Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Qabbalistic Theurgy and Evocation Methods

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, June 26, 2011

Qabbalah and Tables of Correspondences

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, June 20, 2011

Happy Summer Solstice 2011

According to the calendar, the 21st of June will be the first day of summer, which is kind of silly even way up here in the tundra of Minnesota. We have had summer-like weather since the end of May, but summer officially starts on Tuesday, when the sun enters the sign of Cancer. However, pagans have referred to this date as Midsummer, and this evening is known as the famous Midsummer’s eve, for those who are fans of William Shakespeare. I can almost hear Puck saying to his comrades, “What fools these mortals be?”

Whether it’s the first day of summer, or midsummer, there seems to be something incongruous about the calendar and what’s happening outdoors in regards to the weather. This incongruity becomes more apparent if you happen to live in the higher latitudes in either the northern or southern hemisphere of the globe, such as I do. Even though most of the witchcraft traditions have adopted the wheel of the year with its eight Sabbats, I personally believe that the four quarter date celebrations (equinoxes and solstices) and the cross-quarter date celebrations (Imbolg, Beltaine, Lugnasad and Samhain) don’t belong together. The reason why has to do with the problem of the seasonal weather and vegetation vs. the actual solar positions. We might be about to celebrate midsummer, or the first day of summer, but for us, the growing season started the first week of June. For others who live in the southern parts of the country, the growing season started almost a month earlier. So it would seem that the date is neither midsummer nor the first day of summer, but something altogether different.

Solstices have been marked and celebrated by ancient people perhaps even before the advent of the Neolithic era. Megalithic sites (such as Stonehenge and Avesbury) and ancient earthworks around the world seem to have been built with an ability to signify in some manner when these events exactly occurred, representing a certain uncanny knowledge of the seasons and their association with the shifting plane of the solar ecliptic. Later on, the equinoxes were also marked and measured, making these the annual four great celebrations. We modern pagans have continued this tradition, although we have added four more cross-quarter celebrations, which likely have no actual ancient provenance of being considered distinctly from the four solar celebrations; they were likely Celtic extensions of them. 

Some years ago, as a way of rebelling against the obvious erroneous habit of putting all of the Sabbats together in one basket, as it were, and calling it the “Wheel of the Year,” I decided to break out the quarter celebrations from the cross-quarter ones and look at them as a distinct cycle with their own myths. So instead of having one wheel, I now have two, which are slightly off center from each other. What this means is that the Equinoxes and Solstices represent the annual solar cycle, and the four cross-quarter Sabbats represent the vegetative seasonal changes. Therefore, when the Vernal Equinox occurs around March 21st, we know that even though it looks like winter outside, from a solar perspective, the days are growing longer and that spring is on the way. By the advent of Beltain, we can see nature catch up and start showing signs of spring, although it has been known to snow up here as late as early May. This same logic applies to the Autumn Equinox, which often still seems warm, even though the leaves have already begun to turn color in the early part of September. However, by Samhain, autumn is most definitely evident, and in fact, the snow pack will begin to accumulate by or after Thanksgiving. The winter and summer solstices may mark the apex of the solar disposition (either waxing or waning in regards to duration of sunlight), but the mid points of those seasons are better represented by the celebrations of Imbolg (February 1) and Lugnasad (August 1).

For the reasons stated above, I decided some years ago to work with two distinct wheels of the year, one Solar and the other Seasonal/Vegetative. I have pulled the myths associated with the wheel of the year into two different wheels, and have found the end result to be sensible and logical. There is the cycle of light and darkness, and there is the cycle of life and death. They may be related, of course, but they operate at a different schedule, especially up here.

Perhaps this is just a minor adjustment, or to some, it might be a big deal messing with one’s tradition, but I believe that it helps me not only work with these seasonal celebrations, but also to be able to teach them to others. In adopting this double theme, I am able to make complete sense to my students when I tell them about it, and it’s also easier to remember. As a practitioner of ritual magick and a pagan witch, I have found the eight Sabbats to be very useful, mystical and magickal events that act as seasonal milestones, forcing me to pay attention to the earth and what is happening in it. I have found that often one can be distracted by life’s many tasks and crises, but it is very important to periodically re-focus on the earth itself, which helps one gain a more balanced perspective. There are also the mythic themes and their underlying mysteries for these Sabbats, but I will leave that for a future article.

Bright Blessings -

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Brief History of the Qabbalah - Part 3

This is part 3 of the three part history of the Qabbalah. I hope that you enjoyed it. 

5.  Classical Qabbalism. From the 11th through the 17th centuries C.E. This period saw a four phase migration that witnessed periods of intellectual blossoming in Provence, Moorish and Christian Spain, Safed in Palestine, and finally, returning to Europe at the advent of the Renaissance. During this period there were also some calamities that afflicted various Jewish cultural centers, such as the Albigensian Crusade (1209 - 1229), the sack of Baghdad by Ikhanate Mongol forces in 1258, and the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492.

Despite the calamities that forced the Jewish peoples to relocate from one place to another, the study and spread of Qabbalah became much more wide-ranging than at any other time.  It was also a period that saw an extensive development and evolution of ideas, when the Qabbalah started to become a solidified discipline, acquiring many of the features that occultists today would recognize. During this period, the study of Qabbalah supplanted previous forms of Jewish theology, and for a time, completely dominated Jewish religious thought. However, even as the Qabbalah became more accessible to Jewish lay scholars (and even Christian academics), it was still the provenance of a select few, even though that exclusivity began to evaporate by the beginning of the 16th century.    

Provence: It was in this location that the classical Qabbalah had its true birth. Various writings, speculations and insights assembled from sources in the East (Baghdad) and from Germany (Worms) were used to write the first true Qabbalistic work, called the Sefer ha-Bahir, which was ostensibly an occult form of the Midrash, consisting of various commentaries on verses from the Torah, particularly those of a decided mystical or mythical nature. Many of the various speculations begun in the geonic period are given a greater development in the book of Bahir, particularly, the concept of the Shekinah as a distinct entity. Provence was where rabbinic culture achieved a high state of development, and many pagan philosophical works were translated, most notably by Judah ibn Tibben, and many of these translated works were from neoplatonic sources. It is here that gnostic speculation was fully wedded with neoplatonic philosophy within a Jewish religious framework. Qabbalistic practices focused on an emphasis of seeking communion with the Deity through meditation on the sephiroth and their occult analogues. Also, the concept of the Ain-Soph was developed as a way to explain the manifestation of the finite material world through the agency of an infinite and unmanifest Godhead. From Provence, the Qabblah spread to Spain via Catalonia.

Gerona, Toledo and Castile - Spanish Qabbalah: It was in Spain that the Qabbalah acquired its more modern qualities, and it was here that the Qabbalah split into three distinct schools, and where some of the scholars sought to bridge that split. Gerona was the first location to flower, establishing the basic structure and tenets that became the Classical Qabbalah. It was in Gerona that ecstatic tendencies were renewed and propagated. From this foundational school, two other opposing perspectives began to dominate the practice and teachings of Classical Qabbalah. On the one side presided what could be called the rational school of Qabbalah (Isaac ibn Latif), where its adherents sought to describe it through a more philosophical and mystical interpretation, removing the more occult elements and seeking to use a system of devotion and contemplation to realize the various tenets. They taught that the adherent should contemplate on the sacred names and letters to produce mystical states resulting in prophecy. The other side (Isaac ha-Kohen) was characterized by a school declaring the opposite perspective, that of gnostic theosophy, occult speculation and the deliberate practice of theurgy. It is from this more occult school that the speculations of a Tree of Evil (demonic emanations) began to be developed, which included the developing of a more systematic hierarchy of angelic and demonic spirits, as well as equating the Logos (as found in Greek philosophy) with a new angel called Metatron.

Zohar: this was the first successful attempt at producing a Qabbalistic Midrash. Moses de Leon wrote this monumental work in around 1281 as an attempt to mediate these three different schools into a single unified one, producing a work that merged rational philosophy with gnostic and occult insights and tenets. This work consisted of a vast multi volume set of homiletics on the Torah, the books of Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations. These were not comprehensive commentaries, but instead focused on strategic passages. The Zohar had the effect of producing a kind of uniquely Jewish theology, (even though it was wedded to tenets that were particularly uncanonical), and this helped to bring it into the mainstream of Jewish thought.

Safed: When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many of them found their way to Safed in Palestine, and also Italy. It was in Safed that Qabbalah acquired its messianic and apocalyptic qualities, and these were wedded to the core of its beliefs and tenets. It was also here that the Qabbalah found its greatest teacher and intellectual exponent (Isaac Luria) and began its powerful and compelling spread throughout the Jewish diaspora.

Isaac Luria Ashkenazi - the “Ari” Lion - (1534 - 1572): It was Luria who brought all of the various strains of Spanish Qabbalah together to synthesize it into a powerful modern religious system. Many of the idiosyncracies and philosophical problems in the Qabbalah were brilliantly and completely resolved by the writings and teachings of Luria. It was Luria who developed the concept of the sephiroth as divine personas, arranged them into three pillars (creating a cosmogonic dialectic) and saw them as the dynamically changing and evolving manifestation of the will and mind of the Deity. He also developed the notion of the four qabbalistic worlds, and resolved the issue of how the infinite unmanifest Godhead was able to create a finite material world through the mysterious artifice of contraction, concealment and veilings - the generation of a vacuum of empty space before creation.

