The Qabalah - Secret Tradition of the West [part 1]
Whether or not the Tarot has its roots in the Jewish Qabalah as Eliphas Levi assumed, there is no doubt that this Jewish secret tradition, however spelled, has long and almost universally been regarded as a source of esoteric wisdom in the West.
It was not for nothing that S.L.MacGregor Mathers went to the trouble of translating the Latin of Knorr von Rosenrath’s Kabbalah Denudata (The Kabbalah Unveiled) into English, even if the veil might still seem pretty opaque. Or Gérard Encausse rendering the ancient Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Formations) into French, making an early appearance in L’Initiation magazine in 1887. His academic biographers André and Beaufils find it difficult to understand how he managed this without any proven knowledge of the original language and hint that he might actually have done it from an already translated Spanish version.
Be this as it may, in 1892 he came out with a book on the subject, called La Kabbale – for which he sought the blessing of Adolphe Franck, (1809-1893) a distinguished scholar who had produced an academic work on the subject back in 1843. The gentleman concerned, perhaps slightly surprisingly, came back with an encouraging letter, although one in which he kept his options open by saying he had not yet had time to study Papus’ work in detail.
I accept with the greatest pleasure the dedication you wish to offer me in your book on the Kabbale, which is not an ‘essay’ as you choose to call it, but a book of great importance.
I have only been able to run through it quickly, but I know it enough to tell you that, in my opinion, it is the most curious, instructive, and knowledgeable that has appeared so far on this obscure subject.
As Papus remarked at the head of his translation of the Sepher Yetzirah: “All the scientific, philosophical or religious teachings of the Kabbale are taken from two fundamental books, the Zohar and the Sepher Yesirah. It is translated into Latin in the Kabbala denudata and into English in the Kabbala Unveiled of M.A.Matthers.” (sic) It is interesting to see this acknowledgement by Papus of one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, even if mispelled.
Papus’ book of 1892 was succeeded, in 1903 by a much expanded version, retitled La Cabbale, Tradition secrete de l’Occident (Secret Tradition of the West) considerably augmented by contributions by friends and colleagues such as Stanislas de Guaita, Paul Sédir, Marc Haven and others – of whom more later.
It included an interesting set of personal lessons from the pen of Eliphas Levi, recently discovered, and which seem interesting enough also to reproduce here. Letters 1 and 2 include a list of Levi’s symbolic correspondences which devoted symbolists may like to ponder.
The numbers 1 to 10 accord fairly well with generally accepted attributions of the ten spheres of the Tree of Life, but when it comes to the Hebrew alphabet there is plainly a difference of perspective between adepti on one side of the English Channel and the other. Rather than taking sides you may find profit in meditating on what your own might be – and why! You can then start calling yourself a Kabbalist!
But whatever your conclusions, there is much good sense in the general teaching of Eliphas Levi who was far more experienced mystically and magically than most of his contemporaries and many who came after. It is certainly worth pondering.
ELEMENTS OF THE KABBALA
Dear Sir and Brother,
I can address you like this since you seek the truth in the sincerity of your heart and are ready to make sacrifices.
The truth is not difficult to find, being the essence of all that is. It is within us and we are within it. It is like a light that the blind cannot see.
Being is. That is, incontestable and absolute. The exact idea of Being is truth; its knowledge is science; its ideal expression is reason; its activity is creation and justice.
You want to believe, you say. For that, it is enough to know and to love truth. For true faith is the unshakable adherence of the spirit to the necessary deductions of science in the conjectured infinite.
The occult sciences alone give certainty, because they take reality for their base and not dreams.
They make true and false discernable in each religious symbol. Truth is the same everywhere, but the false varies according to place, time and people.
The occult sciences are three in number: the Kabbale, Magic and Hermeticism.
The Kabbale, or traditional science of the Hebrews, could be called the mathematics of human thought. It is the algebra of faith. It solves all problems of the soul by identifying the unknown, like equations. It gives to ideas the clarity and rigorous exactitude of numbers; its results are infallible for the spirit (relative, all the same, to the sphere of human consciousness) and peace profound for the heart.
Magic, or the science of the magi, has had for its representatives in antiquity the disciples and also perhaps the Zoroastrian masters. It is the knowledge of secret and particular laws of nature that produce hidden forces. The magnetism, whether natural or artificial, that can exist beyond the world of metals. In a word, to use a modern expression, it is the science of universal magnetism.
Hermeticism is the science of nature hidden in hieroglyphs and symbols of the ancient world. It is research on the principle of life, with the dream (for those who have not yet arrived) of accomplishment of the great work. The reproduction, by man, of the natural and divine fire that creates and regenerates beings.
There you have, sir, the things that you wish to study. Its circle is immense, but the principles are so simple that they are represented and contained in the forms of numbers and letters of the alphabet. “It is a labour of Hercules that is like a children’s game” say the masters of the sacred science.
The dispositions to be successful in this study are: great rectitude of judgement, and great independence of spirit. It is necessary to abandon all prejudice and all preconceived ideas, which is why Christ said: “If you do not come with the simplicity of a child, you will never enter Malkuth,” which is to say, into the kingdom of knowledge.
We will start with the Kabbale – which can be divided into Bereshith, Mercavah, Gematria and Lemurah.
Yours in the holy science, Eliphas Levi.
THE KABBALE – AIM AND METHOD
That to which one aims in studying the Kabbale is to arrive at peace profound through the tranquillity of the spirit and a peaceful heart.
Tranquillity of the spirit is a consequence of certainty; peace of heart of patience and faith.
Without faith, knowledge leads to doubt; without knowledge, faith leads to superstition. United, the two give certainty – but uniting does not mean confusing them. The object of faith is a hypothesis, and it becomes a certainty when the hypothesis is necessitated by evidence or by the demonstrations of science.
Science consists of facts. The repetition of facts suggests laws. The generality of facts in the presence of this or that force demonstrates the existence of laws. Intelligent laws are necessarily wanted and directed by the intelligence. Unity in laws leads us to suppose the unity of a legislative intelligence. This intelligence, that we are led to suppose because of its manifest works, is impossible for us to define. It is what we call God!
You receive my letter, which is an evident fact. You recognise my writing and my thoughts, and conclude from that that it is truly me who has written to you. This is a reasonable hypothesis, but the necessary hypothesis is that someone has written that letter. It could be counterfeit, but you have no reason to suppose that. If you suppose it anyway, you make a very doubtful hypothesis. If you claim that the written letter has fallen from the sky, you make an absurd hypothesis.
Here then, following the kabbalistic method, is how certainty is formed:
In following this method the spirit acquires real infallibility, since it affirms what it knows, believes what it must necessarily suppose, admits reasonable suppositions, examines doubtful suppositions, and rejects absurd suppositions.
All Kabbale is contained in what the masters call the thirty two Paths and fifty Doors or Gateways.
The thirty two paths are thirty two absolute and real ideas attached to the signs of the ten arithmetical numbers and the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Here are these ideas:
1 Supreme power
2 Absolute wisdom
3 Infinite intelligence
5 Justice or rigour
Samech Universal Being
Tsade Shadow and reflection