The little back and forth I had with Blogos on the last post helped bring home how subtly the rule of three operates across the tree of life. I suspect there is more than I’m seeing even with that awareness, but I want to keep chewing away on it. So, to take a quick tally:
- three horizontal lines that define the channels of the elements,
- three pillars that broadly divide the sefirot, and the three planetary channels joining Keter and Malkuth.
- three mother letters
I realize that I am operating under a basic hermeneutic rule that I should make explicit: I eagerly identify sympathies, but avoid identities. In other words, while I will note the sympathy between Holy Spirit, Fire, and Blood, I aim to keep them distinct and differentiated from each other. That seems to provide me with the most dynamic sense of what is going on in the system.
This is what the Holy Spirit : Fire :: Word : Water notation system is all about. The single colon reads “is to” and the double colon reads “as.” The “is to…as” logic models structural commonalities but preserves the ontological differences between the elements related.
Okay, so when we talk about the multiple but distinct layers of three in this way, there is something useful to extract from the quotation from I John. The ‘trinity in heaven’ is nowhere on the sefirotic model, but stands one step beyond it (arguably the ‘levels’ beyond Keter). So, while parallel and sympathetic, it isn’t precisely the same as any of the threes, either. I suspect these parallels emerge from a common, rich bed of Mesopotamian lore.
So, setting those aside as trans-sefirotic, what do we see on the tree itself?
First, the tree divides its stable elements into three ontologically distinct realms, that of the eternal (occupied by the sefirotic powers), the heavenly (occupied by the stars and planets), and the constitutive (occupied by the elements). Each of those three realms has a figure that rules over the others.
Second, there are the subtle cross-resonances that bring the realms into synchrony: air, Moon, and the middle pillar; water, Sun, and right-hand pillar of mercy; fire, Saturn, and the left-hand pillar of severity.
Third, there is an intriguing dispensation of authority between the realms. At the highest level, in heaven, we find the eternal itself which divides and make possible the triune order. At the level of the heavens, we find the Sun ruling over the planetary powers. Fire (or energy) oversees the the elements. I have a feeling this sort of thinking might make the Book of Revelations sing.
Those synchronies also seem to lay the groundwork for more complex dynamics between the three realms. The Moon’s power over the tides, for example, resonates with the way in which the middle pillar divides the waters both in the unfolding of creation and for Moses to lead the Jews from captivity.
(I’m sure the parallel there isn’t accidental since, as I understand it, it is from this incident that the 72 Kabbalistic names of God are drawn. That there are 72 demons in the Lemegeton provides us with one more good reason to talk about them as part of the history of the Kabbalah and to consider titles like the grimoiric “Kabbalah of the Green Butterfly” at their word, as modeled, however distantly, on the Kabbalistic material proper. That’s a big tangent, though, and one I may not bother to take.)
When we talk about the order of the heavens and the Moon’s indirect influence on the waters, it looks to me like we are seeing some hints of the contemporary understanding of gravity and other mechanistic forces. Tracing the emergence of complexity from the interactions of such elements, as well the relationship of that complexity to systems of divination relying upon sortilege, seems like one more avenue of study opened by this approach to the Kabbalistic material.
It’s also an avenue that personal gnosis regarding the lunar dimensions of geomancy have suggested, which makes the model all the more appealing. Consider that the Moon in itself has ties to confusion (the other side of complexity) and I begin to wonder if that is an essential dimension to certain forms of revelation. In passing through the channel of the Moon, the influence of the middle pillar is both concealed and revealed. It also provides some insight into how randomness in divination is able to provide us glimpses relating to our spiritual constitution, which is an eternal matter.
The relationship between Moon and water is paralleled by a relationship between Sun and fire. While the Moon has influence over the waters by virtue of its connection to God, the Sun acquires influence over fire (energy) on the Earth as the ‘regent’ of the planetary system. Much of the energy in the living systems of the Earth begin with photosynthesis, the transfer of solar energy into metabolic energy. This influence also gives the Sun its fearsome aspect, its capacity to burn and dessicate.
That establishes Saturn’s affinity for air, and the breath is one of our basic synecdoches of life. Saturn, as taker of the breath, becomes death. Here we also see the relationship between Saturn and all things of a subtle nature which, like air, are difficult to discern but essential. The air as atmosphere is also the envelope in which life as we know it becomes possible.
I can start to see the outline for how these synchronies might manifest differently, too, outside of the resting configuration. How might this look from the perspective of a fish for whom the open air is death? Or to a plant that drinks in the sun? That seems to provide another angle for considering the function of materia in ritual operations, as the dynamic locus of permutation.
Now, the science of letters forms the last component of this ontology into mobile features and its one that I am only passingly able to address at this point. I think it also leads to a slight revision in how I conceive all of this. If I extend my system of correspondences out a bit, it looks like this (not all of them being strictly Kabbalistic):
Father : Word : Holy Spirit ::
Sefirot : Letters : Channels ::
Constellations : Planets : Elements ::
Saturn : Moon : Sun ::
Air : Water : Fire ::
Breath : Water : Blood
The letters are some of the most mobile elements, right? As I understand (or misunderstand, as the case may be) Blogos, one of the major shifts in working the Saadia tree comes in being able to manipulate the locations of the letters within the tree as you have embodied it. To talk about a ‘resting configuration’ is to talk about the way in which the letters ‘rest’ within the otherwise firm structure of the tree.
There is something to be had here regarding the 72 names previously mentioned, which are themselves all composed of three letters. There is also something to be considered about Walter Benjamin’s mystical, Kabbalah-inspired ideas about translation, namely that it is not only Hebrew letters which might occupy the mobile elements of the sefirotic system (here, again, I point toward the Arab science of letters as one developed exemplar).
All that to suggests that the letters themselves should not be over-identified with the more stable channels represented by the 3 elements, 7 planets, and 12 constellations. They represent their own kind of third entity alongside the eternal sefirot and the temporal channels of their relationship, one that is fluid and dynamic, capable of sustaining contrary potencies in much the same way that words can sustain contrary meanings.
Okay, with this I feel like I have a working rough draft of what appeals to me in the Saadia material. I am sure there are infelicities and misunderstandings, even a little downright sloppiness, but those are the sorts of kinks that work will help iron out. I wanted to get a draft down, though, as a point of reference.