Before entering into a study of the holy scriptures which shall be more profitable than that which has been entered into by the sectarian dogmatists of the past, it is necessary to obtain a sure foundation upon which may be built a stately edifice worthy the attention of men who value truth and wisdom more than mere argument.
To this end a knowledge of the methods used by the Qabalists of old to explain their sacred scriptures and mysteries is necessary, for it is this knowledge which will constitute the foundation of the edifice. It is essential that these methods be fully understood, for any new presentment of ancient truths must carry conviction with it, must, as it were, prove itself as it goes, and prove itself logically so that the student may pass step by step and stage by stage to a complete understanding of the mysteries.
The Qabalah, playing as it does such an important part in the unveiling of the Scriptures, must be understood by those who wish to enter into the details and comprehend fully the methods used by the Qabalists. Hence the first and most important question to be answered is “What is the Qabalah?”
It is easy to give an explanation of the meaning of the word itself, for its root is QBL, which means “to receive,” hence the Qabalah is the “received” doctrine, the esoteric side of the scriptures, the Doctrine of the Heart, in contradistinction to the doctrine of the eye, the inner Truth as opposed to the outer form.
There is, however, no Book of the Qabalah, no manuscript called “The Qabalah,” but many manuscripts and books have been written based upon qabalistic knowledge, and these different works are known collectively as the Qabalah. They are, however, merely opinions and statements embodying the ideas of the Hidden Wisdom, which has ever been taught to companies of students by the teachers of the Secret Doctrine though seldom written down. The true innermost teachings are always given “in the house” or upon the hill, that is to say, “in Open Lodge.”
We have, however, to remember, when entering upon a study of the Qabalah, that it is to be viewed in three ways, viz., historically, as regards the documents, etc., then again in reference to the qabalistic methods of teaching and unveiling the mysteries hidden in the scriptures, and finally, as the Qabalah, the Wisdom itself, or Spirit, Soul and Body, for everything in the whole universe must of necessity be threefold as will be proved later, and therefore the Qabalah is no exception to the rule.
It is well to remember these distinctions and to realize the difference between the Qabalistic Wisdom, the means of production and the product or appearance. The Qabalah, then, viewed from this point of view, is not a book as so often thought, just as the Occult Teaching, the Secret Doctrine is not a book, even though the Secret Doctrine happens to be the name of a book containing many of the teachings derived from that source.
What, then, is the Qabalah, and whence does it originate? These are the questions which have puzzled the minds of many scholars in the past and may still continue to puzzle many in the future, especially those who endeavor to fix and tabulate the Ancient Wisdom, who do not look beyond the eye of flesh.
Hitherto nothing definite has been settled as to the origin of the Qabalah; as regards the documentary evidence there are few historical data of an exact kind upon which the intellectual writers could fall back, hence many have been driven into the realm of surmise and opinion. One declares, repeating the information given in a very old manuscript, that this wisdom was given by God himself to a company of angels, and esoterically speaking he may be correct, if we think of an Avatar in the place of a personal God and of Masters instead of Angels. Another declares the Qabalah or rather that part of it comprised under the title Zohar to be the work of Simeon ben Yochai, who lived at the time of the destruction of the second Temple, whilst others declare that it is a modern invention, the work of Moses de Leon. All seem to forget that the Qabalah itself, being merely the expression of Cosmic Truth, can have had no actual beginning but must be as eternal as that truth itself. It is reasonable to suppose (although there are many Occultists who have a knowledge of the past and declare that there were always some Great Ones upon earth with a knowledge of the Secret Wisdom or Qabalah) that there were indeed always men who knew of these doctrines and that they were continually being given out to the world in different lands and at different epochs as required, sometimes in one form and at other times in another, but ever was the same Truth veiled in the teachings. The Qabalah or the vehicle for the Divine Wisdom is eternal, for it is the means of manifesting the knowledge stored up in the memory of Nature, the memory of God, the Akashic Records or Aether of Space.
This Aether of Space is according to Occultists a veritable Picture Gallery, or rather a Kinemetograph which when wound up and contacted by the initiated Seer shows picture after picture of the Past, as veil after veil is lifted, for these pictures are the true memory of Nature impressed upon the Aether or Akasha, just as the memory of the past is said by scientists to be impressed upon the matter of the brain. If the one statement be found reasonable then the other is not a whit less so.
In this sense, then, the Qabalah had no beginning except as the world itself had a beginning, and man himself had a beginning, for the Divine Wisdom is Eternal in the Heavens.