Luria also developed the speculation that became the qliphoth, discussed the shattering of the six lower sephiroth above Malkuth (allowing for the incursion of evil), and the attribution of a mythic and psychological drama associated with the redemption of spiritual “sparks” of the individual human entity, now divided into four specific parts of the soul. His teachings had a powerful messianic quality, where he predicted that the messiah was immanent, and that event would also begin the ending of the world as the messiah recollected all of the spirits of humanity and delivered them up to the Deity. After his death, Luria’s teachings, for a time, eclipsed all other teachings and became part of the Jewish mainstream. The messianic tensions found in his teachings, along with his various vague apocalyptic pronouncements, ultimately produced the heresies of the aborted Shabbatai Zevi messianic crusade (b. 1670 - d. 1730).      

6.  Period of Transference. From the 15th through 18th centuries. There are many indicators that Christians and occultists had been distilling the Jewish Qabbalah beginning from the time that it had emerged into Europe during the middle ages. An examination of Agrippa’s work, the “Occult Philosophy,” demonstrates that by 1531, the entire corpus of the Qabbalah (particularly the practical and occult practices) had already been thoroughly translated and dispersed by academics throughout most of Europe. This would lead one to conclude that various contents of the Zohar and the writings of Luria had been leaked or deliberately shared with sympathetic Christian scholars and occultists. It is also likely that various Jewish magical practices and techniques had also been appropriated by individuals in Christian circles. How and exactly when this occurred is unknown, but it was likely the impetus for the development of the Solomonic system of ceremonial magick.  However, it was not until the year 1671 that Christian Knorr Von Rosenroth translated and published four books of the voluminous Zohar in Latin, making it available to nearly anyone who had at least a rudimentary education. Additionally, Rosenroth also published other translated Qabbalistic writings, and these included works by Luria. It’s also likely that the spread of the Qabbalah within the Christian community also facilitated the spread of Qabbalah within the European Jewish community.

Decline of Jewish Qabbalah: After the failed messianism of Shabbatai Zevi, the Jewish Qabbalah began to slowly decline in the 18th century. It would seem that the harsh lesson of Shabbatai Zevi, and the obvious heterodoxic nature of the Qabbalah, caused it to become increasingly rejected by various orthodox groups, with the exception of the Hasidic Jews, where it continued to be practiced through the 19th century and even later.  

7.  The Modern Occult Qabbalah. From 19th to 20th centuries.  In the mid 19th century, the scholarship of Eliphaz Levi, Papus and MacGregor Mathers determined the current structure of the  Qabbalistic Tree of Life, and attributed the Tarot Trumps to the 22 Letters associated with the Pathways. MacGregor Mathers reintroduced the discipline of the practical Qabbalah, and translated the works of Von Rosenroth into English. Mathers was also responsible for either publishing or translating the Lesser and Greater Key of Solomon, the Grimmoire of Armadel, the Enochian magical system of Dr. John Dee, and the Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage. The teachings of the Magickal Fraternity that he established (Golden Dawn) has influenced many subsequent students of the Qabbalah, including Aleister Crowley, W. E. Butler, Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune, William Grey, Gareth Knight and Kenneth Grant.

Mather’s ground breaking work was taken up and developed by other occultists, who thereby brought it into the mainstream of occult beliefs and practices in the 20th and 21st centuries. Most notable for their contributions was Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie, who distilled and advanced the basic Qabbalistic knowledge of the Golden Dawn so that it became more of a meta-system than a repository of Jewish gnostic and theosophic speculation. Like Mathers, these individuals intrinsically wedded the Qabbalah to the practice of Western Magic. Aleister Crowley was the first to publish the Golden Dawn Qabbalistic writings on gematria, tables of correspondence as well as his own writings and interpretations, and expounded on the Tarot as an adjunct to the Qabbalah, producing his own Tarot deck (Book of Thoth).

Dion Fortune blended many extensive theosophical speculations into the Qabbalah, and Paul Foster Case blended the Tarot with the Qabbalah, so that the Tarot was defined and given its meaning solely through Qabbalistic symbolism. W. E. Butler and Gareth Knight, who were both students of Dion Fortune, produced a correspondence course on the Qabbalah, and Knight later wrote a ground breaking text book (Practical Qabalistic Symbolism), one that most modern occultists have read and studied. William Grey wrote a concise work (Ladder of Lights) and established himself as one of the truly gifted occultists of the 20th century. He went on to write many more books about ceremonial magick and the Qabbalah. Israel Regardie developed and refined the Golden Dawn teachings of the Qabbalah, first put forward by Mathers and his associate, Westcott. Kenneth Grant sought to develop and integrate the qliphoth with the sephiroth, referring to it as the backside of the Tree of Life, and thus show the integral relativity of both the lefthand and right-hand occult paths.

Recap of the Overall Evolution of the Qabbalah

The first stage of the evolution of the Qabbalah concerned itself with various attempts to depict and conceptualize the powers and majesty of the Deity. It was not an idle process, since it was meant to allow for greater access and individual conscious assumption of the mysterious Hebrew Godhead. These intentions were hidden within mysticism, but early Judaism contended with the doctrine of an invisible and unknowable Deity amidst a plethora of highly represented pagan deities, both gods and goddesses. The concept of Elohim (gods) as one of the representations of this Deity clearly shows the probable amalgamation of many deities into the one, ultimately called Yahweh. The Hebrew nation did not become truly monotheistic until later in their history (possibly 6th or even 5th century B.C.E), and so there was always a tendency for polytheism inherent in Judaism. When the orthodox doctrine of monotheism (there is only one God) finally became enforced, the tendency to polytheism found other avenues, particularly in the areas of mysticism and the illicit practice of ritual and ceremonial magick. Access to the powers and glories of a monotheistic Deity was expressly forbidden by the cannon of the law and established traditions, but the Merkabah and Heikhalot systems of mysticism and magick certainly allowed speculation and practices that were essentially heretical in nature.

The impact of Greek philosophy and Gnosticism on Jewish thought has been little noted in Jewish mystical circles, particularly in regards to the origins of the Qabbalah. While it is certainly true that Jewish writers such as Philo were later discredited and ignored by the scholars of the Talmudic period, non Jewish systems of theosophy and theurgy continued to invade the fringes of Jewish thought. The core doctrines and beliefs of the Qabbalah were developed long after similar speculation had already been written down and established in philosophical and gnostic circles. Still, the Qabbalah was a very tight synthesis of traditional Jewish thought and Greek philosophy; but it remained on the fringes of scholastic writings and the established traditions and liturgies of the rabbinic culture until the late Renaissance. It was almost as if one had to be both a Jew and a Qabbalist, since they were not synonymous. The middle ages saw great Qabbalistic works written, such as the Zohar, but there were other works created, like the Sword of Solomon, the Sepher ha-Ratziel, and the Book of Abramelin, which represented the magickal practices of the Qabbalah. These magickal works, or grimoires, and their associated theosophical and occult speculation represented a problem with the emergence of the Qabbalah as a system of Jewish theology. It was due largely to these and other excesses that Judaism narrowed its accepted practices, which lead to the eventual abandonment of the Qabbalah as a Jewish religious tradition. The Jewish Qabbalah was just too prone to uncanonical practices and heresy, and seemed to advocate highly unacceptable religious speculation.

During the late middle ages, the doctrines and beliefs of the Qabbalah began to filter into the scholarly world of Christian Europe, and by the 19th century, it had been completely taken over and made into an occult doctrine. The greatest contributions to the works of the Qabbalah were made in the middle to late 19th century, and these were made by individuals who were not practitioners of Judaism. Certainly, the evolution and derivation of the Qabbalah from its Hebrew source did not allow it to be easily reintegrated into Jewish religious doctrine, and so there are now at least two versions of the Qabbalah, since the resurgence of its study in the present age was promoted first by adherents of the Hasadim, and then by others, which caused some orthodox and reformed Jews to return to and expand on the earlier writings of Isaac Luria, and many others.

Modern occultists are divided as to whether the Qabbalah should be used for meditation and contemplation only, or with the inclusion of ritual and ceremonial magick. Certainly Mathers and Crowley proposed the full incorporation of the Qabbalah when they wrote their books, formulated their rituals and ceremonies, and taught these practices to their students; but others have moved away from the practice of magick as being too controversial and prone to heretical practices and derivations. Still, for practicing ritual magicians, the Qabbalah is of critical importance. I would therefore recommend that it should be studied and mastered by all occult students, used in meditation, contemplation and employed to construct magickal rituals and ceremonies. I am recommending such an extensive use so that the various symbolic archetypes and spiritual hierarchy might become internally available to the seeker to experience and fully realize in a very direct and immediate fashion. In this manner, the Qabbalah becomes a real and living process that illuminates the spiritual and allegorical domains, and reveals the various qualities of the Deity and the fate of humankind. Therefore as a practice, it will lead to the highest possible states of spiritual illumination.

