History of the Qabalah
THE ORIGINS of the word Qabalah are not perfectly known. Qabalists themselves will tell us the word comes from the Hebrew root qoph-beth-lamed for QBL meaning “to receive”, and is said to contain in its name the formulae for receiving the fruit of the Tree of Life and successfully transcending the Knowledge of Good and Evil9, that is to say, conditioning or conditioned knowledge, which is the task of the Adept to transcend.
Factually, historians are unable to decide when the Qabalah was discovered. The first mention of it tells us that God “gave the Qabalah to Moses”; others tell us that Adam “received” it.10 Neither of these statements provide any real help. To add to our difficulty is the fact that the Qabalah was not written down for centuries, but was “given” or transmitted orally by the Jewish elders or Avot as they were called11. We know for a definite fact, that the Qabalah predates Moses and his tablet of Ten Commandments which historians date at around the 13th century BC; for by the time Moses came along to shepherd his people away from the oases of the Nile into the deserts of Sinai, the Qabalah was already part of the Aggadah12 and Moses had definite knowledge of it.
Some modern scholars13 suggest that by 10 BC, as many as one million Jews were already practicing and studying the Qabalah communally—though this figure seems somewhat exaggerated. We do know that as early as the 5th century B.C., the Merkavah mystics were writing about the encrypted knowledge contained in the Book of Ezekiel. The Book of Genesis, believed to contain the secrets of the forces of Nature and the wisdom of God, had long been the object of such studies already. Across the Aegan, the Greeks were studying the mystical properties of numbers, and Pythagoras was a cult figure in the Western world.
By the first century B.C., one hundred years before Christ was born, the Jews were openly declaring that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) contained encoded messages, formulae, occult significances and hidden meanings. By this time, mystics were already applying GEMATRIA to the texts, converting each letter to number and summing up words, adding, dividing, multiplying, and seeking the Understanding14 they found so elusive. Their method was simple if not crude: The number the word’s letters summed to was termed the “key” to the word. Words with the same number were said to share the same key, and so could be used interchangeably in different passages. Symmetries and then Geometries appeared. Some claimed that as a result of this word play a deeper meaning to the text began to unfold; concordances were tabulated and verified; and the Formulae exposed and tested. The promise was such that the news spanned the globe. Across the continent, similar procedures were taken up by Islamic mystics.15 Their results—the keys to the Hebrew, Arabic, Coptic and Greek alphabets—are presented later in this book.
It is only around the twelfth century when a rishonim (elder sage) called Isaac the Blind, wrote a book on the Qabalah, entitled the “Bahir”, that the notion of the sephiroth and the “Tree of Life” and other such constructions began to materialize. Still no one thought to extend these findings to the empirical world. Despite their religiosity and their affirmations on the omnipresence of Divinity, it would appear as though they believed this presence did not extend beyond the Book—that their god could be found active within its pages alone and perfectly absent from the world once they raised their eyes from the page.
By the thirteenth century, Moses de Leon, a Spanish mystic was writing the world’s first classic treatise on the Qabalah, the “Zohar” and signing it Shimon bar Yochai. It became the first popular book on the Qabalah and is said to have introduced Hebrew esotericism to the western world and is responsible in many ways for the dissemination of the Qabalah among Christians and Western philosophers. From this point onward, despite a general ban imposed by Jewish authorities on the study of the Qabalah in the Middle Ages, the spread of the Qabalah progressed steadily. Qabalistic writing is said to have reached its peak between the 13th and 16th centuries due presumably to the unprecedented number and quality of texts that were published during this period. During these times the roster of celebrated thinkers that were attracted to the Science and which contributed directly to the body of knowledge accumulated, comprises an impressively convincing list. Among these who considered themselves Qabalists in their own words, some of the more notable perhaps are: Raymond Lully (1232-1315), the metaphysician and chemist who standardized the Catalan language and for a time was credited with the discovery of ether; Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), philosopher and classical scholar who wrote what is still considered today to be the manifesto of the Renaissance; Giordano Bruno, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician; Cornelius Henry Agrippa (1486-1535), occultist, philosopher and physician whose writings are said to have influenced Descartes, Montaigne and Goethe16; Robert Fludd (1574−1637), physician and philosopher who was the first to reveal the basic properties of the circulatory system; Court de Gebelin 1719-1784, whose volumes on etymology, natural history and the origins of language were among the most popular books of the 18th century, who initiated Benjamin Franklin into higher Freemasonry in Paris in the year 1771 at the Lodge Les Neuf Soeurs (The Nine Sisters); Isaac Newton (1643-1727) who needs no introduction; and Leibniz, Newton’s contemporary and counterpart who researched the Qabalah extensively and attempted to broaden its field of applicability17. Paracelsus one of the fathers of modern science, tells us in his Das Buch Paragranum to “Learn artem Cabbalisticam, it explains all!”, while the philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel tells us, “The true esthetics is Kabbalah.”
