling the lower six Sephiroth and completely invading Malkuth itself. These illustrations are part of the temple equipment for a Golden Dawn Temple, and are discussed in the lessons of the Practicus and Philosophus grades. While these illustrations are not perfect exemplars of the Lurianic Qabbalistic doctrine, they do show a variation of these concepts, as depicted within a Christian occult context. You can find these two illustrations as part of the colored plates in the beginning of the book “Golden Dawn” written by Israel Regardie, and the associated text can be found in volume 3, pages 14 - 18.

Final Considerations

We have examined the tenets of the Spanish and Sefed Qabbalah, and also looked over the doctrines of the Lurian Qabbalah in regards to the nature of creation, the occurrence of evil and the imperfections found in the natural world. There are a number of different directions that one can mentally travel with these many speculations. I have found the Lurian perspective, although brilliant and fascinating, to be the most antinomian and Gnostic of these different approaches. The question is how the modern occult Qabbalist will use these different perspectives, and that depends on whether one is Christian, Jew or pagan.

My opinion is that the nature of evil and imperfection in the natural world, although real and quite compelling, are in fact illusions. How can I say this, and doesn’t it devalue or dis-empower the issues that confront humanity living in the material world? To that I will reply that whatever is a realized and living part of the One is wholly vested in that which is good. Whatever is divided against itself is also diminished and not part of the One - such a thing has no absolute reality. That is how I judge the phenomenon of evil in the world.

This is another way of saying that something that is negative, imperfect and thereby evil, only exists in the moment, and will perish as all physical things perish. Evil is divided against itself, and therefore, tends toward complete self destruction; whereas good draws all things to it, thus forming a greater union in emulation of the One. As time is allowed to take its natural course, eventually evil will cease to exist, and only good will survive. However, once that happens, then good will cease to exist as well, and all that will be left is the One. I think that is a good general approximation of what Luria was attempting to teach, and therefore, I will choose that as a way of defining the nature of evil, imperfection, and the ultimate destiny of those individual points of light called the human spirit.

Adopting this perspective will in no way devalue or put aside the many concerns that self-aware beings have living in this world. There are a multitude of problems to solve, and they will not solve themselves if we ignore them or pretend that they don’t exist because they are somehow “illusory” in the long term. The Qabbalah teaches us that the material world in which we reside is important and even has a degree of sacredness associated with it. This is because Kether is reflected in Malkuth, and visa versa. What that means is that we have a responsibility to our spiritual selves as well as our bodies and the world that we live in. Life and the material world are a precious gift given to us, and how we treat them will ultimately demonstrate our true worth as human beings.

It is my belief that an enlightened person will be more sensitive to the needs of everyone, and the needs of the environment and the world itself. A person who is closed off and completely self absorbed is the opposite of what I consider to be fully and spiritually awakened. To be aware of the moment, and everything that is contained in that moment, from the most sublime to the most mundane, is to be truly awakened and engaged with the One. May I be so blessed if such a thing occurs in my life, and then to know intrinsically whatever is to happen beyond that life.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, July 18, 2011

Qabbalah, Creation and the Mysteries of the Unmanifest Deity - Pt. 1

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

History of Qabbalah - Moses Cordovero

Even though I have already put out a three part article on the history of the Qabbalah, I inadvertently missed writing something about Moses Cordovero. This man was probably the greatest qabbalist in the Safed based group of qabbalists, but he is often eclipsed by his more famous student, Isaac Luria. To correct this deficiency on my part, I have decided to assemble a short article on Moses Cordovero. I will add this piece to my larger history document so that it will more correctly reflect on the actual history of the Qabbalah.

Moses Cordovero - born 1522, died 1570 - was a resident of Safed in Palestine. Little is known about Cordovero’s actual birthplace, but it was likely somewhere in Spain, undoubtably due to his family name. Cordovero was something of a remarkably intelligent man, having written his first monumental work when he was only 27 years old. His teachers were Joseph Caro and Solomon Alkabez, but he soon eclipsed them in his mastery of the arcane subject, the Qabbalah. It must be recalled that Safed became the safe haven for the Spanish qabbalists, and it was here that the Classical Qabbalah was developed to the point that modern occultists would recognize it today. With such a small community featuring such a large collection of great minds, it’s no wonder that they produced a tremendous flowering of qabbalistic and metaphysical speculation. The great works of the middle ages wrought by the Gerona, Castile and Toledo qabbalistic schools was brought to a whole new level of refinement and synthesis, and one of the leading minds in that work was Moses Cordovero. He wrote two major works, the “Pardes Rimmonim,” and the “Elimah Rabbati.” These works were published in the 1590's in Cracow, likely promoting and preserving Cordovero’s work amongst the Hassidic communities in Eastern Europe. One can also assume that these works were also read and studied by Christian savants as well.

While Cordovero and his work is well known to scholars of Jewish history, he is little known and appreciated by occultists. His teachings are briefly mentioned by Israel Regardie, in his book, “Garden of Pomegranates,” but I have found no other such references. This is likely because his student, Isaac Luria, became so famous, and altogether eclipsed him. Luria promoted a much more controversial messianic and apocalyptic frame for the product of the Safed qabbalistic synthesis, which became very popular. Luria and his teachings became so popular, in fact, that few outside of the more hardcore adherents of the classical Jewish Qabbalah have ever heard of Cordovero. It’s also likely, although somewhat disputed, that many of Isaac Luria’s ideas were based on or taken directly from Cordovero’s teachings and writings. Where Luria sought to promote a sensationalized version of the Qabbalah, Cordovero was more interested in quietly tackling all of the various different perspectives and speculations in the Spanish Qabbalah, and then building a synthesis that united them all into a single doctrine. Cordovero was the great bridge maker and synthesizer, who brought the Qabbalah from out of the medieval epoch and into the brilliance of the Renaissance. Cordovero created a speculative Qabbalah that had more in common with a philosophical system than a religious creed.