“But there must have been a time when the wisdom was first promulgated, when these Qabalistic doctrines were first given out to students,” says the reader. True, but then we have to consider that our knowledge of history does not take us far back into the tune-stream. Wherever we look, apart from the ordinary historical records, we find that this inner teaching has existed. We see it hidden in the ancient writings of South America, in the Temples and on the stones and monuments of Egypt, and elsewhere. The same wisdom is to be read in the Sacred Writings the world over, in Sanskrit, in Greek, in Latin, in Chinese, and in fact in any sacred writing which is
truly sacred, that is, which is capable of teaching Truth to man. In the Vedas it looms large, it is to be found upon the papyri of the Priests of Egypt, on the stones of Assyria and Babylon, in the writings of the ancient Persians and Sassanians, in all countries and in all climes. In Peru and in other parts of America, in China, in Japan and throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia, everywhere are traces of this Ancient Wisdom to be found. The Occultists tell us likewise in various works, notably the Secret Doctrine, Isis Unveiled, Man; Whence, How and Whither, and many others, that the Ancient Wisdom was ever known to the Teachers of men and continually given out by them as time and occasion called it forth. All this may be seen in the pictures of the Kinemetograph of Nature, the Akashic records. It is, however, useless to offer evidence of this description where the historical facts are required and for this latter purpose a history of the written Qabalah will be necessary.
There exist certain manuscripts of a certain date and from these we deduce certain facts: this is the method usually followed by the historians. In the case of the “history” of the Qabalah, it is but a will-o’-the-wisp, which leads us nowhere, although it is necessary in order to have a general idea of the subject to chase this will-o’-the-wisp until it can lead us no farther, and then we shall have to depend upon the voice of Intuition. And here it may be necessary to say that in addition to the Bibliography at the end of this volume, there are other sources and other authorities upon which these writings are based, and these authorities have been consulted during the course of the studies. The careful student always likes to have before him chapter and verse of the “authority.” “Where,” he asks, “did you obtain this knowledge?” “What is the authority for the statements?” and so forth. The answer is easy. A certain knowledge of the efforts made by others in the past to unravel the Qabalistic mysteries is necessary to all students, but need not long be dwelt upon, for the only thing that matters is the knowledge of the Qabalah itself and not what men think of it. This book knowledge then constitutes a part of the “authority,” for all that will be given
out in these pages, but the chief Authority is the knowledge applied and the “sweet reasonableness” inherent in the teaching itself. With the different Keys, of which a description will shortly be given, it is possible for all students to apply the knowledge of the Qabalah to the unraveling of the scriptures and their mysteries. Apart, then, from the books to which reference is made at the end of this number, there are other “books” used in the compiling of these writings, and it may be well to name them. The first “book” is called “The Volume of the Aural Knowledge,” the second is “The Book of the Intuition,” the third is “The Voice of the Earthly Guru,” and finally, there is the “book” to which all students may refer, “The Book of the Akashic Records.” Unfortunately, however, these are all “out of print,” and cannot be read even at the British Museum. The reader, therefore, who cannot read these works, will have to be content with the use of his Balance, he will be able to weigh in that all that is here set forth and judge all that is written in the calm light of Reason. Faith and knowledge must go hand in hand in studies such as these, although every effort will be made to satisfy the critical mind.
So many minds, so many ideas. One historian, copying from another, tells us that the Qabalah was given. by God to a company of Angels, another says that it was handed from Abraham to his son and so on unto the present. This latter, we may feel sure, is correct, though chapter and verse cannot be quoted to prove such a statement. A. E. Waite speaks of the book called Sepher Yetzirah, in which certain Qabalistic doctrines are written as probably being the work of Rabbi Akiba, and as supposed to have been written down during the second century. We cannot accept the idea that Rabbi Akiba was the actual author of this work, but certainly as a Qabalist, which assuredly he was according to his esoteric writings, he certainly may have been one of those who were led to write down some of the knowledge which had come to him, as was done in the time of the great Rabbi Simeon ben Yechai by his disciples. It is certain that the Qabalistic doctrines were commonly known to students as far back as the first century, and also that there were manuscripts which could be read by Christians who had access to them, for the doctrine relating to the inner meanings of the Hebrew Alphabet, which is the most important Qabalistic teaching, the true Key to the scriptures, is mentioned by St. Agobard, in the following words:
“Further, they believe the letters of their alphabet to have existed from everlasting, and before the beginning of the world to have received diverse offices, in virtue of which they should preside over created things.”
This quotation is from a letter of St. Agobard, and in mentioning it in his Doctrine and Literature of the Kabalah, Waite does not seem to have noticed in passing by this evidence of the antiquity of the written Qabalah, the fact that St. Agobard is himself quoting from the Book of the Zohar, or Splendour, in which it is stated that all the Hebrew letters were used by God to prepare for the creation of the world. To this fact we refer later on, when the letters themselves will be explained and their true significance be shown. It is sufficient to know from this quotation alone that the Qabalistic works date back considerably before the first century, for here we have a writer quoting from them as from old-established doctrines well known to all. The date can be placed even farther back by those who study the doctrines of the ancient Egyptians, and indeed it may be said in the opinion of many students that the Qabalistic teachings are undoubtedly of Egyptian and Chaldaic origin as far as the Jews are concerned. This might well be proved by a comparison of the meanings and values of the Hebrew and Egyptian letters, but that must be left until a later period.
