So, yeah, I have been at a fast run since stumbling into the ‘Saadia Tree‘ articulated over at Blogos, and surely been pleased as punch to see it stand up to a lot of wild pushing and shifting. But I want to come back to the Sefer Yetzirah (SY) itself for a moment and talk about why I think it is so flexible. Take this reflection for what it is, some thoughts on work in progress.
At its root, it isn’t about a diagram. The diagram is a handy mnemonic. The real force of the work for me has been the projection of the sefirot into space, time, and the body.
When you project the sefirot outward, the work anchors you firmly to a place and a time; it orients you. If that seems incidental, consider what it means to be oriented. You enter into a relationship with everything to which you are oriented. In being anchored in space and time, you enter into a relationship with everything else in space and time.
From my limited perspective, that is where the rest of the work manifests, in the exploration of that relationship. Though anchored in one place, one time, the whole of place and time become part of your horizon. The planets and constellations that play such an essential role in defining the verticals and diagonals of the Saadia diagram? They are clearly definable points through which you can deepen that orientation. In general, their movements draw attention to the possibility of orientation. In specific, each one draws attention to a a particular connection between elements of the oriented cosmos.
The horizontal lines, the Mother lines, closely tied to the elements are especially interesting in this regard. The pillar of severity and mercy are capped by good and evil, which form experiential frames for sorting through experience, which itself manifests through elementally constituted bodies. Between the Chokmah, Binah, and the Mothers, you find embodied consciousness.
Without moving, you place yourself at the center of the cosmos and the cosmos inclines itself toward you. Start to move, either with the subtle motions of prayer or the grosser acts of locomotion, and you begin to incline yourself this way and that within the cosmos. This process of inclination is the point at which you begin to speak back to the cosmos, making yourself a tongue that divides and distinguishes.
Cultivate receptivity to each of these elements and you are able to modulate them within your place, fashion them through subtle means of sorts to amplify aspects of the cosmos locally. The algorithmic features of the SY are fascinating in this regard, a series of controlled jumps into that work. I suspect in this regard the significance of the letters becomes more important, because they are means of expressing meanings, which are as personal as they are objective.
The permutations produce meanings, experiences in our being, which we must explore through our discernment, our ability to differentiate good and evil. It’s why you have to do the work yourself, for yourself. I suspect that some of the concerns of starting this sort of work too early have to do with acquiring a rich enough ethical framework to anchor this portion of the work. In other words, without experience, this work could leave someone stalled out in amoral wonder.
Also, the mythic and philosophical frame that accompanies mature development within a religious frame provides traveler with a framework of distinctions that allows them to navigate. Through a prepared and educated person, the cosmos acquires a voice which those around them can appreciate. In the strictest sense, I’m not well prepared; I’m no Kabbalist. My frame of reference is quite off the center presumed by the SY.
In a personal sense, though, I’m better prepared because I have a deep and complex framework of meanings that, while not proper to the Kabbalistic project, are sympathetic to its structure. The core structures that the SY uses are not unique to the Hebraic material. It appears broadly in the region. So, while this experience of the mobile center of the cosmos helps me to make sense of the chariot symbolism that pervades Merkabah mysticism specifically it also illuminates other regional practices generally (e.g., Plato’s Phaedrus, Zoroastrianism’s faravahar, Gnostic ascent more loosely, and Indic yoga).
They all make the body a vehicle for traveling to distant points in the cosmos and through that open the animal world in which we reside to the sacred meanings inscribed in the cosmos. They make possible a cultural horizon in which we are oriented with others toward the cosmos.