The Rule of Three

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.

11 thoughts on “The Rule of Three

  1. If you wish to complete your metabolisms I advise the following. Fire is ”energy” i.e. sugar, glucose – this *hexagonal* molecule is also connected to Tifereth in the exact centre of the two paths of fire and water in the Saadia 😉 o2 (air) + sugar (fire) –> H2O (water) + CO2 (earth –> i.e fuels plant growth, ”Aretz” Malkuth *pendulant* – not a path but ”an end and a beginning”) – all are carried by the blood – the product is of course ”energy” but really its metabolism (renewal of ”ATP”) or ”life”.

    The other point is about the water and the logos. The air breathed upon the waters and they divided. Logos or communication is only possible between the two, i.e. the one divided. This formation of primal duality is also contained in the first vertical path. As air ”divides” the waters into the left and right pillar of mercy (water) and severity (fire) Beit or Saturn creates the other duality between the macrcosm (interstellar space – utlimately Keter or ”Future” space travel being time travel) and the microcosm (chaldean solar system) crowned by Tifereth as the ”East”.

    1. Io

      Okay, I think I get the bit about sugar and the bit about Saturn, but If the fire and water are themselves part of the three horizontals, I don’t quite get the identification of them with the left and right pillars.

      For example, I would tend to think of the fire and severity as resonant, but wouldn’t identify them, in part because the fire divided the pillars, yes, but is joined to both.

      Can you clarify?

  2. In Kaplan’s SY he states that Mem is an overtitle for the pillar of Mercy and Shin is the pillar of Severity. In the language of the SY it states [Mem] is a pan of merit and [Shin] a pan of liability and Alef is the tongue of decree that decides between them. You could read this as placing Alef in the middle as the Ari does.

    In terms of the Saadia arrangement I suggest Alef is the topmost horizontal deciding between these pillars and also as the Air (breathwind – which comes *first*) which divides the ”waters” into the higher and the lower, or the left and the right.

    We must remember that when we talk about above and below we can’t directly apply that to the Tree because the Tree is representing a 5D space and not a 2D space so a lot of the arguments for putting Alef in the middle seem to emerge from seeing it as 2D. Higher and lower could mean ”superior” and ”inferior” or beneficent and maleficent.

    In the Saadia arrangement the letters are similarly divided with the harsh simple letters (nail, sword, fist, whip, eye, hook) are placed on the ”severe” side of the Tree and the merciful simples placed on the merciful side. You can also see various symmetries in the letters as you descend in 2D.

    In this way then the three horizontals are mirrored in the three vertical pillars. Alef the breathwind which divides the Tree as the middle pillar, Mem as the merciful crowned by Hokmah and Shin as the severe crowned by Binah. Combining these with the Saadia arrangement of the Depths, Hokmah is ”Depth of Good” and Binah ”Depth of Evil”.

    Again with the Depths (a la Saadia) Alef mediates between Good and Evil, Mem between North (cold/contract) and South (warm/expand), and Shin between Up/Out/Rise and Down/In/Fall.

    After reading your post and replying last night I went to meditate on this and I have to say that keeping the rule of 3, 7 and 12 in mind and then permuting the different paths in the different combinations is an interesting exercise but it left me euphoric tremulous and twitching as well as reflecting that I am the solar system and so are all of my trillions of cells which left me kind of maddeningly falling through the scales. Which was cool. As I said in a previous post I think experimentation within the rule of 3 ,7 and 12 is valid (and basically implied by the SY) but I think the Saadia is the ”resting arrangement” and one that should be used for ”calibration” before ”permutation”.

    1. Io

      Thanks, that’s helpful. I have the Kaplan SY on order, so hopefully I will be able to read through it soon.

      I realized when I woke up this morning that I had rushed through the Christian gnostic threes that opened this post. One of the things that it highlights is that that the three pillars are related *as* the three elements, but that they are not identical with each other, that the order of heavens (pillars) is not the order of the earth (of the elements), though they unfold according to a common (divine) structure.

      Which I take to be one of the basic features of the tree in general, that it describes patterns of resonance and affinity as well as ones of development. And, right, the rule of three is mirrored in the central pillar, too. Moon-Sun-Saturn.

      There is also a nice parity between thinking of fire as energy in all sense, since it is energy that ends up being the great limiter in the realm of manifestation and Saturn as the great limiter of the planets…okay, I will need to meditate a little on this. This is all still quite fresh!

      But that is part of it, three pillars, three elements, three kinds of things described by the channels.

      Oh, but, yes, I like your talk of a resting arrangement, in part because it seems to open the way toward a consideration of spiritual disposition and their variations, that we may have a personal resting arrangement, as it were.

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  4. simin tomasi

    Great to see yet another person taking an interest in the Saadia Gain commentary on Sever Yetzira.

    Did you mean for the quote from John to be understood as part of the Tanach? It’s not part of the Torah, Neviim, or Ketuvim (Tanach).

    1. Io

      Oh, not at all. I suspect that there are common roots to both John’s gnosticism and that of the Jewish Kabbalists, but I don’t think we could conflate them, either.

      That’s why I keep yammering about differentiation and communication as an effort to preserve the distance.

      I’ve looked at your blog here and again, and unless I misread, you come at this from within Judaism proper, right?

      1. Io

        It’s nice to make your virtual acqaintance properly. I’m sort of the inverse, an unorthodox sort with some orthodox views and interests ;-).

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