Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kabbalah and the Occult

Having completed and published "The Book of Seals & Amulets," the third volume of what I chose to term the "Shadow Tree Series," I am contemplating the unpredictable "mystical journey" I have been traversing since the appearance of the first volume, "The Book of Self Creation," five years ago, i.e. the amazing Companions who shared the journey with me; the realisation that I have personally gained so much from sharing material which were not so readily accessible to an English speaking readership, and that I am commencing writing the fourth volume, "The Book of Immediate Magic," with my mind ready to embrace the next glimpse into, as it were, the "Greater Whole of Divine Manifestation."

Obviously all human viewpoints are of necessity limited in terms of the "All" of the "All-in-All" and the "All-with-All," and I understand that my fundamental intention to share primary material from the vast arena of Practical Kabbalah in harmony with what is popularly termed the "Western Mystery Tradition," has become a life task. In this regard, considering my current age, it might be difficult in this incarnation to fully realise the estimated twelve titles which I believe would make this a definitive investigation into Jewish mystical/ magical teachings, the latter having been accessible to only a selected few for many centuries.

Be that as it may, I recall how, prior to commencing writing this series of "esoteric/occult" texts, I have "quizzed a host of individuals regarding their understanding of what they think 'the occult' or 'occultism' was all about," and, as I mentioned in "The Book of Self Creation," some were "greatly suspicious of the 'hidden agenda' behind my query," and I also recall how "I ended up with a most confusing list of what is considered 'occult' by both the general public as well as by those who claim to have 'informed insight,' the latter often hinting vaguely at having acquired their sagacity straight from the horse’s mouth." In the said tome I shared ten extracts from a large list of what the individuals I queried considered to be "occult." As noted in the mentioned publication, the phrasing of some of the responses were very amusing, and I thought sharing the direct quotes here might equally bring a smile to the faces of those who peruse this blog. So here they are for your amusement, or "serious consideration".....if you so will!
1. Astrology and related “astral arts.” To Astrology many joined numerology and “analysis of one’s birth date,” the latter being considered different from “numerology” by some.
2. Palmistry, graphology (handwriting analysis), “checking the moles on one’s body” and “looking at one’s liver to find out what the weather would be like tomorrow.” Since the latter two responses were so amusing, I could not resist quoting them verbatim. Included here is the practice of “reading faces,” and other related divinatory activities pertaining to one’s personal anatomy.
3. Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, etc., and literally every organization—whether involved in esoteric studies or not—whose meetings are held in private or considered clandestine, are all considered “occult.” Even if their meetings were open to the public and their practices common knowledge, it is believed they were still meeting in “secret” and were working “hidden rituals which we do not know.”

On inquiring how these respondents could have such direct information regarding these hidden details, they often turned offensive.
4. UFO’s and the Egyptian pyramids, which some maintained are linked to “crop circles in England,” and according to others to “South America,” and again according to still others to a large hole in the North Pole (some having a suspicion that such a hole also exists in the South Pole and elsewhere, e.g. a special mountain somewhere in the USA), which leads to a powerful, sinister anti-Christian world in the centre of the Earth. This is but a brief summary of a voluminous list comprising even more outrageous related responses.
5. All forms of Divinations, e.g. Tarot, I Ching, Dream Interpretations, etc., far too numerous to list here in full.
6. “Wearing charms on your wrists”! At the time I thought the respondent might not object to one wearing these around one’s ankles, but suspecting that the objection is to wearing “lucky charms” in general, I did not bother to question any further. As it is, there were many who thought “charms,” “horseshoes,” “amulets, “talismans,” etc., to be positively diabolical since they “interfere with the work of God.”

