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If a chemist from the twentieth century could step into a time-machine and go back two-hundred years he or she would probably feel a deep kinship with the chemists of that time, even though there might be considerable differences in terminology, underlying theory, equipment and so on. Despite this kinship, chemists have not been trapped in the past, and the subject as it is studied today bears little resemblance to the chemistry of two hundred years ago. Kabbalah has existed for nearly two thousand years, and like any living discipline it has evolved through time, and it continues to evolve.
One aspect of this evolution is that it is necessary for living Kabbalists to continually "re-present" what they understand by Kabbalah so that Kabbalah itself continues to live and continues to retain its usefulness to each new generation. If Kabbalists do not do this then it becomes a dead thing, an historical curiousity (as was virtually the case within Judaism by the nineteenth century). These notes were written with that intention: to present one view of Kabbalah as it is currently practised in 1992, so that people who are interested in Kabbalah and want to learn more about it are not limited purely to texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago (or for that matter, modern texts written about texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago).
For this reason these notes acknowledge the past, but they do not defer to it. There are many adequate texts for those who wish to understand Kabbalah as it was practised in the past. These notes have another purpose. The majority of people who are drawn towards Kabbalah are not historians; they are people who want to know enough about it to decide whether they should use it as part of their own personal mystical or magical adventure.
There is enough information not only to make that decision, but also to move from theory into practice. I should emphasise that this is only one variation of Kabbalah out of many, and I leave it to others to present their own variants - I make no apology if the material is biased towards a particular point of view. The word "Kabbalah" means "tradition". There are many alternative spellings, the two most popular being Kabbalah and Qabalah, but Cabala, Qaballah, Qabala, Kaballa (and so on) are also seen. I made my choice as a result of a poll of the books on my bookcase, not as a result of deep linguistic understanding. If Kabbalah means "tradition", then the core of the tradition was the attempt to penetrate the inner meaning of the Bible, which was taken to be the literal (but heavily veiled) word of God.
Because the Word was veiled, special techniques were developed to elucidate the true meaning....Kabbalistic theosophy has been deeply influenced by these attempts to find a deep meaning in the Bible. The earliest documents (~100 - ~1000 A.D.) associated with Kabbalah describe the attempts of "Merkabah" mystics to penetrate the seven halls (Hekaloth) of creation and reach the Merkabah (throne-chariot) of God. These mystics used the familiar methods of shamanism (fasting, repetitious chanting, prayer, posture) to induce trance states in which they literally fought their way past terrible seals and guards to reach an ecstatic state in which they "saw God".
An early and highly influential document (Sepher Yetzirah) appears to have originated during the earlier part of this period. By the early middle ages further, more theosophical developments had taken place, chiefly a description of "processes" within God, and a highly esoteric view of creation as a process in which God manifests in a series of emanations. This doctrine of the "sephiroth" can be found in a rudimentary form in the "Yetzirah", but by the time of the publication of the book "Bahir" (12th. century) it had reached a form not too different from the form it takes today.
One of most interesting characters from this period was Abraham Abulafia, who believed that God cannot be described or conceptualised using everyday symbols, and used the Hebrew alphabet in intense meditations lasting many hours to reach ecstatic states. Because his abstract letter combinations were used as keys or entry points to altered states of consciousness, failure to carry through the manipulations correctly could have a drastic effect on the Kabbalist. In "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" Scholem includes a long extract of one such experiment made by one of Abulafia's students - it has a deep ring of truth about it.
Probably the most influential Kabbalistic document, the "Sepher ha Zohar", was published by Moses de Leon, a Spanish Jew, in the latter half of the thirteenth century. The "Zohar" is a series of separate documents covering a wide range of subjects, from a verse-by-verse esoteric commentary on the Pentateuch, to highly theosophical descriptions of processes within God.
