One of the reasons I have enjoyed evacuating the sefirot is that it so clearly allows me to see the common roots of Kabbalism and Sufism in a broadly Middle Eastern magico-mystical thinking that likely sinks its roots into prehistory (regionally and, if Gordon’s right, globally; speaking of dragons, yeah, we’re probably going to have a discussion about serpents in the near future, but that requires a detour through personal practice that I’m not quite sure how to get at for this format).
Once you understand that the sefirot are of nothingness, it is easy to appreciate that when folks like Ibn al Arabi talk about progressing through the stations toward union with God, they were talking about something quite similar. Hashing out the exact nature of the resemblances and differences lies beyond this post, but the sefirot of nothingness makes possible the discussion.
It also requires us to be a bit critical of what goes on in the tree of life diagrams that do things like conflate Saturn and Binah, because from this perspective they erase the mystical dimensions. I know there are practical operant magicians who don’t see a problem with that, who are only concerned with the magical correspondences they can make use of in work. However, once you untether the correspondences from their mystical roots, you untie them from their connection to the ontological realities that nourish and energize them.
Untethered from that mystical ground, they lose their potency a bit like words untethered from the contexts that orient them in a field of meaning. Properly washed in that world, the concepts orient and align the magician with spiritual mechanisms that transmit magical ritual into spiritually efficacious messages. Severed from that? Well, I think what you end up are quickly withering branches, both in the magical and conceptual sense. (Unless you can find a new tree to graft them to.)
The reason for that is straightforward enough. The proper unit of magical work is the magic worker and the depths of the magic worker are rooted in the mystery and wonder of creation. You know how you find authors frequently talking about tapping into the powers of the unconscious? Here, from Warren Ellis’s 17jan16 Orbital Operations newsletter, is Joe Hill:
I have a distrust of outlines, because they’re the work of the scheming conscious mind, and I think all the big machinery is down at the level of the unconscious. Why work with a leaking, rickety prop engine when you’ve got twin jet turbines at your disposal?
Getting down to the sefirot, to the potent nothingness that animates them, is something magically akin to the writerly process described here. The engines are down in the dark. It’s where the magic worker creates their connection to the world of spirit rather than just try to nestle into someone else’s model of their own connection (or, worse, someone else’s model of a model of a model of a…yeah, the problem with grimoires being weird notebooks passed around but not generatively remade).
Since I’m apparently in a comics creator mood, here is another good comparison to be had by looking to the creative process from an artist/writer:
I started off back in the day by emulating 90’s style comic artworks. Result was a lack of comprehension. I could to an extent copy what i saw from artists like Michael Turner, I could copy those proportions, but as with any foundation made on distortions, i then added a layer of my own distortions to it.
Suffice to say, the result was less than ideal.
So, my advice, minimize taking influence from styles. Focus on working from ground up. Learn structure, proportions, the basics, and then let your own style form from strong foundation. Hell, if you have that foundation, then you can indulge in letting yourself be influenced.
The work in the sefirot, that seems to me like the sort of thing that amounts to a study in realism, the encounters from which you can build up an effort to understand and express that encounter. Not everyone needs or wants to do that, but if it isn’t happening, or isn’t happening as part of the organic life of a magical community, then I’m not sure if there is much particularly ‘communal’ about that community. Maybe I just read a little too much Evelyn Underhill at a formative moment of my life, but if you don’t have a healthy mystical tradition running, then you aren’t going to have much of a magical one, either.
I don’t mean to bang on about the mystical stuff overmuch, but it is in the mystical experiences that we are challenged with the intimations of forms, and it is those intimations which lay the groundwork for a coherent and diverse field of cultural development. Explanations for that mystical experience aren’t quite as important as efforts to give some manifest presence to the the subtle presence, be that poem, a prayer, a painting, a meditation. The effort to turn back, again and again, toward a shared mystery and an acknowledgment of it being shared, is what gives coherence to a spiritual tradition.
The effort to agree on common ideas and images, on the contrary, obscures that. They start to become the style of style that you copy without appreciating.