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JSmith: English Qabalah

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.divination,talk.religion.newage
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: JSmith: English Qabalah (LONG)
Date: 17 Feb 1997 09:57:46 -0800

[from Jeffrey Smith ]

Some Preliminary Considerations On the Subject of a English Language Qabalah

Bill H.'s interrogatories regarding how we might apply a Yetzirah-type 
system to the English language touch on the basic nature of what Qabalah
is.   The following thoughts are of course entirely my own; but I think
they point out what Kabbalah/Qabalah is, and what an English language 
Qabalah must include.

The model of Qabalah we use in the European tradition is the Jewish or
Hebrew version, or as I refer to it the Rabbinic Kabbalah, and its 
variant, the Hermetic Qabalah.  We have been dealing in this discussion
with the Sefer Yetzirah and derivations thereof, but this is only one
major tradition in Rabbinic Kabbalah;  the other major tradition being
represented by the Sefer haZohar and its allied works and descendants.
The Yetziratic tradition emphasizes the Hebrew language as the vehicle
by which the Cosmos is symbolized and analyzed.  The Zoharic tradition,
by contrast, bases itself on the text of the Bible, and the symbols and
ideas derived from that are the tools by which the Cosmos is discussed.
Rabbinic Kabbalah eventually gave priority to the Zoharic tradition,
and made the Yetziratic tradition a secondary one,  serving to illuminate
the Zoharic teaching.  Hermetic Qabalah did the reverse,  taking the
Yetziratic teaching as primary, and the Zoharic teaching as illuminative.

The cause of the difference may be discerned when we see that both the
Yetzirah and the Zohar are concerned with the Divine Revelation--the
means by which the Deity made Itself known in Its Infinity and Omnexistence
to Humanity.   That Revelation was the Torah,  and made in the 
Hebrew language, in the Jewish teaching.   The  Yetziratic tradition
concerned itself with the language, which was seen as an expression and
revelation in its own right of the Divine Being Who utilized it.   The Zoharic
tradition concerned itself with the text, and drawing on the rich 
hermeneutical tools of Rabbinic learning,  analyzed every last nuance
in the text of the Torah, drawing meaning from it the casual reader might
never suspect.   Christians of the Renaissance and later,  since they
rejected the Torah and the Rabbinic hermeneutics,  almost automatically
downplayed the Zoharic tradition even as they made use of it, since they
did not have the same view as the Zohar of the text itself which is so
central to the Zoharic tradition.

In both the Yetziratic and Zoharic teachings, the primary concern is
with the Revelation and the language in which that Revelation is 
communicated.   The Revelation is the Self Expression of the Deity;
the language has special status and capabilities because it is
the means of that Self Expression.   An English Qabalah, if it is to
follow the Hebrew model,  must first justify the use of English as
a "Holy Tongue"--a means of Revelation;  and it must identify the 
Scripture which is the text of that Revelation (even if it is not
a book or text in the standard sense).  Those who accept the Liber AL
have an advantage here,  since for them the English language and the
Book of the Law meet those requirements.   Those who do not must either
keep on looking, or reject the possibility of an English Qabalah, either
in favor of an existing Scripture and the Qabalah derived therefrom,
or in favor of an "SuperQabalah" which applies to all human languages and
to all possible Revelations.

Since this is the "Thelema93" list,  I will base the rest of this discussion
on the first alternative--that English is the language, and the Liber AL
the content, of the Divine Revelation.  

We must therefore turn to the means by which the Yetziratic and Zoharic
traditions analyzed the Divine Language and Divine Text, and by which
they thereby analyzed the Cosmos.

The Yetzirah based itself on the actual phonetic values of the Hebrew
alephbet.   Thus the 7 doubles are letters which are capable of both a 
hard and a soft pronounciation--thus Bet is sometimes "B" and sometimes "V",
and so on.  In doing so it has even preserved as a double one letter (Resh)
which lost the double pronounciation early on.   This phonetic category of
Doubles is then referenced with other attributions,  such as the planets,
but the logic of the classification is bound up with the the linguistic
data of the Hebrew language.