The "Zohar" has been widely read and was highly influential within mainstream Judaism. A later development in Kabbalah was the Safed school of mystics headed by Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria. Luria was a highly charismatic leader who exercised almost total control over the life of the school, and has passed into history as something of a saint. Emphasis was placed on living in the world and bringing the consciousness of God through *into* the world in a practical way. Practices were largely devotional.
Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Judaism as a whole was heavily influenced by Kabbalah, but by the beginning of this century a Jewish writer was able to dismiss it as an historical curiousity. Jewish Kabbalah has vast literature which is almost entirely untranslated into English. A development which took place almost synchronously with Jewish Kabbalah was its adoption by many Christian mystics, magicians and philosphers. Renaissance philosophers such as Pico della Mirandola were familiar with Kabbalah and mixed it with gnosticism, pythagoreanism, neo-platonism and hermeticism to form a snowball which continued to pick up traditions as it rolled down the centuries.
It is probably accurate to say that from the Renaissance on, virtually all European occult philosophers and magicians of note had a working knowledge of Kabbalah. It is not clear how Kabbalah was involved in the propagation of ritual magical techniques, or whether it *was* involved, or whether the ritual techniques were preserved in parallel within Judaism, but it is an undeniable fact that the most influential documents appear to have a Jewish origin.
The most important medieval magical text is the "Key of Solomon", and it contains the elements of classic ritual magic - names of power, the magic circle, ritual implements, consecration, evocation of spirits etc. No-one knows how old it is, but there is a reasonable suspicion that its contents preserve techniques which might well date back to Solomon.
The combination of non-Jewish Kabbalah and ritual magic has been kept alive outside Judaism until the present day, although it has been heavily adulterated at times by hermeticism, gnosticism, neo-platonism, pythagoreanism, rosicrucianism, christianity, tantra and so on. The most important "modern" influences are the French magician Eliphas Levi, and the English "Order of the Golden Dawn".
At least two members of the G.D. (S.L. Mathers and A.E. Waite) were knowledgable Kabbalists, and three G. D. members have popularised Kabbalah - Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, and Dion Fortune. Dion Fortune's "Inner Light" has also produced a number of authors: Gareth Knight, William Butler, and William Gray. An unfortunate side effect of the G.D is that while Kabbalah was an important part of its "Knowledge Lectures", surviving G.D. rituals are a syncretist hodge-podge of symbolism in which Kabbalah plays a minor or nominal role, and this has led to Kabbalah
being seen by many modern occultists as more of a theoretical and intellectual discipline, rather than a potent and self-contained mystical and magical system in its own right. Some of the originators of modern witchcraft drew heavily on medieval ritual and
Kabbalah for inspiration, and it is not unusual to find witches teaching some form of Kabbalah, although it is generally even less well integrated into practical technique than in the case of the G.D. The Kabbalistic tradition described in the notes derives principally from Dion Fortune, but has been substantially developed over the past 30 years. I would like to thank M.S. and the T.S.H.U. for all the fun.
At the root of the Kabbalistic view of the world are three fundamental concepts and they provide a natural place to begin. The three concepts are force, form and consciousness and these words are used in an abstract way, as the following examples illustrate: - high pressure steam in the cylinder of a steam engine provides a force. The engine is a form which constrains the force. - a river runs downhill under the force of gravity. The river channel is a form which constrains the water to run in a well defined path. - someone wants to get to the centre of a garden maze. The hedges are a form which constrain that person's ability to walk as they please. - a diesel engine provides the force which drives a boat forwards.
A rudder constrains its course to a given direction. - a polititian wants to change the law. The legislative framework of the country is a form which he or she must follow if the change is to be made legally. - water sits in a bowl. The force of gravity pulls the water down. The bowl is a form which gives its shape to the water. - a stone falls to the ground under the force of gravity. Its acceleration is constrained to be equal to the force divided by the mass of the stone. - I want to win at chess. The force of my desire to win is constrained within the rules of chess. - I see something in a shop window and have to have it.
