Dreams of Adama-Zeus, of the thundering bowling ball, stumbling on a blog post about consecrating sacred space to Jupiter on Mt. Higby–it’s probably time to talk a little about Chesed and the pillar of God’s Mercy. While the discussion of the Tree of Life usually leads us up and down the lightning path, my work has led me to emphasize a different way of gathering the sefirot together. Rather than emphasize the middle pillar as the direct route, I tend to focus on it as the locus through which the tree comes into existence, it’s orchestators, the left and right hands (a distinction which, due to a quirk of my education, I associate with Zora Neale Hurston of all people).
I have been circling around this one for a little bit; I have an odd relationship with Chesed. I am comfortable with the Middle Pillar, comfortable with the Pillar of Severity, but much as I would like to find comfort and home in it, the Pillar of Mercy has never been easy for me. Chesed is a focal point of that. Keep that in mind: there are knots that I am working on here and clarity may be troubled.
Examined within its place on the Pillar of Mercy, Chesed falls midway between Chokmah and Netzach. Chokmah dwells near to God, the source, and through it we are joined to the whole of creation by secret sympathies in the mystery of God. In Chesed, that sympathy becomes manifest and erupts into an ordering force.
The association of Chesed with the Thunderer finds some of its basis in this: as thunder rolls down from heaven and sets everything in its wake to rumbling, so too does Chesed wash over us, reminding us of a common situation in which we are alongside others. Chesedic order can be terrifying because it so firmly reduces us to a place in the grander scheme of things. While it may not delimit us like Geburah, it places us firmly on the side of the many beneath the one.
I tend to give it this dark undercurrent, but it has a very positive aspect, especially when it is embodied in a leader. The leadership of Chesed is not one of domination, but of love. The leadership of Chesed is ever-mindful of the many that it draws together and makes decisions according to the needs of the many.
It is from this perspective that Chesed gives birth to Netzach, in which pleasures are freely given and shared with others. While Hod is born of Chesed’s doomed effort to suppress hardship, Netzach manifests through its natural and graceful generosity.
Folks like Pierre Clastres and Georges Battaille have noted that in traditional societies status isn’t the result of force, but of generosity. Those who have wealth become powerful by giving. This sort of thing captures the dynamic through which Chesed passes to Netzach. That is isn’t without its dark currents. Wealth relies on inequalities, it relies on one person pulling more to themselves and then using that excess to project itself (rolling thunder).
That movement, while compassionate, begins to draw a line between inside and outside, between those the force of Chesed favors and those from which it takes. Ideally, Chesed takes, improves, and gives back in a rough image of balance. However, Chesed’s ties to Chokmah means that it doesn’t tend to draw firm boundaries. Expansiveness and poor boundary issues?
Hmm. Perhaps there is a slight danger of injustices cropping up? This occurs on the level of society, with the formation of an elite who benefits more than others from Chesed’s giving back, but also in systems of all sorts. Life itself is a Chesedic process, drawing resources from its environment in order to live and reproduce. Idealism to the contrary, how often does Chesed make life just?
Chesed’s bad faith results from its necessarily derivative existence. Whether cosmic or social, good will operates in an enclosing (to distinguish it from open and closed systems) system and is partial. No matter how well-meaning or merciful, its mercy has limits and beyond those limits will tend toward either dissipation or tyranny, sometimes both.
(Sorry mobile device users; for some reason, they don’t want you looking at this great video. Perhaps they are just worried its grandeur will be lost on your smaller screens.)