PSA: How (Not) to Write about the Kabbalah

I have mostly used the Kabbalah as a loose, baggy sort of vehicle for talking about other things. I have found the categories and structures to be useful framing device, in part because it allows me to imagine a potential reader.

After reading this article over on Hermetic Lessons, I think I’ll be doing a lot less of that. It’s really useful and straightforward. It also points out one of the most obvious mistakes I’ve (lazily) inherited from having first been exposed to the Kabbalah through ceremonial magicians: attaching planets to the sefirot.

The funny thing about this is that while I haven’t made extensive use of the Kabbalah’s tree in my practice, the use of a mediocre version of it to explicate, even loosely, some of what I have learned and developed from that practice introduces a subtle distortion throughout. So, less of that going forward will be a must.


16 thoughts on “PSA: How (Not) to Write about the Kabbalah

  1. It’s true that it’s risky to use Kabbalah as a short-hand or vehicle for talking about other things. And Blogos is right that the Kircher tree is a corruption or mistranslation of the traditional diagrams from Judaism’s version of Kabbalah.

    However, it may be valuable to recognize that the planetary correspondences, like the correspondences to the ten categories of Aristotle, and to the elemental structures in Taoism (which uses a slightly different diagram arranged on top of essentially the same underpinning geometry), are all intended to provide a bit of a map to consciousness, rather than being the territory of consciousness. Aristotle’s categories and Taoism’s elements and Hermetic planets don’t necessarily belong in a tree rooted in a mystical exploration of the letters of the Hebrew alephbet, but they’re a useful bit of spiritual tech pinned on to someone else’s leftover donkey.

    Which is to say, I don’t disagree with Blogos. Certain kinds of patterns emerge when one version of the tree is used rather than another, and there’s a high degree of validity to using the Saadia material, for example, instead of Kircher. But Kircher has its own logic, too, and leads to useful places despite being rooted in ‘mistakes’.

    1. Io

      I obviously don’t disagree since I don’t think that the work I have done using the broadly Kircher-derived system is precisely wrong.

      But what I did notice is that as soon as I wrapped my head around the basic criticisism Blogos was making, I could almost literally hear the tree begin to klick-klack in my head, like the associations I had derived from the Kircher family had served as a sort of crust that was halting some gears from turning.

      Of course, a lot of my stuff has been influenced by working through folks like Ibn Arabi (whose approach to Arabic parallels the sort of Kabbalistic approach to Hebrew) and Gleason (whose discussion of Ifa helps position it in horizon of medieval Islam), so it’s perhaps not surprising that the broadly Kircher family of ceremonial magic would get in the way of that.

      But, even with that qualification, I keep thinking about how far we can get on metaphor alone in general, and wonder if a lot of the Kircher syncretism ‘works’ as metaphor works.

      And I speak neither Hebrew nor Arabic, which is part of the reason that I tend to use the high mysticism of Sufism and Kabbalism lightly, because I feel like it can only apply at a remove, under the stress of translation.

      I’m still chewing a lot over with this, but pruning back the tree is promising to be very enlightening. It’s more than that, though, because it seems to be opening up something at a deeper level than the intellectual.

      When I was a kid, I had to sort of consciously learn to walk and talk properly–I had a minor lisp (l-w substitition; no lizards, only wizards 😉 and for some reason walked with my feet turned all wrong. Every once in a while, I still catch a little of whatever made that necessary creeping back into my gait or my speech and have to consciously straighten things back out so I don’t get weird aches and twisty posture or sloppy talking. The feeling I have around this feels a bit like that, like I’m shaking off some bad posture and poor articulation.

      Anyway, that’s a lot of talking for something I’m still feeling around the edges of. The proof, as they say, will need to be in the pudding.

      1. The full maxim is that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” It may look terrible, but if it’s sweet and interesting on the tongue, that’s the point of success. I’ve largely dropped ceremonial magic’s Hebrew play from my magical work, as (to me) it feels appropriative, and too tied in to the books of the Bible… I may come back to it someday, but at the moment it feels like working with something that isn’t mine. The druidic work has got enough, between Aristotlean categories, alchemical references, and geomancy on the tree, to feel like I’ve got work to do that’s valuable. And all of **that** material slots in nicely to the diagram I already know.

        I’m glad that we’re going deep on this stuff. But I’m also glad that there’s more than one way to use the underlying geometry of the diagram, and get parallel but not exactly-the-same results.

  2. Blogos

    Thank you ViaGnostica for spreading the word – yes it is this simple and people need to understand how awful the Kircher Tree is. They should also experiment with arrays that do obey the rule of 3 7 and 12 as they will find their praxis immeasurably enriched.

    Andrew, I do disagree with you. I really dislike the argument of ”whatever works” however it is phrased. ”Leads to useful places” is a position that can only be defended if the Tree has been fully explored in this manner which I will show is impossible. Generally when people make this argument they haven’t even barely explored the potential of tradtional arrays let alone compared the erroneous Kircher with other errors to see how those errors compare.