I hope this brief historical analysis has assisted you in realizing that the Qabbalah is an ever evolving discipline that has undergone a considerable amount of change and revision over the centuries. However, formulations of a kind of gnostic inspired theosophy as well as the continued use of the Qabbalah in various methods and techniques of ritual and ceremonial magick have been a constant factor in the evolution of this discipline. Anyone who seeks to divorce the heterodoxic nature of the Qabbalah, or to refute its use and application in forms of theurgy are promoting an egregious falsehood that belies its history, essential nature and practical use.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Brief History of the Qabbalah - Part 2

This is part 2 of a three part history of the Qabbalah. 

3. Sepher Yetzirah and Qabbalah Ma’asit. From the 3rd Century C.E., the primary concept of 32 emanations with Mystical Names of Power is established. The practical Qabbalah became a system of theurgy based upon an occult epistemology. The influences of Greek Neoplatonic philosophy is apparent in the use of Emanationism and represents a borrowing and  reinterpreting of both the traditional Hebrew sources and Greek Philosophy. Although, according to Scholem, specific Neoplatonic ideas, such as Emanationism, deliberately found their way into the Qabbalah at a later time. The influences pervading the Sepher Yetzirah would appear to be more associated with Jewish Gnosticsm and its heterodoxic incorporation of various Greek philosophical elements and influences.

The Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Creation) is a product of the fulfillment of the esoteric speculation of the ma’aseh bereshit (act of creation), from which it produced a detailed cosmology and cosmogony. It is considered the earliest Hebrew text of this kind of systematic thought, and although it was brief and concise, its influences were to have a profound impact on Jewish mystical and occult speculation. Divine wisdom is an important theme for the Sepher Yetzirah, since the creation of the cosmos is evidently accomplished through “32 secret paths of wisdom.” These 32 secret paths of wisdom are defined as consisting of ten numbers and twenty-two elemental letters, and represent the foundation for all creation. The word for number is Sephiroth, which is, according to Scholem, an unusual word usage, since the typical Biblical word would have been “misparim” for numbers, signifying that the author of this book had a more metaphysical or esoteric definition for this term (they weren’t just ordinary numbers). 

According to the Sepher Yetzirah, the ten Sephiroth didn’t just sequentially emerge from the unknowable source, but instead had a specific pattern. The first Sephirah was called the “Spirit (ruach - also ‘air’ or ‘breath’) of the Living God, ” thus representing a direct link to the Godhead (divine wisdom), and from that first Sephirah, came forth, through a process of condensation, the three primal elements, which were part of the first four Sephiroth. Thus Spirit begat Air (the primary element), which in turn begat Water and Fire. From the primal element of Air was created the twenty-two letters, from Water was created the cosmos, and from Fire was created the Throne of Glory and the hosts of the angels. The final six Sephiroth are completely different and divergent, representing the six dimensions or directions of space, although it is not expressly communicated that these six were generated from the prior four, one can assume that to be the case.  The ten Sephiroth represents a complete and unified system, where they become the foundation for the Throne of Glory contained by the Chariot (Merkhabah).

It is through the Twenty-two letters that the material universe is formulated, obviously through a process where words were generated, and thereby created the material things that they so named. This was very likely based on a concept of word magic, which has been found in various forms throughout the Middle East (and is well represented in the Greek Magical Papyri). A word based mysticism formed around 221 mystical gates, which is a number representing the possible number of two letter verb roots (as would be found in Hebrew), although the preeminent word is the four letter name of God (the Tetragrammaton YHVH). The Twenty-two letters are broken into three groups: the Mother letters of Aleph, Mim and Shin (3 letters as the 3 elements), which fashioned the seven double letters (celestial planets) and the twelve single letters (zodiac).  

Mr. Scholem observes that there appear to be links between early Gnostic sects and their concept of Aions and the Pleroma, and the Jewish concept of Middot or “Qualities of God,” which went so far as to replace the chayyot (living creatures) and presiding angels in the Merkabah system. There is speculation that the Middot were the precursors of the Sephiroth, and the number ten is also revealed in the “ten sayings by which the world was created.” Mr. Scholem is doubtful about the impact of Neoplatonism on the early Qabbalah, particularly how it is depicted in the Sepher Yetzirah. However, he appears to accept the linkage between Gnostic groups and Jewish esoteric teachings and their adherents. My opinion, although unsubstantiated, is that the Jews would have been exposed to Greek philosophy through contact with refugee Alexandrian Jews (117 CE) and by the influence of other pagans who were living in Sepphoris at the time. Although these philosophical concepts and beliefs (such as those proposed by Philo) were either expunged or not even allowed to be used in the building up of the biblical commentaries (Talmud), they still could have permeated the minds of Jewish intellectuals of the time.   

Examining the philosophy and writings of Philo of Alexandrian shows how the Jewish intelligentsia (in Alexandria) evolved the interpretation of their faith to accommodate Greek philosophy without diluting their spiritual heritage. Although there is little evidence that this merging of Greek philosophy and Jewish theology had any impact on the writing of the Talmud or later Jewish religious thought, it still must have had some impact on the greater Jewish world. The fact that later Qabbalists extensively used obvious Neoplatonic ideas to develop their own speculations and insights may in fact point to earlier associations and borrowing. It might also be possible that Neoplatonism borrowed ideas and practices from Jewish esoteric literature. Certainly, magical books, such as the Greek Magical Papyri, show a deep knowledge of Jewish religious and mystical traditions, freely mixed with Greek, Egyptian and even Iranian beliefs.

The time period of the composition of the Sepher Yetzirah has been given as between the third and sixth centuries C.E. As it was so succinctly stated by Gershom Scholem in his commentary, “Graetz tended to correlate the time of its composition with that of the Mishnah or the beginning of the period of the [Jerusalem] Talmud..” And also the statement, “The Hebrew style, however, points to an earlier period. Epstein already proved its proximity to the Mishnah, and additions can be made to his linguistic proofs.” Scholem goes on to say that, “ The book contains no linguistic form which may not be ascribed to second or third century Hebrew.” (p. 26)  The original core manuscript can be attributed to this time period, but other post Talmudic elements were added later in its evolution.

I would speculate that the Sepher Yetzirah was written by a Jewish occult scholar, possibly with input from others of like mind, in the town of Sepphoris sometime in the early third century. Sepphoris was a very interesting place at that time, since it had survived the Bar Kokhba revolt (132 - 136 CE) and subsequent Roman suppression. It became the temporary home of the Sanhedrin, the place where the Mishna was first composed and it was where the Jerusalem Talmud was first assembled, only incomplete sections of which exist today. It was also a place populated by non-Jews (Romans, Greeks, Christians and various Semitic pagans) and where a sect of Jewish Gnostics had their home. Scholem indicates this fact with the following curious quote (although he doesn’t connect the writing of the Sepher Yetzirah with Sepphoris): “In this period a Jewish Gnostic sect with definitive antinomian tendencies was active in Sepphoris.” (p. 12)

It would seem then that the Gnostic and Greek philosophic elements found in the Sepher Yetzirah could be explained due to the proximity of Greek pagans and a Gnostic sect as found in the town of Sepphoris. The author of this work would have been able to distill various strands of Neopythagorean, Neoplatonic and Gnostic beliefs that were readily available along with Jewish mystical speculation, producing a powerful and elaborate synthesis, which affected Jewish mystics and occultists for centuries afterwards.

Geonic Mysticism. The Talmudic and Mishnaic periods from the 6th to 11th Century C.E. was a period of great creativity, but it did not substantively produce any new, original doctrines nor additional insights about the Qabbalah. Mystical and magical activity shifts from Palestine to Babylonia, but some activity continuing there for some time.  However, in the area of practical Qabbalah and theurgy, a great deal was developed and expanded upon. Practical magic existed side by side with the contemplation on the Chariot. Some practical magic focused on the angelic princes of wisdom and the Torah, such as Yophiel and other high level angelic intermediaries. In addition, a system of demonology was developed, becoming rich in mythologic detail.

Towards the end of this period, the various sources began to be assembled for the next great leap forward (which was to occur in Provence). The book “Raza Rabba” (Great Mystery) appears to have been written, which contained a great deal of magical and occult material. The angelology of this book appears to be a synthesis of an earlier form of Gnostic metaphysics, such as the Aions and the Pleroma. Three trends can also be traced to this final period of flowering before the center of Qabbalistic thought migrated to the West (Italy and Provence), and these trends can be characterized by the following paragraphs.

Neoplatonic elements began to influence and infiltrate Qabbalistic thought. The philosophic concept of emanation altered and refined the ideas of the ten sephiroth, along with the notion of “hypostasis”, which caused these abstract numerations and reflections of the Deity to become more like separate entities or distinct beings. Additionally, the concept of the Shekinah became affected by the influence of these beliefs so that it appeared to function distinctly from the Godhead, becoming analogous to the Gnostic concept of “Sophia” (Spiritual Wisdom).

Another new theme that was adopted into the Qabbalah was the transmigration of souls, obviously appropriated from Neoplatonism, but integrated into a Jewish eschatology. This belief would be modified and advanced in later Qabbalistic speculations (particularly in the Spanish and Lurian Qabbalah).

