Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tree of Life quick start guide

I've mentioned to some of you that I've been writing about counting the omer. This is from that book:

“Fortunate is the man who has found Wisdom and a man who has understanding, for her commerce is better than the commerce of silver, and her increase is better than fine gold; she is more precious than pearls, and all your desirable things cannot be compared to her.  Length of days is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.  Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.  She is a tree of life for those who cling to her, and those who draw near her are fortunate.”
Proverbs 3:13-18

The Tree of Life is a classic kabbalistic map of the cosmos that can be interpreted in many ways.  For our purposes, it provides a detailed schematic of creation, tracing the paths that the Divine flowed into the universe, the way that Being became.  If you are not familiar with the Tree of Life, you might want to do some supplemental reading before you begin opening the gates.  See the bibliography for resources.  In counting the omer, we only really deal with the tree’s “lower” manifestations, starting at Chesed.  However, for completeness, I’ll begin with the “supernal” manifestations (those above/before Chesed).  This is an extremely brief, simplified understanding of the sefirot, specifically their roles as “way stations of creation”.  While I’ve told the story as if it progresses linearly through time (because how else can I tell it?), all of these things are happening at once, all the time.
Before everything that is, there was Nothing, and that is the first stop on our tour of the tree.  Called in Hebrew Eyn, which means literally “not”, Eyn is the primordial state of the universe. In Hebrew, we say that the universe was created “yesh me-eyn”, or “something from nothing”.  This vast No-thing exists in constant tension with Eyn Soph, the transcendent and eternal Divine.  Eyn Soph means, literally, “without limit” and is used in modern Hebrew mathematics to mean “transfinite”.  When Eyn and Eyn Soph come together, a third thing is formed, the Eyn Soph Aur, or “Limitless Light”.  Like the energy released by a collision of antimatter and matter, Eyn Soph Aur is used to fuel creation.  
This transcendent light is mediated through the Divine, in an emanation we call Keter, or “crown”.  Keter is the lense through which the light of Eyn Soph Aur is filtered into the universe.  It is the dwelling place of G-d.  Keter is the ultimate and complete unity of creation, past all illusion and separation.  When G-speaks the universe into being, Eyn Soph Aur is the air all around Him, but Keter is the breath with which He speaks.  Keter is the first utterance, the sound of breath just before a word begins.
After Keter lies Chokmah, Wisdom.  The second utterance, Chokmah is the first thing spoken into being.  Chokmah is the first manifestation of the Divine.  This is where the ONE become two, and it is also where two become one.  This is the universe “divide for the sake of union”. Chokmah is the spark of creation that, in Binah, will light the fire of the world. There is a whole genre of text from the ancient near east called “Wisdom Literature” that is narrated by Chokmah.  My favorite example is Proverbs 8.  Go read it; I’ll wait.  
Next is Binah, or Contemplation.  In classic kabbalistic texts, Binah is referred to as a palace of mirrors, reflecting refracting the ONE light into a million scintillating lights.  It is the womb of Being, where the “ten thousand things” of the Dao gestate.  In hemertic qabala, Binah is associated with Saturn.
Binah is the last of the “supernal” emanations.  From here, the divine light passes through the veil of Knowing (Da’at) and pours into the fourth emanation, Chesed.  It is here that our counting will begin.  “Chesed” is notoriously difficult to translate.  In modern English, it is usually rendered as “loving-kindness”, but I’m partial to “compassion”.  Chesed is considered the central value of Judaism, the highest moral calling.  It is the impulse behind charity, and the protective love one feels for a child.  
In hermetic qabala, Chesed is associated with Jupiter, particularly his role as Father-King.  The name of G-d I most associate with Chesed is Aveinu-Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), but El is more traditionally given as “the” name is Chesed.  More than anything else, Chesed is the love that binds creator and creation.  Traditionally, Tzadkiel is given as “the” angel of Chesed, but Sandalphon is also excellent for Chesed work.  In Christian cabala, Chesed is closely associated with the Virgin Mary, particularly in her role and a merciful intercessor.  It’s color is sky blue, the color of Mary’s robe.