    If you do believe that the Tree is essentially plastic and one can move the letters anywhere then a) you have 22! ( a huge number) of possible arrangements each with their own utility and b) you should also not be spreading the Kircher Tree but spreading a diagram which emphasises that plasticity a la the ”Tree of Gates” you see at the top page of my Blogos. In order to make the argument for the Kircher you need to make the argument for all 22! and also understand that you are in clear *violation* of the rule of 3, 7 and 12 which is *obviously* imbedded in the diagram as it is in the Alefbeit. People tend to defend the utility of the Kircher Tree because they have had ”some results” with it. You (general pronoun) will have results with it from the *Sefirot* but the misplacement of the paths is hindering your work but because you (general pronoun) have not fully explored you lack context to make the comparison. The rule yields an extremely simple elegant system without the heavy rhetoric that comes with justifying Kircher.

    Also bear in mind that all the traditional Jewish Trees i.e. the Gra, Ari etc *do* obey this division of 3, 7 and 12. Its obvious. So it kind of shows ignorance, an ignorance which we wouldn’t accept these days when it comes to other traditions so why do we accept it regarding Jewish Kabbalah? Mainly it is because too many people in the WMT have wasted too much time on the Kircher Tree whether writing about it or loosely practising with it and they have to defend their vested interest. Lets be honest.

    Kircher is rooted in a mistake as you admit, can’t you see the potential danger in that? It is deviating from the rule of 3, 7 and 12 that leads to errors. I am happy to discuss permutations of the 3 mothers within their 3 horizontal places, the 7 within their 7 etc and I think a fluid approach here does yield results. I personally prefer the Saadia to the Ari and I think this is an argument worth having. Defending Kircher is not. Most mutations are deleterious in the end and that is what the Kircher Tree is and has done.

    If people in the WMT are really so foolish they wish to waste their time exloring obvious mistakes knock yourselves out. You have this many to explore to make your argument plausible – 1.1240007e+21. I expect practical reports comparing and contrasting their ”usefulness”.

    Seriously how much work have you done with the Sefer Yetzirah and Jewish Kabbalah vis a vis the Kircher? Are you an experienced QBList/KBList?

  3. Great news Lo – you will find your work enriched I promise. I completely sympathise with the klickklack – Kircher has a lot to answer for in this respect. Please get a copy of Aryeh Kaplan’s Sefer Yetzirah in Theory and Practice its an amazing work and if there is anything I can personally do to help you, please write to me or comment on my blog.

  4. Io

    Hey Blogos, it’s Io with an ‘i’ rather than an ‘L’; you can also just call me Ian (also with an ‘i’; this font doesn’t make that clear). Viagnostica is just the blog name, not so much mine. Nice to make your online acquaintance.

    Thanks for the book recommendation–I’ve poked around your blog a bit and it’s interesting stuff. I’m chewing over some of the endocrine system material. It makes some sense to me based on some limited experience I’ve had. I also quite like taking pathwalking out to actual path walking. (Andrew–it actually reminded me a bit about one of the first posts I read of yours where you were doing the mountain-jupiter path sacralizing).

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  6. Hi Ian I am glad you find the material interesting if you have any specific questions let me know.

    Just something that may interest you in particular is a revelation I received from working with Enlil (of which there have been many). Back when I started remembering the QBL from previous lives I remembered it as a system of rivers, particularly ”the rivers of time” as opposed to a tree. Then a few years back Enlil drew me towards this – I should have known…

    What do you make of that>? I checked with a few experts and they told me that it was nowhere in QBListic records but it seems to make sense to me.

    1. Io

      That is visually very suggestive. As my partner said when I mentioned it to her, “Babylon the Golden.” Have you taken a look at whether any of the points seem to have correspondences with the Babylonian world? Even if they didn’t match literal geography, the Babylonians would be the sort to project an ideal order outward over the region.

      It also wouldn’t be terribly surprising if the Hebrews fresh from the captivity were eager to both tap into the prestige of the Babylonians and obscure the influence of the captivity on their practices…

      Getting past the historical speculation, though…whew, Enlil on the mountain from which the rivers flow. Which also puts the top of the tree in the general region where you find the really old ritual sites like Gobekli Tepi, right? That’s got a lot going on…

      1. Yes exactly! By all means do the research work… I don’t claim any of my ideas as my own they are for everyone. I looked into it and was immediatly struck by the possibilities of actual paths… But often maps lay multiple cities of ancient civilizations on the same map so its difficult to get a clear picture.

        My own memory gave me the ”Ignorant Genius” (notice the ”Igi” in my ”memory”) at the top of the world (the mountains, Ignorant Genius is the character for Kether, I have, or was given Ignorant Fool for Chokmah) who built great machines to suck down the clouds from the sky so they would not obstruct his view of the stars and created the twin (helical) rivers as a *by product* of his quest for ultimate meaning.

        The physiognomical characters were said to live along the banks of the river… the DNA structure suggested by the rivers as well… the links to the Garden of Eden… and you’re right about the Babylonians or forebears lost in time could project an ideal structure. What do you know about Dilmun? Also when Enlil began communications he drew my attention to Kish specifically where Kingship was said to return after the flood? Do you have anything on that? I think the city it was in last was Lagash, am I correct? I think the ziggurat of Nippur is also prob. highly significant. I am really glad you got something out of it and please go wild and feel free to develop the idea I am very happy to share the project.

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