As a result of my ongoing study of Kabbalah, i'm developing my own (perhaps highly idiosyncratic) interpretations of various Kabbalistic concepts.

An example of this is how i regard the sephirah Netzach. To me, Netzach represents life's basic tendencies, rhythms and desires. It's about survival and reproductive instincts.

People with a surplus of Netzach can be regarded as having a deficit of Hod. Hod seems to me to be a sephirah of systemisation: it represents rationality and human law, both formal (in the form of the legal system) and informal (in the form of customs). Consequently, when Netzach says "I feel like this, and I want to do this!", it's Hod that represents making assessments about the appropriateness, risks and consequences of carrying out Netzach's desires. In fact, from my perspective, developing Hod is a significant part of maturing into adulthood. As a child, we think we're the centre of the universe, that our desires must be gratified, regardless of the cost to anyone else. Maturing requires that we take a broader perspective, that we think of how our desires and actions affect others, from those closest to us to society in general. In other words, maturing is about developing our ability to place Netzach in the context of Hod.

In this light, it makes sense that Netzach-dominated people often create chaos around them, as they pursue their personal objectives without considering the possible broader impacts that their behaviour may have on both themselves and/or others. We all have our own objectives - whether we're consciously aware of some or all of them or not - and acting as though this is not the case is inevitably going to bring us into conflict with others.

(Having said that, a surplus of Hod and a deficit of Netzach can bring about a similar situation, as those with the Hod surplus, lacking enthusiasm for, or actively fearing, spontenaity, come into conflict with people who won't neatly fit their systemisations. Just because a systemisation is appropriate for one person, or even a group of people, doesn't mean it's appropriate for everyone. i myself feel i have a surplus of Hod and a deficit of Netzach - but that's an issue for another post.)

The trick, then, lies in balancing Netzach with Hod: balancing our deeply-felt desires with a recognition that it's not always the best idea to attempt to act on those desires, or to attempt to manifest the object of those desires. In doing so, we reduce the likelihood of conflict and chaos will dominate and control our lives. This, in turn, can actually increase the amount of energy we can allocate towards actually achieving our objectives. 'Balance' in this context is the wisdom to know when to make certain concessions on short-term issues in order to reach our long-term goals.

'Netzach' means 'victory'. When Netzach is in balance, we head towards Victory.
 

Bahir

2007-12-16 14:33
i finished reading the Bahir today. As befitting a work of mysticism, i found it ranged from the clear and thought-provoking through to the obfuscated and befuddling. Its basis for future Kabbalistic thought, however, was readily apparent.

A couple of things of personal interest:

Verses 162-163 state:
They have one Attribute which causes them to leave aside every good way and choose every evil way. When they see a person directing himself along a good way, they hate him.
What is [this Attribute]? It is the Satan.
This teaches us that the Blessed Holy One has an Attribute whose name is Evil. It is to the north of the Blessed Holy One, as it is written (Jeremiah 1:14), "From the north will Evil come forth, upon all the inhabitants of the earth." Any evil that comes to all the inhabitants of the earth comes from the north.

What is this One Attribute?
It is the Form of a Hand.
It has many messengers, and the name of them all is Evil Evil. Some of them are great, and some are small, but they all bring guilt to the world.
This is because Chaos is toward the north. Chaos (Tohu) is nothing other than Evil. It confounds (Taha) the world and causes people to sin.
Verse 164 states:
The word Satan means "turning aside," since he turns all the world aside to the balance of guilt.
And verse 167 states:
He is the Prince of Chaos. It is thus written (1 Samuel 12:21), "Do not turn aside, for you will follow Chaos. It will not help or save, for it is Chaos." [It cannot help or save,] but it can do harm.
Yet in verse 150, we find:
Rabbi Rahumai said:
What is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 6:23), "And the way of life is the rebuke of admonition"?
This teaches us that when a person accustoms himself to study the Mystery of Creation and the Mystery of the Chariot, it is impossible that he not stumble. It is therefore written (Isaiah 3:6), "Let this stumbling be under your hand." This refers to things that a person cannot understand unless they cause him to stumble.
Which, in what i imagine is a willful misreading on my part :-), seems to me to imply that 'stumbling' in one's life journey is often necessary to achieve understanding; and is not 'turning aside' a form of 'stumbling'? And if so, does that not suggest how facing such challenges can lead to understanding, and, hopefully, to wisdom?