Gematria, and other systems of numerology, were developed to show a link between sacred names, and words and phrases from the scriptures and liturgy - these techniques became known as the “theory of names.” It was believed that gematria could be used to determine and enforce the proper spelling of important words and names, and also reveal the hidden and secret intentions (kavvanot) behind the actions and sayings attributed or associated with the Deity. Oddly, gematria and other notation systems produced a more influential occult spiritual perspective, but one that was steeped in theurgy and theosophy (gnosis) and less reliant on ecstatic practices and rational speculation (although, this would also change later on).

Scholem encapsulated this period of Qabbalistic development with the following insightful statement, which I have quoted here.

From the remains of mystical literature extant from the talmudic and geonic periods it can be deduced that these types of ideas and attitudes [theurgy and theosophy] were wide spread in many circles, wholly or partially restricted to initiates.” (p. 34)

Scholem goes on to say that those who practiced Qabbalistic theurgy were called (in Aramaic) “ba’alei ha-shem” (users of the Name). He also says that their identities were wholly unknown and that they typically were not rabbinic scholars. 

(To be Continued...)

Frater Barrabbas

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Brief History of the Qabbalah - Part 1

 Gershom Scholem

This is part 1 of a 3 part article on the history of the Qabbalah. It was very rewarding to pull together this research, and I hope that you find it as interesting and engaging as I found it in doing the research. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Gershom Scholem and his book, the Kabbalah, for helping me to piece together the history of this most interesting discipline.
Since I have been writing about the metaphysical nature of the Qabbalah, I thought it would be prudent to also present it’s historical evolution. Qabbalah did indeed come from a purely Jewish Mystical tradition, but along the way it became modified and blended with other philosophical systems; first Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, then Christianity, and finally, modern occultism mixed with some Theosophy; all of these disciplines added layers to it. What exists today in print is mostly a Christian and Theosophical based occult system, although some authors are pushing the Qabbalah back to its Jewish roots, and others are attempting to divest it of its Christian and Jewish underpinnings to make it useable to non-Christians, such as Wiccans and Neopagans.

What I have sought to do myself is to emphasize the Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean influences, so as to make it a system that is more friendly and accessible to modern paganism. All of these different approaches are laudable and commendable, since there is no right or correct way in seeking to adapt the Qabbalah to one’s personal spiritual perspectives. The Qabbalah is a meta-system, so it lends itself to adaption and reinterpretation, and it has been placed in this role since the very beginning of its inception. Still, understanding the history of the Qabbalah and how it evolved over time will help us appreciate it more. We may even perhaps realize why it was created and how it was and is still being used.

Let’s take a brief trip through time and seek to realize that the Qabbalah is a system of thought that has a long history, whose roots exist at the same point in time with some of the newer books of the Old Testament and the early Palestinian Talmud. By examining this time line, we will get an idea about how much this system has actually changed over time, allowing us to realize that the Qabbalah was many things to many people through the passage of the ages. The fact that it is still in use today, and that it’s effective for many people, some of whom come from startlingly different religious and spiritual practices, is both remarkable and amazing. It indicates to me the essential core of truth that resides in the basic tenets and practices associated with the Qabbalah.

Qabbalah has had quite a journey, both in time and geographically. It began in the Jewish homeland with various occult and mystical speculations, then migrated wherever Jews migrated, becoming a part of the great waves of the Jewish diaspora.  The first major milestone in time was when the book called the Sepher Yetzirah was written, which was likely in the Galilee area, perhaps at Sepphoris in the 3rd to 6th century. Then these teachings migrated to Babylonia in the 7th century, and then later in the middle ages to Italy and the Provence area of Southern France, where it acquired the name of Qabbalah in the early 13th century.

Because of the terrible Albingensian crusade, the adherents of the Qabbalah fled to Moorish Spain where it truly flowered, producing a Talmudic like document called the Zohar. European and Palestinian Jews (Safed) later took on and promoted the Qabbalah after the Jews were expelled from Catholic Spain and spread throughout Europe, where it reached its peak in the 17th century, with Isaac Luria (15th century) and Shabbatae Zevi. However, as the Qabbalah declined in Jewish circles, it received a resurgence within various Christian intellectual circles, until the late 18th century, when it changed hands with Christian occultists, who brought it into a more recognizable form in the late 19th century. Dion Fortune and her group (SIL), as well as the Golden Dawn (Mathers), Aleister Crowley and Israel Regardie added their particular stamp to this body of lore. Occultists have continued to work with it, but it has also found a resurgence in some Jewish circles as well.   

The history of the Qabbalah has been researched and corroborated by Gershom Scholem in his wonderful book “Kabbalah” (New American Library 1974, pages 8 through 86). Although I have examined many books on the history and evolution of the ideas of the Qabbalah, this book, in my opinion, is the most thorough, incisive and historically unbiased. Unlike many authors, Mr. Scholem has admitted that the Qabbalah and its various antecedents were employed in occult and magical practices from the very beginning, and that only later were such practices disassociated from the main body of mystical speculation. A useful quote from his book, found in the introduction, sets the whole tone of his rather straightforward work. 

From the beginning of its development, the Kabbalah embraced an esotericism closely akin to the spirit of Gnosticism, one which was not restricted to instruction in the mystical path but also included ideas on cosmology, angelology and magic. Only later, and as a result of contact with medieval Jewish philosophy, the Kabbalah became a Jewish ‘mystical theology,’ more or less systematically elaborated. This process brought about a separation of the mystical, speculative elements from the occult and especially magical elements, a divergence that at times was distinct but was never total.”

This divergence, according to Mr. Scholem, produced two opposing but not completely distinct disciplines, one based wholly on speculation (the Kabbalah iyyunit) and associated mystical practices such as meditation and contemplation, and another based wholly on practical or magical techniques (Kabbalah ma’asit). The practical applications concerned themselves with determining angelic and god names, and promoted occult systems of theurgy, practical spell work and goetic (demonic) magic. This divergence occurred probably sometime around the 14th century, so before that time, magic and theurgy played an important part in the formation and development of the Qabbalah. That Mr. Scholem admits the primacy and importance of magical practices and occult speculation to the formation of the Qabbalah appears to be quite unique, since many other recent authors appear to either deny this possibility or to denigrate the obvious practical applications of the Qabbalah as a divergent and unimportant later development.  

In his book “Kabbalah”, Mr. Scholem proposes seven distinct levels in the historical development of the Qabbalah. Each of these levels has its own features and important contributions, which helped to build up the body of lore that modern occultists have found so important and useful. These seven levels consist of particular periods of development, such as the origins of esotericism (Merkabah), followed by the period of Heikhalot mysticism, the period of the Sepher Yetzirah and Qabbalah Ma’asit, to the Geonic period of the Talmud, to the period of the classical Jewish Qabbalah, followed by a period of transition where the Qabbalah became the provenance of Christian occultists, and then its final metamorphosis into the modern system used by occultists today. We will now briefly examine each of these seven periods.

1. Jewish Apocalyptic Esotericism. From the 7th Century B.C.E., certain influences began to emerge in classical Hebrew spiritual beliefs. The process of expressing an otherwise invisible and unknowable God began to be conceptualized in a mythical and symbolic format. These speculations began to build a body of mystical insights and ideas, causing the exoteric history and laws of the Jews to become a secret and esoteric universal doctrine.

Perhaps the most striking speculation developed out of one of the more obscure books of the prophets, Ezekiel, who saw a vision of the Throne of God that was placed within a chariot and surrounded by protective angels (Cherubim). One could compare this motif with the Chariot card in the modern Tarot. The Chariot Throne, also known as the “Merkabah,” fueled a great deal of imaginative speculation. So, too, did Jacob’s Ladder, and the “Brasheit” of Genesis, which produced speculation about the nature of divine creation (Brasheit is Hebew for “In the beginning” and is part of the first sentence of Genesis).

Jacob’s vision of a ladder of lights, where angels constantly descended and ascended was also an important and intriguing concept, particularly since one of the later names for the Qabbalistic Tree of Life was the Ladder of Lights. As important as the Chariot Throne were the “Palaces” of the House of God, known as the Heikhalot. Supposedly, there were seven of these palaces, arranged in ascending order, which made them analogous to the seven heavens or celestial spheres. The Heikhalot mysticism would play an important role in forming the practical Qabbalah, since obtaining access to the various palaces would require ecstatic and magical techniques and occult knowledge. The first Book of Enoch has an excellent example of this heikhalot structure.

These various mystical speculations produced a body of esoteric lore that was also grounded in actual practical and magical rites. The Essenes were reputed to be knowledgeable of certain magickal practices, and some of their specialized psalms would seem to bear this reputation out, as would the first Book of Enoch, which was also produced during that time. It can be assumed that by the beginning of the first century of the common era, the various sources of the Qabbalah would have already been well established. It could also be assumed that the methodologies of various ecstatic and magical practices were already in place, giving an immediacy and accessibility to this speculation which it might not have otherwise had. 