I meant to ask how these objects meddled with “the work of the Almighty,” but since the fanaticism of many of the respondents would have deemed me one of the “fallen ones doomed to eternal damnation,” I thought further probing would be a waste of time.
7. Spiritualism, “travelling in the air with the help of demons,” “making oneself invisible,” and “calling up the dead which is called ‘necromancy’ which is calling up demons for nasty purposes.” In this case, the passionate look and excitement of the respondent conjured up images in my mind of demons fornicating with humans blissfully heaving under the furious onslaught, though I cannot be sure that this is what the respondent had in mind.
8. Crystals and stones, “herbs used for occult reasons”—heaven knows what the respondent was talking about. Be that as it may, the most amusing response here must certainly be “Kissing stones and the rings of the bishops and the Mafia”! This response reduced me to fits of laughter!
9. “Doing black rituals with blood taken from the stabbed vagina of a virgin”.....OY! .....and all forms of ritual magic and witchcraft, which include “praying to angels and demons.” Here I wanted to remind the respondent, who informed me that he was a most committed Roman Catholic, that his own religion called on the aid of “angels and saints.”

Be that as it may, one respondent queried whether I knew that David Copperfield and David Blaine have actually “sold their soles (sic!) to the Devil and that the public does not know that they are working REAL magic”? The same individual added apologetically that there is of course no such thing as “real magic.” Well.....did the mentioned individuals work “real magic” or not? Since I did not pursue the topic with the respondent, there is no conclusive answer forthcoming.
10. My compilation of what the general public considers to be “occult” comprises over 2,000 different and, in many instances, unique responses. I certainly do not intend presenting you with the full enumeration, but I thought I would conclude this very condensed summary of my survey with a tenth “unique” response (10 being the “lucky number” as it corresponds to the ten “Sefirot” which might turn out to be fortuitous for me!)

This response is especially interesting as it derived from a “reborn Christian” who maintained the Roman Catholic church is practising “black magic all the time” by changing the wine in the communion chalice into the literal “blood of Jesus” and then drinking it. He added some thoughts regarding the “Virgin Mary” whom he said “is not the mother of Jesus but a pagan goddess of sacrifice who demands the blood of the Christian god which is the blackest side of occultism!”

Where have we heard that one before? Haven’t Jews been accused of ritually sacrificing Christian children in order to drink their blood during Passover dinners, etc., and this despite the fact that religious Jews do not actually eat or drink blood at all, such actions being strictly forbidden by Jewish religious laws?
My survey concluded with the realisation that there is not an absolutely clear or exact definition of “the Occult.” An etymological dictionary, which we might at least consider somewhat reputable, defines the term:
Occult: from Latin occult-(tum) past participle of occulere ‘to cover up, conceal’ oc– & base kel– etc., ‘to hide,’ and seen in celare, ‘to hide.” 1. Hidden, secret, esoteric. 2. Specifically supernatural, mystic, magical: occult sciences; also as noun the Occult.....
Occultism: Theory of, and belief in supernatural, occult (unknown) forces and powers; study or practice of occult sciences and arts.....”
If I take these definitions at face value, then I am obliged to concede that all religious worship and all spiritual activities fall in the “occultism” category! On the other hand, since most of the items listed above have actually lost their earlier “hidden” status, and are now openly shared in the gutter press, i.e. journals and daily newspapers around the globe, it is somewhat odd to continue considering these topics “occult” from their erstwhile “clandestine status” perspective. In fact, as indicated earlier, the word “occult” is used loosely as a reference to any spiritual activity viewed with disapproval, or with approval by those who, like myself, define themselves “occultists.” While there are amongst the latter several of the “sensationalist” variety, there are equally many who are most seriously aligned with the Western Mystery Tradition as a whole.

So how about Kabbalah and “the Occult”? At one stage Kabbalah was considered “occult,” because it was a “hidden tradition” accessed by relatively few committed students and serious investigators. Considering the items earlier listed “occult,” most of them are present in what is called “Jewish Kabbalah” or what I prefer to term “Traditional Kabbalah.” For example:
1. Both astrology and numerology comprise major portions of Kabbalistic doctrine, and a large quantity of primary information is devoted to this topic both within mainstream Judaic texts and mystical writings.
2. Palmistry (Chochmat ha-Yad) and studying the face (Chochmat ha-Partzuf), including examining the “moles” on the body, were practised by Kabbalists.