Some of Cordovero’s contributions included the notion that the ten sephiroth acted as a bridge between the Deity and the world, and that the emanations came directly from the Godhead. He tackled and resolved one of the more difficult controversies in the Spanish Qabbalah, which revolved around whether the sephirah were imbued with the substance of the Godhead, or were merely instruments, devoid of any of the substance of the Deity. Cordovero determined that both approaches were correct, which meant that the sephiroth were instruments, but they also were imbued with the essence of the Godhead. He also taught that the emanations were light that came directly from the source of all, the Ein Sof. While preserving the immutability of the Godhead, Cordovero also argued that the essence of the Godhead was in all created things, thus establishing a powerful link between the humblest aspects of creation and the creator. Cordovero also saw the ten sephiroth as representing a dialectic process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, as representing the trinary descent of the nine upper sephiroth. It is also very likely that Cordovero determined the structure of the Tree of Life, with it’s three pillars, and the configuration of the paths (3 horizontal, 7 vertical and 12 diagonal pathways). In fact, there were at least two different versions of the Tree of Life developed, and one of them, which was missing the lower paths between Malkuth and Hod, and Malkuth and Netzach, was adopted and promoted by Luria in his work.

Cordovero was the true “godfather” of the modern Qabbalah, and present day occultists owe this man a great debt of gratitude. It is likely that much of his writings found their way into a lot of writings of the Christian qabbalists, and from there, into the doctrines of the occult Qabbalah of the 19th century. When we look upon the wonderful glyph of the Tree of Life, we should recognize that it was likely due to his brilliance and his ability to synthesize many diverse perspectives into a single and holistic representation of the modern Qabbalah, since without that brilliance, such a glyph wouldn’t exist today.

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Art of Path Working - Magickal Envisioning and Visualized Meditation

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Twenty-Two Pathways of the Qabbalah - Spiritual Transformation - Pt. 4

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Twenty-Two Pathways of the Qabbalah - Spiritual Transformation - Pt. 3

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Twenty-Two Pathways of the Qabbalah - Spiritual Transformation - Pt. 2

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Twenty-Two Pathways of the Qabbalah - Spiritual Transformation - Pt. 1

Sorry - this blog article was removed pending the publication of “Magical Qabalah for Beginners” published by Llewellyn Worldwide - you can find this material in that book, published on January, 2013.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

July is Qabbalah Month

I took a brief hiatus from writing for the last couple of days, just to get out in the summer sun and enjoy nature. My lady and I went kayaking and paddle boarding on a couple of the many lakes in the local area. (Minnesota is known as the State with the 10,000 lakes.) The weather has been absolutely glorious, not too hot but warm enough for wearing a bathing suit and getting wet. I have to say that I needed this break from routine, since both my regular job and the writing and research for my Qabbalah book have been quite all consuming as of late. However, I have completed writing the core of the material that I will use to distill the contents of the book, so there are a month’s worth of articles on the Qabbalah that will be coming your way in the next couple of days.  Since these are actually large chapters (consisting of anywhere between 12 to 20 pages), I will be breaking them up to fit what normally passes for a large article on this blog - around four pages. I am really excited by this large amount of fresh research and writing that I have been doing, and my book for Llewellyn should take only a few weeks to distill from this material, since it is a beginner’s book and shouldn’t exceed the 50,000 word high water mark.

Recently, I talked to my contacts at the local occult book store (Eye of Horus) and have decided that this autumn would be a good time to take all of this Qabbalah material that I have accumulated and put together a three day intensive course. This course would cover all of the basic material and would also give students some essential tools to help make the Qabbalah become a living and breathing spiritual system instead of a dull pile of obscure study material. I want to help occultists, especially pagans and wiccans, to get an insight into and to fully grasp this topic, helping them to make it into the effective system of magick and spirituality that it is for me. That’s a tall order, I know, but it’s one that would give me a great deal of personal satisfaction.

When this class is scheduled and ready to offer to the public, I will certainly let you know about it well in advance. But for those who live very far away from the Twin Cities and who read this blog, there will be an entire month dedicated to the Qabbalah. It’s my hope that some of my newly acquired research and some of my many years of experience can be shared with you, my redoubtable readers. So enjoy the month of Qabbalah, and if that topic is not your “cup of tea,” then you can browse past articles by topics that do interest you. There is an index of topics on the left hand side of the blog webpage, but you will need to scroll down past the other links and pertinent information in order to get at it. Anyway, at the end of this period of Qabbalah articles, I will post an article that has a list of sequential links, so you can access these articles in the topical order that makes the most sense. Since I have already posted several of these articles in the last few months, and the fact that they weren’t posted in any real logical order, the list of links in this article will help to sequentially organize the material as if it were in a book.

So - have a great weekend, and for those who live in the U.S., have a great Fourth of July! The weather here will be perfect, so I intend on continuing to enjoy my time away from work. The beautiful and lush summer flora, and my lovely grove, beckons me to leave my small office and greet the brilliant sunshine and the warm balmy weather.

Bright Blessings -

Frater Barrabbas