2. Heikhalot Mysticism. From the 1st Century C.E., a system of detailed exercises was established to produce magickal and ecstatic effects used to attain the spiritual state of ascent that would allow a  celebrant to commune directly with the Deity, first accessing the various Palaces of the House of God, then on to the very Chariot of God itself, and to also command spirits through the use of various secret names, seals, and by those same, to cast out demons. These practices may be similar to those practiced by the Essenes and other itinerant magical practitioners.

Most important from this period is the introduction of a body of esoteric literature that discussed in great detail all of the attributes of the various levels of the heavenly palaces (heikhalot), and the various angelic beings and spirits that reside there, especially their hidden names. In addition, methodologies of gaining access to the Chariot Throne of Glory, and even piercing the veil to the heavenly man-like being within who was the manifestation of God’s glory, but was not the actual being of the Godhead (who had no form). Considerations of the Brasheit passage (in Genesis), which triggered speculation about cosmology (ma’aseh bereshit), and even considerations about the supposed measurements of the various limbs of the mysterious Chariot Driver (Shi’ur Komah) are given full expression in esoteric literature. The Shi’ur Komah (measuring of the body) was a collection of speculation that sought to measure the “Glory” of the Godhead, and was linked to esoteric interpretations of the Song of Songs, particularly the descriptions of the beloved, which were called the Body of the Divine Presence (guf ha-Shekhineh).

There is a blending between mystical literature of the Merkabah and the Jewish theurgistic literature. In addition to the specifically magical practices, there were ascetic practices, such as a meditation posture where the head is placed between the knees and certain ecstatic hymns are sung to generate the proper ecstatic mind state, enabling one to obtain a highly potent visionary trance state.

Mr. Scholem also discusses that there might be a dissemination of mystical and magical ideas amongst Jews who have either converted to Christianity or fringe Gnostic sects, such as the Ophites and possibly, the Sethians/Barbeloites, all of whom were originally Jews. Most of the Heikhalot literature was developed in Palestine, but the literary branch was later picked up and migrated to Babylonia sometime before the sixth century. It is also believed that the greatest grimoire, known as the Sepher ha-Razim was composed at this time (at the end of the Palestinian Talmudic period), which was a magical text wholly adopted from heikhalot mysticism, but whose incantations probably had a Greek source.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hutton and the Writing of Witchcraft History

No - this article is not about UFOs or Fox Mulder! It is instead about the recent article written by Ronald Hutton in the latest issue of “The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.” That article is entitled “Writing the History of Witchcraft: A Personal View,” and you can find it here. The reason why I chose the above famous picture for my article is because it has more to do with me and my recent support of Ben Whitmore’s book “Trials of the Moon,” and the fact that Ronald Hutton has written a professional and fair critique of that work. This is despite the fact that Ben Whitmore had attempted to paint a picture of Hutton as a cynical and calculating academic, whether that was his intention or not. His book has basically sought to question Hutton’s methodologies as an academic in such a fashion that one could only consider him to be a poor scholar at best, a mendacious and manipulative fixture of the bureaucracy of academia at worst. However, Hutton’s defense of himself, and his approach to this study and his motives, have now been eloquently revealed, much to the shame of Whitmore’s book. A useful quote from Hutton’s article shows that he was sincerely motivated from an objective interest in the subject matter, which, I might add, had also personally affected him. Thus I feel that he has been wrongfully maligned, much to my personal embarrassment.

Triumph [of the Moon] was therefore written not to demolish a belief system but to fill a vacuum created by the collapse of one. Both in professional terms and those of my standing among Pagans, it would have been far better for me had I been able to rescue the old orthodoxy instead. To prove the existence of an early modern Pagan witch religion, after all, would have been a sensational coup among historians, while to prove its endurance to the present day would have endeared me to all modern Pagan witches. I simply found the task impossible, and indeed it became more so as my research for the book went on.”

I guess it comes down to taking Ronald Hutton at his word, and there seems little reason not give him the benefit of the doubt, considering his stature as an academic and his apparent sympathy to the pagan cause. Others may quickly disagree with me, but I have always found it prudent to trust someone and respect their opinion until such a time that it is proven to be motivated by selfishness, delusion or deceit.

In regards to Ben Whitmore’s book, it’s easy to cherry pick someone thesis and find supposed holes in the research and the logic underpinning a theory, since looking at something in that microscopic way keeps one from seeing the context and the larger picture. Mr. Whitmore made a lot of suppositions as to Hutton’s motives and the scope of his contacts, even asking if he had ever read any of Carlo Ginzburg’s writings, when in fact, they know each other and have met. It would seem obvious that Hutton knows about and has read Ginzburg’s work, and the reverse is also likely true. There appears to be a lot of agreement between these two scholars, because otherwise, I am sure that Hutton would have gotten an earful from him when he attended a conference recently celebrating Ginzburg’s work. As I was saying, it’s easy to pick holes in someone else’s work, but to do it while promoting an alternative theory, or coming up with an explanation that doesn’t personally attack the integrity of one’s intellectual opponent is at the very least a basic requirement in academic circles. I was remiss in not considering what Whitmore was saying personally about Hutton in his book, and that taken collectively, they were quite damning.

Perhaps the most telling thing that Hutton said in his article is that he has always felt that there were loose ends in his book, and that his word was not the final word in the history of British Witchcraft. What he has written over the last thirty years needs to be seen in the context of a scholar who is evolving his theories and refining his opinions. We also need to keep in mind that academics are constantly examined, critiqued and even challenged by their peers. Even the most critically acclaimed theory will eventually be altered or even discarded by later scholars. Since Hutton has written his books and also circulated his papers, he has been intensely scrutinized by his peers, some of whom have devoted their lives to areas of study that he has only limited or rudimentary knowledge. None of these academics have disputed Hutton’s theories or called on him to verify his sources, which would certainly have happened if he had supposedly “baked” his results. I think that we really need to take Whitmore’s claims with a great deal of skepticism, and ponder why such claims are even required. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the unenviable situation of disbelieving and seeing some kind of conspiracy in nearly every academic discipline, not just in the study of the history of modern witchcraft and paganism. 

One thing that Hutton said in his article, which really reaffirmed some of my thoughts in the area of pagan survivals, was included in a statement where he talked about how he differed from other scholars in his approach, and that this was written into a paper that he delivered to an academic conference on Modern Paganism, at Newcastle University in 1994.

It took direct issue with the view, often heard from colleagues in the university system, that there were no direct links at all. I identified four: ritual magic (again); cunning craft; folk rites, both ad-hoc and seasonally repeated; and (above all) the general love affair of Christian culture with the art and literature of the ancient world.

Perhaps the only area of quibbling would be the possible survival of shamanic elements from the past, as shown by Emma Wilby in her recent writings (most notably, on the Witch Trials of Isobel Gowdie). Hutton doesn’t quite agree with this perspective, yet other scholars might find it a definite possibility. Even so, this could be an area where further research and analysis might reveal some new possibilities. It is interesting to note that Hutton had helped Wilby with her first book, even encouraging a publisher for it. He had this to say about Wilby’s notion of shamanic survivals: “Certainly I think some of her suggestions more speculative than others, and (as she knows) I worry a bit about her selective use of widely scattered examples of what can be called shamanism taken from other parts of the world. This, however, does nothing to diminish my enthusiasm for her work.”

Hutton’s studies has shown that modern witchcraft and paganism were not invented out of whole cloth by some untutored and eccentric individuals who were part of a fringe movement within society. If anything, a lot of pagan beliefs have been encapsulated and carried into the modern age through the folklore, magic, myths, art and literature of our popular culture. Those who sought to preserve and eulogize the various cultural remains of antiquity were nominally Christian, although greatly sympathetic to pagan themes and practices. I have often stated that modern Wicca and Paganism seem more to be the product of the British middle class than something that was actually antique or even atavistic. To inflate Hutton’s work as stating that ancient paganism had completely died out and disappeared, leaving no cultural traces whatsoever is to miss the overall point of his book, “Triumph of the Moon.”

Reading through the section of Hutton’s article where he deals particularly with Ben Whitmore’s book “Trials” shows the true nature of an unequal battle, where every instance of disagreement and protest in Whitemore’s book is shown to be hollow, inconsistent, erroneous and obviously extremely biased against anything that Hutton might have said in any of his books or papers. Hutton graciously but throughly demolishes Whitmore’s book, painting a picture of him as some kind of sectarian hack who doesn’t have the breadth or the depth to really logically dispute his theories. While it is not true that Whitmore is a sectarian hack, I did feel quite deflated by what Hutton had to say. Indeed, I had to pick myself up off the metaphorical floor and dust my clothes off, because, I, too, had felt that Whitmore’s book was compelling and insightful. I have now realized that the truth is actually far more complicated, and that academic disciplines are rigorously enforced and maintained for a reason. They can be wrong, perhaps even promote falsehoods, but not for very long, since the inexorable powers of change, new technologies and new discoveries are constantly modifying the collective knowledge of humanity. It also seems obvious that there certainly isn’t any kind of unified conspiracy within academic organizations.

After such a profound drubbing, there doesn’t seem to be much more to do except ponder why I so eagerly jumped on the anti Hutton bandwagon, when several of my fellow respected witches were not so moved. Why was I so eager to believe that Hutton was some of kind of fallacious shill for Christianity, when he has actually been our advocate, even considering the daunting limitations of academia? The question is really why did I need and want to believe that there were antecedents to modern paganism that survived intact to the present times? Why indeed?

