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Excerpt 33

Discussions on the differences between Jewish Kabbalah and modern Hermetic Qabalah

"In what ways does the Hebraic Qabalah differ from the Hermetic?"

From what I'm finding, the differences are probably too numerous to list, but my current understanding of the topic is too limited at this time to adequately represent them here. But, I'll give it my best and try to show a few main differences:

Use of divine names - The understanding and use of various divine names is quite different between the 2 schools of thought, to the point where there is sometimes little resemblance. For example, some Hermeticists might interpret Elohim as indicative of "Gods" and then say that because Elohim is attributed to Binah and because everything springs forth into manifestation from Binah, that it must be the 'Gods' who created everything. The Jewish Kabbalistic view of this term seems to have more to do with the concept of separation/division/plurality, and they'd view the idea of 'Gods' as missing the point about plurality existing within a wholeness/singularity.

Attributions of Sefirot and letters - older Hebrew Kabbalah doesn't associate planets with Sefirot. That appears to be an attempt to combine two unrelated systems of thought into a format that gentiles can understand and make use of without any extra philosophical filler. (Planets were observed and associated with things of course, but not to sefirot as far as I can tell. The only reference I've seen so far is to associating the planets to the 7 double letters.)

Concept of the 'Abyss' - only seems present in the Hermetic varieties - most Jewish Kabbalists find it very annoying when people show up in their forums asking about the 'abyss' and other hermetic concepts since they are viewed as distortions and bastardised borrowings from the true traditions

Use of Tree of Life - Jewish versions apply the tree directly to the body as-is without having you back into the tree (Binah as Left hemisphere of brain, Chokmah as right hemisphere, Geburah as left arm instead of an orb in your right shoulder, Chesed as right arm etc.). The colour attributions are also different from modern GD versions (not to mention the philosophy behind any colour attributions, when/if they're even used in a particular Jewish mystical school- all depends upon the school/text being looked at).

Purpose of study - Usually the same for both schools, but executed in different ways. (We're all trying to climb up the same mountain, just using different paths.) While the modern as well as ancient groups will assert that they only seek enlightenment, I've noticed that there are always by-products and secondary agendas (not to mention occasionally screwy philosophies) that always creep into any system of study. Which brings me to a point I made earlier in online discussion with Todd, that each system and group will be conducive to its own particular 'end result' in the sense that it will assist to make you into a certain kind of person with a particular mindset. If you don't feel comfortable with a certain group's mindset or you find that you consistently don't get along with the members of a certain group of practitioners, then you probably shouldn't use their systems and methods.

Use of Torah - To the Jewish Kabbalists, the Kabbalah is meaningless without the Torah - virtually all of the primary aspects of Kabbalah are based upon verses and terms used in the Torah (which is seen as a symbolic mystical handbook).

"Do each work as well as each other?" (- aside and as a later addition, I honestly think the Hermetic systems are a bit jumbled in comparison to the older Jewish traditions.)

Probably - after all, just because a tool is labelled a 'hammer' or 'screwdriver' doesn't mean you have to use it according to the original intentions of the designers. The Tree of Life and various aspects of Kabbalah are just tools, and so long as you're consistent and use the ones that feel right for you, then you'll get consistent results.

"How do practitioners/students of each version view the other?"

The Jewish practitioners I've spoken with view the Hermetic Qabalah as a pale wannabe reflection (a 'nice try, butů') of the original Jewish versions. For the most part, I get the impression in my own studies that later non-Jews came along and borrowed sections of things they didn't totally understand and then used their imaginations to fill in the blanks as far as symbolism goes. The actual practices of Kabbalists from centuries ago compared with modern magickians are often similar (though with often very different agendas). It appears that the Hermeticists borrowed the techniques and only part of the symbolism, and then took the whole thing in their own direction. Both systems no longer truly resemble one another entirely as a result of the separation (and occasionally radically different purposes and viewpoints).

"And finally, if the Hebraic Qabalah is the foundation of Western Hermeticism/Magick, why do so few students elect to go back to the original source of information, concentrating on more modern, and, dare I say it, eclectic interpretations?"

Probably because the modern Hermetic material is far more readily available at the local bookshops, hardly anyone wants to spend any time pouring through ancient manuscripts and learning to speak biblical Hebrew (which I'm finding is a necessity for any adequate coverage of the material), and because the modern Hermetic icons/authors usually appear more exciting to read about and follow than old Rabbis with hard to pronounce/remember names. Modern students in the West usually want whatever is fastest and easiest with the best and brightest coloured packaging.

As far as my own reasons go, I've decided to take the time to study the older versions of Kabbalah because I've never totally felt right about the Hermetic versions. The concept of associating planets with sefirot always felt wrong and out of place to me (and now I've recently found more evidence in the Sefer Yetzirah that confirms those feelings), and I'm finding that the air-tight system(s) developed by centuries upon centuries of debate and practice by Rabbis and Kabbalists are far more attractive to me than a mere century or two of work by gentile practitioners of borrowed material. Yes the modern stuff works, but when it comes down to it, I have to pick the one that feels more in harmony with me.

"The quabalah, to me, is the same as the kabbalah."