The Book of the Zohar is said to have originated with Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, but this is not accepted by the different scholars, who claim that the writer of the Sepher Ha-Zohar was merely a very much more modern writer who lived some centuries after the Rabbi Simeon. This writer, Moses de Leon, who died in the year 1305, is said to have sold the book himself, calling it the work of Simeon ben Yochai. Some have called him harsh names for this so-called mis-statement, but it is not so false as it would appear. It is beyond doubt that this same Moses de Leon was the compiler and writer of the Book of the Zohar as such, but he, according to the “Book of Intuition,” merely wrote down the ideas which certainly were given out by the Rabbi Simeon as a consecutive narrative or book and issued it as the work of the Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai which, strictly speaking, it was, although Moses de Leon was the compiler. Who knows but what Moses de Leon himself was a reincarnation of one of the disciples of the Rabbi Simeon and that he was overshadowed in the work of compilation by the great and blessed Rav himself as others since have been. But this by the way, such evidence not being fitting for the eyes and ears of scholars.
The book of the Zohar is said by its compiler to have been discovered in a cavern where it had lain many years, and it is not an unlikely tale, although scoffed at by modern critics. It is quite reasonable to suppose that Moses de Leon did find some old manuscripts written by the disciples of the Rabbi Simeon in the second century, and that he edited them and re-arranged their teachings and added some of his own wisdom of which we may be sure he had an abundance. But it is not correct to declare that he pretended that these were doctrines of an ancient time whilst writing them himself.
The mention of Saint Agobard and his writings by A. E. Waite, is truly strange, for he, although rejecting the idea that the work called the Zohar was a forgery of Moses de Leon, and being inclined to believe that the doctrines treated of therein were far older than time of writing, does not notice that Saint Agobard himself, who lived between the year 779 and 840, makes clear reference to the very same doctrines of which Moses de Leon is accused of being the forger. The quotation of Saint Agobard is taken from the book of the Zohar or, rather, from the teachings included in that work, as all may see on referring thereto. Hitherto there has been no writer or scholar who has noticed this striking refutation of the attack upon Moses de Leon which is remarkable, to say the least of it, for here is ample proof that the doctrines in question are far older even than the time of Rabbi Moses de Leon who is in some quarters believed to have been their author. Saint Agobard then makes references to doctrines which have been said by some to have been invented in the 13th century, though lie himself lived in the first century.
Dr. Schiller-Szinessy in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, says that the Zohar “was begun in Palestine late in the second or third century, a.d., and finished at the latest in the sixth or seventh century. It is impossible that it should have been composed after that time and before the renaissance, as both language and contents show.”
This does not, however, dispose of the fact that the Qabalah itself is of infinitely greater antiquity even though some of its doctrines may have been written down in the second century.
To search for the “author” of the Qabalah as scholars have done for so long, is in fact a vain attempt, for it would be just as wise to search for the origin of Religion itself. As H. P. Blavatsky says in her Theosophical Glossary, no two writers are “agreed upon the origin of the Kabala, the Zohar, Sepher Yetzirah. Some show them as coming from the Biblical Patriarchs, Abraham and even Seth: others from Egypt, others again from Chaldea. The system is certainly very old: but like all the rest of the systems, whether religious or philosophical, the Kabala is derived directly from the primeval Secret Doctrine of the East. * . . . Whatever its source, its substratum is at any rate identical with that of all the other ancient systems, from the Book of the Dead, down to the later Gnostics.”
Hence the student is again reminded that the study of Qabalah is no mere Jewish work, but must be the work of occult students whose ideas are beyond the reach of sectarian differences, although they may be working within a sect or born into the environment of a special religion, for the occult student is not bound by forms even whilst he follows the ceremonies and ritual of his forefathers. Indeed it is wise that he should follow them, from an occult point of view.
For those who are interested in dates and descriptions it will be helpful to refer to the works mentioned at the end of this volume, but it is not essential to the study of the true doctrine. Let it suffice to quote one of the best and most intuitive men who has ever translated the Qabalistic writings, before passing from this section of our study.
