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object:1.01 - Historical Survey
book class:A Garden of Pomegranates - An Outline of the Qabalah
class:chapter


A GARDEN OF
POMEGRANATES

CHAPTER ONE
HISTORICAL SURVEY

T HE Qabalah is a traditional body of wisdom pur- porting to deal in extenso with the tremendous problems of the origin and nature of Life, and the
Evolution of Man and the Universe.

The word " Qabalah " is derived from a Hebrew root
Vap (QBL) meaning "to receive". The legend is that this philosophy is a knowledge of things first taught by the
Demiurgos to a select company of spiritual intelligences of a lofty rank who, after the Fall, communicated its divine injunctions to Mankind- who, in reality, were themselves in incarnation. It is also denominated the
Chokmah Nistorah, " The Secret Wisdom ", so-called because it has been orally transmitted from Adept to Pupil in the Secret Sanctuaries of Initiation. Tradition has it that no one part of this doctrine was accepted as authori- tative until it had been subjected to severe and minute criticism and investigation by methods of practical research to be described later.

To come down to more historic ground, the Qabalah is the Jewish mystical teaching concerning the initiated inter- pretation of the Hebrew scriptures. It is a system of spiritual philosophy or theosophy, using this word in its original implications of 0eo? 2 o$ia, which has not only exercised for centuries an influence on the intellectual development of so shrewd and clear-thinking a people as the Jews, but has attracted the attention of many renowned

17



18


A GARDEN OF POMEGRANATES


HISTORICAL SURVEY


19

theological and philosophical thinkers, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among those devoted to the study of its theorems were Raymond Lully, the scholastic metaphysician and alchemist ; John Reuchlin, who revived Oriental Philosophy in Europe ; John Baptist von Helmont, the physician and chemist who discovered hydrogen ; Baruch Spinoza, the excommunicated " God- intoxicated " Jewish philosopher ; and Dr. Henry More, the famous Cambridge Platonist. These men, to name but a few among many who have been attracted to the
Qabalistic ideology, after restlessly searching for a world- view which should disclose to them the true explanations of life, and show the real inner bond uniting all things, found the cravings of their minds at least partially satisfied by its psychological and philosophical system.

It is often assumed to-day that Judaism and Mysticism stand at opposite poles of thought, and that therefore
Jewish Mysticism is a glaring contradiction in terms.
The erroneous assumption here arises from the antithesis of law and faith as set Up by St. Paul's proselytising men- tality (and in a lesser degree by the rationalist efforts of
Maimonides to square everything with formal Aristotelean principles), falsely stamping Judaism as a religion of un- relieved legalism. Mysticism is the irreconcilable enemy of purely religious legalism.

The confusion is also due to the efforts of those theo- logians in mediaeval times who, being desirous of saving their benighted Hebrew brethren from the pangs of eternal torture and damnation in the nether regions, muddled and tampered not only with the original texts but with extreme sectarian interpretations in order to show that the authors of the Qabalistic books were desirous that their Jewish posterity should become apostates to Christianity.

The Qabalah taken in its traditional and literal form
- as contained in the Sepher Yetsirah, Bes Elohim,
Pardis Rimonim, and Sepher haZohar - is either mostly unintelligible or, at first sight, apparent nonsense to the ordinary " logical " person. But it contains as its ground plan that most precious jewel of human thought, that geometrical arrangement of Names, Numbers, Sym- bols, and Ideas called "The Tree of Life". It is called



20


HISTORICAL SURVEY


21


A GARDEN OF POMEGRANATES
most precious, because it has been found to be the most convenient system yet discovered of classifying the phe- nomena of the Universe and recording their relations, whereof the proof is the limitless possibilities for analytic and synthetic thought which follow the adoption of this schema.

The history of the Qabalah, so far as the publication of early exoteric texts is concerned, is indeterminate and vague. Literary criticism traces the Sepher Yetsirah (sup- posedly by Rabbi Akiba) and the Sepher haZohar (by
Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai), its main texts, to about the eighth century in the first case and the third or fourth century a.d. in the latter. Some historians claim that the
Qabalah is a derivative from Pythagorean, Gnostic, and
Neoplatonic sources, this latter view being, in particular, the opinion of Mr. Christian D. Ginsburg.

The great Jewish historian, Graetz, too, holds the unhistoric view that Jewish mysticism is a morbid and late growth, foreign to the religious genius of Israel, and that it has its origin in the speculations of one Isaac the Blind in Spain somewhere between the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Graetz regards the Qabalah, the Zohar in particular, as a " false doctrine which, although new, styled itself a genuine teaching of Israel " ( History of the Jews,
Vol. Ill, p. 565).

