Tag Archives: Hebrew

Thoughts on “The Mystical Qabalah” by Dion Fortune

I finished reading this book several weeks ago, but I have been busy with work and not able to take time to write about this text. Additionally, the nature of this book and the complexity of the ideas conveyed posed a problem: How could I possibly cover such a deep book in a short blog post? The short answer is, I can’t.

When I read this book, I read it virtually with a close friend who is also a fellow traveler of spiritual paths. We would read a section and have a weekly call to discuss what we had read. This led to some deep conversations which were both enlightening and thought provoking.

Anyway, this book was originally published in 1935 and goes into deep analysis of the symbolism and occult meanings associated with the Jewish Qabalah (or Kabbalah). While the text primarily focuses of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Ms. Fortune does provide correspondences to other mystical traditions. Because this text is so dense, I will only touch on a few general excerpts and leave the rest open for exploration by those who are moved to read the book themselves.

Since the Qabalah is a highly symbolic structure, Fortune offers some sound advice early in the book for how one should approach the study of Qabalah.

When in doubt as to the explanation of some abstruse point, reference would be made to the sacred glyph, and meditation would unfold what generations of meditation had ensouled therein. It is well known to mystics that if a man meditates upon a symbol around which certain ideas have been associated by past meditation, he will obtain access to those ideas, even if the glyph has never been elucidated to him by those who have received the oral tradition “by mouth to ear.”

(p. 5)

Fortune is essentially stating that there is a kind of collective consciousness accessible through symbols, that the insights gained throughout ages by individuals meditating upon the symbol become joined to the symbol on a deeper level. These insights are then available to the seeker who meditates upon the symbol, most likely by the vibrational alignment with past meditators.

Fortune goes on to explain that, in addition to tapping into a collective knowledge, meditation upon Qabalistic symbols allows the mind to comprehend insights that are not available to those who primarily exist within our standard plane of consciousness.

The Qabalist goes to work in a different way. He does not attempt to make the mind rise up on the wings of metaphysics into the rarified air of abstract reality; he formulates a concrete symbol that the eye can see, and lets it represent the abstract reality that no untrained human mind can grasp.

(p. 14)

The last quote I want to share concerns what Fortune asserts is the ultimate goal of the occultist and the practitioner of the mystical arts, and this is nothing less than the union with God.

The Spiritual Experience assigned to Kether is said to be Union with God. This is the end and aim of all mystical experience, and if we look for any other goal we are as those who build a house in a world of illusion. Anything that holds him back from the straight path to this goal is felt by the mystic to be a bond that binds, and as such to be broken. All that holds consciousness to form, all desires other than the one desire—these are to him evils, and from the standpoint of his philosophy he is right, and to act otherwise would invalidate his technique.

(p. 120)

I feel that this book is a must-read for anyone who is seriously interested in learning about the Qabalah. While there are many more traditional texts by Hebrew scholars such as Gershom Scholem (a personal favorite) that explain the Qabalah from a more Jewish perspective, this book provides a wealth of insight into this rich and complex symbolic mystical tradition.

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“The Book of Thoth” by Aleister Crowley

I recently acquired the Thoth Tarot deck. The Thoth Tarot was designed by Aleister Crowley and the paintings for the cards were done by Lady Frieda Harris. The creation of the deck was completed in 1943, and in 1944, Crowley published The Book of Thoth which is contains in-depth explanations of the symbolism included in each of the tarot cards, as well as the correspondences between the Thoth deck and the kabbalistic Tree of Life.

Crowley begins the book with a basic description of the tarot deck.

The tarot is a pack of seventy-eight cards. There are four suits, as in modern playing cards, which are derived from it. But the Court cards number four instead of three. In addition, there are twenty-two cards called “Trumps”, each of which is a symbolic picture with a title to itself.

At first sight one would suppose this arrangement to be arbitrary, but it is not. It is necessitated, as will appear later, by the structure of the universe, and in particular the Solar System, as symbolized by the Holy Qabalah.

(p. 3)

Because of its correspondences to the Universe and the Tree of Life, Crowley stresses that the study of the tarot is invaluable in magickal studies and should be started early and practiced regularly.