Hutton goes on to state that he sees three scenarios affecting the future of the witchcraft and pagan movements. I found the first one to be optimal, and the other two to be quite pessimistic.

The first is that trial, error, and debate produce a consensual picture, solidly based on primary research and accepted by professional scholars who are not themselves Pagan, to which Pagan authors have made a significant contribution.”

The second and third are where witchcraft and paganism break up into mutually hostile sects, each with its own promoted history, and separated by geographic location and the length and breadth of one’s involvement in a specific faction. I found the second and third future options to be quite terrifying, knowing that they could represent the ultimate end of these sects and the entire movement of modern paganism. It’s a gloomy picture where these various factions, fragmenting into smaller and smaller groups, disappear altogether. With a shudder, I realized what Hutton was actually trying to say, and I felt compelled to deeply question my own motivations in order to realize the first possibility, and thereby negate the second and third.

It all boils down to a question of legitimacy versus authenticity. I had stated even in this blog that authenticity is much more important to me (and other followers of modern occultism) than legitimacy. But I was seduced, since constantly rubbing elbows with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Buddhists, and Hindus, I found myself secretly lusting after some degree of legitimacy. The other religions have been around for at least a thousand years or longer, and I was the new kid on the block. I wanted to be both authentic and legitimate, and Whitmore’s book seemed to open the door to that kind of self justification. I must admit now that it was a tempting illusion, and one fostered by unmet desires. I should be much more concerned with what actually works and what is meaningful to me in the present world, not chasing after fleeting ghosts from antiquity.

What all of this means to me is that I have emotionally bonded with a concept (legitimacy), even though I have emphatically stated the opposite. I must correct this error and even perhaps go so far as to admit it publically. The problem is that “I want to believe,” even though I should know better, realizing that it’s actually not important in the here and now.

Over the years I have found that the various magickal lore from previous historical epochs, which are available to us today, have to be highly modified in order to make them effective and useful in the modern world. Would that logic not extend to a verifiable antique pagan belief or practice? Would I really want to sacrifice humans and animals, treat women as chattel, own slaves and enjoy public exhibitions of murder and mayhem in order to be truly an antique pagan? Of course not! I am not the same kind of person who lived in antiquity, and in fact, I couldn’t even imagine what it was like to think and act through the lens of that culture and epoch.

Those times are gone, and the locations, languages, cultures and even the people are also long gone. We have only fragments from those times, and certainly not enough to recreate that world as it was. Yet it is those fragments that are so wonderful and amazing, and they have enriched our present world, even helping us to create a new pagan religion. My faith and practices were from sources that evolved over time, they were touched and given expression by many hands, and they were not invented out of nothing by some obscure crank. That alone should give me a sense of belonging and fullness, even a kind of legitimacy, and indeed, it actually does.

The problem that continuously faces me (and other occultists) is the balancing act of acknowledging the work of academics on one hand, and glorifying in the myths and lore of my occultic practices and beliefs on the other hand. This is a very delicate balance, and where problems arise is when I might lose my objectivity and confuse one for the other. These two perspectives are complimentary, but they occupy completely distinct domains - the one being the domain of objective science, and the other, the subjective domain of faith and spiritual wisdom.

Science says that matter existed before the mind, and that we are a product of a long and torturous evolution; yet religion and magick say that the mind existed before matter, and even participated in its creation and formulation. Both of these perspectives are correct, but it is important to distinguish between them and not confuse them. As a pagan, I can say that I need my myths, magick and my secret lore to subjectively explain my existential place in this world living in this time (and also, to define the powers and entities that are aiding me in this quest). I also need science and history, to help me build an objective context for everything else, which includes the populace of the whole world and its diversity.

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Solstice Thoughts

Summer is now officially here in the great tundra that is Minnesota, even though the Solstice is not yet arrived. The days alternate between cool and rainy, perfectly sunny and cool, and hot and steamy, with little balance in between. It’s hard to predict what the rest of the summer is going to be like at this juncture, but perhaps it might be warmer than last year. I have some plans for getting out on the water this summer, and experiencing the delights of paddling a kayak or a paddle board - we shall see. Summer days forces me to alternate between working outside in the yard and the grove, as well as keeping things maintained indoors. I have a lot of writing projects and work related tasks to complete during this period as well. Half of the year is already done, and there is much that needs to be accomplished before the short period of warm weather retreats in the face of the oncoming winter. Harsh winters make the summer days precious and infectious with their joy and zeal for spending time outside - even if it is hot and sweltering, with a very generous supply of gnats, mosquitoes, ticks and deer flies. Despite those annoying pests, I intend on enjoying the summer as best as I can, knowing that as the poets say: “and summer’s lease hath all to short a stay.”

During this month I will be presenting a series on the history of the Qabbalah and also a continuation of an analysis of the Twenty-two Pathways. This will likely take up most of the posts for the rest of this month, but I will seek to put in my two cents on various controversies and issues as they come up. I have already completed my articles on the methodologies that I use to perform invocations and evocations - hope you found them useful. Speaking of putting in my two cents, there is an issue that I would like to discuss here, particularly since it concerns a couple of posts that I made in the past.

One such scuffle is about a rather compelling issue that is being debated within the blogsphere, and it is the continuing exchange between David Griffin and his faction of the HOGD, and the Australian and New Zealand contingent, headed by Nick Farrell and Peregrin, with some occasional background heckling from Pat Zelewski. These folks are still arguing over the two articles that I posted back in March, where I discussed the three perspectives that seem to occupy and consume various individuals within the esoteric communities of the Western Mystery Tradition. Those three perspectives revolve around the practices associated with traditionalism, reconstructionism and revisionism. Often times, there can be a mixture of perspectives, such as with my own personal practice, where I engage in two paths simultaneously, which is Alexandrian traditional witchcraft and eclectic ritual magick. There is also the perspective of eclectic pragmatism. Still, I think that most people approach their practice in a pragmatic manner, using what works, discarding what doesn’t, and revising what is cumbersome and ineffective. You can find my two articles here, and here.

The essential significance of this battle royal between the above named combatants is really about whether there can be any kind of traditional approach within the Golden Dawn, or whether it is a defunct organization that can only be approximated through a reconstructive effort. I believe that both approaches are valid, and in my above two previous articles, I never said that traditionalism was better or more valid than reconstructionism. However, one thing that has been pointed out in the comments is that taking one’s approach in an aggressive manner can be hurtful and deleterious to others who may be operating within the same lore, but taking a very different perspective. Is the Golden Dawn able to support both a reconstructionist and a traditionalist approach? I believe that it is, and so both factions should be happy to operate unmolested within their sphere of influence and practice. However, when one organization attempts to attack the foundational creed of the other organization, that’s when there is trouble for the whole community.

In my second article I took a certain amount of umbrage to Nick Farrell because instead of being the good reconstructionist (in my opinion), and at some point accepting and believing in the myths and legends of the founders and their lore, he instead seeks to systematically destroy, defame and snuff out the myths and legends about Mathers and the GD organization, through which he founded his own version. Farrell has also taken it upon himself to publish material associated with the A+O inner court of the GD that could only be considered confidential and oathbound. The reason why he is doing these various nefarious deeds seems to be beyond my comprehension, since they not only hurt the Golden Dawn as a whole, but they even damage the credibility of the organization that Nick purports to represent. I liken these actions to someone poisoning a well so that no one is able to take a drink from the source. It is pernicious and shows that Nick Farrell really wants to hurt the entire Golden Dawn community. I, as an outsider, have found this activity to be disturbing and even a bit hateful.

Why do I even care? As I have said, I am an outsider to the Golden Dawn. Yet my reason for caring is that Mathers, Westcott, and even Crowley and Regardie are my heroes. They were flawed men with whom some might find fault and even discover mistakes in their work - some have even been vilified! Even so, I feel a great debt to them all because without their writings and creations, I would not have been able to invent the system of magick that I currently use and enjoy. So for that reason, I honor these individuals and feel a great esteem for the organizations that they founded. It’s my hope that someday I can perhaps believe that I have accomplished even a small part of what they were able to do in their lifetimes. I am humbled by the product of their work and I acknowledge the gift that they gave to the world, and to me. We can talk about their errors, vices, follies and we can disparage them, but they are luminaries in the history of magick, and we are but small men and women who are seeking to find a way in the world guided by the light that they have provided us.

As a traditional Alexandrian witch, what would my associates think of me if I wrote books defaming Alex Sanders, declaring that he wasn’t ever initiated and elevated as a High Priest into the Gardnerian tradition, and that he stole a Book of Shadows from his sponsoring coven, and from that, illicitly started his own tradition? If I said that Alex was a fraud and that his whole tradition was a poor and illegitimate simulacrum of Gardnerian witchcraft, and that because of this I felt compelled to publish my Book Shadows and other lineage related materials, I suspect that my fellow Alexandrians would be appalled at my words and actions. I would be branded an oath breaker and cast out of the tradition, and few would want to have anything to do with me. This has happened to other individuals in the craft, and I don’t need to mention any names at this point. I also believe that if I publicly stated that my tradition was a scam which Alex pulled off for a gullible craft hungry community, who would want to receive an initiation from me into that so-called “fake” tradition? Amazingly, these accusation have been made by a minority of Gardnerians against Alex Sanders and the Alexandrian tradition of witchcraft.