Isaac Myer, in his erudite and intuitive work called Qabbalah, page 170, says that the Gnostics, and others, the so-called heretical sects, copied from the Qabalah, which is not perfectly correct, for it would be better to say that the Gnostics were acquainted with the Secret Wisdom which is Qabalah, but this is of no moment. He goes on to state, “we may find many of the Hebrew Qabbalistic ideas in the Aryan writings, in the Vedas, especially in their Upanishads, in the Bhagavadgita, the Tantras, etc. Among the Chinese, in the Yih-King, the writings attributed to Laou Tze’, and other secret philosophical books. We may also find them in the Zend, and other early Persian writings, in the cuneiform texts of the early inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Chaldea, Babylonia, and Assyria: on the monuments and papyrus of Egypt, and among the remains of the archaic Buddhists and Dravidian races of India, among others in the cave temples of Ellora, Elephanta, and the Sanchi and Amravati topes. It is extremely probable that many reminiscences of them are in Thibet, in the possession of the Buddhists.”
Thus standing the ravages of time what can this wisdom be but truly Divine and Eternal.
The history of books is not important after all, it is the “Thing-in-itself” that matters to the truth seeker. Let us then, leave these dates and data, for the history of the Qabalah has not yet been nor will ever be written by any scholar, whose knowledge is of the head only.
The various books called “Qabalistic” or purporting to be the “Qabalah” are many. Few of them have been translated and the most important has not yet been thoroughly translated into the English tongue, although there is a splendid version in French of the Zohar, translated by De Pauly and posthumously issued by his friend Lafume-Giraud to both of whom the greatest gratitude is due, for there is no better translation extant. It is not, however, perfect, for there are many interpolations introduced for the sake of clearness, which may have the opposite effect. However, if read, with the eye of the Spirit an infinite amount of knowledge may be gained by students. Most of the Zoharic quotations of this series are from that work.
The following are the works in question: The Book of the Zohar, or Sepher Ha-Zohar, which includes within it many treatises and books, all called generically Zohar, but known separately by other names. The book of Zohar proper is a commentary of rare worth upon the Pentateuch, in which is concealed a vast amount of learning, though it is not easy to follow its reasoning except with a key and also with the aid of a knowledge of the Eastern doctrines, and the Sanskrit writings. Many editions of this work have been issued partly in Hebrew, but mainly in Aramaic and Chaldaic.
The next in importance is the Sepher Yetzirah *, or book of formation, which is not mentioned by all writers, though it has been translated into French and English. It refers mystically to the “creation by number,” and requires much thought for the unravelling of the mysteries there “explained,” especially in the English translation. It is also noted for its treatment of the “thirty-two paths.” It is a very short treatise though its wisdom is infinite. There is a difficulty in judging the age of the different manuscripts, but probably this is the oldest of all. There is, however, no definite authority for these statements, for all writers differ, so that we shall have to be content merely with the Qabalah itself, and leave the dates to those who care for them.
The Sepher Sephiroth, or book of the Becomings, treats of the Emanation of the different Cosmic Beings, the evolution of the Many from the One, or rather the description of the Many who themselves constitute the One. This is the book from which most of the “intellectual” writers cull their riddles when they speak of the Ten Sephiroth, but seldom give any explanation of the true meaning of these “Emanations” which is left to Theosophical writers who have given out the same doctrines in simple language. Those students who are interested in this subject and wish to know the details of these emanations are referred to The Kabbalah Unveiled, by S. L. McGregor Mathers. The introduction to that work is the best that has been written within the last fifty years, and deserves the greatest attention on the part of the student, the next in order of merit being a work written in English by Isaac Myer called Qabbalah and privately published by him in 1888 at Philadelphia, there being but 350 copies issued. In some respects this latter work is of greater importance than the previous one, as it covers such a vast field, and moreover it is only the introduction of Mathers which is important, for the text itself, the translations of parts of the collected works called Zohar, leaves much to be desired. Further, the Zoharistic commentary itself is not touched, this being left to Jean de Pauly’s French version.
Finally we have the Aish Metzraph, that is, “the Fire which purified,” but this work is deeply mystical and little understood except by Alchemists, containing secrets of alchemy which were known to the Jews of old.
As one of the Zoharistic works, the Sepher Dzyaniouta must be mentioned, especially for its likeness to the Stanzas of Dzyan of the “Secret Doctrine.” This treats of what is called the “Concealed Mystery,” the doctrine of the “Balance,” an Egyptian survival, probably taken from the Egyptians together with the other jewels of which the Israelites are said to have spoiled them. There are also other minor works of importance, but these are generally bound up with the Zohar. These treat of various matters, the emanations of the Deity, or “Creation,” the doctrine of Reincarnation, or Gilgool, that is, “revolutions of the soul,” and also the doctrine of Karma, or as it is called in Hebrew, Judgments or Mischpotim. Other treatises are of a more difficult and perhaps more dangerous character, treating of demons, and obsessing entities, etc., as well as of Angels and elementals, and such-like creatures.