On a lighter note, verse 198 says:
Why was she called Tamar and not any other name?
Because she was female.
Can we then say that [it was something special that] she was female?
But it is because she included both male and female. For [Tamar means a date palm, and] every date palm includes both male and female.
How is this? The frond (Lulav) is male. The fruit is male on the outside and female on the inside.
Sounds like me! ;-)1



1. Although it does go on to say And how? The seed of the date has a split like a woman. which, sadly, does not describe me. :-(
 
Although, as i wrote in an earlier entry, i'm not fussed about attempts to justify spirituality via science (or, as is more usually the case, 'science'), i couldn't help but be startled by the similarity between Lurianic Kabbalah's concept of the Tzimtzum and the following excerpt from an article about a potential mathematical description of what happened before the Big Bang:
Loop Quantum Gravity has been around a while, but Bojowald appears to have simplified it, using different mathematical terminology. This allows solutions to be determined for what was, before, an intractable problem. And what his solution reveals is something that's . . . well, it’s astonishing.

It’s been thought for sometime that there may have been some previous Universe that existed "before" ours. This is a difficult idea, because in the Big Bang model, space and time were created in that initial moment. But if Bojowald’s solutions are correct, it leads the way to understanding this previous Universe. It was out there, everywhere, and it contracted. Eventually it became an ultradense, ultrahot little ball of space and time. At some point, it got so small and so dense that bizarre quantum laws took effect — things like the Uncertainty Principle, which states that the more you know about one characteristic of an object (say, its position) the less you know about another (its velocity). There are several such laws, and they make it hard — impossible, really — to know everything about the universe at that moment.

What Bojowald’s work does, as I understand it (the paper as I write this is not out yet, so I am going by my limited knowledge of LQG and other theories like it) is simplify the math enough to be able to trace some properties of the Universe backwards, right down to T=0, which he calls the Big Bounce. The previous Universe collapsed down, and "bounced" outward again, forming our Universe.

Dogma

2007-05-27 19:32
As i've indicated in earlier posts (e.g. here), i don't like dogma. By 'dogma' i mean "belief or beliefs which are not permitted to be challenged by evidence, experience etc." Dogma can involve the belief that history took place thus, or that a book has only one interpretation, that a particular person is above critique or criticism, and so on. So it was refreshing to read Kabbalist Sanford Drob's essay "The Only God Who Can Save Us (From Ourselves):" Kabbalah, Dogmatism, and the Open Economy of Thought. In it, he writes that:
One should, in my view, sooner adopt atheism or agnosticism as a system of belief than a religion of dogmatism. Indeed if atheism or agnosticism is an individual’s route to an open economy of thought, emotion and action, than becoming such an atheist leads one far closer to the infinite, Ein-sof, than aligning oneself with those who proclaim the absolute truth of their so-called piety and faith. Unfortunately atheists can be equally dogmatic (if one doubts this one need simply recall the communist regimes of the last century). Nevertheless, there is need for a healthy dose of atheism at the heart of our conception of Ein-sof
Sadly, Drob fails to avoid the frequent error made by many spiritual people, and makes some false claims about atheists and atheism:
In many if not most (but not all) cases atheism or agnosticism blinds one to the spiritual dimension in life, inhibits one from experiencing and expressing awe, reverence, and gratitude for one’s life and world, and cuts one off from the possibility of participating in the forms of spiritual life offered by the great religions.
On the contrary, i've observed many atheists to have more "awe, reverence, and gratitude for one’s life and world" than a number of supposedly spiritual people. In my experience - and having previously been an atheist myself - atheists are often awed by how natural forces have created the amazing diversity of lifeforms on this planet, and can show more reverence for life since they don't assume that an individual will have another life after this one, or that our planet will be miraculously restored to a pristine state by God at some point in the near future. (The "gratitude" part i haven't had experience of; but it's not at all difficult for me to imagine an atheist being grateful for their life and the opportunities the world has provided hir.)