This fact is to be emphasized, because one must not take the Tree of Life as a dead fixed formula. It is in a sense an eternal pattern of the Universe, just because it is infinitely elastic; and it is to be used as an instrument in one’s researches into Nature and her forces. It is not to be made an excuse for Dogmatism. The Tarot should be learnt as early in life as possible; a fulcrum for memory and a schema for mind. It should be studied constantly, a daily exercise; for it is universally elastic, and grows in proportion to the use intelligently made of it. Thus it becomes a most ingenious and excellent method of appreciating the whole of Existence.

(p. 31)

Although there are many levels of correspondences and symbolism associated with the tarot, Crowley emphasizes the correspondence between the twenty-two trump cards and the twenty-two paths which are part of the Tree of Life according to the Holy Qabalah.

Twenty-two is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the number of Paths of the Sepher Yetzirah. These paths are the paths which join the ten numbers on the figure called the Tree of Life.

Why are there twenty-two of them? Because that is the number of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and one letter goes to each path.

(p. 35)

The bulk of the book deals with the symbolism incorporated into each individual card within the Thoth Tarot deck. This information is extremely useful to anyone who wants to use this tarot deck, but is way too detailed to cover in a blog post. I will only say that if you have the Thoth Tarot or are thinking of acquiring the deck, you should also invest in this book.

A final word about this text. It demands a lot of the reader and expects that you have at least a basic understanding of kabbalah, tarot, and ancient mythology. I would not suggest this as a beginner’s guide.

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The Old Master Haggadah

This Passover seems unusually symbolic, with people isolated in their homes dealing with a pandemic worthy of being considered a biblical plague. For the first night, we gathered family members together from around the country and had a virtual Seder via Zoom, which was unique and actually worked nicely. For the second night, my wife and I will just do something low key and go through the Old Master Haggadah.

I acquired this book at a silent auction as part of a fundraising event, and I have to say I love this Haggadah. It includes the Seder instructions, in both English and Hebrew, and interspersed are stunning pictures of paintings by 17th century masters, along with a few paragraphs explaining the painting and its symbolism.

I will keep this post short, and just include some images of paintings that are included in this wonderful text. May you and your family stay safe and healthy, and may this virus pass over all our homes.

Inside cover of book

Rembrandt: Abraham Entertaining the Angels

Caravaggio: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Rubens: Samson and Delilah

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“Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine & Ritual” by Eliphas Levi: Part 1 – Doctrine

Many years ago, I owned a small business that was next door to a used book store. I had a nice little barter deal going with them, where they gave me books and I provided them with food and beverages. They knew the kinds of books I was interested in, and would let me know when books arrived that might be of interest. This was one of those books, and it has been on my shelf for 15 years, but I am finally getting around to reading it. I believe that we read books exactly when we are supposed to.

Eliphas Levi was a nineteenth-century occultist and magician, whose real name was Alphonse Louis Constant. “’Éliphas Lévi’, the name under which he published his books, was his attempt to translate or transliterate his given names ‘Alphonse Louis’ into the Hebrew language.” (Source: Wikipedia) The text that I have is translated from the French original by Arthur Edward Waite, famous occultist and poet, best known as the co-creator of the popular Rider-Waite Tarot Deck.

The book is divided into two parts: Doctrine and Ritual. I finished reading the first half of the book, and decided to take a break, allow myself to digest what I read, and share my thoughts. I plan on reading the Ritual portion in the near future and will write about that half when I’m done.

As with all great occult texts, much is hidden for the reader to discover, and this book is no exception. In his introduction, Levi points out that the structure of the text is symbolic.

The numbers and subjects of the chapters, which correspond in both parts, are in no sense arbitrary, and are all indicated in the great universal key, of which we give for the first time a complete and adequate explanation.