This statement is altogether without foundation in fact, for a careful perusal of the books of the Old Testament, the Talmud, and other well-known Rabbinical records which have come down to us, indicate that there the early monumental bases of the Qabalah may be found.
The Qabalistic doctrine admittedly is not explicit there, but analysis reveals it to be tacitly assumed, and the many cryptic remarks of several of the more important Rabbis can have no particle of meaning without the implication of a mystical philosophy cherished and venerated in their hearts, and affecting the whole of their teaching.

In his brilliant essay, " The Origin of Letters and
Numerals according to the Sepher Yetsirah ", Mr. Phineas
Mordell argues that the Pythagorean Number Philosophy
(the greatest enigma of all philosophical systems of anti- quity) is identical with that of the Sepher Yetsirah, and

that its philosophy apparently emanated from one of the
Hebrew prophetic schools. Mordell finally hazards the opinion that the Sepher Yetsirah represents the genuine fragments of Philolaus, who was the first to publish the
Pythagorean philosophy, and that Philolaus seems to correspond in very curious ways to Joseph ben Uziel who wrote down the Sepher Yetsirah. If the latter theory can be maintained, then we may claim for the Sepher Yetsirah a pre-Talmudic origin - probably the second century prior to the Christian era.

The Zohar, if actually the wmrk of Simeon ben Yochai, was never consigned to writing at the time but had been orally handed down by the companions of the Holy
Assemblies, being finally written up by Rabbi Moses ben
Leon in the thirteenth century. Madame Blavatsky ven- tures the hypothesis that the Zohar, as now possessed by us, was arranged and re-edited by Moses de Leon after having been tampered with to a considerable extent by Jewish
Rabbis and Christian ecclesiastics prior to the thirteenth century. Ginsburg in his Kabbalah gives several reasons why the Zohar must have been written in the thirteenth century. His arguments, though interesting in numerous ways, do not take into consideration the fact that there has always been an oral tradition. Isaac Myer, in his large and in a number of ways authoritative tome entitled The
Qabalah, analyses very carefully these objections advanced by Ginsburg and others, and I am bound to confess that his answers, ad seriatim, confute this theory of the thir- teenth-century origin of the Zohar. Dr. S. M. Schiller-
Szinessy, one-time Reader in Rabbinic and Talmudic literature at Cambridge, says : " The nucleus of the book is of Mishnic times. Rabbi Shimeon ben Yochai was the author of the Zohar in the same sense that Rabbi Yohanan was the author of the Palestinian Talmud ; i.e., he gave the first impulse to the composition of the book." And I find that Mr. Arthur Edward Waite in his scholarly and classic work The Holy Kaballah, wherein he examines most of the arguments concerning the origin and history of this
Book of Splendour, inclines to the view hereinbefore set forth, steering a middle course, believing that while much of it does pertain to the era of ben Leon, nevertheless a



22 A GARDEN OF POMEGRANATES
great deal more bears indelibly the stamp of antiquity.
It most certainly is not altogether improbable that the
Zohar - with its mystical doctrines comparable, nay, identi- cal in almost each of its details with those of other races in other climes - should have been composed originally by
Simeon ben Yochai or another of his close associates or students in the second century but not committed to writing by Moses de Leon until the thirteenth century.

A very similar presentation of the above hypothesis is found in Prof. Abelson's excellent work entitled Jewish
Mysticism, wherein we read that :

" We must be on our guard against following the mis- taken opinion of a certain set of Jewish theologians who would have us regard the whole of the mediaeval Kabbalah
(of which the Zohar is a conspicuous and representative part) as a sudden and strange importation from without.
It is really a continuation of the old stream of Talmudic and
Midrashic thought with the admixture of extraneous ele- ments picked up, as was inevitable, by the stream's course through many lands - elements the commingling of which must have, in many ways, transformed the original colour and nature of the stream."

Be that as it may, and ignoring the sterile aspects of con- troversy, the public appearance of the Zohar was the great landmark in the development of the Qabalah, and we to-day are able to divide its history into two main periods, pre- and post-Zoharic. While it is undeniable that there were
Jewish prophetic and mystical Schools of great proficiency and possessing much recondite knowledge in Biblical times, such as that of Samuel, the Essenes, and Philo, yet the first
Qabalistic school of which we have any accurate public record was known as the School of Gerona in Spain (the twelfth century a.d.), so-called because its founder Isaac the Blind and many of his disciples were born there. Of the founder of the School practically nothing is known.
Two of his students were Rabbi Azariel and Rabbi Ezra.
The former was the author of a classic philosophical work entitled The Commentary on the Ten Sephiros, an excellent and most lucid exposition of Qabalistic philosophy and considered an authoritative work by those who know it.
These were succeeded by Nachmanides, born in 1195 a.d..