I am constrained by the conditions of sale (do I have enough money, is it in stock). - cordite explodes in a gun barrel and provides an explosive force on a bullet. The gas and the bullet are constrained by the form of the gun barrel. - I want to get a passport.
The government won't give me one unless I fill in lots of forms in precisely the right way. - I want a university degree. The university won't give me a degree unless I attend certain courses and pass various assessments. In all these examples there is something which is causing change to take place ("a force") and there is something which causes change to take place in a defined way ("a form"). Without being too pedantic it is possible to identify two very different types of example here:
1. examples of natural physical processes (e.g. a falling stone) where the force is one of the natural forces known to physics (e.g. gravity) and the form is is some combination of physical laws which constrain the force to act in a well defined way.
2. examples of people wanting something, where the force is some ill-defined concept of "desire", "will", or "drives", and the form is one of the forms we impose upon ourselves (the rules of chess, the Law, polite behaviour etc.). Despite the fact that the two different types of example are "only metaphorically similar", Kabbalists see no fundamental distiniction between them. To the Kabbalist there are forces which cause change in the natural world, and there are corresponding psychological forces which drive us to change both the world and ourselves, and whether these forces are natural or psychological they are rooted in the same place: consciousness. Similarly, there are forms which the component parts of the physical world seem to obey (natural laws) and there are completely arbitrary forms we create as part of the process of living (the rules of a game, the shape of a mug, the design of an engine,
the syntax of a language) and these forms are also rooted in the same place: consciousness. It is a Kabbalistic axiom that there is a prime cause which underpins all the manifestations of force and form in both the natural and psychological world and that prime cause I have called consciousness for lack of a better word. Consciousness is undefinable. We know that we are conscious in different ways at different times - sometimes we feel free and happy, at other times trapped and confused, sometimes angry and passionate, sometimes cold and restrained - but these words describe
manifestations of consciousness. We can define the manifestations of consciousness in terms of manifestations of consciousness, which is about as useful as defining an ocean in terms of waves and foam. Anyone who attempts to define consciousness itself tends to come out of the same door as they went in. We have lots of words for the phenomena of consciousness - thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, emotions, motives and so on - but few words for the states of consciousness which give rise to these phenomena, just as we have many words to describe the surface of a sea, but few words to describe its depths. Kabbalah provides a vocabulary for states of consciousness underlying the phenomena, and one of the purposes of these notes is to explain this
vocabulary, not by definition, but mostly by metaphor and analogy. The only genuine method of understanding what the vocabulary means is by attaining various states of consciousness in a predictable and reasonably objective way, and Kabbalah provides
practical methods for doing this. A fundamental premise of the Kabbalistic model of reality is that there is a pure, primal, and undefinable state of consciousness which manifests as an interaction between force and form. This is virtually the entire guts of the Kabbalistic view of things, and almost everything I have to say from now on is based on this trinity of consciousness, force, and form. Consciousness comes first, but hidden within it is an inherent duality; there is an energy associated with consciousness which causes change (force), and there is a capacity within consciousness to constrain that energy and cause it to manifest in a well-defined way (form).
/ Consciousness \
to take ________________ Energy
What do we get out of raw energy and an inbuilt capacity for form
and structure? Is there yet another hidden potential within this
trinity waiting to manifest? There is. If modern physics is to be
believed we get matter and the physical world. The cosmological
Big Bang model of raw energy surging out from an infintesimal
point and condensing into basic forms of matter as it cools, then
into stars and galaxies, then planets, and ultimately living
creatures, has many points of similarity with the Kabbalistic
model. In the Big Bang model a soup of energy condenses according
to some yet-to-be-formulated Grand-Universal-Theory into our
physical world. What Kabbalah does suggest (and modern physics
most certainly does not!) is that matter and consciousness are
the same stuff, and differ only in the degree of structure
imposed - matter is consciousness so heavily structured and
constrained that its behaviour becomes describable using the
regular and simple laws of physics. This is shown in Fig. 2. The
primal, first principle of consciousness is synonymous with the
idea of "God".
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