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

1 comment:

  1. I've never been very impressed by the many attempts at English Qabalah either, and I am a Thelemite. Crowley once wrote that there's this sort of "aha!" sensation you get when you hit upon a meaningful gematric relationship. I have yet to experience that with any of the systems that have been proposed.

    It's also not clear that the string of letters in Liber AL has anything to do with a new system of gematria, though many have taken it that way. Crowley described it as "a test on the regular pattern" and furthermore wrote that Charles Stansfield Jones had solved it, which if true means that it's not particularly relevant to anything going on today.

    The Key of it All is by David Allen Hulse. Or are he and David Cherubim the same person?