Of course, Alex Sanders was completely legitimate, even if the story about his grandmother initiating him wasn’t true. Alex was a real and true witch, and the early photographs and films that captured his work demonstrate how he sought, in an innovative manner, to merge high magick with practical earth based witchcraft. Alex Sanders is another supremely great hero of mine. Was he a perfect exemplar of enlightened practice and behavior - absolutely not! He was a complex individual, with virtues and flaws all mixed together. I never got to meet Alex, and for that I am deeply regretful, since he was one great occultist, witch and magician that I could have, and would have, loved to meet.

As an Alexandrian traditionalist, I safeguard my oathbound secrets and lore, whether or not any of it has ever been published or could be found on the internet. It is an important matter of honor, integrity and ethics, and these are the very qualities that I hold sacred, which I feel are very important to one following such a traditionalist path. Therefore, I can relate to David Griffin and Frater S.R. who act and behave in a similar manner with their organization of the Golden Dawn. However, I have found that Nick Farrell appears to lack any of these qualities, and he doesn’t care if he offends or hurts the practices, sensibilities or the beliefs of those in his community who are faithfully following a traditional perspective.

Just recently, Peregrin has entered into the fray with a recent article, which you can find here. He has taken issue with both David and S.R., who have translated their anger and hurt into humor by comparing Farrell and Zelewski with the Star Trek enemies called the Borg. I suspect that nearly everyone knows who the Borg are, so I don’t have to waste any time defining them. I can’t really blame them for making this analogy, since it was a way of dealing with what they see as an aggressive form of reconstructionism, where Farrell’s faction is seeking to completely negate the foundation upon which the Golden Dawn is established. As I have stated, these actions not only hurt other factions of the Golden Dawn, but they also discredit Nick and his organization as well. Still, Nick continues this line of aggressive behavior in his writings, and he appears to be backed up by Pat Zelewski. Peregrin pretends to be impartial and declares that David and S.R. are guilty of behaving in bad faith and seeking to hurt Farrell’s reputation with a slanderous campaign of comparing him to the Borg. It would seem that Peregrin hasn’t been following all of the exchanges that have been going on between these two fractious factions, and I suspect that he doesn’t see the humor in this depiction, either. It’s done to deflect a real sense of outrage and anger, and I see that as constructive.

As an outsider, it would seem to me that Farrell is seeking to poison the well and ignore any credible critique of his recent published work, in fact he is arrogant and quite insulting about it. Of course, what Peregrin is really doing is just fanning the flames, which seems to be his habit.  He does this in such a manner that it becomes quite obvious that he cares nothing for the HOGD organization and what they are seeking to do, with their honorable efforts to re-establish a link with the secret chiefs and inaugurate a third order. Peregrin compares David to someone who wants to be the Pope of the Golden Dawn. Of course that is absurd, since he has to answer to others more elevated and advanced than himself - those secret chiefs, who are not secretive to him. David has obligations, both to those below him, and to those who are above him. If he has made some radical changes to his version Golden Dawn tradition, he has done so with their permission and guidance. Whether we believe that the secret chiefs are legitimate, I can state for a fact that they aren’t fake or imaginary. David doesn’t operate outside of his authority, since that authority is vested in him from others, and could be taken away just as easily.

I found Peregrin's long winded article to be somewhat convoluted and even a bit confusing. He conflates tradition with a small “t” with Tradition with a large “T,” and also goes outside of the narrow scope of my original posts, which were confined to esoteric organizations operating within the Western Mystery Tradition (with a capital “T”). I won’t go too deeply into critiquing this article, you can read it for yourself and see if my comments are reasonable. David Griffin has responded to Peregrin’s article rather quite well, and you can find his response here.

My final word on this whole issue (and that means that I will have nothing more to say about it) is that peace can reign between these different factions using different approaches and perspectives if Farrell will stop seeking to defame Mathers, declaring that the Golden Dawn is a fraudulent organization and cease from publishing sensitive and confidential materials. The damage has already been done, but I think that things can continue in a peaceful manner if Nick just stops acting in a cavalier manner and doing any more damage to the Golden Dawn’s reputation. We don’t need to see the secret documents of the A+O and we don’t need to treat Mathers in a completely disreputable manner. I have no interest in buying any of Nick Farrell’s books because I want to keep my heroes intact and held up high, even if, in reality, they were guilty of the sins of being imperfect human beings.

Frater Barrabbas  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Evocation - Art of Spirit Exteriorization

We have already covered the three tier methodology for performing an initial invocation in the Order of the Gnostic Star. I recently gave an outline for this procedure, introducing my readers to the ritual called the Gate of Revealing. I had said that there were four tracks to be followed in that rite once the preliminary operations were complete. I then elucidated one of those four tracks, which was the primary invocation of a spirit and a necessary precursor to the other three tracks. In this article, I want to go over the track of Evocation, also known as Spirit Exteriorization because it brings the spirit from its domain into the world of the magician. This is done for a specific task to be accomplished in a specific time frame, which is analogous (but not the same) as a pact. While I might perform a number of invocations, I will rarely perform an evocation, because most of what I am seeking is in the form of insights and intuitive wisdom (gnosis).

Also, so I will not cause any confusion, my definitions of invocation and evocation are quire different than how they are popularly used in the ceremonial magical community. I have chosen to use these terms in an operant manner, which represents the functional techniques of invocation and evocation. For the record, invocation is not the summoning of angelic spirits and evocation, not the summoning and coercing of demonic spirits. Just to ensure that we are on the same page in regards to invocation and evocation, let me repeat what I have stated previously.

Essentially, there are two functional processes that are necessary for spiritual magick; these ritual processes summon the target spirit and cause its manifestation and focus its essence so that it may be projected into the mundane world.  Specifically, the first function assists the magician to make a connection with the spirit and develop its image, ideal form and characteristics; thus giving the entity a manifested body of light through which it may interact only with the magician inside his magick circle.  The second process is where the energy and personality of the spirit is sealed to a specific purpose and exteriorized into the mundane plane from the Inner Planes, thereby actualizing the transforming potency of the spiritual contact. The first function is an internal summoning or invocation (invocare: to call in), and the second function is an external projection or evocation (exvocare: to call out).”

Now that we have gotten the definitions squared away, we can continue with the discussion on the methodology of evocation. It is important to note that the invocation ritual has already been successfully performed before one ever considers to perform the evocation of that same spirit.

Preliminary Operations

The preliminary operations consist of performing the macro-rite that re-establishes the invoking vortex of the target spirit. These actions are performed within an already fully consecrated magick circle. The operator performs the following four magickal executions to arrive at the point where the evocation track may be attempted.

  • Unseal the four Watchtowers and the four Angles with an unsealing spiral. This operation should be done in a widdershins vector so as to keep the vortex quality intact. (N - W - S - E and NE, NW, SW and SE).
  • Reset the stack of two trigons in the center of the circle, charge with an invoking spiral and a violet colored energy.
  • Charge the eight points of the magick circle with the crystal of transformation (control crystal).
  • Perform the ritual section “Opening the Threshold of the Mystikon” in the Gate of Revealing rite. (This is always done in its full form, thus establishing the invoking vortex and western gateway.)

Evocation and Exteriorization of the Spirit

The preliminary action of evocation consists of a technique of imagery and prana-yama induced self-empowerment. The magician imagines in his mind a cloud of white etheric energy and draws it into himself through the cool-breathing technique. The magician then aligns his body chakric system through a special trance method and causes his body's energy alignment to assume the shape of a pentagram of radiant etheric fire.

Then the magician performs the chakric projection technique by first placing the staff against her spine and holding it there with one hand, (the magician can be standing or seated, but it is recommended that she should be seated), then proceeds to stimulate her third eye chakra with a fragment of consecrated host held in her other hand. While she is stimulating her third eye chakra, she begins to project an aetheric energy through it, visualizing this force while imprinting upon it her intention or true-will. The process of chakric stimulation and projection is continued until the magick circle is filled with this imprinted energy.

Setting aside the host fragment (or simply eating it), and still holding the staff to his spine, the magician takes the crystal of transformation and places it against his forehead, continuing the process of projecting his energized intent. At this point, the magician performs the Lotus 7-Breath technique, which is a method of prana-yama. This is a breathing technique where the magician  hyperventilates, beginning at first to slowly and fully breathe in the scent of Lotus oil, and then proceeding to breathe more rapidly until  a climax reached. He then holds in his breath with one arm encircling his chest while simultaneously attempting to forcefully exhale. When he has achieved the greatest degree of tension in holding the breath and attempting to exhale, the magician violently exhales and experiences a profound altered state of awareness. This occurs because a large and sudden volume of oxidated blood rushes to his brain, momentarily lowering the pulse and blood pressure. In this state the magician will witness the energies of the invoked spirit becoming exteriorized.