We might also note that the Holy Ari, read the faces of those he encountered, but I must admit that none I am aware of were actually investigating the “livers” of their fellow humankind, or the innards of sacrificed beasts to ascertain weather conditions or anything else for that matter!
3. As to the possibility that there might have been organizations or schools considered “occult,” i.e. hidden or clandestine, amongst Kabbalists, there were indeed many Kabbalistic schools down the centuries who kept their teachings hidden from all but a very restricted membership. Kabbalah was for a long time, and in many instances still is, an exclusive esoteric tradition within the ranks of the larger community, and while the existence of such schools were common knowledge, their doctrines were secret and available to the mentioned very select few. What is more, they worked special ritualistic practices unknown to those outside their closest circles of companionship.
4. UFO’s, Egyptian Pyramids and “crop circles” do not play a part in Kabbalah, even though some years back an acquaintance arranged for a “crop circle Tree of Life” to be constructed for her. Neither do “holes in the poles” feature in Kabbalistic doctrines. Probably the only “Inner World” Kabbalists might be interested in, is the “the World to Come.”
5. As far as all sorts of divinations are concerned, there are very many in Kabbalah, including the mentioned “dream interpretations” discussed. Consulting a variety of oracles (Goralot) is also not a strange pursuit amongst Kabbalists.
6. Wearing special “charms,” “amulets” or “talismans” was not a strange phenomenon in Kabbalistic circles, which included some of the greatest masters writing “Kameot” amongst their ranks. These kameot range in purpose from protection during childbirth to the promotion of physical health and the invocation of financial success, etc. There is an enormous literature, penned by “authentic” Kabbalists, in existence on this very topic.

Regarding kameot, there are some who are of the opinion that they have been replaced by modern medication, e.g. pills. There are however many within this tradition, myself included, who prefer to employ kameot “with understanding” rather than taking pills “without understanding.” It should also be noted that not all “Kameot” and “Segulot”(Magical Remedies [Spiritual Treasures]) are of the “pill taking” variety, and that the principles underlying “Kameot” are quite different from the mind-set behind taking pills.
7. Contacting the “spirits of the dead” is equally not a foreign custom amongst Kabbalists, who to this very day indulge in prostrating themselves on the graves of departed saints and chanting special incantations, in order to establish a link between the “soul” of the departed and themselves. Here we might also consider the topic of “Maggidim,” a term used in reference to anything from living lay preachers to “spirit messengers,” some of whom are spirits of the deceased. In fact, this is what an “Ibbur,” the beneficial “impregnation” of a living human by a deceased soul, is all about, which should be carefully distinguished from a “dibbuk” which pertains to malevolent possession.

As far as the earlier statement regarding “travelling through the air with the help of demons” is concerned, we might note “kefitzat ha-derech,” magical travel from one destination to another, which involved the use of what is termed the “air of demons.” When it comes to the use of techniques to create “invisibility,” we again have several instances of these being employed in “Practical Kabbalah.” Consider for example the great Shalom Sharabi, who is reported to have made his way to the Wailing Wall every night at midnight to pray. At the time the terrain of the Wailing Wall was prohibited to Jews, but this did not deter the remarkable 18th century Kabbalist from employing a special method to range himself invisible to the guards.
8. While I have certainly not seen Kabbalists kissing the rings, or the butts for that matter, of some highly esteemed noble or notorious personality, I have certainly perused writings describing the benefits derived from the use of certain minerals, plants, and other substances for a variety of special purposes.
9. Again Kabbalah is no stranger to activities classified in the “ceremonial magic” genre. There are numerous rituals, incantationary uses of Divine Names, angelic invocations, etc. to be found in the primary magical texts of “Practical Kabbalah.”
It is worth noting that the practitioners of all the related primary works, very many of which I have listed in the extensive bibliographies of the three published volumes of the "Shadow Tree Series," were all Rabbis, greatly esteemed in their communities. So, having established that most of what is generally considered “occult” was flourishing in the very heart of Jewish mysticism, I am baffled by claims denying any primary connection between Kabbalah and “the Occult.”