HISTORICAL SURVEY 23
who was the real cause of the attention devoted to this esoteric system in those days in Spain and Europe generally.
His works deal mainly with the three methods of per- mutation of numbers, letters, and words to be described in Chapter VI.

The philosophy underwent a further elaboration and exposition in the hands of R. Isaac Nasir and Jacob ben
Sheshet in the twelfth century, the latter composing a treatise in rhymed prose and a series of eight essays dealing with the doctrines of the Infinite ( En Soph), Reincarnation
(Gilgolim), the doctrine of Divine Retribution ( Sod ha Gimol), or, to use a more preferable Oriental term, Karma, and a peculiar type of Christology.

Next in succession was the School of Segovia and its disciples, among whom was one Todras Abulafia, a physi- cian and financier occupying an important and most dis- tinguished position in the Court of Sancho IV, King of
Castile. The characteristic predisposition of this School was its devotion to exegetical methods ; its disciples endeavour- ing to interpret the Bible and the Hagadah in accordance with the doctrinal Qabalah.

A contemporary School believed that Judaism of that day, taken from an exclusively philosophical standpoint, did not show the "right way to the Sanctuary", and endeavoured to combine philosophy and Qabalah, illustrating their various theorems by mathematical forms.

About 1240 a.d. was born Abraham Abulafia, who became a celebrated figure - bringing, however, a great deal of dis- repute to the name of this theosophy. He studied philo- logy* medicine, and philosophy, as well as those few books on the Qabalah which were available at the time. He soon perceived that the Pythagorean Number Philosophy was identical with that expounded in the Sepher Yetsirah, and later, becoming dissatisfied with academic research, he turned towards that aspect of Qabalah termed nbsp n'ova or the Practical Qabalah, which, to-day, we term
Magick. Unfortunately, the Qabalists in the public eye at that time were not acquainted with the developed specialized technique that is now available, derived as it is from the Collegii ad Spiritum Sanctum. The result was that



24 A GARDEN OF POMEGRANATES

Abulafia became quite deluded in his subsequent experi- mentations, and journeyed to Rome to endeavour to con- vert the Pope (of all people !) to Judaism. How successful were his efforts can be left to the reader to judge.

Later, he hailed himself in a most enthusiastic way as the long-expected Messiah and prophesied the millenium - which failed to occur. His influence, on the whole, has been a deleterious one. A disciple of his, Joseph Gikatilla, wrote in the interests and defence of his teacher a number of treatises dealing with the several aspects of exegesis established by him.

The Zohar is the next major development. This book combining, absorbing, and synthesizing the different features and doctrines of the previous schools, made its ddbut, creating a profound sensation in theological and philosophical circles by reason of its speculations concerning
God, the doctrine of Emanations, the evolution of the
Universe, the Soul and its transmigrations, and its final return to the Source of All. The new era in the history of the Qabalah created by the appearance of this storehouse of legend, philosophy, and anecdote, has continued right down to the present day. Yet nearly every writer who has since espoused the doctrines of the Qabalah has made the
Zohar his principal textbook, and its exponents have applied themselves assiduously to commentaries, epitomes, and translations - missing, however, with only a few exceptions, the real underlying possibilities of the Qabalistic
Tree of Life.

The Zohar so impressed the celebrated scholastic meta- physician and experimental chemist, Raymond Lully, that it suggested to him the development of the Ars Magna (The
Great Work), an idea in the exposition of which he exhibits the loftiest conceptions of the Qabalah, regarding it as a divine science and a genuine revelation of Light to the human soul. He was one of those few isolated figures attracted to its study, who saw through its use of a peculiar type of symbol, and endeavoured to construct a workable magical or philosophical alphabet, an explanation of which will be attempted in the remaining chapters of this work.

Abraham Ibn Wakar, Pico di Mirandola, Reuchlin,
Moses Cordovero, and Isaac Luria, are a few of the more


HISTORICAL SURVEY 25
important thinkers before the seventeenth century, whose speculations have affected in various ways the progress of
Qabalistic research. The first-named (an Aristotelean) made a really noble attempt to reconcile Qabalah with the academic philosophy of his day, and wrote a treatise which is an excellent compendium of the Qabalah.

