Threes are all over this blog, such that it seems a little silly to even try to provide a set of links that would survey it. It’s an understatement to say that the rule of three in the Saadia tree of life excites me (I’m starting to feel like I need that blog post on autodial). I wanted to talk about it last, though, because I didn’t want to pin all my associations with three-ness to the rule of three in a bout of confused over-enthusiasm. This post is more calm that it would have been previously, but there is still a bit of enthusiasm; please forgive me if this post is a little more fragmented.
I’m going to begin with the personal appeal and then proceed toward the model itself. Let me start with a quote from the Bible, one that was presented to me during the period when I was examining the mytho-spiritual dimensions of figures like Tamar in the Tanakh:
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in the earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
—I John 5: 7-8
This is precisely a match for Blogos’s preferred identification of the three as Air, Water, and Fire, in precisely the order he prefers. In short:
Father:Word:Holy Spirit ::
Spirit [Breath]:Water:Blood ::
As I said in a comment to a previous post, one of the things that appeals to me about this order is that it more firmly corresponds to my own experience of the fire, the heat, being ‘closer’ to the earth, not descending from above. It also does reveals something striking about the Holy Spirit. The holy dove appears here joined to fire and blood.
(Less dramatic, but still intriguing, is that the Word-Logos is joined to the Waters.)
My recent reading Pirjo Lapinkivi reminded me that there is another layer to this. The gendering of the Holy Spirit as masculine is a late development in early Christianity and that many of the early sects identified the Holy Spirit as feminine. A female spirit, that descends into world with fire and blood, making possible the work of release and transformation.
Holy Mother, and I’m sure all my smart readers can make other mythological comparisons which cut all across the historical and spiritual spectrum. That this manifested precisely as I was examining the marginal but essential female figures like Tamar who are the axis of interaction for two masculine figures suggests that the these myths form part of the code that illuminates the rule of three. Key to these female figures was their capacity to both receive and transmit.
Here, too, I wonder at how this connects trinitarian mysticism like St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum (which had a profound impact on my philosophical thinking when I was still in grad school) to the developments taking place in Islamic and Judaic circles that give birth to Kabbalism and several forms of Sufism, both of which have an influence on magical practices well outside their mother religions of Islam and Judaism.
The Christian material also reminds me that I was recently talking about the estimable Lady Anne Conway, who also happens to be one of the people (again, oft unacknowledged) involved in the <i>Kabbala Denudata</i>, which forms one of the key points at which Kabbalism flows into the non-Jewish European world.
But, yes, I’m on a tangent here, let me come back to center, back to the model.
We have the breath, which passes into the lungs, and thereby into the blood. We have the stomach, into which food and water are dissolved, and the nutrients pass thereby into the blood stream. Two parallel processes, united by the blood which receives the nutrients and transmits them throughout the body. When it comes to the actual air and water of the earth, it is the heat that causes them both to circulate, though admittedly without the discrete channels of the body, there is more interaction between the air and water itself (though, again, a lot of that interaction has to do with heat).
In short, the law of three provides with a way of looking at the relationship of energy to the process of manifestation, energy being one of the primary ways that the bodies defined by the channels of planets and stars move toward dynamic, interacting, shape and form. Again, this process which is essential to appreciating the manifestation of spirit in time is still explicitly temporal, one of the mechanisms through which the temporal takes shape and declines (energy acquisition’s connection to complexity and complication, as well as the diminishing return of entropy that governs declines).
Which also suggests that there is a temporal dimension to spiritual forms as well, a time of their arising and of their decline. That reflection provides us with a royal road toward appreciating the injunctions against idolatry characteristic of many forms of broadly gnostic theologies. The forms themselves are the result of the eternal, but should not be taken as the eternal itself. While the historical manifestation of this injunction may degrade into theological debates over monotheism vs. polytheism, the injunction itself arises from a place that would dissolve the very terms around which the debate begins.