After Chesed, creation proceeds in Gevorah, or Strength, also translated as “justice” or “severity”.  Gevorah is the fire of creation, the passion and the will.  Sepher Bahir (a classic kabbalistic text) says “"What is the fifth (utterance)? Fifth is the great fire of God, of which it says 'let me see no more of this great fire, lest I die (Deut 18:16). This is the left hand of God".  The phrase “left hand path” refers to Gevorah-work in particular.  In Gevorah, creation first manifests into separate things; Gevorah is our power to discriminate “this” from “that”.  
Hermetically, Gevorah is associated with Mars.  The traditional god name here is Elohim Gibor (The Mighty Gods), although I would usually use El Elyon (God Most High) or Aish ha Kadosh (the Holy Flame).  The angel of Gevorah is, obviously, Gabriel (Givoriel), although many Christian and Hermetic sources place him in yesod (see below).  Kamael, the usual Hermetic assignment, is also a great choice for working with Gevorah.
Tiferet, is usually translated as Beauty in Hermetic texts and Adornment in Jewish ones.  Personally, I’m partial to the less literal “Harmony”.  Tiferet is very closely associated with the Sun, both literally, as the ultimate source of the heat and light energy that fuel all life on earth, as well as figuratively, the shining star at the center of Being. The “light” God says in Genesis is the light of Tiferet.  Tiferet is the halfway point between Keter and Malchat; it is the balancing point of the universe.  
In Christian Cabala, Tiferet is the domain of Christ, in his role as intermediary between Earth and Heaven.  The names assigned to Tiferet vary widely between sources.  I, personally use Oseh Shalom ( Peacemaker) or, most often, HaShem (the Name).  The angel of Tiferet is Raphael or Michael.  Personally, I use Raphael.
Below Tiferet is Netzach, which is often translated as Victory, and which I would call Eternity, but which is most literally something like Endurance.  In Netzach, purposes are not always clear.  Here, the Divine light can remain hidden.  Netzach is associated with the Book of Esther, the hidden star, and the near eastern goddess Ishtar.  In Hermetic qabala, Netzach is associated with Venus (probably by way of Ishtar)  One traditional god name for use here is Adonai Sabaoth (The LORD of Splendor), but I like El Shaddai, which is usually translated as God Almighty, but whose etymology is hotly debated.  It might mean “The Destroyer” and it might mean “The Breast”.  In modern Hebrew, the word “shaddai” means “demonic”.  I understand the name to mean “God Who Sustains and Destroys”.  For me, the name El Shaddai is closely associated with the marriage of Sarai and Avram (who become Sarah and Abraham).  Traditional angels of Netzach include Haniel, Ariel, and Uriel.  Personally, I mostly use Ariel.
After Netzach, we come to Hod, which is usually translated as “Splendor”.  I like “Brilliance” as a translation, because I like the interplay of connotations it evokes’ brilliant can mean “shiny” and it can also mean “smart” and its clearly related to “enlightened”.  Action is Hod is calculated, circumspect, and often counter-intuitive.  Hod is associated, in modern Chassidus (ultra-orthodox Jewish teaching) with sincerity, supplication and acceptance.  It is strongly associated with truth telling and also with tricks and lies.  Language originates in Hod, and it is in Hod praise and thanksgiving come into the world.  Why?  Because in Hod sentience is attained.  Prior to hod, the universe was full and alive, but there were no people (human or angelic or whatever) to be conscious of the universe, no one to appreciate it, because there was no one capable of understanding.  Hermetically, Hod is associated with Mercury, with symbol and intellect in general, and with magic, mathematics, and written language specifically.  The Golden Dawn cites Michael as the angel of Hod, but I like Auriel (Uriel) here.
The next sefira is Yesod, or foundation.  Yesod is the womb in which the physical world gestates.  In classic kabbalah and modern chassidus, Yesod is overtly sexual in nature. Yesod is also associated with the Abrahamic covenant.  Yesod is where the idea of physical instantiation takes shape, the interface between the seen and the unseen.  El Shaddai is the typical god name here, but I like El Chai or Elohim.  Many people place Gabriel in yesod, but I think that’s silly.  For me, good choices are Auriel, Cassiel, or Sariel.

The “final” sefira is Malchat, which means “kingdom”. Shekhina is an alternate name. For our purposes, Malchat is the physical world, both in a broad sense of things studied in physics and also in a very specific “the land beneath us” way.  The god-name usually given here is Adonai HaAretz (Lord of the Earth/Land), but I always use Shekhina.  Many feminist Jews have taken to using Malkat HaOlam (Queen of the Forever), but I think that name is better in Netzach.  Malkat HaAretz would be a good Hebrew “Earth Mother” option, if you’re into that kind of thing. The “traditional” angel here is Sandalphon, which I don’t think is a good fit.  I really never use angels in Malchat work, but if I were going to, I think I’d probably use Michael.  

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