(p. 31)

As mentioned already, the text is in two parts, itself symbolic of divine duality: masculine/feminine, body/spirit, positive/negative, theory/application, as above-so below, and the list goes on. But now it gets deeper. Each of the two sections contains 22 chapters. These correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and to the 22 cards that comprise the Major Arcana in the tarot. This makes sense, since Levi stresses the importance and power of kabbalah and tarot as complete magical systems. So with this foreknowledge, each chapter should be read and interpreted through the lens of the corresponding tarot card, and the kabbalistic meaning of the corresponding Hebrew letter. Now, this level of interpretation is way beyond the scope of this blog post, so suffice to say that if you are not familiar with these magical systems, then this is not a text you should be attempting to read.

In the first chapter of the Doctrine (for correspondences, think Aleph and The Fool), Levi provides a definition of magic for those who are starting out on the path.

Before proceeding further, let us define Magic in a sentence. Magic is the traditional science of the secrets of Nature which has been transmitted to us from the Magi. By means of this science the adept is invested with a species of relative omnipotence and can operate superhumanly—that is, after a manner which transcends the normal possibility of men.

(p. 36)

So essentially, the study of magic is the study of the hidden laws of Nature. For me, this is why I see a strong relationship between physics and the occult. Both seek to understand the laws of Nature which form the inner and outer universes. Once an understanding of the natural laws is gained, then one can manipulate reality based upon interaction with forces that exist at the quantum level. But know that these things should not be taken lightly. Remember the Fool as he is about to step blindly off the cliff if he fails to heed the warning from the dog.

OK, if you’ve followed me this far and your head has not exploded yet, then you are ready for the last thing I want to talk about regarding the Doctrine. I’ll begin by citing Levi again.

Diseased souls have an evil breath and vitiate their moral atmosphere – that is, they combine impure reflections with the Astral Light which permeates them and establish unwholesome currents therein. We are often assailed, to our astonishment, in society by evil thoughts which would have seemed antecedently impossible and are not aware that they are due to some morbid proximity. This secret is of high importance, for it leads to the unveiling of consciences, one of the most incontestible and terrible powers of Magical Art. Magnetic respiration produces about the soul a radiation of which it is the centre, and thus surrounds it with the reflection of its own works, creating for it a heaven or hell. There are no isolated acts, and it is impossible that there should be secret acts; whatsoever we will truly, that is, everything which we confirm by our acts, remains registered in the Astral Light, where our reflections are preserved. These reflections influence our thought continually by the mediation of the DIAPHANE, and it is in this sense that we become and remain the children of our works.

(p. 108)

So the premise here is that our thoughts have a direct influence on the world around us. Basically, our thoughts create our realities. Now if this seems a little “new agey” you should know that this is supported by scientific experimentation in quantum physics. Photons react based upon the intended way that researchers choose to measure them. If it is decided to measure them as waves, then they become waves. If it is decided to measure them as particles, then they become particles. But they can only be one or the other, not both. Essentially, our thoughts and our will impact the structural reality of the world around us at a sub-atomic level. If you want to learn more about this, check out this article from Science Magazine.

So I have barely scratched the surface of the first half of this dense book. But that is all I feel I should share. Those who are interested in these studies can explore the text on their own. I will be sharing my thoughts on the Ritual portion of the book once I finish that. Until then, keep reading cool and interesting stuff.

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“She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

Laurent Pecheux, 1762

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

This poem is from Byron’s volume of Hebrew Melodies. So as I read this, I kept that in mind and looked for hints of Jewish mysticism woven into the verse.

The central symbol in this poem is the moon, which appears at night and possesses both “dark and bright” aspects. Byron expresses a reverence to the lunar orb and acknowledges the connection between the moon and the divine feminine. As I considered this, the Jewish mystic connection became clear.

I suspect that Byron is making a reference to the Shekhinah, which in Jewish kabbalistic tradition is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. The Shekhinah, like other goddess symbols, is associated with the moon, which represents divine light in the darkness.

The Kabbalah refers to the Shekhinah as feminine, according to Gershom Scholem. “The introduction of this idea was one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism. …no other element of Kabbalism won such a degree of popular approval.” The “feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature.”

“In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as ‘the daughter of God’. … The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The Romantic writers were deeply interested in all forms of mysticism and the occult, so it does not surprise me that Byron found inspiration in Jewish mystical tradition.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.

Cheers!!


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17

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