This conception that the Qabalah had its zenith around the time electricity was being discovered is hardly accurate however. Developments in the Qabalah have never truly declined. With all these top minds contributing, we should not be surprised to learn that the Qabalah has far outgrown the dusty cellar days of Middle Age prohibition. In its constant acquisition of new knowledge it is continually outreaching itself; and the most remarkable advances are the most recent ones.
In the 20th century for instance, we had Aleister Crowley and Allan Bennet bring syncretism to the Qabalah, with a remarkable attempt to synthesize the traditions, religions, systems and mystical formulae of the major cultures in the world to date.18 Among these were included the Hebrew Qabalah, the Greek Qabalah, the Coptic and Phoenician Systems, the birth of the Enochian correspondences, the integration of the Buddhist, Islamic, Zoroastrian, Egyptian systems (and others still), and the first concordances between the Tree of Life and all of these. We can add to our roster of celebrated Qabalists, W. B. Yeats, Irish poet and Nobel Laureate; Jack Parsons co-founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who’s work on solid rocket jet fuel propulsion enabled NASA to send man to the moon; Carl Jung and Nikola Tesla who need no introduction and so on. We can add Wolfgang Pauli, Einstein, Georg Cantor, Harold Bloom and others still relevant in our comprehensions of the sciences and the physical World.
The scientific community is rapidly becoming aware of the organic, self-replicating Intelligent and communicative Nature of the Universe. A conference was held in the spring of 2005 by the Universities of Stanford and Berkeley in California to explore the insights qabalah yields in the field of modern physics.19
The 21st century has seen a remarkable expansion and adoption of the Qabalah by the general culture—very similarly to yoga. It is unfortunate, but as is often the case, the adoption of these exalted subjects have been appropriated by charlatans and profit-seelers and others who have very little in the way of knowledge and experience in these matters, and prostitute them for the basest of ends. Hence we see Yoga, being relegated to a ‘relaxation technique’ and Qabalah to the basest of magical superstitions championed by simpletons and popularized by coloured bracelets. These can only attract the coarsest of beings with the dullest of minds and the basest of desires (e.g. ‘wear purple bracelet to gain riches’; ‘wear green bracelet to cure illness’). For many, this supplies the justification for the practiced secrecy of old and the tradition of direct transmission from adept to adept. For there is the concern that more sensitive minds will be repulsed by the disorder at the Gates. But secrecy furthers not the cause of Education nor Liberty; and perhaps now more than ever, because of the loud, multitudinous din of charlatans and the consensus opinion of the general public who are very poorly educated on these subjects and so easily swayed, is the need to return these exalted matters to the realm of science needed more than ever.
9 A crude summary: QBL, To receive: Reception occurs through conscious study (Q: Qoph-Head) and balanced labour (L: Lamed-Ox goad); only when fortified by these two will the Student be received into the House of God (B: Beth-House). (Queen plane) Or: Reception occurs through the back of the head (Q), that is, the Word (B) is perceived darkly at first, but through the Work, is the Balance achieved (L) (King plane): This is the very sort of nonsense that the Student of the Qabalah is urged to avoid. Such interpretation is always a creative act, not an analytic one. We would be quite justified in alternate interpretations, one of which would be that a Reception (QBL) to the Back of the Head(Q) with the Book (B) will produce imbalance (L averse).
10 It is more accurate to say, however, that the Qabalah always IS and that it is slowly revealed to the mind of man as it develops and evolves, and what pervaded and structured existence in the time of Moses did so before Adam, and likewise does so today. It is man’s capacity for apprehension of the truth which grows in time, not the facts.
11 As in the case of the Books of the Old Testament.
12 Judaism’s Oral Law
13 Mr. Aryeh Kaplan in his book “Jewish Meditation: A practical Guide” Schocken Books; 2 Rev Ed edition 1995
14 A technical term, referring to Binah, the 3rd Sephira on the Tree of Life.
15 Idries Shah, “The Sufis” New York, DOUBLEDAY 1964
16 See his “Materialien zur Geschichte der Farbenlehre”
17 See Leibniz, Mysticism and Religion, edited by A.P. Coudert, R.H. Popkin, G.M. Weiner, 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers, for a quick survey.
18 777 & other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley Aleister Crowley ed. I. Regardie (New York, USA: WEISER BOOKS 1977, rpt. York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1993)
19 “Kabbalah meets Quantum Physics”, Kabbalah, Science and the Meaning of Life, Laitman Kabbalah Publishers, 2006