It makes me chuckle that the little PSA post I did yesterday got more comments, and more engaged comments, than much else I have written here. Clearly, I have to put a stop to that (I jest) and the only way to do that is to talk about the reasons why the Saadia tree came across as a bit of a revelation for me. This should be straightforward but more schematic than content rich. This is going to be a little fast. And you should expect tangents.
Up front caveat: I am not bothering with the Qabala / Cabala / Kabbalah game. It’s the kind of nitpicky insider-talk that gets up my nose. It puts (too) much weight on simple transliteration differences to establish traditions, especially when those traditions are defined by their common divergence from Jewish practices.
I get that they define different historical and cultural thresholds, that ‘Cabala’ is often used to refer to the 17th century English and German philosophers looking to Christianize the practice and that ‘Qabala’ often refers to the late 19th/early 20th century mostly English magicians and theosophists looking to retool the (mostly Christianized) practice. Nonetheless, both groups made frequent reference to Jewish contemporaries and antecedents where they could.
Making the transliteration stand in for traditions also provides us with some annoying obstacles to talking about them historically. For example, how do we address the use of the term in the earlier grimoire tradition where it is much less coherently joined to the Jewish practices of the same name? I would much rather just use one standard transliteration and specify divergent traditions adjectively. It being my blog, that’s what I’m doing here. /Caveat ended
In general, I have been doing a lot of spiritual work without much of a map. I have a coterie of spirits whose advice I trust and whose guidance has led me to productive places. I have geomancy (my own, but at first mostly that done for me by others), which is a great way to get the lay of the land and a sense of the paths available in my immediate environs. I have a ritual practice which seems to be about integrating myself with my spiritual matrix of affinities and capacities that join me to creation and the divine. Here and there, I have found useful texts that rounded out some corners.
There is a strong pre- and trans- and supra-verbal quality to this sort of work, and I have often gravitated toward the occult conceptual models of my youth and young adulthood to get some leverage on that and give some voice to the work. I have read around Kabbalism in the Jewish context (and Ibn Arabi’s writings which form a parallel trajectory in Islamic thought), but my earliest exposure to the Kabbalah that was promulgated along the Golden Dawn’s Kircher-derived pattern (see, look at how those adjectives help us get the stemma going). Several of my Kabbalah defaults still derive from it.
It surely hasn’t been terrible, though I have often felt a bit of strain around the edges, like I was missing something. The connections I was developing in my spiritual practice weren’t quite right for the Kabbalistic frame I had. Key to my spiritual practice is a robust relationship between the Sun, Moon, Saturn, and the stars. In the G.D. tree, this creates a strange little jig: Yesod to Tifaret with a sharp turn toward Binah and over toward Chokmah. It works, kinda, but the shift toward Binah and over toward Chokmah has always felt like a poor match for the intimacy of the potencies.
Well, if you follow the rules of 3, 7, and 12 as they are developed in the Saadia system, that mismatch is undone. Heck, if you haven’t done it, draw out the tree of life with only the three horizontal channels (I’m not going to address those here, because there is something there I really need to think through). Then draw it out with only the vertical channels, then only the diagonal channels. Just look at those for a little bit. I find them fascinating.
So, in the Saadia scheme, the planets are shifted from the sefirot to the seven vertical lines (seven channels) that join sefirot. The Moon is the channel to Yesod, the Sun the channel to Tifaret, and Saturn the channel to Keter. It’s a straight shot up the middle, no jig required. That seems like is should just be a simple symbolic difference, but it feels like a lot more, like it re-establishes the unity and centrality of the three planets to my work in an immediate and comprehensible way and that it opens subtle movements in my spiritual body. Weird, but true.
This is why the phrase Andrew and I passed back and forth in the comments of the last post is so apt: the proof is in the pudding (or, as Andrew prefers the older phrasing: the proof of the pudding is in the eating). Puddings all look similar. They are defined by being well-blended to the point of uniformity (Populus the Pudding Edition), but the good puddings are flavorful and that flavor ought to unfold gracefully in the eating. The G.D.–Kircher has always left me with a little bit of a sour note.