In working out an English Qabalah we are faced with three choices:  do 
we take over the Yetziratic attributions, even though they are based 
literally on foreign values, merely adding to,  or adapting them, to
the 26 symbols of our own alphabet;  or do we make a phonetic classification
of the English alphabet, and then work out attributions from that; or
do we analyze the set of English letters by another classification,  one
not used by the Yetziratic tradition for Hebrew but equally valid?  The
first choice merely adapts Hebrew Qabalah into another setting;  but the
second and third choices, since they ground themselves in the English language
itself, and only then proceed with their analysis of the symbols involved,
point the way to a true English Qabalah.  A grounding in phonetics is of
coursed needed for the second alternative, but as "Will" pointed out,
we would classify the vowels separately, and then the consonants according
to their pronounciation--fricative, labials, glottals, and the whole
panoply of phonetic analysis.   Only then would we move on to determine
what the letters in their groupings might symbolize in the Macrocosm.  Perhaps
we would equate the five vowels to the five elements;   and then alot each
vowel to an appropriate element.   But in doing so we need not confine our
selves to the dispostions of the Hebrew/Hermetic tradition, since they are 
justified only in terms of Hebrew Qabalah.  The gematria and other variations
of an English Qabalah would also be capable of being conducted on other
principles, and with other results, than the Hebrew/Greek gematria familiar
to Hermetic tradition.

The Zoharic tradition, as stated above,  bases itself on the text of the
Divine Revelation, and uses a particular style of exegesis which is common
and approved in the Rabbinic teaching from which it ultimately derives,
but which is not common outside the Rabbinic tradition.   Every nuance of
the text--even the orthography and calligraphy--of the Pentateuch was 
explored by Rabbinic tradition,  and with a subtlety that seems obscure and
confusing to the untrained eye.   Who would think that where the Torah
prescribes 4 precise spices for the incense used in the temple,  that 
actually eleven were meant?  Yet the Rabbinic tradition does this, probably
for the sake of justifying a traditional recipe of 11 ingredients--but it
does not appeal to the argument of tradition, of "that's how it actually is
done",  but instead to the fact that spices is mentioned generically twice
in the particular sentence of scripture.  [Spices, three named ingredients,
spices, the fourth named ingredient--the first mention of spices implies
two ingredients,  the second mention of spices implies a number equal to the
number previously mentioned--five in this interpretation--for a total of
seven additional spices.]   The Masoretic text of Genesis uses an odd
orthography in spelling the word for "twins" [rather like spelling the word
"tuins" in English] when referring to Jacob and Esau--a sign to the Rabbinic
interpreters of the defective relationship between the two brothers.  Isaiah
commands us to "Look up at the heavens and say,  Who has created these."
The Zohar reads this not as a question but as a statement--"say,  [the
Being we call Who] has created these."  Who is turned from an interrogative
pronoun to a term for one aspect of the Divine Being, a title of God.
The first two examples are from the exoteric Talmudic/Midrashic corpus, but
the last is from the Zohar itself--but not far from the others in the technique.
And from this close parsing of the text the Zoharic tradition gained the
symbols that it uses to discuss the relation of God, Man, and the Universe.
The Zohar in fact is written in the form of a Midrash, an expostion of the
text of the Pentateuch.
	This approach is validated by the idea of Revelation itself.  If
the Divine reveals Itself fully in a finite text, than that text can not
in reality be finite:  it must contain all the meanings which express the
Infinite Being which it expresses and reveals.  By intense exegesis, one 
uncovers at least some of those meanings and levels of interpretation.  Even
if we never understand all that infinity of possible meaning--even if the
meanings seem to contradict each other--we can gain some access, some 
understanding of the text, and therefore of the Being which is the Source
of the Revelation.  [Nor should the incapacity to gain all levels of meaning,
and to reconcile them, be thought a flaw:  for as the Being is transcendent,
so the Revelation of the Being.]
	In the Thelemic context,  the Zoharic approach must concentrate on
the Liber AL, and focus on the meanings and symbols to be gained from that
text.  As with the Yetziratic approach,  we should not expect to find only
the familiar images, such as the Tree of Life, of Jewish/Hermetic tradition.
We may not find those images at all, but something different.  The Liber AL
is not the Torah, and whatever symbols it uses, and whatever meanings it 
may yield,  are not going to be that of the Torah.  It would be the goal
of an English Qabalah--or at least of a Thelemite Qabalah--to explore
those meanings and symbols, and discover in what new terms the Cosmos may be

  Jeffrey Smith
	When a true master of prayer recites the words [of the prayers]
	every word is a Name of G-d.  --Maggid Devaraw leYaakov 17a
see  and  call: 408/2-666-SLUG!!!
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