Heheh that may be true for you, but the Jews will still disagree with you ;)

"The Sepher Yetzirah, as I understand it, includes the planetary attributions, as well as the zodiacal."

Yes there are references to the zodiac and planets in the 4 versions of that text, but after doing some more research I've found that the zodiac is attributed to the 12 single letters while the planets are attributed to the 7 double Hebrew letters - not to the sefirot (I've recently found several Jewish references that support that view - see below). This would also seem to be in line with ancient Hebrew astrology, which, by the way, is not the same as modern Western astrology - the Jews based their Calender on lunar cycles rather than solar. When comparing the results of calculations of western and Jewish astrology, you could find that in one system you're born under one sign, while in the other system you're supposedly born under a completely different one. Also, it would appear that the Jews referred everything to their scripture, so that the 12 tribes of Israel/sons of Abraham are related to the zodiac (again, within their own system of astrology - not the modern western one). Finding what 'planet' ruled any particular hour depended more upon symbolism within the scripture than any outside observances, and the planetary 'hours' of the day don't appear to be identical to modern magickal traditions that make use of such things either (a Jewish day begins after the sun goes down and ends at sunset the next evening). So again, while the terminology may be similar, it would be a mistake to assume that the Hebrew and western 'systems' are interchangeable or yielding identical results.

"The magickal and mystical system of the Hebrew Quabalah is not all that different from the Hermetic Quabalah, except where the Hermetic system has not included the meditations and religious practices."

I have to disagree with you there. Both 'systems' make use of the same terminology, but both often have different connotations and uses for the same words (which makes the actual practice and interpretations quite different when you dig into them). While I'd never be so arrogant to assume that I have complete mastery of the material (most Rabbis in their 80's who've studied for decades can't even profess absolute mastery of Hebrew Kabbalah), I will say that I have been doing some research this past several months and finding radical differences between the Hermetic variants and the original Hebrew Kabbalah traditions - enough to abandon the modern versions in lieu of more ancient practices/studies.

Some differences in attributes/connotations of Sefirot between both Hermetic and various Jewish systems (using the Hassidic system of practical applications in particular - which stems from the teachings of the Ari):

Netzach = the urge to reach out emotionally into someone else's world

Hod = the ability to hold back/restrain one's self and not be over-bearing (a radical departure from the Hermetic views of Netzach and Hod being equated with the forces of Venus and Mercury)

Binah = Intellect/left-brained thinking (instead of Saturn and instead of intellect being relegated to Hod etc.)

Recommended Books:

Anything by Aryeh Kaplan and Gershom Scholem (but remember to read with an open mind while not interpreting everything you see with a Hermetic mental filter - makes assimilating the info easier)

Kabbalistic Astrology: The Sacred Tradition of the Hebrew Sages - by Rabbi Joel C. Dobin. Not a bad text as far as symbolism goes, but apparently some of his calculations are off. Useful as a basic point of entry into ancient Hebrew ideas of astrology and how they relate to their scriptures.

Above the Zodiac: Astrology in Jewish Thought - by Matityahu Glazerson. Another possibly decent text to check out for additional info on the topic.

Path of the Kabbalah (Patterns of World Spirituality/Paths) - by David Sheinkin (a student of Aryeh Kaplan). Great explanation of basics of Jewish Kabbalah. When I read it the first time it felt like I was visiting another universe - looked nothing like my normal ideas learned from studying Qabalah alone.

Practical Kabbalah : A Guide to Jewish Wisdom for Everyday Life by Rabbi Laibl Wolf. Not a bad book for getting the gist of the basics of Kabbalah according to Jewish views/practices, as well as some of their practical everyday applications.

God Is a Verb : Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism by David A. Cooper. An interesting read, by another Rabbi ;)

Kabbalah : The Way of the Jewish Mystic by Perle Epstein (a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov). Great info! Probably boring to anyone not interested in history, but I found it rather insightful.

For more book recommendations, visit my Books Page!

Taken from my response at the enochian e-list at Hollyfeld:

Honestly I still can't agree to sefirot being the same as planets. In fact, I found more reason now to doubt it than ever heheh. I did find that in the older systems there could be seen to be a connection with planets and the 7 double letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but not to the sefirot themselves. The letters describe qualities of reality, while the Sefirot (literally 'countings') describe quantity. Unfortunately for those who dislike mysticism, it would appear that the mystical 'drivel' is in fact the substance of the system, used as a means to interpret perceptible reality according to the worldview (and spiritual agendas) of the day, and to assist in the meditative/astral work of the mystics who used it. The 32 paths of wisdom (22 letters and 10 sefirot) are thought to represent states of consciousness, and in the sense that they describe quality (the letters) and quantity (the countings), they are said to be the basic building blocks of manifestation. They are also thought to be channels by which the Infinite/G-d communicates with Its creation, and by which man can make contact with the Source of creation.

My current and reaffirmed (now more than ever) conclusion is that planets and planetary energies would be placed below the level of the Sefirot entirely. According to older systems of interpretation I suppose you could say they appear to partake of certain sefirotic qualities in varied proportions (as do all things), but they aren't the sefirot themselves. Besides, they have more to do with descriptions of 'quality' than they do with 'quantity' in the Kabbalistic/philosophical sense (that's probably why I found them associated with the double letters instead of sefirot).