(To be clear, I’m not taking a hard stand against the Kircher tree as a rule like Blogos does; I’m agnostic as to whether it is objectively better, especially all of 24 hours into discovering it. But G.D.–Kircher hasn’t tasted quite right and this direction with the Saadia tastes a lot better right up front. All I would say by way of general advice is just pay attention to your own tongue, pay attention to how the work unfurls in your spiritual being. I try not to get argumentative about this stuff because I can’t taste your tasting. Do develop your taste. There is good reason why ‘culture‘ and ‘taste’ are semantically related in English. Anyway, all I’m saying here is, “this tastes good to me” and leaving open the possibility that it might taste good to others; perhaps to you, reading this.)
As an aside, it’s worth noting that this also recenters the material in a way that suits the Mithraic material where the Sun and Saturn are seen as two aspects of the same initiatory path, with Saturn being the highest grade. While that is incidental to my personal work, there are synchronicities around that which I find interesting.
It also resolves an important conceptual problem for me. My experience with what I most keenly identify with the sefirot has left me with a sense that I am dealing with something out of time, or, at least, out of our time. The identification of the planets and stars with the sefirot conflates the potencies which are out of time with the very temporal celestial objects.
Moving the stars and planets into the tree’s channels sustains the central intuition that what the model describes the interaction of the eternal and temporal, that there are eternal potencies coming into a deeper relationship to each other through the medium, or channels, of time. The stars and the planets are not themselves the sefirotic potencies but modes of the sefirot’s relationship. That’s strong Gnostic Neoplatonism right there; Plotinus could be proud.
Okay, look to those diagonals. Those are the constellations. They provide some needed connective tissue between the parallel tracks created by the planets. Notice where some of the densest action goes on. Look familiar? Yep, it’s back to Tifaret, where the Sun and Saturn are having their party.
Putting the dense interaction of the stars around Tifaret also provides an explanation for the power that the stars have over the destiny embedded in Tifaret. Thinking a little outside of the box, and back to the relationship between the disposition of the anima mundi and the reception of celestial influence, it’s possible to conceive of stellar influences deriving from constellations described by other cultures or constellations derived from direct gnosis. That’s big plus for me.
We can also start to talk about patterns uniting people spiritually at the level of Tifaret that are real and objective but not easily reducible to matters of culture or geography. In theory, too, it makes the tree itself into a more dynamic model for how to model the cosmos. From this perspective, it is a tool that could be exported to other regions of the cosmos. That’s pretty theoretical, but I don’t think it is theoretical in a dull or uninteresting fashion. Sun Ra.
Imagine that we could derive a Kabbalistic diagram of the relationship between the eternal and temporal in other solar systems or other locales within this solar system. Thinking about it less as a precise cosmology and instead as a model for how to produce local cosmologies goes interesting places. Notice that there is an implicit 4 that connects the 3 to both 7 and 12. There is a 3+4 and a 3×4.
The use of addition to describe the planetary influence provides us with a general model for how planets interact with each other as spiritual beings, by contributing one more thing, and one more thing, and one more thing, to the spiritual bodies receiving their influence. Mars brings one property, Venus another, and so on. We can begin to note that there is surely an Earthly influence on the other planets.
The use of multiplications suggests an intensive dimension to the stars, to relationships between celestial objects that mimic the stars. They don’t so much add something new to the mix, but intensify (or de-intensify) elements already in play. Maybe think about how non-stellar objects outside the solar system would exert a (likely very subtle) influence on the Earth *like* a star.
This allows us to recoup some of the insights of traditional astrology (like the way specific constellations tend to strengthen and weaken the influence of planets) without reducing us to the limited elements in that system. It does, however, give a certain primacy to those elements as being the most broadly influential (though it erodes a lot of the predictive claims since small elements could produce a good bit of subtle chaotic complexity).
It is still tasting really good to me, though, yes, I’ve had only a few tasty teaspoonfuls of the pudding.
P.S. With all this talk of space and Kabbalism, let me end with an acknowledgment to the recently departed Leonard Nimoy, whose portrayal of Spock is part of what kindled my passion for all this, who himself sat betwixt some of these threads, and whose basic human and humane decency I always admired.