The movement to the elemental lines in the witness of the body is a movement from the visible to the invisible, from the outer to the inner. There is a distinct but parallel movement in the witness of time. That isn’t immediately apparent in the ascription of the elemental letters to the months, but when you examine the way in which the day can be divided into two sets of twelve esoteric hours you can glimpse the elemental lines within the day itself.
The account of Justin’s Book of Baruch is a useful intermediary in this discussion. While it may or may not be directly related to Kabbalism itself, it is part of a family of Gnostic traditions that certainly shaped early modern Kabbalism and some of its most radical and sometimes heretical expressions (I have found some of Frater Acher’s historical work around these groups fascinating and confirming). Kabbalism shares with Gnosticism a common set of spiritual commitments and spiritual horizon such that they can comment on each other’s work. Through these shared connections, the Book of Baruch can be given a Kabbalistic destination even if it did not have a Kabbalistic origin.
The common spiritual commitments resolve around a sense that understanding the order of creation (gnosis) provides the groundwork for a proper ordering of human life (wisdom) which prepares an individual to die into a life beyond our own (redemption). These commitments don’t result in a common set of goals, in part because individual Kabbalists and Gnostics, as well as individual communities of each, weight those commitments differently.
It’s not just that, though. Commitments organize concrete realities and as our concrete realities are at variance, so too do people with common commitments take different paths through life. In part because of that variance, individuals and communities develop modes of interpretation that are at variance with each other. Interpretation influences the shape that both gnosis and wisdom take, and so also the form of redemption.
Interpretation and its refinement forms part of the Gnostic and Kabbalistic set of commitments, one that points us toward one of their most important common horizons. At the center of both modes of thinking is the sense that the gap between individuals and the generative force of creation is both immense and nonexistent. It is immense because the generative force of creation bears witness to a force that operates at a scale beyond our wildest imaginings, a scale that scientific research is constantly expending in all directions. It is nonexistent because we are part of that force and so it is operating upon us immediately. What makes us especially close to this force is that we are capable of participating in its creative activity more so than most aspects of creation.
The common horizon of Gnostic and Kabbalism is the horizon of understanding. That horizon is limited by our mortality and embodiment but makes it possible to transform ourselves in relationship to it (which develops wisdom and prepares redemption). For both, that transformation takes place under the auspices of other created spiritual powers with whom we cultivate relationships, even if some of those relationships are ones of rivalry and struggle.
Okay, that’s a lot of preface, but I wanted to show my work as to where I am coming from before jumping into what follows. I know that I have been repeating and rethinking this connection a bit; I’m trying to work out with increasing clarity why these two things speak so clearly to each other in my work. Maybe I should just say they do and move on? I guess I’m not there yet, if so.
To get to the meat, then, of the Book of Baruch and the letters: In the Book of Baruch, the divine couple of Elohim and Eden embody a basic duality that can be used to define the differentiation of the double letters into hard (Eden) and soft (Elohim) aspects. In the sequence of time, the duality runs through the days as day (Elohim) and night (Eden). In identifying twenty-four angelic children of the divine couple Elohim and Eden, Justin’s Baruch differentiates two twelve hour periods. Esoterically, these hours are not absolute units of time, but relative divisions within the span of time each day gives to light (Elohim) and night (Eden).
There are twelve angels of the light (Elohim’s angels) and twelve angels of the night (Eden’s angels).
The relationship of these twelve hour periods to the twelve elemental letters becomes clear when we understand the relationship between the length of light and night across the span of months. From the winter to the summer solstice, the angels of the light make their advance, each expanding their influence over the day and diminishing the influence of their opposite among the angels of the night. Similarly, from the summer to the winter solstice, the angels of the night expand their influence over the day and diminish the hours of their opposite in the angels of the light.
Each full day bears witness to the year by taking up a position within that cycle while dividing the year in two, the year of the light and the year of the night.
When we examine the months on their own, even when they are liberated from the cycles of the Moon, it is the experience of the waxing and waning of the Moon that gives their length a sensible basis. That cycle bears witness to a second struggle between the light and dark. The Moon mirrors the Sun into the night, is the light of day in the night, such that is it waxes, the authority of the angels of the day manifests more prominently within the night. As it wanes, the angels of the night acquire increasing authority.
The double constraint on the angels of the night, the angels of the Mother’s severity, bears witness to Ibn al-Arabi’s Gnostic maxim of God’s mercy exceeding his wrath. Even in the time of his severity’s operation, there is a constraint placed upon it.
In the witness of time, the light and night are in turn divided in three according to the mother letters, with the seasonality reflected in the order of hours, too, divided in twain according to the double influence over the letters. Alef at midday and midnight, Mem at late light and late night, and Shin at early light and early night.
Between the three highest powers in the Book of Baruch (Elohim, Eden, and the True God) we can divide these mother letters, reflecting the point at which all of these powers converge in the figure of immanent and generative Godhead, the point at which their apparent rivalry is overcome in a perfect dynamism. The figure of the highest God appears within Alef, in the figure’s division of upper and lower (for he divides Elohim from Eden in the story), that of Elohim in Shin extending like a branch to the heavens, and that of Eden in Mem who encloses herself and her children.
The double letters here become triple, too. As bearing witness to Eden and Elohim in their soft and hard expression they are double but as a single letter that can both hard and soft they are tripled, bearing witness to the True God. From that communion, the days are made one and give birth to their twenty-four children. Each such child stands within each day, but within each day carries a different banner according to the double letter that oversees the day.
When we consider the interaction of the light and day, of the month and moon, each day sees the modulation and modification of the angelic hierarchy of the twenty-four angels.
I do wonder how this would look from the ground from someplace where you get weeks of light followed by weeks of dark. Presumably it would mostly hold because the body of the Earth follows the core cycle, but I don’t actually know. The strange thing about the discussion of time is that the world’s processes make it visible but the order remains even if you don’t have the processes to make them visible. This question of visibility, though, cuts to the heart of the both Gnosticism and Kabbalism because it is in being visible that we are encouraged to see and appreciate them.
There are probably many structures of time, too, and it’s worth considering that some may be very difficult for us to appreciate precisely because they are not made visible to us so clearly. The choice of time has more than a little to do with the quality of the redemption that we choose, that we are capable of choosing. It suggests that from the time of the redeemed, there might be still other forms of time through which to develop.
Whew, all this before getting to the rest of the story in the Book of Baruch.