But this is a small blight on a marvellous essay. Drob's conclusion is one i wholeheartedly agree with:
It is such an open, tolerant, infinitely interpretable, transforming God that, to my mind, is the only God who can save us from ourselves. All other so-called "Gods;" national Gods, Gods of certain religions and peoples, are in danger of becoming idols. This is the simple message of Abraham, but it must be repeated with great force today. The idol Gods of tribes, nations, and religions are divisive and potentially destructive, unless they are seen as manifestations of a single essentially unknowable God, a God who is subject to interpretation, transformation and emendation; who is the province of all and who embraces all peoples, cultures, species, and ideas.
In recent times i've been doing a lot more reading about Jewish Kabbalah1.

My initial interest was in Qabalah, via Ellen Cannon-Reed's "Witches Tarot" (a lovely tarot deck, which i sadly rarely see referenced). But apart from Dion Fortune's fascinating Mystical Qabalah, i've not found many readable texts on hermetic Qabalah (although i'm pretty sure that they're probably less scarce than i think).

This had frustrated me, because i'm what one might call a foundationist2. By this, i mean that i tend to try to understand a particular topic by heading right back down to the foundations of that topic. So, for example, in trying to learn Haskell, i've ended up going right back to the basics of functional programming, and learning about the lambda calculus. Similarly, in wanting to learn more about Qabalah, i've ended up doing a lot of reading about Kabbalah - going back to the Sefer Yetzirah, Lurianic Kabbalah (e.g. via Rabbi Chaim Vital's Etz Hayyim), and bits of the Zohar (via Gershom Scholem's selected excerpts). And after having three separate dreams in which i was about to read or purchase Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, i found a copy of it through Sacred-Texts.com, and have been working my way through it.

i've never felt comfortable with Christianity. For a long time, Christianity has to me been a religion which spits on reason, treated women and queers like dirt, and generally felt that it has the right to interfere in the lives of non-Christians. At the same time, i have made an effort to seek out interpretations of Christianity which are less literalist / fundamentalist and more broad-minded, to ensure that i have a more balanced view of the diversity of Christian thought. Nonetheless, Christianity is not a religion i feel at all comfortable with.

Yet in doing all this reading of Jewish religious texts, i've come to realise just how 'at home' i feel with Judaism. It's not like i'm unaware of the fact that Judaism, too, has its literalists / fundamentalists, has its share of patriarchal / queerphobic / generally intolerant perspectives. But i'm also aware of the existence of several more progressive strands of Judaism, such as Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism and the Jewish Renewal movement, (particularly as represented by Michael Lerner and Tikkun magazine). And here's the weird bit: despite being a goy3, i feel so 'at home' in Judaism that i'd be happy to describe myself as a 'skeptical Judeo-pagan', to indicate how much of an influence Jewish spirituality and philosophy is having on my beliefs, if it weren't for the fact that i worry about being disrespectful, and for the fact that 'Judeo-paganism' apparently already means something else anyway. (Although related Web sites, such as lilitu.com discussion boards and Jewitchery seem right up my alley.)

In any event, i'm really excited about all the Kabbalah-and-related reading i'm currently doing. :-)



1. In this, and other, posts, i follow the convention of transliterating the Hebrew word 'קבלה' as 'Kabbalah' when referring to its use in a Jewish context, and 'Qabalah' when referring to its use in a Hermetic context, even though the latter is probably the more accurate transliteration overall.

2. Unless one has read too much Isaac Asimov, or watched too much Babylon 5, in which case 'foundationist' has a rather different meaning. :-)

3. Apart from the actual Yiddish meaning of this word, there's also the fact that i'm not just a girl, i'm not just a boy, i'm a goy! ;-)

 

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