Mirandola and Reuchlin were Christians who took up a study of the Qabalah with the ulterior motive of obtaining a suitable weapon wherewith to convert Jews to Chris- tianity. Some Jews were so misguided and sadly bewildered by the mangling of texts and distorted inter- pretations which ensued that they actually forsook
Judaism. Paul Ricci, physician to the Emperor Maxi- milian I ; John Stephen Rittengal, a translator of the
Sepher Yetsirah into Latin; and in more recent times
Jacob Franck and his community were won over to Chris- tianity by the controversial claim that the Zohar both concealed and revealed the doctrines of the Nazarene.
Such proofs, naturally, brought only contempt to their authors, and to-day argue badly against both the adducers and the accepters of them.

Cordovero became a Master of the Qabalah at an early age, and his principal works are philosophical, having little to do with the magical or practical side.

Luria founded a School the precise opposite to that of
Cordovero. He himself was a zealous and brilliant student both of the Talmud and Rabbinic lore, but found that the simple retirement of a life of study did not satisfy him.
He thereupon retired to the banks of the Nile, where he gave himself over exclusively to meditation and ascetic practices, receiving visions of an amazing character. He wrote a book outlining his conceptions of the theory of Reincar- nation ( haGilgolim ). A pupil of his. Rabbi Chayim Vital, produced a large work. The Tree of Life, based on the oral teachings of the Master, thereby giving a tremendous impetus to Qabalistic study and practice.

There are several Qabalists of varying degrees of impor- tance in the intervening period of post-Zoharic history.
Russia, Poland, and Lithuania gave refuge to numbers of them. None of these have expounded publicly that par- ticular portion of the philosophy to which this present



26


A GARDEN OF POMEGRANATES
treatise is devoted. The spiritual revivalist movement inaugurated among the Jews of Poland by Rabbi Israel
Baal Shem Tov in the first half of the eighteenth century is sufficiently important to warrant some mention here. For although Chassidism, as that movement was called, derives its enthusiasm from contact with nature and the great out-doors of the Carpathians, it has its primary literary origin and significant inspiration in the books which consti- tute the Qabalah. Chassidism gave the doctrines of the
Aohar to the " Am ha-aretz " in a way in which no previous set of Rabbis had succeeded in doing, and it would, more- over, appear that the Practical Qabalah received a con- siderable impetus at the same time. For we find that
Poland, Galicia, and certain portions of Russia have been the scene of the activities of wandering Rabbis and Tal- mudic scholars who were styled " Tsadikim " or magicians, men who assiduously devoted their lives and their powers to the Practical Qabalah. But it was not until the last century, with its impetus to all kinds of studies in com- parative mythology and religious controversy that we dis- cover an attempt to weld all philosophies, religions, scientific ideas and symbols into a coherent Whole.

Eliphaz Levi Zahed, a Roman Catholic deacon of remark- able perspicuity, in 1852 published a brilliant volume,
Doctrine et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in which we find clear and unmistakable symptoms of an understanding of the underlying basis of the Qabalah- its ten Sephiros and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet as a suitable framework for the construction of a workable system for philosophical comparison and synthesis. It is said that he published this work at a time when information on all occult matters was strictly prohibited, for various reasons of its own, by the Esoteric School to which he belonged.
We find, then, a companion volume issued but a short while after, La Histoire de la Magie, wherein - undoubtedly to protect himself from the censure levelled at him, and throw unsuspecting enquirers off the track - he contradicts his former conclusions and theorizations.

Several devoted expositors of impeccable scholarship in the last half of the nineteenth century were responsible for the modern regeneration of the fundamental and saner


HISTORICAL SURVEY 27
principles of the Qabalah, devoid of the theological accre- tions and hysterical superstitions which were deposited on this venerable arcane philosophy during the Middle Ages.
W. Wynn Westcott, who translated the Sepher Yetsirah into English and wrote An Introduction to the Study of the
Kaballah ; S. L. McGregor Mathers, the translator of por- tions of the Zohar and The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the
Mage ; Madame Blavatsky, that lion-hearted woman who brought Eastern esoteric philosophy to the attention of western students ; Arthur Edward Waite, who made available expository summaries of various of the Qabalistic works ; and the poet Aleister Crowley to whose Liber 777 and Sepher Sephiroth, among many other fine philosophic writings, I am in no little degree indebted - all these have provided a wealth of vital information which could be utilized for the construction of a philosophical alphabet.




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