The magician then performs a form of the Qabbalistic Cross, using the Rose-Ankh device to charge the chakras of her body and intoning a word formula at each point. The heart chakra is the final point, and therein the magician exclaims that the Gate of manifestation is opened and the mysteries of evocation may now be consummated. This ritual action is accomplished, of course, when the magician has returned to a somewhat stabilized mind-state, and the staff is put aside. She now causes the evocation vortex to be completed, sealing the content of her intention into the crystal of transformation, by holding and staring into it in a fixed manner for a time. She then takes the crystal and anoints it in some consecrated wine (conveniently held in a nearby chalice), and then touches it to her forehead, activating the Ajna chakra and establishing a link with the evocation vortex.

The next stage of the evocation working consists of what is called “Walking the Pattern.” This is where the magician holds the crystal of transformation in his right hand, and beginning with the first Tarot trump of the pattern of the initiation cycle located in the first quadrant of the previously established inner magick circle, he begins to slowly circumambulate it counter-clockwise. At each quadrant, he carefully meditates upon the Tarot trumps placed therein, and passes his right hand holding the crystal over them. In this fashion, the magician slowly transcribes that inner circle, actualizing the initiation pattern, which assists in the process of  the evocation of the spirit bound up with the magician’s overall intention.

The final stage of evocation uses the double gate ritual pattern of the Iron Cross Vortex ritual to allow the invoked spiritual entity to be given passage from the domain of the magick circle to the outer world of material existence. This ritual must be performed immediately following the evocation working so that the evoked intensity of energies can find a pathway or channel into the magician’s reality. This process is explained in the next section.

A final note on evocation concerns certain precautions that the magician adopts when dealing with evoked entities, and also the method for contacting them and projecting their energies and influences when needed.  First, it should be understood that to evoke a spirit is to send it and its influences, aligned with the magician's intent, into the normal consciousness of the magician. This requires the magician to maintain a grounded stability while simultaneously integrating her mind with the spirit's qualities and energies. The periodic saying of a mass for the spirit will ensure that it is continually present and energized. But a spirit which no longer receives the blessings of the sacrament and the attentions of the magician will become dormant and inactive on the physical plane. It requires the focused saying of a mass to revive the connection with the invoked quality of the spirit, but after a certain time (from seventy-two days to three months) the connection disappears completely, and cannot be re-established, even with re-performing the evocation working.

One would assume that the stated intention that the magician has developed for the purpose of this evocation would also stipulate a duration or deadline for the desired outcome to occur. The magician who elects to perform an evocation should write down the stated desire on parchment in a clear and concise manner, and also state when this agreement or pact should end. The spirit is given a reasonable amount of time (as far as probabilities go) to achieve the stated goal, but no longer. When the time limit is achieved, the magician should burn the pact and give the spirit an internalized license to depart. If the stated objective is not achieved, then there are obviously mitigating circumstances or issues that have prevented it from being realized. Divination and soul searching should help the magician to discover why the evocation failed, however, continual divination from the beginning of the operation to its conclusion will help the magician know exactly what is occurring, and this my recommended approach to magickal evocation.

It should be well understood that because the evoked spirit exists in the magician’s psychic reality, contacting and channeling it requires no greater effort than adopting a momentary meditative state and then summoning the spirit. A more elaborate procedure would involve three actions, performed in a semi-meditative mind state. These actions consist of lighting a candle, ringing a bell, and opening the grimoire where the parchment sigil of the spirit is kept. While pointing at this sigil with the transmutar wand, the magician summons the spirit, chanting its name only three times.

The evoked spirit is always bonded to the intention and will of the magician and cannot act upon its own desires. The intention of the evocation functions as a pact between the magician and the spirit. The spirit therefore cannot function outside the boundary of the magician's intention, which was forged during the evocation working. The spirit is also unable to endanger the magician or to possess him because of the restriction imposed by the bonded intention. However, when the spirit has fulfilled the purpose of the intention, it is automatically released from the bond and is no longer held in the state of evocation. A released spirit must be re-evoked with a new intent in order to be accessed within the material world.

Iron Cross Vortex Ritual

The Iron Cross ritual is used to complete the evocation working, although it is not part of the Gate of Revealing ritual. Whereas the evocation working has up to this point generated a body and an intention for evocation, the actual process of exteriorization is performed as part of the double gates of the Iron Cross ritual. This ritual uses the properties of the double-gate West-East ritual structure to transfer a spirit from the world of magick into the magician’s world. The magician’s intention is imprinted upon the energies released from the evocation vortex and becomes the bond that limits and controls the extent of the powers of the evoked spirit. The Iron Cross ritual has four sections: the Crossing of the Gate of Darkness, the Vortex of the Black Sun, the Crossing of the Gate of Light, and the Vortex of the Solar Goddess.

In the section Crossing of the Gate of Darkness, the crystal of transformation is  fastened  around the magician's neck and three talismanic Gate Keys are set up in the format of the Western Gate of the underworld. The three letter Gate formula that is used for the Gate of Darkness, begins with the Hebrew letter Tzaddi in the Southeast, Daleth in the West and Tav in the Northeast. The Southeast Gate node represents those forces which assist the Gate Crossing, so with Tzaddi occupying this position it signifies that the primordial spiritual source has opened itself for the magician’s use.

The Western Gate node represents the issue which must be overcome, and with Daleth occupying this position it signifies that the primary issue is one of translating the symbolic essence of spirituality into the dynamic matrix of living consciousness. The Northeast Gate node represents the ordeal itself, and with Tav occupying this position it represents the process by which ideals influence matter and also, how matter alters ideals. The entire Gate formula can be expressed as the process by which spiritual experiences are expressed and communicated so that they may aid in the progression of evolving consciousness.

The second section of the ritual, the Vortex of the Black Sun, is where the magician builds a negative vortex of the darkened (eclisped) sun using the inverted swastika, drawing and charging this device  to each of the four Watchtowers. Then, the magician draws the Watchtowers together through the Iron Cross trigon that is occupying the center of the circle. The formula of the letters H. B. S. P. (Hebseph) represent the combined powers that are generated when the light and darkness of one’s soul merge through the force and wisdom of one’s magickal will This nihilistic quality is further compared to the Qabbalistic Negative Veils, giving it a profoundly trans-personal quality. These veils are also characterized as the veils of the Black Goddess who is the source of the collective cosmic unconscious mind. By summoning her symbolic imago, the Black Goddess functions as the mediatrix of both the magickal and mundane worlds, since these two worlds are connected by wormhole-like conduits residing at the deepest strata of being.

The third section of the ritual, the Crossing of the Gate of Light, is where the magician erects the Eastern Gate of light in the place of the rising sun. The three points of the Eastern Gate are reversed from that of the Gate of Darkness and are positioned in the Southwest, East and Northwest, respectively. The magician places the three talismanic Gate Keys to the new Gate nodes and then erects the Gate of Light using the same formula as used for the Gate of Darkness, with the exception being that each point of the Gate has the opposite context, i.e., that of ascension into the Light. So the Southwestern Gate node would represent the Symbolic Concept, the East would represent the Medium of Communication and the Northwest would represent the Process of Expression. The Eastern Gate formula indicates that the invoked spirit experiences transformation (death) in order to be reborn through the intervention of the Absolute Spirit, which is connected to everything.

The fourth and final section, the Vortex of the Solar Goddess, is where the magician creates the solar vortex by drawing and charging the Iron Cross device in each of the four Angles and the Infra-point, proceeding in a widdershins circuit, thereby generating a powerful vortex in the center of the circle. The subsequent Iron Cross vortex is  the final structure in this ritual. It is joined with the completed Double Gate structure (the Gate of Night, and the Gate of Light) and the vortex of the Black Sun, to create a potent etheric energy container that will sustain the evoked spirit after its emergence into the mundane sphere. To the formula of Tzaddi and Daleth is added Mim (Spiritual Transformation), and Nun (Physical Transformation). The magician then bows profoundly in the center of the circle and directs the energies of the fused vortices, resonating and fusing them into the Ultra-point.

The final magickal action is the sword dance that exteriorizes a focused cone of power or a yod into the magician's normal conscious reality, thus projecting the essence of the evoked spirit into the magician’s mundane sphere. This dance is performed with the magician pivoting in the center of the circle in a clockwise circuit, turning the sword over his head in a anti-clockwise circuit so that the energy is sent in all directions from the center of the circle. (This is, of course not as easy as it sounds, but some approximation should be done, even it is far more simplistic.)

Such a magickal dance begins slowly and then increases in tempo, until it is a frantic but controlled sword dance, with both the magician and the sword spinning around in a circle. The climax of the dance is where the magician sends out a blazing bolt of power from the tip of the sword like a lightening bolt (a “yod” of energy) and then falls prostrate upon the floor of the magick circle, having expended every ounce of energy. The premise is that the profoundly exteriorized magickal power will assist the evoked spirit to enter this world and speedily proceed to its target and begin its work.

This completes the analysis of the evocation working and the articles on magickal invocation and evocation. I hope that by sharing with you how I have uniquely developed this methodology, it might well assist you with developing or refining your own techniques.

Frater Barrabbas