Revelation contains some weighty initiation-grade work and I want to talk around that a little more. Even as I am critical of its legacy, its heart is in the right place. Before I start to argue that I want more than it offers, I also want to be clear that it really does have valuable things to offer. This discussion requires shifting gears and looking at the text as a compact ritual, either intended to operate on the imaginal level or as an imaginal correlate to a much more concrete rite.
The ritual dimensions of the text seems to be flagged within the text itself. At the conclusion of it, there is a stern warning to those who would treat it as a mere literary object:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”—Revelation 22: 18-19
You do that because you are trying to preserve the operation’s integrity.
So, let’s set this up on the tree of life, shall we? That seems to work best when we examine the text as a ritual process whose armature can be mapped easily onto the tree. At different points in the text, different aspects of the armature are emphasized and activated. I am going to call each of these aspects ‘configuration’ for what I hope will be obvious reasons.
The book starts with the ‘Churches of Asia’ configuration. This is the sefirot joined only by the seven vertical lines. These are envisioned as candles and that is important. Candles burn down and over the course of the text, the joints represented by the seven vertical lines are eradicated.
The next portion of the text moves us into the Throne configuration. It activates the four points of the throne, embodied in the centrality of the four beasts who invite the narrator (and implicitly the rite’s subject) to ‘Come and see.’ If you look at the tree of life, the first stage of movement positions the worker in the midst of Yesod, opening them toward Hod, Netzach, and Tifaret. Those are, notice, four sefirot. The four sefirot, direction-wise, represent west, down, up, and east, respectively.
These connections are also defined by diagonal lines, moving our attention away from the vertical lines which will soon be subject to the blistering forces of apocalypse. They take up the narrator to a position of safety. Traditionally, those diagonal lines are associated with the zodiac and the fixed stars. Consider, what is the point of transition between those domains, the joint par excellance? That would be the sun
Follow the sun. It dips down into the west and rises up in the east. Come and see, and I saw. How do you see, but by the light? The beasts surround the throne and have clear ties to the four directions, but I suspect in this case that trope has been subtly displaced with up/down displacing south/north.
(As an aside, there is a feature to following the sun through the frame of the tree that I have found helpful. It helps open up and affirm the subtle sympathies that orchestrate the sefirot. The alliance of down and west gives Yesod its dark character while the alliance of up and east gives Tifaret its positive character.
Recall that the sun’s passage isn’t perfectly centered along the vertical, that if you drew a line of its track across the sky, the angle of that track in relationship to the earth would also change over time. Imagine the sun at your back as you face the south and you can appreciate the expansive qualities of Chesed a little better. Turn toward the sun, squint into the bright light, and you can appreciate the restrictive qualities of Gevurah a little better.
Keep in mind that contraction and expansion are missing from the Throne configuration. They don’t seem to appear until we see the Four Horsemen whose work unfolds upon the earth rather than in the heavens.)
From within the Throne configuration, the next portion of the apocalypse unfurls. The chant of the four beasts (“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”) invokes a subtle triplicity, too, which convenes a new movement within the work. Note that this triple invocation parallels the triple invocation in Genesis that the opening of the Zohar contemplates. The power of creation is being called forth.
A much less subtle triplicity follows, with the beast, the dragon, and the harlot rising up to throw the world into disarray. What is it that the three horizontal lines of the tree do? They join opposites. With the triplicity, we find the struggle between the rival qualities of the tree manifest. It is here Jerusalem’s final form is prefigured in the woman crowned with twelve stars and here the serpent magnified into dragon reappears. Over the course of the text, they are resolved, with the positive qualities overwhelming the negative.
Here we find the beast with seven heads, the kings and kingdoms they represent a wicked parallel to the seven churches. There is one odd thing to note here. The beast’s horns are the only place in which we see ten show up within Revelation; the beast has ten horns and ten crowns upon those horns. Ten appears on the side of the righteous only subtly, if we consider the seven candles to be part of a menorah and the eighth, ninth, and tenth to be the points from which the six flanking arms extend.
This seems noteworthy because there are ten sefirot in most traditions of Kabbalism and the only place ten figures in explicitly is on the side of idolatry and wickedness. There are possible historical reasons for this, such as the ten sefirot already being under development among rival factions in Judaism, the ones identified as the synagogues of Satan in the early portion of Revelation. There may be a more esoteric reason for that, though.
Considering that the highest three would be the supernals, this elision of the ten on the side of the righteous seems to be an effort to preserve the injunctions against idolatry. Perhaps even representing the highest dimensions of the tree, even in schematic form, is taken to be too risky. The beasts kings are earthly and false, so there is no problem with having them manifest in gross, idolatrous parody of the subtle and higher tenfold nature of divinity. But for the righteous? The most divine must be kept out of sight.
The menorah being a rebus could be seen as something of a compromise. As implicit, they are not so much displayed as implied. they only become explicit in the understanding of those who contemplate it. That there are traditions within Judaism that only allow the seven-armed menorah to be displayed within the temple provides some tangential support for this idea. Safely ensconced in the temple, the three can be implicated as if behind a veil. I’ll have to consider this more deeply, because as I make more use of the proper Kabbalistic structure, I want to be more mindful of some of the concerns that attend it.
Let’s get back to the movement of the text, though.
As the struggle initiated by the invocation of the three is won in favor of the righteous, the work of building the New Jerusalem configuration concludes the text. The city is built on a cascading network of twelves, a progressive intensification of the stellar, diagonal, lines in the wake of the seven’s eradication. This is an elegant and subtle configuration, one in which the direct influence reflected in the seven vertical lines has been thoroughly replaced with the subtle indirect influence of the stars upon each other and the new world.
This world is prefigured in the Throne configuration. The Thrones represents a partial realization of the New Jerusalem configuration, sharing with it a reliance upon the subtle forces of the diagnonal, zodiacal and stellar, world.
Love and grace replace violence and authority as the ruling powers. That’s magnificent, isn’t it? Revelation takes the reader from the daily struggles facing the churches and translates them into a holy world where all that is corrupt has been purified or destroyed, leaving only the beauty and fellowship. Though I know some will find this an odd thing for me to say, despite the fact that this journey depends upon the imaginal to take place, the world it reveals is not thereby imaginary or illusory. It is a world that exists within our world, only obscured behind the brute (archonic and planetary) bars of embodied existence.