Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Kabbalah," "Cabala" or "Qabalah".....?

As said in "The Book of Self Creation," it is clear that while one may understand and accept that much diversification has been going on regarding this Tradition, especially over the last century, and having closely investigated such “variances,” we equally recognise that Kabbalah would become meaningless if its fundamental principles were compromised. In other words, principle Kabbalistic teachings and rudimentary reasoning cannot simply be altered in accordance with personal whims. Hence it is necessary to first understand the central, vital core teachings behind this Tradition, before adjusting parameters in alignment with personal perceptions. One simply can no longer speak of Kabbalah when the supposed stable primary doctrines of this tradition have been sacrificed in the fray. Sadly, such has been the case in a lot of works written in the name of Kabbalah, while they bear little or no relation to the Tradition. Often basic teachings of this tradition are sidelined and even dismissed out of hand.
When you come to think of it, Kabbalah is much more than the current assumption that the doctrine of the “Tree of Life” and the ten Sefirot comprise the entire teaching of Kabbalah. In fact, the “Tree-Concept” was originally only a small part of Kabbalah, and a relatively unimportant one at that. It is mainly Gentiles who expounded and increased it to its current central place in our system. It is certainly a lot clearer, more direct, and much easier to understand than the “letter-number” permutations of early Kabbalah. Yet, if the principles of “Letter-Number Kabbalah” are understood, some remarkable practices, meditations and “inner communications” can be found in this form of mysticism, which can produce some really far-reaching results for the individual who knows the system.
The entire arena of “Ecstatic Kabbalah” is based on this system. Few of these practices were, and still are, available to the modern public. A major part of the system often amounted to no more than mental exercises which enabled the brain to cope with the obscure problems of existence. To some extent it could then be likened to a cryptic crossword, in which the satisfaction came in the exercise of ones mental faculties. This was however never the only value of the “Letter-Number Kabbalah.” There was certainly a lot more to it as the practices of Shemot (Divine Names), Yichudim (unification exercises) and Tzerufim (permutation practices) show quite clearly.
Today the tendency is to think that there is really more than one Kabbalah so to speak, with three categories specifically identified: 1. Traditional Kabbalah—the one as understood to apply to Israel alone; 2. Christian Kabbalah; and 3. Hermetic Kabbalah. The latter two refer to the tradition as interpreted and worked on by Gentile scholars for the Western Inner Tradition at large, and we understand that though the basic formulae are the same, the application and exegesis are very different. End of story? Definitely not. This is a very simplistic and narrow viewpoint, in which the strictly Jewish origins of the Kabbalah are often ignored, not to mention that even in Traditional Kabbalah there are many divergent voices regarding practically every topic within that sector, that one would have to divide what is viewed collectively as “traditional” into many subcategories.
However, most modern researchers are still inclined to speak of “pre-Lurianic” and “Lurianic Kabbalah” in reference to the earlier mentioned two distinct periods in the development of Kabbalah. The first which could be termed “Zoharic,” not entirely correctly as an early Kabbalist like Abraham Abulafia did not belong in this category, culminated in the writings of Moses Cordovero, while his pupil Isaac Luria started a new trend which is now called “Lurianic Kabbalah.”
There are many who, in trying to indicate the distinction between Traditional Kabbalah and the one as applied in the Western Inner Tradition, use the spelling “Qabalah.” It has been suggested by several authors, specifically from the “Hermetic Schools,” that the spelling of the term “Kabbalah” should be varied in order to indicate variant applications, i.e. “Kabbalah” in reference to “Traditional Kabbalah”; “Cabala” to indicate the Christian variety, and “Qabalah” for the “Hermetic Kabbalah.” I have found no use for this kind of variant spelling for a variety of reasons, amongst others:
1. The common use of the “K” spelling is a fairly recent one, apparently introduced to create a consensus. However, it should be noted that many Rabbis, historians and other scholars have been using the “C” spelling when discussing what we might loosely term “Traditional Kabbalah.” In fact, to date there are still French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Swiss authors, amongst others, who are still using that spelling in their studies of mainstream “Kabbalah.” The suggestion that the “C” spelling be used exclusively to designate a Christian variant of Kabbalistic thinking, would create confusion as far as a veritable host of works are concerned, which were written over a period of more than a hundred years. Likewise the “K” spelling was and still is being used by scholars around the globe in their discussions of “Christian Kabbalah.”
2. The division of the Kabbalistic Tradition in this manner into the mentioned three categories is seriously problematic. It suggests a uniform pattern of thought to be prevailing within the “Jewish Mystical Tradition,” which is patently an inaccurate portrayal of the tradition over the thousand and more years of its existence.
Besides the obvious differences between, for example, the teachings of Isaac Luria and that of the author of the Zohar, marking distinct periods in the development of the Tradition, there are enormous differences and major disagreements between Kabbalists living in the same era, with regard to even the most basic tenets of Kabbalah, e.g. the ten Sefirot, etc. Pertaining to this specific concept, there were Kabbalists who did not like the sefirotic system at all, and rarely made use of it. Moreover, there were thinkers within this tradition who did not agree with Talmudic studies, yet these very individuals are considered part of that tradition. In fact, there are several absolutely distinct “Kabbalistic traditions” and diverse schools of thought which developed over the centuries, some of them considered to be heretical, yet many of the latter kind are now generically accepted as part of what mainstream religionists term “Kosher Kabbalah.”
3. As far as I am concerned the word “Kabbalah” is a Hebrew term with only one spelling. The transliteration of this word has been somewhat problematic due to the fact that the sound of its initial letter is represented by two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, i.e. Kaf and Kof. The latter letter is the one used in the word itself, and has been designated “C,” “K,” or “Q” by different authors, thus the variants in the spelling of the word in languages using the Latin alphabet. Trying to use those variants to denote three different approaches within the Tradition does not work for anybody using the Hebrew, Greek or Cyrillic alphabet. Thus such usage cannot be universal.
Settling for one common spelling, i.e. “Kabbalah,” and then clearly indicating a specific subsidiary of this tradition under discussion—Ecstatic Kabbalah, Theurgic Kabbalah, Prophetic Kabbalah, Lurianic Kabbalah, Christian Kabbalah, Hermetic Kabbalah, etc., is far more useful and accurate. Besides, there is in truth only one “Kabbalah,” the teachings of which are wielded in as many ways as there are people to invent them from their personal perspectives. Provided the core principles and doctrines of the tradition are understood and upheld intact, there can be an infinite number of variant interpretations.

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