Monday, 19 January 2015

Blavatsky and the Kabbalah 2 : the Sefer Yetzirah

In another major Blavatskyan piece on the Kabbalah, "Tetragrammaton", (Theosophist, November, 1887), she again references Sefer Yetzirah 1,9 via MacGregor Mathers (20-21) - then a member of the TS - of whom she writes: 'there are few more learned Kabbalists in England, though I do not certainly agree with all his views. But on this question we are in almost full agreement." The article makes extensive use of his just published The Kabbalah Unveiled, (something of an esoteric classic, still in print today, via Penguin Books). I think it's still a pretty good intro to the Kabbalah. Another prominent kabbalist and Theosophist W.W. Westcott hadactually released a translation of the Sefer Yetzirah in 1887 - and the translation seems similar, but not exactly the same as in the Secret Doctrine:
She also makes some interesting personal asides: " I have studied the Kabbala under two learned Rabbis, one of whom was an initiate, and there was no difference between the two teachings (the esoteric Eastern and the Western) in this instance."

In this instance the reference is used to support the notion of the feminine aspect of the Holy Spirit:

"The circle emanates a light which becomes to our vision four-cornered; this unfolds and becomes seven." Here the "circle" is the first sephira "the kether" or crown, the Risha Havurah, or "white head," and the "upper skull." [It is not limitless, but temporary in this phenomenal world.] It emanates the two lower Sephiroth (Chokhmah and Binah, which are "Father-Mother") and thus form the triangle, the first or upper triad of the Sephirothal Tree. This is the one or the monad of Pythagoras. But, it has emanated from the Seven Elohim, male and female, who are called the "Upper Father-Mother." These are themselves the reflections of the Female Holy Spirit, of which it is said in Sepher Jezirah "One is She, the Elohim of life." How far yet from are these numbers of the Jewish Kabbala, for they are in fact only secret numbers and glyphs. Microprosopus comes the fourth.’’

This particular interpretation is based on a grammatical consideration of the Hebrew text:
"The monotheists have taken (and are still taking) advantage of the profound esotericism of the Kabala to apply the name by which the One Supreme Essence is known to its manifestation, the Sephiroth-Elohim, and call it Jehovah. But this is quite arbitrary and against all reason and logic, as the term Elohim is a plural noun, identical with the plural word Chiim, often compounded with the Elohim.*
* The sentence in the Sepher Jezirah and elsewhere: “Achath-Ruach-Elohim-Chiim” denotes the Elohim as androgynous at best, the feminine element almost predominating, as it would read: “One is She the Spirit of the Elohim of Life.” As said above, Echath (or Achath) is feminine, and Echod (or Achod) masculine, both meaning One.’’(SD I, 130)

So far her use of Sefer Yetzirah 1.9 to support her notion of a metaphysical tetrad is quite varied and flexible, albeit rather short and cryptic. Howeve, in SD I, 92, she gives a full translation of Sefer Yetzirah 1.9-12 (not just 9-10), which gives a more complete illustration of her concept:

“The “Sacred Animals” are found in the Bible as well as in the Kabala, and they have their meaning (a very profound one, too) on the page of the origins of Life. In the Sepher Jezirah it is stated that “God engraved in the Holy Four the throne of his glory, the Ophanim (Wheels or the World-Spheres), the Seraphim,* the Sacred Animals, and the ministering angels, and from these three (the Air, Water, and Fire or Ether) he formed his habitation.” Thus was the world made “through three Seraphim — Sepher, Saphar, and Sipur,” or “through Number, Numbers, and Numbered.” With the astronomical key these “Sacred Animals” become the signs of the Zodiac.
* This is the literal translation from the IXth and Xth Sections: “Ten numbers without what? One: the spirit of the living God . . . . who liveth in eternities! Voice and Spirit and Word, and this is the Holy Spirit. Two: Spirit out of Spirit. He designed and hewed therewith twenty-two letters of foundation, three Mothers and seven double and Twelve single, and one spirit out of them. Three: Water out of spirit; he designed and hewed with them the barren and the void, mud and earth. He designed them as a flowerbed, hewed them as a wall, covered them as a paving. Four: Fire out of water. He designed and hewed therewith the throne of glory and the wheels, and the seraphim and the holy animals and the ministering angels, and of the three He founded his dwelling, as it is said, He makes his angels spirits and his servants fiery flames!” Which words “founded his dwelling” show clearly that in the Kabala, as in India, the Deity was considered as the Universe, and was not, in his origin, the extra-cosmic God he is now.’’

Below is Aryeh Kaplan's translation of the Gra version:

1:9 Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: One is the Breath of the Living God, blessed and benedicted be the Name of the Life of worlds. The Voice of Breath and Speech. And this is the Holy Breath (Ruach HaKodesh).
1:10 Two: Breath from Breath. With it engrave and carved twenty-two foundation letters - three, Mothers, seven Doubles, and twelve Elementals - and one Breath is from them.
1:11 Three: Water and Breath. With it he engraved and carved (22 letters from) chaos and void, mire and clay. He engraved them like a garden plot. He carved them like a wall. He covered them like a ceiling. (And he poured snow over them and it became dust as it is written ''For to snow He said, 'Become Earth' (Job 37.6)''
1:12 Four: Fire from water. With it He engraved and carved the Throne of Glory, Seraphim, Ophanim, holy Chayot, and Ministering Angels. From the three He established His dwelling, as it is written, "He makes His angels of breaths, His ministers from flaming fire" (Psalms 104:4).

Moreover, Kaplan, commenting on this passage, notes that: "According to the philosophers, Water represents the primeval matter, while Fire represents the primitive aether." (p. 78) again corroborating Blavatsky’s statement that the oriental theosophical notion is compatible with the kabbalistic interpretation. Morever, hopefully this article shows that despite the obscurities of the references, Blavatsky demonstrates a more than passing knowledge of the Sefer Yetzirah and that despite various difficulties and obstacles, her writings hold up quite well when compared with more recent reference sources.